Myths & Legends


An Account of the Popol Vuh

An Account of the Popol Vuh

The work that follows is a version of the Popol Vuh found in The Myths of Mexico & Peru, authored by Lewis Spence. As an interpretation of the Popol Vuh it is a useful facsimile of what is a very difficult task.

Were it not for the surviving work of the Spanish chroniclers the world of the Maya in its written form would be lost to us. Virtually all their books were burned, the Popol Vuh being one exception. As a bible of the Maya of sorts, it attracted special attention and a Quiche version, along with a Spanish translation, has come down to us. The translated version is said to have been found by a certain Dr. C. Scherzer, of Austria, upon a visit to Guatemala in 1854, where he found the translation in the University of San Carlos in the City of Guatemala.

James Lewis Thomas Chalmers Spence (25 November 1874 – 3 March 1955) was a Scottish journalist, poet, author, folklorist and occult scholar. Spence was a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and Vice-President of the Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society. His many interests included the Lost Continent of Atlantis which he thought had echoes in the world of central America.
— Orly

The Creation-Story

We are told that the god Hurakan, the mighty wind, a deity in whom we can discern a Kiche equivalent to Tezcatlipoca, passed over the universe, still wrapped in gloom. He called out “Earth,” and the solid land appeared. Then the chief gods took counsel among themselves as to what should next be made. These were Hurakan, Gucumatz or Quetzalcoatl, and Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, the mother and father gods. They agreed that animals should be created. This was accomplished, and they next turned their attention to the framing of man. They made a number of mannikins carved out of wood. But these were irreverent and angered the gods, who resolved to bring about their downfall. Then Hurakan (The Heart of Heaven) caused the waters to be swollen, and a mighty flood came upon the mannikins. Also a thick resinous rain descended upon them. The bird Xecotcovach tore out their eyes, the bird Camulatz cut off their heads, the bird Cotzbalam devoured their flesh, the bird Tecumbalam broke their bones and sinews and ground them into [210]powder. Then all sorts of beings, great and small, abused the mannikins. The household utensils and domestic animals jeered at them, and made game of them in their plight. The dogs and hens said: “Very badly have you treated us and you have bitten us. Now we bite you in turn.” The millstones said: “Very much were we tormented by you, and daily, daily, night and day, it was squeak, screech, screech, holi, holi, huqi, huqi, for your sake. Now you shall feel our strength, and we shall grind your flesh and make meal of your bodies.” And the dogs growled at the unhappy images because they had not been fed, and tore them with their teeth. The cups and platters said: “Pain and misery you gave us, smoking our tops and sides, cooking us over the fire, burning and hurting us as if we had no feeling. Now it is your turn, and you shall burn.” The unfortunate mannikins ran hither and thither in their despair. They mounted upon the roofs of the houses, but the houses crumbled beneath their feet; they tried to climb to the tops of the trees, but the trees hurled them down; they were even repulsed by the caves, which closed before them. Thus this ill-starred race was finally destroyed and overthrown, and the only vestiges of them which remain are certain of their progeny, the little monkeys which dwell in the woods.


Vukub-Cakix, the Great Macaw

Ere the earth was quite recovered from the wrathful flood which had descended upon it there lived a being orgulous and full of pride, called Vukub-Cakix (Seven-times-the-colour-of-fire—the Kiche name for the great macaw bird). His teeth were of emerald, and other parts of him shone with the brilliance of gold and silver. In short, it is evident that he was a sun-and-moon god of prehistoric times. He boasted dreadfully, and his conduct so irritated the other gods that they resolved upon his destruction. His two sons, Zipacna and Cabrakan (Cockspur or Earth-heaper, and Earthquake), were earthquake-gods of the type of the Jötuns of Scandinavian myth or the Titans of Greek legend. These also were prideful and arrogant, and to cause their downfall the gods despatched the heavenly twins Hun-Apu and Xbalanque to earth, with instructions to chastise the trio.

