J_Transformation 1

Details of a Classic period Maya vase animating the transformation of Itzamnaaj into a deer to have intercourse with a woman. The scene begins with the old deity reaching out to stroke the woman’s breasts. On turning, the ceramic shows the old deity transformed into a deer approaching the now-naked woman. In Maya mythology, one story describes women having received their genitalia from a deer kicking them between their legs, thus leaving their vagina in the shape of its hoof print (Thompson 1939, 1990 [1970]:363-370; see also Looper 2019:73-94 for a discussion on the intimate relationship seen between woman and deer amongst the Maya).

The scene might also tie in with Maya myths surrounding the old sun god copulating with the moon after turning into a deer (Thompson 1990 [1970]:363-370). Sexual intercourse between the two figures is implied by the scant clothing of the old deity and gradual increase in the woman’s state of undress, in her second depiction, invitingly opening her garment to receive the deer. The metamorphosis of the old deity into the deer is implied by the deer – still wearing the old deity’s necklace – having replaced the old man in his pursuit to copulate with the woman. Moreover, the deity’s three headband ties and possible breath lines issuing from his nose replicate the deer’s three antler branches and snout; in addition, large wing-like elements issuing from under the old deity’s arms suggest the beginnings of the shape of the deer’s oversized ears.

Animation extracted and adapted from Robicsek and Hales 1981:170, vessel 140. 

J_Transformation 2

Classic period Maya vase animating the expressive transformation of a jaguar beast, who, on turning of the vase, lunges forward to roar. Simultaneously, the scarf and loincloth worn by the beast sway forward to match its movement, while the beast’s headdress scroll enlarges, and its tail exhibits a bifurcated scroll similar to the roaring jaguar beast in J_Chama 2 (see Archaeological Sites / Chama).

In these instances, rotation of the vases thus activates the sound produced by the beasts; this suggests that the Maya closely associated movement with the passing of time and sound.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1992:431, file no 3812.

J_Transformation 3

Details of a Classic period polychrome vase revealing the progressive metamorphosis of a jaguar-headed creature into a skeletal deity as the creature takes three steps around the vessels. The figure’s dancing induces its transformation.

Animation extracted and adapted from Schele and Miller 1986:292, plate 109.

J_Transformation 4

Details of a Classic period Maya vase animating the transformation of a human into a supernatural and spearing of a serpent. The finely incised vase describes the figure sitting in a canoe floating on stacked water symbols, while, once transformed, the grotesque figure wears a water bird atop his headdress. The speared reptile transforms from a coiled serpent into a larger, skeletal version.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1989:79, file no. 1391. 

J_Transformation 5

Details of a Classic period polychrome Maya vase animating the transformation of an upright-walking jaguar beast. On turning of the vase, the beast’s shell-like ear grows and while the antlers of its first and second depictions disappear, in the third representation, its snout elongates, and its fangs turn into tusks. The beast wears a bright red scarf linking its three representations. Simultaneously, the three depictions of the same figure animate the lifting and lowering of the beast’s paws. In addition, three-dot clusters marking its arms and legs remind the viewer of the triadic structure of time driving the transformation.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1989:115, file no. 1835. 

Vase details animating a seated figure to lift a drinking cup to his mouth and transform into a beaked creature.

J_Transformation 6

Details of a Classic period Maya drinking cup that on rotation animates a seated figure to consume and ingest what is likely an intoxicating liquid from a cup he lifts to his mouth, thus transforming him into a beaked supernatural.

Animation extracted and adapted from Wichmann and Nielson 2016:298, fig. 11.7

J_Transformation 7

Details of a Classic period Maya vase, that on rotation in the viewer’s hands, visualises the transformation of the deity Itzamnaaj into the Principal Bird deity, aided by a probable Chaahk.

Predominately red, Classic period Maya polychrome vase revealing, on rotation, Itzamnaaj’s transformation into the Principal Bird Deity, aided by a kneeling figure, likely representing a manifestation of Chaahk. Both depictions of Itzamnaaj – his human and bird persona – display identical eyes with square pupils and wear the same necklace and headgear; the headdress feathers, on rotation, have turned into those of the bird’s wings and tail.

The other figure exhibits elongated puckered lips, whose probable whistling likely aided the deity’s transformation. Simultaneously, this figure adopts a seated position and unfolds his crossed arms to extend them up towards the avian apparition, as if supporting the bird’s flight.

On the original vase, the two scenes are separated by two vertical bands, each containing three stacked Time Head Stones. The heads reveal slight variation in their markings, albeit each displaying ‘shiny’ or ‘reflective’ mirror signs tied to the Time God K’awiil in his role of enabling birth, in this instance of the avian creature, from the reflective surface of water (see Maya Gods of Time). The stone heads’ triadic repetition, furthermore, highlights the Maya notion of three-part time driving the deity’s transformation; in addition, each figure panel also contains what appear like three smudged red ovals. 

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 2000:1010, file no 7821.

J_Transformation 8

Details of an Early Classic incised tripod vase, that, on rotation in the viewer’s hands, once again [see 7 above], animate the transformation of the deity Itzamnaaj into the Principal Bird deity. Both manifestations of the deity reveal the same square-pupiled eye, while his squatting human form exhibits exceedingly long feathers attached to the back of the headdress that in his avian manifestation form wing feathers, now outstretched and ready to fly.

The metamorphosis is aided by the three supports of the vase, which, on the original vase, in addition, each display three triangles to form a mnemonic to the Maya notion of three-part time driving the deity’s transformation. 

Our detection of two vases displaying the same transformation [7 above and 8], unlocked through their rotation, confirms that these two beings, Itzamnaaj and Principal Bird deity, represent one and the same being that may take of different guises.

Animation extracted and adapted from Kerr 1992:445, file no 3863.

Details of a bird animated to turn.

J_Transformation 9

Details of a Classic period vase displaying the coupling of the Moon Goddess and Sun taking on the form of a deer. As the vase is turned, the Moon Goddess develops a large deer ear, then turns into the deer upon which a semi-naked female sits. Next, she is shown embracing or capturing the deer to show her inter-being with the sun.

Three birds depicted beneath the throne supporting the seated female figure are animated to change their position, turning from facing left, then straight ahead, to right.

Animations extracted and adapted from Robicsek et al. 1981:20, vessel 15.