The Maya myth of creation

The Maya myth of creation

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The Maya civilization flourished in South America at approximately 2000BC. They developed a unique style of arts and architecture, astronomy, even a written language. Though their writing—and even the famous Mayan calendar—were not of their own invention (but from the Olmecs), they developed them further.

Popol Vuh , or Book of the People , is a collection of narratives containing the myths and historical facts of the Maya, and is based on the manuscript of the Dominican priest Francisco Ximenez . Unfortunately, most of their literature and writings were destroyed during the invasion of the Spanish in the 18 th century, making Popol Vuh a valuable piece of work.

It is important to clarify here that the word ‘myth’ does not exist in Mayan. Popol Vuh, according to the Maya, contains their history.

In this book, the creation myth plays a prominent role. The gods first created the earth and the sky, then continued with the animals and living creatures, as well as birds and other flying life forms. The gods wanted to be invoked, worshipped, and remembered, but the animals were unable talk. Thus the gods failed with their first effort.

How else can we be invoked and remembered on the face of the earth? We have already made our first try at our work and design, but it turned out that they didn’t keep our days, nor did they glorify us.

As a result, they developed the human experiment. They worked with earth and mud to make a body. Again, their first efforts failed as the body would simply dissolve and disintegrate. Their next effort incorporated wood, and while the previous two efforts failed, this one succeeded. Thus the first man was created.

They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they had sons, these manikins, woodcarvings. But there was nothing in their hearts and nothing in their minds, no memory of their mason and builder. They just went and walked wherever they wanted. Now they did not remember the Heart of Sky.

The gods were still discontent because they wanted to be worshipped, and so they destroyed humanity with a great flood. A very vivid description of the destruction is presented in Popol Vuh. Another interesting point mentioned in the book is that monkeys are the only descendants of this third effort to create men.

The fourth and final effort gets even more interesting. Corn mixed with water was recorded to be the ingredients used to create the human flesh. The first four people are the first four men of this fourth creation era.

This time the beings shaped by the gods are everything they hoped for and more: not only do the first four men pray to their makers, but they have perfect vision and therefore perfect knowledge.

This perfection alarmed the gods. It is obvious from the writings in Popol Vuh that the gods did not want these creations to have the ability to become like gods themselves, but simply wanted to limit the capacity of humans to mere worship. According to Popol Vuh, that is what they achieved in that fourth and last experiment of men creation.

The gods are alarmed that beings who were merely manufactured by them should have divine powers, so they decide, after their usual dialogue, to put a fog on human eyes. Next they make four wives for the four men, and from these couples come the leading Quiché lineages.

Please note that an unmistakable parallel must be drawn to the behaviour of the gods of Christianity and Islam when they denied man the fruit from the two forbidden trees.

Note: Translations of Popol Vuh were taken from the book of Tedlock Dennis , Popol Vuh.

Related inks

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    In the top of the next blank page in your History Notebook, write down the topic for this project: ‘Creation Myths.’

    We have learned about the rise of humans and their migration out of Africa and around the world. But along the way, each culture, each civilization has developed stories of the creation of the Earth and of their people. These stories are called creation myths.

    Another term for explanations of the beginning of the universe is cosmology. Cosmology could be a theory based scientific explanation, or a supernatural religious based explanation.

    Below we will consider the creation myths of three Pre-Columbian cultures: the Maya, the Aztec, and the Inca.

    *In your notebook, write down these two vocabulary terms and definitions:

    • creation myths: a story of how the world, or even the universe began, and how people were created.
    • cosmology: an account or theory of the origin of the universe.

    *Now watch the three creation myth videos below, and the video that follows, then answer these questions about creation myths, in your notebook:

    1. What beliefs or themes do these creation myths share?
    2. What beliefs or themes do these creation myths have in common with the Hebrew or Christian creation myth of our churches in the USA?
    3. Why do you think creation myths share some of the same objects, character types, symbols, ideas, and themes?