Vukub-Cakix prided himself upon his possession of the wonderful nanze-tree, the tapal, bearing a fruit round, yellow, and aromatic, upon which he breakfasted every morning. One morning he mounted to its summit, whence he could best espy the choicest fruits, when he was surprised and infuriated to observe that two strangers had arrived there before him, and had almost denuded the tree of its produce. On seeing Vukub, Hun-Apu raised a blow-pipe to his mouth and blew a dart at the giant. It struck him on the mouth, and he fell from the top of the tree to the ground. Hun-Apu leapt down upon Vukub and grappled with him, but the giant in terrible anger seized the god by the arm and wrenched it from the body. He then returned to his house, where he was met by his wife, Chimalmat, who inquired for what reason he roared with pain. In reply he pointed to his mouth, and so full of anger was he against Hun-Apu that he took the arm he had wrenched from him and hung it over a blazing fire. He then threw himself down to bemoan his injuries, consoling himself, however, with the idea that he had avenged himself upon the disturbers of his peace.

Whilst Vukub-Cakix moaned and howled with the dreadful pain which he felt in his jaw and teeth (for the dart which had pierced him was probably poisoned) the arm of Hun-Apu hung over the fire, and was turned round and round and basted by Vukub’s spouse, Chimalmat. The sun-god rained bitter imprecations upon the interlopers who had penetrated to his paradise and had caused him such woe, and he gave vent to dire threats of what would happen if he succeeded in getting them into his power.

But Hun-Apu and Xbalanque were not minded that Vukub-Cakix should escape so easily, and the recovery of Hun-Apu’s arm must be made at all hazards. So they went to consult two great and wise magicians, Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, in whom we see two of the original Kiche creative deities, who advised them to proceed with them in disguise to the dwelling of Vukub, if they wished to recover the lost arm. The old magicians resolved to disguise themselves as doctors, and dressed Hun-Apu and Xbalanque in other garments to represent their sons.

Shortly they arrived at the mansion of Vukub, and while still some way off they could hear his groans and cries. Presenting themselves at the door, they accosted him. They told him that they had heard some one crying out in pain, and that as famous doctors they considered it their duty to ask who was suffering.

Vukub appeared quite satisfied, but closely questioned the old wizards concerning the two young men who accompanied them.

“They are our sons,” they replied.

“Good,” said Vukub. “Do you think you will be able to cure me?”

“We have no doubt whatever upon that head,” answered Xpiyacoc. “You have sustained very bad injuries to your mouth and eyes.”

“The demons who shot me with an arrow from their blow-pipe are the cause of my sufferings,” said Vukub. “If you are able to cure me I shall reward you richly.”

“Your Highness has many bad teeth, which must be removed,” said the wily old magician. “Also the balls of your eyes appear to me to be diseased.”

Vukub appeared highly alarmed, but the magicians speedily reassured him.

“It is necessary,” said Xpiyacoc, “that we remove your teeth, but we will take care to replace them with grains of maize, which you will find much more agreeable in every way.”

The unsuspicious giant agreed to the operation, and very quickly Xpiyacoc, with the help of Xmucane, removed his teeth of emerald, and replaced them by grains of white maize. A change quickly came over the Titan. His brilliancy speedily vanished, and when they removed the balls of his eyes he sank into insensibility and died.

All this time the wife of Vukub was turning Hun-Apu’s arm over the fire, but Hun-Apu snatched the limb from above the brazier, and with the help of the magicians replaced it upon his shoulder. The discomfiture of Vukub was then complete. The party left his dwelling feeling that their mission had been accomplished.


The Earth-Giants

But in reality it was only partially accomplished, because Vukub’s two sons, Zipacna and Cabrakan, still remained to be dealt with. Zipacna was daily employed in heaping up mountains, while Cabrakan, his brother, shook them in earthquake. The vengeance of Hun-Apu and Xbalanque was first directed against Zipacna, and they conspired with a band of young men to bring about his death.

