Esotericism of the Popol Vuh by Raphael Girard

Theosophical University Press Online Edition

Chapter 6

The Biography and Genealogical Tree of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué

THE LIFE AND TRIALS OF THEIR PARENTS, THE SEVEN AHPÚ

The information in the Popol Vuh about Quiché theogony does not differ from what we learn from Mayan sources of Yucatán or the present-day practices of the Chortís. The Quiché codex states that the parents of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué are the seven Ahpú, i.e., god-Seven, which is Heart of Heaven itself. But here for the first time is given the number of the divine hypostases, with numbers instead of names, thereby comparing the seven Ahpú with Uuc-cheknal, the god-Seven of Maya mythology, which according to the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel came from the seventh plane or stratum of heaven and descended to the earth. In the same way, the seven Ahpú descend to earth, where they become human beings and, after undergoing a number of trials, die at the hands of the Camé.

This variant of the divine name expresses a specific function of the god of the Firmament, who descends to earth to fecundate it with his blood and later, in the underworld, is transformed into the young Maize deity, thereafter assuming another aspect and another name, as we shall see.

The seven Ahpú were produced by Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané, the name the Popol Vuh gives here to the supreme pair, the great Father and great Mother of Quiché-Maya humanity. As the Supreme Being, Ixpiyacoc has no life history: the Ahpú, who become human, are its hypostases; and it is the life and miracles of the Ahpú that are narrated, for they exemplify Mayan cultural standards. Ixpiyacoc is the equivalent of Hunab ku, the Supreme Being of Mayan traditions, of which Fray Diego López de Cogolludo said that "it had no form and could not be configurated because incorporeal, and from it proceeded all things." Hunab ku had a son who was known as Hun Ytzamná or Yaxco Cah Mut (other appellations of god-Seven). — (Historia de Yucatán, Madrid, 1688.)

A kind of foggy cloud enwrapped the seven Ahpú, says the Quiché text, making allusion to the epoch of barbarism or of semi-obscurity, which the Chortís represent by the veils that cover the faces of the actors playing the roles of the sun and moon. The same idea is repeated when it is said that the seven Ahpú "were born during the night," i.e., when neither the sun nor moon nor Maya culture had yet been produced. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel also tells us that when Uuc-cheknal descended, "the earth had not become lit, there being no sun or moon." — (Girard, Los Chortís.)

Although the seven Ahpú are the parents (or parent) of the civilizing heroes Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, one only of the seven has two sons, Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén, cousins or brothers of the former. The native word-list makes no distinction between those terms of kinship, whose origin, as well as the origin of the macrofamily that those terms imply, goes back to this remote epoch. This is confirmed later on in the story when the cousins treat each other as brothers.

Because of their divine nature, Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén were great sages: all the arts were passed on to them as an inheritance by one of the seven Ahpú; they were singers, orators, jewelers, writers, engravers, and sculptors of stone. Here are mentioned for the first time those cultural features that appeared only very late in Maya prehistory, such as the invention of the ball game, a favorite pastime of the Ahpú "who every day dressed up to play ball, competing two against two and even four against four when they came together on the ball field."

ORIGIN AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BALL GAME

The Popol Vuh is the only American source to speak of the origin of the ball game and place it in time. Not only does it tell us of the game's ethnological antiquity, it also explains its symbolism. It in fact establishes a parallel between the ball players and the solar gods, which from the angles of the universe to employ the phraseology of the Chumayel manuscript meet in the center, in this case in the ball court, where they can convert themselves into two and even four persons with no loss of their theogonic individuality, at once a unity and a multiplicity. During the ball game they wear their resplendent ceremonial gear that is, they exhibit their insignia as solar deities. Two by two they come from the eastern and western sectors of the cosmos and, meeting in the center, forge themselves into the individuality of Heart of Heaven. This fusion of a number of forms under "one single head," as the Chortís say, is expressed in the principal rule of the game which is that the players can touch the ball only with their body but never with their heads, feet, or arms; each time this happens a point is given the other team. The continual contact of two or four bodies with a single ball makes clear the monotheistic principle whereby the deity integrates itself through the union of its hypostases. This idea is objectified in the group of ball players unable to use their heads or extremities since the ball the symbol of the Star or Sun god is alternatively the head of each. This figure of a single-headed god having many bodies is characteristic of Maya thought. We need only to remember Oxlahun-oc ("it of the thirteen feet"), who is mentioned in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel. The motion of the ball imitates the trajectory of the sun, a figure that the Chortí actors also reproduce in their dramatization of this part of the Popol Vuh. Besides this, the Quiché codex represents the descent of god-Seven from the Center of Heaven to the center of the earth by the solar bird which, coming down from on high, "came to see them play." As said, in Chortí religious allegory the bird of prey, which is the mask, nahual, or messenger of the deity of Heaven, descends vertically to the center of the earth like the sun's rays when the daystar goes through the zenith, symbolizing the descent of divine grace.

