The Popol Vuh: Its Creation Story

As I was saying, I've been studying the "Mayan Bible," The Popol Vuh, with a new friend of mine here in Grenada, Spain. He's a wise man, a cave-dweller, artist and street musician. I've already written about him here and here. I've summarized the introduction to the Popol Vuh here. This current posting summarizes what the book calls "The First Narration" of the Mayan classic. I hope it communicates the book's Spirit.   


Useless Humans Made of Mud, Straw, and Greed

In a hushed ancient Reality 
Without Time, Space, or Movement
But only sea and sky,
The Great Creators and Shapers,
The Trinity of
Tupeu, Gucumatz, and Huracan,
Wonderfully 
Manifested their 
Unbounded energy 
Sourced from divine meditation (45).

The Gods gave birth
To oceans, rivers, and streams
And to the earth itself
Sowing it 
With food from heaven
To nourish
Every creature to come.

All of it
Made the deities exceedingly happy
(And their council of Elders too, 47).
For theirs was an act 
Of holy evolution
Enabling their creatures
“To perfect themselves.”
Yes!
All mortals, they said,
Are called to perfection (48).

And so,
Lions, Tigers, and deer
Serpents, snakes, and vipers
Filled the earth (48).
Birds swarmed in the skies
Chanting wordless hymns 
Of praise and thanks
To the Creators and Shapers (49).

But sadly,
None of the new creatures
Found voice 
For conscious 
Expressions of thanks.

This saddened the Gods
Who therefore
Condemned the animals
To feed one another
With their own
Mute corpses (49).

So, the Great Ones changed course
Deciding to make 
A more perceptive 
And vocal creature
Capable of offering them
Conscious gratitude and praise.

First they made 
An Earth Creature of mud.
But it turned out to be
Weak, blind, immobile,
And impotent (50).
Worse still: It could not
Praise or thank
Grandmother Moon (Xmucane)
Or Grandfather Sun (Xpiyacoc 52).

Next, they created men of straw.
Yes, they could reproduce.
But their children
Were no more than dolls.
They lacked heart, soul, 
Understanding and consciousness. 
Empty and useless,
They wandered the earth
In disgrace (53). 

So, in fury Gods
Destroyed the earth
In a Great Flood
Of water and sticky resin.
The strawmen were
Slaughtered, crushed,
Eaten, decapitated
And thrown about
Like sacks of wheat
By all manner of animals.
Even dogs 
And household pots and pans
Got into the act (53-54).

But the evil Vacub Caqix 
Somehow survived it all.
Extraordinarily proud
And exceedingly rich,
His eyes could see nothing but silver.
He claimed to be sun and moon
Even before either was seen (55).

Vacub Caqix’s pride
Displeased the Gods
Who sent the heroes
Hun Ahpu and Ixbalanque
To teach the hard lesson
That Greatness is not measured
By wealth and possessions (57).

The two demigods
Inflicted Vacub with sickness
And a great toothache (60).
They knocked him
From the tree 
Whose fruit gave him life.
But not before
He disarmed (literally!) Hun Ahpu
And ordered Mrs. Vacub
To prepare the severed limb
For a cannibal supper (59-60). 

Indeed, Vacub Caquix
Was resilient. 
He begot 
Two powerful sons
Zipacna and Cabracan
Both movers and shakers
Who claimed 
They had made 
And could destroy
The earth itself.

As a result,
The Gods and their Elder Counselors
Decreed that 
Vacub’s Evil Trinity
Father and sons
Must die (60).

Disguising themselves
As dentist-healers
Hun Ahpu and Ixbalanque
Persuaded a reluctant Vacub
To let them pull 
His aching tooth
(Even though Vacub’s 
Teeth and silver-blinded eyes
Originated his power 62).

The demigods replaced
The pulled teeth
With dentures 
Made of white corn.
Defanged,
And unable to eat,
Vacub the Proud
Was vanquished!

His eldest son, Zipacna 
Was another story.
His great stupid strength
Caused everyone
To fear him.
Though he naively
Trusted others
And tried to help (63),
Everyone (including the Gods)
Wanted him dead.
Once 400 young bucks
Tricked him
Into digging his own grave.
But after three days
In the tomb,
He rose in fury
To kill them all.

But Hun Ahpu and Ixbalanque
Killed the famished monster
By making him pursue
A dinner of giant fake crab
Up a rocky peak
Until the mountain
Collapsed upon him
For good.

And then there was Cabracan
Vacub’s younger son,
The proud mountain destroyer (68).
Pretending to be wandering hunters,
Hun Ahpu and Ixbalanque
Sought the monster’s help
In reaching a mountaintop
Whose peak (they said)
Touched the sun. 
As they traveled up the slopes,
The demigods shot birds
With their blowguns (69).
At nightfall,
They seduced a hungry Cabracan
To eat a poisoned pigeon.
That’s how he died.

These are only samples
Of the great works
Of Hun Ahpu and Ixbalanque (70).

Their lesson:
Greatness is not a matter of wealth,
Or of physical strength,
Or destructive power.
It is a matter of living
Before the Gods
In praise and thanksgiving.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

3 thoughts on “The Popol Vuh: Its Creation Story”

  1. May we all learn their final lesson:

    Greatness is not a matter of wealth,
    Or of physical strength,
    Or destructive power.
    It is a matter of living
    Before the Gods
    In praise and thanksgiving.

    Like

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