Esotericism of the Popol Vuh by Raphael Girard

Theosophical University Press Online Edition

Chapter 4

The First Three Ages of the World


Following the formation of the earth with its mantle of vegetation, the gods proceed to populate it with animate beings who, in exchange for their having been given life, must worship their Creator. Therefore "they covered woods and mountains with their animals. From then on the guardians of the maize fields and the inhabitants of the thickets were the birds, pumas, and jaguars, and of the creeping plants the rattlesnakes and large snakes." Each species was given its respective habitat: den, nest, or burrow. Immediately Tzakol, Bitol, Alom, and Cajolom, gods of the four sectors of heaven, gave each animal its peculiar means of expression: cries, howls, grunts, separating each group "according to its manner of being understood." (This evinces a notion of zoological classification, applying to the animal kingdom the same rules for differentiating the human kingdom into linguistic groups.)

Only four cosmic gods take part in this. They are the equivalent of the Chac of Maya mythology who are in fact the owners of wild plants and animals. The Chortís continue to regard the animals as the guardians of the woods, a term that is also applied to the keeper of the temple (mayordomo) — u wink ir e tecpan: guardian of the temple — in order to show that the woods as much as the temple are divine property. The Indian continues to turn to the Chac when he needs to hunt some animal, a plant, or a tree, having to ask their permission and justify his need to take this or that thing, and pay for the concession granted him by them.

The gods concede life not as a free gift, but only on condition that their creatures acknowledge their dependence upon the Creator, invoking it, paying it tribute and homage. For that reason they command the animals to pronounce the name of their Creator, "since we are your mother and father." Speak to us, invoke us, praise us, adore us, the gods tell them. But the animals are unable to comply with this divine order because they lack a fit language; neither can they communicate with each other owing to their differing vocal expression.

Lamenting their failure, the gods resolve to exchange these creatures with others, and to punish them, changing their mode of speech, food, and manner of living and eating, condemning them thenceforth to have their flesh sacrificed and eaten: "and solely for that reason all the animals which live on earth would be killed."

It is a characteristic of Indian thought that it expresses many related concepts in a single allegory. In this case the creation of the animals, whom the gods tried in vain to raise to the category of rational beings, has, aside from its intrinsic meaning (creation of animals), a profoundly ethical, religious, and socioeconomic significance, reflective of the conditions of human life during the primeval cycle of Mayan prehistory.

As shown so often, the native community composes a perfectly homogeneous unity, culturally and linguistically, and identifies itself by the use of the common word its members employ to designate the Divinity. Any change or alteration in pronunciation of the divine name implies a dialect differentiation, therefore political separation, since language is consubstantial with the tribe and spreads with it. This fact is not exclusive to the Quiché-Maya groups since, for example, the same is found among the peoples of Asia Minor who have different names to designate the goddess Ishtar. The first human generation tried repeatedly "to express its adoration [of the gods], but because of the [differing] speech of its members, they failed to understand each other when they were together, nor did they feel affection for one another, and so the Creators did nothing for them." This tells us that then there was no linguistic homogeneity nor the kind of social organization characteristic of Quiché-Maya culture. Because he was ignorant of how to honor his Creator, man was condemned to live in caves and hollows like the animals and Deity did nothing for him, abandoning him to his own fate.

The life of primeval man could not have been sketched more vividly, nor the ethnical features of the country during its first cultural stage, corresponding to the hunter-gatherer cycle. At that time the horde lived in caves and ravines, where it also left its dead. Its means of life were very precarious; man covered himself with leaves or went naked. He had rudimentary religious principles; although he recognized the existence of a supreme Creator, he gave it no worship at all; that is, there was no ceremony, and therefore "the gods did nothing for them." The men of this epoch were likened to animals because of their way of living and thinking. In modern terminology, such a comparison corresponds to the state of savagery, a classification that is evidenced in another way by this Quiché source which equates the Third Age with the period of barbarism, the era of culture being initiated only with the Fourth Age. This way of looking at uncultured man as an animal is not exclusive to the native American mind inasmuch as the first creatures of Phoenician cosmogony were compared to "animals without understanding," according to references from Sanchuniathon and Philo, given by J. Imbelloni.

