Ix Chel (Ish-ell) was one of the most important and ancient deities in the Mayan Pantheon in the Classic and Late post Classic period (16th Cen.). A Moon Goddess and creatress associated with water, fertility, weaving, maize, and fate, believed to traverse the Milkyway in her canoe and hide underneath a silk shawl initiating the changing cycles of the moon. Her name Ix Chel translated to “Rainbow Woman,” “Rainbow lady,” “Lady Rainbow,” or “She of the Pale Face” a reference to her moon aspect.
In one version of the tale, Ix Chel is taking her monthly expedition across the night sky in her canoe. The Sun God, Kinich Ahau (Kʼinich Ajaw) who is secretly in love with her watches from his position in the sky. According to the Mayan people, this flirting between the two celestial bodies went on for eons. On one particularly boring day during the calm season, the Rain God Chaac pays a visit to Ix Chels' grandfather. He tells grandfather that the Sun God appears to have his eye on Ix Chel, grandfather retorts by saying he has seen no difference in the behavior of his granddaughter and is confident everything is how it has always been. Chaac leaves the palace having successfully planted this thought into grandfather's head whose concern for maintaining the natural order of things begins to grow.
On another particularly boring day during the calm season, Chaac visits a vulture and tells him that he has overhead that whoever marries Ix Chel will be made King of the skies. This information is very appealing to the low-class bird, so every morning before dawn the vulture makes his way high up into the sky to visit Ix Chel and tell her how lovely she is. These visits do not go unnoticed by the Sun God who grows more and more jealous with each passing day. Chaac, feeling bored once again decides to pay grandfather another visit. This time he tells grandfather that a vulture is planning to elope with Ix Chel and to prevent this from happening, the Sun God plans to kidnap her but he has a plan to put a stop to all of this. Grandfather agrees to take Chaac's help. Chaac sets off to take his position in the sky brewing up his best storm yet, he throws his axes at the clouds and hurtles many thunderbolts across the sky. One of these thunderbolts hits Ix Chel who lands in the ocean. In a last attempt to save her life she transforms into a crab and sinks into the deep waters. Chaac still caught up in his storm making, continues to hurtle thunderbolts through the sky and manages to hit Ix Chel all over her body, killing her. Ix Chel floats to the surface where four hundred dragonflies place her lifeless body into her canoe and take her back to the moon’s palace. The dragonflies hum over her body for thirteen days, on the thirteenth day she is resurrected and takes her place back in the sky (Quiroga-Stultz, 2017). In other retellings it is Ix Chel’s grandfather who goes into a jealous rage, inevitably striking her down and killing her.
A long-debated topic among Mayanists has been whether or not archaeologists and historians may have incorrectly combined three distinct Goddesses; Ix Chel, Goddess I, and Goddess O. If we look at Ix Chel as a singular Goddess with many aspects we get a triple Goddess that guides the viewer through a woman’s life cycle from young to mature. If we separate the aspects we have two very clear-cut Goddesses with dominion over very different areas of life. Goddess I, also known as Ixik Kab, “Lady Earth” is a sensual young woman with a coiled snake atop her head sometimes holding a flower in her hand and cuddling a white hare on her lap. She is closely associated with weaving in the post-classic period. Goddess O, on the hand, is portrayed as a powerful mature woman with dominion over creation and the underworld, married to the God Itzamna. Sometimes her body is a bold red and she appears with a few feline aspects such as jaguar claws and fangs, her skirt is embroidered with crossbones.
Mayan women made pilgrimages to the temples of Ix Chel, Ix Chebal Yax, Ix Hunie, and Ix Hunieta on the island of Cozumel. According to several historical records, there was a ceramic statue known as the Oracle of Ix Chel located on the island. The oracle was said to be consulted during the foundation of new settlements and in times of warfare. Pilgrims known as Hula would follow prepared Maya causeways that crossed the Yucatan landscape to consult an Aj’ K’in (Priest) who would pose their questions to the oracle in exchange for offerings of copal incense, fruit, bird and dog sacrifices. Several temples were located near the cenotes at the Maya sites of San Gervasio, Miramar, and El Caracol. San Gervasio was the ceremonial center of Cozumel.
In 1517, Francisco Hernandez Cordova discovered an island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico that was littered with little female figurines. This inspired Cordova to nickname the island Isla de las Mujeres, “Island of Women”. The island was a sanctuary for the Goddess Ix Chel and at one point utilized as a lighthouse for seafarers.
Earth and Moon Goddess associated with water, fertility, midwifery, weaving, maize, fate, physical love, agriculture, textile arts, death, and destruction.
Goddess Forms: Goddess I, Goddess O
Animal Forms: Serpent, Jaguar
Celestial Forms: Earth, Moon
Other names: The Old woman of the Moon, Wisdom of the waning crescent, Grandmother, Chak Chel “Large Rainow,” “Rainbow Lady,” “Lady Rainbow,” “She of the Pale Face,” “Lady Earth,” “Lady Moon,” Chac Chel “Red Rainbow,” “Great End”
Colors: red, white, black, yellow, silver
Cult Centres: Cozumel, Isla de las Mujeres
Offerings: Copal incense, fruit, bird and dog sacrifices
Loar, Julie. Goddesses for Every Day: Exploring the Wisdom & Power of the Divine Feminine around the World. New World Library, 2008.
Monaghan, Patricia. Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines. Vol. 2, New World Library, 2014.
Hawkes, Logan. “Paradise Found: Discovering the Charm of the Isle of Women.” Mexico Less Traveled, Lost Planet Media LLC, 2004, mexicolesstraveled.com/islamujeres.html.
Hirst, K. Kris. Ix Chel - Mayan Goddess(Es) of the Moon, Fertility and Death. Thoughtco.com, 22 Feb. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/ix-chel-mayan-goddess-moon-fertility-death-171592.
“Maya Culture: Maya Goddess Ixchel.” Yucatan Today, yucatantoday.com/maya-goddess-ixchel/?lang=en.
“Meaning & History.” Ixchel, Behindthename.com, 8 Dec. 2017, www.behindthename.com/name/ixchel.
Storyteller, Carolina. “Ixchel and the Dragonflies a Maya Tale. Adapted and told by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz.” Youtube, 14 Mar. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vlxj3uAMy-k&t=918s