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MAYAN ARCHAEOLOGY

Popol Vuh (The Mayan Bible)

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 Popol   Vuh

(The Mayan Cosmogenesis) 

 

all rights reserved 1999

 

 

 

 

     The Mayan account of the creation of the universe and mankind began long, long ago.  The story was handed down from generation to generation through the centuries.  Finally the account was recorded in hieroglyphics in the language of the Quiché Mayans in the highlands of Guatemala.  This “book”, called the Popol-Vuh, is the Sacred Religious book of the Mayans.  They use this book just as Christians use the Bible, and Muslims use the Koran.

     In the year 1558, a Mayan of Guatemala translated a hieroglyphic version of the Popol- Vuh into his native language of Quiché.   In the 1800’s, a Spanish priest, Padre Francisco Ximenez, found the translation in Quiché Mayan in his church called the “Iglesia Católica de Santo Tomás” in Chichicastenango, Guatemala.  Father Ximenez, being bilingual Quiché-Spanish, translated the Popol-Vuh into the Spanish language.  Then, the Spanish translation was then lost for almost a hundred years.  In the twentieth century, the book using a folded  “bark paper was re-found and eventually taken to the Newberry Library in Chicago, where it is today”.  LA Times, September 1999.

     Today, a great number of Quiché Mayans still revere and use the Popol-Vuh.  It is used throughout the highlands of Guatemala as well as in southern California, where an estimated 20,000 Mayans live.  These Mayans fled the persecution and genocide by the army of Guatemala in the 1980’s and 1990´s..  They received political asylum here in the United States.  They are still forced to keep their rituals somewhat private because of the same non-acceptance they experienced by the Catholic Church in general, in their native country.

     As one reads the first few chapters of the Popol-Vuh, it appears amazingly similar to the Genesis creation account.  At the very onset, one finds darkness, stillness, and only water.  There is a triune godhead who uses one name “The Heart of Heaven”.   He, or they speak and the waters recede, mountains grow, dry land appears.  Grass and small animals are created, then larger ones.  The godhead creates a type of being on the earth but there is a problem!  One offspring of the gods is very self centered.  The other beings are too much like their creator and in fact become a competition to him because they have the same wisdom as the One who created them.  They refuse to worship the Heart of Heaven, who is then forced to destroy them by a great flood.

         A partial English translation of the Popol-Vuh from its’ native Spanish has been done by my hand.  I have translated the first 5 chapters of part 1 for you.  The end of chapter 5 brings you up to the creation of our mankind as we know it.

        There is a theory of creation called the “Gap Theory.”  This theory supports the belief that in the Genesis account of creation, there is an immense gap in time between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis, chapter 1.  Most hyper-conservatives reject this theory.  Others see validity in the idea, holding the position that it was during this “gap” that the dinosaurs existed, that Satan ruled beings on the earth, accounting for prehistoric finds such as “Lucy” and other human-type fossils that are neither man nor animal.  Geology does support two universal floods on the earth, and dates the age of the earth in millions of years. 

     “The serious student of theology faces a dilemma when considering the origin of the earth, and encounters statements that do not align themselves with the nature of God.  For example, ‘God is good.’  He is characterized by ‘light’.  By His very nature, He does not create bad, disorder, or darkness.  And yet, these three things are present in the second verse of the Bible!  It is very obvious that something happened between verse 1 and verse 2 of Genesis chapter 1.”  - The First World, by Charles Spurgeon Ph D., 1998  (available upon request)

        In various passages, the Bible, as a matter of fact, alludes to this first world.  See Isaiah 14:12-14.  The destruction of the first world is mentioned in verses 15-17.   The prophet Ezekiel spoke of the first world (28:12, 13).  The Apostle Peter spoke of the total destruction of the first world (2 Peter 3:5).  This was not a reference to Noah’s flood because the entire world did not perish.  Eight people survived!  The Prophet Jeremiah spoke of Genesis 1:2, of a destroyed world where there had been cities (4:23-28).  He used the same Hebrew words tohu and bohu, that one finds in Genesis 1:2 for “without form and void”. Yet he spoke of destroyed cities.  If you insist that he was referring to the flood of Noah, how do you account for the fact that in verse 24 he says “no man was found.”?  You can’t; because he wasn’t! 

