American History / Mayan Creation Myth

Mayan Creation Myth

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Autor:  anton  09 December 2010
Tags:  Creation
Words: 2181   |   Pages: 9
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From the dawn of the first civilization to the bustling nations of modern day, great gatherings of people have tried to interpret their surroundings and justify their experiences in a spiritual and mystical way. Their experiences drive them to figure out the origin of nature and time and space. These so called “creation myths” varied in complexity and origin but each held similar views that a “greater power” ultimately began humanity and its domain. People interpreted what they observed in their surroundings and applied their knowledge to create these notions on what happened. Even though creation myths appeared all around the world and at different times, many of these tales follow a basic series of events. Many similarities occur and overlap from creation myth to creation myth. But why didn’t a god or many gods reach out to different regions of the world? Did each civilization get its own tailored existence? An even more intriguing difference within these “creation myth patterns” separated one tale from another. In exploring this phenomenon, there is evidence to support the argument that these myths evolved not by chance or by godly intervention but by the every day life and surroundings of each individual culture.

There are many similarities between the Mayan Popol Vuh, but the many differences are what explain the history and the conditions of each civilization. From the dawn of the first civilization to the bustling nations of modern day, great gatherings of people have tried to interpret their surroundings and justify their experiences in a spiritual and mystical way. These so called “creation myths” varied in complexity and origin but each held similar views that a “greater power” ultimately began humanity and its domain of “earth”. People interpreted what they observed in their surroundings and applied their knowledge to create these accounts of what happened. Even though creation myths appeared all around the world and at different times, many of these tales follow a basic series of events. One of the most prominent and detailed creation myths was the Popol Vuh, which was created by ancient Mayan authors called “Quiche” (Quiche, 63). By far, the Popol Vuh explained in great detail why certain animals behaved the way they do and why certain plants exist and even mention stars and planets. The Mayan story is separated into chapters with each detailing a specific story about the earliest events that took place. In the beginning, the cosmic realms brought ancient entities that discussed the creation of human beings to act, speak, worship and work. The gods had mysterious names like the Maker and Heart of Sky (Tedlock, 30). Four tries were required to create the humans of today. Their first experiment resulted in creatures that had no limbs and couldn’t speak. This resulted in the form of animals and insects. On the second try, they created beings of mud but they were unable to move or stay solid and eventually, they withered away (Tedlock, 32). The third try resulted in the existence of monkeys and eventually they became successful on the fourth.

We focus on the Mayan civilization and their vivid explanation of the earth’s creation in the fabled Popol Vuh. The Mayans were an advanced civilization that incorporated higher language, literature and politics with a strong influence of religion, art and science. The Mayans originated from the ancient Olmecs and resided within the rainforests and mountains of the Chiapas and Guatemala regions (Bulliet, 310). The original authors of Popol Vuh were thought to have originated in the Guatemala region and they were considered the “Quiche”. The Mayan creation myth had obvious correlations with their societal behaviors and cultural traditions. Many scenes depict arms and legs being dismembered as well as characters showing violent and jealous emotions. The story of Popol Vuh began with a gathering of different godly beings that wanted to create inhabitants that would reside on “earth”. They had a certain idea for humans. The Gods wanted beings that would be able to talk and work, give offerings and praise. It took the Gods four times to create humans. The first three attempts in creating humans resulted in the appearance of animals and insects. In the fourth attempt, they create successful beings and the story focuses on the events of two separate twins that encounter Gods and spirits of all sorts (Tedlock, 32). In the Mayan’s case, corn became a very integral part of the creation myth of Popol Vuh because the origin of the story was in a region where corn was abundant and vital to the inhabitants. In the story, the idea of corn comes up many times. Corn in Popol Vuh seems to stand for the beginning of life and seems to be valued greatly. There value of corn could be seen in this passage: “the making, the modeling of our first mother-father, with yellow corn, white corn alone for the flesh…” (Quiche, 145). According to the myth, the Gods created the first people out of corn. This relationship between corn and people is greatly connected to the societal times the Mayans lived in. Without corn, the Mayans would not have grown into an empire. A bad season of corn yield would result in starvation and suffering. So it would have seemed natural that the integration of corn into the beginning of creation was an obvious tendency. In the Egyptian creation myth, the Nile plays a very cosmic and mystical role. Their myths derived straight from their observations of how the Nile acted. The annual flooding of the Nile played a vital part in replenishing exhausted minerals from the soils. Every year the Nile would flood systematically and the Egyptians viewed this as a gift from the Gods (Bulliet, 41). Unlike Popol Vuh’s gods that feuded with people and became jealous and treacherous, the Egyptian gods were all about cooperation and being one with humanity. The Egyptian area was a very nice piece of real estate when it came to building a systematic civilization. They revered gods and spirits because they were always blessed with growth and production.

