Myths and Legends
From the “Poetic” Edda, one of the primary written sources for Norse mythology, here is one translation of the Havamàl which speaks about the runes and runic power.
Do you know, how to carve them?
Do you know, how to read them?
Do you know, how to color them?
Do you know, how to understand them?
Do you know, how to pray?
Do you know, how to sacrifice?
Do you know, how to send?
Do you know, how to discard?
Better not to pray at all,
than to sacrifice too much.
A gift requires a gift in return.
Better not to send at all,
than to counteract too much.
Thus carved Thund before time,
when he rose, when he returned.
The Havamàl is part of the Elder or “Poetic” Edda, which is one of the primary written sources for Norse mythology. This excerpt from the W. H. Auden and P. B. Taylor translation of the Havamàl contains Odin’s telling of how he obtained the runes and runic power.
Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows
For nine long nights,
Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odin,
Offered, myself to myself
The wisest know not from whence spring
The roots of that ancient rood.
They gave me no bread,
They gave me no mead,
I looked down;
With a loud cry
I took up runes;
From that tree I fell.
Nine lays of power
I learned from the famous Bolthor, Bestla’ s father:
He poured me a draught of precious mead,
Mixed with magic Odrerir.
Waxed and throve well;
Word from word gave words to me,
Deed from deed gave deeds to me.
Runes you will find, and readable staves,
Very strong staves,
Very stout staves,
Staves that Bolthor stained,
Made by mighty powers,
Graven by the prophetic God.
For the Gods by Odin, for the Elves by Dain,
By Dvalin, too, for the Dwarves,
By Asvid for the hateful Giants,
And some I carved myself:
Thund, before man was made, scratched them,
Who rose first, fell thereafter.
Know how to cut them,
know how to read them,
Know how to stain them,
know how to prove them,
Know how to evoke them,
know how to score them,
Know how to send them,
know how to send them.
Better not to ask than to over-pledge
As a gift that demands a gift.
Better not to send
Than to slay too many.
In the beginning was Muspell, the realm of fire. It is a place of dreadful light and heat. Only its natives, the Fire Giants, can tolerate its flames. Surt, a Fire Giant, guards Muspell’s border, armed with a flaming sword. At the end of the era, at Ragnarok, Surt and his companions will destroy all the Gods and and their world with fire.
Outside of Muspell lies the void called Ginnungagap, and north of Ginnungagap is Niflheim, the world of awesome dark and cold. In this world are eleven rivers flowing from a great well. The rivers are frozen and occupy Ginnungagap. When the wind, rain, ice, and cold meet the heat and fire of Muspell in the center of Ginnungagap, a place of light, air, and warmth is born.
Where fire and ice first met, thawing drops appeared. Beneath the melting ice lay a Frost Giant named Ymir. Ymir slept, falling into a sweat. Under his left arm there grew a couple, male and female Giants. One of his legs begot a son with the other.
The melting frost became a cow called Audhumla from whose udders ran four rivers of milk that fed Ymir.
After one day of licking salty ice blocks, she freed a man’s hair from the ice. After two days, his head appeared. On the third day the whole man was released from the ice. The man’s name was Buri. Buri had a son named Bor. Bor married Bestla, the daughter of a Giant, with whom he had three sons. Odin was the first, Vili the second, and Vé the third. Odin, in association with his brothers, is the ruler of heaven and earth. He is the greatest and most famous of all Gods.
Odin and his brothers killed the Giant Ymir. They carried Ymir to the middle of Ginnungagap and created the world, called Midgard, from his body. Ymir’s blood became the sea and and lakes. His skull became the cover of the sky which was set over the earth. Ymir’s brains were tossed into the air, and became clouds. Then sparks and burning embers from Muspell were placed in the middle of Ginnungagap to give light to Midgard. They named the stars and set their paths. Ymir’s skeleton became the mountains of Midgard. His teeth and jaws became rocks and pebbles. His flesh was ground into dirt in the great mill Grottekvarnen. Ymir’s hair became trees. Maggots appeared in Ymir’s flesh became Dwarves, who had human understanding and the appearance of men, but lived in the earth. Under each corner of the sky the suns of Buri put a Dwarf. The four Dwarves are called Austri (East), Vestri (West), Nordri (North), and Sudri (South).
