Time Gods


Details of Princeton Vase animating on rotation Chaahk chopping off a victim’s head.

J_Chaahk 1

On rotation of this Classic period Maya vase, Chaahk is animated to swing an axe down onto the neck of a victim, who crouches at his feet, stripped of all his regalia and with his arms tied behind his back.

The performance is in honour of God L, who sits within an elaborate throne room while attended by many beautiful young women. Simultaneously, a rabbit sitting at the base of the throne watching the sacrifice writes in a jaguar-pelt covered codex.

Animation extracted and adapted from vessel no 32221. Courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum; museum purchase, gift of the Hans A. Widenmann, Class of 1918, and Dorothy Widenmann Foundation.

Details animating movements of first couple.
Details animating gestures of second couple.
Details animating individual lady’s movements.

J_Chaahk 2

Details of a Classic period Maya polychrome vase animating the movement of five individuals performing rites surveyed by Chaahk; the deity wears his hair in the typical top-knot, is dressed in a spotted jaguar-skin loin cloth and exhibits the grotesque mask he also adopts on the Vase of the Seven Gods (see J_Naranjo 1). Chaahk sits within a throne cave formed by the gaping maw of a large earth monster with large staring eye, rounded teeth and kaban earth and stone signs marking its body; a spotted moan bird perches on the back of its head, twisting its beak sharply back to survey the figures ‘performing’ for Chaahk; while on the cave interior, a disembodied head replaces the beast’s rear tooth, hanging immediately above three likely mirror signs. Chaahk leans towards his audience while pressing his right palm onto the maw’s lower jaw and extending his left arm and palm forwards in an instructive gesture; a large drinking vase is placed before his knees, the consumption of its contents likely important to the ceremony.

Chaahk’s audience consists of five individuals, each depicted twice and arranged, slightly offset, in two tiers, one placed above the other. On the original vase, vertical glyph columns accompany the figures, likely naming them or describing their actions. In addition, the ceremony is accompanied by music played by a three-man band seated immediately behind the group. 

On rotation of the ceramic in a clock-wise direction, these figures are animated to perform rituals. The first pair, an old man seated before a young woman, are energised to tighten their embrace; they sit behind a large jar atop which is balanced a probable enema the Maya used to induce trances. The old man, who initially touches with his right hand a glyph placed in the column immediately before him on the original vase, lowers this hand to wrap both arms tightly around his chest while grasping the woman’s outstretched arms, who leans closer into his back. 

The next rotation of the vase animates a different woman, part of the second figure pair, sat facing a drunk-looking, tooth-less old male, to replace the fan she held in her first depiction with a mirror; this excites the old man greatly, who, eyes widened, leans forward to inspect his reflection. Simultaneously, the old man picks up the jar placed between the couple in their first depiction which likely contained the substance which sent him into the trance. Moreover, the woman’s hair has opened, now cascading down her back and the pattern of her huipil dress has changed.

A further woman sits behind the two figure pairs performing intoxicating rites. In her first depiction she is shown holding what might be a sack, possibly also containing a drug she consumes since she proceeds to tense her pose and widen her eyes. In addition, her huilpil also changes its patterns. She sits before the three-man band, who play the rattles, a drum supported by Ik’ ‘wind’ feet (its sound carried by the unseen force of wind) and beat a turtle shell with deer antlers. The latter, along with his turtle shell, appear to be emerging from the earth maw supporting Chaahk; moreover, the musicians’ appearance matches that of Chaahk – likely to indicate his supernatural orchestration of their music – in that they display the same hair style, grotesque mask, jaguar loin cloth and are associated with the same ‘head’ glyph (shown reverberating immediately above the beaten drum) that also appears in front of the deity in the glyph columns immediately above his head (at A3 on the original vase). The three musicians’ arrangement on the original vase, furthermore, creates the unseen impression of them spinning about a central pivot (here they have been reproduced side-by-side), which, along with their number, implies the progression of cyclical time and the Maya notion of three-part time driving the sound of their music and the individuals’ drug-induced transformations. In addition, on the original vase the figures rest on a band of concentric ovals alternating with crosses which gradually increase in size; they issue from the front of the lower jaw of Chaahk’s throne. The ovals describe the Mayan pet glyph signifying ‘to turn’, thus implying spinning motion and time affected by the rotation of the vase in the viewer’s hands. The pet glyphs alternate with kan ‘sky’ crosses, which might place the ceremony and Chaahk’s location in the sky.

