Votan is a mythological figure related to the Mayan civilisation. Nearly all accounts of Votan, extant in historical sources, come from the European narrations of Mayan history. In these accounts, Votan is portrayed as a legendary figure who bears resemblance to many other Biblical and mythological figures in European mythology. Later researchers have debunked such accounts and believe that they were created by Europeans intent on creating a link between Mayans and the Old World.
Votan existed in the mythological accounts of the Tzeltal people as a notable personality. He was somewhat of a cultural hero to the Tzeltal and it was building upon this legend that the European narrators added different traits to the person of Votan. His name was used to denote one of the twenty days on the Tzeltal calendar. Later, the bishops appointed by the Spanish in different Mayan regions concocted various tales related to Votan. Some of them portrayed him as Noah, others ascribed the Tower of Babel to him. Nearly all of the early mentions of Votan come from books penned down by these bishops.
In the 17th century, the Bishop of Chiapas wrote a book which mentioned Votan. In this book, Votan was portrayed as a mighty personality in the Chiapas history. According to him, he found an ancient manuscript of the Chiapas in which a story relating to Votan was mentioned. It was said in this story that Votan’s uncle ordered the construction of a building which would rise to the heaven. The bishop wrote that Votan was present at the construction of this building.
In the same book mentioned above, the bishop argued that Chiapas and the Mayans at large considered themselves to have descended from Noah. In other narratives, it was argued that Votan probably came to Mexico from the Old World. This was probably done by the European narrators to establish a link between the New World and the Old World. For all practical purposes, this historical fantasy does not hold up to the facts which show that civilisations in the Americas rose indigenously without any contact with the people from the Old World. In some sources, it was claimed that Votan travelled as far as the Middle East before coming back to the Chiapas.
In a book penned down in the 19th century, a new legend regarding Votan surfaced. In this legend, it was argued that Votan was originally a Phoenician who lived in the Middle East. Later, he travelled to the Maya areas and defeated an indigenous race in the area to build the great city of Palenque. This narrative also claimed that Votan went on to create a huge empire which was called Xibalba. It is worth noting here that Xibalba is also the name given to the underworld in the story of the Hero Twins as narrated in Mayan book of mythology, Popul Vuh. Critical scholars have argued that Xibalba was a mythological place for Mayans and was never associated with any place in the real-world.
Wotan is another name of Odin, the famous Norse deity. Votan has been compared to him in some narratives. Some authors have argued that Votan originally came from the lost city of Atlantis and settled with several families in the Mayan areas. Other narratives claim that Votan is the same as Quetzacoatl, one of the major Mesoamerican deities. In such narratives, it has also been claimed that Votan was a white European who came and influenced a major portion of Mesoamerica. However, no historical evidence has substantiated any of these claims.
Critical scholarship aims to prune away the unsubstantiated historical claims and tries to establish a more facts-based version of history. Regarding Votan, critical scholars agree that such a person did indeed exist in the legend of the Tzeltal people. He was regarded as a cultural hero and one of the twenty days of Tzeltal calendar was named after him. In some Mayan sources, he was called the “jaguar god of darkness” as well as the “lord of the horizontal wooden drum”. When the Spanish reached the Mayan areas, they found many sanctuaries dedicated to Votan, which may further establish that he was one of the deities of the Tzeltal pantheon.
In some sources, Votan has been identified as a Mayan deity associated with warfare. He is specifically called the old black god of war. Some sources cite him as being very old at the time his worship began, so old that he no longer had any teeth. The colour black associated with him is probably paint on his face. Another interesting aspect of Votan, in his role as the god of war, is it said that he invented drum-playing. Since drum-playing is also associated with warfare in the Mayan culture, his role as the inventor of drum solos is meant to reassert his position as a war deity.
One of the names of the Germanic god Odin is Wotan. On the basis of this, several authors have forwarded the theory that Mayan Votan and the Germanic Wotan are the names of the same figure. However, there are is no historical evidence to support this speculation.
Votan is a mysterious mythological figure that occurs in Mayan mythology. He is mentioned in the Tzeltal calendar and was considered a cultural hero among the Tzeltal people. In Mayan sources, Votan is associated with drum-beating and warfare. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Mayan regions in the 16th century, Spanish found many sanctuaries dedicated to Votan in the Chiapas region. Later European narrations embellished the original Mayan accounts of Votan and ascribed a number of new traits to him. He was portrayed as a descendant of Noah or Noah himself in some sources, while others made him out to be a man of European descent who had overlooked the construction of the Tower of Babel. Votan was also associated with the Norse deity Odin who is alternatively named Wotan. However, modern critical scholarship refutes most of these later myths added to the account of Votan.