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Maya Mythology

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Maya Mythology

Post by CJWatso on December 19th 2008, 11:11 am

Important Mythical Themes

Some of the most fundamental tale types will be briefly discussed below.

[edit] World Creation

The Popol Vuh describes the creation of the earth by the forces of sea and sky, as well as its sequel. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel relates the collapse of the sky and the deluge, followed by the raising of the sky and the erection of the five World Trees. The Lacandons also knew the tale of the creation of the Underworld.

[edit] Creation of Mankind

The Popol Vuh gives a sequence of four efforts at creation. The fourth of these is the creation of the first ancestors from maize dough. To this, the Lacandons add the creation of the main kin groupings and their 'totemic' animals. The creation of humankind is concluded by the Mesoamerican tale of the opening of the Maize (or Sustenance) Mountain by the Lightning deities.

[edit] Actions of the Heroes: Arranging the World

The best-known hero myth is about the defeat of the deities of disease and death by the Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque. Of equal importance is the parallel narrative of a maize hero defeating the deities of Thunder and Lightning and establishing a pact with them. Although its present spread is confined to the Gulf Coast areas, this myth is likely once to have been part of Mayan oral tradition as well. Important mythological fragments about the heroic reduction of the jaguars have been preserved by the Tzotziles.

[edit] Marriage with the Earth

This mythical type defines the relation between mankind and the game and crops. An ancestral hero - Xbalanque in a Kekchi tradition - woos the daughter of an Earth God; the hero's wife is finally transformed into game, bees, snakes and insects, or the maize. If the hero gets the upper hand, he becomes the Sun, his wife the Moon. A moralistic Tzotzil version has a man rewarded with a daughter of the Rain Deity, only to get divorced and lose her again.
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Re: Maya Mythology

Post by CJWatso on December 19th 2008, 11:11 am

[edit] Origin of Sun and Moon

The origin of Sun and Moon is not always the outcome of a Marriage with the Earth. From Chiapas and the western Guatemalan Highlands comes the tale of Younger Brother and his jealous Elder Brethren: Youngest One becomes the Sun, the Elder Brethren are transformed into wild pigs and other forest animals. In a comparable way, the Elder Brethren of the Popol Vuh Twin myth are transformed into monkeys, with their younger brothers again becoming Sun and Moon.


[edit] A Pleiade of Origins

Within the framework of the above myths, but also in separate tales, the origin of many natural and cultural phenomena is set out, often with the moral aim of defining the ritual relationship between mankind and its environment. In such a way, one finds explanations about the origin of the heavenly bodies (Sun and Moon, but also Venus, the Pleiades, the Milky Way); the mountain landscape; clouds, rain, thunder and lightning; wild and tame animals; the colours of the maize; diseases and their curative herbs; agricultural instruments; the steam bath, etc.

[edit] Reconstructing Pre-Spanish Mythology

The three surviving Mayan books are mainly of a ritual and also (in the case of the Paris codex) historical nature, and contain but few mythical scenes. Although a sort of 'strip books' may once have existed, it is very much to be doubted that mythical narratives were ever completely rendered hieroglyphically. As a consequence, one primarily depends on the depictions on temple walls and art objects (especially the so-called 'ceramic codex') for a reconstruction of pre-Spanish Mayan mythology.

It is clear that the Twin myth - albeit it in a version which considerably diverged from the Popol Vuh - already circulated in the Classic Period. In some cases, ancient Mayan myths have only been preserved by neighbouring peoples; such appears to be the case with the narrative of the Maya maize god, and, to a lesser extent, with the mythology of the Bacabs.

As the process of hieroglyphical decipherment proceeds, the short explanatory captions included within mythical scenes will hopefully be restored to their original eloquence, and make ancient narrative come to life more fully.
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