The seven Ahpú were taking the road to Xibalbá (the underworld — an allusion to the setting of the sun) when their coming was felt by Hun Camé and Vukup Camé, Lords of the subterrene regions, who, disturbed by the noise the Ahpú made, challenged them to play a ball game on the Camés' court in their kingdom. We have here a contest between opposing forces, since those of Xibalbá cannot tolerate that " 'anyone greater than they, or any having greater power, should exist,' they all said unanimously." From this passage it is seen that the organization of the false gods is similar to that of the true since, like the latter, the false gods compose a sevenfold entity whose components must get together and reach decisions by a unanimity. This shows an evolution of the idea of Divinity that parallels the social evolution expressed in a collective religion as a projection of the divine corporation. We are now far distant from the kind of individualism or egoity personified by the giants, as well as the pure monotheism of the First Age. But there still is no harmonious, universal order, since the celestial and terrestrial forces were antagonistic.

The Popol Vuh then lists the names of the malignant beings which inhabit the Quiché Avernus, giving their respective functions as the originators of specific diseases or as those responsible for the misfortunes that afflict humankind. Here we have the origin of native ideas whereby sicknesses are conceived as psychological and not as pathological conditions. In the Indian concept, Deity takes away its protection from those who infringe against the laws of religious morality and who from then on are subject to the influence of malign beings, whose earthly representative is the black magician (brujo). The latter busy themselves in casting spells and, like the messengers from Xibalbá, can transform themselves into owls, a bird which for the native continues to be the messenger of death. The popular saying based on this belief is well known: "When the owl sings, the Indian dies."

The owl-messengers from Xibalbá were four: Chavi Tukur, Hunrakán Tukur, Cakix Tukur, and Jolom Tukur. These come to the ball court to give the Ahpú the following message: "The Lords say you are to come, that you will play ball with them, each one to make himself known by his face, and that you should bring your playing gear, lances, gloves, and also the rubber ball." The intention of the Xibalbans was to take away from the Ahpú their accoutrements of splendor, i.e., their divine attributes.

In order to dominate them by magic, the Camé had to know the face of each of their adversaries; for the person is the name, and knowing it one gains dominance over the person. Elsewhere we have referred to this peculiarity of native thought, which explains the absence of the two verbs for to be (Spanish: ser and estar) in languages of the Maya family, since those grammatical categories are implicit in the personal pronouns.

The Ahpú hurry their preparations for the trip to the regions of the underworld; but first they go to say goodbye to their mother, "because only she was there." During this period and throughout subsequent episodes, the role of the woman is emphasized and that of the man diminished as the head of family. The personages who successively come on the scene, such as the Ahpú, Hun Bátz, Hun Chouén, Hunahpú, and Ixbalamqué, have only a mother or grandmother. Before leaving, the seven Ahpú ask Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén to continue cultivating the arts, their singing, and oratory, and to keep the fire in the house going as well as "the warmth in the heart of your grandmother."

With these simple words there is established the family veneration of the grandmother, instituting at the same time a new theogonic category, the god of the Hearth, the nahual or representative of the Ahpú. The flames of the hearth fire remain as substitute for the seven Ahpú in the same circumstances as, later on, the shoots of maize are to remain in place of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué when these descend into Xibalbá. This is an interesting datum regarding divine nahualism, and at the same time explains the reason why the god of Fire (Ahpú) is father of the god of Maize (Hunahpú), and precedes Hunahpú on the journey to the underworld. The same order of succession governs in the series of the Nine Lords of the Night, headed by the god of Fire.

The custom of keeping the hearth fire continuously lit, as well as the social forms that it implies, go back to this mythical episode. Such a custom continues to be scrupulously observed by the Indians.

It is interesting to note that in the theogonic order the god of Fire preexists the agrarian deities and that its worship, deriving from such an immense antiquity, has been preserved in Maya culture, which regards the god of Fire as an ancient god, the oldest in the pantheon.

Disregarding the injunction of the Lords of Xibalbá, the Ahpú took off their splendid gear, "tying them together to store them with the rubber ball in a space in the roof of their house." Thus they frustrated the Camé, who now would be unable to take their attributes of rank, even though they should sacrifice the Ahpú's bodies. This is a beautiful allegory of the triumph of ideas over matter. Following their touching farewell to their mother, which caused her to weep, the seven Ahpú, guided by the Tukur, undertook the journey to Xibalbá.

