Tonantzin, Ixchel and Mary, the Mother of Our Lord


Our Lady of Guadalupe, photo by David Taliesin

My blog has been silent for a while because I’ve been on a sabbatical in Mexico where I toured a number of ancient Mayan sites and modern cities in the Yucatán Peninsula. One of the things I noticed in my travels is that the Virgin Mary is everywhere, Our Lady of Guadalupe to be more specific. I saw her in the zócalos (public squares) of every town I visited. Statues and paintings of her likeness adorn the shrines of many homes accompanied by flowers, strings of lights and other bling. There was not a Roman Catholic church I visited where she could not be found somewhere in the building. In many cases, her presence outshined Jesus!

The reason why I bring this up is that in my study of ancient Pagan religions in Europe, there is a common pattern of the Church adapting and absorbing the Goddess and Pagan religious culture in order to win converts. My favorite example of this is my beloved Brigid who became St. Brigid in Ireland. (You can read more about her in my posts on Imbolc.) The Church simply could not keep a good Goddess down!

This got my thinking…with Mary having such a strong presence in Central and South America, did the same adaptation occur with ancient Mayan and Aztec Goddesses? This topic sounds like a great doctoral thesis to me, but I have no desire to pursue such a degree! Here is some of the information I found upon my return to the United States:


Tonantzin Statue, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Alan Sandstrum, Indiana University Purdue University Ft Wayne, has this to say on the subject, “According to tradition, the Virgin appeared to a Nahua man named Juan Diego in December 1531 on Tepeyac Hill, north of Mexico City, where there was a shrine dedicated to the female Aztec earth deity Tonantzin. To this day, in Nahuatl-speaking communities (in other communities as well), the Virgin continues to be called “Tonantzin” and her appearance is commemorated on December 12 each year. Tonantzin means “Our Sacred Mother” in the Nahuatl language and she continues to be connected symbolically to fertility and the earth. It is not known precisely how the pre-Hispanic deity Tonantzin became connected to the Christian Virgin of Guadalupe, however, we can assume that many people of the time believed that her appearance represented a return of the Aztec mother deity” []

He also says that “In the minds of many people living within and outside of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe and the ancient Tonantzin are one and the same. This sacred figure can be seen to represent the emergence of Mexico as a unified nation born out of the destructive encounter between European and pre-Hispanic civilizations.” If you’re interested in reading more about this subject, download Eric Wolf’s article entitled The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol, that appeared in the Journal of American Folklore 71:34-39.


Ixchel, Dresden Codex

Female deities can also be found in ancient Mayan religion as well. The most notable of these is Ixchel. According to “Ix”, in Maya, means Goddess or the feminine sacred, and “Chel” means rainbow or light, thus her full name translates as – Lady Rainbow, Goddess of the Rainbow or Lady of Sacred Light. She is seen as being manifested in the traditional Pagan triple Goddess roles of Maiden, Mother and Crone. As Maiden, she is the Goddess of weaving, fertility and childbirth. As Mother, she is the goddess of fertility, motherhood and the moon. As Crone she is the Goddess of medicine and the moon.

Could it be that our Mayan and Aztec forebears valued the Goddess’ presence in their lives and were unwilling to give her up in order to convert to Christianity? Could it be that Our Lady of Guadalupe is a veiled representation of the Goddess in a Christianized form? I am not even remotely an expert on this subject. However, I see the same connections here that I do in European religious history. I know some people will be highly offended by what I write in this post, but people seem to be highly offended about everything these days! I’m just asking questions and looking for connections. If anyone out there has more information on this subject than I do, I’m all ears!

Copyright ©2017 by David Taliesin,

About David Taliesin

My name is David Taliesin. I'm an writer, teacher and retreat leader who explores the connections between Christian and Pagan Spirituality. E-mail me with any personal comments you'd like to share and I will do my best to answer them. You can also contact me through my Facebook page
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