    En la parte superior de la siguiente página en blanco en su Cuaderno de historia, escriba el tema de este proyecto: ‘Mitos de creación’.

    Hemos aprendido sobre el surgimiento de los humanos y su migración fuera de África y alrededor del mundo. Pero en el camino, cada cultura, cada civilización ha desarrollado historias de la creación de la Tierra y de su gente. Estas historias se llaman mitos de la creación.

    Otro término para las explicaciones del comienzo del universo es cosmología. La cosmología podría ser una explicación científica basada en la teoría, o una explicación religiosa sobrenatural.

    A continuación consideraremos los mitos de creación de tres culturas precolombinas: los mayas, los aztecas y los incas.

    En su cuaderno, escriba estos dos términos y definiciones de vocabulario:

    mitos de la creación: una historia de cómo comenzó el mundo, o incluso el universo, y cómo se crearon las personas.
    cosmología: una cuenta o teoría del origen del universo.

    Ahora mire estos tres videos de mitos de creación y el video que sigue, luego responda estas preguntas sobre mitos de creación en su cuaderno:

    ¿Qué creencias o temas comparten estos mitos de la creación?
    ¿Qué creencias o temas tienen en común estos mitos de la creación con el mito de la creación hebrea o cristiana?
    ¿Por qué crees que los mitos de la creación comparten algunas ideas o temas?

    Mayan Mythology

    Mayan mythology brings together tales of gods, heroes, and personified forces of nature under one label. The oldest record myths date from the sixteenth century, from documents found in Guatemala. The Popol Vuh, or &ldquobook of the council,&rdquo is the most important of these documents, as it contains stories of the Mayan creation myth as well as adventures of a number of different heroes. There are a number of important themes that recur throughout the mythology, including the creation and end of the world, the creation of mankind, heroes, the relationship between humans and crops, and the origin of the sun and the moon.

    The ancient Mayans were advanced in many ways including art, architecture, mathematics, and astronomy. Mayan cosmology has been of particular interest in recent years. Some people believe that the Mayan calendar is predicting the end of the world in 2012, and this has brought a great deal of attention to the culture and civilization ancient people. The documents of the Ancient Maya are now under even more scrutiny as a result of this theory. Another important text of Mayan mythology is Chilam Balam, found in the Yucatan. Mythological passages in these books added to what was learned with the Popol Vuh.

    The Popol Vuh is most notable for containing Mayan creation myth. Early accounts of Mayan mythology are so scarce that this document is extremely valuable to scholars. The subjects covered in the Popol Vuh are ancestry, creation, cosmology, and history. The story of creation is discussed in detail, stating that animals came first, and then humans. A development of humans is discussed in this passage, as the author states that the first humans were made of mud, and the second humans were made of wood. Another fascinating section of this text includes a genealogy of several leaders before the Spanish conquest.

    This text also contains stories about actions of heroes. The best-known tale is the story of the hero twins, who defeat both a bird demon and the gods of disease and death. In a similar story, the hero of corn defeats the gods of thunder and lightning, and establishes a deal with them. Some of these stories were also part of the oral tradition in Ancient Maya. These tales of heroes, and also details about Mayan creation myth were spread not only in text but with storytelling and oral traditions as well. These documents also mention the end of the world. The Chilam Balam, for instance, has one passage describing the sky collapsing.

    Mayan mythology also tries to explain things about the natural world, such as the origin of the sun and the moon. In many of the tales, the goal is to describe not only the natural world, but the relationship between people and their environment. Since the Spanish conquerors burned so many potentially important documents written by the Mayans, these documents of Mayan mythology are even more crucial to understand the culture. Reading up on Mayan mythology before you visit Mayan ruins will help you to understand the people, their religion, and their way of life. This background is sure to illuminate more details during your visit to Mayan archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza and Tikal.

    The Maya myth of creation - History

    The Popul Vuh (trans.: Book of the Council) records the Mayan creation myths as written down in the middle of the 16th century. For roughly 2000 years the Mayans did well in Central America with a warrior culture relying on slave labor and a rather sophisticated government. They had a two-king system, which is projected backwards to the twin brothers who play a role after this excerpt.

