Esotericism of the Popol Vuh by Raphael Girard

Theosophical University Press Online Edition

Chapter 10

Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué in Xibalbá

Complying with their destiny, the twins descend into Xibalbá, armed with their ever-present blowguns and dressed in their "elements of splendor." They traverse the same country described during the earlier journey of the seven Ahpú, crossing the same infernal rivers; "however, they do not go through those rivers but cross over them using their blowguns as a bridge, and when they leave the rivers they reach the spot where four roads come together." This is reminiscent of a passage in Mexican mythology where Cinteotl, replica of Hunahpú as god of Maize, sings, saying to the god of the Flowers: "I reached the place where the roads came together, I the god of Maize" (Sahagún).

Crossing the river by blowguns illustrates another native custom whose origin goes back to this legendary trip of Hunahpú. The Chortís, Lenca, and other peoples of less sophisticated cultures such as the Talamanca, throw light lines made of palm or grass fibers over ravines, streams, or deep hollows across which the spirits of their deceased have to pass, so that they can overcome the obstacle more easily.

Knowing the symbolic equivalence of the blowgun to the sun's ray and its correspondence to the divine hair and elements such as thread, rope, and serpent, we understand that the light line, thrown across the cracks in the earth so that the soul of the defunct may pass, corresponds to the blowgun that Hunahpú stretched across the underworld rivers. And this symbolic equivalence is made plain in the Quiché dress on which the solar rays are represented by threads, and in their language by use of the same term (batz) to designate the words thread and monkey (as Solar god).

In Mexican mythology the same symbol is expressed in a different form: by the figure of a dog that swims across the Chignaguapan carrying the dead person on its back, and for that reason a golden-colored dog (colored like the sun) was interred with the body and accompanied the dead person, as Xolotl accompanied the sun during its underworld journey. In the Mayan codices, the dog is a symbol of the solar fire or ray; that is, the equivalent of Hunahpú's blowgun. Nevertheless that mythological element appears in a relatively late period of Toltec culture, and of the Maya which was influenced by it, and is not known in Maya culture of the Old Empire or in Chortí mythology. Neither does the Popol Vuh mention the dog employed as a temporary bridge for crossing the underworld rivers, and this fact has historical implications.

Unlike their parents who went astray at the underworld crossroads, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué "knew very well which were the roads of Xibalbá; the black, white, red, and blue roads." It is clear that the twins, conceived in Xibalbá, were perfectly familiar with the place and, having inherited the experience of their fathers in accordance with the biological laws already mentioned, they had knowledge beyond that of their progenitors who had paid for their inexperience with their lives for the benefit of their children.

The twins sent out a Xam (mosquito) as a spy to collect information about all that he might see and hear.

"Sting each one," they told it. "First, sting the one who shall be seated, and then sting all of them; from now on the blood that you suck from people will be solely for you." "Very well," replied the mosquito.

Through this tactic Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué will learn the names of the Lords of Xibalbá and so get dominance over them, since each person will react on being bitten by the mosquito, and the others will ask him what has happened, calling him by name, and all this the mosquito will communicate to the twins. But, adds the Quiché account, "in reality it wasn't the mosquito that bit and went to hear all the names, but rather a hair that Hunahpú plucked out of his shinbone, and it was this that stung them and obliged them to say their names."

This clearly defines the magical technique of affecting events from a distance, through invisible darts that sting like the mosquito but which really express the personal magical power of the sender. That method, invented by Hunahpú, a sage par excellence, explains the origin of an interesting magical practice employed by one class of Chortí wise men, who "foretell by means of the calf of the leg," imitating the pattern laid down by the god-hero who found out the names of his adversaries by means of a hair torn from his shin. An identical procedure, consisting of throwing out magical darts, is also used by Chortí elders who declare they "have shot the god-Seven" when by magical art they succeed in making the Agrarian deity descend to the center of the earth. A similar method is also mentioned in Mexican sources which say that the sun, having come to a halt, was stung by a mosquito in its leg. Ixtlilxóchitl says of this that

during the Third Age [equivalent to the Age in which the Popol Vuh places the invention of shooting out such magical darts], the sun stood still for one full day without moving from its place; and as the mosquito saw the sun so still and pensive, it said, "Lord of the World, why are you so still and thoughtful and why don't you carry out your duty as you are ordered? Do you want to destroy the world, as you are now doing?" And seeing that the sun was silent and did not answer, the mosquito approached and bit it on the leg. Feeling itself bitten, the sun began to travel its usual course again.

