The Popol Vuh, Part One
When Gods Fail to Be Gods
Since it is virtually impossible to summarize the Popol Vuh the way I want to, I have decided to break down each part of the five-part tale. This story of the Maya creation is one of the most amazing tales one can read and it takes a little time to explain it properly. First, Popol Vuh translates into “Book of the People,” and it is the Quiche’ account of the creation of the Mayan people. The first part covers how the Gods are really not very smart, make numerous mistakes and certainly have no thought out plan as to the creation of the Earth and all life that dwell upon it.
The two main divinities that start this experiment of creating the earth and all life upon it are Heart of Sky (also called Hurricane) and Sovereign Plumed Serpent. As the classic line goes, “in the beginning…” the sky was created covering a cloudy earth with was covered with water. At this time, no animals or humans walked the earth, until Heart of Sky conferred with Sovereign Plumed Serpent and decided to create the earth. With a single word, landmasses began to rise out of the sea. The mountains separated from the water and were instantly covered with cypress and pine. From this, the earth, the sky and the water were all separated.
The Gods the wanted to create various forms of life that would glorify them and show them respect for the life they were given. Looking upon this new earth the Gods asked, “Why should there only be rustling beneath the tree and bushes?” Guardians of the forest were needed, so the Gods began to create the first animals. The deer and birds came before the Gods immediately after the Gods had this thought, and were given orders as to where to live, how to move, what to eat and how they were to serve the Gods. This was done for all animals on the earth.
The Gods then asked to animals to “name our names and praise us.” However, the Gods soon realized that the animals could not speak as humans, and could only make noises, so Heart of Sky provided them with a new purpose: to serve, be killed and then eaten. This was to be done for all of the animals of the earth.
Having their first attempt fail miserably, the Gods decided to attempt to make humans. A creature that could remember their creators, pay them homage, respect and glorify them. One can see here that these Gods are jealous and egotistical right from the beginning. The Gods thought about the human design and form, and decided to create the first peoples out of earth and mud. This was instantly seen as a mistake, for the people began separating, crumbling, loosening, softening, disintegrating and dissolving. Their faces were lopsided, twisted and could not look around. These mud people could talk, but senselessly and were quickly dissolving into water. The Gods, seeing that another mistake had been made on their part allowed this first attempt on human creation to dwindle and dismantle.
After a rethink, the Gods called upon “the Grandmother of Day, and the Grandmother of Light.” They are said to be the wisest elders who could certainly create humankind the proper way. They waived their hands over the kernels of corn, and over the seeds of the coral tree to combine both plants, which would give humans strength and knowledge. What emerged were people make of wood, or what the Popol Vuh refers to “manikins.” These wooden people had nothing in their hearts or minds, and had no memory of their creator. Similar to the first attempt, these “people” could talk, but their faces were dry and cracked and they were without arms and legs. They did not posses blood, lymph, sweat or fat. Concisely, they were horribly deformed and seen as an abomination to the Gods. However, they were the first numerous peoples to inhabit the earth.
Again, the Gods had no choice but to destroy their abominable creations. This time a flood was the medium of destruction called upon by Heart of Sky. Several lower Gods came into formation to “take care of” these wooden manikins. The Gouger of Faces gouged out their eyeballs, Sudden Blood letter snapped off their heads, Crunching Jaguar ate their flesh and Tearing Jaguar tore them apart. The Gods proceeded to pound their bones and tendons until they were completely pulverized. This action blacked the earth and a brought about a black rainstorm.
For the remaining wooden-manikin people, they were attacked by things that they never imagined would turn on them. Animals, water pots, caves, dwellings, grinding stones and various other animate and inanimate items began to crush their faces. Truly, no quarter was given by the earth or the Gods. Out of this, it is said that monkeys are the remaining tie to these events, for they were also carved from wood, which is why they resemble humans today.
After these numerous failures by the Gods, only a trace of early dawn was on the face of the earth. There was still no visible sun or moon. Seemingly, out of nowhere, a God named Seven Macaw emerged as a sign of pseudo hope to the manikin-humans who were being destroyed. Seven Macaw possessed many powers and ways of producing light to break through the clouded earth, yet he was not strong enough and his light was not powerful enough to break through the cloud, which surrounded the earth. The true sun and moon were still clouded from the earth. Seven Macaw attempted to proclaim himself higher than that of human work and human design, yet his power and statement was out of ego with an element of evil, which contributed to his failure. This hubris would later cost Seven Macaw his life, which will be covered in ‘The Popol Vuh, Part Two.’