The young men, four hundred in number, pretended to be engaged in building a house. They cut down a large tree, which they made believe was to be the roof-tree of their dwelling, and waited in a part of the forest through which they knew Zipacna must pass. After a while they could hear the giant crashing through the trees. He came into sight, and when he saw them standing round the giant tree-trunk, which they could not lift, he seemed very much amused.

“What have you there, O little ones?” he said laughing.

“Only a tree, your Highness, which we have felled for the roof-tree of a new house we are building.”

“Cannot you carry it?” asked the giant disdainfully.

“No, your Highness,” they made answer; “it is much too heavy to be lifted even by our united efforts.”

With a good-natured laugh the Titan stooped and lifted the great trunk upon his shoulder. Then, bidding them lead the way, he trudged through the forest, evidently not disconcerted in the least by his great burden. Now the young men, incited by Hun-Apu and Xbalanque, had dug a great ditch, which they pretended was to serve for the foundation of their new house. Into this they requested Zipacna to descend, and, scenting no mischief, the giant readily complied. On his reaching the bottom his treacherous acquaintances cast huge trunks of trees upon him, but on hearing them coming down he quickly took refuge in a small side tunnel which the youths had constructed to serve as a cellar beneath their house.

Imagining the giant to be killed, they began at once to express their delight by singing and dancing, and to lend colour to his stratagem Zipacna despatched several friendly ants to the surface with strands of hair, which the young men concluded had been taken from his dead body. Assured by the seeming proof of his death, the youths proceeded to build their house upon the tree-trunks which they imagined covered Zipacna’s body, and, producing a quantity of pulque, they began to make merry over the end of their enemy. For some hours their new dwelling rang with revelry.

All this time Zipacna, quietly hidden below, was listening to the hubbub and waiting his chance to revenge himself upon those who had entrapped him.

Suddenly arising in his giant might, he cast the house and all its inmates high in the air. The dwelling was utterly demolished, and the band of youths were hurled with such force into the sky that they remained there, and in the stars we call the Pleiades we can still discern them wearily waiting an opportunity to return to earth.


The Undoing of Zipacna

But Hun-Apu and Xbalanque, grieved that their comrades had so perished, resolved that Zipacna must not be permitted to escape so easily. He, carrying the mountains by night, sought his food by day on the shore of the river, where he wandered catching fish and crabs. The brothers made a large artificial crab, which they placed in a cavern at the bottom of a ravine. They then cunningly undermined a huge mountain, and awaited events. Very soon they saw Zipacna wandering along the side of the river, and asked him where he was going.

“Oh, I am only seeking my daily food,” replied the giant.

“And what may that consist of?” asked the brothers.

“Only of fish and crabs,” replied Zipacna.

“Oh, there is a crab down yonder,” said the crafty brothers, pointing to the bottom of the ravine. “We espied it as we came along. Truly, it is a great crab, and will furnish you with a capital breakfast.”

“Splendid!” cried Zipacna, with glistening eyes. “I must have it at once,” and with one bound he leapt down to where the cunningly contrived crab lay in the cavern.

No sooner had he reached it than Hun-Apu and Xbalanque cast the mountain upon him; but so desperate were his efforts to get free that the brothers feared he might rid himself of the immense weight of earth under which he was buried, and to make sure of his fate they turned him into stone. Thus at the foot of Mount Meahŭan, near Vera Paz, perished the proud Mountain-Maker.


The Discomfiture of Cabrakan

Now only the third of this family of boasters remained, and he was the most proud of any.

“I am the Overturner of Mountains!” said he.

But Hun-Apu and Xbalanque had made up their minds that not one of the race of Vukub should be left alive.

At the moment when they were plotting the overthrow of Cabrakan he was occupied in moving mountains. He seized the mountains by their bases and, exerting his mighty strength, cast them into the air; and of the smaller mountains he took no account at all. While he was so employed he met the brothers, who greeted him cordially.

“Good day, Cabrakan,” said they. “What may you be doing?”