In another version it is Citli who shoots an arrow at the sun but, the arrow having missed its mark, the sun kills Citli.

In the Chortí dramatization of the Popol Vuh, the actor playing Hunahpú swiftly throws himself upon the Black Giant representing the Camé, giving the giant a blow in the chest with his fist, during the scene that symbolizes the mosquito's mission against the Lords of Xibalbá.

Thanks to Hunahpú's tactic, the twins gained full knowledge of the names and, thus, the persons of the underworld. Therefore, instead of addressing the wooden puppets as their incautious fathers had done, they pass them by and direct their address to the Camé Lords themselves, calling aloud the name of each one of them.

"This did not please the Lords, that they should know their names. 'Sit down,' the Xibalbans told Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué; but the twins did not obey the order, declaring they knew the seats were red-hot stones."

"All right," the Camé replied resignedly, making the twins enter the Cave of Darkness at once, thinking that they would be overcome there. Then they sent their servants to give the twins cigars and sticks of torch pine, just as they had done with the seven Ahpú. But the youths, prepared against the deceptions of the Xibalbans thanks to their fathers' experience, decided to "change the nature of the torch pine, soaking it in red water so that the watchers would see that it was like the feathers in the tail of the macaw. And as for the cigars, the twins placed fireflies on their tips which lit them up as if the cigars were really burning."

Thanks to these stratagems they did no damage to the torch pine sticks or the cigars, and when their Xibalban watchers thought they were overcome, the twins really were quite all right (note the equivalence of the macaw feathers with fire and the mention of the properties of the female flying beetle which emits a phosphorescent light).

"Then the twins were brought into the presence of the Lords. 'Who are you and where do you come from? Where were you born and whose children are you?' the Lords, suffused with anger, asked the twins, 'Because what they are doing to us is not good,' they told each other. 'Their manners are strange, too.' "

But the twins do not reveal their names, and they reply to the Camé in the same way and using the same frustrating words the Indian of today will use to reply to indiscreet questions put to him by investigators: "Who knows?"

The Grand Council of Xibalbá now places its hopes in the ball game where it thinks it will defeat the youths. But a controversy arises over which ball will be used, that of the twins or of the Camé, the latter having finally to give in and use the ball of Hunahpú, signifying another defeat for the Camé. Because of the symbolism of the ball game, it was a matter of vital importance to the Xibalbans that their ball be used since, as has been explained, the ball represents the head and the players the body of a theogonic entity, and these elements must be perfectly homogenous, which would not be the case if Hunahpú's ball were used, since that would symbolize the youth's ascendancy over the Camé.

The latter then said, "Let's begin, only we will contend together." "Naturally," replied the twins. In the Dance of the Giants the idea set out in this textual reference is expressed in the cruciform dance where the contenders intermingle when they come to the central point of the cross. This allegory reflects the social situation in that ancient time of the transition from the matriarchal to the patriarchal cycle. Its meaning is similar to that of the introduction of the descendants by the paternal line into Ixmucané's family.

Before beginning to play, the chiefs of the Quiché Avernus ask for a short time period, which they use to execute an act of bad faith. They throw out their own ball which knocks over the lance in front of Hunahpú, wounding him. The Camé's intention was to kill the two youthful guests and they desisted only in the face of the twins' vehement protest. "What is this?" said Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, "Do you want to kill us? Didn't you ask us to come here, and didn't your own messengers come for us? Really we shouldn't have come; we will go back immediately," the youths told them.

Once more the Xibalbans are mastered by the twins, because now they have to entreat them to stay.

"Don't go away, children; let's continue to play ball, and we will use your ball," they told the twins. "All right," said the latter; and using their own ball Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué defeat their adversaries.

