Codex Note: There are four codices. They all but one are so named for the cities they reside. The Dresden Codex, Paris Codex and Madrid Codex. The other one is of disputed authenticity and its name is the Grolier Codex found in a highland cave in the Chiapas area of Mexico. All of these codexes minus the Grolier where used in reference to the goddess Ix Chel in the article.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider has many exciting ancient elements woven throughout. One such interesting theme is the box of Ix Chel the central theme of the entire game and quite possibly the big picture of Shadow concerning the Maya world the plot is attached. Did you know that Ix Chel was taken directly from Maya culture and myth? In fact, the headdress that Lara wears towards the end of the game has a crescent moon on it and a coiled snake that represents Ix Chel. In simplest terms, Ix Chel was a Moon goddess, oh but there is more. There are several aspects of this goddess. They are designated as Goddess I and Goddess O. Lets explore the meaning of these and the connection to the game a bit.
Another item that smacks hard about the location from SOTTR is Cozumel. I have been there several times, and did you know that there is a shrine dedicated to Ix Chel on Cozumel? This connection in the game is no surprise due to Cozumel being a huge connection with the goddess in Maya history and belief. Down through the ages Cozumel has been a hub for the worship of Ix Chel and on a ruin site named San Gervasio, you can find a temple dedicated to Ix Chel. The ancient site played host to pre-Columbian women in pilgrimage coming to worship the goddess through offerings from far-reaching areas of the Maya world. They attempted at least once but hoped for twice. Once when young and the other when old.
You can watch the video below and see a great flyover by a drone of the sacred temple of Ix Chel. The island of Cozumel is rich in the goddess of the moon in belief and Maya folklore.
The archaeological site of San Gervasio is located in the northern region of the island of Cozumel just off the northeastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. The Maya name given to the island was ‘Tantun Cuzamil” that name means Flat Rock in the place of the Swallows The bishop of Yucatán, Diego de Landa, wrote in 1549 that the Maya “held Cozumel in the same veneration as we have for pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Rome, and so they used to go to visit and offer presents there, as we do to holy places; and if they did not go themselves, they always sent their offerings.”
Though there are other structures on the site, the one I will explore a bit is the Ix Chel temple.
Ka’an Nah means Tall House and it certainly is the tallest structure at the site. It was built during the Post-Classic era (1200-1650 AD) It is located West of the central plaza.
The temple dedicated to Ix Chel is on the top. In 1552 Francisco Lopez de Gomara wrote about this room at the top of the structure saying inside was an idol that was hollow and large enough for a priest to hide. He entered through a secretive door on its side and spoke to the people as the god it represented. Also, In 1618, Diego Lopez de Cogolludo wrote about how the statue was venerated through sacrifices of birds, dogs and even humans.
Cozumel has a rich history that dates back to 100 B.C. Being one of the most significant ports of call in the Maya world due to its enormous trade in honey as well as the pilgrimage site for Ix Chel. There was a surge in population on the island in 800 AD that ended in the 15th century with the appearance of the Spanish conquistadores. Though Cortez found the Maya on the island friendly and left a letter to the fact for the next expedition to arrive it was ill-fated. The expedition led by Panfilo de Narvaez the following year brought with it smallpox and that killed the population on the entire island. The name of the archaeological site comes from a cattle rancher by the name of Gervasio Novelo from the 19th century.
Side Note: After you have played Shadow of the Tomb Raider and come here there is a better understanding of Ix Chel’s function. It brings the goddess interpretation from the game into a bigger light and how the inspiration of her brought the game plot into a richer realm. I was on Cozumel earlier this year once again a couple months after The Day of the Dead celebration. Of course, it is a revenue turner for merchants and the stores were filled with skulls and what not about the celebration honouring the dead. There were also stores that sold figures of Ix Chel and you will see a lot more when you explore the ruins farther from town. Cozumel is a fascinating island and holds memories for me and my family as well.
The goddess Ix Chel
Ix Chel is, according to years of research is the Maya moon goddess, and has three forms. These forms are maiden, mother and crone. She is connected to fertility, medicine, reproduction, healing, death and destruction to name a few. Her name meaning is “Lady Rainbow”, she is also referred to as “She of the Pale Face”, possibly a reference to the surface of the moon as seen from the sky. There is a folklore story explaining that name, and I shall get into that later.
