Esotericism of the Popol Vuh by Raphael Girard

Theosophical University Press Online Edition

Chapter 11

The Deification of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué

Finding herself alone in the midst of the underworld beings (like the moon amid the monsters of the night), Ixbalamqué conceives a stratagem to prevent Hunahpú's head from being used as the game ball by the Xibalbans. She brings together the animals of all categories, great and small, asks what is their manner of feeding themselves, and charges each to go and fetch its particular food. There follows the description of what the various animals eat. Among the remains of their meals, Ixbalamqué picks up a shell of a bottle gourd (Cucurbita ficifolia B.) which very easily simulates a head in form, cutting two holes in it as eyes. Thanks to the divine inspiration fallen from the Center of Heaven into the nether world where the Cave of Bats was, she and the animals succeeded in devising a convincing "replacement" for Hunahpú's head.

Every creative act must take place during the night so as to be concluded by dawn. When the horizon was tinted with red, the smile of the dawn came to shine upon the artificial head of Hunahpú, which was perfect, since the bottle-gourd shell really looked like the bone of his skull.

We note here once more the equating of the shell with bone, as in the case of the gourds identified with the skulls of the seven Ahpú. This part also illustrates the procedure for making idols or "semblances of the gods," an exceedingly delicate operation whose execution requires all kinds of precautions on the part of the maker. The latter must take himself into the thickets of the woods where the sun's rays do not penetrate, or any profane sound whatever, being required to be in a state of purity so as to lift his spirit toward the divinity that inspires his actions, as it inspired those of Ixbalamqué.

Ixbalamqué then goes out to play alone, confronting the Xibalbans and, as expected, the game begins at dawn. The Camé, vainglorious over their apparent triumph, demand that Hunahpú's head be used as the ball during the game they will play against Ixbalamqué (note the clear correspondence of the head of the Solar god with the game ball).

Then the Xibalbans threw their ball. Ixbalamqué stopped it in front of her lance and then kicked it high over the house by the ball court, where it came to rest in a hole in the roof. Then a rabbit, having been previously instructed by her in what to do, came out and began to run about and leap. All the Xibalbans took up pursuit of the small animal, "shouting and running after the rabbit."

This intimate cooperation between the Lunar goddess (Ixbalamqué) and the rabbit is most clearly expressed in the lunar hieroglyph illustrated here, taken from the Borgia Codex. It shows a large, narrow-mouthed pitcher — symbol of the moon — inside of which is a rabbit.

image: Lunar g1yph in the Borgia Codex
Figure 18. Lunar g1yph in the Borgia Codex, according to Seler.

In this way, says the Popol Vuh, Hunahpú's head did not disappear and the sowing of the bottle-gourds by Ixbalamqué did not terminate. In fact, the bottle-gourd was substituted for the game ball, and because Ixbalamqué threw the ball onto the roof, a custom began of placing bottle-gourds under the ceiling of houses. Aside from its etiological meaning, this legend expressly mentions that discovery of this new plant is due to a woman.

Because of the clever disappearance of Hunahpú's head, the evil intentions of the Xibalbans were thwarted, and when they struck the substitute game ball it broke into a thousand pieces, "splashing their flesh with white blood like unto tears." Note the equivalence of fruit sap, blood, and tears, and that it is expressed in the semantic connection among these words, whose etymology is defined by the legends from the Popol Vuh. This was how the Lords of Xibalbá were once more defeated by the twins, and how Hunahpú recovered his whole body.

After such pitiless struggles between the forces of good and those of evil, in which the latter were continually overcome but not reduced to impotence, the twins foreknew that they must die, since this was their destiny as redeemers of humankind. Intuitively they knew that their implacable enemies planned to burn them in a fire in a stone oven, but that they would not die in reality, because they were immortal. This mention of the stone oven is interesting because it appears to be similar to the temascal or steam bath wherein the Quiché Indian offers his sweat to the sun, doubtless in that way commemorating the sacrifice made by Hunahpú.

The twins get help from Xulú and Pacám, great sages and seers who "see all." This repeats the appearance of supernatural counselors on the scene, such as took place in the earlier episode of the struggle against Vukup Cakix.

Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué say to these counselors:

The Lords of Xibalbá will ask you about our death, which they are planning and preparing for, because we have not died nor have we been sacrificed in the places of torment. If they consult you about the kind of death they should select for us, asking, "Wouldn't it be well to throw their bones into the ravines?" you will say, "That won't do because then they will return to life." If they say, "Shouldn't we hang them in the trees?" you will reply, "Under no circumstances, because they will only continue to exist." And when, for the third time, they ask, "Then shall we throw their bones into the river?" you will reply, "By all means. It will be well that they should disappear; and first their bones should be ground up like maize flour — each one ground separately. Then throw them immediately into the river where the fountain gushes forth so that the bone-dust will be scattered through forest and hill."

"That is what you will reply," the twins told the sages as they said their farewells, knowing beforehand how they were to die.