This contest between the team of the true and of the false gods, of the white against the dark forces, represented in the struggle of the white Gavite against the Black Giant in the Chortí drama, symbolizes the strife of good against evil, of civilization against barbarism, light against shadow — as with the diurnus versus nocturnus of the Romans — and of knowledge against ignorance. Hunahpú here proclaims other patterns of conduct for the ethical person, who must act always according to his or her duty. During his whole existence the god-hero extols ethics, by both words and example, as the highest expression of human life, aiming to delineate the ideal type of Maya man and woman. He proclaims the fact that it is ethics alone which leads to a plane of salvation and that exalts the human being. He proclaims that such qualities will be obtained by means of education based on the principles of the Hunahpú code that is preserved in native traditions. This code consequently embodies the principle of justice, and as such it is invoked by the Chortí in the name of the Child King of Justice (Niño Rey de la Justicia) in his role as Chief of the Tribunal of Justice.

The treacherous action of the Xibalbans, a mark of beings of undeveloped ethical stature who are equated with evil-natured entities, accords with the belief that natural death does not exist and that death is produced through the power of evil. The name of Mictlán itself — "the place of those who have been killed"the Mexican equivalent of Xibalbá, reflects that idea.

Perplexed by their repeated defeats, the Camé ask themselves, "What will we do to overcome them?" Then they promptly tell the twins, "We want four jars filled with flowers." "Very well, what kind of flowers do you wish?" they replied. "A handful of red flowers, one of white flowers, another of yellow flowers, and another large bunch of yellow flowers." "All right," replied the youths. Note in this mention of the ritual colors the preponderance of yellow, the color of the flower of death.

Then the Xibalbans rejoiced with the thought that this time they had defeated the guests, since "Where will they get those flowers?" they asked each other. "If you don't bring us our flowers, we will sacrifice you," they told Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué. (Observe here the constant reference to human sacrifice during the Third Age, the characteristic practice of a barbaric culture but one not permitted by Mayan ethics.)

Putting into motion this new trial which the Camé thought would be decisive, they made the twins go into the Cave of Flint Knives, the second place of torture in Xibalbá. But the youths did not die there inasmuch as Hunahpú and flint were consubstantial. In fact, Hunahpú was created from a piece of flint, the very material that embodies Hunahpú's functions as Lord of the Cold — the equivalent of Ixtli in Mexican mythology (Girard, Los Chortís, "Religion") — and Hunahpú found himself in his proper element. Obsidian, symbolic of the young god during his stay in the underworld, still serves as an amulet against evil conjurations. In addition to what we have said about this, it is worth recording that in Mexico the actions of the sinister owl-men, dangerous black magicians, are warded off by contrary actions. A plaque of obsidian, placed in a cup full of water beside the door, reduces the most powerful sorcery to nothing (Beuchat, Manual de Arqueología americana, Madrid, 1918).

While they were in the Cave of Flint Knives, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué told the flint knives, their jailors, "the meat of all animals will be yours." At once the knives became motionless.

How much meaning there is in these few words! The twins here reaffirm the law prohibiting human sacrifice set forth in the religious principles of Maya culture, opposed to the laws of the cycle of barbarism personified by the Lords of Xibalbá. From then on the flint knives would not feed upon human flesh but on that of animals, since it was their flesh that Hunahpú gave them in place of his own. For that reason the twins were neither wounded nor killed by the now immobile flint knives.

Taking advantage of the hypnotic state of their flint wardens, the twins call upon various kinds of cutting ants, telling them: "Come all together; now go and bring us the flowers the Lords have asked for." The ants assented and went to get the flowers from the gardens of Hun Camé and Vukup Camé.

Here we are given an explanation of the origin of the ants' communal feeding and living habits: Hunahpú endows them with a social order based on the Maya model. These insects, formerly the followers of Zipacná and used by Hun Bátz to torture Hunahpú, are now the faithful allies of the twins just as the Tukur became servants to Ixquic. All this manifests the progressive evolution in the terrestrial sphere toward a new order of things.

Evading the vigilance of the sentinels of Xibalbá in the garden, the ants cut the flowers requested by the twins. The sentinels uselessly called out among the tree branches where they maintained their vigil: "Ixpurpugüek! Pujuyu!" (night birds, whose names are onomatopoeic, imitate their song).

