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p. 170



Few religious ideas were more widely spread among the aboriginal peoples of America than that of the sacred character of the four cardinal points. The Plains Indians of North America are said to ascribe the origin of this conception to the apparent motions of the sun to the east, north, west and south, 1 and the same explanation would appear to hold good for the peoples of Central America. The Maya connected the idea with a system of color symbolism: red with the east, white with the north, black with the west and yellow with the south. In the Dresden Codex we frequently find the glyphs for these directions associated with those representing the four colors in the order named. Each successive year followed the same rotation according to the day with which it began. The Kan years were ascribed to the east, the Muluc years to the north, the Ix years to the west and the Cauac years to the south, as shown by the calendar wheel of the Book of Chilam Balam of Ixil. 2 The same system governed the katun-wheel, only here we find whole groups of katuns associated with each of the cardinal points, as we see from the wheel on page 132 of the present work. On pages 41 and 42 of the Maya Codex Cortesianus there is a picture of the four world-quarters, each marked with its appropriate glyph, and in the Mexican Codex Fejérváry-Mayer 3 is a similar picture showing the trees and birds mentioned in Chapter X of the Chumayel. It is evident that the Mexican and Maya myths relating to this subject were very similar in some respects.

In Chapter X we have seen how the gods set up the four Trees of Abundance at the cardinal points to commemorate the previous destruction of the world. Like the conventionalized trees of the Palenque reliefs, the so-called crosses, these trees were surmounted by birds of mythological significance. From the four world-quarters came the winds, and here in all probability were the four great jars of water which supplied the rains. 4 According to the Mexican version of this myth the rain was favorable or unfavorable to the crops depending on the cardinal point from which it came. 5

From Landa we learn that "among the multitude of gods worshipped by these people they adored four, each of whom was called Bacab. These, they said, were four brothers whom God, when he created the world, placed at its four quarters to hold up the sky, so that it should not f all. They also state that these Bacabs were saved when the world was destroyed by a deluge.

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[paragraph continues] Other names are <also> given to each of these, and with them they designate the world quarter where God set them to hold up the sky." 1 The same writer goes on to tell us their names. In the east was Chacal Bacab, literally the Red Bacab, whose name was Cantzicnal, 2 and Landa also ascribes to him the names Chac Pauahtun and Chac-xib-chac. In the north was Zac-cimi, 3 as Zacal Bacab, or the White Bacab, was named, and he is also called Zac Pauahtun and Zac-xib-chac. In the west was Hozan-ek, or Ekel Bacab, the Black Bacab, also called Ek Pauahtun and Ek-xib-chac. In the south was Hobnil, or Kanal Bacab, the Yellow Bacab, to whom Landa also gives the names, Kan Pauahtun and Kan-xib-chac. Connected with the worship of these Bacabs were four stones, the Red, White, Black and Yellow Acantuns, which were anointed with the blood of the worshippers. Acantun might be translated as stone stela, and each of these probably had its mythological counterpart at one of the four cardinal points. 4

In the Motul Dictionary the word bacab is defined as "representante," possibly indicating that the Bacabs were the representatives of the gods. They were the advocates or patrons of the bee-keepers, 5 and it has been thought that their name was in some way connected with bees or honey, as cab can mean honey and bee-hive as well as earth and land. In the ritual in Chapter I we have noted that there were red, white, black and yellow bees, each sort ascribed to the world-quarter corresponding to their color. Of the individual names of the Bacabs, Cantzicnal and Hozan-ek mean little to the writer. Zac-cimi means a swoon, and Hobnil, which primarily means something hollow, is a term applied to a bee-hive, probably because it is made of the hollow section of a tree-trunk.

It seems likely that the four Pauahtuns were not quite the same as the Bacabs. Brinton gives an account of the misa milpera, or cornfield mass, as described by Baeza in a report written in 1813. 6 Here it is stated that "they are identical with the winds, and the four cardinal points from which they blow," and we find this confirmed in Chapter XI of the Chumayel which contains the Ritual of the Angels. In the modern ceremonies the red, white and black wind-spirits are identified with St. Dominic, St. Gabriel, and St. James; only the Yellow Pauahtun has the name of a Maya deity. This is Ix-Kan-le-ox, the goddess named for the yellow ramon 7 leaf. The word, Pauahtun, is difficult to translate. The last two syllables, Uah and tun, suggest

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a stone or a pillar set up or erected; but they are evidently personages, and the writer is inclined to identify them with the "angels" described by Landa in his account of the ceremonies preceding the New Year. 1 We have already seen in Chapter XI that the four Pauahtuns were set up before the world was created and were either identical or closely associated with the wind-spirits. Possibly they occupied the same position in the heavens that the Bacabs did on the earthly plane.

Landa has also ascribed to the four Bacabs the names, Chac-xib-chac, Zac-xib-chac, Ek-xib-chac and Kan-xib-chac. These appear to be the rain-gods who were four in number and were set at the four cardinal points. The author of the Motul Dictionary considers them to be one person and states that Chaac "was a gigantic man who taught agriculture and whom they later considered the god of bread, water, thunder and lightning." The names given by Landa could be translated as the Red, White, Black and Yellow male Chacs, or rain-gods.

We find in Landa a detailed description of the ceremonies performed on the five unlucky days which concluded the year. 1 Although they have been considered New Year's ceremonies, in each case the Bacabs and other personages belong to the year which is ending, and not to the coming year for which they are said to be the augury. On pages 25 to 28 of the Dresden Codex is the portrayal of some very similar ceremonies which Seler has analysed and compared with the Landa account. 2


170:1 Brinton 1890, pp. 156-157.

170:2 Reproduced Bowditch 1910, p. 328.

170:3 Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, p. 1, reproduced in Seler 1923, p. 15.

170:4 Codex Cortesianus, p. 40.

170:5 Seler 1904, p. 267.

171:1 Landa 1929, pp. 14-16. We can not but believe that at least some of the numerous Atlantean figures found at Chichen Itzá represent these mythological personages who held up the sky.

171:2 The name is supplied from the Tizimin MS. p. 10; in Landa it is written Canzienal.

171:3 Given in Landa as Zacciui, but the associated prognostic is swooning, which is zac-cimil in Maya.

171:4 Landa, 1929, pp. 16-40.

171:5 Ibid., p. 58.

171:6 Brinton 1890, p. 166; Baeza 1845.

171:7 Cf. p. 103, note  10.

172:1 Cf. p. 67, note  5; also Landa 1929, p. 22.

172:2 Seler 1902, pp. 357-389.

Next: Appendix B: The Sacrificial Cenote at Chichen Itza