         When did the dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers live?  After Adam? Of course not.  Allow me to pose another simple question.  On the first day of creation according to Genesis 1:3 there was light.  Where did the light come from, since the sun, moon and starts aren’t mentioned until the fourth day, (verses 14-19)?   Allow me to offer a possible explanation.  The first world, along

with its’ first inhabitants was destroyed by a great disaster.  The water, the stillness, the disorder and the darkness that we see in Genesis 1:2  is the result of the first destruction by whatever means.  From Genesis chapter 1, verse 2 forward, we read of a new creation, the creation of our present world.

As to the previously posed question of  “light”, may I suggest that as the clouds of water vapor from the first destruction dissipated, that the sun, moon, and stars of verse 14, once again cast their previous life giving light and warmth over the surface of this planet we call “home”.

       All of this has been said in order to give credibility to the possibility that much of the cosmogenesis found in the Popol-Vuh may in fact, have a basis in truth.  In a writing of such antiquity, it is impossible to accurately separate history from legend.  This will be left to your personal interpretation…. – Dr. Charles Spurgeon

 

My Translation of the Popol Vuh Follows:

 

 

POPOL  VUH

(Quiché Mayan BOOK OF THE CREATION)

English translation from the Spanish text by Dr. Charles Spurgeon

(all rights reserved, 2000)

 

     That which follows is not a beautiful flowing loose paraphrase of the Popol Vuh, but rather a translation,

true to the Spanish text, suitable for an in depth English study of the original.

 

 

     The Popol Vuh is divided into parts 1 through 4.  Part 1 consists of  9 chapters.  Part 2 consists of 14 chapters; Part 3, 10 chapters, and Part 4 contains 12 chapters.   This current work includes the first 5 chapters of  Part 1.  Beyond chapter 5 there is little to no interest to the students of my course in Mayan studies.  Special note to theology students:  Carefully note all wording in italics.

    -Dr. Charles Spurgeon

 

FIRST PART

 

Chapter 1     (Compare to Genesis 1:1)

 

     This is the account of how everything was in suspension, everything was still, silent; the expanse of heaven  was immobile, quiet, and empty.

   

      This is the first account, the first period.  There was no man yet, nor an animal, birds, fish, crabs, trees, rocks, caves, ravines, plants nor forests.  Only heaven existed.

    

     The surface of the earth was not revealed.  There was only the calm sea and  heaven in all its expanse.

    

     There was nothing together that made noise, nor anything that moved, nor fluttered, nor that made noise in heaven.

     

     There was nothing standing; only still water, the soothing sea, alone and tranquil.  Existence had no good qualities.  **** (end of Genesis 1:1)

    

     There was only stillness and silence in darkness, in the night.  There was only the Creator, the Former, Tepeu, Gucumatz, the ancestors in the water surrounded by a light.  They were hidden below green and blue feathers, for that, they are called “Gucumatz”.  Great wisdom and great thinking is their nature.  In this way heaven existed and also the “Heart of Heaven”.  This is the name of God.  That’s the way they told it.

    

     The word arrived here, Tepeu and Gucumatz came together, in the darkness, in the night, and Tepeu and Gucumatz spoke between themselves.  Well, they spoke, discussing between themselves and meditating.  They were in agreement.  Their words and their thoughts came together.

    

     So they manifested themselves with light and meditated that when dawn comes, man ought to appear.  So they arranged the creation and growth of the trees and climbing plants, the birth of life, and the creation of man.  It was decided like that in the darkness, in the night by the “Heart of Heaven”, that is called Huracán.

    

      The first one is called Caculhá Huracán.  The second is Chi-pi-Caculhá.  The third is Raxa-Caculhá.

And these three are the “Heart of Heaven”.  (note a triune god)

   

      So, Tepeu and Gucumatz came together; and they talked about life and light, how to do it, because it’s going to get light, dawn, who will produce food and sustenance? 