Quickly the ants carried away four bowls of flowers. Thus the twins once again overcame the Xibalban Lords "whose faces became purple because of the theft of the flowers." The Camé rebuked the keepers of their garden for their misfeasance, but these said they had not even felt it when their own tails were cut along with the flower stems. The Camé lacerated their mouths in punishment for permitting what was under their care to be stolen.

Then once again the Camé played ball with the twins and the match was a draw, all agreeing to continue to play at dawn the following day.

The twins were then sent into the Cave of Cold "where it was so cold that it made one sick. In this House of Cold a thick ice whipped about, which the twins dissipated by burning old tree trunks," so they did not die there and were quite hale and hearty when dawn arrived.

When the messengers from the Xibalban Lords came, the twins went out with them and stood before the Camé, who were amazed to see them alive. "How is it that they did not perish there?" they asked each other.

After another ball game the Camé made the two youths go into the Cave of Jaguars, a grotto full of these animals. But the twins spoke to the cats, saying: "Do not bite us, we have something to give you." They threw bones to the animals who seized them to gnaw upon. The noise they made cracking the bones caused the Xibalbans to think that their opponents had finally perished and the idea "made their hearts drunk with pleasure." But next day the twins emerged from the cave unscathed, which is easily explained by the fact that the jaguar is the nahual or alter ego of Hunahpú's mother and is also consubstantial with Ixbalamqué (balam: jaguar).

Thenceforth the jaguar, formerly an instrument of the evil forces, becomes an instrument of the true deities; and we have here the explanation of the phenomenon whereby the jaguar, a demon for peoples of low culture, is a god in the Quiché-Maya theogony (Girard, Los Chortís, "Ethnography and Religion").

The astonishment of the Camé now passed all bounds. "What kind of people are you? Where do you come from?" they all asked. They speedily put the two into the Cave of Fire, where there was nothing but flames. But the twins were neither burned, suffocated, nor roasted, and they emerged in excellent condition next morning. Saved by their mother in the earlier trial, this time their father, the old Fire god, saved them, the element of fire being consubstantial with Hunahpú, Solar god and god of Fire.

The Xibalbans were "disheartened" by the failure of every one of their stratagems. Nevertheless they made a last effort, forcing the two youths into the Cave of Bats. Only vampire bats filled this cave, the lair of the great Camalzotz, the one which was like Chakitzam, who immediately killed and consumed all that came into its presence. But the twins slept there protected by their blowguns (the blowgun or solar ray protected them magically), and the vampire bats in the cave did not bite them.

The twins were thinking and talking together amid the great noise of all the bats when suddenly another Camalzotz flew down from the sky. Then there was a profound silence, all the bats ceasing their chatter and flying about, and clustering over the open ends of the twins' blowguns. At that moment the celestial vampire cut off Hunahpú's head with its talon, leaving the head lying there separate from his body. "What happened was done solely to make known its power and function as Celestial god."

This happened when Ixbalamqué asked Hunahpú whether it was already sunrise, and Hunahpú, stepping outside, "feeling a keen desire to look through the mouth of his blowgun to see if the sun was up," was suddenly decapitated by the celestial vampire. Ixbalamqué, frightened, exclaimed, "At last they have beaten us."

Immediately, on orders of the Camé, Hunahpú's head was placed atop the building above the wall forming one side of the ball court, while all the Xibalbans rejoiced to see the lopped-off head of their adversary.

This is one of the most difficult episodes to interpret, and yet it is one of great importance since, on the one hand, it symbolizes the death of the maize grain — equated with the head of Hunahpú — in the bosom of the earth preparing to transform itself into the plant; and, on the other, the death of the sun before it surges forth triumphant, as occurs in the resurrection of Hunahpú after he has destroyed his foes. Ixbalamqué, alone in the midst of the infernal beings, exemplifies the functions of the Lunar goddess who unaided defends humanity against the monsters of the night when the sun has disappeared below the horizon. From that time on the jaguars (balam), nahuals or alter egos of the female deity, watch over the Indian's village and his roads and lands during the night.

