Bowl with images of the Chocolate God
Mexico or Guatemala, 400-600, stone
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections
CACAO AND THE CHOCOLATE GOD
grows in very moist tropical environments, usually under the high canopy
of rainforest. Dried, roasted cacao was ground into chocolate powder
and blended with chili, maize gruel, honey, and water to make the most
valued beverage of ancient Mexico. Cacao beans became a kind of currency;
the white shell replicas from a Maya tomb provided cash for the afterlife.
According to the Popol Vuh, the Maya creation myth
that was written down in the sixteenth century, maize and cacao were
both discovered when the god K’awiil hurled a lightning bolt
at a mountain, breaking it in two and revealing the two plants growing
inside. Cacao and maize are therefore closely linked in Maya mythology.
The Chocolate God may even have been a special aspect of the
Maize God, or perhaps his brother.
The Maya worshiped hundreds of gods. Many could
appear old or young, in human or animal form. Before we could read
Mayan writing we did not know their names, so a scholar in the nineteenth
century called them God A, God B, and so on. Some are still known that
No god was more important
to the Maya than the Maize God. He is the ideal of beauty, always handsome
and young. His head tapers like an ear of corn, and his hair flows
like corn silk . The slightest breeze rustles the leaves--and the Maize
God dances. Corn’s cycle
of planting, growth, harvesting, and replanting is the cycle of life
itself--birth, death, rebirth.
(God D) ruled the sky and
was one of the creators. He is usually considered the chief god, and
according to Maya legend he invented writing. He is shown as an old
man with distinctive square eyes and a squinty gaze.
L was a prince of the underworld as
well as a wealthy god of commerce and trade. He is an old god, sometimes
with the ear of a jaguar. He’s prosperous and fat, and smokes
a cigar. Like Maya kings he sits on a jaguar pelt. You can also spot
him by his large feathered headdress in which his messenger owl nests.
Chel was the patron of women,
a weaver (with cotton skeins tied in her hair) but also a warrior.
Her name means "great" or “red
rainbow,” but don’t think that is a lucky omen--the
Maya saw rainbows as dangerous signs from the underworld.
Women also prayed to a young
Moon Goddess. You’ll
see her sitting in the curve of a crescent moon, holding a rabbit.
The Maya don’t see an old man in the face of
the moon--they see a rabbit! So do other people in Mesoamerica
and Native Americans of the southwestern United States--and the
Chinese and Japanese.
(God K) was a god of lightning, with one snake foot. Because
he also was a protector of royal lines, you'll often find him on
Chaak, a god of rain, played an
important role in sacrifice. The bloodshed in sacrifice was as necessary
to nourish the gods and the earth as rain was. You’ll recognize
Chaak by his reptile-like face, with a down-turned snout and large
K’inich Ahaw, the sun, was
also an old god. Look for a hooked nose and a curling mark on his cheek.
His dangerous, nighttime self was the Jaguar God of the Underworld.
In climates where the sun is harsh and drought a danger, sun gods are