Animations extracted and adapted from Reents-Budet 1994:256, fig. 6.24.

J_Chaahk 3

Details of a Classic period Maya polychrome vase animating Chaahk’s sacrificial dance. The scene is similar to that describing the animation of Chaahk committing self-sacrifice on the Vase of the Seven Gods (see Maya Gods of Time, fig. 3.46).

Turned in the viewer’s hand in an anti-clockwise direction, the animation begins with a frontal depiction of Chaahk, dancing while dressed in a jaguar loin cloth with long tail, he lifts his right heel with both arms extended at his sides. The next rotation of the vase reveals Chaahk in profile, having turned to his right, his jaguar mittens and boots removed and swinging a ‘flower’-axe in his lowered left hand.

Next, rotating the vase produces the most dramatic change in Chaahk, now depicted in a prostrate position, lying on his back, with arms tied behind his back by a rope bound to a large bundle (a Time Stone; see Maya Gods of Time). Now more bestial, Chaahk’s body has transformed, his skin having taken on the jaguar spots of the pelt previously worn as a loincloth; moreover, his headdress – in the previous two depictions involving his hair worn in a high top-knot and spotted jaguar ears topped by large ahaw signs issuing bifurcating scrolls – has metamorphosed into a grotesque mask that merges with his face; in addition, the central incisor in Chaahk’s first two depictions has been replaced by fangs.

Chaahk, who awaits his sacrifice, is loudly screaming, indicated by a gigantic sound scroll issuing from his mouth, which fills the entire background of the scene on the original vase; facing Chaahk’s first frontal representation, the sound scrolls reveal a large head which stretches the height of the vase and exhibits a long nose reminiscent of the Time Gods, its large scroll body, moreover, marked with multiple three-dot clusters to remind the viewer of the unseen time driving the motion of sound and Chaahk’s transformation. The dominant red colour and overall theme of the vase symbolism also suggest Chaahk’s imminent bloody sacrifice.

Animation extracted and adapted from Robicsek and Hales 1981:116, fig. 17a.

Details of Madrid Codex animating Chaahk to raise and lower a flaming torch and an axe as the viewer leafs through the book pages.

J_Chaahk 4

Reconstruction of Madrid Codex Plates 1 to 7, showing how the codex was opened to first present one, then three, then four pages. The blue-painted Chaahk figure in the top register shows how his animation was activated by the reader turning the codex pages; here, looking between Plates 3 and 4, we can see Chaahk’s animation, he lowers the burning torch he hold in his left hand from his first to second depictions, gains a further torch in his right hand in his third depiction, which is replaced by an axe in his fourth.

Simultaneously, the water serpent (forming an aqueous enclosure with its body), while changing its body markings and sign or creature immediately above its head, retains the numeral ‘18’ at its centre.

Displayed in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, Merida.

J_Chaahk 5

Maya Chaahk representations conveying movement in the Postclassic Dresden Codex in three stages: the Chaahk triplet is shown gradually raising an axe above the deity’s head.

Animation extracted and adapted from www.famsi.org/mayawriting/codices/dresden.html, p. 32.

J_Chaahk 6

Classic Maya polychrome bowl animating a figure, possibly Chaahk, to pucker his elongated lips and whistle while the ties of his knotted headband tighten and unravel.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 2000:985, file no. 7147

J_Chaahk 7. Classic Maya vase animating Chaahk being crushed into the earth by a weighty stone conceptualising time’s mass.
On rotation, Chaahk opens his mouth, the stone’s weight forcing him to exhale; simultaneously, a figure approaches to touch the end of his feline tail causing the latter’s headdress flower to lift. 