To our way of thinking it seems illogical that after triumphing over the most difficult trials and defeating his fearful opponents all along the line, Hunahpú should be beheaded by a vampire which comes down out of the sky. But for the mystical mentality of the native American, this allegory explains the causes of a natural phenomenon by the intervention of a supernatural one, agreeable with the instinct inherent in man which drives him to learn the causes of things. The vampire, in fact, symbolizes the divine spirit that descends from heaven and manifests in the maize, it being necessary that the grain — the equivalent of Hunahpú's head — should die to become transformed on germinating within the earth.

The depiction of the descent of the celestial vampire, or divine nutriment, and the subsequent death of the god of Maize is an ever-present theme in native art and denotes a fundamental article of faith of Quiché-Maya culture. Elsewhere we have amplified in all their details Mayan conceptions regarding fertilization of the earth, the death of the grain, its germination and metamorphosis into a food plant, as well as the way these are depicted in Mayan art (Girard, Los Chortís, chapters on science and religion). The enormous importance given to each one of the phases of the creative and germinative process of maize indicates that we are dealing with a matter of vital interest for Maya culture, one that must have been the object of prolonged and detailed observation by the Indian. We have established comparisons among the diverse artistic expressions of these ideas during the archaeological period and in the present day, and have also referred to the monumental sculptures of the celestial vampire placed high up in Maya temples in the part representing the center of the sky or heaven, from which the divine bat descends vertically to earth as do the sun's rays when the daystar goes through its zenith.

The theme of the descending god — which goes back to the period before the Popol Vuh — is represented in the most varied forms. But none in the Quiché text is so suggestive as the figure which follows, from the Tro-Cortes Codex, showing god B with the face of a bat throwing itself from heaven, carrying in its hand the hatchet whose sharp edge will lop off the head of the Maize god. Its look corresponds with the Popol Vuh's description of this being "which immediately kills, consuming all that comes before it," and accords with native beliefs that all contact with the sacred is dangerous. The parallel between the Quiché version and the figure of god B converted into the Vampire god is clear and, moreover, establishes their theogonic identity from the very name given the deity figured in the Maya codex, which is identical with that given in the Popol Vuh: Chakitzam (according to the Rodas-Villacorta translation). It is well known that god B is the figure of the Agrarian god called Chac or Itzamná (Girard, Los Chortís, "Religion").

Figure 16.

The cut-off head of the Maize god or Hunahpú, corresponding to that most precious grain, is represented with frequency in Mesoamerican iconography. Inverted heads of Ahau, symbolizing the grain that falls from on high, can be seen both in the Mayan codices, where it usually appears in the form of a breastplate of god B, and on the statue which present-day Quichés near Chichicastenango venerate, while in Zapotec and Huetar art those severed heads are held to be the Agrarian deity. On Mayan stelae the same motif is alternatively figured by either a head or the sign kin, its equivalent.

Below is reproduced a figure taken from page 42 of the Dresden Codex, showing god B with hatchet raised to cut off the head of the young Maize god.

Figure 17.

To the right can be seen a bowl with the sign kan, crowned with the headdress of the Maize god, a symbolic sign of the sacred kernel, equated with the separated head of Hunahpú. It is most significant to find this scene placed under one (in the frame above it) that represents the acts which immediately precede germination of the kernel. God B, exemplifying the elder's standard of conduct, is seen in the attitude of entreating the descent of divine grace, and then in that of sowing the maize which falls into the interior of the earth where it will germinate. Its germination is reproduced in the lower drawing, which symbolizes the underworld, that very Xibalbá wherein Hunahpú is decapitated (for more detailed information, see Girard, Los Chortís, chapters on religion). In another drawing in the Dresden Codex, one can see the head of the Maize god upon a pyramid, a position that recalls the placement of Hunahpú's head on top of the Camé's house where it symbolizes both the maize kernel and the game ball, i.e., the sun.

The scene described in the Popol Vuh and so vividly portrayed in the Dresden Codex is objectified with cruel realism, proper to the Aztecs, in Toxcatl (the moment of the sun's passing through the zenith). At that instant the victim who represented Tezcatlipoca was sacrificed at the top of the pyramid, but his body was carried down to the foot of the structure where its head was cut off, to symbolize the falling of the maize kernel — equated with the head of Tezcatlipoca — from heaven to earth.

