Ix Chel is the jaguar goddess of the Maya. She is the goddess of love and sex, healing, and gestation. Her husband was Ak Kin, the sun god. The meaning of her name, “Ix Chel” is large rainbow or rainbow woman, depending on her aspect.
There are many stories surrounding Ix Chel and her role in the world. In one story, Ix Chel (as Chak Chel, her manifestation as an old woman) brought about destruction of a third of creation by flooding the world. She poured water from her container to ready the world for the next age, called the Fourth Sun by Maya lore. Even though Ix Chel can wreak great destruction upon the land, it is in service to the birth of a better world.
Maya Goddess of the Moon: Ix Chel
Ix Chel, pronounced “ish-CHEL”, may be the greatest of the Maya goddesses. She is depicted as maiden, mother and crone. Ixchel is a goddess of waters, of the earth, of the moon, and matron of weavers and artisans. She was known as Lady Rainbow, Mother Earth, Womb, and The Cave of Life.
Mothers and daughters made pilgrimage to her temple on Isla Mujeres, the “Island of Women”, off the eastern coast of Mexico. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century they named it that because of the many images of goddesses. At her sacred temple, Ix Chel was worshipped on the 6th day of the moon with a special ceremony that honored and celebrated her powers of medicine and magic.
- Myths of Ix Chel
- Ix Chel as Goddess of Fertility
- Ix Chel as Triple Goddess
- Symbols of Ix Chel
- Titles and Epithets of Ix Chel
- How to Worship Goddess Ix Chel
- Further reading
Myths of Ix Chel
Before marrying the sun god Ak Kin, Ix Chel was adored by all the gods of the lands. It is even said that Ix Chel was the main consort of the pantheon’s chief deity, Votan. Despite her role as consort, Ix Chel is mostly known for a story involving her pursuit of the sun god, Ak Kin, also known as Itzamná Kinich Ahau. Whether or not this occurred before or after she took up with Votan is unclear. It may not matter, as myths can often be unconcerned with depicting events as literal history.
Ix Chel’s beauty brought many gods of the land under her sway. They longed after her fertility, her glamour, but she cared little for any of them. Ak Kin, however, was under no such spell. He did not understand the allure that Ix Chel held over the other deities, and he often rebuffed her advances. Perhaps because of this, Ix Chel fixated on the god of the sun. This seems natural, as Ix Chel is not only the goddess of rain and water, but also of the moon.
Ix Chel desired Ak Kin as she watched the golden orb traverse the sky, day after day after day. Ak Kin continued his solar patrol of the skies, indifferent to Ix Chel’s designs. Ix Chel began to follow the sun god, unaware of the effect she was having on the earth around her. The weather on earth worsened as she pursued the sun god. Tides grew increasingly large and violent, lashing the land and wracking the seas. Crops drowned in the inundation of flood-water that followed, unable to withstand the onslaught of the waters. The damage wrought upon the land was substantial, and the people suffered greatly from the tumultuous weather. Still, Ix Chel paid no attention to the damage her pursuit caused. She only had eyes for Ak Kin.
Ix Chel is also the goddess of weaving. It is said that her spindle is the center of the universe and that she weaves the cycle of life and death. She used this to her advantage. She understood that, no matter how hard she pursued Ak Kin, she would not be able to catch his affection. Changing tactics, she began to weave the most beautiful cloth in the land.
Fully given to her task, she wove the most magnificent gown anyone had ever seen. Ak Kin took note of this and ceased his fleeing. He married Ix Chel and she bore him four children, four boys who had jaguar blood in their veins. The boys became fast, invisible as they raced across the night sky. Each one took dominion over a corner of the world: north, west, east, and south.
However, this turn of events earned Ix Chel the ire of her grandfather. Ix Chel’s grandfather cast bolts of lightning at Ix Chel, killing her. Dragonflies sang songs over the goddess’ corpse for almost two weeks. At the end of this period, Ix Chel was reborn, her shattered body renewed, and she returned to Ak Kin. If Ix Chel thought her troubles were over, she thought wrong.