Such instructions describe three different ways of disposing of the dead which pertained in all probability to successive eras: burial in caves or gorges in the first; and the practice of placing the cadaver in a tree; and finally, the secondary burial practiced during the matriarchal cycle, described in an earlier chapter.

With regard to the last form of disposal, cremation is meant. This is the method chosen by Hunahpú, which is remembered by the Quichés on the day named Hunahpú by the lighting of a bonfire on the tomb of their dead while they pray for them.

In the method favored by Hunahpú for reducing his bones to dust, like maize flour, we also have the origin of the cernada (a mixture of earth and the leaven of cooked maize), a specific still used by the Chortís to prevent fires by lightning or celestial fire. Water cannot be used to put out such fires, because water like fire is a celestial element that must be countered by earthly elements. In the same way, the maize kernels intended for the sowing are sterilized by mixing them with ashes, that magical substance into which Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué have to transmute themselves, and which has the virtue of destroying malign spirits. Such procedure, originating in myth, corresponds to a practical application in the native agriculture which employs ashes to protect the maize kernels against the rot and damage these can suffer when placed in the earth.

The Xibalbans make a great bonfire, a kind of oven, feeding the fire with tree trunks and branches, and at once the twins arrive escorted by their guards. Hun Camé by trickery tries to make them go into the red-hot oven, offering them of his drink if they will then go through the fire four times. This is the origin of the curious custom, observed in Ocotepeque and Jocotán during the festivals of the patron saint, consisting of throwing a person four times over the flames of a bonfire lit beneath a ceiba tree in the public plaza.

But the twins are alert and are not fooled by the Xibalban. "Do you think we don't realize that we will die in the fire?" they reply. And rejecting Hun Camé's overture, "they face each other and holding hands, the two siblings throw themselves into the bonfire, dying there together."

All the Xibalbans were filled with joy and climbed upon the hills, whistling, shouting, and lifting clasped hands over their heads. "Now we have indeed won because finally they let themselves be vanquished." Centuries later the Aztecs would copy this mythological account when they composed their own version of the creation of the sun and moon.

Just as the twins had planned, the Xibalbans consulted Xulú and Pacám about the best way to dispose of the remains of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, and, following their advice, ordered the ashes thrown into the river. The ground-up bones were not picked up by the current, however, but sank to the bottom of the water where they became transformed into two handsome adolescents having the same appearance as Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué who, like the Phoenix bird, are reborn from their ashes (the dead return to trouble the living so long as the latter still owe them something). On the fifth day they made an appearance and were seen in the water by the populace, but now they appeared to be fish-men (winak-car).

Here we have a fact of great interest, insofar as the young Solar and Maize god is identified as the numeral god-Five, according to the selfsame Chortí method by which the number of days falling between the sowing of the maize (symbolized here by the throwing of the ashes into the river) and its transformation into a tiny shoot of maize with its first leaf, determines the number that characterizes the Maize god. This is supported by what we have said elsewhere with regard to the original area of maize cultivation, which had to be located in a fertile land having a hot climate in which the grain could convert itself into a small shoot and leaf five days after the sowing (Girard, Los Chortís, "Tzolkín"). All this corroborates once more the historical character of the Popol Vuh, written in a region where maize needs twice that number of days to sprout.

Another important feature of this episode is the twins' transformation into fish, which is to say that they took the form of their zoological nahual. From the most remote archaeological horizon and in the various cultures imitative of the Quiché-Maya, to the mythology of present-day Indians, the fish is in fact the nahual of the young Maize god. The merit of the Quiché account consists precisely in the fact that it gives us the mythic origin of this aspect of that deity. Again there is emphasized here the beauty of the young god and his companion, an aesthetic ideal which Quiché-Mayan art always strove to reproduce.

On the following day the twins disguised themselves as beggars, and were seen as such by the Xibalbans. The two did a number of amusing things, dancing the dances of the Cux, the Iboy, and also the Ixtzul and Chitic (the one walking on stilts). The dance on stilts is still performed among the Cakchiquels of Antigua and was known to the Maya of Yucatán, according to references in Landa, and appears on page 36 of the Tro-Cortes Codex, as reproduced here.

image: dance on stilts in Tro-Cortes Codex
Figure 19.

In the four dances mentioned above, Hunahpú, as the god-Five, and his inseparable companion, formalize the diagram of the twenty-day period or uinal with its subdivisions by teaching for the first time dances of a ritual and time-computing character that the Indians of today continue to perform, such as the Dance of the Giants — (Girard, Los Chortís, chapter 13.).

The twins did many remarkable things, says the Quiché epic. They seemed to burn themselves as if they had really done it, and then returned to their original condition. Then they cut each other to pieces, one killing the other, the one killed being immediately revived by the other. The Xibalbans looked with amazement upon all that they did, and the twins repeated these things as the prelude to their coming victory over the Camé.

Those details of the prodigious technique of magic invented by the twins are faithfully reproduced in the Chortí Drama of the Giants. We find them also in the following description which Sahagún gives us of the magical practices of the Huastecs:

They were adept at creating illusions by which they tricked people, making them see the false as true, such as believing that houses were burning which were not, or causing to appear a fountain with fishes when there was none, nothing except an illusion to the eyes; and that they killed themselves, cutting their flesh into pieces, and other things that were only appearances and not real.

