The book Popol Vuh
The book Popol Vuh is a long poem
It is a story about the very beginning on earth, and it is about the time that there were no people on earth and about the time that life on earth just began.
It is written in progressive tense, suggesting that the narrator sees it before him as he writes.
This is consistent with the way stories are told in contemporary Quiche households.
The storyteller invites the listener to imagine the setting of his tale, and nearly always tells the story as if it was happening right then, even if it happened in the distant or mythic past.
The four books tell the story of the creation of life, the attempts of the gods at making human beings, the triumph over death of the celestial hero twins, the success of the gods in creating humans and it is about the genealogy of the people of Quiche.
The world of the ancient Mayan was governed by a cosmological order that transcended our distinction between the natural and supernatural realms.
All things, animate or inanimate, were imbued with an unseen power and the Popol Vuh fully articulates this vision.
Book number one
The first book starts here with the lines:
‘This is the Account, here it is: Now it still ripples, now it still murmurs, ripples, it still sighs, still hums, and it is empty under the sky… ‘.
There is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, forest.
Only the sky alone is there; the face of the earth is not clear.
Only the sea alone is pooled under all the sky- there is nothing whatever gathered together.
Out of this silent nothingness the gods created the world and all living things except humans.
The animals could not speak or praise their gods, however, and so the gods declared, ‘we must make a provider and nurturer. How else can we be invoked and remembered on the face of the earth?’
They tried to create human beings but failed, ‘because the creatures had no heart and they did not remember their makers’.
They tried again, this time making people out of wood.
But this also failed and the creatures were destroyed by a great flood.
Those who were not destroyed by the deluge were set upon by their dogs, by their cooking pots and tortilla grinders, by all of the things of the earth they had misused and mistreated.
The gods, in the end, were left alone to glorify themselves; this leaded to the ascent of the deity Seven Macaw, who thought about himself too highly.
The second book follows
When the second book opens….. two celestial boys named Hunahpu and Xbalanque (the Hero Twins) plot the destruction of Seven Macaw and his two sons Zipacna and Cabracan.
There are still no humans on the earth and the boys are upset that Seven Macaw should lord himself over all with no one to challenge him or point out his flaws.
It seems that; without human beings to give the gods particular value, any god can claim any value he pleases.
Seven Macaw refuses to acknowledge the other gods or their works and so, through a series of tricks and clever rushes the Hero Twins killed him and his sons, thus restoring order and balance to the world.
Book number three
The third book chronicles the adventures of the father and uncle of the Hero Twins, Hun-Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu, who were the sons of Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, the first diviners who tried to create humans.
They are, therefore, linked to creation and divination.
Tricked by the Lords of Death into accepting an invitation to a ball game in Xibalba, the two are murdered and Huh-Hunahpu’s head is placed in a Calabash tree in the underworld.
The virgin princess Xquiq (also known as Blood Moon Goddess) is attracted by the head, even though she has been told to stay away from it.
She draws close to the tree and the head spits into her hand, thus impregnating her.
She must then leave the underworld and go to the upper realm of the earth to live with her new mother-in-law Xumucane.
Because of the tragedy which befell her sons, Xumucane distrusts Xquiq and sets her a number of tasks to prove herself.
When the twins are born, she also mistrusts them and they too must show they are worthy.
Xumucane hides the ball gear of her sons because she does not want her grandsons to know what happened to their father and uncle and try to avenge them.
The twins do find the gear, however, and challenge the Lords of Death to a re-match.
After numerous adventures in the underworld in which they trick the Lords of Xibalba repeatedly, the Hero Twins destroy them and ascend the World Tree into the sky where they become the sun and the moon.
Book number four …..
In Book IV human beings are successfully created out of maize.
At first, the gods make four men who:
…were good people, handsome, with looks of the male kind.
Thoughts came into existence and they gazed; their vision came all at once.
Perfectly they saw, perfectly they knew everything under the sky, around in the sky, on the earth, everything was seen without any obstruction…
As they looked, their knowledge became intense. mountains through plains.
Their sight passed through trees, through rocks, through lakes, through seas, through everything.
This troubles the gods who understood that humans should not have the same gifts as their creators. And here it follows ………………
They confer among themselves, saying ‘Aren’t they merely works and designs in their very names?
‘Yet they ‘ll become as great as gods unless they procreate, proliferate at the sowing, the dawning, unless they increase. ” Let it be this way; now we’ll take them apart just a little.’
The gods introduce mortality to humanity and …. changed the nature of their works and their designs. It was enough that the eyes be marred.
They were blinded as the face of a mirror is breathed upon.
Now it was only from close up that they could see what was there with any clarity.
And such was the loss of the means of understanding, along with the means of knowing everything. And their vision flickered.
The gods then provide the men with wives and ‘right away they were happy at heart again, because of their wives.
They forgot that once they knew everything and were like the gods.
The men and women content themselves with having children and planting crops and appreciating the gifts that the gods had given them.
The book concludes here the story of the migration of the Quiche and their genealogy.
Included in this section is the introduction of the god Gucumatz, the plumed servant, known to the Mayan of the Yucatan as Kukulkan and to the Aztec as Quetzalcoatl.
The fourth book ended with …………
‘This is enough about the being of Quiche, given that there is no longer a place to see it.
There is the original book and ancient writing owned by the lords, now lost, but even so, everything has been completed here concerning Quiche, which is now named Santa Cruz’.
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