Many cultures like the Japanese, explain their surroundings with creation myths. The most prominent factor in determining the myth differences in each culture was the climate and type of ecosystem that the civilization inhabited. In the Japanese tale of creation, the two parent Gods Izanagi and Izanami had three offsprings of which one was evil (Murtagh, NA). Because of his actions the parents sentenced the misbehaving god child to the sea so that he could not harm the islands but in his rage he still terrorized the coasts with tidal waves and hurricanes. This explanation is pretty adequate for the formation of the Japanese islands. When you look at the Popol Vuh, gods are as plentiful as number of species in the animal kingdom. The South American region was a lot more diverse in plant life and animal life and it had obvious impacts in what the Mayans believed. Venomous snakes were the descendents of gods that wanted to harm and terrify humans while the descendent of jaguars and hawks were elegant creations that might have come from powerful and confident spirits. The landscape consisted of Highlands and Lowlands that were important for crops and trade. Weather was very humid and the vegetation was heavy (Bulliet, 311). When the Mayan and Japanese geologies are compared in contrast to their creation myths, you can see how much of the environment affected each society.

The Mayan creation entails very specific information about why certain things are the way they are unlike some of the major religions of today like Christianity and the Hebrew belief. Christianity originated in the Middle East in the first century C.E. while the Hebrew Bible was found from around the 5th century B.C.E. The Bible only explains that 6 specific things were created on 6 separate days (Bulliet, 97-99). During these 6 days, light, earth, water, sky, plants, animals and people were created. “This water should be removed, emptied out for the formation of the earth’s own plate and platform, then should come the sowing, the dawning of the sky-earth… and then the earth arose because of them, it was simply their word that brought it forth.” (Quiche, 65). In this passage, we see a very similar statement that the Popol Vuh makes about the formation of earth and water. This event also coincides with the Christian belief on how the earth was formed. And that pretty much is the only explanation we get from the bible. When comparing this short one page explanation to Popol Vuh, there must be some examination of what the main focuses were in each of the regions of origin. The biggest difference is the focus of each text. The Mayan myth tries to explain every little detail of nature in a very short and mystical sense while the bible focuses more about God’s will was, in fact, everything we see. The Supreme Being used different methods to create the Earth in each respective belief. Some such as the God in the Bible and Torah merely ordered that his will be carried out and it was done. Others molded each creation by hand (Murtagh, NA). Still more gods had a less powerful god to do the work for them. The supreme beings in creation myths came in many different forms and acted very differently, but they all shared in the creation of the world. The bible, especially in the New Testament, is a book of rules and parables that try to better each individual person while the Popol Vuh tries to show the triumph over evil through the twin characters and in doing so, they show the goodness of Mother Nature and how valuable it was to the civilization’s foundation. The scene with Seven Macaw and how the twin boys who steal the bird’s face had major consequences according to the book; Seven Macaw became the big dipper and became the original ancestors to the scarlet macaws that inhabit the South American area (Tedlock, 34).

One particular pattern that the Mayans use is the triumph of man over higher powers and how these tales of victory emphasis morals. The defeat of certain spirits and beings resulted in the creation of the very world that exists today. The twins Hunaphu and Xbalanque were the main heroes that showed qualities that a civilization would strive to pursue. They were always up against characters with flaws in morality and virtue. These twins represented the best of the gods’ creation because they showed true cleverness, intelligence and wit. The Mayans must have prided themselves to be equal to their creators. Their tales incorporate physical contact between these demon beings and the interaction was very human-like. A similar creation myth can be seen in the Greek mythology of how humans interacted with gods. The dealings of humans and gods went to very complicated stages with gods falling in love with humans and gods trying to kill other gods. There are some qualities that both the Mayans and the Greeks shared. They both had affinities for science and advanced technology. They tried pursuing explanations of everything they observed in nature and in space. Both civilizations flourished proudly and saw themselves almost equal to the gods they believed in. Unlike many monotheistic religions, there was an abundant amount of interaction between humans and the many gods.

Even today, we are learning more and more about our big universe and as time passes, new theories and new ideas will appear that will vastly alter human life on earth. In this technological age that we live in, we are blessed with scientific advancements that supplement us with information while we continue to observe the phenomenon of Mother Nature and the continual cycle of life. The Mayans created the Popol Vuh, by using their own observations which they believed to be the only type of explanation for such diversity and beauty on earth. And because of this diversity, many sorts of animals and gods were thought to have designed the image we see with our own eyes everyday. Creation myths were directly linked to the behaviors of civilizations and the cultural ideas that the inhabitants had to deal with all the time. From the geological factors to the structure of government, there were many factors that could engineer such stories into elaborate explanations and observations to justify our very existence into the world. In time, our beliefs might even evolve to a different level. And if there is a higher power and a spiritual plane, we can only hope that the truth is clear to us as we travel through space and time. Maybe one day that truth will be discovered.

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