J. ERIC S. THOMPSON
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
Vol. V M6xico, 1965
U. N. A. M.
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
By J. Eric S. THOMPSON
Assemblage of the many fragments of creation myths recorded
within the Maya area can be of value not only for the insight
they allow into pagan thought but also because of the in-
formation they can supply on relations both between Maya
highlands and lowlands and also between each of those areas
and other parts of Mexico. The material is widely scattered and
in some cases difficult of access, and clearly what has been
recovered represents but a small fragment of the lore on the
subject current in Middle American when Cort6s stepped ashore
on Good Friday of 1519. Chance has largely decided what
should or should not be preserved. It is a sad thought that
perhaps only one European was sufficiently interested to collect
and set down in detail such legends as the lowland Maya told
their families in their homes or recited to strangers around the
campfires of some group of itinerant merchants. The possible
exception is Fray Andr6s de Avendafio y Loyola, but his treatise
on the priests and prophecies, idols and calendar of the Yucatec
The effect of time and degree of European contact on rate
of loss of pagan detail to European elements in myths is a
matter of some interest. Old World influence is apparent in
Mexican myth very soon, for the story of people with ears so
long that they wrap themselves up in them when they go to sleep
appears in a native source, Histoyre du Mechique, probably
composed in 1543, two decades after the Spanish conquest.
Naturally, myths were never frozen into immutable patterns of
words and incidents in pre-Columbian times, but some present-
day creation myths show complete mestization.
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
Other problems raised concern center of diffusion of the
concept of multiple creations and destruction of the world
and the period or periods when specific incidents came to be
shared by peoples of the Mexican plateau and the lowland
Because they are the most detailed, legends of the various
creations from the Valley of Mexico and its environs are first
presented for points of comparison with Maya myths.
Valley of Mexico
The reason for the fullness of data from this region probably
lies in the fact that there were persons interested in putting the
different versions in writing soon after the Spanish conquest,
before the attrition which all paganism had to face had becorie
There are five main nahuatl sources: written in the Codex
Chimalpopoca (two versions) and the Historia de los mexicanos
por sus pinturas; painted in Codex Vatican A with commentary;
and sculptured on the famous Aztec calendar stone and other
stone objects (Beyer, 1921).
Codex Chimalpopoca comprises three distinct manuscripts,
the first being the Anales de Cuauhtitlan and the last Leyenda
de los soles. Both, written in nahuatl, derive from independent
sources. The Anales, by an unidentified author, dates from
about 1570; the Leyenda is dated 1558; the Historia. . por sus
pinturas survives in a Spanish version of 1547, a copy of a
lost original. Codex Vatican A, a pictorial and hieroglyphic
book, derives from a lost original of about 1550. All, accord-
ingly, are largely uncontaminated by European ideas.
Minor variations, notably in the succession of world crea-
tions and destruction will not be discussed in view of the fact
that the Valley of Mexico material is presented primarily for
comparative purposes. The scheme here followed seems most
likely to be the original, but the variants may well have been
current before the Spanish conquest. All are essentially uniform.
Each creation is known as a sun. In outline they are:
First Creation. 4 Ocelotl (jaguar) was its name. Tezca-
tlipoca was the sun. The world was inhabited by giants. After
13 x 52 years it was ended by jaguars devouring the giants.
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
Second Creation. 4 Eecatl (wind) was its name. Quet-
zalcoatl was the sun. After 7 x 52 years it was ended by terrible
winds which swept away houses, trees, and people. The few
survivors were turned into monkeys.
Third Creation. 4 Quiauitl (rain) was its name. Tlaloc
was the sun. After 6 x 52 yeas it- was ended by fire raining
down from the sky and the forming of lava (volcanic eruptions).
The sun burned all the houses. The people were children. The
survivors were turned into birds.
Fourth Creation. 4 Atl (water) was its name. Chalchihui-
tlirue was the sun. After 13 x 52 years it was ended by floods.
The mountains disappeared and the people were turned into
fites. According to one version two persons survived because
Tefcatlipoca ordered them to bore a hole in the trunk of a very
large ahuehuetl tree, and to crawl inside when the skies fell.
Tne pair entered and survived the floods. Later, they annoyed
Teicatlipoca who changed them into dogs by cutting off their
heads and sticking them on their buttocks.
Fifth Creation. 4 Ollin (movement) was its name. Tonatiuh,
the sun god, was its sun. Eventually an earthquake will bring
it to an end. Men were created from bones rescued from the
underworld realm of the death god by Quetzalcoatl. Blood
which he drew from his penis dripped on the bones, bringing
them to life.
