Ah ch'ibal canob: rethinking celestial animals in the Paris Codex 23-24

Keywords: Paris Codex, Maya constellations, wahy entities


Pages 23 and 24 of the Post-Classic Paris Codex contain figures of thirteen celestial beasts interpreted as Maya zodiacal constellations. Traditional scholarship has long attempted to identify those animals with Western zodiacal constellations.  Assuming this is correct, it would mean the Maya had chosen thirteen figures or names to represent groupings of stars located on or near the ecliptic. Thus, contrary to twelve Western (Greek-Roman) zodiacal constellations, each representing about 30° of the ecliptic, the hypothetical Maya constellations would occupy 13 locations within the ecliptic band covering only 27°-28° of its circle. Implicit in this is the idea that Maya zodiacal animals constituted forms of being similar to those played by Western zodiacal ones. However, this almost automatic identification of the Paris Codex figures with the Western zodiac creates an epistemic barrier in understanding what celestial beasts could mean for the Maya. To describe them in a purely astronomical light may lead us to impose our own Western concepts upon theirs, merging different cultural concepts on one epistemic level, thus restricting the further exploration of ontologically different perspectives.

This paper aims to clarify the nature of the animals pictured in the Paris Codex 23-24.


Metrics Loading ...


Bassett Molly H. 2015 The Fate of Earthly Things: Aztec Gods and God-Bodies. University of Texas Press. Austin. https://doi.org/10.7560/760882

Bricker, Victoria R and Helga-Maria Miram 2002 An Encounter of Two Worlds: The Book of Chilam Balam of Kaua [Middle American Research Institute, Publication 68]. Tulane University, New Orleans.

Bricker, Harvey M. and Victoria R. Bricker 1992 Zodiacal references in the Maya codices. In The Sky in Mayan Literature, edited by. Anthony F. Aveni, pp. 148-183. Oxford University Press, New York.

Bricker, Harvey M. and Victoria R. Bricker 2011 Astronomy in the Maya Codices. [Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 265]. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.

Carlson, John B. and Linda C. Landis 1985 Bands, Bicephalic Dragons, and Other Beasts: The Skyband in Maya Art and Iconography. In Elizabeth P. Benson (volume editor) Fourth Palenque Round Table, pp. 115-140. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

Caso Barrera, Laura 2011 Chilam Balam de Ixil. Facsimilar y estudio de un libro maya inédito. Artes de México and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

Chávez Guzmán, Mónica 2006 El sol como fundamento curativo de las terapias mayas yucatecas en el período colonial. Estudios de Cultura Maya 28: 121-139.

Chevalier, Jacques M. and Andrés Sánchez Bain 2003 The Hot and the Cold: Ills of Humans and Maize in Native Mexico. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Chinchilla Mazariegos, Oswaldo 2011 Imágenes de la Mitología Maya. Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala.

Closs, Michael P. 1989 Cognitive aspects of ancient Maya eclipse theory. In A.F. Aveni (ed.) World Archaeoastronomy, pp. 389-415. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Craine, Eugene R. and Reginald C. Reindorp 1979 The Codex Pérez and the Book of Chilam Balam of Mani. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Descola, Philippe 2014 Modes of being and forms of predication. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4(1): 271-280. http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.012.

George-Hirons, Amy 2015 Yokol Cab: Mayan Translation of European Astrological texts and Images in the Book of Chilam Balam of Kaua. Ethnohistory 62(3): 525-552. https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.012

Grube, Nikolai and Werner Nahm 1994 A Census of Xibalba: A Complete Inventory of Way Characters in Maya Ceramics. In Justin Kerr (ed.), The Maya Vase Book. Kerr, New York, Vol. 4: 686-715.

Gubler, Ruth and David Bolles 2000 The Book of Chilam Balam of Na. Facsimile, Translation, and Edited Text. Labyrinthos, Holline Court.

Guiteras Holmes, Calixta 1996 Los peligros del alma. Visión del mundo de un tzotzil. Fondo de Cultura Económica, México. (primera edición en español en 1965, en inglés 1991).

Helmke, Christophe and Jesper Nielsen 2009 Hidden Identity and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica: Supernatural Alter Egos as Personified Diseases. Acta Americana 17(2): 49-98.

Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw 2009 Por una astronomía cultural renovada. Complutum 20(2): 39-54.

Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw 2011 The sky as a social field. In Clive L.N. Ruggles (ed.), Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy: Building Bridges Between Cultures. (IAU Symposium Proceeding Series, 278). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 30-37.

Iwaniszewski, Stanislaw 2016 They Were Like Them: The Stars in Mesoamerican Imagery. In Nicholas Campion (ed.), Heavenly Discourses. Proceedings of the Heaving Discourses conference, Bristol 2011. Sophia Centre, University of Wales, Coredigion, pp. 51-59.

Kelley David H. 1976 Deciphering the Maya Script. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Klinger, Christian and Catherine Letcher Lazo

Kelley David H. 2012 The Role and Function of Wáay-Beings in the Context of Present-Day Yucatec Maya Life. In Maya Daily Lives: Proceedings of the 13th European Maya Conference, pp. 139-148. Verlag Anton Saurwein

Knowlton, Timothy W. 2010 Maya Creation Myths. Words and Worlds of the Chilam Balam. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.