This mimetic rite is illustrated in a picture in the Borgia Codex showing an anthropomorphic god that falls, head first, down a stairway. In a drawing of a tecpatl (flint knife) on page 54 of the Vatican Codex, the obsidian blade opens into two, with another blade coming out of it, a vivid demonstration of the unfoldment of the Agrarian deity which comes down from heaven to fecundate the earth and, once within it, becomes the germ of the maize.

Within these allegories lies the monotheist idea whereby the young Maize deity is conceived as a hypostasis of the Agrarian god, and the idea is expressed in the most varied ways. Elsewhere we have given the picture from Mexican codices of the mythological separation of Tezcatlipoca's foot, swallowed by the earth-monster in order to become a stalk of maize. From the leg wound flows a swelling of blood, the colorful pictorial representation of the divine sacrifice whose double object is to fertilize the earth and give itself utterly for the nurturing of humankind. These concepts, illustrated in the sacrifice of the seven Ahpú and in the scene of Hunahpú's beheading, remain very much alive among the Chortís who assert that Saint Manuel (the Agrarian god) gave his blood for the nourishment of his sons. Knowing the symbolic equivalence of the divine blood and maize, we understand the esoteric significance of the allegory in which the god pours its own life into human life. But it was not possible to develop such a conception except after man had gained perfect knowledge of the plant's growth process, and especially of the mystery of germination.

This development in the economic and religious process, the fruit of human experience, has to modify the conceptions of sex regulating the regime of family and society, as well as the doctrines of the ultimate purpose of things and the way of conceiving the world, matters which are related because the former are necessarily linked with and subordinated to the latter.

We have seen that Hunahpú exemplifies the operations of the milpa to the last detail, and that his teachings in themselves form a veritable agricultural code that to this day guides the practices of the Quiché-Maya farmer. But, after the sowing, all information ceases since the youth departs for Xibalbá, leaving planted a stalk of maize whose growth is linked with the fate that will befall him in the underworld, where he dramatizes the mystery of germination. The length of the text describing the trials undergone there by Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué reveals the importance of the germinative process. The struggles that the youths make — like the maize grain — are set out in all their smallest detail until we reach the fifth place of torture, that is, the center of the cosmic plane. In his function as Maize god, Hunahpú must occupy the center of that plane — as much in the underworld as on the surface of the earth, symbolized by the house in whose center were sown the maize plants — in perpendicular position to the center of heaven from which the divine spirit will fall vertically as do the sun's rays when the daystar goes through its zenith, the position that determines the sowing of the grain (Girard, Los Chortís, "Tzolkín"). Minute details are given regarding the conditions that favor its protection against evil beings: the help of the god of Fire which produces the heat in the earth's womb to give life to the infant; the constant aid of the Lunar goddess and its direct influence upon germination, expressed in its incitement of Hunahpú to "go out and see if it dawns"; the marked wish the latter felt to look through the mouth of his blowgun, which could not more eloquently express the impelling force of the germ and its will to grow toward the earth's surface.

All these scenes, repeated in different forms in Mayan art and glyph, form the theme of the theogonic complex known as the Lords of Night, which the Chilam Balam of Chumayel describes as beings having "pointed helmets," with which they bore through the roof of their subterranean abode to come out on the surface, as does the maize grain (for details and illustrations, see ibid., "Religion" and "Esotericism of the Monuments").

The germination of maize was without doubt the most difficult mystery for the primeval mind to understand, and only after a long process of domestication, when the grain had taken a form that allowed it to be equated with the divine head, game ball, or solar sphere, was the miracle of germination conceived as an effect of supernatural forces because beyond human comprehension. Until that time the discovery of wild maize was not really a major one; but the application of knowledge gained through long experience in dealing with the plant was actually the real beginning of agriculture. Because concepts of fertility of the earth and fecundity of woman are inseparable, any new interpretation of the one produced its secondary effects on the other concept. In this case, discovery of the laws of germination had to modify the idea held about human fecundity, since they obey the same causal principle.