   

 

     “Let it be done!” “Let the void be filled!”  “Let the waters go down and move out, let the land come up!  Let the land stay firm!”   That’s what they said.   “Let there be light, that there be dawn in the sky and on the earth!   There will not be glory nor greatness in our creation and formation until the human creature exists, and man is formed.”  That’s the way they said it. 

    

     Later the earth was created by them.  That was truly the way that the creation of the earth was made:  “Land!” they said, and it was done instantly.

    

     When the mountains appeared out of the water, like fog, like a cloud and like a dust storm was the creation.  And the mountains grew instantly.

    

     Only by a marvel, only by magic art was the formation of the mountains and valleys; and instantly cypress and pine trees sprouted up together on the surface.

    

     Just like that, Gucumatz was filled with happiness, saying, “Your coming has been good, Heart of Heaven; you, Huracán, and you, Chipi-Caculhá, and Raxa-Caculhá!”

    

     They said, “Our work, our creation will be finished.”

    

     First they formed the earth, the mountains and the valleys.  They divided the streams of water.  The brooks were running freely between the hills, and when the tall mountains appeared, the waters stayed apart. 

    

     That’s the way the creation of the earth was, when it was formed by the Heart of Heaven, the Heart of the Earth.  That’s what the first ones who inseminated were called, when heaven was in suspension and the earth was found submerged in the water.

    

     This was the way the work was completed when it was carried out after thinking and meditating

about their happy ending.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

     Later they made small grass animals, protectors of all forests, the dwarf spirits of the mountain, deer, the birds, lions, tigers, serpents, snakes, poisonous snakes, and guardians of the climbing plants.

    

     The Ancestors said, “Will there be only silence and stillness beneath the trees and climbing plants?”   “It would be good if  henceforth there were someone to take care of  them.” 

    

     They spoke and said that after they had meditated.  At that point the deer and the fowls were created.   Immediately, they gave their living places to the deer and the birds.  “You deer will sleep in the meadow of the rivers and the riverbanks.  Here you will be, among the undergrowth and grass.  In the forest you will multiply.  You will walk on four feet and you will sustain yourself.”  And like he said it, he did it.

    

     Later they also designated their living places to be used by the small birds and to the larger fowls.  “You, birds, will live over the trees and climbing plants.  There you will find your nests.  There you will multiply.  There you will shake the branches of the trees and the climbing plants.”  Such is what was said to the deer and the birds so that they did that which they ought to do;  and all took their habitations and nests.

 

 In this way the Ancestors gave habitations to the animals of the earth.

 

 

     The creation of  the quadrupeds  and the birds being finished by the Creator, and the Former (one who forms) and the Ancestors:  “Speak, shout, chirp, call, speak each one according to your species, according to the variety of each one.”  That’s what was said to the deer, the birds, lions, tigers and serpents.

 

     “Well then, speak your names, praise us, your mother, your father.  Well, call upon Huracán, Chipi-Caculhá, Raxa-Caculhá,  the Heart of Heaven, the Heart of the Earth, the Creator, the Former, the Ancestors.  Speak, call upon us, worship us!” they said.

    

     But they could not bring about  speech like men; they only howled, crowed, and squawked.  They didn’t manifest the form of their (the god’s) language; and each one shrieked in a different manner.

    

     When the Creator and the Former saw that it was not possible for them to speak, they said between  themselves:  “It has not been possible that they say our name, ours, their creators and formers.  This is not good”, the Ancestors said among themselves.

   

      So they said to them,  “You will be changed because you have not obtained speech.  We have changed the appearance; you will have your food, your fodder, your habitation and your nests.  They will be the river banks and the forests because you have not been able to worship us nor call upon us.  Still, there will be those who worship us.  We will make others (beings) that are obedient.  You all, accept your destiny:  your meats will be crushed and ground.  That’s the way it will be.  This will be your luck.”  That’s the way they said it when they made their will known to the small and large animals that there are over the face of the earth.