The gods created four men and Tezcatlipoca and Quetzal-
coatl turned themselves into great trees. "With the men and
trees and gods they raised the sky with its stars as it now is.
hen the sky was raised Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl walked
across it, and made the road which appears in the sky, and
they were there and ever after are there with their abode
In the sixth year after the flood, Centeotl, the maize god,
was born; two years later the gods created men; in the four-
teenth year the gods decided to make the sun because the world
was still in darkness, but this did not happen till the twenty-
sixth year after the flood.
Deities supporting the heavens and trees set at the (four)
points of the compass appear in Codices Borgia and Vatican
B, and world directional trees are a conspicuous feature of
Codex Fejervary-Mayer. All three codices are pre-Columbian
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
and certainly originated outside the Valley of Mexico, probably
somewhere in the area embracing Puebla, northern Oaxaca
and southern Veracruz, so those two elements clearly had a
far wider distribution than the Valley of Mexico.
So much for Central Mexico.
A large part of the Popol Vuh recounts the adventures of
the sun and his brother on earth before the former took up
his duties as the present sun; a smaller part tells of the creations
and destruction of the world (Recinos, 1950). The book was
written in Quich6 employing European script in the second 1)alf
of the sixteenth century and so is somewhat later in date tian
the Valley of Mexico sources; On the other hand, the nore
isolated Quich6 were presumably less exposed to Spanish
influence than the natives of the Valley of Mexico. Certainly
the Popol Vuh is easily the best source for highland Maya
mythology. The creations according to this sources are:
First Creation. Man was made of mud. Consequently the
figure "melted away, it was soft, did not move, had no strength;
it fell down, it was limp, it could not move its head; its face
fell to one side, its sight was blurred, it could not look behind.
At first it spoke, but it had no mind. Quickly it soaked in the
water and could not stand". The gods were so dissatisfied that
"they broke up and destroyed their work and their creation".
It is not clear whether the whole world was destroyed at that
time, but man was created afresh.
Second Creation. Men were made of wood of the pito tree,
women of reed, after divination by the old pair of gods of
divination had shown pito wood, the beans of which like maize
grain were used in divination, a better substance than maize.
The people looked, talked and multiplied like men, but they
lacked souls and minds, their faces were without expression
and their flesh yellow. They did not remember their lord and
creator, and for that reason they were destroyed.
A heavy resin fell from the sky; the face of the earth was
darkened and a black rain fell day and night. Animal demons
killed the people, breaking and devouring their flesh. The
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
domestic animals and the utensils attacked their owners. The
dogs asked them why they had not fed them, but, instead,
always had a stick handy to beat them. The turkeys and the
dogs kept for eating said "you ate us, now we shall kill you".
The metates complained of how they had suffered when the
maize was ground on them, but now it was their turn they said.
The pots and griddles accused man of burning them and
clamored for revenge. The stones of the hearth did likewise.
When the wooden men tried to escape to the roof crests, the
houses collapsed; the trees and the caves refused them shelter.
The race was annihilated; from the survivors descend the
Third Creation. Next, the ancestors of the present race
were made of dough of yellow maize and of white maize, fii
four men and then four women. They pleased their creators
by thanking them for their creation, preservation, and all the
blessings of this life. They were too wise; there was danger
that they would equal the gods in wisdom. Consequently, Heart
of Heaven blew mist into their eyes, diminishing their knowledge
and wisdom. The world was still in darkness. Finally, the
morning star rose before the assembled people. The priests
burned copal and then the sun appeared. Even the animals
turned to face the rising sun. It rose with unbearable heat,
drying the muddy surface of the earth. Certain gods and deified
animals and hobgoblins (Zaqui coxol, little men of the forest)
were turned to stone.
That the present world would end in destruction is not
indicated in the Popol Vuh, but there is an extraordinary re-
ference to that event in testimony give in 1563 by the Mer-
cedarian Friar Luis Carrillo de San Vicente. The area to which
this relates is not specified, but it is definitely in the highlands
of Guatemala, and quite probably that part occupied by the
Quich6. According to this friar, old Indians on the point of death
pass their idols on to others, bidding the recipients guard, honor
and venerate them because those who follow their law and
custom will prevail, whereas the Spaniards who were upstarts
must come to an end, and "when they were dead, these gods
must send another new sun which would give light to him who
followed them, and the people would recover in their genera-
tion and would possess their land in peace and tranquility."