During the matriarchal cycle the woman is the center of the procreative act as well as of society; but now it is Deity itself which intervenes in the production of the being, becoming the efficient cause of the phenomenon of reproduction in which man places the semen in the woman's womb. But the metamorphosis of the semen or seed can only take place thanks to supernatural action. The male's role now is no longer merely accidental but of primary interest, and this is projected in the act of sowing which from now on will be the man's exclusive task, the reverse of the situation prevailing in the earlier period when the man prepared the orchard but the woman planted it, just as she alone reared her children. It is interesting to relate the primordial concepts of native American women with those of the Papuans, who believe that pregnancy can be caused by the rain falling upon them from above and are unaware that it takes place through sexual penetration (Malinowski). Sowing the fields is incumbent upon the man only, because the introduction of the sowing stick into the earth and placement of the seed in the hole it makes symbolize the role he plays in the sexual act, from the time when he gained awareness of his role in the reproduction of the species. From being the center, the woman has now become a mere agent. Parallel with this the man is conceded rights that during the matriarchal period were reserved exclusively to the woman, and the new order of things becomes reflected in the mythology.

The supernatural fecundation of Ixquic by the seven Ahpú signals the beginning of new sexual conceptions; Ixquic's role is overshadowed by that of Hunahpú, which reflects the norms of masculine conduct. And thereafter, work in the milpa is properly "the work" and the farmer "the worker," the same judgment that Aristotle will express at a later date.

We have underlined the fact that both the procreative act and the activity in the milpa are expressed by a common verb: trabajar, to labor. This emphasizes once again the close interdependence and interaction of religion, family, society, economy, sexuality, work, property, and government in the dynamic process from which come forth the social forms and institutions of Maya culture. In fact, the evolution of its religious thought goes hand in hand with that of its maize cultivation, as well as with a general transformation in all aspects of the culture, which indicates the necessary interrelation among its structural elements. A genuine revolution took place in conception of the cosmos, of life, and of death. Discovery of the laws of maize germination is accompanied by these new perceptions of being and cosmos, and the indivisibility of these three elements is seen in the fact that Hunahpú personifies them all at one and the same time.

Besides symbolizing the process of the maize kernel that, falling into the earth, dies only to convert itself into the germ of a plant, Hunahpú exemplifies the destiny of the human being who, like the maize grain that dies, goes to the underworld and returns gloriously, as the young god-hero returned. In this allegory is proclaimed the belief in the immortality of the soul, the supreme consolation of humankind. Thus the fear of death, which darkly shadowed life during the previous racial period, was lost. Without doubt such fear was the motivating cause of the system of secondary interment, in the belief that the soul's life was subject to the duration of the material remains of the deceased, which one therefore attempted to preserve. Now man is immortal like the gods, a principle which elevates him to a superior spiritual plane and resolves the problem of the relations of the material with the spiritual, at the same time defining the nature of the soul, whose essence is divine. In the future, fears about the end of the cosmos will be the great problem of Quiché-Maya thought, since the universe is susceptible of being destroyed at the end of each cycle as it had been at the end of each prehistoric Age; and this idea was what led to the creation by the Mayas of a practically infinite cycle. Fear of personal death had disappeared after Hunahpú taught man how he must live so as to free himself from afterdeath perils.

We have elsewhere described the hardships the Chortí had to undergo during his passage through the underworld, where he had to cross the nine parts of Avernus wherein constant dangers threaten ("Girard, Los Chortís, "Ethnography"). Those sectors are the same as the ones made known to us in the Popol Vuh in the course of Hunahpú's and Ixbalamqué's extraordinary odyssey. But they overcame all difficulties and taught man how to free himself from them. If the deceased has observed the rules of religious ethics instituted by the hero-god, he will emerge triumphant from the test of Xibalbá. Like Hunahpú, he will cross the infernal rivers on threads, untouched by their waters. To ward off the ice in the Cave of Cold he will build a fire using the flint and steel his relatives will not fail to include in his mortuary outfit. The flame of the fire symbolizes the old Fire god who so opportunely sustained the twins when they lit tree trunks in that cave, the origin of the Chortí's custom of providing the dead with a striking steel. The Cave of Darkness will be illumined by pouring water on the grave. To cross the Cave of Flint Knives, where one must walk over sharp flints, the dead person is provided with a pair of new sandals; and to protect him from the dreadful animals, he is given a cord or rosary symbolizing the divine serpent, who will be his defender (for details, see ibid.). At the end of this dread journey, the deceased ascends to heaven.