“Bah! nothing at all,” replied the giant. “Cannot you see that I am throwing the mountains about, whichis my usual occupation? And who may you be that ask such stupid questions? What are your names?”

“We have no names,” replied they. “We are only hunters, and here we have our blow-pipes, with which we shoot the birds that live in these mountains. So you see that we do not require names, as we meet no one.”

Cabrakan looked at the brothers disdainfully, and was about to depart when they said to him: “Stay; we should like to behold these mountain-throwing feats of yours.”

This aroused the pride of Cabrakan.

“Well, since you wish it,” said he, “I will show you how I can move a really great mountain. Now, choose the one you would like to see me destroy, and before you are aware of it I shall have reduced it to dust.”

Hun-Apu looked around him, and espying a great peak pointed toward it. “Do you think you could overthrow that mountain?” he asked.

“Without the least difficulty,” replied Cabrakan, with a great laugh. “Let us go toward it.”

“But first you must eat,” said Hun-Apu. “You have had no food since morning, and so great a feat can hardly be accomplished fasting.”

The giant smacked his lips. “You are right,” he said, with a hungry look. Cabrakan was one of those people who are always hungry. “But what have you to give me?”

“We have nothing with us,” said Hun-Apu.

“Umph!” growled Cabrakan, “you are a pretty fellow. You ask me what I will have to eat, and then tell me you have nothing,” and in his anger he seized one of the smaller mountains and threw it into the sea, so that the waves splashed up to the sky.

“Come,” said Hun-Apu, “don’t get angry. We have our blow-pipes with us, and will shoot a bird for your dinner.”

On hearing this Cabrakan grew somewhat quieter.

“Why did you not say so at first?” he growled. “But be quick, because I am hungry.”

Just at that moment a large bird passed overhead, and Hun-Apu and Xbalanque raised their blow-pipes to their mouths. The darts sped swiftly upward, and both of them struck the bird, which came tumbling down through the air, falling at the feet of Cabrakan.

“Wonderful, wonderful!” cried the giant. “You are clever fellows indeed,” and, seizing the dead bird, he was going to eat it raw when Hun-Apu stopped him.

“Wait a moment,” said he. “It will be much nicer when cooked,” and, rubbing two sticks together, he ordered Xbalanque to gather some dry wood, so that a fire was soon blazing.

The bird was then suspended over the fire, and in a short time a savoury odour mounted to the nostrils of the giant, who stood watching the cooking with hungry eyes and watering lips.

Before placing the bird over the fire to cook, however, Hun-Apu had smeared its feathers with a thick coating of mud. The Indians in some parts of Central America still do this, so that when the mud dries with the heat of the fire the feathers will come off with it, leaving the flesh of the bird quite ready to eat. But Hun-Apu had done this with a purpose. The mud that he spread on the feathers was that of a poisoned earth, called tizate, the elements of which sank deeply into the flesh of the bird.

When the savoury mess was cooked, he handed it to Cabrakan, who speedily devoured it.

“Now,” said Hun-Apu, “let us go toward that great mountain and see if you can lift it as you boast.”

But already Cabrakan began to feel strange pangs.

“What is this?” said he, passing his hand across his brow. “I do not seem to see the mountain you mean.”

“Nonsense,” said Hun-Apu. “Yonder it is, see, to the east there.”

“My eyes seem dim this morning,” replied the giant.

“No, it is not that,” said Hun-Apu. “You have boasted that you could lift this mountain, and now you are afraid to try.”

“I tell you,” said Cabrakan, “that I have difficulty in seeing. Will you lead me to the mountain?”

“Certainly,” said Hun-Apu, giving him his hand, and with several strides they were at the foot of the eminence.

“Now,” said Hun-Apu, “see what you can do, boaster.”

Cabrakan gazed stupidly at the great mass in front of him. His knees shook together so that the sound was like the beating of a war-drum, and the sweat poured from his forehead and ran in a little stream down the side of the mountain.

“Come,” cried Hun-Apu derisively, “are you going to lift the mountain or not?”