(Scholes and Adams, 1938, Document 46).
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
Thus, for the Quich6 we have three races of man created,
two destruction of man in the past with a third destruction and
a fourth creation promised for the future. In connection with
the divination of the old pair (Xpiyacoc and Xmucane) to
decide whether man should be of pito wood or of maize, it
should be noted that the equivalent pair in the Nahua pantheon,
Oxomoco and Cipactonal, made a divination to find out who
should break open the mountain to obtain maize (Part 2).
In the Annals of the Cakchiquels (Recinos, 1953: 46-67),
neighbors but enemies of the Quich6, there are very brief re-
ferences to this same series of traditions. One race of man
was made of earth, but was useless. He was fed with wood and
leaves (confused recollection of the creation of men of wobd?),
but neither walked nor talked; he had neither blood nor flesh.
Subsequently man was made of inaize dough mixed with-blood
of tapir and serpent. Thirteen men, but fourteen women were
created. "Then they talked. They had blood, they had flesh.
They married and multiplied."
The Mam Maya of Santiago Chimallenango in the western
highlands of Guatemala retain memories of three creations, a
mixture of Maya and Christian themes (Wagley, 1949: 51).
First Creation. People said to have been monkeys. They
were destroyed by a flood of burning pitch.
Second Creation. Some say the second race comprised
moles. A flood destroyed it.
Third Creation. The first people were St. Joseph and the
Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Joseph made the earth. It was per-
fectly flat. As it was always dark, St. Joseph made the sun and,
later, the moon. Jesus was born and in four days grew to full
size. He said to his father "Do not he troubled, father for I
am going to make another world and you will be able to help
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
Then Jesus began to make the mountains and valleys and
canyons for the rivers. He made the moon less bright than the
sun so that people could sleep at night.
In the Mam town of San Miguel Acatin a cycle of stories,
some of which refer to the creation, also attach to Jesus (Siegel,
1943: 125). The Jews caught and crucified God, but He set
a ladder on the cross and climbed to heaven. The cock crew
and the world became clear. In the last sentence it seems possible
that the author's use of the word "clear" rises from a misunders-
tanding of the Spanish se aclaro, became bright. Clearly, the
ladder as a symbol of the Passion, the denial of St. Peter and
the darkness at noon have modified this version of the coming
of light to the world, a favorite motif in all these Middle Amer-
ican creation stories.
The Jacalteca recount (La Farge and Byers, 1931: 113)
that the world was once in darkness. When the sun (apparently
Jesus) rose, the Spaniards hid in caves and under the water,
but were killed. Perhaps we may presume that those under the
water were drowned. We are reminded of the belief recorded
by Fray Luis Carrillo de San Vicente that the present world
would end with the destruction of the Spaniards.
Almost the same stories of the creation as are given below
for the Mopan, Maya are current among the Kekchi (Gordon,
1915; Burkitt, 1920: Dieseldorff, 1926-33, vol. 1. pp. 4-5).
Burkitt was the author, whose name was withheld, of the myths
published by Gordon. Dieseldorff obtained his version from
the German Paul Wirsing who lived among the Kekchi for
very many years. There are some grounds for thinking that the
Kekchi borrowed these stories from the Mancih6 Chol, a large
part of whom they absorbed in the sixteenth and seventeenth
The late Mrs Elsie McDougall passed on It me information
of Sefior Viaux, resident in ,Alta Vera Paz. that an old Kekchi
ESTUDIOS DE CULTURE MAYA
woman attributed skulls in a cave near Coban to people living
before the creation of the sun. When the sun appeared they
stayed in caves for the light was so bright they could not see.
By day they made pots; at night they came to the surface.
The Zutuhil conserve memory of a flood, at wihch time men
were turned into animals (Rosales, 1949:801).
Maya lowlands. Precolumbian
Archaeological evidence for the cosmological beliefs of the
Maya is not plentiful but does point to world directional trees
and Atlantean figures upholding the sky as ideas current
during the Classic period.
The so-called crosses of the Tablet of the Cross and of the
Foliated Cross at Palenque have long been regarded as probable
word directional trees. Dating from around A.D. 700, both have
been published many times. To these should be added the scene
on the lid of the sarcophagus of the burial of the Temple of the
Inscriptions at the same site (Ruz, 1954, fig. 8). A conven-
tionalized tree rises from immediately behind a person in an
awkward half-reclining position. Beneath, and probably serving
as base of the tree is a mask combining death symbols with
the sun glyph; perched on the tree is a bird.