The veracity of the Popol Vuh is confirmed by ethnography, linguistics, archaeology, and the comparative study of native American sources. With respect to the latter, we find a notable description of primeval man — agreeing with the Quiché version — in the account of Guaman Poma (El Primer Nueva Corónica y buen Gobierno, by Felipe Guaman Poma de Avala, Paris, 1936). Guaman Poma says that during the First Age, called Pakarimok Runa, the equivalent of the First Age of the Quiché codex, men lived in caves and among the rocks, and fought against the wild beasts. They didn't know how to make anything, especially houses and clothing, covering themselves with leaves from trees and grass matting. Their whole occupation was to worship God: in loud voices they said, "How long will I cry and you not hear me, how long will I speak and you not answer me!" With these words they invoked the Creator, but they had no idols, temples, or sepulchers. They had some sense of the knowledge of the Creator and Maker of heaven, earth, and all that is in it. Their worship consisted solely in the exclamation, "runa camac, pacha rurac" (Creator of man, Maker of the world) and, says Guaman Poma, "it is one of the greatest things, even though they did not know the other laws and commandments of God." They wandered like persons lost in unknown terrain. These people, known as uariuiracocharuna (autochthones, first people: uari connotes also the idea of native to, primeval, ancient, savage animal — Toribio Mejía Xesspe, Las primeras edades del Perú, por Guaman Poma, Empresa Gráfica T. Scheuch, S.A., Lima, 1939; compare this with the identical conception of the Quiché) lost their hope and faith in Deity and so they were lost also, much as in the Quiché story Divinity abandoned the first people. These peoples were ignorant of their origins. They worshiped neither the sun, moon, stars, nor demons, in temples. They lacked rites or ceremonies (they didn't know how to worship Divinity, says the Popol Vuh). Nevertheless, "they were living without strife or feud and without evildoing. They had places set aside for calling to the Deity and those they kept clean. Kneeling, they lifted high their hands and looked toward the sky, asking for health and crying out, 'Where is our Father!' They buried their dead without any idolatry or ceremony."

From the collation of both native sources we can form a judgment about the way of life and spiritual and moral condition of the primeval inhabitants of the continent: those of the First Age in the classifications of the Popol Vuh and the Nueva Corónica. Quiché-Maya civilization starts from this horizon, which contains in seed the institutions that gradually evolved forth through the succeeding Ages of their history. According to the testimony of these two sources (the Popol Vuh saying that the first creatures tried to give expression to their worship of the Creator), monotheism characterized the oldest cultural cycle, since primeval man recognized a "Creator of man and Maker of the world" which he worshiped on bended knee, looking toward the sky, a posture and belief that has not varied to this day. This contradicts those such as Lévy-Bruhl who believe that the idea of a single and universal God is at variance with the primitive mentality. But the primeval religion lacked rites and ceremonies; favors were asked of the Deity but there was no knowledge of how to worship or pay homage to it. Neither idols, temples, nor sepulchers existed. On the other hand, a place was expressly set aside for entreating the Creator, and this was always kept clean. Such places in the open air formed the initial phase of the patio or plaza, inseparable from the temple, where the multitudes came together to pray for divine favors. And that custom has not changed to this day, continuing through the epoch of the Old Empire, it being worth noting that a meticulous cleansing of the patio is still a requirement of worship — as during the First Age — inasmuch as the plaza where the people make their petitions must be "clean like the pathway of the sun." The first people also had no ceremony for the death of their relatives, which tells us that they then lacked animist ideas; but they were of a peace-loving and good disposition, basic qualities of the Maya of today.

Survivals of that archaic form of culture still persist on this continent and, as might be expected, are found in areas of refuge where they were preserved by farming peoples. Populations which retain a high degree of "First-Age" characteristics, as described by the native sources, live in Baja California as well as on the islands of Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost extreme. Both populations display notable similarities, and in terms of nature and physique appear to be the oldest and most primitive people of the hemisphere. Baja California is or was peopled by the Yumas, Guaícuris, and Pericu; and the Seri — now confined to an island in the Sea of Cortez. All of them belong to the primitive hunter cycle and, excepting the Yumas, are dolichocephalic. They have a very primitive type of physique, like the Tierra del Fuego Indians of the extreme south and the Botocudos of Brazil. Like their remote ancestors, the Fuego Indians, whom W. Krickeberg regards as direct descendants of the oldest immigrants (W. Krickeberg, Etnología de América, Mexico, 1946, Spanish-language edition), preserve a religion based on the purest monotheism and have almost no ritual acts. They have neither tribal organization nor institution of chiefs, living in nomadic hordes of two or three families, small consanguinal patrilineal groups. They produce neither pottery nor weaving and live by hunting and fishing, feeding on mollusks, fish, birds, and seals. A piece of sealskin covers the shoulders of the men and serves as an apron for the women (A. D'Orbigny, L'Homme Américain, Paris, 1839). They do not know the fire drill, employing instead two stones and tinder, a very primitive method still used by the Chortí, particularly in connection with the interment of the dead. In the south of Patagonia in former times caves were used for habitations as well as for burials, as W. Krickeberg notes; and the same author indicates that estimates based on archaeological remains and island middens show that the Fuegians have lived in that region for at least two thousand years, their culture undergoing very little modification during that time. These data tend to confirm the cultural stability as well as the great ethnological age of those people.