That quotation could be a page torn from the Quiché codex as well as a colorful description of the scene dramatized by the Chortís, all of which shows the intimate cultural connection among these peoples and the great stability of their traditions which have endured without variation in groups separated from the common cultural trunk centuries before our own era.

All of Hunahpú's triumphs spring from his knowledge of magic resulting from divine revelation or inspiration. Magic, inseparable from ceremonial action and from science, is the knowledge which conquers ignorance, the intelligence that overcomes force — or the clumsy methods of deception practiced by the Xibalbans.

Now a particular aspect of the magical sciences comes into play: imitative magic, which Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué teach for the first time, a science that will in future form the fundamental basis of Quiché-Maya ritual. The twins "repeated and performed over again" the same acts so that the Xibalbans would imitate them. We have reached the point in this dramatic poem at which the main action is developed.

The Camé sent their messengers to call upon the twins with flattery. "We would that you come and perform again your extraordinary dances before us, since we wish to see how you do them."

But the twins beg off, alleging that because of their very ugly faces, with such large eyes (an allusion to the use of ceremonial masks), they are not fit to appear before such great lords. "What will the poor people say, our comrades who also wish to see our dances and entertain themselves by them?"

In a concise but accurate and beautiful way, as with all Mayan literary forms, there is expressed in this quotation the principle of social ethics that governs the indigenous community and preserves a stable social order based upon an equality of rights and obligations. It is a wonderful proclamation of the fundamental principles of Mayan democracy wherein neither poor nor rich existed.

Faced with the insistence of the Camé's messengers, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué decide to go, but with such reluctance and ill will that their ushers have to whip them forward in order to hurry their arrival before the masters of Xibalbá. Hiding their faces they arrived full of humility, prostrating themselves in reverence and humbleness, showing an exaggerated respect before the Lords. "They definitely arrived in an attitude of poverty and misery," says the Popol Vuh. This pathetic picture is a defense of humility, resignation, and poverty in the face of the Camé's pomp and arrogance. A like conception is found at the heart of the legend in Mexican mythology of the poor god and rich god who compete for the title of Solar god, the poor god winning out.

The Xibalban chiefs ask Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué to tell them the race and the mountain from which they come. They ask them also for their genealogical connection, querying them about their mother and their father. "Where do you come from?" the Camé asked. "We do not know, my Lord. Nor do we know the faces of our mother or our father; we were very young when they died," replied the twins. The series of questions put to them reveals the type of social organization of the time, linked with territorial status and based upon the matrilineal culture of the hamlet, in which the "mountain" is the fatherland (patria). The preeminence of mother over father is seen in the order of the questions.

The twins do not reveal their identity, for the reasons given in previous chapters. Then the Xibalban chiefs said, "It is well. Now perform for us so that we may marvel, and we shall pay you to see it." "We want nothing, because in truth you will be frightened when you see us," they replied to the Lords (reward for work performed had already been the rule during the Third Age; but the twins will accept nothing).

"Don't be embarrassed, you won't frighten us. Now, dance! And do first the part where you kill each other and cut each other up; and next burn our house. Do everything that you know how to do; we want to witness it," the Camé told them.

As they began their dance with shouts, all the people of Xibalbá crowded around to see what they did. This passage exemplifies and evokes the clamor that precedes the performance of the Chortí Drama of the Giants and quickly commands the attention of the audience. As in the staged development of "The History" of the Chortís, the scenes follow each other and offer various episodes whose sum forms a complete theme. Establishing the guidelines for the native theater, the twins successively perform the dance of the Cux, the Pujuy, and the Iboy.

At the request of the Great Lord of Xibalbá they cut up his own dog and then revive it immediately, and "when it definitely returned to life, it wagged its tail in pleasure."

Notable here is the religious importance of the dog, associated with the figure of the Camé, which appears as a motif in the mythology of the protohistoric cycle but is not mentioned again during the period corresponding to Quiché-Maya culture, when the mythical coyote also disappears. This has historical implications that are discussed elsewhere (Girard, Los Chortís, chapters on "Ethnography" and "Comparative Religion").

Then the Xibalban chief, Hun Camé, says to them, "Now burn my house." The divine twins burn his house with the whole Council inside it, but no one is burned and the house quickly resumes its former condition without being lost for even an instant.

All of the Lords marvel at this performance. Then Hun Camé said to Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, "Now kill one of my people, cutting him up, but so that he shall not die." "Very well," they replied, and taking hold of a man they quartered him and tore his heart out, holding it up for the Lords to see. Immediately they brought him back to life, and as a result his heart was exceedingly happy once again.

