“Incantations by Mayan Women”: A Look into Artists’ Books

This post was written by Emily Rusch, Research Services Archival Assistant.

Many students at George Mason can guess that the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) carries all sorts of books; fiction, non-fiction, history of Virginia and George Mason related materials. However, did you know that SCRC also carries artists’ books? An artists’ book is a work of art created in the form of a book, although not always. Many can look like a traditional book but some can be all different shapes and sizes, from tiny cubes to big tower constructions. At SCRC you can access artist books on a variety of subjects. These objects really intersect many different topics such as science, art, history, social justice, and cultural studies.

Cover of “Incantations by Mayan Women”, PM4466 .Z95 E533 2005, Special Collections Research Center. Cover is a three dimensional mask made from cardboard, corn, and coffee.

Incantations by Mayan Women is an artists book about female shamans. The authors of this anthology “claim their spells and songs were given to them by their ancestors, the first father-mothers” (17). In this book you will find spells for almost everything, from farming and controlling the weather, contacting dead relatives, or even protection spells.









The mask represents Kaxail, the goddess of the earth, moon, and rain. In ancient Mayan images, Kaxail was usually portrayed as an older woman who had the ears of a jaguar and wore a snake as a headpiece. Mayan survival depended on agriculture, specifically growing maize, therefore honoring the earth goddess was vital.

Kaxail is one of over 250 deities in the Mayan pantheon, which includes deities that were worshipped throughout southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. In Mayan legends, it is said that Kaxail and her husband, the sun god, had thirteen children. Two of those children went on to create the earth. If you are interested in seeing more of our artists’ books, you can search the catalog and limit the location search for Special Collection to see what we have. With over 370 artisits’ books and counting, you are sure to find something incredible in our holdings!



Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts in our Travel Series on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts.  To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.