    The creation is quite psychedelic with its weird style, emphasis on verbs, and lack of pronoun antecedents: "Now it still ripples, now it still murmurs, it still sighs, still hums. " (491). Creation is the joint project of the sky and water forces: Heart of Sky and Plumed Serpent -- once again, the mythological logic of it taking two to create. Naming is a magical act: "it was simply their word that brought it forth" (492).

    The peopling of the earth is a dramatic tale.

    They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they had sons, these manikins, woodcarvings. But there was nothing in their hearts and nothing in their minds, no memory of their mason and builder. They just went and walked wherever they wanted. Now they did not remember Heart of Sky.

    And so they fell, just an experiment and just a cutout for humankind. They were talking at first but their faces were dry. They were not yet developed in the legs and arms. They had no blood, no lymph. They had no sweat, no fat. Their complexions were dry, their faces were crusty. They flailed their legs and arms, their bodies were deformed.

    And so they accomplished nothing before the Maker, Modeler who gave them birth, gave them heart. (493)

    Everything spoke: their water jars, their tortilla griddles, their plates, their cooking pots, their dogs, their grinding stones, each and every thing crushed their faces. Their dogs and turkeys told them:

    "You caused us pain, you ate us, but now it is you whom we shall eat." (493)

    The truth is that you should appreciate and care for even inanimate things in your possession. Cleaning your kitchen utensils is a way of honoring the Maker. Don't even try to tell me you don't have some inanimate object in your possession that you consider "sacred." For me, it's some prefab bookcases that I bought in grad school and lugged to my apartment and to everywhere I've lived ever since. They are practically worthless monetarily and in fact a burden now. I can easily get rid of these and already have superseded them with much more useful and glamorous bookcases. But THEY ARE SACRED so get your damn hands off my bookcases!

    It's the same thing, or should be, for tortilla griddles.

    The last line of this excerpt brings up another rather vast mythological theme:

    The Popul Vuh . (Excerpt.) Writing About the World . 2nd ed. by Susan McLeod et al. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1995. 491-494.

    Unearthing the Mayan Creation Myth

    Archaeologists who have uncovered two massive carved stucco panels in the Mirador Basin of Gua­temala’s northern rain forest say they are the earliest known representation of the Mayan creation myth, predating other such artifacts by a millennium. According to the researchers, the panels—26 feet long and 20 feet high, with images of monsters, gods, and swimming heroes—date to 300 B.C. They formed the sides of a channel that carried rainwater into a complex system of stepped pools, where it was stored for drinking and agriculture.

    Idaho State University archaeologist Richard Hansen , who is directing the ongoing excavation, says that the panels’ carved images depict an important scene from the Popol Vuh , a text of the Mayan myth that was first recorded in the 16th century. In the part of the story shown, the Hero Twins swim through the underworld after retrieving the head of their father, the deity Hun Hunahpu.

    Some historians dismiss the Popol Vuh as a contaminated document, containing not only ancient Mayan mythology but also contemporary Spanish Catholic influences. The discovery of the panels establishes key portions of the stories as genuinely Mayan. “We can now extend the authenticity of the creation myth back another 1,000 years,” Hansen says.


    CONTENT WARNING: the following articles may contain some disturbing content, religious commentary, mild language, crude humor, and irreverent interpretations of sacred texts.

    Part One: A look at Biblical, Babylonian, African, Mayan, and Hindu Creation Stories.

    Physicists testing a hypothesis…?

    Nearly every culture, philosophy, spirituality, and civilization around the world has it’s own views on the beginning (and end) of time. Most of them are symbolic metaphors thought up to ‘explain’ natural phenomenon in the absence of scientific knowledge. Many of these tall tales have reoccurring themes and inherit psychological implications of the cultures they originate from. And all of them are completely and hilariously absurd in the best possible sense of the term…

    Unfortunately we can’t verify if there’s any truth to any of these stories at all due to the blatant lack of a time-traveling vehicle, so I’ll leave it up to you and your common sense.