The Xibalbans were amazed. "Now cut yourselves up, because really our hearts yearn for that," they said. The twins immediately cut each other into pieces. Hunahpú was cut up by Ixbalamqué (this role corresponded to Ixbalamqué, who is the nahual of the jaguar, the carnivore par excellence of American animal life). She cut off each leg, then the arms, and when the head was severed she placed it at a distance and then removed the heart, which she wrapped in leaves, all of which delighted the Xibalbans beyond measure. Only one of the dancers was now visible: Ixbalamqué. "Get up!" she commanded Hunahpú, who instantly revived.

Then because of what was in the Lords' hearts, the twins' dances aroused their desires, and Hun Camé and Vukup Camé broke into words (the effects of imitative magic): "Now do the same with us, cutting us into pieces," they demanded of the twins.

"Very well, Lords," they answered. So then Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué cut off their heads, first Hun Camé's followed by that of Vukup Camé; but they did not revive them. When the Xibalbans saw that their chiefs had suddenly died, they all ran away.

Reproduced here is a typically native scene that has not varied from the time of the most remote horizon to the Colonial era: the death of the chief causes the disbandment of the group he led. This is because the chief is the "head" of the group, which is equated with a body, and just as a headless body cannot live, neither can a group exist without its chief. In native American languages, generally speaking, the same word is employed to designate chief and head. Following this line of thought, the Chortí community compares itself to a serpent of which the elder is the head, and that is what his title indicates: hor chan (head of a serpent).

But the twins are not satisfied with having beheaded the chiefs, and pursue all the Xibalban Lords until they have been destroyed. Nevertheless one of them, who had not been found, presented himself before Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, humbling himself and asking for mercy. "Take pity on me!" he said, surrendering himself to them.

The children and slaves of the Xibalbans fled to a large gorge and hid themselves under a steep cliff; but hordes of ants discovered and dislodged them, forcing them to return along the road. When they came up, they all prostrated themselves before the twins. And so the Xibalbans were conquered. Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué were able to gain their victory only by means of the magical arts that they possessed.

Then the two disclosed their names to all of the Xibalbans:

Listen, then, to our names and also the names of our progenitors: we are Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, these are our names. The names of our fathers, whom you killed, were Hun Hunahpú and Vukup Hunahpú. We whom you see here, then, are the avengers of the sorrows and sufferings of our progenitors. You are going to suffer the same hurts that you caused us. We shall make you also to disappear, killing you, so that none of you shall remain [the law of an eye for an eye].

Then all the Xibalbans fell to their knees, crying, "Forgive us, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué! We were definitely to blame for what we did to your progenitors, who are buried in Pucbal-chaj." Thus the twins brought vindication to the memory of their fathers; and this episode signals the end of the era of barbarism. Now is proclaimed veneration of one's father and one's ancestors through the male line, in contrast to what took place in the earlier period when veneration of the grandmother was extolled. This indicates a radical change in relative rank within the family and society: the passage from matrilineal to patrilineal descent, and consequently a change of rules of property, division of labor, and of government.

In light of the Xibalbans' opting to surrender, the twins pronounce this sentence:

Very well; these are our words. Listen, you of Xibalbá. Your offspring will no longer worship you, and therefore you will have nothing to eat [in future no one will venerate them, and so they will be neither invoked nor fed: the gods of the Third Age become the demons of the Fourth]. Neither will you have the ball game [they will no longer be solar gods]. The civilized human progeny will no longer belong to you, and intelligent people will draw away from your presence. Sinners, evildoers, mean persons, the cowardly, those given to vice: these are the ones who will resort to you. No longer will you be able to injure people — now hear it well — by means of the blood of those heads. For that is what brought your loss and your ruin, as well as worship of you, since you were not being adored as formerly. In truth you were not gods, and you frightened everyone by your ugly faces and horrible appearance, since you were evil-intentioned like the owls. You incited people to evildoing, to excesses, and to discord. And in your hearts you cultivated the bad feelings in place of the good feelings, setting an example of ignorance and bad faith. You painted yourselves and greased your faces, thereby losing the admiration people had for you, because you did not possess lofty feelings either.

This pronouncement and sentence is a true exposition of Mayan ethics, setting up against the vices of "barbaric" people those qualities that should characterize the enlightened human being. Thenceforth those qualities will constitute the law and code of rights of Maya culture. At the same time, physical deformity is compared with bad or black feelings, an allegory accompanying the one that compares physical beauty with ethical beauty. The vice of bad or black feelings is attributed to the ignorance and stupidity exhibited by those of an inferior cultural level; thus, folly and ignorance are equated with evil mentality, a postulate that we shall see confirmed further on. For that reason the truly enlightened not only ceased to pay homage to the false gods, but were also horrified by them and utterly detested them when they became evil beings. Here we have a clear explanation of the transformation of the Third-Age gods into the demons of the Age of Culture or Fourth Age, a fact fully confirmed by comparative ethnography, as we saw with regard to the character of the Quiché Hunrakán versus the Carib Camé.