“He cannot,” sneered Xbalanque. “I knew he could not.”

Cabrakan shook himself into a final effort to regain his senses, but all to no purpose. The poison rushed through his blood, and with a groan he fell dead before the brothers.

Thus perished the last of the earth-giants of Guatemala, whom Hun-Apu and Xbalanque had been sent to destroy.


The Second Book

The second book of the Popol Vuh outlines the history of the hero-gods Hun-Apu and Xbalanque. We are told that Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, the father and mother gods, had two sons, Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu, the first of whom had by his wife Xbakiyalo two sons, Hunbatz and Hunchouen. The weakness of the whole family was the native game of ball, possibly the Mexican-Mayan game of tlachtli, a sort of hockey. To this pastime the natives of Central America were greatly addicted, and numerous remains of tlachtli courts are to be found in the ruined cities of Yucatan and Guatemala. The object of the game was to “putt” the ball through a small hole in a circular stone or goal, and the player who succeeded in doing this might demand from the audience all their clothes and jewels. The game, as we have said, was exceedingly popular in ancient Central America, and there is good reason to believe that inter-city matches took place between the various city-states, and were accompanied by a partisanship and rivalry as keen as that which finds expression among the crowd at our principal football matches to-day.


A Challenge from Hades

On one occasion Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu played a game of ball which in its progress took them into the vicinity of the realm of Xibalba (the Kiche Hades). The rulers of that drear abode, imagining that they had a chance of capturing the brothers, extended a challenge to them to play them at ball, and this challenge Hun-Came and Vukub-Came, the sovereigns of the Kiche Hell, despatched by four messengers in the shape of owls. The brothers accepted the challenge, and, bidding farewell to their mother Xmucane and their respective sons and nephews, followed the feathered messengers down the long hill which led to the Underworld.


The Fooling of the Brethren

The American Indian is grave and taciturn. If there is one thing he fears and dislikes more than another it is ridicule. To his austere and haughty spirit it appears as something derogatory to his dignity, a slur upon his manhood. The hero-brothers had not been long in Xibalba when they discovered that it was the intention of the Lords of Hades to fool them and subject them to every species of indignity. After crossing a river of blood, they came to the palace of the Lords of Xibalba, where they espied two seated figures in front of them. Thinking that they recognised in them Hun-Came and Vukub-Came, they saluted them in a becoming manner, only to discover to their mortification that they were addressing figures of wood. This incident excited the ribald jeers of the Xibalbans, who scoffed at the brothers. Next they were invited to sit on the seat of honour, which they found to their dismay to be a red-hot stone, a circumstance which caused unbounded amusement to the inhabitants of the Underworld. Then they were imprisoned in the House of Gloom, where they were sacrificed and buried. The head of Hunhun-Apu was, however, suspended from a tree, upon the branches of which grew a crop of gourds so like the dreadful trophy as to be indistinguishable from it. The fiat went forth that no one in Xibalba must eat of the fruit of that tree. But the Lords of Xibalba had reckoned without feminine curiosity and its unconquerable love of the forbidden.


The Princess Xquiq

One day—if day ever penetrated to that gloomy and unwholesome place—a princess of Xibalba called Xquiq (Blood), daughter of Cuchumaquiq, a notability of Xibalba, passed under the tree, and, observing the desirable fruit with which it was covered, stretched out her hand to pluck one of the gourds. Into the outstretched palm the head of Hunhun-Apu spat, and told Xquiq that she would become a mother. Before she returned home, however, the hero-god assured her that no harm would come to her, and that she must not be afraid. In a few months’ time the princess’s father heard of her adventure, and she was doomed to be slain, the royal messengers of Xibalba, the owls, receiving commands to despatch her and to bring back her heart in a vase. But on the way she overcame the scruples of the owls by splendid promises, and they substituted for her heart the coagulated sap of the bloodwort plant.