In Codices Borgia (pp. 49-53) and Vatican B (pp. 17-18)
the world directional trees similarly rise from immediately
behind figures reclining in similar awkward positions and also
have birds perched on them. The figures are gods or god im-
personators. With the group must belong the scene on Dresden
codex p.3 of a tree rising from behind a sacrificial victim with
gaping incision for the removal of his heart. On the tree perches
a vulture who apparently has removed one eye of the victim,
reminding us of the Maya expression colop u ich, pulling out
of the eye, which occurs so frequently in the Ritual of the
Bacabs, frequently as the title of a god (Roys, 1965).
Possibly scenes on the reliefs of the Temple of the Panels,
Chichen Itza (Ruppert, 1931. pl. 11) treat of directional trees
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
for-there are four of them in the south panel with a bird
perched on each one. At the bottom of the panel there is a
line of monkeys.
Yucatec. Colonial Period.
Material on creations and destruction of the world are
.found in the Books of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Roys, 1933:
99). Mani and Tizimin (Barrera Vasquez and Rend6n, 1948:
153), reduced to writing in the colonial period.
First Creation. This took place in a katun 11 Ahau, which
is the first in the round of thirteen katuns (20-year periods)
whigh together form the Maya ritualistic cycle of two hundred
and sixty years of 360 days, the framework of all Maya
mythology, history and prophecy.
The principal actors are Oxlahun-ti-ku (Thirteen god or
Thirteen gods) and Bolon-ti-ku (Nine god or Nine gods). The
former apparently is a collective term for a group of sky gods,
the latter for a group of gods of the underworld, night and
darkness. It would seem that like the Chacs each group can
be regarded as a single deity or number of gods with similar
functions. In a struggle between the two Nine god emerged
victorious; Thirteen god "was seized, his head was wounded,
his face was buffeted, he was spit upon and he was turned
round and was robbed of his canhel (symbol of the four world
directions?) and of his black facial painting."
This passage is not clear, but in the Lacandon account of
the creation given below the creator god is killed and buried
by Cizin, lord of the underworld, and his two sons, perhaps
a parallel to the defeat of the sky god by the underworld god
in the Books of Chilam Balam. Ah Muzencab, bee gods, who
seem to be the same as the Bacabs mentioned below, are also
involved in the struggle, apparently on the side of Nine god.
There is also an occult passage treating of agricultural products,
some of which were carried to the thirteenth heaven while
others remained on earth.
There follows the only reference to a human (?) race of
this creation: "After that the fatherless ones and those without
husbands disintegrated. They were alive, but they had no
judgement. Then they were smothered by the sand in the midst
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
of the sea. There would be a coming and going of water. The
water will come when the canhel is robbed. The sky will fall,
it will fall upon the earth when the four gods, the four Bacobs,
were set up who brought about the destruction of the world."'
The above account clearly shares features with the version
in the Popol Vuh of the first creation and destruction in which
the men of mud, without intelligence or judgement, disintegra-
ted. In the Yucatec version we are not told that they were
of mud, but they were without judgement, and they dis
Bishop Landa, the great sixteenth-century source on the
Yucatec Maya, tells us concerning the Bacabs "These, they
said, were four brothers whom God, when he created the world,
placed at its four parts holding up the sky so that it should
not fall. They said also of these Bacabs that they escaped when
the world was destroyed by the flood. To each they gave other
names thereby designating the part of the world in which God
has set each one holding up the sky."
Second Creation. Immediately following the statement about
the setting up of the Bacabs, the narrative continues:
Then after the destruction of the world was completed,
they set up the red tree of abundance [to the east], pillar of the
sky, sign of the dawn of the world, tree of the Bacab, for the
yellow cock oriole to perch on.
Then the white tree of abundance was set up to the north
for the white bunting to perch on. Support of the sky, sign of
destruction was the white tree of abundance.
Then the black tree of abundance was set up to the west
of the flat land, as a memorial of the destruction of the world,
for the black-breasted pidz'oy bird to perch on.
Then the yellow tree of abundance was set up to the south
of the flat land, a memorial of the destruction of the world,
i The above translation is mainly based on that of Roys, but it differs from
others published in two important points. The Mani and Tizimin versions have
hutlahi, 'disintegrated.' the Chumayel version has hullahi, 'pierced.' In view of
the disintegration ascribed in the P'opol Vuh to the men of mud, the former
seems more logical. Puczikal is heart and, by extension, judgement. The latter
fits better in view of other sources which speak of the first creatures without
judgement. Mucchahi tumen u yam zuz, 'smothered by the sand.' Other translations
render this 'buried in the sands,' but mucchahal is 'choked, smothered, drowned,'
and tumen is instrumental.