Despite her marriage to Ak Kin, not all was well for Ix Chel. Marriage and death at the hands of her grandfather did nothing to dull her beauty, and soon the sun god Ak Kin began to grow suspicious and jealous. What if his brother made advances on her? Surely, she could have him; she could have anyone she wanted to! Such thoughts tormented Ak Kin. He began to think that his brother, the morning star, had seduced Ix Chel, or at least was making plans to do so.
Ak Kin cast Ix Chel down from the heavens. Distraught, Ix Chel sought refuge with the divinity of vultures, but Ak Kin found her. He coaxed her into coming back home, which she did, though it was not long before Ak Kin again grew jealous.
Ix Chel had an epiphany: Ak Kin would never cease his jealous ways. Overcome with sorrow and determination, she waited until slumber overtook the sun god, and she took the form of a jaguar. Creeping out into the night, Ix Chel made sure to hide whenever Ak Kin came hunting for her, and he did not find her.
Analysis of the Myth
Perhaps the most fascinating element of Ix Chel’s story is what she did with her divinity after her split with Ak Kin. After birthing the boys that would uphold the four corners of the earth, she did not simply go into hiding after Ak Kin menaced her. Instead, she took it upon herself to bring protection to women at all stages of womanhood.
She protects those seeking fruitful marriage, a healthy pregnancy, or a successful and safe labor. It is interesting to note that, unlike the vengeful deities of many pantheons, she does not seek revenge upon her aggressor. Instead, she takes the pain and suffering inflicted upon her and turns it into the ultimate gift for humanity: the protection and regeneration of life.
Ix Chel continues to offer protection to women of all walks of life. As the goddess of the moon, she pulls on the waters of the body, urging action, especially with regards to fertility. Her silver light cascades down on the land during the deep night, and she symbolizes transformation in the waxing and waning moon. So too, does the human life wax and wane, from birth to death to rebirth, and Ix Chel is there with us every step of the way.
Ix Chel as Goddess of Fertility
Outside of her mythological narratives, Ix Chel assists women in need, especially pregnant women or women seeking to conceive. Often, Maya women would make pilgrimages to the island of Cozumel. The island held one of the most important temples to Ix Chel. The sojourning women would seek out the oracle on the island, in hopes of receiving prophecy. Women seeking a good marriage would also make this journey. As the goddess of fertility, Ix Chel protected pregnant women and women undergoing labor.
Ix Chel’s responsibility for fertility did not end with humanity. She was also the goddess of rains and water, and ensured that crops were nourished (or, in the case of one of her stories, destroyed). Responsibility for agriculture also meant that Ix Chel held some sway over life and death, as the changes in the harvest meant feast or famine for the Maya people.
Ix Chel as Triple Goddess
Similarly to Hecate and other goddesses, Ix Chel is a goddess with a triple aspect. The Maya connected her with the phases of the moon, which influenced events in the lives of the people.
She has three aspects, encompassing the Crone, Mother and Maiden:
Chak Chel, the Crone (wise woman). Hunchbacked and wrinkled, she pours the waters of the world from a gourd held in her hands. It is she who will bring the deluge that ends the world. Her serpent head-dress represents her powers of transformation from the winter hag to the renewed maiden of spring. Like the snake, she sheds her winter skin in order to emerge transformed.
Ix Chel, her main aspect as the full moon. She is the mother who governs childbirth, protects expectant mothers, and forms the facial features of babies while they are still in the womb.
Ix Chebel Yax, shown with long flowing hair and a rabbit, embodying the promise of youth. This aspect may have been absorbed from a previous moon goddess into Ix Chel’s mythology.
Symbols of Ix Chel
Water jug: She holds a water jug, bottom up. The moon draws moisture and controls the tides, making Ix Chel the goddess of water. All water belongs to her, whether it nourishes, cleanses or destroys. In this capacity, she is “Lady Rainbow”, dwelling in the moist realm of sparkling waters, mist and rainbows. She holds the sacred womb jar upside down so that the waters of creation can be everflowing. Water is essential to support life, making her a goddess of abundance and fruitfulness.
Crossed bones adorned her skirt dress, and depending on the depiction, she had claws protruding from her hands and feet. She gives new life and keeps the bones and souls of the dead, symbolizing death and rebirth, or destruction. Bones can also be Maya symbol of foreboding or warning.
Snake: Ix Chel wears a snake on Her head symbolizing energy of transformation. Like the snake, she sheds her winter skin in order to emerge transformed.