Similar customs were observed by the Mexicans, who prepared their dead for overcoming the dangers of the postmortem experience and reaching the mansion of Mictlantecutli, to whom they must offer, among other things, pine torches (recall those the Camé demanded of their victims).

But if the Indians of Quiché-Maya culture did not fear death, they feared the dead, because these are accustomed imperiously to demand their rights if relatives do not fulfill their obligations to them, since both living and dead form one single community having reciprocal rights and duties.

Such a well-grounded knowledge of what takes place in the afterdeath world implies a new scientific vision of correlated astronomical and cosmic phenomena, and this development is made evident in the contrast between the conduct of the seven Ahpú and that of the twins during their journey to the underworld. We have already emphasized that at the start the universe was conceived of as being formed of only two cosmic planes, heaven and earth, in accordance with the logic of primeval man for whom cognition of the visible was easier than intuition of the hidden. The mechanism of the heavenly bodies was then unknown, and discovery of the principles of scientific astronomy came about only as a result of the triumph of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, parallel with creation of the sun, moon, and the Pleiades and integration of the third plane into the cosmic system. From the point of view of anthropocentric theory, the sun at the end of its daily passage goes into the bosom of the earth where it continues its journey in an inverse sense, illuminating the kingdom of the dead, crossing through the nadir and reappearing in the east. The working of its underworld trajectory is identical with the course pursued by the daystar in the celestial vault; and this is expressed in the ball game which symbolizes, both above as well as below, the same divine proceeding.

The seven Ahpú were able to play ball while on earth, but they could not do so in the underworld. Their innocence and ignorance of the nature of Xibalbá reflect the ignorance of the period, and because of it they were easily overcome. But from their failure is born the experience that they will pass on to the twins by virtue of the law of heredity that we have referred to: an eloquent image reflective of the efforts man made to garner experience and transmit to his offspring a knowledge and a tradition that would steadily grow with the passage of time.

Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué "already knew about the four roads" of the lower plane, and they descended into Xibalbá invested with all of their "elements of splendor." Familiar with the stumbling blocks in the infernal region, and having perfect knowledge of its dwellers whom they defeat, they render harmless the roadways of that world so that in future the sun as well as the deceased can travel along them safely. Hunahpú alternately symbolizes the triumph of the daystar, when he plays ball and defeats his opponents, and the role of the maize grain and of death in the caves of torture, making known the respective destinies of the maize plant and of humankind.

Quiché-Maya culture has now run through its entire life cycle and has a conception of the world that reflects its scientific-religious philosophy, resting in germ during the previous cycles. Perfect cosmic harmony is now established, and this order of things projects itself in the family and theogonic order which now reflect that harmony. Since man learned how to work and to take the social role intended for him, conjugal harmony is absolute because husband and wife are blended in an indivisible whole.

This very close relation between husband and wife, the consequence of the new sexual and religious conceptions, denotes the principle of duality within unity whose beginning is found in this epoch, and the same principle is projected into the world of the supernatural, since the goddesses are no more than hypostases of the gods. This manner of conception is so difficult for the Western mind that some students of sacred traditions interpret it as hermaphroditism (Girard, Los Chortís, "Religion").

The contrast with conjugal life of the Third Age is emphasized in the paragraph from the Chumayel scripture, already cited, in which the men (or gods) of that Third Age who believed that they were gods but were not, are termed evil because they did not sow seed (sexual concept) and, although they are connected fragment to fragment (but do not blend as one single being), did not say what they loved.

Before continuing with the Quiché narration, we should observe that Hunahpú establishes the work norms for one single milpa, corresponding to the first or the one called "milpa of fire," whose sowing is determined by the first passing of the daystar through the zenith. That correspondence appears in the episode of the descent of the celestial vampire, which according to Chortí theology can occur only during that first transit by the sun through the line of the parallel. This explains the great religious importance of the first milpa, until this day regarded by the Indians of Guatemala as the most sacred and obligatory in character. At the same time, it supports what we have said elsewhere that at first this was the only sowing made by the Maya's remote ancestors, and that their existence depended upon it (see ibid., "Tzolkín"). It was not until astronomical and meteorological knowledge was perfected that two or more sowings of the milpa were made by the Indians.


Chapter 11

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