During the matriarchal cycle people painted their faces, according to the inferences found in the Quiché text, but that custom was later given up. Nevertheless, facial painting as a distinguishing mark of the warriors comes back into vogue in a later period of Maya history. As said elsewhere, this war paint inspired fear, and according to Father Avendaño facial blackness was compared to wickedness of heart. Following the same order of ideas, the Chortís call unlucky days of the calendar "dark days" and these correspond to annotations in black in the codices.

Concepts about barbarism and related notions remain unchanging through time. And it is to be noted that under pressure from foreign influences the Mayas are obliged to return to the practice of face painting in order to distinguish warriors from the ordinary people. But they declare this a barbarous custom, thus identifying the aggressive mentality of the warrior with that of evil beings, because to them such pertains to the Third Age and is contrary to Mayan ethics.

There is a fact that should have been noted by the reader. Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué could have completely eliminated both the dark forces as well as the people of evil custom; nevertheless they did not do this, because the preservation of those forces, put to the service of the true gods, was a necessity from many points of view. In the first place, they were needed to establish the derivation of evil feelings and of all perversity that comes to pass in human life and in the bosom of nature itself. The Indian has always aspired to know the causes of things and, to explain the options in his life, pictures a world populated by good and bad spirits which influence his existence. Night is when the malevolent beings go into action, protected by the darkness that is their environment and has the color characteristic of evil feelings. All the evils afflicting humanity as well as phenomena which work against society's well-being are attributed to such perverse beings and so have their causal explanation, inasmuch as those calamities cannot be attributed to Deity which is essentially good.

After Hunahpú won the unconditional surrender of the forces of Xibalbá, the action of these evil beings is restricted to the field which Divinity assigned them, and limited by its express decision. To test human virtue or castigate offenses against religious ethics, Heaven allows action of evil spirits by temporarily or permanently withdrawing its protection from particular individuals or an entire group. Then the elder intervenes, the one possessing the magical formulae for conjuring the evil that will be overcome in the long run, just as were the forces of Xibalbá by the twins, following a long-drawn and tremendous struggle. Evil, according to the popular saying, endures for as long as Divinity wishes. In these cases of crisis, religious fervor recurs, expressed in self-sacrifice, offerings, and the observance of special ceremonies designed to gain the good graces of Divinity. The existence of evil potencies explains the eternal antagonism of the messianic forces, without detracting from the concept of divine omnipotence. The triumph which good always gains over evil in the long run expresses a principle of free will by which man must ever contribute with his actions and constantly exert himself in order to merit the help of Providence against those forces that oppose him. As said elsewhere, there is no dualism, i.e., no opposition between a good and an evil god, in native theogony, inasmuch as the Supreme Being is omnipotent and the dark forces are, in essence, no more than an instrument of its purpose.

This view of good and bad is also applied to rate one's own culture with respect to that of the rest and is the reason why each ethnic group believes itself superior to the others, regarding itself as chosen by Divinity because composed of true men in contrast with the others who are barbaric. Such concepts flow from the very constitution of indigenous society as a closed circle centered about the figure of a god which exemplifies the communal unity. Maya religion is a tribal religion and as such is not a religion of conversion; and this explains the curious phenomenon of neighboring peoples who really live in distinct worlds, as revealed by archaeology and ethnic cartography.

According to the Mayan, Chortí, and Mexican mythologies, the malefic beings reside in the northerly region of the underworld. Deity does not allow them to come up from there, affirm the Chortís, who call the underworld "the other State," the same as their designation of barbaric peoples. Thus it is that for them all the evils that afflict mankind, such as heavy rains and winds injurious to agriculture, evil intentions and inclinations, etc., come from the north. This corresponds to a climatic and historical reality, since in fact it is from the north that come the winds harmful to the milpa, and it is also from there that waves of barbaric human hordes have come down in a constant stream.

The Maya traditions agree perfectly with those of the Quiché with reference to creation of the underworld as a result of the destruction of Xibalbá. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel says in that regard: it was on the day 9 Cauac that the underworld was prepared for the first time, but it was not until 10 Ahau that "bad men" went there. In this sequence, which is expressed in terms of the katún wheel, is seen the relation between the mystical number 9 and the 9 underworlds of Quiché-Maya and Mexican mythology. The existence of the underworlds is necessary as the appropriate place for the punishment of evils, particularly those that result from recantation of religious faith. The black magician (brujo), who is the representative of the evil entities within the community, will without fail go to the underworld; he is the eternal adversary of the elder (chan) who embodies the forces of good and defends "his children."

The existence of underworld beings is necessary to encourage the virtues in the Maya people. By the same token incorporation into the native pantheon of the false gods, converted into demons, answers to an authentic conception of history proper to Maya culture. The Mayans take into their body of beliefs elements from the previous ethnic cycles through which they have passed, their culture being a product of their historical experience. Of course, the elements from the prehistoric period are reinterpreted according to the latest norms. In that way earlier forms that go back even to the most remote horizon are projected in the theogonic system as well as in their economy and society. The final product is, then, the result of a long evolution which gave Quiché-Maya culture its high degree of maturity.

