Central American Goddesses

Aida Wedo, Rainbow Snake Ayizan, Mat of the Earth Chalchiuhtlicue, Lady of Waters
Chantico, Lady of the Hearth Coatlicue, Serpent Skirt Erzulie, Lady of Love
Hoatziqui, Lady of the Dead Ix Chel, Lady Weaver Ixtab, Mistress of Death
Loa, Beautiful Lady Mayahuel, Many-Breasted Olosa, Lady Crocodile
Teteoinnan, Lady Midwife Tlazoteotl, Filth Lady Xochiquetzal, Flower Mistress

As defined here, Central America includes the cultures/regions of Mexico, Central America proper (or MesoAmerica), and the islands of the Caribbean. For an overview of the Goddesses of Latin America as a whole, see also South American Goddesses.

The most well-known pre-Columbian inhabitants of Central America are the Maya and the Aztecs. The Maya flourished from 250-900 CE. Ruins of cities such as Tikal and Bonampak have been found throughout southern Mexico, Gautemala, northern Belize and western Honduras. The Maya inherited many of the inventions and innovations of earlier cultures, such as the Olmec and Teotihuacan, but were equally inventive themselves. They developed astronomy, beautiful ceremonial architecture, a complex hieroglyphic writing system and a sophisticated, two-pronged calendrical system. An elite priesthood and nobility ruled over the majority of Maya, who farmed maize, squash, beans and chili peppers. For reasons still unclear, the Maya civilization began to decline about 900 CE; many cities were simply abandoned, while others were destroyed in violent internecine warfare. Contrary to popular belief, the Maya are not extinct; many still live in the southern provinces of Mexico. In recent years, the Mexican government has faced increasingly militant and violent native uprisings, many centered around a demand for equitable distribution of viable farmland and justice for women raped and abused by Mexican soldiers.

The Aztecs are another well-known Central American people. The Aztecs flourished in what is now central Mexico in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries of the common era; their capital, Tenochtitlan, now lies beneath Ciudad de Mexico. The central symbols of their foundation myth--eagle, snake, cactus--now appear on the Mexican flag. A despotic and militaristic people, they eventually came to rule some four hundred to five hundred of the surrounding tribes. (They have been Eurocentrically referred to as the "Romans of the Americas.") The Aztecs were gifted agriculturalists, who introduced irrigation, drained swamps, created artificial islands and cultivated all arable land. The Aztecs are most often remembered (and vilified) for their bloody religious rituals, which often centered around live human sacrifice. While I agree that human sacrifice is indeed a horrific custom, it must not be condemned out of ignorance, but must be understood within the context of its culture. The Aztecs, much like the Maya, believed that blood was the life-force of the universe; their Deities needed blood, preferably human, to survive. If the Gods and Goddesses died, there would be no rain, no maize crop, and humans too would die. It was a symbiotic relationship. The Aztec were finally overthrown by the Spanish in 1521 CE, who were aided by many of the tribes subjugated by the Aztecs.  

Originally home to a diversity of Native American peoples, Central America has since been colonized by Europeans and Africans, each bringing their own culture and religion. Europeans came primarily from Spain, but also the British Isles. Africans came from a host of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, most originating along the western coast of that continent; the majority were imported as slaves. Languages mixed: "bastardized" forms of English, Spanish and French combined with the various Native American and African dialects to produce a variety of tongues, from rhythmic Jamaican English to distinct mountain tongues. Many people are today bilingual or trilingual, speaking English and/or Spanish, and one or two native dialects. Ethnicities intermingled; it is rare to find anyone of purely European or African descent; pure Native American ancestry is more common. Catholicism is officially the dominant faith of the region; in many cases, however, Catholic Saints were simply substituted for native Gods and Goddesses, and traditional practices continued. In more isolated, less developed regions, native religions thrive. The intermixing of the ways and faiths of Native Americans, Europeans and Africans has produced beautiful and, to outsiders, often bizarre faiths and Deities. The most well-known, and least understood, are Santeria and Vodoun (or Voodoo).