The Birth of Hun-Apu and Xbalanque

Xmucane, left at home, looked after the welfare of the young Hunbatz and Hunchouen, and thither, at the instigation of the head of Hunhun-Apu, went Xquiq for protection. At first Xmucane would not credit her story, but upon Xquiq appealing to the gods a miracle was performed on her behalf, and she was permitted to gather a basket of maize where no maize grew to prove the authenticity of her claim. As a princess of the Underworld, it is not surprising that she should be connected with such a phenomenon, as it is from deities of that region that we usually expect the phenomena of growth to proceed. Shortly afterwards, when she had won the good graces of the aged Xmucane, her twin sons were born, the Hun-Apu and Xbalanque whom we have already met as the central figures of the first book.


The Divine Children

But the divine children were both noisy and mischievous. They tormented their venerable grandmother with their shrill uproar and tricky behaviour. At last Xmucane, unable to put up with their habits, turned them out of doors. They took to an outdoor life with surprising ease, and soon became expert hunters and skilful in the use of the serbatana (blow-pipe), with which they shot birds and small animals. They were badly treated by their half-brothers Hunbatz and Hunchouen, who, jealous of their fame as hunters, annoyed them in every possible manner. But the divine children retaliated by turning their tormentors into hideous apes. The sudden change in the appearance of her grandsons caused Xmucane the most profound grief and dismay, and she begged that they who had brightened her home with their singing and flute-playing might not be condemned to such a dreadful fate. She was informed by the divine brothers that if she could behold their antics unmoved by mirth her wish would be granted. But the capers they cut and their grimaces caused her such merriment that on three separate occasions she was unable to restrain her laughter, and the men-monkeys took their leave.


The Magic Tools

The childhood of Hun-Apu and Xbalanque was full of such episodes as might be expected from these beings. We find, for example, that on attempting to clear a milpa (maize plantation) they employed magic tools which could be trusted to undertake a good day’s work whilst they were absent at the chase. Returning at night, they smeared soil over their hands and faces, for the purpose of deluding Xmucane into the belief that they had been toiling all day in the fields. But the wild beasts met in conclave during the night, and replaced all the roots and shrubs which the magic tools had cleared away. The twins recognised the work of the various animals, and placed a large net on the ground, so that if the creatures came to the spot on the following night they might be caught in its folds. They did come, but all made good their escape save the rat. The rabbit and deer lost their tails, however, and that is why these animals possess no caudal appendages! The rat, in gratitude for their sparing its life, told the brothers the history of their father and uncle, of their heroic efforts against the powers of Xibalba, and of the existence of a set of clubs and balls with which they might play tlachtli on the ball-ground at Ninxor-Carchah, where Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu had played before them.


The Second Challenge

But the watchful Hun-Came and Vukub-Came soon heard that the sons and nephews of their first victims had adopted the game which had led these last into the clutches of the cunning Xibalbans, and they resolved to send a similar challenge to Hun-Apu and Xbalanque, thinking that the twins were unaware of the fate of Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu. They therefore despatched messengers to the home of Xmucane with a challenge to play them at the ball-game, and Xmucane, alarmed by the nature of the message, sent a louse to warn her grandsons. The louse, unable to proceed as quickly as he wished, permitted himself to be swallowed by a toad, the toad by a serpent, and the serpent by the bird Voc, the messenger of Hurakan. At the end of the journey the other animals duly liberated each other, but the toad could not rid himself of the louse, who had in reality hidden himself in the toad’s gums, and had not been swallowed at all. At last the message was delivered, and the twins returned to the abode of Xmucane, to bid farewell to their grandmother and mother. Before leaving they each planted a cane in the midst of the hut, saying that it would wither if any fatal accident befell them.


