If you’ve stayed with us before at Privilege Aluxes, you may well know Isla Mujeres as a spectacular tropical paradise: a place to marinate on Caribbean sands, scuba dive amid coral reefs and underwater sculpture gardens, or snorkel with whale sharks. It’s worth reflecting, however, on a much older, and inevitably more mysterious, association this island has: as sacred ground dedicated to the Mayan goddess Ixchel (“ee-shell”), also known as Ix Chel, Goddess O, and Lady Rainbow.
In 1517, the story goes, the Spaniard Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba named Isla Mujeres the “Island of Women” for the numerous statues of Ixchel and associated idols he found there. A temple to the goddess once existed on the island’s southern point, today’s Punta Sur. Other shrines to Ixchel stood on nearby Cozumel, which was a pilgrimage site for Mayan women.
The reason for that Cozumel pilgrimage was Ixchel’s significance as a deity of fertility, childbirth, midwifery, and medicine. Such positive associations, however, aren’t the goddess’s only jurisdiction: Like many a deity, she has a more wrathful side. As a moon goddess, she wields control over the world’s waters—control she sometimes exercises in the form of catastrophic thunderstorms and floods.
Her Consort & Her Appearance
In Mayan mythology, Ixchel is often linked as wife to the supreme creator god Itzamna, who, overseeing his grand dominion of sky, variously appears as an old man, a mighty bird (Vucub Caquix), and an iguana.
And what about Ixchel? Well, she’s invariably a striking figure no matter how she’s portrayed. Often she’s depicted as an old woman outfitted with serpent headdress, crossbone skirt, and clawed hands commonly clutching a jug (in reference to her water powers). Some stories have her take the form of a jaguar, that mighty spotted cat that rules the Neotropics.
Pay Your Respects
The perfect place to reflect on Ixchel on her island? That’d be Punta Sur down at the southernmost tip of Isla Mujeres. Here lie the ruins of her temple as well as modern-day representations of the mighty goddess in Garrafon Reef Park’s Punta Sur Sculpture Garden. Needless to say, this rocky wave-lashed promontory—which includes the so-called “Cliff of the Dawn,” the first land in Mexico to catch daybreak’s rays—is a mythically charged place even today.
We hope you’ll give a nod to Ixchel—or Goddess O, or Lady Rainbow, or whatever other of her monikers you prefer—the next time you escape to Privilege Aluxes. Isla Mujeres still comes steeped in Mayan culture, and there’s no question who, mythologically speaking, still prevails over it!