The Mythology of Ah Puch, God of Death in Mayan Religion

Ruler of the Underworld

Mayan Ocarina depicting Ah Puch
Walter/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Ah Puch is one of the names associated with a god of death in the ancient Mayan religion. He was known as a god of death, darkness, and disaster. But he was also a god of childbirth and beginnings. The Quiche Maya believed that he ruled over Metnal, the underworld and the Yucatec Maya believed that he was just one of the lords of Xibaba, that translates to "place of fear" in the underworld.

Name and Etymology

  • Ah Puch
  • Hun Ahau
  • Hunhau
  • Hunahau
  • Yum Cimil, "Lord of Death"
  • Cum Hau
  • Cizin or Kisin
  • (Ah) Pukuh is a term from Chiapas

Religion and Culture of Ah Puch

Maya, Mesoamerica

Symbols, Iconography, and Art of Ah Puch

Mayan depictions of Ah Puch were either of a skeletal figure that had protruding ribs and a deaths-head skull or of a bloated figure that suggested an advancing state of decomposition. Because of his association with owls, he might be portrayed as a skeletal figure with an owl's head. Like his Aztec equivalent, Mictlantecuhtli, Ah Puch frequently wears bells.

As Cizin, he was a dancing human skeleton smoking a cigarette, wearing a gruesome collar of human eyes dangling from their nerve cords. He was called "The Stinking One" as the root of his name means flatulence or stench. he had a foul smell. He is most closely identified with the Christian devil, keeping the souls of evil people in the underworld under torture. While Chap, the rain god, planted trees, Cizin was shown uprooting them. He is seen with the god of war in scenes of human sacrifice.

As Yum Cimil, he also wears a collar of dangling eyes or empty eye sockets and has a body covered in black spots representing decomposition.

Ah Puch's Domains

  • Death
  • Underworld
  • Disaster
  • Darkness
  • Childbirth
  • Beginnings

Equivalents in Other Cultures

Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of death

Story and Origin of Ah Puch

Ah Puch ruled Mitnal, the lowest level of the Mayan underworld. Because he ruled death, he was closely allied with the gods of war, disease, and sacrifice. Like the Aztecs, the Mayans associated death with dogs owls, so Ah Puch was generally accompanied by a dog or an owl. Ah Puch is also often described as working against the gods of fertility.

Family Tree and Relationships of Ah Puch

Rival of Itzamna

Temples, Worship, and Rituals of Ah Puch

Mayans were much more fearful of death than other Mesoamerican cultures—Ah Puch was envisioned as a hunting figure that stalked the houses of people who were injured or sick. Mayans typically engaged in extreme, even loud mourning after the death of loved ones. It was believed that the loud wailing would scare Ah Puch away and prevent him from taking any more down to Mitnal with him.

Mythology and Legends of Ah Puch

The mythology of Ah Puch is not known. Ah Puch is mentioned as a ruler of the North in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. Ahal Puh is mentioned as one of the attendants of Xibalba in the Popol Vuh.

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