Descending through a rough way, they saw by a river the openings of two ravines. They had arrived at the entrance to the underworld, where the earth's surface divided from the subterranean floor. The Chortís still locate that place in the defiles of their real world, known by the name of "the hills which come together there," equivalent to the Greek Sympleiades. After having crossed the four infernal rivers without incident, the Ahpú reached an intersection of four roads, where they decided they were lost because they did not know which was the correct road. One was red, another black, the other two respectively white and yellow (the first mention of the underworld's geometry, identical with that of the other cosmic planes, as well as the first reference to the ritual colors). The glyph of Mictlantecutli, god of Death in Mexican mythology, which is as follows, [[symbol]], exhibits the arrangement of the roads of Xibalbá with their respective colors.

[[illustration]]

FIGURE 3. Stele standing at the foot of the western staircase of a temple of the ball court, Copán. Note the solar ray glyph on the wristbands, the ear ornaments, and the headdress: the "elements of splendor" referred to in the Popol Vuh and the Chortí drama.

The black road then spoke: "I am the road of the Lord." It was there that the Ahpú became lost (a word used here in a double sense, both actual and figurative), for by that road they went directly to the mat-covered residence of the great Chief of Xibalbá, where they were vanquished.

In these few lines is explained the origin of the native belief identifying the cosmic routes with animate beings that feel and speak, the Chortís not sleeping in sacred paths used ceremonially so as not to injure their spirit; the ignorance of the times about the configuration of the lower world an idea corresponding to the preamble wherein only two cosmic planes are mentioned; and, finally, the Regency of Hun Camé. The latter, signaling a new epoch, is confirmed by the double circumstance that Camé is the Ahau (Lord) who enjoys absolute dominion during the period when the struggle for control in the world takes place between the Lords of Xibalbá and the Ahpú. The former win and preserve the title of Ahau, or the gods of the Age, eclipsing all the rest, taking over the regency from Ixmucané. Another indication of this is seen in the principal feature of the "house" of Camé, which is covered with mats (popobal), a symbol of power and the distinctive mark of the Regent (Ahau, Pop, or Katún). In the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel this allegory is expressed in the following statement: "The Black Regent was carried upon his mat and seated on his throne." Camé is the equivalent of Cimi, second of the Regents in the primary series, a series that will complete itself in later episodes, as we shall see. (The color black symbolizes both barbarity as well as its authentic exponent, Hun Camé, god of Death and of the Underworld, represented in the Chortí drama by the Black Giant. This characteristic color of the underworld is employed later on in the Mayan codices to indicate the Lords of the Night.)

Coming to the end of their journey the Ahpú see wooden figures disguised as human beings and, believing themselves in the presence of the Camé, greet them. But the wooden dummies do not reply, and this provokes uncontainable laughter on the part of the Lords of Xibalbá, who are watching.

Here we have a new confirmation that these events occurred during the Age of wood, when wooden idols were constructed. Moreover, the artifice used by the Xibalbans to deceive the Ahpú points to a tactic of war employed in that epoch, consisting of dummies disguised as soldiers and placed on the field of battle to deceive the enemy. The same trick was used in Honduras only a few years ago by the Indian Ferrara.

Hun Camé and Vukup Camé immediately invite their guests to be seated (in agreement with the native protocol), but the seats are hot stones which burn the backsides of the Ahpú, causing them to jump up, which again causes much hilarity among the Camé. "They were dying of laughter like people with heart palpitations. Even the bones of the Lords of Xibalbá moved because of such laughter." This vivid description of those whose pleasure is found in causing pain, depicting a vice of the barbaric age, allows us to follow the progressive evolution of ethical conceptions in Maya culture.

On the other hand, the sketch given of the Xibalbans "moving their bones" in merriment evokes the figures of the god of Death represented as a skeleton in the Mayan codices.

Here use of stone benches as an important part of the furniture is mentioned for the first time, also the custom of offering guests a seat; and this cultural element, going back to the Second Age, is inseparable from the figure of the god of Death depicted in the Maya codices. As can be seen in the following illustration, that deity is shown seated on a rough stone, a primitive form of the stone benches or thrones that later Mayan art would perfect.

This seemingly insignificant detail is really of considerable importance if we take into account the concepts inherent in the figure of the seat, which in Maya culture is a symbol of authority.