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1992:462, file no. 4118.
J_Chaahk 8. Classic Maya incised vase animating the Time deity Chaahk’s symbolic transformation into a seed, fostering new life in the circle of life. 

Chaahk, shown in the throes of dying, is depicted lying back on the floor, exhaling large breath scrolls metamorphosing into maize foliage, while extending his weapon far beyond his head in readiness to strike. On turning the ceramic, while Chaahk retains his head, his body is transformed into that of a serpent emitting the same foliage-breath volutes. 

Chaahk’s transformation is indicated by both representations exhaling the same maize-breath volutes, similar foliage emerging from behind his ears and Chaahk’s new body shape, which, once having performed the death strike over his head, describes the oval replicated in the serpentine body’s coil; the body is marked with ‘earth’ cross-hatch and its oval-shape is reminiscent of that of seeds, also seen on the original vase filling the vacant space around the scene in groups of three. 

The serpentine features of Chaahk’s new body also draw attention to the time deity K’awiil, next in line in the circle of life, responsible for birth, and who is often depicted with a single serpentine leg. The animation thus expresses Chaahk’s sacrifice fertilising the seeds necessary for future germination driven by K’awiil. 

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 2000:990, file no. 7190.

J_Chaahk 8

Classic period Maya polychrome vase animating Chaahk to perform a rocking motion.

The deity sits cross-legged, leaning against a large bundle containing black dots, while folding his arms across his chest. He displays red body paint which matches the red scrolls issuing from his jaguar paws and back of headdress. Chaahk wears his hair in the typical high top-knot and displays a spotted jaguar ear and single, central tooth.

On turning, Chaahk pushes his torso forwards while slightly lowering his head, which causes him to no longer lean against the bundle placed immediately behind him. Simultaneously, Chaahk’s loincloth ends fly forwards and the three ovals stacked vertically at the end of his headdress change to a vertical arrangement that gives the impression of outward growth; moreover, the rotation of the vase has encouraged the bundle to grow upwards, its six large spots now neatly arranged in two vertical rows, and has also brought forth a feathered bundle or large flower that descends from the rim of the vase to touch Chaahk’s top-knot tie. 

On the original vase Chaahk sits on a wide band above a quincunx cartouche that alternates with three time stones to form a mnemonic to the Maya notion of three-part time driving the spinning motion turning the ceramic and Chaahk’s animation; simultaneously, the quincunx cartouche reminds the viewer of the spinning motion of time reaching all regions of Maya structural world view, which they saw divided into four parts arranged around a centre.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 2000:952, K5978. 


J_K’awiil 1

Details of a Classic period Maya vase, which, when rotated in the hands of the viewer, animate K’awiil to stretch his left hand forward to overlap with the large forehead-flare issuing from his forehead.

Animation extracted and adapted from Robicsek and Hales 1981:164, vessel 135.

J_K’awiil 2

Details of a Classic period polychrome Maya vase animating K’awiil, on rotation of the vase, to lower his right arm and clenched hand.

At the same time, the forward motion of K’awiil’s torso forces the large scrolls issuing from his forehead flare to touch a panel, or possibly a mirror, depicted on the original vase, displaying a single vertical row of glyphs that change from one depiction to the next. Three-dot clusters mark the deity’s regalia and head flare scrolls to draw attention to the Maya notion of three-part time facilitating the motion depicted.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1992:454, file no. 4020. 

J_K’awiil 3

Details of a Classic period polychrome Maya vase animating K’awiil to flick his fingers forward causing his flare scrolls to grow. The deity is represented twice within a cartouche formed by his own forehead flare scroll that is shown emanating from the ‘shiny’ or ‘reflective’ mirror symbol marking his brow. The only movement present is that of his left-hand fingers and growth of his flare scroll, highlighting their symbolic significance. Once again, numerous three-dot clusters line K’awiil’s flare scrolls to signal the Maya notion f three-part time driving their growth.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1992:374, file no. 2970. 