The Tricksters Tricked

They then proceeded to Xibalba, on the road trodden by Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu, and passed the river of blood as the others had done. But they adopted the precaution of despatching ahead an animal called Xan as a sort of spy or scout. They commanded this animal to prick all the Xibalbans with a hair from Hun-Apu’s leg, in order that they might discover which of them were made of wood, and incidentally learn the names of the others as they addressed one another when pricked by the hair. They were thus enabled to ignore the wooden images on their arrival at Xibalba, and they carefully avoided the red-hot stone. Nor did the ordeal of the House of Gloom affright them, and they passed through it scatheless. The inhabitants of the Underworld were both amazed and furious with disappointment. To add to their annoyance, they were badly beaten in the game of ball which followed. The Lords of Hell then requested the twins to bring them four bouquets of flowers from the royal garden of Xibalba, at the same time commanding the gardeners to keep good watch over the flowers so that none of them might be removed. But the brothers called to their aid a swarm of ants, who succeeded in returning with the flowers. The anger of the Xibalbans increased to a white fury, and they incarcerated Hun-Apu and Xbalanque in the House of Lances, a dread abode where demons armed with sharp spears thrust at them fiercely. But they bribed the lancers and escaped. The Xibalbans slit the beaks of the owls who guarded the royal gardens, and howled in fury.


The Houses of the Ordeals

They were next thrust into the House of Cold. Here they escaped a dreadful death from freezing by warming themselves with burning pine-cones. Into the House of Tigers and the House of Fire they were thrown for a night each, but escaped from both. But they were not so lucky in the House of Bats. As they threaded this place of terror, Camazotz, Ruler of the Bats, descended upon them with a whirring of leathern wings, and with one sweep of his sword-like claws cut off Hun-Apu’s head. But a tortoise which chanced to pass the severed neck of the hero’s prostrate body and came into contact with it was immediately turned into a head, and Hun-Apu arose from his terrible experience not a whit the worse.

These various houses in which the brothers were forced to pass a certain time forcibly recall to our minds the several circles of Dante’s Hell. Xibalba was to the Kiche not a place of punishment, but a dark place of horror and myriad dangers. No wonder the Maya had what Landa calls “an immoderate fear of death” if they believed that after it they would be transported to such a dread abode!

With the object of proving their immortal nature to their adversaries, Hun-Apu and Xbalanque, first arranging for their resurrection with two sorcerers, Xulu and Pacaw, stretched themselves upon a bier and died. Their bones were ground to powder and thrown into the river. They then went through a kind of evolutionary process, appearing on the fifth day after their deaths as men-fishes and on the sixth as old men, ragged and tatterdemalion in appearance, killing and restoring each other to life. At the request of the princes of Xibalba, they burned the royal palace and restored it to its pristine splendour, killed and resuscitated the king’s dog, and cut a man in pieces, bringing him to life again. The Lords of Hell were curious about the sensation of death, and asked to be killed and resuscitated. The first portion of their request the hero-brothers speedily granted, but did not deem it necessary to pay any regard to the second.

Throwing off all disguise, the brothers assembled the now thoroughly cowed princes of Xibalba, and announced their intention of punishing them for their animosity against themselves, their father and uncle. They were forbidden to partake in the noble and classic game of ball—a great indignity in the eyes of Maya of the higher caste—they were condemned to menial tasks, and they were to have sway over the beasts of the forest alone. After this their power rapidly waned. These princes of the Underworld are described as being owl-like, with faces painted black and white, as symbolical of their duplicity and faithless disposition.

As some reward for the dreadful indignities they had undergone, the souls of Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu, the first adventurers into the darksome region of Xibalba, were translated to the skies, and became the sun and moon, and with this apotheosis the second book ends.

We can have no difficulty, in the light of comparative mythology, in seeing in the matter of this book a version of “the harrying of hell” common to many mythologies. In many primitive faiths a hero or heroes dares the countless dangers of Hades in order to prove to the savage mind that the terrors of death can be overcome. In Algonquian mythology Blue-Jay makes game of the Dead Folk whom his sister Ioi has married, and Balder passes through the Scandinavian Helheim. The god must first descend into the abyss and must emerge triumphant if humble folk are to possess assurance of immortality.