Knowlton, Timothy W. 2015 Literacy and Healing: Semiotic Ideologies and the Entextualization of Colonial Maya Medical Incantations. Ethnohistory 62(3): 573-595. https://doi.org/0.1215/00141801-2890247

Köhler, Ulrich 1995 Chonbilal Ch’ulelal- Alma vendida. Elementos fundamentales de la cosmología y religión mesoamericanas en una oración en maya-tzotzil. Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México.

Love, Bruce 1994 The Paris Codex. Handbook for a Maya Priest. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Love, Bruce 2015 A Skyband with Constellations: Revisiting the Monjas East Wing at Chichen Itza. The PARI Journal 15(3): 11-14.

Love, Bruce 2018 The „Eclipse glyph” in Maya Text and Iconography: a Century of Misinterpretation. Ancient Mesoamerica 29: 219-244. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0956536116000444

Mietelski, Jan 1979 Astronomia w geografii. Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa.

Milbrath, Susan 1999 Star Gods of the Maya. Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Montoliú Villar, María 1989 Cuando los Dioses Despertaron. Conceptos cosmológicos de los antiguos mayas de Yucatán estudiados en el Chilam Balam de Chumayel. Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Paxton, Merideth 1992 The Books of Chilam Balam: Astronomical Content and the Paris Codex. In The Sky in Mayan Literature, edited by. Anthony F. Aveni, pp. 216-246. Oxford University Press, New York

Pérez, Juan Pio 1949 Códice Pérez. Traducción de Ermilo Solís Alcalá. Imprenta Oriente, Mérida.

Prager, Christian 2006 Is T326 a logograph for NA;M “hide , to go out of sight”. Notes on Ancient Maya Writing. Electronic document http://www.academia.edu/8219716/

Quintal, Ella F., Fidencio Briceño and Alejandro Cabrera 2013 Los que hablan con los vientos: los Jmeeno’ob. In Miguel A. Bartolomé and Alicia M. Barabas (eds.) ,Los sueños y los días: chamanismo y nahualismo en el México actual. Vol. II Pueblos Mayas, pp. 143-198. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

Redfield, Robert and Alfonso Villa Rojas 1962 Chan Kom: A Maya Village. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago (first published in 1934).

Shesheña, Alejandro 2010 Los nombres de los naguales en la escritura jeroglífica maya: Religión y lingüística a través de la onomástica 1. Journal of Mesoamerican Languages and Linguistics 2(1): 1-30.

Sotelo Santos, Laura Elena 1988 Las ideas cosmológicas mayas en el siglo XVI [Cuaderno 19], Centro de Estudios Mayas. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México.

Smither, Robert K. 2012-13 Correlation between Images in the Paris Codex and Stone Carvings at Chichén Itzá. Archaeoastronomy. The Journal of Astronomy in Culture 25: 30-53.

Spinden, Herbert J. 1916 The Question of the Zodiac in America. American Anthropologist N.S. 18, 1:53-80

Špoták, Jakub 2015 The Paris Codex: Complex Analysis of Ancient Maya Manuscript. Dissertation Thesis. Department of Comparative Religion, Faculty of Arts, Comenius University, Bratislava.

Stuart, David 2005 “The Way Beings”. In Notebook for 29th Maya Hieroglyphic Forum at Texas. Department of Art and Art History, the College of Fine Arts, and the Institute of Latin American Studies. The University of Texas at Austin, pp. 160-165.

Suárez Castro, María de Guadalupe 2017 El Chilam Balam de Tekax. Análisis etnohistórico. Secretaría de Cultura, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

Taube, Karl A. 2003 Ancient and contemporary Maya conceptions about field and forest. In: Arturo Gómez-Pompa (ed.), The Lowland Maya area: three millennia at the human-wildland interface. New York, pp. 461-492.

Tedlock, Barbara 1992a Time and the Highland Maya. Revised Edition. University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Tedlock, Barbara 1992b The Road of Light: Theory and Practice of Mayan Skywatching. In Anthony F. Aveni ( ed.), The Sky in Mayan Literature. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 18-42 .

Tozzer, Alfred M. 1907 A Comparative Study of the Mayas and the Lacandones. The Archaeological Institute of America. Macmillan Co.. New York.

Villacorta C., J. Antonio and Carlos A. Villacorta 1933 Códices mayas: Dresdensis, Peresianus Tro-Cortesianus. Tipografía Nacional, Guatemala.

Villa Rojas, Alfonso 1987 Los Elegidos de Dios. Etnografía de los mayas de Quintana Roo. Instituto Nacional Indigenista, México.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo 1998 Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. The Journal of the Royal anthropological Institute, N.S. 4(3): 469-488.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo 2004 Perspectivismo y multinaturalismo en la América Indígena. In Alexandre Surrallés and Pedro García Hierro (eds.), Tierra Adentro: territorio indígena y percepción del entorno. Grupo Internacional de Trabajo Sobre Asuntos Indígenas (IWGIA), Documento no. 39. Copenhague, pp. 37-80.

Whalen, Gretchen 2003 An Annotated Translation of a Colonial Yucatec Manuscript: On Religious and Cosmological Topics by a Native Author. FAMSI Reports.

How to Cite
Iwaniszewski, S. (2022). Ah ch’ibal canob: rethinking celestial animals in the Paris Codex 23-24. Estudios Latinoamericanos, 41, 147–164. https://doi.org/10.36447/Estudios2021.v41.art8