Monday, January 15, 2018

The Baby Jaguar

This vessel came from Guatemala and was made between the 600s AD and 700s AD. It's style is the codex style. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The ancient Maya believed in different kinds of supernatural jaguar beings, such as the Water Lily Jaguar and the Jaguar God of the Underworld. Yet another was a being known as the Baby Jaguar or Unen Bahlam. (You might also see Bahlam spelled as B'alam.) The Baby Jaguar l
ooks like it may have been connected to sacrifice, the sun, and rain.


This particular jaguar was drawn three ways, from all jaguar and half-jaguar to human. (There's a theory about why they drew it three ways, which suggests that there were three beings the Maya were drawing.) There's a cord that goes out from somewhere around his eyes, which archaeologists call a "cruller." 

Also, this being was drawn with a tooth in the middle of the upper part of his mouth, where you normally have your front teeth. This tooth was either a a fang or a tooth that you may see called an "ik' tooth" -- a tooth shaped like the ik' symbol. (This symbol looks like the capital letter "T.")

There is a kind of pottery called "codex style" pottery. "Codex style" means that the painters drew images the same way that images are drawn in the codices. The ancient Maya only made codex style pottery around the beginning of the 700s AD, though they made a lot of it. A scene they liked to draw on this kind of pottery is one that has the Baby Jaguar being sacrificed in it. (There were actually two Baby Jaguar scenes they painted, but they preferred the sacrifice scene.)

And the ancient Maya didn't just use images. They also wrote about the Baby Jaguar. Tikal especially seemed to like writing about it, in the Early Classic.

The Baby Jaguar may have been part of a myth that was connected to the belief in divine rulers. This is because archaeologists haven't found any records about a Baby Jaguar myth from the records that date to the time of contact with the conquistadors. (Belief in divine rulers had become less and less common before the conquistadors arrival -- so it's possible myths connected to the rulers began to disappear.)

The Scene(s)
The basic idea of the scene has two gods, the Baby Jaguar, a witz (a living mountain,) and water moving around on the ground. As for the gods, they are described somewhat differently, depending on the source. One god is either a rain god, the rain god, Chaak, or a version of Chaak called First Rain Chaak. The second god is either a death god or the death god -- and one source (a 2015 dissertation by Penny Janice Steinbach) calls this being a death spiritThe basic scene has all these beings be outside, and the time is between sunset and sunrise. 

It looks like the death god or spirit has thrown the Baby Jaguar to the mountain. As for the rain god, who the ancient Maya liked to draw wearing eyeballs around his neck in the scene, there are two possibilities. One is that he is going to open a door to the underworld (Xibalbá) so the Baby Jaguar will end up there. The other is that he's going to remove the Baby Jaguar's head. 

There are also vessels that show a lord being shown the Baby Jaguar. Vessels that have this scene are not common.


More than one theory is out there on what the Baby Jaguar sacrifice scene means. One theory says it's about an offering in order to conjure up another god, who is old. Another says the scene shows a sacrifice to make rain happen.

There's also a theory that's based off of part of a vessel that came from the site of Calakmul. The theory says the images are showing a ritual that a royal child next in line to be ruler had to do in order to be able to do conjuring magic.

Consideration: The Jaguar God of the Underworld
The Baby Jaguar looks like its connected to the Jaguar God of the Underworld. The Jaguar God of the Underworld was a god that may have been connected to different things, including the sun when it goes through Xibalbá. The Baby Jaguar may have been a form of the Jaguar God of the Underworld.


Image Credits: