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Teaching Video (with experts)

Animated Video by Patricia Amlin

Popol Vuh: The Creation Myth and the Maya (1987: Part One)
complete playlist

Animated Short (with focus on hero twins)

Maya Codices



Love's Quatrefoil 600 - 900 BCE

"All alone are the Framer and the Shaper, Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent, They Who Have Borne Children and They Who Have Begotten Sons. Luminous they are in the water, wrapped in quetzal feathers and cotinga feathers. Thus they are called Quetzal Serpent. In their essence, they are great sages, great possessors of knowledge. Thus surely there is the sky. There is also Heart of Sky,56 which is said to be the name of the god." (Christenson 57-58)

"'Then be it so. You are conceived. May the water be taken away, emptied out, so that the plate of the earth may be created—may it be gathered and become level. Then may it be sown; then may dawn the sky and the earth. There can be no worship, no reverence given by what we have framed and what we have shaped, until humanity has been created, until people have been made,' they said." (Christenson 61).

Carving of Hunaphu on a pyramid beside a pool at Mirador 300 BCE
CNN Overview:
Having learned Zipacna's habits, the young pair of hero-gods work out a subterfuge for overcoming the giant and construct an enormous crab . . . (Girard 80)


We found a large number of books of these characters, and . . . we burned them all -- Fr. Diego de Landa (Christenson, Allen J. Popol Vuh. Univ. of Oklahoma, 2007: p. 21)
During de Landa's reign as bishop of Yucatan 1573-1579: "there had been destroyed, as is asserted, two million sacred images and hundreds of hieroglyphic manuscripts — practically the whole of the voluminous native Maya literature" -- Catholic Encyclopedia


"Quiché poetry is not based on rhyme or metrical rhythms, but rather the arrangement of concepts into innovative and even ornate parallel structures. Seldom are the authors content with expressing a single idea without embellishing it with synonymous concepts, metaphors, or descriptive epithets. The Quiché poet is much like the composer of classical music who begins with a simple melody and then weaves into it both complementary and contrasting harmonies to give it interest and depth. Thus endless variations on a given theme are possible." (Christenson 33)

"More than fifteen hundred years prior to the Spanish conquest, the Maya developed a sophisticated hieroglyphic script capable of recording complex literary compositions, both on folded screen codices made of bark paper as well as texts incised on more durable stone or wood." (Christenson 10)

English translation from Quiche Mayan by Christenson (recommended; TOC outline)
See the Popol Vuh translated by Goetz and Morley at google books
Also see the Tedlock translation at Google Books:
Also see a closely related classic, The Chilam Balam, at

Story Highlights

Notes from Allen J. Christenson's 2007 translation (Univ. of Oklahoma).

Preamble: the ancient traditions

  • Introduction of the Framer and the Shaper
  • Introduction of Xmucane and Xpiayacoc (mother and father of creation)

Primordial world: like standing water

  • The four gods above now are consolidated as Quetzal Serpent, Heart of Sky

Creation of Earth

  • "they pondered. They reached an accord" (Christenson 70)
  • "Merely their word brought about the creation of it [the world]" (Christenson 71)
  • "merely their spirit essence, their miraculous power that brought about the conception"
  • "sprit essence" is Christenson's choice for "Nawal": something which all things :*have, "both :*living and inanimate" (fn 72)

Creation and Overthrow of the Animals (First attempt at people)

  • to not to be "merely solitary, merely silent" the gods create animals (74)
  • but the animals are "not able to speak our names" (77)

Creation of the Mud People (Second attempt at people)

  • "but they merely came undone and crumbled" (78)

Creation and Fall of the Stick People (Third attempt at people)

  • carved of tz'ite coral wood and reeds
  • "but they still did not possess their hearts nor their minds" (83)
  • dogs and turkeys revolted because they were not fed (87)
  • pots and pans revolted against always being tossed into fire (88)
  • hearth stones flattened them (88)
  • today they are the spider monkeys (90)

Rise and Fall of Seven Macaw [Tedlock: big dipper]

  • boasted that he was the sun, "puffed himself up in this way because of his plumage and his :*gold and silver" (93)
  • but his vision "did not reach beyond where he sat" (93)
  • (on Tedlock's view, the defeat of Seven Macaw clears the way for the defeat of the stick people, since they worship His Vanity)

Enter "the twins,named Hunahpu and Xbalanque. They were simply gods." (Christenson 80)

  • "May it be done thus, for people cannot be created where only gold and silver are glory." (Christenson 82)
  • Now this Seven Macaw had two sons. His firstborn was Zipacna (who sustained the six great mountains), and his secondborn was Cabracan (who shook the mountains). Chimalmat was the name of their mother, the wife of Seven Macaw." (Christenson 82-83)
  • With a blowgun they knock out a tooth from 7 Macaw
  • 7 Macaw retaliates by tearing off the arm of Hunapuh
  • the twins get their grandparents to approach 7 Macaw as healers
  • the grandparents replace 7 Macaw's teeth with white maize
  • "and immediately his face fell. No longer did he appear as a lord." (Christenson 88)
  • they get their arm back
  • "They had desired the death of Seven Macaw, and they were able to do it. For they saw pride as evil191 and went to do these things according to the word of Heart of Sky." (Christenson 88)

Zipacna defeats the 400 boys

  • "he did not dig his own tomb there at the bottom of the hole; rather he dug the means for his own salvation" (Christenson 91)
  • "All four hundred boys thus were drunk and didn’t feel anything when Zipacna collapsed their hut down upon their heads" (Christenson 93).
  • they become the Pleiades

Twins defeat Zipacna

  • "Thus Hunahpu and Xbalanque transformed for him a great crab. For this purpose, they used a bromelia flower, the kind of bromeliad that may be picked in the forests, to make the open claws. For its shell and backside, they used a hollowed-out stone." (Christenson 94) compare
  • "defeated beneath the mountain called Meauan" (Christenson 96)

Twins defeat Cabracan

  • "They covered the skin of one of the birds with quicklime until it was coated with white earth." (Christenson 99)

Of the fathers now: "great thinkers" One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu

  • One Hunahpu had two sons: "One Batz and One Chouen became flautists and singers, writers and sculptors, jade workers and precious metalsmiths" (Christenson 102)
  • "Now it was on the path leading to Xibalba where they played ball. Thus the lords of Xibalba, One Death and Seven Death, heard them" (Christenson 103)
  • "Certainly they act arrogantly" said the lords of death. (Christenson 103)

(notes from Tedlock Intro)

Back to Xmucane and Xpiayacoc, who beget:

One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, defeated by the Lords of Xibalba

One Hunahpu's head hangs as fruit of Calabash tree

Blood Woman approaches the fruit, gets spit on

Enter Hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque who defeat:

  • the Lords of Xibalba
  • Zipacna [Tedlock "crocodilian maker of mountains"] w/ crab
  • after Zipacna destroys the 400 Boys [Tedlock: Pleiades, a handful of seeds; Girard: origin of stars]

Tedlock p. 42: "whenever Venus rises as a morning star on a day named Net, corresponding to the appearance of Hunahpu and Xibalanque on the earth, its next descent into the underworld will always fall on a day named Hunahpu"


For a masterful commentary on the text, written by a patient scholar, see the Theosophical University Press Online Edition of ESOTERICISM OF THE POPOL VUH By Raphael Girard, Translated from the Spanish with a Foreword by Blair A. Moffett:

  • As The The Popol Vuh maps a narrative onto precise astronomical events, it also presents a precise pattern for ongoing ceremonies and customs of Mayan peoples (Girard Ch. 1: Introduction)

(see "The Rectification of Names" in Confucius)

