Hunab Ku is a Yucatec Maya word meaning "The Only God" used in colonial, and more particularly in doctrinal texts, to refer to the Christian God. Since the word is found frequently in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, regarded by some as indigenous writing not influenced by Christianity, some authors have proposed that the name was originally used for an indigenous Maya deity, which was later transferred to the Christian god but recent research has shown this to be unlikely. Rather the word was a translation into Maya of the Christian concept of the "One God", used to enculturate the previously Polytheist Maya to the new Colonial religion.[1]

References to Hunab Ku have figured prominently in New Age Mayanism such as that of José Argüelles.

Hunab Ku as the Christian God

The earliest known reference to the term "Hunab Ku" (which translates as "Sole God" or "Only God") appears in the 16th century Diccionario de Motul, where "Hunab-ku" is identified as "the only living and true god, also the greatest of the gods of the people of Yucatan. He had no form because they said that he could not be represented as he was incorporeal".[2][3] The term also appears in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel,[4] written after the Spanish Conquest, but is unknown in any pre-Conquest inscriptions in Maya writing. Hunab Ku was closely associated with an indigenous creator god, Itzamna, in an effort to make use of religious syncretism.[5] An assertion that Hunab Ku was the high god of the Mayas can be found in Sylvanus Morley's classic book The Ancient Maya (1946).[6]

However, the interpretation of Hunab Ku as a pre-Hispanic deity is not widely accepted by Mayanist scholars today. Anthropological linguist William Hanks, for example, identifies hunab ku as an expression created in the context of maya reducido, a form of Yucatec created in the context of missionization. He writes, "The use of hunab ku ['one' + suffix + 'god'] for the singularity of God is linguistically transparent to the oneness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and occurs widely in the missionary writings.[7] He also notes, "the fact that close paraphrases make reference to Dios, halal ku, and hunab ku allows us to securely identify hunab ku with the Christian God, even when surrounding text may be ambiguous."[8]

Hunab Ku in New Age Belief

New Age beliefs about Hunab Ku derive from the work of Mexican philosopher Domingo Martínez Parédez (1904–1984), who first presented his interpretation of the concept in 1953[9] and expanded upon his ideas in a subsequent book, Hunab Kú: Síntesis del pensamiento filosófico maya (1964).[10] Martínez interpreted Hunab Ku as evidence for Maya monotheism and suggested that it was represented by the symbols of a square within a circle or a circle within a square, the square representing measurement and the circle representing motion. Martínez related Hunab Ku to concepts and symbols in Freemasonry, particularly the idea of a Great Architect of the Universe and the Masonic square and compass. It was also Martínez who first associated Hunab Ku with the expression "In Lak'ech," which he translated as "Eres mi otro yo." (In English, this means "You are my other I.")[11] Martínez' ideas were popularized by Hunbatz Men [12][13] and José Argüelles.[14]

Hunab Ku as Symbol

Maya calendar (Hunab-Ku)

Argüelles' modification of the Hunab Ku symbol.

After being introduced to the concept by Hunbatz Men, who discussed this concept in his 1986 book Religión ciencia maya,[15] Argüelles popularized Hunab Ku in his 1987 book The Mayan Factor.[16] However, instead of Martínez' symbol, what Argüelles asserted was the "Hunab Ku" symbol was originally a rectangular design used by the Aztecs for a ritual cloak, known as the Mantle of Lip Plugs (or, arguably, mantle of "spider water"). The design survives today as a rug design being sold in central Mexico, but was associated with the Milky Way and the god Hunab Ku by Argüelles, who modified the symbol to look more like a circular motif evoking a yin and yang symbol as well as a spiral galaxy. It has become associated with Mayanism.