This symbolism of the stone seat is so deeply rooted among the Chortís that although they have forgotten the art of stone cutting and use only wooden seats, they preserve in their vocabulary the words ah pah caa and , with which they respectively designate a carpenter, calling him a worker in stone, and the wood bench, which they call stone. There is even more to it: the use of stone during the Second Age seems not to have involved seats alone but was extended to the first grinding stones, judging by the etymological relation between that instrument and the word Camé. Such relation becomes more noticeable in light of the covariation of the roots employed to designate respectively the grinding stone and the god of Death. For example, in Quiché the metate is translated by caá, kaá, the radical of Camé, while the Chortís call the grinding stone cha and the god of Death cha mai. In the Villacorta edition of the Popol Vuh, Camé is translated by caá, grinding stone, and me, to break into pieces; words that perfectly render the Chortí, Hicaque, and Lenca beliefs in the existence of a gigantic grinding stone or millstone by which those condemned to hell will be ground over by the "bad enemy." This idea, contained in the name Camé, eloquently expresses the technique of crushing food grains by the metate as is done even in our day by housewives when preparing tortillas.

image: The god of Death on his stone seat

FIGURE 4. The god of Death on his stone seat (Dresden Codex).

The distant origin of the word as well as the use of the grinding stone becomes evident in all this. It also shows that all the peoples who employ a common word root to designate the metate in connection with the word for death, from the area of the Tarascos to that of the Chibchas and Caribs, at one point in their history shared in a common culture. (See what was said in chapter 1, Girard, Los Chortís, about the root caá, chá, and its variations in both geographical areas as well as in time. That list is incomplete and could be amplified by the addition of many more words such as uka, stone in Coroado, aka in Tunebo, kági in Changuena; ak in Guetar and Bribri, kaya in Jivaro, kaka in Quechua, taka in Rama, etc.)

Following the episode of the hot stones, the Xibalbans force their victims into a black cave, while they think out the way they may slowly kill the Ahpú (the characteristic of cruelty proper to a barbaric people, but foreign to Mayan ethics). The torture of the black cave is to remain in that hellish cavern that is filled with smoke from torch pine and cigars, which by order of the Camé the victims themselves must keep lit: a refinement in cruelty that converts the cave into a hot, stinking, and suffocating oven. The Popol Vuh describes the torch pines (chaj) of Xibalbá as a stick of pinewood covered with turpentine; the chips of the burning pine fell off like pieces of bone a description that corresponds in every detail to the pieces of resinous pine that from those remote times until today the Indian has used as a torch. Besides instructing us in the lighting method of that epoch, the smoke-filled cave reminds one of the vapor bath even now so popular among the Quichés. The repeated reference to cigars (four times in several lines), to the smoke they produce and the method of lighting them with the pine torch just as do today's Indians leads one to think that these references explain the invention of the cigar following discovery of tobacco and its properties. The relative antiquity of that invention is apparent in the widespread distribution of cigar smoking in prehispanic America, paralleling diffusion of the word zic (cigar) used in the Popol Vuh. The word cigar in fact originated from cigale, the name long ago given in the Antilles to the rolled-up tobacco leaf, and is connected with the root zic of Mayan languages, as for example the Jacalteca, which better preserved its primitive forms. The god of Tobacco is called Zic-Ahau among the Quichés, according to references in Sapper and Termer. On the other hand, the root zic and sic (tobacco) enters the composition of place names in the Pacific zone of Guatemala (Sicalla, for example), and this can happen only in a country where that plant was intensively cultivated.

Following the agony of the black cave, there followed that of the freezing cave, where "it was cold and an icy wind blew." Then the victims passed on to the cave of jaguars, "which roared and killed each other with their claws, both male and female." The fourth place of torment was the cave of vampire bats where "there were only bats, and these screamed, screeched, and fluttered about within the cave from which they could not escape." The fifth hell was the cave of flint knives where "there were only pointed flints over which the tortured victims were made to run rapidly."

But the Ahpú had no chance to learn about all those places of torment described by the Camé because, on emerging from the black cave, the return of the cigars and pine pitch torches intact was demanded of them. Since they had earlier been required to burn these, they could not satisfy the demand, and so were sentenced to death by the Lords of Xibalbá.

The Ahpú were then beheaded and cut into pieces. Their remains were buried in the place called Pucbal-chaj, and their heads hung on the branches of a tree. Such practices, typical of the epoch, continued among those peoples who remained fixed on that primitive cultural level.

After the heads of the seven Ahpú were hung up in the tree branches, they were transformed into gourds (fruit of the calabash tree). This amazed the Xibalbans beyond measure, and they thereupon decreed that no one should go near or touch the miraculous tree, which continued to produce gourds.

Here the Popol Vuh gives us a new discovery of Quiché-Maya culture, the gourd, whose importance can be appreciated from its still indispensable religious and domestic use. The immense importance of this utensil, at a time when pottery-making was in its infancy, is not difficult to imagine. Later, potters imitated the forms of this fruit, which because of its mystical significance and practical utility was the archetype of ceramics through all later periods of Maya history. The relation between the gourd and the skull is expressed in the common term by which they are designated (ruc Chortí), and once more we see that the origin of the word and its etymological explanation go back to the age of myth.