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
forithe yellow-breasted pidz'oy bird to perch on, for the yellow
coqk oriole to perch on, the timid yellow bird.
: Then the green tree of abundance was set up in the center
of the land, a memorial of the destruction of the world."
Following this the plate of another katun was erected and
the red, white, black and yellow Piltec were placed respectively
to the east, north, west and south of the world. The account
"However, Ah Uuc Cheknal was set up for all the earth.
He came to [or from] the seventh layer of the earth. Then he
descended to fecundate [or trample on the back of] lizam-
Kab-ain (Lizard with alligator paws). Then he descended to
the abutment of the angle between heaven and earth. They
traveled to the four waxes [?I, to the four layers of stars.
There was no light in the world; there was no sun; there was
no night; there was no moon. Then they saw that the dawn was
coming. Then the dawn came. During the dawn thirteen infinite
series and seven was the count of the creation of the world.
And then it dawned for them."
Itzam-Kab-Ain probably is to be identified with the celestial
dragons, which are in my opinion the Itzamna, rain-sending
dragons which are so prominent in the art of the Classic period
and in the codices (Thompson, 1943). Al Uuc Cheknal is
unknown outside this context. His name means something like
seven times stud animal owner or he who fertilizes the young
growing maize seven times, but to have the latter meaning the
growing maize must be regarded as an animal or bird. It is in
this sense that Ah Uuc Cheknal copulates with Itzam-Kab-Ain,
mounting on his back. Creation as a result of pairing of a
celestial deity of light with a terrestrial goddess of darkness.
with frequent references to "the lust" of creation, is narrated
in passages in the Ritual of the Barabs (Roys, 1965) and a
similar pairing of the sun god with the moon goddess, who is
also a deity of the soil and the crops, is a feature of the Mopan
myth of the creation outlined below.
A sixteenth century source (Relaciones de Yucatan, 1:51)
says the Maya knew of the flood and the fall of Lucifer (the
downfall of Oxlahun ti Ku ?) and that the present world would
end with fire.
In support of the suggestion made above that the men of
the first creation according to the Books of Chilam Balam were
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
of clay because they disintegrated, another sixteenth-century
source (Relaciones de Yucatan, 1:79) informs us that God
made the first man of earth, and he was called Anon, and in
confirmation of this the Motul dictionary has the entry "Anom,
the first man, Adam." However, the Ritual of the Bacabs (Roys,
1965) has Anom in the plural, indicating that the creation was
not of a single man, and that is in agreement with most pre-
Another source (L6pez de Cogolludo, 1867, bk. 4, ch. 7)
says that the flesh and bones of the first man were of earth
mixed with dry grass and his hair was of the same dry grass.
Yucatec. Present Day
From material collected by Tozzer (1907:153-54) and
Redfield and Villa (1934: 330-31) a Yucatec series of four
creations and three destruction of the world may be recons-
First Creation. The Sayamuincob built the now ruined
archaeological sites and the great stone roads while the world
was still in darkness, before the sun was created. They were
dwarfs but they could carry great loads on their backs. They
were also called P'uz, hunchback or bent in Yucatec, but in
other Maya languages, e, g. Tzotzil, the word signifies dwarf.
They had magical powers and needed only to whistle to bring
together stones in their correct positions in buildings or to
bring firewood from the bush to the hearth by itself. The people
became wicked and it was announced that there would be a
flood. The little people built great stone tanks like the
underground storage reservoirs as boats, but as they did not
float the people were drowned. According to the version
recorded by Tozzer there was then a great road suspended in
the sky stretching from Tulfim and Coba to Chich6n Itza and
Uxmal, a detail remininiscent of the great Cobi-Yaxuna road.
When the sun appeared the dwarfs were turned to stone. Their
images are to be seen today in many of the ruins. Tozzer
illustrates one of these. It is an Atlantean figure from Chichen
Itza and is of short stature.
The story of the P'uz is told also in .Socotz, British Hon-
duras (Thompson, 1930: 166). On old village sites in the
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
forest one comes upon old metates worn by use to trough-like
pilas. These are the boats of the P'uz, the tiny folk. They forgot
to worship God and He told them he would send a flood to
destroy them. They decided not to make boats of wood as
those might rot before they were needed, so they made them
of stone. When the flood came the P'uz got in their stone boats,
but as these did not float all the little folk were drowned.