Stratigraphy verifies the presence of this primeval culture as the oldest of which we have knowledge, and shows its coexistence in different parts of the hemisphere with a rudimentary stone tool kit (excepting the Folsom points). This tool kit is sometimes associated with bones belonging to a human type similar to the contemporary Fuegian, as well as with extinct fauna. Such finds give a picture of the life of the first immigrants that corresponds to the one left us by Guaman Poma, depicting for us man's struggle with the wilderness when he first trod American soil — a description that we find in another form in the Popol Vuh and the Mexican sources which tell us of the struggle against the "giants."

Those peoples were ignorant of their origin, says the Nueva Corónica, a fact that implies the passage of considerable time between their arrival in the hemisphere and their slow migration toward the south. But while this exodus of predominantly dolichocephalic peoples was taking place, another human wave of distinct racial character but similar cultural conditions made its appearance. Of this we have a record in the present Maya population itself, particularly that which still lives in the area where the native American culture was gestating, and which, according to anthropometric statistics, demonstrates beyond dispute the coexistence of two different physical types. It is logical to think that these two groups, coming from distinct ethnogenetic homelands, spoke different languages and had distinct manners of thinking. The Popol Vuh alludes to such a heterogeneity of the primeval population occupying the slopes of the Pacific during the First Age when it tells us of creatures who "because of their speech were unable to understand each other on meeting" and because of their different ways of thinking felt foreign to each other and "felt no kinship."

The course of mixing and of spiritual sharing that would culminate in the formation of a historic race that later would be characterized by great mental homogeneity and stability of language and customs, must have continued for a long time. That process of gestation of Maya culture extends across the three periods of Quiché prehistory preceding the present or historic era.

But we have not yet concluded the exegesis of the First Age because the sequel to the formation of the primeval and imperfect man is his destruction or transformation into an animal, as punishment for his inability to invoke the Creator. In the same way the succeeding creations will be destroyed, their human creatures becoming animals of a superior zoologic type, there being registered in this way a progressive ascent in cultural evolution. The degree of genetic affinity between human being and animal is also established, explaining present beliefs that in former times the beasts could speak. The perfect man, the True Man, will not appear until the human line will have succeeded in so developing itself as to acquire the Maya form of culture. On the other hand, the order by which man is the final product of creation follows the logical sequence the world itself obeys in its formation, with the successive appearance of heaven, earth, its vegetation, animals, and finally man, as found in the Chaldean cosmogony.

Divinity ordains "the flesh of the animals to be sacrificed and eaten, and therefore they were trapped and eaten by the civilized people." This is an express mandate of the Creator by which civilized man is authorized to kill, hunt by trapping, sacrifice, and eat the meat of animals. We find in this divine law the origin of the institution of animal sacrifice, established by Divinity itself. This is borne out in another part of the Quiché codex wherein human sacrifices are regarded as pertaining to a barbaric people and their epoch, and not sanctioned by divine laws promulgated for "civilized" peoples, who can only sacrifice animals. In observance of this command of the Creator, the Quichés and Mayas sacrificed only animals so long as they preserved their orthodox ceremonies. The Chortís who never trespassed this custom continue to sacrifice animals to this day for the benefit of the community itself, as well as an offering to the gods. The explicit limitation allowing animal sacrifice only for those ends reveals moreover the principle of a protective law for fauna which the Chortís continue to observe. Such a law was imposed because of economic necessities, inasmuch as man passed from nomadism to fixed habitations and had then to take care not to heedlessly destroy his hunting reserves.


Faced with the failure of the first creation, the gods try to form new beings capable of paying them homage, "constructing them of damp mud," as in the ancient Hebrew conception. But having done so they realized that their creatures lacked consistency, falling apart if they became wet. They had no form and resembled "a pile of mud having only a neck ("The neck was their only face" — A. Recinos translation), no head, a very wide mouth, and eyes looking only to each side. They could speak but had no feelings (they lacked understanding, according to the A. Recinos version). Then Ajtzak and Ajbit told them: 'You will exist only until the new beings appear. Struggle to procreate and multiply yourselves.' " Later they destroyed their handiwork, and tried to devise a way to construct more durable creatures who would be able to see, understand, and invoke their creators.