  • The Popol Vuh is ancient enough to provide a system that demonstrates J. Imbelloni's claim that Mayan and Mexican systems are closely connected; their mythic materials are "identical" (Girard Ch. 1: Introduction).
  • In Chapter 3, Girard recounts the self creation of the uncreated deity who climbs into heaven and creates the seven active gods of creation: ". . . Tzakol, Bitol, Alom, and Cajolom were identified as the Regent-gods of the four cosmic corners. These, on coming together in heaven in union with Tepeü and Gucumatz, form god-Seven or Heart of Heaven, an entity that is distinct from each one of its components but which embraces them all, agreeable to the Quiché-Maya's monotheist conception. In this view Tepeü and Gucumatz correspond to the sun at its rising and at its setting along the ecliptic, when the star moves through the zenith to form the astronomical cross by crossing the line of parallel with that of the meridian (Girard, Los Chortís, chapter on the Tzolkín). In this moment god-Seven, or the agrarian or creative god, acts, since only then are present all the hypostases composing it. Thus, 'when Tepeü and Gucumatz arrived then was the Word'; that is, the act took place which created the earth. As explained elsewhere, Word and Action are equivalent terms with and are used in the same sense by the Mayas, Quichés, and Mexicans. The divine Word implies instantaneous creation, or the thing done."
  • In Chapter 13, Girard explains how the emergence of the dawn of the fourth age brings the story of the Popol Vuh into the era of historical humanity: "Thus the humankind of the Fourth Creation will be formed in the same way as Hunahpú, from which it follows that the divine spirit now enters into human life, lights the flame of knowledge in the soul, and gives to the being its new ethical physiognomy. Therefore man's feelings will be pure and elevated and, having an awareness of being part of divinity, he will know how to discharge his real duties, paying tribute to the Creator in the same way as do the creative gods to the Supreme Being to whom 'they give that which is its just due.'"
  • Hunaphu is immaculately born of a Supreme Being, and "provides the standards of natural law and ethics contained in religious morality of a utilitarian character, based on the conservation of the individual, family, and society, and the principle of authority and economic security for the well-being of humanity. Hunahpú exemplifies the kind of ethical action which characterizes the ideal human type" (Ch. 2)
  • Regarding the part of story that explains not only divine origin, but also an original divine nature in humanity that has been deliberately limited by the creator gods, Girard finds an ethical assertion such that, "true men nurture a continuous aspiration to excel in virtue so as to be able to realize the ideal of divine omniscience and so regain the condition of god-men that they originally possessed" (Girard, Ch. 14).
  • In Chapter 12 on "Cosmogonic, Astronomic, and Chronological Meaning," Girard discusses the importance of the number 20 for the "vigesimal" system of Mayan mathematics, the combined count of fingers and toes. We also see how the conjunction of the sun (Hunapu) and the Pleiades (the 400 boys) becomes an organizing point for Mayan astronomy and calendar keeping.


In Chapter 14, Girard explains that the Fourth Age of agriculture (maize) is also the inauguration of patriarchy. In the Third Age, which is tribal, matriarchal, and distinguished by the diet of the bean, characters have only mothers. In the Fourth Age, the Four Men are prior to women, with divinely created bodies. The material staples of Fourth Age culture ("maize, beans, calabash, cacao, the rubber tree, tobacco, and cotton") attributed to the regions of Paxil and Cayalá, would correspond to the Pacific coast of Guatemala.

See: Michael Love's quatrefoil from La Blanca (600-900 BCE) / Izapa / Tak’alik Ab’aj / Iximché (Google Earth has several photos)

Evidence of Maya writing that dates to 2,300 years ago (200-400 BCE) has turned up in a pyramidal structure in Guatemala (National Geographic News, Jan. 5, 2006)

"Writing in Mesoamerica developed during the late Olmec times, around 700-500 BC and probably originated from Olmec iconography that preceded it, and was later abstracted to a writing system. This writing system was later separated into two traditions in two different areas: the highlands of Mexico, and the highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas with an adjacent area in the Guatemalan Pacific coast" (Harri Kettunen, University of Helsinki and Christophe Helmke, University College London. Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphics. Workshop Handbook 6th Edition Rev. 2004. In pdf format 117 pages; 9mb:

Ancient Maya Royal Tomb Discovered in Guatemala. John Roach. National Geographic News. May 4, 2006: "A newly uncovered Maya tomb might be the resting place of the first ruler of Waka', an ancient city on what was a major trade route. The tomb, uncovered deep in the jungles of [NE] Guatemala, contains a single skeleton lying on a stone bench, jade jewels, and the remains of a jaguar pelt, according to news reports."

Photo in the News: Oldest Known Maya Mural Reveals Royal Tale. National Geographic News. John Roach: "December 13, 2005 — Archaeologists today revealed the final section of the earliest known Maya mural ever found, saying that the find upends everything they thought they knew about the origins of Maya art, writing, and rule. . . . The painting dates to 100 B.C., proving that stories of creation and kings—and the use of elaborate art and writing to tell them — were well established more than 2,000 years ago, 700 years earlier than previously believed."

Delineating genetic relationships among the Maya. Lisa Ibarra-Rivera, Sheyla Mirabal, Manuela M. Regueiro, Rene J. Herrera, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Published Online: 13 Nov 2007. Study shows common genetic heritage and exchange between Mayan groups of Guatemala and Mexico.


Mayan Writing at the Foundation for the Advancement of MesoAmerican Studies

Mayan Codices

The Dresden Codex at Dresden University Library

Chilam Balam Digital Collection at Princeton

Aztec Codices

Contemporary Performance

Fragment from "The Long Count" (multimedia performance)
Ginastera (orchestra)