Zayanuincob is translated as "the adjusters" by Tozzer,
but I suspect that was due to his misunderstanding the word
ajustar given in the Pio Perez dictionary for zay. Zayanuincob
[sic] can be translated as "the twisted men" or "the disjointed
men", suggesting a connection with hunchback. The word may
also be connected with zay, 'ant', for there is also a Yucatec
tradition of an ancient race called chac zay uincob, red ant
men. They were industrious like the ants which takes out the
red earth and make straight roads through the forest. The old
people also spoke of those people as yichobe bei yichob colelcab,
those with eyes like of bees, or canal ubaacilob, the meaning
of which is uncertain, although canal would be 'on high.' The
flood which ended this creation was haiyokocab, water over the
earth, comparable to the terms haycabal and haycabil used in
the books of Chilam Balam.
The belief that people were turned to stone when the sun
rose presents an interesting parallel to the events narrated in
the Popol Vuh in connection with the rising of the sun.
Second Creation. Next there lived the dz'olob, a term Tozzer
renders as "the offenders', but I have not succeeded in finding
that meaning. A flood also ended this age.
Third Creation. The macehuals came into being. The age
ended with yet another flood, this one called hunyecil or
bulcabal. Macehual, a nahua loan word, means the common
people, and here probably indicates that the people were the
same as the present-day Maya. The Motul dictionary, a six-
teenth-century source, says of hunyecil "general flood, in which,
the Indians used to say, only a maguey [henequen] point
separated the water from the sky." In fact hunyeci means one
point of a henequen (leaf).
Fourth Creation. This is the present world in which we
live. It contains a mixture of all previous peoples to inhabit
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
Bacabs and Bees
The moment is opportune to note some links between the
Bacabs and other creatures of these creation myths. In the
material just given it was remarked that the dwarfs of the first
creation were also known as the people with eyes like those
of bees. In a Quich6 creation story from Chichicastenango
recorded by Tax (1949: 129) it is said that before the flood
the people decided to go underground to save themselves. God
in disapproval changed them into bees. Moreover, among
deities associated with the creation in the books of Chilam
Balam, as noted are the Ah Muzencab, who are the patron
deities of the bees and have the bodies of bees (Redfield and
Villa, 1934: 117). Landa informs us that beekeepers regarded
the Bacabs and especially the Bacab called Hobnil as their
special advocates. Hobnil is a name for the hollow logs the
Maya use as beehives.
The Atlantean figures so common at Chich6n ItzA wear
loincloths which terminate in unusual elongated oval tassels.
the interiors of which are cross-hatched or, rarely, decorated
with patterns. There are grounds for identifying these as bees
wings. In a much illustrated vase in the British Museum from
Isla de Sacrificios (Joyce, 1914, pl. XVIII, n" 10; Seler,
1902-23, 5:323) an anthropomorphized bee has wings of the
same type, and one can see that this is the common way of
illustrating insect wings other than those of the butterfly on
the Mexican plateau.
This peculiar ornament is found in the Maya Classic period.
The reliefs in Temple 22, Copan, depict two individuals who
hold up a celestial dragon, and as the dragon represents the
sky, they are, in fact, skybearers. Both have knotted cloths with
cross-hatched areas in their headdresses (Thompson, 1966).
The Mopan Maya of southern British Honduras have a long
story of the life of the sun and moon on earth, in which there
are references to the creation of the world. As noted, the
Kekchi have the same cycle of legends and they may have
obtained these from the Manche Chol (p. 19).
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
According to the Mopan version (Thompson, 1930:119-40)
the son of Adam and Eve was placed in heaven and wore the
sun's crown, but it was too hot for him. At the end of seven
years he caused a flood into which he plunged to cool off.
Once more cool, he resumed his solar duties. The people
complained to Adam that many had been drowned and they
feared the same thing would happen again. Adam suggested
that one of three brothers living with their grandmother Xkitza
might take on the job. The second son was agreeable, and was
sent to travel across the sky to see how he liked it. He did not
like it at all, for he found the landscape very monotonous;
it was a dull, flat plain without hills or valleys, seas or rivers.
Were the world more interesting, he said, he would be happy
to be the sun for ever. The messenger reported this.
The world became dark for a short while; the hills and
valleys, the rivers and seas were made. The boy tried again
and at journey's end he was enthusiastic. "Now the world is
beautiful. I will be the sun for ever; I will never grow old,
but will always be strong and do my work. "The messenger
told him the time had not yet come; for the present the first
sun would continue to do his work.