    

     Later, they wanted to try their luck again.  They wanted to make another attempt to try again that they might worship.   (Note: the first creation of man follows)

    

     But they could not understand their language even among themselves, could not accomplish anything, nor do anything.  For this reason their flesh was sacrificed and condemned to be food. And these animals (they were not men) that exists over the face of the earth were slaughtered.

 

     Well then, the Creator, the Former, and the Ancestors  had to make a new attempt to create and form man.

 

     “To try again!  Now then, daybreak and dawn are coming.  Let’s make him that will sustain us and feed us!  How will we do it so that he will call upon us and remember us over the earth?  We have  already tried with our first works, our first creatures; but couldn’t bring about that we might be praised and revered by them.  Let’s try now and make some obedient beings, respectful, that will take care of us and feed us.”  That is what they said.

 

     Then was the creation and formation.  From dirt, from mud they made flesh.  (Note: second creation of man)  But they saw it was not good, because they fell apart, were soft, there was no movement, didn’t have strength, they fell down, were limp, the head didn’t move, the face was twisted to one side, the vision was blurred, and could not see to the rear.  It spoke from the beginning, but what it said didn’t make any sense.  It got soaked in water very quickly and wouldn’t hold up (started to dissolve).

 

     The Creator and the Former said,  “Well, one can see that it can’t walk nor multiply.”  “Let’s discuss this”, they said.   Then thwarted, they pulled their handiwork and creation to pieces.  Right away they said; “How will we do it, to perfect it, so it will come out well and they will call upon us and worship us?”

 

     When they had discussed it again among themselves they said,  “We say to Ixpiyacoc, Ixmucané, Hunahpú-Vuch, and Hunahpú-Utiú:  ‘Try your luck again! Try to make the creation!’”  That’s what the Creator and Former said when they spoke to Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané.

    

 

Without hesitation they spoke with the fortunetellers, the grandmother of the day, and the grandmother of the dawn.  They were called that by the Creator and the Former.  Their names were Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané.

 

     When they spoke to the soothsayer and to the Former, who are the fortunetellers, Huracán, Tepeu and Gucumatz said:  “We have to meet and find the means to form man.  The man we are going to create,  will take care of us and feed us, will call upon us and be in agreement with us.”

 

     Well, enter into the discussion grandmother, grandfather, our grandmother, our grandfather, Ixpiyacoc, Ixmucané.  Remove the doubt.  Show us, that we are being called upon, that we are being worshipped, that we are being remembered by the created man, by the formed man, by the mortal man.  Do it like you want to.

 

     “Introduce our nature, Hunahpú-Vuch, Hunahpú-Utiú, two times a mother, two times a father, Nim-Ac, Nimá-Tziís, the Lord of the emerald, the jeweler , the sculptor, the carver, the Lord of the beautiful plates, the Lord of the green gourd, the resin expert, the expert Toltecat, the grandmother of the sun, the grandmother of the dawn.  They will be called that because of our works and our creatures.”

 

     “Draw lots with our grains of corn and tzité (bean pods from the ‘whistle tree’).”Do it like that and one will know it will turn out OK if we carve or shape the mouth and the eyes out of wood.”  It was told to the fortune tellers like that.  The divination continued, the casting of lots with corn and tzité. One old woman and one old man told them,  “Luck! Creature!”.  And this old man, called Ixpiyacoc,  used  the tzité lots.  And the old woman, was a fortune teller, and a former.  They called her Chiracán Ixmucané.

 

     And when the divining began they (the grains) said, “Let’s get together and mate!  Speak that we hear.  Say , declare that it is good if the wood comes together and that it is carved by the Creator and Former, and yes, this (man of wood) is he that will sustain and feed us when it gets light, when the dawn comes.”

    

     “You, corn, you, tzité; you, luck; you, creature:  Unite, fast (don’t eat)!”, they said to the corn, to the tzité, to luck and to the creature.  “Come and sacrifice here, Heart of Heaven.  Don’t chastise Tepeu and Gucamatz!”

 

     Then they spoke and told the truth:  “Your figures of wood will turn out good.  They will speak and converse over the face of the earth.”

 

     “Let it be so!” they answered when they spoke.