The earliest known appearance of the design that inspired Argüelles is in the 16th century Codex Magliabechiano, an Aztec (not Maya) document that is also known for graphic depictions of heart sacrifice drawn by indigenous artists. Facsimiles of this codex were published in 1903 and 1982.[17][18]

The image from the Codex Magliabechiano actually refers to the double comet (Quetzalcoatl/Tezcatlipoca) or the Maya Twins of the Popol Vuh. The tendrils refer to the "burning rains" (of resin or turpentine that burned as it fell). The basic design is still to be found in the Dresden Codex as D-37 (or D-58 as part of the Venus tables). Several eclipse signs in that group are more simplified versions of the same form found in the Codex Magliabechiano. An excellent reference to Hunab Ku can be found in a book dated 1955.[19]

The design, rendered in black-and-white, appeared on the cover and on decorated pages of The House of the Dawn (1914), a romance novel by Marah Ellis Ryan set in Hopi territory during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Decorative borders on pages in the book combine this design with the swastika, a motif that also appears frequently in other books by Ryan. It is likely that the illustrator for Ryan's book found the Aztec design in Nuttall's 1903 publication.

John Major Jenkins, who first saw the symbol as used by Argüelles, subsequently came across Ryan's novel in a used book store.[20] He appropriated the decorated borders for use in his book Jaloj Kexoj and PHI-64: The Dual Principle Core Paradigm of Mayan Time Philosophy and its Conceptual Parallel in Old World Thought (1994) and also a version republished with modifications as Mayan Sacred Science (1994).

Despite the assertions of Martínez, Argüelles, and Jenkins, there are no known representations of "Hunab Ku" that have been documented for the ancient Maya.

See also


  1. Hanks 2010:355 - "It might be objected that hunnab ku could refer as well to a non-Christian deity, as to God, and if so our reading of the foregoing passages would shift fundmentally. Even if this is possible in theory, it is unlikely in fact."
  2. Roys 1967: 167
  3. Motul 1929: 404
  4. Roys 1967
  5. Roys 1967: 168
  6. Morley 1946
  7. Hanks 2010: 133
  8. Hanks 2010: 342
  9. Martínez 1953
  10. Martínez 1964
  11. Martínez 1964: 26-27
  12. Men 1986
  13. Men 1989
  14. Argüelles
  15. Men 1986
  16. Argüelles 1987
  17. Nuttall 1903
  18. Boone and Nuttall 1982
  19. Castillo-Torre,1955 Por la Señal de Hunab Ku: Reflejos de la Vida de los Antiguos Mayas. Mexico DF, Mexico: Libreria de Manuel Porrúa, SA.
  20. Jenkins 1994


  • Argüelles, José (1987) The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology. Bear & Company, Santa Fe.
  • Boone, Elizabeth H. and Zelia Nuttall, eds. (1982) The Book of the Life of the Ancient Mexicans, Containing an Account of Their Rites and Superstitions: An Anonymous Hispano-Mexican Manuscript Preserved at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, Italy. Reprint of 1903 edition with additional commentary. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Hanks, William F. (2010) Converting Words: Maya in the Age of the Cross. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Jenkins, John Major (1994) Jaloj Kexoj and PHI-64: The Dual Principle Core Paradigm of Mayan Time Philosophy and its Conceptual Parallel in Old World Thought. Four Ahau Press, Boulder.
  • Martínez Parédez, Domingo (1953) "Hunab Kú: Síntesis del pensamiento filosófico maya." Filosofía y letras; revista de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras 51-52 (julio-diciembre): 265-275.
  • Martínez Parédez, Domingo (1964) Hunab Kú: Síntesis del pensamiento filosófico maya. Editorial Orion, Mexico City.
  • Men, Hunbatz (1986) Religión ciencia maya. Comunidad Indígena Maya de Estudios y Difusión Cultural, Mérida, Yucatán.
  • Men, Hunbatz (1989) Secrets of Maya Science/Religion. Bear & Company, Santa Fe.
  • Morley, Sylvanus (1946) The Ancient Maya. Stanford University Press, Palo Alto.
  • Motul, Diccionario de (1929) Diccionario de Motul, Maya Español atribuido a Fray Antonio de Ciudad Real y arte de lengua Maya por Fray Juan Coronel. Juan Martínez Hernández, Editor. Mérida. 16th century MS., missing. Copy, said to be 17th century, in John Carter Brown Library, Providence. Gates reproduction.
  • Nuttall, Zelia, ed. (1903) The Book of the Life of the Ancient Mexicans, Containing an Account of Their Rites and Superstitions: An Anonymous Hispano-Mexican Manuscript Preserved at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence, Italy. University of California, Berkeley.
  • Roys, Ralph (1967) The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

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