    Adam and Eve: Original Sin FAIL – The Judeo-Christian Story of Creation

    “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. And the earth was without form, and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light.”

    “And He saw that it was good.”

    The story of Adam and Eve is one shared by the Abrahamic religions with slight variations. Some believe the entire parable is a simple myth to explain the un-explainable prior to the notion of scientific theory, some see it as a metaphor for sentience and the pitfalls of free will, while others take the story as a literal factual account of the origin of our species (and everything else in existence).

    According to the first book of the Bible (The Old Testament), Genesis: God created the Earth (and allegedly the Universe itself) in about a week, before passing out from exhaustion on the Seventh Day (?). It was during this busy week, between rearranging planets and star systems, that God created Man, allegedly in his own image, out of clay. This man was named Adam.

    One day Adam complained about being lonely, so God cloned him from a DNA sample from his ribs, except added an X chromosome and some estrogen (in addition to Sugar, Spice, and everything nice). And so Eve, the first woman, was born. These two (immortal) humans hung out in the eco-friendly palatial estate known as the Garden of Eden, a trendy paradise with everything a newly wed couple could ever want, on one condition: that the two lovers avoid the ‘Tree of Life’ at all costs. If one ate from said tree they would surely die.

    Then one day a snake infiltrated the perimeter to mess everything up. This sinister serpent whispered to Eve that the secret to the sacred Tree was that if one ate of its fruit they would gain wisdom: “the knowledge of Good and Evil”. Seeing as Eve didn’t exactly know the difference between right and wrong she unknowingly disobeyed God and took a bite of the fruit (of Good and Evil). Apparently wisdom tastes delicious, so she insisted that her hubby, Adam, have a bite. Having done so, when God swung on by to check in on them he instantly noticed the guilty look on their faces.

    ‘Did you eat the fruit?’ God asked. ‘No’, Adam lied. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘No…?’ After a bit of back and forth, Adam finally confessed, but promptly blamed Eve for making him eat it. Eve differed responsibility to that snake jerk who’d tricked them both. After Adam and Eve presumably had the first marital dispute, God evicted them from his Green House. He then posted an Angel at the entrance to Eden, with a cool flaming sword.

    Adam and Eve were forced to wander the wilderness and fend for themselves as mortals. They gave birth to numerous kids and they all had an average lifespan of a few hundred years (allegedly). Their first born sons: Cain and Abel, tragically became the first murderer and homicide victim…. they also had other sons and daughters who somehow populated the world?

    The book of Genesis goes on to talk about Noah, a world-wide-flood and the tribe of Israel’s zany adventures. One story takes place in the city of Babylon where a King has decided he wants a skyscraper built so he can have a chat with God mono y mono. The Tower of Babel probably looked something like that one imposingly huge building in Dubai. Apparently God didn’t so much want to talk to this guy, because he decided to muck up their plans by inventing language barriers, which automatically had the effect of everyone living in a foreign film, without subtitles. Due to the building’s blue prints being lost in translation, construction ceased in the indecipherable commotion among the workers whom all eventually threw down their hard hats, clocked out, and never returned.

    There are a few variations of this basic moralistic story in different monotheistic religions for instance, according to the Hebrew Scriptures in the Torah, God (Yahweh) created Man AND Woman at the same time, the first woman actually being Lilith whom has often been considered to be the original lesbian. According to Catholicism and by extension most of Christianity, Eve was responsible for bringing Sin into the world (the concept of Original Sin was established by The Council of Nicaea in 325 CE). Many Christians also claim that Satan (the fallen angel from the Gnostic Book of Enoch), was in fact the mischievous snake.

    According to Islamic tradition, Muslims also believe that Adam (Adem) and Eve (Hawwa) were the father and mother of all mankind. The Quran states that after being banished from Heaven to Earth, Allah (God) forgave them for their trespasses. When God ordered the angels and jinn to bow before them, a genie by the name of Iblis refused to do so questioning, “Why should I bow to man, I am made of pure fire and he is made of soil?!”