    

     And instantly the carved wooden figures were made.  (Note: the third creation of man)  They looked like a man, they spoke like a man, and they populated the surface of the earth.

 

     They existed and multiplied.  The stick figures had daughters and they had sons; ****but they didn’t have a soul, nor understanding.  They didn’t call upon their Creator , their Former.  They walked around with nowhere to go, and walked on all fours.

 

     Now they didn’t call upon the Heart of Heaven.  And for that, they fell in disgrace.  It was only a trial, an intent to make men.  They spoke at the beginning, but their face was dry and shriveled up;  their feet and their hands didn’t have enough substance.  They didn’t have blood, substance, moisture, nor fat;  their cheeks were dry, as were their hands and feet, and their flesh was yellow.

 

     For this reason they no longer thought about the Creator, nor the Former, in those that gave them being and took care of them.

 

     These were the first men in great number that existed over the face of the earth.

 

Chapter 3

 

     Without further delay the stick figures were annihilated, destroyed and taken apart and received death.

 

    **** A  flooding was produced by the Heart of Heaven.  A great flood was formed, and fell over the heads of the stick figures.

 

     Man’s flesh was made from tzité (the bean pods from the Whistle tree).  But when the woman was formed by the Creator and the Former, her flesh was made from bullrushes.  The Creator and the Former wanted these materials in their composition.  But these did not think nor speak with their Creator and Former, that had made them.  And for this reason they were dead, they were drowned. 

 

NOTE:  (The reader will note that this writing is not in a strict chronological order as are writings of today; but one finds repeated regresions for explanation and additional detail)

 

An abundance of resin came from heaven.  One called Xecotcovach arrived and took out the eyes.  Camalotz came to cut off the head; and Cotzbalam came to devour their flesh.  Tucumbalam also came and broke and bruised the bones and the nerves, and ground down the bones little by little. 

 

     And this was to chastise them because they had not thought about their mother nor their father, the Heart of Heaven, called Huracán. This was the reason that the surface of the earth was darkened and a black rain began, a day rain and a night rain.  (Note: paragraphs 5 & 6 are explanations of paragraph 2)

 

     Then the small and large animals arrived.  The sticks and the rocks beat their faces.  And all began to speak; the large jars, pans, plates, pots, their dogs, and the grinding stones.  All got up and beat their faces.

(translator’s note: I believe we are to assume that these vessels beat the faces of the stick people and not the animals.  It is not clear.)

 

     “You did bad things to us.  You ate us and now we are going to bite you,” said their dogs and their farmyard fowls.

 

     And the grinding stones:  “We have been tormented by you every day, every day, at night time, at dawn,

all the time, you would do ‘holi, holi, huqui, huqui’  (noise the grinding stone makes while grinding corn)

to our faces. It’s your fault.  This is the tribute we are paying you.  But now that you are no longer men, try our forces.  We grind you and reduce your flesh to dust”, said their grinding stones.

 

     And here are their dogs that spoke and said, “Why did you not give us our food?  In spite of that we were looking  (at you) and  now you fling us from your side and throw us out.  You always have a stick ready to hit us while you eat.”

 

     “That’s the way you have treated us.  We have not been able to speak.  Perhaps we  might not give you death now; but why not reflect back?  Why don’t you think within yourselves?  Now, we are going to destroy you.  Now you all try the teeth that are in our mouths.  We are going to devour you”, said the dogs.

And later, they destroyed their faces.

 

     And when their time came, the frying pans, the pots spoke to them saying,  “You caused us pain and suffering.  Our mouth and our faces were blackened.  We were always placed over the fire and you burned us as though we didn’t feel pain.  Now you are tried, we will burn you”, the pots said, and all the pots destroyed their faces.  The stones of the home that were piled up flung themselves directly from the fire against their heads causing them pain.

 

 

     Desperately, they ran from one side to another.  They wanted to climb up on the houses and the houses fell and threw them to the ground.  They wanted to climb up over the trees, and the trees hurled them far away.  They wanted to enter the caverns and the caverns closed before them.

 

     Such was the ruin of the men that had been created and formed; made to be destroyed and annihilated.  The mouths and faces of all of them were destroyed. 