The genetic connection between the words for gourd and skull proceeds, moreover, from the interchangeable use of those objects as receptacles. It is probable that before the invention of ceramics and the discovery of gourds, the skullcap was employed as a drinking cup. That hypothesis is based on the practices of peoples such as the Caribs, who preserve the cultural features characteristic of the age of predominance of the Xibalbans. Miguel Acosta Saignes mentions that among Carib customs is the drinking from skullcaps of persons sacrificed as well as the quartering of living prisoners, as the Xibalbans were accustomed to do. Use of the skullcap as a cup by the principal wife of the dead man has been noted among the Caribs of Chaimas, Cumaná, Chiribichi, and Caracas, while in Palenque the chief used the cranium of quartered prisoners as a cup (M. Acosta Saignes, Los Caribes de la Costa Venezolana, Mexico, 1946).

The gloomy infernal regions so clearly described in the Popol Vuh imply the development of animist beliefs that did not exist before, and this image of the underworld which appears for the first time in the panorama of prehistory is the same as that on which Quiché-Maya conceptions of life after death are based. The Chortís dramatize the captivity of the Ahpú in the scene in which the White Giant falls prisoner to the Black Giant, and the latter brags of having "conquered seven kings" (the seven Ahpú) embodied in his adversary an eloquent demonstration of the conception of plurality within divine unity. The same is seen in the Popol Vuh where the seven Ahpú are the father of Hunahpú, just as the White Giant of the Chortí drama is the father of Gavite who personifies Hunahpú (see concluding chapter).

The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel recounts the same episodes in similar terms when it gives in serial order in "Book of the Ancient Gods" the descent of the god-Seven the equivalent of the Ahpú to earth, during a time of darkness; the reign of the second and of the third period, corresponding to the Second and Third Age of Quiché classification (Mediz Bolio, Chilam Balam). The heavenly gods weep before Chac, as Ixmucané does before the Ahpú. The immensity of the earth reddens (because of the shedding of divine blood). There were then living great spiritual sinners (the people of that period). The era of power (of the true gods) had not yet arrived. The people then believed themselves to be gods but were not, because they did not sow seeds or produce rainfall. They said they were united piece to piece [i.e., the opposite of a fully integrated entity in which the part is inseparable from the whole. A stage of imperfection from the standpoint of complete integration of all parts. Translator], but they did not say what they loved (the false gods lack power to fructify the grainfields and, although their theogonic organization is similar to that of the true gods, they were not exemplifying the Mayan virtues as were the latter). Thus their countenance was hard and under their rule great misery befell everyone. When they did seat themselves on high, the fire of the sun came to life and drew near them, burning the earth and the clothing of the kings (a cataclysm by fire as depicted in the Popol Vuh destroys that human generation, which still lacked the ritual rules of the Maya culture; moreover the earth-heaven opposition bespeaks cosmic disharmony).

Despite their elliptical and metaphorical style, the traditions set out in the Chumayel manuscript do not differ from those of the Quiché text.

Aside from the information on the forms of social and family life, economic and religious development, and new ideas about the division of labor which the Popol Vuh gives us, it is important at this point to underline two features of great historic interest.

The invention of the ball game, resulting from the discovery and use of rubber, took place in prehistoric times and in the area of incubation of Maya culture. We have authentic testimony to this in the Popol Vuh, the only native source that tells when, where, and in what circumstances this cultural element appeared, explaining its symbolism at the same time. Moreover, the word hule (rubber) belongs to the Maya language. Ule, the Chortí name for the tree and the gum from which the rubber ball was made, connotes the idea of roundness. In Maya and Tzotzil, it means play; in Tzotzil and Tzental, bol is roundness, and in Mayan it is uol. According to Pío Pérez the expression hun vol is used to count round things. The word bo and po are etymologically related to those for play, rubber, and roundness: in Tapachultec po means the moon and poo, po, which in Mixe and Quekchi mean the same, produce an association of ideas which the Chortí elders explain by saying that the moon is "the great circler of the earth." This genetic connection between the words for play, ball, rubber, and round expresses the association of ideas that went into the formation of the word when the ball game was invented.

image: The ball court, Cop??
FIGURE 5. The ball court, Copán, expressing the symbolism of the seven Ahpú, the inventors of the game.

Nowhere is the symbolism of the seven Ahpú so well represented as in the monumental ball court at Copán, where fixed into the side walls above the sloping platforms we find six stone carvings of the macaw, aligned three on the east and three on the west side of the court, in accordance with the astronomical positions of the respective hypostases of god-Seven.

image: One of the macaws of the ball game
FIGURE 6. One of the macaws of the ball game. The ball court, Copán.