The Chilam Balam of Chumayel relates the failure of this creation in similar terms, saying that "on Thirteen Akbal, it came to pass that God took water and moistened earth and constructed the body of man. On One Kan he became dispirited because of the poor thing he had created. On Two Chicchan, the poor results became known to the people."

This period shows some slight progress over the former, since now men "knew how to speak, but still lacked understanding"; i.e., they lacked the Maya mentality, and because of that the gods destroyed their second creation. Such an idea is perfectly explainable in terms of Maya thought because, besides the reference that the men of the second creation lacked understanding, they disintegrated when in contact with water, a feature clearly expressing the antithesis between Second Age and Maya culture.

The Chortí is bathed by this divine element with which he is consecrated at both birth and death. The temple for agrarian worship is kept in a state of continuous dampness, and its elders have to sprinkle themselves with water during specific ceremonies designed to magically attract the winter, thereby following the procedures laid down by the gods. Rain is as indispensable for the crops as water is for human life.

This allegory expresses the opposition between the way of life of the hunter-gatherer and that of the agrarian cycle. While tropical rains limit activities of hunting and gathering, they are vital for the work of agriculture. During the first cycles of Maya prehistory, the search for the means of subsistence was carried on during the better conditions of the dry season, while for the Mayas cultivation of the milpa is "the proper work," during which the Indian exposes himself to get wet. Therefore he must be "resistant to water," a quality that men of the Second Age lacked.

And those characteristics of the respective cultural cycles are projected in the gods representative of the Second and Fourth Ages, since rain is beneficial for the god of Maize but troublesome for Kisin, the malignant being of Maya mythology (Tozzer) into which the god of the prehistoric epoch is converted, as will be explained.

Nevertheless, the Second Age marks a stage of cultural progress in regard to linguistics, since people "are able to speak." That is, they can make themselves understood, something they were unable to do in the earlier epoch. On the other hand, they were made of mud, misshapen, and lacking in definite form, this being the salient mark of the second creation.

The specific function of the Creator of the men of mud is found in the proper name of the deity: Aj bit, literally "that which makes things of mud," which for the first time appears in the theogonic list. (Aj bit and Aj tzak correspond to the singular of Bitol and Tzakol, the "builder" gods.) Both Maya and Quiché sources agree upon the production of those unformed creatures modeled of damp earth during the prehistoric epoch. It is interesting to note that during the Second Age of Peruvian mythology, named Wari runa by Guaman Poma, Viracocha, the Creator god, is called allpa manta rurak, or "that which works or makes with mud," according to the translation of T. Mejía Xesspe, a name and function equivalent to the Ajbit and Ajtzak of the Quiché codex. This concordance among the sources from the three high American cultures (Maya, Quiché or Toltec, and Andean) speaks to us of their common genesis and brings out, by general agreement, a reality of American ethnology: the beginning of the pottery industry. The artistic poverty of the first ceramics is seen in the description of those grotesque beings who disintegrated in water because lacking in firmness of material substance.

One of the characteristics of native mythology consists in projecting in divine figures certain activities proper to humanity. In this case we have in Ajbit the archetype of the incompetent and uncouth potter who can produce nothing better than counterfeit and impermanent beings.

But the gods, like men, perfect their knowledge, and during the Maya era the "Builder" god — the equivalent of San Manuel of Chortí mythology — models in its image and semblance exquisite stone and wooden statues, laying down the standards for Mayan artists, as can be seen on page 45 of the Tro-Cortes Codex.

Nevertheless, the material with which human creatures are made is always that which typifies the salient mark of their cultural cycle: mud during the Second Age, wood in the Third, and maize in the Fourth and latest cycle.

