Cultures & Traditions

Maize God

The Maize God is one of the most important deities in Mesoamerica, especially among the Classic period Maya. Possible representations of maize are known from the Formative period, most commonly dwarves that bear maize signs on their bodies, which may refer to maize but also might represent lightning or rain. The earliest representations of the maize god appear among the Early Classic Maya, usually depicted as a young male with stylized maize on the top of the head. During the Late Classic period, the Tonsured Maize God represents mature and fertile maize, depicted with an elongated human head shaved in sections across the forehead, and is the prototype for Hun Hunahpu from the Popul Vuh. The Foliated Maize God is shown with stylized maize ears coming from the top of the head, and this representation continues into the Late Postclassic period. In Maya codices, the Postclassic Maize God is commonly referred to as God E. Both the Mixtecs and Aztecs had female personifications or goddesses of maize.

In Maya mythology, the Hero Twins (gods of life/fertility) played a ballgame against the gods of the Underworld (death) in order to save their father (First Father/the Maize god), and the Hero Twins were victorious over the Lords of the Underworld. On August 13, 3114 BCE, the soul of the sacrificed First Father is miraculously reborn as maize, or the Maize God, the sustenance and flesh of humanity. This was the moment of creation, the epic tale that survives today in the Popol Vuh, the book of counsel of the Quiché (K’iche’) Maya. The mythical story of the Maize God's rebirth at the moment of creation is a perfect metaphor for the cycle of corn and the cycle of life: birth, death, and rebirth.

Adapted from

  • Mary Ellen Miller and Karl A. Taube, "Maize Gods," in The gods and symbols of ancient Mexico and the Maya: an illustrated dictionary of Mesoamerican religion (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993): 109-110.

  • Carol Robbins, “Maya Creation and the Stars,” in Dallas Museum of Art 100 Years, eds. Dorothy Kosinski, et al. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), 46.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1968.33], A. H. Meadows Galleries.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1973.33], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text [1983.45.McD], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

  • Gallery text [Veracruz], A. H. Meadows Galleries.

Related Multimedia

Boshell Family Lecture Series on Archaeology; in conjunction with Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship, February 12- May 7, 2006; speaker is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California Riverside and member of San Bartolo research team
1993 Ancient Art of the New World lecture series; speaker is from the Department of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University