TED-Ed
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Chak Ek’ rose from the underworld to the surface of the eastern sea and on into the heavens. His brother K’in Ahaw followed. Though Chak Ek’ had risen first, K’in Ahaw outshone him, and the resentful Chak Ek’ descended back to the underworld to plot against his brother.

In Mayan mythology, Chak Ek’ represents Venus and K’in Ahaw represents the sun. Known as both the morning and the evening star, Venus moves through the sky, sometimes visible before sunrise, sometimes after sunset, and occasionally not at all. The ancient Maya identified this roughly 584 day cycle more than a thousand years ago and it still accurately predicts when and where Venus will appear in the sky around the world. Five of these cycles make up almost exactly eight years, and the Maya also recognized this larger cycle. They assigned Chak Ek’ five different forms, one for each cycle of Venus, that were repeated every eight years.

Within the 584 day cycle, Venus is visible in the evening sky for 250 days, then disappears for 8 days before reappearing as the Morning Star. The ancient Maya ascribed particular significance to this point in this cycle: the first time Venus appears before sunrise after being invisible. On this day, Chak Ek’ rose again from the underworld, wielding a spearthrower and darts. To bring discord to the world, he decided to attack his brother and his brother’s allies. His first target was K’awiil, god of sustenance and lightning. Rising in the late rainy season, Chak Ek’ aimed his spear and struck K’awiil, causing damage to the food and a period of chaos in the social order until K’awiil was reborn.

584 days after attacking K’awiil, Chak Ek’ turned his attention back to his brother, the Sun. Each night, the Sun took the form of jaguar and journeyed through the underworld. Chak Ek’ speared the jaguar sun as it rose at dawn towards the end of the dry season. The Sun was wounded, plunging the world into a period of chaos and warfare.

Chak Ek’s third victim was the god of maize, who provided sustenance for all humankind. Chak Ek’ speared him at the time of the harvest. He was buried in the underworld, and maize—the staple of life— was no longer available to Earth’s inhabitants. But the maize god emerged after three months in the place of new beginnings– the eastern cave known as Seven Water Place– bringing food once again to earth.

When the turtle Ak Na'ak rose in the sky to mark the summer solstice, Chak Ek’ claimed his fourth victim. With the death of this good omen, the Sun, the food supply, and the people were buried within the earth, and the forces of chaos reigned. But out of the chaos rose a new order established by Hun Ajaw, one of the hero twins known to all for having vanquished the lords of the underworld. A new race of humans was created, made from maize.

This state of balance was not to last, however. Chak Ek’s fifth and final victim was a mysterious stranger from the west, and his death in the heart of the dry season shook the order established by Hun Ajaw. The gods, the lords, and the maize were buried in the underworld.

But this victory for Chak Ek’ would also prove temporary. The two brothers, Venus and the Sun, were caught in an endless cycle as they battled for supremacy, re-enacting the same five struggles, while the world alternated between order and chaos with the rising of the Morning Star.