Sun wooed the girl who was to become the moon. They were
the first people to have sexual intercourse, and for that reason
the moon is mother of mankind, goddess of love and of
childbirth. After many adventures on earth, sun and his
wife and his brothers ascended to the sky to take up their
duties, the two brothers becoming morning and evening stars.
However, in contradiction to this, we are also told that the
younger brother was turned into a monkey, an incident in the
creation stories which will be discussed in Part 2.
Another story of the Mopan (Thompson, 1930:150) nar-
rates that jaguars existed before man was made. The creator,
taking some mud, started to fashion men. The jaguar was
watching, but the creator did not wish him to observe the
process. He gave the jaguar a jar and a calabash full of holes,
and sent him to fetch water from the river, hoping to finish
the creation while the jaguar tried to fill the jar with water
scooped up with the leaking calabash. The jaguar was unsuc-
cessful in filling the jar till the frog called to him "Chohac,
chohac, chohac. Smear mud over the holes." By the time he
had thus filled the jar, the creator had made thirteen men and
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
twelve guns. The jaguar learned after being shot twice in the
paw that man was to be the master.
The incident of the leaking calabash has a parallel in the
Popol Vuh: the twins send their grandmother with a leaking
jar to fetch water while they search for the ball-game
Creation myths of the Lacandon have been recorded by
Bauer and Bauer (1952:233-36). The gods once lived on earth
and built the great buildings now in ruins.
As for the first creation, Hachacyum, the creator, made the
Lacandon men, his wife made the women; Ah Metsabac, collec-
tor of black dye to form the rain clouds, made the Tzeltal
Maya, the Mexicans and the Guatemalans; Acyanto, 'our
helper,' created the Americans. These people were of clay.
Hachacyum made the people of each totem of a different
clay. The figures had red eyebrows and green beards, and
were dressed like the gods. Cisin, god of the underworld, in
mischief made their eyebrows and beards black. He also made
figures in imitation of those of Hachacyum. Hachacyum passed
a palm leaf over the fire and waved it over the clay figures.
Thereupon all came to life, but those Cisin had made turned
into the totemic animals of the Lacandon.
The world was then flat. Cisin and his two sons killed
Hachacyum and buried him, but Hachacyum came to life and
created the underworld with the aid of two other gods. One
of them, Acanchop, made secure the foundations of the earth
(acan means founded) with huge rocks and cross beams. When
the underworld was completed Hachacyum burst open the
ground beneath Cisin so that as the former ascended to make
the heavens the latter fell through into the underworld.
Ah T'up, Hachacyum's youngest son, also made some clay
figurines which came to life. His brothers were provoked and
shot and killed them, but they came alive again. After this had
happened about five times, the brothers beheaded them,
whereupon they stayed dead. When Ah T'up saw the people
he had created they had become palm trees, xaan (Sabal mexi-
cana). The father said the trees would remain on earth and
grow here. One informant said there were four such trees in
MAYA' CREATION MYTHS
The present world will be ender after the last Lacaridon
dies by the jaguars of Cisin eating the sun and moon (Cline,
1944). According to another version (Baer & Baer, 1949) at
the end of the world all the Lancandon will gather at Yax-
chilan. The gods will behead all single men, hang them by
their heels, and gather their blood in bowls to paint their house.
The final resting place of souls when the world ends will be
in the highest of the four heavens, that of Chembekur, which
is in complete darkness (Baer & Baer, 1952).
The mention of trees and the other informant's mention of
four trees in heaven makes it reasonably certain that this is a
broken down memory of the world directional trees which in
Maya thought were ceiba trees.
According to Cline (1944) Hachacyum was buried by his
brother-in-law. On the fourth day the body had so swollen that
it split the earth, forming a big crevasse, by which Hachacyum,
who was not really dead, climbed out. He was now more
powerful than Cisin whom he banished to the middle of the
earth. As noted (p. 21), these details supply an interesting
commentary on, perhaps an amplification of, the fight between
Oxlahun-ti-ku and Bolon-ti-ku. One is also reminded of the
incident in the Popol Vuh in which Zipacna, believed to lie
dead at the bottom of a deep pit, frees himself after three days
and kills his opponents (Recinos, 1950:101).
A fragment of a Chol creation myth has been recorded by
Arabella Anderson (1952). God wanted to destroy men and
replace them with a new race. Therefore, he made darkness.
