Sunday, March 16, 2008

Popul Who?

Today was library day and I completely forgot to look up anything relating to Popul Vuh until I got home with an armload of fluffy (and one not-so-fluffy) books with which to entertain myself. So now, because I said I wouldn't use the I-net, I'm doing what I said I wouldn't and looking up sources in case anyone besides me (i.e. Miss Rachael... ahem!) is interested in creation cycles and mythology.
Popul Vuh, however, isn't a who; it's a what. Wikipedia gives the translation as something like a council book or codified oral histories; this contains the creation cycle and the stories of two pairs of heroes. The original document, written in the mid-16th century in Quiche (see note at the bottom of the post) appears to have been lost but it is believed that the San Bartolo murals correspond to much of the lost document. Definitely worth taking a look if you're curious.
Wikipedia breaks it down thus, though points out that the break-down varies with the translation:
Part 1

  • Gods create world.
  • Gods create first humans from wood; these are emotionless and imperfect.
  • Gods destroy first humans in a flood; humans are turned into monkeys.
  • Two diviners named Hunahpu and Xbalanque destroy the destroyers.

Part 2

  • Diviners produce brothers.
  • Diviners also produce "Monkey Twins" HunBatz and HunChouen.
  • Lords of Xibalba kill the Monkey Twins.
  • Diviners produce Hero Twins named HunHunahpu and HunXbalanque
  • Hero Twins defeat Xibalba houses of Gloom, Knives, Cold, Jaguars, Fire, and Bats

Part 3

  • First four "real" people are made: Jaguar Quiché, Jaguar Night, Naught, and Wind Jaguar
  • Tribes descend from these four, speaking the same language, and travel to TulanZuiva
  • Language gets fouled up and the tribes disperse.
  • Tohil is recognized as a god and demands live sacrifices; goes into hiding later.

Part 4

  • Tohil affects Earth Lords through priests and his dominion destroys the Quiche.
  • Priests attempt abductions to get sacrifices, which the tribes resist.
  • Quiche found Gumarca and the Feathered Serpent Lord Gucumatz puts them in power.
  • Elaborate rituals instituted by Gucumatz.
  • Tribal geneaology.
Believe it or not, that's the short version. The entire twelve chapters of the cycle have been translated from Quiche (no, that's not a cute little French pie with eggs and spinach, it's a language) into English HERE if anyone else wants to read it. Notice, please, the elements this cycle has in common with numerous other creation cycles in existence; since I'm feeling magnanimous (and proud of myself for noticing the similarities.. thank you, Dr. Carter), I'll donate a woolly prize to the first person who gets it right. :P



Rachael said...

Yes, ma'am, I'm very interested...

Very cool that the records are in Quiche! I only know a little about it, but I'm somewhat familiar with Quiche and who speaks it nowadays because of my obsession 10 years ago with the TV show The Sentinel. I used to be able to count to 10 in Quiche, but I've long since forgotten it. LOL!

Elements that it shares with other creation cycles... hm... well, the ubiquitous flood for one. And that the earth was created void of life... And all the "let there be"s... The bit about twilight before the sun and the moon reminds me of Tolkien's creation story for Middle Earth. I'm sure that there's probably more, but I've only gotten up to Part 2 at the moment... Were there other things in Part 1 that I missed?

I think that it's quite interesting that monkeys are included in connection with the first humans in the Mayan creation cycle, considering what is now known about evolution...

La Duchesse said...

Cookie for the girl! The flood is a biggie. Also, that there are multiple attempts to create humanity, the first few of which fail. Egyptian and Greek mythology, and also Roman mythology which is essentially Greek, make use of this. It's really interesting that, while so far there hasn't been any evidence that the Greeks, Egyptians, or Romans made it to South America, there's this common thread running through the mythology of such different cultures. I don't know enough about Asian mythology or Native American mythology, or the mythology of other parts of the Pacific Rim. It's also interesing that Norse mythology, while there isn't really a flood as such, makes use of the "second generation", so to speak: after Ragnarok and the destruction of the world, the ash and alder trees (I think) were next to be people-fied.
I haven't read the Silmarilion, so I'm no help there. :P
Yup. Cookie for you. And doubly so for the monkey comment. On a parallel, Egyptian mythology tells us that humans rebelled (no, SG-1 got this wrong.. :P) and that Ra sent Hathor to quell the rebellion. Hathor took such pleasure in the task that she continued to kill even after the offenders had been punished, and began to enjoy the taste of blood. Ra changed his mind and sent Thoth to try to pacify her; when Thoth failed, he sent word to the priesthood to use the grain stored in the temple granaries to make beer, which they dyed red to look like blood. The priests used the dyed beer to flood a field, and when Hathor stopped for a drink, she enjoyed it so much that she got drunk and passed out, which resulted in the first hangover. When he realized the extent of the destruction wrought by Hathor, Ra wept, and it was from his tears, stories say, that more humans came. What's the percentage of water in the human body? I've always felt "myths" contain perhaps a very tiny grain of truth, or that there's more to them than simply a good story with a lesson.

Rachael said...

Totally awesome! All that! I didn't know that particular Egyptian myth.

If I remember it right, in the Silmarilion, the Ainur are created by a single creator god, Eru, who also created Middle Earth with their help. See, the Ainur sang and in their song was the story of the entire history of Middle Earth and Eru thought it was so beautiful that he made it be. So the Ainur went down to Middle Earth and dwelled there because it was given to them, they met up with the Elves and created Dwarves (Men were created at the same time as the Elves, but Eru made them dormant until the first rising of the sun). And eventually most of them withdrew to the Undying Lands. And during that time there was no Sun or Moon, which were created much later. There was only the stars, which is why Elves love the night and particularly starlight. All that was in the first chapter. I've been in the process of reading the Silmarilion for like 5 years now. I keep loosing it before I finish. It's dense. Good, but dense.

La Duchesse said...

Sounds like a book I should find next time I go to the library! *makes a note* It can't be worse than reading Wallace Budge, who is not only dense, but incredibly dry and snore-worthy. :p

Rachael said...

It's written kind of like a northern European saga. And I think most of the stories in it are expanded upon in the Unfinished Tales series.

La Duchesse said...

I really need to get myself a copy of the Prose Edda. *sigh!*

Rachael said...

Don't we all! I think there's a free translation online somewhere...