 

     And they say that their descendants are the monkeys that exist now in the forests.  These are the tokens of them because the Creator and Former made their flesh only from sticks. 

 

     And for this reason the monkey looks like man.  It’s the token of a generation of created men; of men formed that were only figures made only from wood.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

     Then, there had been only a little light over the face of the earth.  Still, there had not been the sun.  However, there had been a proud being that is called Vucub-Caquix. (Note: frequently in maya writings one finds Vucub as a name.  It means seven)

 

     Heaven and earth existed, but the face was covered from the sun and from the moon.

 

     And he (Vucub-Caquix) would say,  “Truly, they are a clear example of those men that were drowned, and their nature is like the nature of supernatural beings.”  (Note: this is a narration by Vucub-Caquix, who  apparently existed at the time of the first flood.  Could this represent Lucifer?) 

 

     “Now I will be great over all created and formed beings.  I am the sun, the light, the moon,” he exclaimed.  “Great is my spender!  By me, men will act and  overcome.  Because my eyes are silver, glowing like precious stones, like emeralds; my teeth shine like fine stones, similar to the face of heaven.  My nose shines from afar like the moon. (Note: the Aztecs and the Mayas paid a lot of attention to noses.)   My throne is silver and the face of the earth light up when I am in front of my throne.”

 

     “Thus, I am the sun, I am the moon, for the human lineage.  Thus it will be because my vision goes a great distance.”

 

     In this way Vucub-Caquix spoke.  But in reality, Vucub-Caquix was not the sun.  He only reveled in vainglory because of his feathers and riches.  His vision only went to the horizon, and didn’t extend over all the earth.

 

     As of yet he had not seen the face of the sun, nor of the moon, nor the stars; and as of yet there had not been a sunrise.  For this reason Vucub-Caquix was conceited as if he was the sun and the moon, because as of yet the light of the sun and of the moon had not shown nor been displayed.  His only ambition was to make himself great and to rule.  It was then, when the flood occurred because of the stick figures.

 

     Now, we will tell how Vucub-Caquix died and was overcome, and how man was made by the Creator and Former.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

     This is the beginning of the defeat and ruin of the glory of Vucub-Caquix by two young men (literally translated = boys), the first of which is called Hunahpú, and the second Ixbalanqué.  Truly they were gods.  As they saw the wrong that the haughty one was doing, and that he wanted to do it in the presence of the  Heart of Heaven, they young men said,

 

 

“It is not good that this is done in such a way when man doesn’t yet live here over the earth.  And so we will try to shoot him with the blowgun when he is eating.  We will shoot him and we will cause an illness, and then that will put an end to his riches, his green stones, his precious metals, his emeralds, his jewels  which he is so proud of.  And that is the way they will make all men, because one ought not to be conceited  by power nor by riches.”

 

     “That the way it will be”, said the boys, each one throwing his blowgun over his shoulder.

 

     Well now, this Vucub-Caquix had two sons.  The first was called Zipacná, the second one was Cabracán; and the mother of the two is called Chimalmat; Vucub-Caquix’s woman.

     

     Zipacná used to play ball with the great mountains:  the Chigag, Hunahpú, Pecul, Yaxcanul, Macamob, and the Huliznab.  These are the names of the mountains that existed when it dawned, and were created in only one night by Zipacná.

 

     Cabracán would move the mountains.  He caused the great and small mountains to shake.

 

     This was the way that the sons of Vucub-Caquix proclaimed their pride.  “Listen!  I am the sun!”, Vucub-Caquix would say.  “I am he that made the earth!”, Zipacná would say.  “I am he that shakes

heaven and shakes all the earth!”, Cabracán would say.  That’s the way the sons of Vucub-Caquix were, challenging the greatness of their father.  And this seemed very bad to the (two) young men.

 

    **** Neither our first mother, nor our first father had yet been created.  (Note: possibly a reference to those whom we call Adam and Eve)  

 

     Therefore, the death and destruction (of Vucub-Caquix and his sons) was decided by the two young men.

 

 

***    End of Part 1, Chapter 5   ***