Central America is today a region of contrasts. Ethnic rivalries are common in some areas. Political unrest and poverty have produced numerous armed uprisings. Metropolitan Cuidad de Mexico stands in sharp contrast to poverty-stricken Haiti. During the 1970s and 1980s, Central America was one of the battlegrounds of the Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union each exploited the region's class and economic conflicts to their own ends. Only now are the terrible Civil Wars ending, the tyrannical regimes falling. Central America is entering what many predict to be an era of peace and prosperity. I hope that is so. 

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Aida Wedo, Rainbow Snake

This Goddess of Haiti is known as the Rainbow Snake, a common manifestation of Deity in Africa, Oceania and Central and South America. Her husband is Damballa, God of Rivers and Springs. Anthropologists consider Her the equivalent of the African Mawu (see African Goddesses section).

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Ayizan, Mat of the Earth

She, too, is a Serpent Goddess. This creation story comes to us from Haiti.

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Chalchiuhtlicue, Lady of Waters

This Aztec Goddess, whose name means "Jade Skirt," was Matron of lakes and streams. Her husband is Tlaloc, God of Rain.

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Chantico, Lady of the Hearth

This Aztec Goddess of the Hearth was a Matron of lapidaries and warriors. She is often associated with the Goddess Xochiquetzal (profiled below).

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Coatlicue, Serpent Skirt

This Aztec Supreme Goddess is the Mother of all Aztec Deities. Her statue now stands in the National Museum of Anthropology in Ciudad de Mexico.

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Erzulie, Lady of Love

This Vodoun Goddess is worshipped by Haitians as Matron of love, beauty, health and the moon. She is personified as a water snake.Vodoun was originally unique to Haiti, a combination of Catholicism and Yoruban cosmology developed by slaves as a tool of survival and rebellion. It has since been carried by Haitian immigrants to the United States. Karen McCarthy Brown published a critically-acclaimed text about a Voodoo priestess in New York: MAMA LOLA. It is highly recommended.

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Hoatziqui, Lady of the Dead

This Goddess of the Dead was worshipped by the Opata people of pre-Columbian Mexico. The tale reveals something of Opata relations with their ancient neighbors, the Pima.

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Ix Chel, Lady Weaver

Ix Chel is a complex Goddess of ancient Mexico. She and still is worshipped by the Putun and Yucatec Maya. The hare is one of Her primary symbols. Her husand is Itzamna, God of the Sun and Creation.

IXCHEL OF FERTILITY ©JBL

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Ixtab, Mistress of Death

Two Yucatec Mayan Goddesses share variations on this name: Ixtab and Ix Tab. They may or may not be the same Goddess; from the similarity of Their stories, I have chosen to interpret Them as One, much as the Greek Artemis and Roman Diana are merged as One Deity. Ixtab is the Mayan Goddess of Death, Sacrifice and Suicides.

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Loa, Beautiful Lady

This Vodoun Goddess of Haiti is much-loved and generally benevolent. "Loa" is also a general term meaning "spirit" or "deity" or "spirit."

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Mayahuel, Many-Breasted

This Aztec Goddess of Agriculture is often associated with Chalchiuhtlicue and Tlazolteotl (both profiled in this section). Like Artemis of the Ephesians (see Diana, Graeco-Roman section), She is portrayed with many breasts.

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Olosa, Lady Crocodile

This Santeria Goddess of Puerto Rico and Haiti uses crocodiles as Her messengers. She is closely associated with Olokun, God of the Sea.

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Teteoinnan, Lady Midwife

This ancient Goddess of the Aztecs is known as "Mother of Sacred Ones." She is a Mother Goddess.

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Tlazolteotl, Filth Lady

An ancient and much-loved Aztec Goddess, Tlazolteotl was Matron of both Pleasure and Sin, though not in the sense many Christians would think. Her name means "Filth Deity."

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Xochiquetzal, Flower Mistress

Her name means "Flower Feather." She is the Goddess of Pleasure and Beauty. The Gardens of Xochimilco, south of Ciudad de Mexico, are named for Her.

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