The Third Book

The opening of the third book finds the gods once more deliberating as to the creation of man. Four men are evolved as the result of these deliberations. These beings were moulded from a paste of yellow and white maize, and were named Balam-Quitze (Tiger with the Sweet Smile), Balam-Agab (Tiger of the Night), Mahacutah (The Distinguished Name), and Iqi-Balam (Tiger of the Moon).

But the god Hurakan who had formed them was not overpleased with his handiwork, for these beings were too much like the gods themselves. The gods once more took counsel, and agreed that man must be less perfect and possess less knowledge than this new race. He must not become as a god. So Hurakan breathed a cloud over their eyes in order that they might only see a portion of the earth, whereas before they had been able to see the whole round sphere of the world. After this the four men were plunged into a deep sleep, and four women were created, who were given them as wives. These were Caha-Paluma (Falling Water), Choima (Beautiful Water), Tzununiha (House of the Water), and Cakixa (Water of Parrots, or Brilliant Water), who were espoused to the men in the respective order given above.

These eight persons were the ancestors of the Kiche only, after which were created the forerunners of the other peoples. At this time there was no sun, and comparative darkness lay over the face of the earth. Men knew not the art of worship, but blindly lifted their eyes to heaven and prayed the Creator to send them quiet lives and the light of day. But no sun came, and dispeace entered their hearts. So they journeyed to a place called Tulan-Zuiva (The Seven Caves)—practically the same as Chicomoztoc in the Aztec myth—and there gods were vouchsafed to them. The names of these were Tohil, whom Balam-Quitze received; Avilix, whom Balam-Agab received; and Hacavitz, granted to Mahacutah. Iqi-Balam received a god, but as he had no family his worship and knowledge died out.


The Granting of Fire

Grievously did the Kiche feel the want of fire in the sunless world they inhabited, but this the god Tohil (The Rumbler, the Fire-god) quickly provided them with. However, a mighty rain descended and extinguished all the fires in the land. These, however, were always supplied again by Tohil, who had only to strike his feet together to produce fire. In this figure there is no difficulty in seeing a fully developed thunder-god.


The Kiche Babel

Tulan-Zuiva was a place of great misfortune to the Kiche, for here the race suffered alienation in its different branches by reason of a confounding of their speech, which recalls the story of Babel. Owing to this the first four men were no longer able to comprehend each other, and determined to leave the place of their mischance and to seek the leadership of the god Tohil into another and more fortunate sphere. In this journey they met with innumerable hardships. They had to cross many lofty mountains, and on one occasion had to make a long détour across the bed of the ocean, the waters of which were miraculously divided to permit of their passage. At last they arrived at a mountain which they called Hacavitz, after one of their deities, and here they remained, for it had been foretold that here they should see the sun. At last the luminary appeared. Men and beasts went wild with delight, although his beams were by no means strong, and he appeared more like a reflection in a mirror than the strong sun of later days whose fiery beams speedily sucked up the blood of victims on the altar. As he showed his face the three tribal gods of the Kiche were turned into stone, as were the gods or totems connected with the wild animals. Then arose the first Kiche town, or permanent dwelling-place.


The Last Days of the First Men

Time passed, and the first men of the Kiche race grew old. Visions came to them, in which they were exhorted by the gods to render human sacrifices, and in order to obey the divine injunctions they raided the neighbouring lands, the folk of which made a spirited resistance. But in a great battle the Kiche were miraculously assisted by a horde of wasps and hornets, which flew in the faces of their foes, stinging and blinding them, so that they could not wield weapon nor see to make any effective resistance. After this battle the surrounding races became tributary to them.


Death of the First Men

Now the first men felt that their death-day was nigh, and they called their kin and dependents around them to hear their dying words. In the grief of their souls they chanted the song “Kamucu,” the song “We see,” that they had sung so joyfully when they had first seen the light of day. Then they parted from their wives and sons one by one. And of a sudden they were not, and in their place was a great bundle, which was never opened. It was called the “Majesty Enveloped.” So died the first men of the Kiche.



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