Rabbit: The rabbit is often synonymous with the moon in Maya symbology. It also symbolizing abundance, procreation and fertility, as rabbits are known for their reproductive abilities.
Titles and Epithets of Ix Chel
- Ix Chel, “Lady Rainbow”
- Chak Chel, “Large Rainbow”
- She of the Pale Face (a reference to the moon)
- Goddess I, and Goddess O.
- The Queen
- Eagle Woman
- First Mother
- Keeper of the Bones
- Goddess of Becoming
- The Cave of Life
How to Worship Goddess Ix Chel
Cozumel, called Ah-Cuzamil-Peten, or “Island of Swallows”, is her sacred island. For hundreds of years, women would make the 12 mile trip from the mainland to Cozumel by boat to offer gifts and seek the blessings of Ix Chel. Every Maya woman was expected to make this pilgrimage at least once in her lifetime, and many shrines dedicated to Ix Chel still stand today.
Even if you can’t make the pilgrimage, call on Ix Chel when you need help bringing to fruition your creative or healing powers (as a woman or otherwise). Ix Chel is a goddess who rules the cycles of life and its creative phases. It was believed that during a lunar eclipse pregnant women were under threat, as Ix Chel had withdrawn her protection.
She is also a healing goddess, associated with medicine and called upon by healers and shamans since she was accounted the mother of all the healing plants with knowledge of their properties. She comforts those who are ill or in pain.
Ix Chel Water Ritual
Connect with Ix Chel through the element Water. Stand in the rain, visit a body of water, or take a ritual bath. Prepare your sacred bath according to your intention. If you are looking to become pregnant, ask Ix Chel to gift you with fertility. Otherwise simply focus on healing, protection or receiving guidance.
“Dear Ix Chel, goddess of weavers,
we thank you for the ideas you put in our minds,
the skills you place in our hands
and the feelings that come from our hearts
which make these fine weavings
a manifestation of your beauty.”
Stand in the rain, or sit in the water, as you visualize it washing away your blockages or troubles.
Prepare an altar for Ix Chel where you will leave offerings for the goddess to hear your plea. Use the following associations and correspondences for inspiration. Find offerings for Ix Chel below.
Correspondences & Associations of Ix Chel
Goddess Ix Chel Associations: Water, moon, healing, weaving, magic, fertility, childbirth.
Goddess Ix Chel Role: Ix Chel is all of life’s fertility and is the continuation of all life, She is the mystery and joy of our female sexuality, and protector of our children. She is a healer, the Goddess of Medicine, who knows all of the healing gifts of the Earth and Her children, the plants.
Goddess Ix Chel Gemstones: Agate, brown jasper (orange stones), carnelian, coral.
Goddess Ix Chel Animals: Jaguar, swallow, rabbit, snake.
Goddess Ix Chel Essences: Almond, bergamot, marigold, oriental lily, vanilla.
Ix Chel Ritual Invocation
“Lady Rainbow, colors sublime
Weaving existence from the sky
You hold for all the cycles of time
Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you.
Living in the ocean wave
In healing plants the lives they save
In the Moon in every phase
Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you.
Making fertile life on Earth
Guiding mysteries of birth
Embracing sex and all pleasure
Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you.
Maiden fair and apocalypse crone
Mother to all, compassionate one
Her promise is of restoration
Ix Chel, I pledge myself to you!”
by Amy Martin
Ix Chel Offerings
Prepare an altar to Ix Chel by lighting blue and green candles and prepare offerings of clay statues, cocoa beans or chocolate, corn tortillas, fruits, copal incense, turquoise, and hand-woven objects.
Among the Maya, human sacrifice was not as common an occurrence as it was among the Aztec, but ritual bloodletting formed an integral part of religious ceremonies.
While not encouraged in modern-day offerings, however interesting, according to “Maya Civilization” by Charles George and Linda George “Maya priests or nobles entered a trancelike state to communicate with the gods by losing massive quantities of blood. Hallucinogens made from mushrooms were used, and perhaps extracts from morning-glories, water lilies, or the glands of reptiles”.
- The Ancient Maya by Robert Sharer
- From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire by Pete Sigal
- Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path by David Freidel