It should be noted that the Fuegians — who by their culture belong to the First Age — do not know the potter's art, a fact that confirms their extreme racial antiquity. Another sign of the progress that is made during the Second Age is seen in the divine decree by which its humanity must struggle in order to procreate and multiply, since that is the Divine will. Thus the Peruvian Nueva Corónica tells us that "since the Second Age people multiplied . . . and began to care for and respect their fathers and mothers and lords, and to obey them, . . ." — all this shows a progression in family and social relations. As these appear in company with advances in language and material culture, we can infer that during this period the nomadic peoples reaching the rich areas in which Maya culture was coming to birth felt a continually greater tendency to stabilize, which produced in turn some degree of demographic increase — attested to by our sources — in contrast with what happened in the first cycle. Those conditions imply a slow transformation of the economic regime in which human subsistence depended as much, if not more, upon collection of roots and wild fruits as it did upon hunting and fishing. This paved the way for the arrival of the Third Age, corresponding to the matriarchal-horticultural cycle. Meanwhile the struggle for existence was still difficult. " 'You will struggle to procreate and you will multiply,' said the gods, thereby ensuring that their will would prevail."

Guaman Poma's account completes the description in the Popol Vuh by saying that in the Second Age human beings dressed just as they did in the earlier epoch, "had no occupation or craft, no benefits, or war, or houses." Nevertheless, they began to till the virgin soil and construct little shelters called pukullo, which looked like large ovens. They had neither idols nor temples, and did not know the art of weaving. The Mexican sources in addition take special pains to tell us of the vegetarian fare of the Second Age, consisting of the "fruits of the earth" according to the anonymous manuscript commented upon by Paso and Troncoso; of wild fruits, says the Vatican A Codex (this source mentions "a certain kind of wild maize, which was called atzitziutli, known from the First Age."). The Franciscan Codex names pine nuts and an herb called centencupi, according to the Thévet-de Jonge manuscript ("Hystoire du Mechique,"Journal de la Soc. des Américanistes, Paris, Vol. 2, 1905). This grass is described as "a seed like maize, which they call cintrococopi," a reference of capital importance since it refers to wild maize discovered during the second cycle of Quiché-Maya prehistory, an event that later was to be the principal support of their civilization.


Immediately following the destruction of the second creation, the divine quorum came together anew to consult and discuss how to form beings superior to those of the second, beings "who should see, understand, and invoke us." The celestial council resolved that the four cosmic deities should be responsible for setting "a new day of manifestation and creation," because events of such transcendence should be put into effect at the moment of a new Dawn, Day, or Sun, terms equivalent to a new Era or Age. This meaning of a New Day as a period of time is confirmed in the terminology used in Mexican and Mayan traditions to mark those historical epochs, regarded as Suns in the former and determined by dates of the katún count in the latter.

From within the cosmic tetrarchy — which now includes a Coyote- and an Opossum-god — is selected one "who is the grandmother of the sun, the grandmother of light," the choice going to Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané. So for the first time on the theogonic stage there appears a feminine deity (Ixmucané), the personification of the old Lunar-earth goddess, who will thenceforth become the center of attention inasmuch as Ixpiyacoc — a masculine deity — plays an essentially passive role. Under the regency of Ixmucané is begun the matriarchal-horticultural stage, whose unmistakable characteristics are described in the traditions of the Third Age as well as in the account of the life of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, grandchildren of Ixmucané. This cycle corresponds to the Sun of Water of Mexican mythology, the epoch governed by Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of the Moon and of Water, which ends in a watery catastrophe. Ixcanleos, the mother of the gods, is in Mayan mythology the functional replica of the Quichés' Ixmucané, and the etymological affinity between the two names should be noted.

For the first time the Popol Vuh mentions the election of a Regent, which despite the tardiness in naming her, explains the position of Ixmucané in the series of regents. This event accompanied the creation of cosmic bearers, also during the Third Age, as will be explained further on.

After selecting the Regent, the central deity — integrated by the three suns of the line of the parallel — "says to those of the sun, to those who make the sun appear and disappear [an allusion to the gods of the cosmic points or the four heliacal gateways], that they should come together again and determine what kind of beings would be created and formed and which they would sustain so that these beings should adore them as being their superiors." The constant preoccupation of the gods was to form beings who would know how to venerate them, recognize them as superior, feed them and give them the necessary offerings. The recurrent failures of the previous creations show how difficult and time-consuming was the introduction of correct ritual into religious practice, and at the same time explains the origin of the agrarian religion, based upon the principle that man is an eternal debtor of the gods and should sustain them if he wishes to enjoy divine protection. As in all ancient religions, before the appearance of the doctrines of humanism, man is counseled to recognize his dependence on the Creator; in exchange for this he has the right to demand the Creator's protection, since the obligations are reciprocal.