    Iblis was then banished from Heaven for his hubris and became the Devil, Shayṭān.

    Genie Jafar – The Islamic version of Satan

    The Babylonian Creation Myth

    The ancient Babylonians of Mesopotamia (mordern-day Iraq) believed in many gods, inheriting the beliefs of the Ancient Sumerians, Akkadians, and Assyrians. (They also believed the gods were out to kill them.) According to their mythology the beginning of time took place before heaven itself when there was only water and darkness.

    The ‘Enuma Elish’ is a poem which speaks of this formless state in which all things emerged (written during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar in the 12th Century BCE). Sweet and bitter waters (Apsu and Tiamat) combined to create the primordial beings of the universe: Anshar (the sky, male) and Kishar (the earth, female) who gave birth to Anu, the God of Heaven, who begot Ea, the creator of man. Then the gods promptly bean to fight amongst each other inadvertently creating the chaotic climates, weather, and topographical regions of Earth.

    An African Creation Tale: The Amazulu Tribe

    A deity called Unkulunkulu, whom was born from a bed of reeds, created all men. ‘He looked on all things and said: “So and so is the name of everything.” He gave man fire to light his way, and taught man how to cook meat by dressing it in fire and commanded that they marry and have children so that they may inherit the earth and its creatures.

    The Mayan Creation Myth

    The Mayans of Central America, predecessors of the Aztecs and Incas, believed that the sky came before the world below it. There were two great sages, the Forefathers: Tepeu and Gucumatz. These two bird-gods (of green and blue feathers) met in the darkness and had brunch while they discussed their plans for the tangible world which would appear with the light of dawn.

    The ‘Popol Vuh’ accounts, “Thus let it be done! Let the emptiness be filled! Let the water recede and make a void, let the Earth appear and become solid let it be done. Thus they spoke. Let there be light, let there be dawn in the sky and on the earth! There shall be neither glory no grandeur in our creation and formation until the human being is made, man is formed. So they spoke. Then the earth was created by them. So it was, in truth, that they created the earth. Earth! … they said, and instantly it was made……”

    The Mayan people believe themselves to be descended from the God of Maize (corn), and that the sun and moon are the embodiment of the Hero Twins of Legend who challenged the Gods of the Underworld in the cave of Xibalba on behalf of their father, Ahuapu, the father of the Mayan people… the God of Corn?! (for more Meso-American history click here!)

    India’s Creation Myth

    According to the “Song of Creation” from the ‘Rig Veda’ (1300-1000 BCE), there was nothing before existence, but unanswerable questions. That is until THE ONE came into being, born of heat itself in a time where darkness was wrapped in darkness. From this One came wisdom, desire, strength, impulse, and other completely intangible concepts which somehow led to the world we know today. In the Hindu religion, the pantheon of gods (Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, Rama, Devi, Shakra, Durga, etc) are sometimes referred to as different incarnations of this same being.

    Hindus believe in reincarnation, a cycle of life, death, and rebirth, which apparently extends beyond mere mortals. According to the Hindu tradition, there are endless worlds, a multiverse of creation and destruction. These universes are first made by the Creator: Lord Brahma. Then Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, maintains the Universe until it is inevitably destroyed by Lord Shiva…

    Left to Right: Brahma (Birth), Vishnu (Life), and Shiva (Death)…

    As for the origins of creation, according to Indian culture, it’s best summed up by the Rig Veda itself:

    “But, after all, who knows, and who can say whence it all came, and how creation happened? The gods themselves are later than creation, so who knows truly whence it has arisen? Whence all creation had its origin, he whether he fashioned it, or whether he did not, he, who surveys it all from highest heaven, he knows – or maybe even he does not know….”

    So yeah, more questions than answers… Thanks.

    To be continued…(Creation Tales still to come: Egyptian, Chinese, Norse, Greek, and Native American!)

