8 junio, 2024

The 10 most important Olmec gods and their characteristics

Among the main olmec gods The feathered serpent, the jaguar, the spirit of the rain and the god of corn stand out. The Olmecs constitute the mother civilization of all pre-Hispanic cultures, established to the south of the state of Veracruz and to the west of Tabasco, in present-day Mexico, which developed approximately between the years 1500 BC and 400 AD.

The various gods that made up the Olmec religion were primarily linked to agriculture, animals, and nature. For the Olmecs, each of the elements that surrounded them was alive. Among these elements were caves, rocks, mountains and rivers.

According to Olmec beliefs, every living element that surrounded them was filled with spirits with supernatural powers. Likewise, the rulers were also part of this circle of deities, since they considered themselves direct descendants of the gods and therefore also enjoyed powers.

Another important aspect related to the Olmec religion is that this civilization believed that humans and animals shared essential spiritual elements. Consequently, it was possible for them to transform into each other in a controlled manner and at will.

The most important Olmec gods

The jaguar

It is one of the most relevant gods of this pre-Hispanic culture. The jaguar god was linked to fertility and rain, and in some cases was also associated with specific people. It was said that the bond between man and jaguar was such that if the jaguar died, the man associated with that jaguar would also die.

The Olmecs consider the jaguar as a shaman of the natural world, which is why it had a certain preponderance in relation to the other gods they worshiped. The image of the jaguar was linked with fierceness and strength, and every so often they made sacrifices to honor this god.

olmec dragon

As with other deities of this Mesoamerican culture, the representative figures of the Olmec dragon combine elements of the jaguar, birds and snakes. Likewise, sometimes he is also represented with human features.

The dragon god is also known as the «monster of the Earth» and was considered by the Olmecs to be a deity closely related to power and authority.

Feathered Serpent

Various Mesoamerican cultures had the Feathered Serpent as one of their gods, but the Olmec version was the oldest of all. For the Aztecs it was Quetzalcóatl, and for the Mayans, Kukulkan.

This deity was widely represented in various artistic expressions, such as sculptures and paintings, and it was common for it to be located close to human beings. Pictorial representations of the Feathered Serpent have been found in caves and structures built by the Olmecs.

Physically, it was a large rattlesnake covered entirely in feathers. She was related to life and the wind, which is why she was part of the deities associated with fertility and corn.

were-jaguar

According to an Olmec legend, the carnal union between a jaguar and a woman gave rise to the so-called jaguar-men. Another version indicates that the jaguar-men were conceived after the union of the rulers with jaguar beings of mythical origin.

In any case, the were-jaguars are the most obvious reflection of one of the essential beliefs of the Olmecs, according to which human beings had the possibility of transforming themselves into animals as they wanted because both shared part of their spirits.

These figures were represented as elements that combined human and feline features, whose lips drooped a little, giving the sensation of growling.

It has been determined that the Olmec representations related to the were-jaguar were the first to exist in Mesoamerica. These figures have been found in caves and in sculptures made of stone, ceramic and jade.

Homshuk, god of maize

The maize god’s name is Homshuk, which means «new shoot» and was depicted in sculptures and other creations.

The form of this god used to be represented in different ways, but all had in common a humanoid-shaped oval base, with a cleft in the head from which sprouted what can be identified as an ear or other symbols related to corn.

Likewise, it was usual to find in these sculptures the figure of a seed in the process of germination located at the height of the forehead. Homshuk’s features also had some jaguar references.

The god of corn was one of the most praised, since this food represented the base of the economy and the main livelihood of the Olmecs. For this reason, it is not surprising that vestiges of a pyramid dedicated to this god, also considered the son of the Sun, have been found in the La Venta archaeological zone.

rain spirit

The spirit of the rain is represented by a small male figure, which can be associated with a youth, a child or a dwarf.

Despite his size, the Olmecs described him as a very powerful deity, who also had several helpers with whom he summoned the rain and who protected him. As expected, this god was also linked to lightning and thunder.

Some researchers have determined that the rain god was generated from the jaguar god. The argument that justifies this conception is that the representative figures of the rain god present a cleft similar to those present in the figures of the jaguar god.

Other physical characteristics are somewhat swollen eyelids, slanting eyes with a tendency to narrow further, and a furrowed brow. It was linked to abundance and rebirth and, of course, with corn, the main food of the Olmec culture. His name in Nahuatl was Tlaloc.

harvest man

The man of the harvest was an individual (a man or a youth) who sacrificed himself so that his people would be able to produce the necessary food for their own subsistence. It was associated with fertility and, like many of the representations of the Olmec gods, it usually has a cleft that runs through the top of its head (perhaps to indicate its divine origin).

He is often called Homshuk, god of corn.

bandit god

There is little information about this deity. However, it is known that the physical representation of her had the typical downturned mouth, referring to the jaguar, and her head was flat.

The most peculiar thing about this god is that he is represented by a slanted eye covered by a band that completely crosses his face; that’s where his name comes from.

God of fire

This god is represented as an old man and it is believed that he was one of the first gods to be worshiped in Mesoamerica. His presence is linked to the beginning of a new year.

The god of fire was the protagonist of a ceremony that the Olmecs carried out every 52 years. It is about the celebration of the new Fire, a festivity through which they represented the end of one stage and the beginning of another.

In this celebration all the inhabitants of the community got rid of their clothes and other attire, and their household utensils. These utensils were destroyed, which generated large accumulations of broken clay within the community. Likewise, as part of the ritual, 52 bundles of firewood were cut and each one represented a year corresponding to the cycle of 52 that they were leaving behind.

Another important element of the New Fire ritual is that it sought to combat the so-called demons of the night. The Olmecs believed that if this ritual was not carried out, the Sun would not be able to rise again and the ideal setting would be created for the demons of the night to invade their lands and devour men, thus generating perpetual night.

It is possible that this ritual was celebrated annually, as well as every 52 years.

shark monster

This interesting deity was directly linked to creation, as understood by the Olmecs. He was the most important marine god, although not many representations have been found.

Its relationship with creation is given by a legend according to which the shark monster was fighting with a man when there was still only water in the world. As a result of the confrontation, the shark monster cut off the man’s arm, which resulted in the emergence of dry land.

The virtues with which the shark monster was characterized were speed, the possibility of completely dominating the water and hunting prowess.

References

Taube, K. The Olmec Rain God. Recovered from arqueologíamexicana.mx.
Noguez, X., López, A. Of men and gods. Retrieved from ceape.edomex.gob.mx.

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