These conceptions are also expressed in the very history of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué who are exponents of that culture. But before being able to personify those conceptions, they have progressively to overcome and put to their service all of the opposing forces which symbolize the cultural characteristics of the first three Ages in toto, brought together in the figure of the Black Giant of Chortí tradition. This succession of periods contained in the history of the seven Ahpú, of Hunahpú and the Camé, and which appears as a reconstructed whole in Quiché-Maya beliefs, is eloquently objectified in the following figure from the Tro-Cortes Codex showing god B sowing a forked stick which is immediately destroyed by god A but then restored by the young Maize god, a suggestive image of the work of the seven Ahpú (fathers of the young god) who attempt to implant Maya culture only to have their work destroyed by the Camé (depicted as the god of Death), and then reestablished by Hunahpú (the young god).

image: god B sowing a forked stick in Tro-Cortes Codex
Figure 20.

We have said that the end of the Third Age saw a radical change in all aspects of the culture. Further on we shall see how the Quiché manuscript relates the advent of the patriarchal era and the termination of female hegemony decreed by Ixmucané herself, who embodied it, instituting at the same time the worship of the Maize god and its corresponding ritual.

Ixmucané wept, calling to her grandchildren, standing before the maize plants that they had sown. She saw them sprout, and later dry up when the twins were consumed in the bonfire; but they sprouted once again. Then the grandmother lit her fire and burned copal incense in front of the maize plants in memory of her grandchildren. The change in the maize plants, which undergo the same metamorphoses as the twins, illustrates the conception of the nahual, while the offering of incense marks new ceremonial patterns whose object is to ward off evil entities and protect the twins. The old woman's heart was made happy on seeing the maize shoots sprout a second time. Then she blessed and worshiped them, and called them "the center of the house." "Living stalks on the plain of the earth" is the name given by the Indians to the maize plants sown in the center of the patio.

After the interlude in which the twins' struggles and victory command the reader's attention, the grandmother makes her reappearance for the exclusive purpose of inaugurating worship of the Maize deity and its ritual, symbolized in her prostration before the maize stalks — the images of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué — placed in the center of the house or yard, her offering of copal incense, and her blessing by pronouncing their names: that is, proclaiming their divinity.

The plain surface in whose center are placed the maize sprouts symbolizes the altar with its idol as well as the cosmic plane whose center is the temple. Elsewhere has been established the symbolic equivalence of the altar, the milpa or sowing field, and the earth-plane, an idea that goes back to this scene in the Popol Vuh. Ixmucané "names" the new theogonic entity that arises in the names Quiché-Maya Parnassus, and in this act makes divine the most important plant of Mesoamerican culture. This ceremony will be observed in future by the Maya elders who, imitating the ritual patterns laid down by Ixmucané, must "name" the Agrarian deity, clearly specifying its names and qualities each time they direct their invocations to it, accompanied by generous burning of copal incense.

Of all the names by which the Maize god is known, the name Ce Acatl of Mexican theogony is the one that best expresses this scene of the divinization of maize by Ixmucané, since Ce Acatl (one maize stalk) is the day of the Maize deity's birth. For the same reasons, given above, the center of the earth was called Nepantla by the Mexicans and was expressed pictorially by a maize shoot breaking through from the heart of the earth.

With regard to the name Ixmucané gave her grandchildren, see what was said in earlier chapters about the word imix (name of the First Regent, the equivalent of Ixmucané) and ixim, its metathesis, as also the name of the maize kernel in Mayan languages. Although the divine twins are the authors of the agricultural code, it is the grandmother who must be credited with discovery of maize as well as its primordial cultivation; and with this we are given to understand that the finding and first domestication of that plant was the work of woman and took place during the matriarchal cycle. This same tradition survives among the Huastecs who, according to R. Shuller, ascribe to Ixcuinána, the first woman, the origin of maize cultivation.

Both names (Ixmucané and Ixcuinána) contain the roots of the words for mother and maize, whose close genetic connection goes back to the era of the Ixmucané myth. The same is true of the word imix, synonym of Ixmucané, the First Regent, which is etymologically related to maize and mother. As shown in former chapters imix (or imox) is also the mother tree, and its figure represents that of a pregnant woman (in Girard, Los Chortís). The same theme is expressed in its anthropomorphic aspect, in archaic statuary, by an extraordinarily fat being which symbolizes Mother Earth and her offspring, maize, in a state of gestation. The figure of the Agrarian god is placed upon the umbilicus of the Earth deity, objectifying in this way the conception of the theogonic trinity in a single symbol which the Chortís continue to represent by a single idol (a cross). In other representations of the mother-offspring theme these appear sculptured together in a single statue. In proportion as the culture evolved, masculine gods began to predominate over feminine (Girard, Los Chortís, "Archaeology and History"). The close linkage of mother-son (or mother-maize) expressed in Mayan art and language is also seen in the glyphs. In codices and monuments we find the glyphs kan-imix in frequent association; sometimes kan replaces imix, and the sign kan-imix is glyphically related with the west, the homeland of maize. Imix is still a word that designates the earth among the Ixil, who speak one of the oldest Mayan languages among the southerly group (ibid., "Linguistics"). Thus in the Popol Vuh we have not only a historical explanation of the evolution of Maya culture and language but also the history of its artistic development.

