06 July 2007

Gods of Central America

According to the Popol Vuh, the gods first made men of mud, but they were too soft, malformed, and stupid. They were washed away in the rain.
Then the gods made men of wood, but though their faces and forms were perfect, they had nothing in their heads and did not respect the gods. They were also wiped away by the floods.
Then the gods made men of masa, or dough made from maize. Then they were satisfied.

Wow. Kinda gives a whole new meaning to the corny joke, doesn’t it?

Sorry. Couldn't help myself. *gg*

After man was created, twin hero gods, Hunahpu and Ixbalanque, had to go into the underworld to defeat the lords of Xibalba who reigned there. They perished and were miraculously reborn, thus proving the agricultural cycle of life that dominated Mayan culture.

The Mayan civilization was extremely complex – as evidenced by the fabulous cities they built, their societal sophistication and intricate studies of the sciences. Therefore, it’s no surprise that their mythology also has many aspects. It should also come as no surprise that these gods and myths also display logical order.

The Mayan gods maintain associations with each point of the compass, with a color and meaning assigned to that compass point, as well as maintaining a link to a central point. This central point was conceptualized by a world tree. Think back to our discussion of Nordic mythology – Odin hung from the tree Yggdrasil for 9 days and nights to gain knowledge. In Mayan culture, that tree is called the ceiba.

Perhaps the most well-known Mayan god is Kukulcan, the winged feather serpent, and a powerful creator god. He is also known as Quetzalcoatl in the Aztec pantheon.

I suppose here is as good a place as any to note that Mayan and Aztec cultures overlapped in many, many areas. Olmecs, Toltecs, Mixtecs are all variants and predecessors of the same Mesoamerican mythology.

Gods within these societies were assigned specific duties and portions. Chac was the benevolent rain and thunder, with accompanying applications in fertility and agriculture was a powerful figure. In fact, anthropologists have discovered that there are still pockets of Maya farmers – though nominally Christian – who still pray to Chac seasonally.

Yumil Kaxob was the god of Maize, eternally youthful. However, he had very little intrinsic power. He needed protection from Chac, but when Yah Puch, the god of the Underworld, brought drought and famine, Yumil Kaxob suffered.

All in all, a society devoted to harmony with the natural world, whether it was for celebration or suffering.

More information can be found at these websites:

Lost Civilizations
Encyclopedia Mythica
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