    Hope you enjoyed this edition of “Epik Fails!”, if you liked it let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to ’Like’ EPiK FAILs on Facebook! (, and SHARE IT with your friends! (You can also subscribe to updates) If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions say so below…

    “The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology” by Arthur Cotterell and Rachel Storm

    “The Humanistic Tradition” Vol. 1 (Third Edition) by: Gloria K. Fiero

    “Chinese Mythology: Stories of Creation and Invention” by: Claude Helft

    “The Timeline History of Ancient Egypt” by: Shereen Rathnagar

    Much of the framework of Mayan mythology and religion was laid down during the Terminal Pre-Classic Period. This was in part influenced by the previous civilisations, particularly the Olmecs but the Mayans developed their own variation of religious stories and rich mythology. Mayan Mythology, like other aspects of Mayan civilisation, was fully developed during the Classic Period of the Mayans. A lot of information about Mayan mythology comes from codices and hieroglyphs from this and later eras.

    Mayan Mythology had a rich range of myths dealing with different aspects of nature. However, there were some famous myths that were mainly related with the creation of the world and celestial objects. According to the Mayan creation myths, the gods created sky and earth before everything else and then created animals and birds. Gods then wanted to be worshipped but animals and birds could not speak. So gods destroyed them and created humans. However, the first two attempts did not result in best humans god wanted to create and thus he had to destroy humanity twice. Finally, in the fourth attempt, gods were finally able to create the right kind of humans.

    Maya Hero Twins

    The Maya had many myths one of their most important and favorite myths concerned the Hero Twins, a pair of demi-gods who became heroes and tricksters. The myth is ancient going back to Pre-Classic era and probably into archaic times. The Twins appear on many monuments, painted pottery and cave walls. Their names are embedded into the Maya calendar as day signs, signifying the centrality and importance of the myth.

    The reason to take a closer look at this myth is to gain a deeper understanding of the Maya, and how they saw their place in the world. It will also increase understanding of the importance of the ball game to the Maya.

    The entire myth of the Hero Twins is too long to provide in this short article. However, here’s a brief synopsis:

    The twins’ father and uncle were also twins, and great ball players. They were called to the Underworld, Xibalba, by the gods of the dead, the Death Lords, who tricked them and then killed them in sacrifice. Nevertheless, through magical means, the decapitated head of Hun Hunahpu managed to father the twins on Xquic, a goddess of Xibalba. Xquic gave birth to the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

    The Hero Twins also became great ball players, but they were noisy and angered the Lords of Xibalba, who called them to the Underworld for a ball game. First the Twins had to successfully pass many magical tests, which the twins did because they knew the story of their father and uncle. The Death Lords tried to trick them repeatedly, but each time the Twins outwitted them. The boys knew they had to die to achieve their final goal of achieving godhead themselves, so they let the Death Lords kill them. The Death Lords sacrificed the boys and ground them to bits. They threw the bits into the river. There, the boys regenerated, becoming first catfish, then boys again.

    Now the Hero Twins had become divine, but they weren’t through with the Death Lords. They knew they could kill anything and bring it back to life. When the Death Lords heard of their great feats, they called the Twins to Xibalba again. The Death Lords commanded the boys to kill and bring back to life a dog, a human and finally one of the Twins. The Death Lords got excited and asked the boys to do them too. So the Twins kill the Death Lords, but they don’t bring them back to life. The Twins had won!

    The Hero Twins have many adventures as outlined in the Popol Vuh, the great book of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala. In one, they manage to kill a bird demon that was setting itself up as a god to be worshipped. In another, they bring their father, Hun Hunahpu, back to life then make him the Maize God. The sky gods made the Twins the rulers of the Earth. They were then turned into the Sun and the Moon. Maya rulers claimed to be descended from the Hero Twins, giving them the right to rule.

    Throughout the myth tale, the Twins play the ball game against the Death Lords. The Maya ball game could be played just for fun, but it also held deep religious meaning for the Maya, who saw it as the eternal battle of good versus evil.