Day 3 – Popol Vuh

Lecture notes – Popol Vuh

In the same way that the Genesis story is the creation myth of Christians, Jews, & Muslims alike, our next reading is the creation myth of the indigenous Quiche people, or Mayan Indians of Central America (southern Mexico & Guatemala).

This story is just one part of the broader History of the Americas – Link to timeline


The contemporary Mayan Indians are now primarily located in Guatemala, roughly six million of a general population of eleven million Guatemalans.  One million are Quiche Maya, the rest are other Mayan tribes and languages


The Mayans are renowned for their early work in math and astronomy. “The foundation of Mayan timekeeping is a divinitory calendar of 260 days. It is made up of two shorter cycles, one consisting of an endlessly repeating sequence of thirteen day numbers, and the other of an endlessly repeating sequence of twenty day names. This produces a larger repeating sequence of 260 combinations, as follows”:

260 days is understood as “the calendar of the earth”, and close to the average pregnancy cycle, and the growth cycle of corn planted in highland Guatemala. Ancient Mayan astronomers measured the rhythms of lunar, planetary, and solar cycles against those of the divinatory calendar. These are referred to throughout the Popol Vuh. (–Tedlock)



Creation story / How things came to be

Story elements: Animals – deer & rabbits short tails, falcon eyepatch

When/how was the story written down? Why?
What are the gods like? What are godly characteristics?
What are characteristics, structure of story itself?
What do story elements tell us? What is implied, significant?

Popol vuh text       Genesis text

This is the beginning of the Ancient Word, here in this place called Quiche. Here we shall inscribe, we shall implant the Ancient Word, the potential and source for everything done in the citadel of Quiche, in the nation of Quiche people.

the Maker, Modeler, named Bearer, Begetter,
Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu Coyote,
Great White Peccary, Coati,
Sovereign Plumed Serpent,
Heart of the Lake, Heart of the Sea,
plate shaper, bowl shaper, as they are called,
also named, also described as
the midwife, matchmaker
named Xpiyacoc, Xmucane,
defender, protector,
twice a midwife, twice a matchmaker

Popol Vuh / Council Book
Ojer Tzij, the “Ancient Word” or “Prior Word” /
“The Light That Came from Beside the Sea”

the fourfold siding, fourfold cornering,
measuring, fourfold staking,
halving the cord, stretching the cord,
in the sky, on the earth,
the four sides, the four corners, as it is said,
by the Maker, Modeler,
mother-father of life, of humankind,
giver of breath, giver of heart,
bearer, upbringer in the light that lasts
of those born in the light, begotten in the light;
worrier, knower of everything,whatever there is:
sky-earth, lake-sea.

Gods’ three attempts to create human beings:

  • Beings with no arms, only squawk, chatter, howl (animals of today)

  • Mud beings can’t walk or turn head or keep shape, reproduce—dissolve

  • Hurricane floods them, monsters, animals attack…descendants are monkeys.Before fourth try, history of deities:

    Third try, consult Xpiyacoc, matchmaker (“prior to all marriage”) & Xmucane, midwife “prior to all birth”) Wooden beings look and talk and reproduce, but fail to call on gods in prayer.

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