Then the Quiché manuscript enumerates a series of twelve divine names, specifying that "thus they were named by our Creator." Here is outlined for the first time the individuality of the god-Thirteen, formed of the solar deity in its zenithal position and its twelve stellar companions which, in the conception of the Chortí elder as of the Popol Vuh, were "named" (created) by the great Agrarian god. For that reason he too must "name" them during the rites established for the Tzolkín. Those twelve gods are mere hypostases of the great god of Heaven (Girard, Los Chortís, "The Tzolkín" and "Theogony") and so partake of its qualities; and this is clear in the listing in the Quiché epic since all the names given correspond to distinct functions of the Creator, such as: the wild Boar (this is how it also appears in the Mayan codices), the Lord of the emerald, the resplendent Lord, Lord of the penetrating rays, of the extension of the firmament, of the luminous face, the Maker, etc. This union of the thirteen gods in one could not be more eloquently expressed than it is in the paragraph of the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel wherein is mentioned Oxlahun-oc, "Lord of the thirteen feet," measured by Deity the Verbum at the request of the Mistress of the World (the Lunar goddess).

In both these sources the lunar deity appears in close connection with the stellar gods, and this association — which accords with astronomical reality — is confirmed in Chortí theology, which regards the moon as the "Captain of Heaven" and the stars as its subordinates. The moon, functioning as the Water goddess, and the latter as rain gods, "work" in unison and in most perfect harmony, pouring down the celestial waters for the benefit of mankind. But such religious conceptions can only evolve parallel with the evolution of horticulture, when the rains become indispensable to the success of the plantings. From this it follows that the first astronomical observations among the Mayas grew out of economic necessities, during the matriarchal-horticultural cycle. The superior importance of the goddess of the Moon and of Water, projects on the theogonic plane the privileged social position of woman, linked with the apogee of horticulture. On the other hand, the importance attributed to the worship of the Lunar goddess reflects the existence of a system of time computation based on the revolutions of the moon, a fact confirmed by the Chilam Balam of Chumayel in the following terms:

This is authentic testimony to the existence of the lunar before the solar calendar, explained in terms of family succession, since a mother precedes her son. The relationship according to the female line, mentioned above, also points to the existence of a matrilineal state contemporaneous with the computation of time by lunations.

And with the first astronomical observations were born magic and the astrological sciences, facts that are stated in the Popol Vuh which tell of gods practicing divination with grains of corn and red tz'ité seeds for the first time during the preparations being made for the Third Creation. Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané are the progenitors of "divination with the seeds," and correspond to Oxomoco and Cipactonal of Mexican mythology who appear as the inventors of the calendar. The etymological relation between Ixmucané and Oxomoco should be noted. As said, the feminine deity assumes the principal role, since Ixpiyacoc does not act during the Third Age and is only mentioned as the companion of Ixmucané who takes the full initiative. On the other hand, the role of the young god (Hunahpú), grandchild of Ixmucané, becomes more pronounced and foreshadows his apotheosis at the end of the Third Age. This agrees with the order of succession set out by the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. The tz'ité or fruit of the palo de pito (Erythrina corallodendron L., native in Guatemala) has a form similar to a bean seed, but its color is red.

Following the tradition established by the gods of the Third Age, the Quichés still use grains of maize and seeds of the palo de pito in their divination practices, calling these seeds beans (frijoles) or tz'ité. This intimate association of beans and corn stands out better in Chortí theogony, where both plants, deified, form an inseparable pair in the native pantheon and milpa (planting field), corn in the role of masculine and bean in that of feminine companion deity. Such functions demonstrate the relation of each plant to the respective age it characterizes. Thus, while the Maize god is the theogonic exponent of the Fourth Age, i.e., of the patriarchal-agrarian age which begins with the formation of human beings from maize, the Bean goddess represents the Third Age or the matriarchal-horticultural cycle which commenced with human creation based on the palo de pito or bean. Despite the immense antiquity of wild maize, which was already known during the Second Age, the bean was apparently more easily domesticated and had reached its full development before maize, so that it can be seen as the basic food of the Third Age. According to the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, people then fed upon three classes of beans and ate tender branches of yaxum, ground tubers and white beans, calabash seeds, and small and large beans, all well crushed. It is most important to show that during the matriarchal-horticultural period, when according to the Chilam Balam of Chumayel "sons had no fathers and mothers no husbands," beans and tuberous roots formed the basic food of the Maya-Quiché. The great antiquity of the bean is seen by the fact that the ordinary type (Phaseolus vulgaris), native to Guatemala, offers features showing that it was domesticated since the most remote times. That class of bean was diffused from Guatemala to South America, and its area of distribution, embracing a considerable geographic extension, is another proof of its great antiquity as a domesticated plant. Such diffusion implies concurrent migratory dispersions, a fact confirmed by the series of cultural features associated with bean cultivation in the southern Americas, which in the Quiché classification took place during the Third Age.