The line of the parallel, i.e., of the passage of the daystar through the zenith, crosses the center of the court from east to west, symbolizing the "road of the sun," according to Chortí expression. The ball, together with the six macaws, completes the symbol of the god-Seven. As said, the macaw was for the Maya the disguise or nahual of the Solar deity, whose attributes were for a time usurped by Vukup Cakix. Those elements of splendor, associated with the figure of the solar macaw, are seen in the Copán sculptures where, as the focus of interest, the sacred birds' eyes, feathers, and beaks are finished in exquisite workmanship. Kayab, depicted by the head of the macaw, is the sign of the next to last uinal of the tun, and falls on the summer solstice, one of the positions of the Solar god, marked by a macaw at the ball court. The relation between the seven Ahpú and Hunahpú is expressed in the monumental group at Copán by the association of the statue of the young god, a representation of Hunahpú, with the figures of the macaws symbolizing the Ahpú. The statue is found in the northern end of the ball court, exactly at the place where Mayan mythology locates the underworld, so as to symbolize Hunahpú's triumph over the forces of Xibalbá. Both the Copán monuments and the Chortí Drama of the Giants are faithful reproductions of the Quiché account.

In times before the artistic development of Maya culture, the ball game must have taken place on a simple level area on which was drawn a line to divide the playing field into two equal parts. We have recourse to comparative ethnology for its reconstruction. The widespread diffusion of the ball game toward both the north and south of the continent, as well as into the Antilles, corroborates its great antiquity, and this accords with the relative position in time assigned to it in the Popol Vuh. The ball game in its primeval form is preserved in peripheral areas, and therefore it cannot be attributed to Maya or Quiché cultural influences. So that the ball game was spread during prehistoric periods by migrations of peoples who, departing from Central America, dispersed over the rest of the hemisphere. While Quiché-Maya culture itself continued evolving and differentiating more and more from that of the peoples who had left their common ancient homeland, these latter either stopped progressing or did so more slowly than the Quiché-Maya. Thanks to these circumstances we are able to reconstruct the various stages of Quiché-Maya culture and verify the historical veracity of the Popol Vuh.

In the episode about the messengers sent to the Ahpú by the Xibalban Lords, we have another striking proof of the diffusion of cultural features of Maya prehistory to the north and south of the Americas as well as into the Antilles, carried abroad by the migratory currents of peoples. As said, among the Maya the black magician (brujo) is personified by the Tukur, and can transform himself into an owl. His work is the casting of evil spells and he represents the forces that are inimical to man, whereas the elder or white magician (sacerdote), his opponent, defends the community and represents the true gods beneficent to humanity. In the Chortí conception, the black magicians are ineluctably destined to return to Xibalbá inasmuch as the portals of heaven are closed to that class of being. But the black magicians of Maya culture were the elders of the earlier cycle, which they represent, and they were incorporated into the cultural complex by virtue of the principle of duality or the antagonism between good and evil, personified in the figures of the elder and the black magician. On the other hand, among the southerly peoples of Central America's Atlantic watershed, and in those of similar cultures in South America and the Antilles, the pontiff is still the elder of the Third Age of the Popol Vuh and preserves the name of Tukur, from Xibalbá, which among the Maya is a name applied to the black magician or to acts of black magic (chucu among the Chortí). Thus we see that the elders along the Atlantic coast of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama are called tzugur, tzucur, tzugru (Shuller) while the Chibchas say chyquy (Uricoechea). Both the Sumos of the Moskito Coast and the Talamancas (R. Fernández Guardia) as well as the Chibchas are governed or govern themselves socially by the matriarchal principle, the characteristic feature of the Third Age.

The word in question has undergone little alteration through the centuries and the cultures. The Tarascos, for example, continue to call the owl tukur, as in the Popol Vuh. The Zoques call the black magician tzocu, the Otomís say tu kuru for owl, the Tzentals call the black magicians pukuh, and the Xincas, tzoka. The Talamancas term the owl tukur as do the Quichés and Tarascos. Chu ku in Chortí means to fight, thus connoting one of the functions of the black magician. Etymologically this relates to the root chu (to suck). The relation between the words for black magician and to suck has already been observed by R. Shuller, and is explained by the former's function of sucking the sick area to extract the material cause of the pain. [There appears to be some error of interpretation by R. Shuller here, for healing or the removal of pain is the function of the white and not the black magician. See several lines below, where the Chortí belief is that it is the blood (or life) that the black magician "sucks" from his victim. This appears to be more accurate, and is logical. Translator.] The relation between this function, the name for black magician, and the malign beings is expressed linguistically by a common root in the Zapotecan language. For black magician the Zapotec says benibixio or benibicháa; for one who sucks, benigogóba; and for malignant, benigotiaha. Such a genetic relation is explained by the Chortí belief that the malign beings suck the blood (or the life) of their victims who slowly waste away and die. This belief is founded on the functions of Xiquiripat and Cuchumaquic, beings of Xibalbá mentioned in the Popol Vuh, who suck the life from people.

