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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.
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". The term also appears in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, 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. 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).
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. 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."
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 and expanded upon his ideas in a subsequent book, Hunab Kú: Síntesis del pensamiento filosófico maya (1964). 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.") Martínez' ideas were popularized by Hunbatz Men  and José Argüelles.
After being introduced to the concept by Hunbatz Men, who discussed this concept in his 1986 book Religión ciencia maya, Argüelles popularized Hunab Ku in his 1987 book The Mayan Factor. 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.
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.
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. 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.