The mother-son theme, so strongly present in the art, language, glyphs, and the myth that explains it, is not exclusive to Quiché-Maya culture and languages. Even a rapid comparative examination of the terms for maize — or the food plant — and mother in all of the genetically related Mayan languages will show the parallelism. The genetic connection is confirmed by the very phenomena of displacement of meaning and of phonetic mutations, such as im becoming am and its metathesis, that operate in the root for maize. In languages that generally represent a more advanced cultural stage, the word for mother — always related to that for maize — becomes the word for designating the father or the grandfather. This book cannot possibly include an exhaustive series of comparative words. Nevertheless, those given in Appendix B are enough to demonstrate the genetic relations among the terms applied to the primary authority in the family or the group, and those that designate the principal food plant in the languages stemming from a common linguistic subsoil. Among these words, we have included the related term poo (moon, white hairs), whose etymological relation is well defined in the Quiché codex which presents us with the grandmother or house-chief — equivalent on the theogonic plane to the Lunar deity — as an old woman having white hair, the distinctive color of her function as the First Regent.

But, to return from this long digression to the Popol Vuh: on making the maize stalks divine and marking out the patterns of a new worship, the grandmother also proclaims the new family and social order which will prevail thenceforth, founded on descent through the male line owing to the veneration of masculine ancestors and of the Maize god. But that distinction is not made until the twins have gained full knowledge of their origin and paternal ancestry. Here is what is said in that regard: at first they found out about their names in a vague way only, and spoke of them as though this explained their origin; but the title of Cerbataneros (solar gods) was not applied to them until their solar nature had been revealed to them. In this way they inherited the grand consciousness which their fathers over there on the Pucbal-chaj were to leave in their hearts.

These norms still govern among Quiché descendants who do not have the right to the title of Achi ("companion of the sun": translation of F. Rodas) or to the use of the corresponding symbols until such time as they gain consciousness or awareness of their divine origin, their duties, and innate qualities; that is, until they become fit to discharge the functions of the perfect human being. Besides illustrating those patterns of filial conduct, the paragraph above has connotations of an ethnological character. The twins were born and grew up during the matriarchal period without knowing their fathers, of whom they had a very confused notion. On the other hand, they knew their mother and grandmother at first hand. Nevertheless they did not inherit the names of these but rather those of their fathers, which would thereafter be transmitted through the masculine line in the same way as a man's function in life and his possessions would be inherited. Those conditions are listed in the following paragraph:

"You [their fathers] will be invoked," said the divine twins when they felt that great consciousness in their hearts. "You will be the first to manifest, the first to be reverenced by the enlightened and civilized. Your names will not be lost. You will be the beginning of our line. We are only the avengers of your death and of the sufferings that they caused you." This was their farewell to their progenitors, the Ahpú, when they had finally vanquished all in Xibalbá.
Then they departed from there at the moment of the sun's zenith (en el medio de la luz), and immediately raised themselves to heaven: one to the sun and the other to the moon; instantly the celestial vault and the face of the earth were illumined, the two remaining in the heaven.*
*[Because of its direct bearing on a fuller insight into the meaning of this episode, we include a footnote that Dr. Girard appended to the text of his Origin y Desarrollo de las Civilizaciones Antiguas de América, Editores Mexicanos Unidos, S.A., Mexico, 1977; p. 168. — Trans.] "It should be noted that the myth's text does not say that the twins are the sun and moon, but that they raised themselves to these lights. This is congruent with the Chortí judgment which clearly establishes that the celestial figure is merely a tangible manifestation of the intangible which resides in it. There is no confusion between spirit and matter, inasmuch as the objective of worship is the divine force that causes its sanctity. This difference is expressed in the distinct names which designate the sun as a star, and the sun as a god."
Then there also rose up the 400 boys whom Zipacná had killed, and these became the companions of the twins and were transformed into stars in the heaven.

Thus it was that after being deified as maize gods, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué became solar gods, so as to illumine the Dawn of the Fourth Creation which corresponds to the beginning of the Quiché-Maya cultural era.

As said earlier, the twins' victory over the forces of evil symbolizes the triumph of light over shadow, of civilization over barbarism, good over bad, day over night, explaining moreover the mechanism of the sun's daily appearance.

In Mexican mythology Chicomecoatl, "so called because he pretended to have prevailed against seven snakes" (Durán), brings about the defeat of the seven Camé whom the Mexicans like the Chortís equate with snakes (culebras), a pejorative term used to designate the hellish beings who are in opposition to the serpents (sierpes), which are divine nahuals.

Like Ahuramazda, Hunahpú personifies the aurora, light, the brightness that dissipates the shadows of ignorance. Hunahpú, having taken the power away from the false gods, replaces them in the universal reign; and, like Ahuramazda, does away with human sacrifices. The aurora or dawn forms the most beautiful theme of Quiché-Maya mythology, as it does of the Aryans of Asia. As much in the Vedas of India as in the Popol Vuh, the dawn has inspired the best stanzas of their poetry, describing human longing for the awakening of the light of day — a moment in which the Indian "weeps for joy," as will be said farther along in the Quiché codex.

