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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.

By April Holloway

Related inks

Mayan Mythology

Popol Vuh

The Popol Vuh

Maya Civilization

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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