A phenomenon of linguistics reinforces the above postulate. Elsewhere we have drawn attention to the fact that in languages emanated from the same linguistic subsoil the word for bean (frijol) either passed from a particular to a general meaning or suffered a displacement in meaning by becoming the word for another plant or food (Girard, Los Chortís, chapter 4). Such changes lead us from the ethnologically oldest languages to those representing a more advanced state of culture. The word meaning bean in the former becomes in the latter the designation of the milpa or of maize. We have singled out some cases, such as the Pacific Maya language group, which most fully preserves the archaic word forms, wherein the word signifying bean has in the Chortí language come to mean milpa. Likewise the root at, et, which in Talamanca means bean, is the name for the tortilla in Zapotec, Lenca, and Otomí, and synonymous with the number one (et, at) as indicating the principal food. So we see that when maize became the most important food, displacing the bean, it also took over the name and number that formerly identified the bean. When maize gained the principal importance as food, its name became identified with the "one," because it was the food of the chief, the "number one" in the household and the person who ate first.

There is even more to this, because if we extend the comparison to the South American language groups, we find that the words frijol, mandioca, maíz, chile, patata, or the names of products made from these food plants, usually proceed from equivalent roots in one or another of them. In order to avoid citing too many examples, we simply observe that the root im < am or ma, the metathesis of am, which is found in the word maíz in Central American languages, changes in meaning in languages to the south, where it chiefly designates mandioca (manioc or cassava). See Appendix A for an extensive comparative listing of such words.

Many pages would be required to present an exhaustive comparison of words designating food plants among the languages stemming from this common linguistic subsoil, and this is not our intention. We wish only to cite from among them all some examples of displacement in meaning undergone by the same root. This development can be explained by imagining that there was one original word that came to indicate the food plant and that it was applied by each people to their own particular varieties, in some cases maize, in others the bean or manioc, as they came to know these plants and adopt them as the basis of their alimentation.

As said in the Popol Vuh, there arose the new humanity formed like "puppets of wood resembling human beings, human beings who spoke," and modeled by Ajtzak and Ajbit similarly to the earlier Second Age humanity, with the difference that this time wood of the pito (tz'ité, or bean) was employed instead of wet mud. This change in material implies an evolution in creative technique and at the same time notes the progress made in the epoch. In the theogonic order the Third Age, which because of that essential feature can well be called the age of wood and beans, reflects a real advance in human technology in the matriarchal-horticultural period. And this is once more confirmed by comparative ethnology because the cultural horizon corresponding to the Third Age shows us peoples who are principally wood-using, such as the Taoajkas of the Mosquito Coast whose society is purely matriarchal and whose economy is based on horticulture, hunting, and fishing. Their work implements are mainly of wood, an industry in which the Taoajkas excel.

Mayan culture has its roots deeply submerged in a prehistoric past, and it preserves features that derive from the most primeval levels of its development. As that culture evolved, the elements which went to make it up continuously increased in number. The first notions of agriculture, of the calendar, of magic, of worship, and of wood carving — which culminated in the sophisticated artistic lintels of Tikal — stem from the oldest phase of its prehistory.

The creatures of the Third Age mated among themselves and produced offspring, but they had no hearts or feelings, and were unaware that they were sons of the Creator. They wandered about like strangers and without purpose, according to the Popol Vuh. Since they were unable to know and understand the Heart of Heaven, they fell into misfortune. They could speak, but their faces were stiff and only had a mouth for eating. They had no feet or hands and so could not defend themselves, no blood, and no extremities. Thus they only resembled but were not true human beings. This picturesque description vividly portrays the condition of things in that age, in which the population of the earth increased as a result of the stable and growing sources of subsistence, human language was evolved, and certain aspects of human culture were developed. That an abundance of food was a characteristic of this Third Age is also noted by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala in his Andean account: in those times people "multiplied like the sands of the sea and overran the land." This explains the migrations which took place in that age as well as the extensive geographical diffusion of human cultural features that occurred. Social evolution continued at the same rate as material and intellectual development. The "mating, cohabiting, and producing offspring" tells us of a change in the social and family regime as well as of the appearance of exogamic clans. Every demographic increment brings with it a complication of the structure of society, a fact recorded in Quiché tradition. But despite this progress, the beings of the Third Age still lacked the mental and religious character typical of Maya culture. "They had neither hearts nor feelings." This indicates how long and difficult was the process of the formation of the Indian's psychological nature, developed through three racial periods, and at the same time explains the profound stability of the Maya mentality. It also sets forth the fact that it was not racial but cultural factors that shaped the native mentality.

