Descending God


The Descending God intrigued me from the first moment I came across his existence and he is, for sure, guilty for my passion for everything Maya. I came to Mexico because I wanted to see with my own eyes if it is possible that he represented an ancient astronaut (the extraterrestrials). Three years down the road and I am no wiser. I researched this fella but there are not many answers out there, just some speculation.


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He is called the Descending God because he seems to be going down from the sky; his head is down and his legs are upwards. He has a headdress and he is holding an object in his hands.

This god can be found at a few archaeological sites, but is known primarily at the trading port site of Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. Other sites include Cobá, Sayil, Dzibanché and Chichén Itzá, also located on the Yucatán Peninsula. In Tulum, the Descending God can be found in carvings and representations on the Temple of the Descending God, the Temple of the Frescoes, and El Castillo. At Cobá he is found in carvings on a small temple on top of the Grand Pyramid. At Sayil the figure is found on a relief on El Palacio and at Chichén Itzá there is the Descending God Temple. Tulum was the main trading port for Cobá, Sayil, and Chichén Itzá. We can see the diffusion of the Descending God between the sites. I tried to look for clues about what connected these four sites, worshipping the same god, but no luck so far.

So who was he?

Let's start with Dzibanché, from where we have an incense burner. This god is apparently associated with corn worship. Really? But the Maya had their own maize god. The tonsured maize god is often accompanied by the famous hero twins. Following Karl Taube and scholars such as Michael D. Coe, the belief was that the resurrected tonsured maize god of the classic period corresponds to the father of the hero twins in the Popol Vuh called Hun-Hunahpu. So the Maize god is connected to the creation mythology. And he looks different!

 
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Tonsured Maize God as a patron of the scribal arts, Classic period

Tonsured Maize God as a patron of the scribal arts, Classic period

 

Let's look at another option. This diving position is that in which bees are usually shown in the Madrid Codex. So some believe that the descending god is Ah-Muzen-Cab, the Bee God. According to Maya legends, Ah-Muzen-Cab gave the bees to the tropical forests of the Yucatán peninsula. Erich Von Däniken touches on this subject in his book, The Gold of the Gods. In addition, the bees symbolised a link to the spirit world. Historically, twice a year the Maya priests harvested honey from the log nests in live trees as part of a religious ceremony. The Maya honey was used as a sweetener, antibiotic, and as the main ingredient in balché, a honey drink similar to mead. It was also used as a wax. 

According to the Book of Mormon, the Descending God symbolises the return of Jesus Christ. I did not follow this path of research.

Or could it be an ancient astronaut, as I believed at first? After all, even the Olmecs portrayed supernatural beings, for example in La Venta Museum in Villahermosa there is Stela 3 of the Bearded Man. Above him there are two flying figures. They could represent ancestors or sacred beings, an expression of legitimising the power of a ruler. They are generally referred to as supernatural beings. Could they be ancient astronauts who visited the planet and taught the ancient ancestors their astronomy, agriculture, writing and mathematics? I leave that question open to you.

 
 

In the Dresden Codex there is also a representation of the descending god. His name is Az Tzul Ahaw, the god of Venus (the Venus glyph appears where his face is). Maya city-states were typically warring so their association with Venus also indicated the Descending God's importance to the political Maya world.

 
Az Tzul Ahaw, Venus God, in Dresden Codex p. 58 (both photos)

Az Tzul Ahaw, Venus God, in Dresden Codex p. 58 (both photos)

Az Tzul Ahaw, Venus God, in Dresden Codex p. 58 (photo 2)
 

However, Jan Wicherink argues that this Venus glyph was wrongly interpreted by the scholars. Notice the cross symbols in the sky band. There are two four-pointed crosses in the sky band (above the god's legs), which represented the eclipse. The two crosses (Zodiac Cross and Galactic Cross) form an eight-pointed cross and four times during a precession cycle they overlap. So according to this theory, the Descending God captures the Maya astrological observations about the movement of celestial bodies; he is a symbol of the precession cycle. The precession cycle and the 8-pointed cross is just beyond me, in all honesty.

Furthermore, the Venus glyph in Tula, Hidalgo and other ancient places in Mexico was found to represent Quetzalcóatl (Kukulkán for the Maya), under the aspect of 'Morning Star' or 'Venus'. In other places (Dos Pilas in Guatemala), the Sun god K'inich Ajaw wore the Venus glyph on his shoulder. So it seems that the Venus glyph (if this glyph is correct on the Descending God's face) could have represented the worship of Kukulkán as well as the almighty God of the Sun.

Dos Pilas in Guatemala: the Maya Sun god K'inich Ajaw, with a Venus symbol on his shoulder.

Dos Pilas in Guatemala: the Maya Sun god K'inich Ajaw, with a Venus symbol on his shoulder.

To connect it further, Kukulkán descended to ground level from the sky. The culture hero lived approximately in the 10th or 11th century. After his mysterious departure from Yucatán, the people were convinced that he had gone to the abode of the gods and that he will return one day. Were they waiting for him? The Castle structure in Tulum portrays Kukulkán as a feathered serpent, admittedly descending down the columns and Kukulkán as a descending god is also portrayed in Chichén Itzá. He descends as a feathered serpent. So is this about reincarnation? Two different images of the same descending god?

Going back to Venus, its imagery goes back to the pre-Classic. Even the Olmec had a Venus symbol. Archaeologists have long wondered if the Maya, the Mexica, and the people of Teotihuacán shared a Venus-related warrior cult, in which the planet’s movements guided military strategy. However, we don't know of any considerable enemy of Tulum or any wars they may have fought.

 
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Descending God, place of origin not specified, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.

Descending God, place of origin not specified, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.

 

There is also a possibility that the god has no wings, that it is actually flames of fire and it could be a descending sun. So we are back to the worship of the sun. If we look closely at a stone carving from Santa Lucía in Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala, the flames of fire are coming off this descending god and the sun. Well, that reminds me of my visit to Egypt. The so-called 'winged sun disk' is practically in every temple. It’s a golden disk with broadly spreading wings. The winged sun was a symbol associated with divinity, royalty and power in the Ancient Near East World. So is Tulum's god an artistic expression of the liaisons between humans and sun gods?

 
The Descending God in Santa Lucía in Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala   600-800 A.D., now in the Ethnology Museum in Berlin

The Descending God in Santa Lucía in Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala 600-800 A.D., now in the Ethnology Museum in Berlin

 

At the moment, I rest my case. For me the simplest solution seems this. Venus was called by the Maya Xux Ek, which means in translation Wasp Star. So it is not a bee, or a Bee God, but a wasp.  So I will gladly accept that Venus was an avatar of  Quetzalcóatl (Kukulkán for the Maya), under the aspect of 'Morning Star'. It represents the descending Venus and it connected with the worship of Kukulkán.

If anybody out there has found any resolution, or even yet another speculation or theory, please let me know. This search and debate for the answer is ongoing.

Sources:

Nicolai Grube, Maya: Divine Kings of the Rainforest, 2012, H. Fullman

Maya Maize God

Descending God Illustrations

Images of Descending God

Jan Wicherink: Great Celestial Conjunction Crosses

Renate Schukies: The Birth of Venus out of Orion

The ancient Mayan glyphs of Venus