The jaguars would go forth to kill all men; they would not
sleep because it was always night and thus they would kill all
men. One man closed his house very carefully with thick wall
boards and went up to the ridge of the house. When the god
found him there alive, he tore off the man's head and stuck
it on his anus, and the man was changed into a spider monkey,
perhaps the Spaniards were changed into howler monkeys.
There follows the incident of Pandora's box to be discussed
later. Destruction of all men by jaguars we have noted in
Nahuatl creation myths and, set in the future, among the
Lacandon. The beheading and sticking of the head on the rump
STUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
to form a new being we found in the Leyenda de los soles
version of the fourth creation.
The Tzotzil Maya of Larrainzar retain a myth recording
three creations of the world (Holland, 1963:71-72).
First Creation. The world was completely flat; there was
no sun, only a feeble light. The people were imperfect; they
did not die. This angered the gods who sent a flood to end
the world. Only the priests escaped death because they were
monkeys, both spider and howler monkeys, and so were able
to save themselves by climbing the tallest trees.
Second Creation. People were again imperfect because they
did not remain dead; after three days they came to life again
and lived for ever. This also displeased God who determined
to destroy the world with a torrent of hot water. When the
water began to fall some people took refuge in caves, but all
died. The human bones often found in caves are remains of
Third Creation. God decided to try again, and sent his
son, Jesus Christ, to earth to create the third world. The first
inhabitants were three ladino couples. They were wealthy and
occupied themselves in reading and writing. God then created
the Indians to do the hard work.
The Tzotzil of San Andr6s Larrainzar retain belief in four
gods who sustain the world on their shoulders. Known as Kuch
[cuch] Uinahel Balumil, 'sky [and] earth bearers,' they are
set at the corners of the world. Their slightest movement
produces an earth tremor or even an earthquake. The gods of
the four cardinal points occupy positions intermediate between
those of the Cuch Uinahel Balumil. They are associated with
world directional colors, but not in the arrangement of those in
YucatAn and the Maya codices (Holland, 1963:92).
Material from another Tzotzil village, San Pedro Chenalh6
amplify the above material (Guiteras Holmes, 1961:156-57,
176,182,186-87, 194,253-54, 282,287).
First Creation. The world was once overrun with jaguars;
it belonged to them, that is why God the father had to kill them.
MAYA CREATION MYTHS
[This seems to have been before man was first created.] The
fist men were of mud. They could not stand erect and at
fist they could not talk. Someone, seemingly a Jew, came to
teach them, but he taught them to sin. The people died from
a flood but some escaped in a box floating on the water. They
turned into monkeys because they ate charcoal when their
food gave out.
Second Creation. People of this [?] creation stayed dead
only three days.
Third Creation. God made Adam and Eve of clay. There
are ladinos in the world because the woman sinned with a
white dog, and Indians because she sinned with a yellow dog
and gave birth to Indians. Long ago [this creation?] there was
another sun, Lucibel lucifer? He gave little heat; soil and
vegetation did not dry so man could not burn the felled land
to make milpa. The child Jesus offered to be the sun, promis-
ing to give more heat. He and his mother ascended to heaven,
he to be the sun, she the moon.
The earth is square and surrounded by sea. The sky rests
on four posts. Beneath is another square on which the dwarf
people, the yohob, live. The sun is drawn in his cart across the
sky by [dead?] human beings. They hand it over at sunset
to the dwarfs underneath. The sun continues his journey below
the earth but just above the dwarfs, and the latter protect
themselves from his heat by covering their heads with mud.
Information from the Tzeltal-Maya village of Oxchuc
(Villa, 1946:570) closely parallels the above Tzotzil world
view. In Oxchuc belief the flat earth is supported by four thick
columns, at the bases of which live dwarfs only a foot tall
and black because the sun passes so close to them [in his
journey through the underworld]. Four more columns, set on
the earth, hold up the heavens. There is some doubt as to
whether these are at the cardinal points or at the N.W., N.E.,
S.W. and S.E. "corners" of the earth.
From Tenejapa, another Tzeltal town, a fragmentary crea-
tion legend has been recovered by Barbachano (1946:34). The
first men were without clothes and, not knowing how to make
32 ESTUDIOS DE CULTURAL MAYA
fire, they were cold. They could not talk. The creator ordered
Mam to make a flood. God [in a subsequent creation] made
fruit trees so that man could have food and he took maize
from the ants who took it out of hills. When man began to eat,
he began to talk.
The above covers published material on creations of the
world to the best of my knowledge. Before discussing the
various sources, certain myths attached to them will be noted,
the first of which deals with the discovery of maize.