As in the previous age, the description of the anatomy of the beings of wood reflects the art of the time. The fact is emphasized that the wooden puppets lacked members, had neither feet nor hands, and their fingers did not protrude from their bodies. We find these very features in the archaic statuary; the carving of the extremities was the most difficult part for the artisan of the protohistoric era (Girard, Los Chortís, chapter on archaeology). Of course sculpture in stone followed that in wood, but the statuary found in the most ancient archaeological horizon reproduces those features described in the Popol Vuh, which suggests that the process of artistic development took place over a considerable period of time. When the Mayas first began to cut statues in stone, they had already had a long artistic tradition of working in wood, continued in the statuary of the archaic period. The lack of human extremities also speaks to us metaphorically of the lack of moral as well as of physical strength, such as humanity has today, and which would be obtained only in the great age to follow. It was in that later age that appeared Hunahpú, the civilizing hero of "strong arms," according to the Chortí Drama of the Giants. And this weakness of the men of the Third Age was natural, since they "had no blood"; that is, they had not been formed of maize, which is the blood, the divine substance. This allegory also expresses the essentially inferior legal position of men to women in the Third Age.

The gods resolved to destroy the beings of the third creation because of their imperfections, "condemning them to disappear by dying." For the first time the word death appears in the Quiché codex, and the same thing is seen in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, which mentions the "invention" of death on a date later than that of the second creation, since "On Three Cimi, there occurred the invention of death. It happened that Deity Our Father invented the first death" (Girard, Los Chortís).

Such a tardy reference to death doubtless indicates a religious innovation involving veneration of the dead, a thing unknown during previous ages and in consequence an evolution of thought in the direction of beliefs of an animistic type.

An inundation, a great flood, came to wipe out the beings of the third creation. There fell torrents of resin from the heavens (a probable allusion to a volcanic cataclysm, a frequent occurrence in the original territory of Maya culture). Finally strong winds from the sea concluded the destruction of the wooden beings, whose eyes were torn out, heads lopped off, their flesh and bowels devoured and nerves and bones eaten by the agents of the god of Death, who is also now on the stage as a result of the creation of death. All this the Popol Vuh offers to us in an apocalyptic picture, which also explains the existence in that era of a funeral ritual whose purpose was to liberate the dead from such terrible adversaries. Even the animals and household implements are shown in the Popol Vuh as helping to destroy the "men of wood," contributing to the heavenly punishment. The earthen jars, and pans, bowls, pots, dogs, and chickens reproach their masters for the mistreatment they gave them or the misuse made of them. Besides showing us the existence of domesticated animals in that age, this episode contains a profound moral meaning and recounts the beginning of the custom whereby the Indian uses domestic implements with moderation, and treats his animals with respect.

It is interesting to note that the account of the revolt of household implements that is given in the Popol Vuh, also forms part of the traditions of the Chiriguanos of the Tupi-Guarani family (located in the Gran Chaco region of South America), according to information sent the author by Dr. Alfred Métraux. An account of this nature, which can be explained neither by transcultural influences from the Quiché or the Maya nor by spontaneous invention in two distinct cultural areas, seems to indicate that at one moment in their history the Chiriguanos and the Quiché-Maya shared a common culture.

In this manner the people were destroyed, thus was their end, and according to tradition there was left as a sign of their existence only the monkeys which live now in the woods and fields. In them persists the appearance of those who were made of wood. For that reason the simians are the beings most like man.

With this epitaph concludes the account in the Popol Vuh of the Third Creation, with a curious doctrine that reverses the order of the ancestry of man and of simian from the one found in Darwin and Haeckel.

But that is not all, since the events taking place during the prehistoric ages are again spoken of in a different manner and with greater detail in the part of the Popol Vuh that describes the life and miracles of the hero-gods, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, the part that constitutes the center of interest of the Quiché codex. This repetition of the same theme in a different form recalls to mind the system of double reconciliation or adjustment found in Maya-Quiché chronology, which, projected in the literary structure of the manuscript, contributes an informative supplement of the highest importance, as we shall see in the following section.

Chapter 5