Xochipilli, god of Dawn in Mexican mythology, is the functional replica of Hunahpú. In other versions he is called Macuilxóchitl, Tlahuiscalpantecutli, "The Lord of the House of Dawn," or Ce Xóchitl (One Flower), child of Chicome Xóchitl (Seven Flowers), as Hunahpú was the child of the seven Ahpú.

This function as sol invictus, which implies that of tribal god or protector of the tribe, is dramatized masterfully in the Chortí theater when the actor who embodies Hunahpú uncovers his face after having defeated and beheaded the Black Giant, exhibiting then his countenance, resplendent and radiating light through all of his being. In his double character of Solar and Maize deity, Hunahpú rises triumphant and ascends to the heavens, symbolizing at one and the same time the appearance of dawn and the shoot of maize breaking through from the underworld onto the earth's surface, where it is crowned by a crest of green leaves, identified with the magnificent feather headdress of the young Solar deity. In terms of spiritual doctrine, this ascension symbolizes the conversion of the dead person into a divine spirit that rises to heaven, like the 400 boys who are transformed into the souls of the stars and enter into partnership with the sun.

Both in his function as Solar god and that of Maize, Hunahpú performs the role of a savior. As Solar deity he defends humanity against the forces of evil which he annihilates with his magical rays. In Chortí theogony this function of his is distinguished by the name of Child Redeemer given to the god of Dawn whose appearance is announced by Venus, called "angel Saint Martial and herald of the world." As Maize god, he gives his life to feed his worshipers.

In a very late epoch of its history, Maya theogony had to have recourse to a god of War, a role that the Solar god itself was to fill. That is the way the Chumayel manuscript expresses it, saying that "the sun was a warrior and had its hair in long locks." The god of War will overcome the enemies of the Mayan nation, which are his enemies also, employing the same magical procedures that allowed him to defeat the giants and the forces of Xibalbá.

Because Hunahpú is the paradigm of all the virtues and superior qualities that the great Maya chiefs must have, he is the wisest of the wise, the best farmer, and the bravest among the brave. In accordance with these norms, the elder (chan) or the general must always be at the front of his followers so as to set the proper example, the elder as the most able farmer and prototype of perfected human conduct, and the general as the bravest warrior. This explains the reason why the native chiefs always walk at the head of their troops, as an example of valor.

But this is not all. The esoteric doctrines of the resurrection and ascension of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué express the magnificent ideal of Maya culture which says that the human being cannot raise him- or herself up to the perfected state of Hunahpú except when the whole community shall also have attained to divine perfection. That objective is gained by following the rules of conduct exemplified by the son of Divinity, a condition to which are correlated those members of the Mayan fraternity whom the chan calls his "children." As Max Scheler says, the highest and purest conception that is possible within the limits of monotheism is one which sees all men as children of Father God. The intermediary in this relationship is the "Son" who partakes of the same divine essence and reveals it to men, and at the same time prescribes with divine authority certain beliefs and commandments. With these sublime teachings, which give to man the consciousness of being part of divinity, Mayan metaphysics attains its highest degree of development. Founded on these tenets, its theology, which contains philosophical principles and is inseparable from law and ethics, is developed. These norms resolve the spiritual problems of the Indian, fix the duties of the people in general, assure human rights as well as institutional stability, and elevate work to the category of a religious obligation. They teach that the eternal happiness to be enjoyed after death should be sought and gained as a reward of sacrifices made during life on earth, inasmuch as the civilizer-hero has firmly established the links that unite Divinity with humankind and transformed himself into a man in order to demonstrate to men how they can become gods.

Although Hunahpú's code, which satisfactorily resolves the problem of social justice and human relations in life, was not written on stone monuments, its unchanging doctrines endure in the native consciousness as an undying monument to that great religious leader. That god, whose epic fills the pages of the Popol Vuh, must have been a great leader of the Quiché-Maya people, deified after his death, as were Quetzalcoatl, Xolotl, Camaxtli, and Huitzilopochtli in Mexico; Tammuz in Babylonia, Osiris in Egypt, Adonis in Phoenicia, Attis in Phrygia, Orpheus in Greece, and Jesus the Christ in the Western world. Of these god-men, those that pertain to Mexican mythology have well known historical antecedents and were, before becoming gods, great leaders of peoples. We know the story of Quetzalcoatl, the oldest of them, just as we know the great deeds of Huitzilopochtli, the most recent of the series. This latter god lived on the Coatepeque hill, near Tula; of him Sahagún says that "they held him in high regard when he lived and after his death they honored him as God." In the same way the Mayas deified Kukulcán, following his departure from the Yucatán peninsula. From all of this we infer the process of deification of Hunahpú, whose actual life story has not come down to us because he belonged to a very remote past.


Chapter 12

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