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What does it mean?

January 24, 2011

Someone e-mailed us this week asking us to explain the meaning of this illustration which is on the “Links” page of our website. We thought other people might be interested in the answer, so we’ve written the answer as a blog entry.

The short answer to the question is that the elements depict symbols of kingship, power and warfare and these are set in a mythological context.

For a little more detail, read on…

One of the main aims of the illustrations in the Jaguar Stones books is to introduce kids to Maya imagery which they probably haven’t encountered before and which is very different than ours. This particular drawing brings together a number of concepts which are common in Maya illustrations. I conceived this drawing to be as a sort of coat of arms for Lord 6-Dog – the ancient Maya king who is one of the protagonists of the book. (By the way, a black and white version of this illustration is on the contents page of Jaguar Stones Book Two: The End of the World Club. I originally drew it for the book, but then added color to it to use it on the website.

1. The Shield and Spears:
The shield and two flint tipped spears in the center of the illustration were inspired by the stone tablet which is in the Temple of the Sun at Palenque (the western side of the Cross Group).

Tablet from the Temple of the Sun - drawn by Linda Schele

This inscription was commissioned by K’inich Kan Balam to commemorate his victory over the rival kingdom of Toniná. It depicts the young king offering a small statue to the animated spirit of warfare (“Flint and Shield” mean sacred warfare in Mayan).

Way - Spirit Companion

In the center of the Palenque shield is the face of the jaguar god of the night (god GIII). While I kept the outer elements of this shield in my version, I replaced the Maya deity with the glyph for jaguar behind some jaguar pelt. Jaguars were revered by the Maya as great warriors and the kings often wore jaguar pelts as part of their battle dress. The way these two jaguar elements are arranged on the shield, is done to echo the glyph for Way – meaning a “spirit companion” (usually an animal) which the Maya kings would have had throughout their life.

2. The Serpents:
In stone monuments, Maya kings are often depicted holding a two headed serpent bar as a symbol of kingship. At each end of the bar a deity emerges from the open mouth of a serpent. This is usually the Maya gods K’awiil (god K) and what archaeologist call the jester god. Both are strongly associated with kingship. Serpents are also associated with visions. In rituals, the king would channel a specific god, or call up the spirit of a revered ancestor. These are depicted as coming out of the mouth of a “vision serpent”.

3. K’awiil emerges on the right:
K'awiil In my illustration K’awiil emerges from the right hand mouth of the serpent bar. The Maya god K’awiil has an obsidian mirror on his forehead out of which emanates smoke (or an axe head). The Maya storm god Chaak is often depicted wielding the god K’awiil as his fiery lightning axe (in much the same way that Thor wields his hamer Mjolnir). As a symbol of power in battle, Maya kings will sometimes be shown holding an axe-like K’awiil scepter.

4. Hunahpu emerges on the left:
Hunahpu Out of the left mouth of the serpent emerges one of the Hero Twins. The Maya code that tells you he is Hunahpu is the double black dots on his skin. He is holding a dimensional glyph for jaguar (ie the yellow jaguar stone which we have linked to K’awiil). By showing a Hero Twin emerge from the serpent bar/vision serpent Lord 6-Dog would be trying to communicate that he is linked spiritually or by lineage to these mythical beings from the Popul Vuh.

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