The suquia — a corruption of tzugur — for treatment of the sick must have as the indispensable requisite a pipe of tobacco which is lit and which, at the right moment, he inhales and exhales, alternating this with sucking the painful area. This is the ceremonial and sacramental use the Talamanca Indians make of tobacco smoking, which also serves to produce in the suquia a hypnotic state during which he is said to be in direct contact with the gods (J. A. Lines).

The relation of tobacco with healing among the southerly peoples is seen in the fact that the word meaning tobacco in some Mayan tongues comes to mean healing in others of the south. We have as examples:

sik — tobacco in Mame
si ka — healing in Miskito
sik — tobacco in Quiché
hiska — healing in Chibcha

This close association of tobacco with the suquia is very significant, since it records not only the practices of the Lords of Xibalbá but also discloses a historical fact: tobacco, discovered before copal, was the cure-all of the Mayan elders before the practice of fumigation by incense began in part to replace it. But tobacco preserves its primeval importance among those peoples whose culture corresponds to that of Maya prehistory. All this shows once more that features of the cycle of Maya prehistory were carried to the south by peoples who left the ancestral homeland and its culture in very remote times.

Nevertheless, despite the shift in the meaning of the word for elder in Maya culture to that of black magician, the root ku continued to enter the composition of words connoting the idea of sacredness, and in these cases it preserved its primeval signification. We find it in the names of the sacred bird: in Chortí kut kut; in Maya, kuch. Also in the name for the temples, ku, a derivation of its original meaning of house during the protohistoric epoch: a house is still called ku in the language of the Guatusos according to Sherzer, maku in Xinca, gü e in Chibcha, etc. It is found in the name for Deity itself, Hunab ku, and for prayer (Camakú, the prayer left by Balam Quiché, according to the Popol Vuh). Ku means the sun in Chuj, and the same root is found in the word for tobacco, a sacred plant called ku'tz by the Chortís, ku by the Xincas, kua by the Lencas, tanku by the Jívaros and chu by the Guaimis. On the other hand, the Totonacs and Cuicatecs call maize ku, the divine plant par excellence (R. Weitlaner), while the Tlapanecs give their god of Earth and of Maize the name of ku (Schulte-Jena). In Subtiaba u ku means star, and the Talamancas give the name ku to the lizard or alligator, their sacred animal. In the Antilles, savaku is the name of the messenger bird of Hunrakán, while in Tlapanec y-ukuu is the generic name for bird and sáa means bird in Mixtec (L. Ecker). In Subtiaba ku ku is the turkey, and in Chibcha kuao means buzzard; ku is the distinctive root for bird in Araua; kus ma means buzzard in Sumo-Ulúa, and kukui in Uru is falcon; kute in Lenca, kúti in Xinca, and kúts in Quiché and Pocomam mean buzzard. On the other hand, in Miskito and Cuna kua is the louse which infects hawks; kun in Rama means that louse, and is a metathesis of uk, the louse in Maya. The word tsuku in Tapachultec does not mean owl but ant, while in Boruca chúuc is the frog, and the Hicaque call the owl sots, a word that in Mayan languages is applied generally to the bat.

This displacement of the meaning of words for animals is a current phenomenon in language, but it can occur only in languages that are genetically related; and this is another corroboration of the linguistic and cultural kinship of the peoples mentioned above, all of whom are found in territorial continuity.

In regard to the words and symbolisms consigned by the Popol Vuh to the early tradition and which therefore enjoy the same relative antiquity, we must still mention the term wok, guok, or guoc, which designates the mythical bird that descended from the sky to see the Ahpú play ball. This root is found in the word guacamaya (macaw), which from the vocabulary of the Arawak of Haiti passed into the Spanish language, as did cigarro, hunrakán and maíz. The equivalence of the guacamaya with the bird of prey about which the Quiché codex tells us, appears in the sound mo which in Maya is applied indiscriminately to the sparrow hawk or the macaw, and enters into the composition of the Solar god Kinich Kakmó.

The Chortís of Olopa preserve the name wak or guak for their mythical bird. Wara or guara signifies guacamayo (male macaw) in Lenca; and wawá means macaw or parrot in Araua, in Paya kawá, Miskito raua, Paya waro, Sumo kaya, while in Quiché watas means crow and maiwa goose.

