The Descending God
The Descending or Diving God of the Maya is truly unique. This god is depicted upside down, hence its name, and found usually holding something in one or both of its hands. The god can be found at four archeological sites, but seen primarily at the trading port site of Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The other three sites are Cobá, Sayil, and Chichen Itzá and are also located on the Yucatán Peninsula. In Tulum, the Descending God can be found in carvings and representations on the Temple of the Descending God, Temple of the Frescoes, and El Castillo, all of which are among the more famous of the Tulum buildings. At Cobá the Descending God is found in carvings on a small temple on top of the Grand Pyramid. At Sayil the figure is found on a relief on the El Palacio and at Chichen Itzá there is a Descending God Temple. Tulum was the main trading port for Cobá, Sayil, and Chichén Itza. We can see the diffusion of the Descending God between the sites.
Not a lot is known about the Descending God. The Descending God, however, is associated with the Maya God of the Bees, named Ah Muu Zen Caab. The species of bees used by the ancient Maya were the Melipona Beecheii and Melipona Yucatanica, both stingless bees. According to Maya lore, Ah Muu Zen Caab gave the bees to the tropical forests of the Yucatán peninsula. The bees symbolized a link to the spirit world. Historically, twice a year the Maya priests harvested honey from the log nests from live trees as part of a religious ceremony. To ensure that the number of bees and hives increased, the beekeepers regularly divided the nests and hives used by these stingless bees.
Honey was a staple export in Maya trade between Tulum and Cobá. Tulum and Cobá are about 44 kilometers or 27 miles away from each other and were major trading partners in the Maya economy. As stated earlier, Tulum was a major port in the Maya world while Cobá was a religious center for the area until power struggles brought an end to its influence. The Maya honey was used as a sweetener, antibiotic, and as the main ingredient in balché, a honey drink similar to mead. It was also used as a wax. The wax was used for various metal works as casts, and later on seals and candles. Honey was a major commodity that was traded around the Yucatán and along the trade routes of Mesoamericans. With the importance of honey and bees on the Yucatán Peninsula it is understandable to see why the Descending God was located at these four sites. The bees played an important role in commerce, daily life and religious life on the Yucatán Peninsula. The Maya not only traded commodities, but ideas as well. One of the ideas that they traded was that of the Descending God, as evidenced by its replicas at cites in Tulum, Cobá, Sayil, and Chichen Itzá.
In addition to being associated with bees, the Descending God was also associated with Venus and as with other societies, Venus was important for the Maya. For the Maya Venus was associated with war and fighting. Venus is the most frequently seen planet in our skies and battles would be planned around its presence creating a warring society for supremacy. These struggles for power and control were what brought the end of Cobá’s religious influence. Maya city-states were typically warring so their association with Venus also indicated the Descending God's importance to the political Maya world.
The Descending God was and remains associated with two key aspects of the Maya world, bees and war. That association is intricately intertwined with its the importance of the Descending God on the Yucatán Peninsula. Bees were fundamental to economics and religious authority while war was the key to gaining power and authority. While the Descending God is still not fully understood, its symbolic importance to the economics, religion, and politics for the Maya provides significant insight into their culture on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.