Connection in the game to cenotes
Spanish colonial reports that the Maya believed the moon goddess crossed the sky at night, and during the day she resided in the cenotes. When the moon began to disappear or wane, the Maya made journeys to the shrine on Cozumel. Cenotes have a connection to other Maya gods as well. The discovery of where the Ix Chel box resides is in the section of the game known as Cenote. Gee, I wonder why?
SOTTR’s Chak Chel and Ix Chel
Ix Chel has three identities. One is a young maiden, another is a wife and the other is an aged hag of a woman. Some become confused for in archaeology they are denoted by goddess I and goddess O. Goddess I “the youthful maiden form” wears the snake on her head, and it is a sign of healing. Also known as goddess I is “the mother form of this goddess” she does not wear the snake; however, goddess O “the old crone form” does wear the snake on her head.
However, these identities were compiled largely by archaeological studies through the codices and other sources. They did this using iconography, language history as well as historical documentation. There is a debate among the Mayanist community that they may have combined two different female Maya gods into the moon goddess. However, this is what we know now.
As a young maiden, she wears the coiled snake headdress. Referred to as Goddess I in the codices, and the young moon goddess. The coiled snake on her head indicates her influences of healing and instinctual knowledge. It also speaks of her skills in medicine and midwifery, and her capacity to control earthly forces. Also, her connection to the moon is through the word glyph sak the Maya word for white that appears in her headdress that denotes the phases of the moon. Women would pray to her for a safe childbirth and pregnancy as well as the sex of their child.
It is reported that Ix Chel’s name means “Lady Rainbow” The “Ix” indicates divine feminine, goddess and woman and “Chel” means rainbow. Another symbol associated with her is also the crescent moon.
More about Goddess I
Now we have Ix Chel the mother goddess and she not only is named for being the moon goddess here in the codices, but she is given an additional name of Ixik Kab This name means “Lady Earth” I did say that her headdress did not have a snake in it as the other two forms do. This one has spindles and cotton, which associates her with weaving and quite possibly the dry season. It is believed that the snake is not present in her mother form due to her being busy as a wife and mother, so she has no time for healing skills. She is connected to weaving, motherhood, fertility and crops.
Maya folklore states that Ix Chel ran away from her abusive husband the sun god and hid in the moon where she rules in the night sky. Some see the image of her holding her pet rabbit, which represents fertility, in the moon at night and she is said to be watching over and guiding women and children through many things in their life.
Goddess O Chak Chel
Old Crone Form
As goddess O Ix Chel is known as the old crone or grandmother Goddess O,
The codices name her as Chak Chel. Once again we see the coiled serpent on her head and she now holds the association of Grandmother Earth Goddess of the moon, rain, medicine and death. Maya codex depicts her as an old healer woman a midwife who also aids people in death.
Chak Chel – Ix Chel has other portrayals through the codices such as water goddess who is paired with the Maya rain god Chaak. She is said to be the wife of Maya creator god Itzamna as well as the destroyer. In her destroyer form, she is associated with death symbols. This is according to the codices.
The word “Chak” can mean red or even great. The Maya word “Chel’ means rainbow or arch of heaven. So, the name Chak Chel could mean “red rainbow” or “Red Moon”
In her destroyer appearance, Chak Chel looks like a monster with sharp claws, and her skirt made of crossed bones. Her claws are symbolic of a jaguar and when you see her image pouring water from the clay pot as we see of her in many Maya art representations, she is sending for powerful storms such as a hurricane and flood.
However, her connection to the eclipse
In the Dresden Codex, Chak Chel is also depicted as the new moon ready to eclipse the sun. During the time of the new moon, there is an increased amount of eclipses and this scared the Maya, for they believed that the eclipse could destroy the world.
Also, remember Lara on Cozumel mentioning the Maya symbols? One was Ix Chel and on the flip side, she said Chak Chel the “New Moon” That is the association to the eclipse and the destroyer which fit together well in her destroyer form and what the Maya feared from the eclipse. They laced that into the game very well.
Note: rainbows are not viewed in the Maya world as a good thing as they are in western culture. They believed them to be evil. So, her name meaning “Lady rainbow” has a turbulent meaning behind it. Additionally, the headdress of the goddess is reflected here in this picture of Lara representing her with the coiled snake and crescent moons.
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