J_K’awiil 4

This predominantly red, Classic period polychrome Maya vase animates K’awiil, on turning of the vessel, to proffer a large, red bundle, which he initially holds close to his chest.

At the same time, K’awiil’s body swells and turns red to match the colour of the bundle and his large, red forehead flare which comes to rest on top of the bundle, as if feeding from it; K’awiil also presses his long nose against his red forehead flare, likely to absorb the ‘red’.

Multiple three-dot clusters mark K’awiil’s flare, clothing and headdress feathers to signal the transformative power of three-part time and his growth fed by the red time bundle he holds. In this example, the artist made use of colour (red) to highlight change affected by time. See Kerr 2000:940, for a colour reproduction of this vase.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 2000:940, file no. 5794. 

J_K’awiil 5

Classic polychrome vase animating, on rotation in the viewer’s hand, a figure wearing deer antlers being ‘birthed’ from a large K’awiil or Cauac earth monster head; the figure adopts the same upward-angled head tilt as the Birthing God K’awiil, babies at birth, or divers emerging from water, which is also described by the Mayan ‘birth’ glyph sihi, represented by a toad adopting the same pose (see John and John 2018:174-177, fig. 3.38). 

The vase figure emerges from amongst foliage from a split in the beast’s head, and, on rotation of the vase, emphasises upward thrust by the figure stretching his arms up and out towards the sky, indicated by the ceramic rim band exhibiting alternating K’IN (blooming ‘day sun’), KAN (‘sky’) and YAL (intertwined-band ‘weaving’; Stone and Zender 2011:24-26) logographs. 

The KAN and JAL logographs simultaneously appear to exchange meaning by tightening, or unravelling, depending on the rotational direction of their reading. 

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1989:121, file no. 1889.

J_K’awiil 6

Delicately-carved Maya tripod vase animating K’awiil, the God of Birth, to swing his arms from pointing away from the left of his torso to his other side, in the process pressing his right palm to the ground and holding his left hand to his chest.

The deity sits within a large waterlily pad and reflective signs mark his body, in combination referring to calm water’s shiny surface, considered the locus of birth in Maya thought. 

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1997:830, file no. 6069.

J_K’awiil 7

Carved Classic Maya vase animating K’awiil emitting a lightning flash from his mouth marked with a reflective sign. Simultaneously, the wide scrolls emanating from beneath his head transform into his forehead flare and swell in size.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1997:749, file no. 5053.

J_K’awiil 8

Carved Classic Maya tripod vessel with IK’ shaped feet displaying a watery serpent-creature exhibiting K’awiil characteristics (‘shiny’/’reflective’ LEM logograph marking elongated snout).

As the ceramic is turned in the viewer’s hands, K’awiil’s eye enlarges and a Venus sign, repeated at the top right above his head, is emitted from his mouth, confirming the close association of K’awiil aiding in the birth of Venus from the surface of water (see John in press, Chapter 5).

On the original vase, three ovals containing glyphs separating the deity’s two depictions form a mnemonic to three-part time driving the event. 

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1990:222, file no. 2210.

Details of K’awiil’s head animated to move.

J_K’awiil 9

Classic period polychrome cylinder vase details depicting K’awiil’s head three times; each depiction reveals slight variation in position, which, on rotation of the vase in the viewer’s hands, brings the deity to life.

Animation extracted and adapted from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/319633, June 2019. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; anonymous Gift, 2005.

Ux Yop Huun

J_Ux Yop Huun 1

Details of a Classic period Maya Ux Yop Huun representation on a Cholola-style incised vase from near Xcalumkin Mexico); note the upward thrust of hands encouraging the deity’s ascent and growth. Opulent maize cobs sprout from either side of the Ux Yop Huun’s head to highlight his role of encouraging upward growth. The three spinning elements relate to the turning motion of Maya three-part time driving cyclical renewal.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1990:318, file no. 4547.