Parallel with the transformation of the elder into the black magician or sorcerer, the gods of the cycle of barbarism become the demons of the Quiché-Maya cultural era. On the other hand, those "demons" preserve their character of true gods, as the sorcerer his function as elder, in cultures corresponding to the prehistoric horizon. And the Quiché-Maya gods are the demons of that cultural cycle.

This transformation of the gods of one epoch into the demons of another is a recurring phenomenon in the history of religions. We know, for example, that before Christianity the root dev, in the word now in use in the English language to denote the devil, meant God (deva, designation of the ancient gods of India). Percum, the name of the ancient Lithuanian Oak god, was the name used to denote the devil among Christians; and Jesus, their divine savior, was regarded as a devil by the Mandaeans. The Yazida, a neighboring sect of Islam, honored Iblis, the terrible fallen angel of Muhammedanism, whom they believed to be repentant (J. Wach, Sociología de la Religión, Mexico, 1946).

Hunrakán, the one-footed god of Quiché culture, was the devil of the earlier cycle, a conception held to this day by the Caribs, Arawaks, and other peoples whose culture corresponds to what the Popol Vuh terms the prehistoric cycle. The Galibi call the devil yurakán, the Garibisi yerucan, the Roucouyenne yolocan, the Chayma yorocan, the Ipurucoto iurecá and the Cariñacu iroca, while the Bacairi term the malign spirit orioca (R. Shuller, Las Lenguas Indígenas de Centroamérica, San José, Costa Rica, 1928). The Cahmas Indians call the devil yorocia'n, the Tamanacs yolokiamos, the Cumanagotas yoglamo, the Caribs yoyoko, and the Arrúa, yolok and yurakon (Lucien Adams, Matériaux pour servir á l'éablissement d'une grammaire comparée des dialectes de la famille Caribe, Paris, 1893). In Talamancan dialects the devil is equated with "white people" (Shuller), the characteristic color of the true god of Quiché-Maya culture, which conversely identifies the malign beings as well as their feelings by the color black.

In spite of being a demon for the southerly peoples and those of the Antilles, and a god for Quiché culture, the semantic value of Hunrakán does not vary, since in both cultural cycles he is the "demon" or "god" of the tempest, rain, lightning bolt, thunder, and the illumination produced by sheet lightning. And good or bad meaning depends exclusively upon the cultural criterion. From the point of view of nonagricultural peoples, storms are injurious and viewed as punishment sent by maboyas or evil spirits of the dead. Du Tertre, who gives us this information about beliefs of the Indians of the French Antilles, tells us of the fear those Indians have of tempests (P. du Tertre, Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les Francais, Paris, 1667). Of the contemporary Caribs, one learns that "they fear nothing so much as the hurricane and thunder. When dark clouds begin to build up they hurry to their huts, making loud cries, covering their faces with their hands, and crying until the storm passes. This fear of tempests follows them even to the world beyond, since the spirits also fear the thunders and try to hide themselves." (Müller, cited by Fernando Ortiz, El Hunrakán, Mexico, 1947.) Conversely, we have seen that for the Quiché-Maya the subsistence of humankind and the preservation of the cosmic order depends upon the Agrarian god (god of Rain, Tempests, Thunder and Lightning). Because of this, these peoples look with scorn upon the gods of the earlier cycle, who "believed they were gods but were not, because they neither produced rain nor planted seeds."

The great geographical distribution of the myth of the one-footed god, which we found from the rarasca area (Thares Upeme, the Lame god, according to J. Coronado Nuñez) to that of the Caribs, tells us of the great ethnological antiquity of Hunrakán who pertains to the same mythological horizon from which emanated the Quiché-Maya and Mexican cultures as well as the southerly peoples and those of the Antilles to whom we have referred.

But this is not all: if Hunrakán, the Quiché god, is the demon of the Caribs, on the other hand, Camé, the demon of Quiché traditions, is the god and civilizing hero of Carib myths (Bacairis). In Carib mythology, as in that of the Quiché, the hero-gods are the twins who represent the sun and the moon; but among the Bacairis they are respectively named Camé and Kéri. The same names designate the sun (camé) and the moon (kéri) among the Arawak-speaking peoples, according to Karl von den Steinen.

It is surprising to discover that the name of Camé has undergone no alteration in languages separated since a period centuries before the beginning of our era.

Of course the zoological nahuals fare the same as the gods they represent. This explains why the jaguar, a god in Quiché-Maya culture, is the malign spirit among certain South American peoples of middling culture (Karl von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvölkern Zentral-Brasiliens, Berlin, 1894).


Chapter 7

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