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Maya Death God A from the Dresden Codex

RESOURCE: Ancient Maya gods - 2) Death God Kimi (‘God A’)

The ancient Maya pantheon consisted of many deities - some shared with other Mesoamerican peoples, others ‘add-ons’ from other cultures. Our main sources of information are the codices, early colonial documents, ceramics and mural paintings. A 19th century scholar, Paul Schellas, studied the gods in the three codices known at the time. In those days Maya hieroglyphs couldn’t be read, and he named the gods with a letter from the Roman alphabet - a system still in use today. We quote here from the excellent little British Museum Pocket Dictionary of Aztec and Maya Gods and Goddesses, in the second of a short series featuring some of the most important Maya deities...

Pic 1 and main pic (above): The Maya Death God holds an offering (Codex Dresden); the black spots on his body represent decaying flesh. Sometimes his ribs are also showing
Pic 1 and main pic (above): The Maya Death God holds an offering (Codex Dresden); the black spots on his body represent decaying flesh. Sometimes his ribs are also showing (Click on image to enlarge)

Kimi*, the god of death, is the Lord of the Maya Underworld (Xibalbá), associated with death, war and sacrifice. Also known as God A, he is portrayed totally or partially as a skeleton - often shown with black spots to represent the decay of flesh. His aspect is sometimes terrifying, appearing in scenes related to executions. At other times he is shown as a grotesque and laughable figure, with an enormous belly.
Kimi, the Death God, lives in the lowest of the nine levels of the Underworld. His companions are the owl and other creatures related to death and evil omens.

Pic 2: The Maya death god as a hunter, from a ceramic Maya vase
Pic 2: The Maya death god as a hunter, from a ceramic Maya vase (Click on image to enlarge)

The ancient Maya thought that people who had a violent death went directly to one of the thirteen heavens. Everyone else went to the Underworld, where the God of Death dictated their fate. The modern Maya from Yucatan (Mexico) still believe today that he creeps around the houses of sick people, waiting for a future victim.

* Kimi is a Yucatec Maya name. The Death God is the Maya equivalent of the Aztec Mictlantecuhtli. In the Popol Vuh, the Death God is presented as two gods, defeated by the Hero Twins in the Underworld. (Ed.)

Image sources:-
• Main pic: image scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA (Villacorta) facsimile edition of the Codex Dresden, Graz, Austria, 1975
• Pic 1: Graphic scanned from our own copy of The Ancient Maya by Sylvanus G. Morley, Stanford University Press, California, 1947 (p. 241 - graphic based on Codex Dresden, p. 13)
• Pic 2: Image from Wikipedia (Maya death gods); taken from Justin Kerr: The Maya Vase Book. Vol. 6, Kerr Associates (2001).

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on May 15th 2018

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