Midgard was surrounded by an enormous ocean. Odin, Vili and Vé gave lands along the coasts to the friendlier Giants, the Etin, for their settlements. From two trees they created a human man and woman. Odin gave the man and the woman spirit and life. Vili gave them understanding and the power of movement. Vé gave them clothing and names. The man was named Ask [Ash] and the woman Embla [Elm]. Ask and Embla are the ancestors of all humans in Midgard.
Next they built Åsgard, the home of the Gods. In a hall named Hlidskjálf, Odin sits on a high seat from which he can look out over the whole world. Odin married Frigga, the daughter of the Giant Fjörgvin.
Yggdrasil, the World-Tree, the tree of fate, arises in the center of the Midgard. Its branches reach up over Asgard. The entire universe is dependent on the World-Tree. The tree has three three roots. One reaches into the underworld Hel, another to the world of the Frost-Giants, and the last one to the world of human beings. Beneath the tree is the Urda well, guarded by the Norns, the three Goddesses of Fate. Two other wells also feed Yggdrasil. One is called Hvergelmer, and the other is Mimer’s well. The dragon Nidhog lies in Hvergelmer and gnaws on the roots of the tree. Mimer’s well is the well of wisdom, guarded by the wisest of all beings, Mimer. Odin once gave his right eye for a drink of the water from this well.
The Gods built a bridge called Bifröst from Asgard (heaven) to Midgard (earth). They ride daily over the great rainbow bridge. Bifröst is guarded by the God Heimdall. Heimdall sleeps lighter than a bird, sees one hundred travel-days in each direction, and has such sharp ears that he can hear the grass and the wool grow. But as strong as Bifröst is, it will collapse when the when the Frost Giants ride out over it at Ragnarok. There is nothing that can be relied on when the sons of Muspell are on the warpath.
Gods & Goddeses
The Norse deities are divided into two major groups, the Aesir and the Vanir. The Vanir, the “Earth Gods”, symbolize riches, fertility, and fecundity. They are associated with the earth and the sea. The most important Gods of the Vanir are Njord, Freyr, Aegir and Freya.
The Aesir, the “Sky Gods”, symbolize power, wisdom, and war. They are long lived, but not immortal. Odin is the leader of the Gods, with magical skills. Thor, with his magic hammer, is the God of Thunder who presides over working men. Loki is a Giant who is an Aesir by adoption. He and Odin made a vow of friendship and became blood-brothers. Loki is a trickster, a shapeshifter, and a troublemaker.
In the distant past a fierce war was fought between the Aesir and the Vanir. The conflict between the Gods began when Odin and Thor refused to recognize the full status of Godhood to the Vanir. The Vanir sent a beautiful woman, Gullveig (gold-drink), to the Aesir, who tried to destroy her. She came back to life three times, and led to their corruption. War then broke out. After both sides were exhausted, each side exchanged members of its group with the other; the Vanir sent Njord and his son and daughter Freyr and Freya, the Aesir sent Mimir and Hoenir. The truce was celebrated by a meeting at which all the Gods spit into a bowl, creating a Giant called Kvasir, who is the sign of peace and harmony among the deities. Kvasir was later sacrificed and from his blood became a potent drink which inebriates deities and gives inspiration to poets.
Balder, one of the sons of Odin, appeared as the essence of intelligence, piety, and wisdom. Both Gods and men came to him to settle legal disputes, and his judgments were reconciling and fair. Balder had a dream in which his life was threatened. Upon reporting this dream to his mother, Frigga, she exacted an oath from fire, water, metals, earth, stones, and all birds and animals. They swore they would not harm Balder. Because of his immunity, the Aesir used Balder as a target in games, throwing darts and stones at him. When Loki saw this, he disguised himself as a woman and asked Frigga why Balder suffered no harm. Frigga told him of the oath. Loki tricked her into telling him that mistletoe was the only being that did not agree to the oath. Loki immediately took mistletoe and created arrows. He took the arrows to the Blind God Hoder, brother of Balder, and volunteered to direct his aim so that he would participate in the game. When the mistletoe struck Balder, Balder fell dead.
Because Balder was not a warrior and did not die in battle, he did not go to Valhalla, the hall of slain heroes, but into the domain of Hel, Keeper of the Dead. When Odin begged his release, Hel (Loki’s daughter) responded that if everything in the world both dead and alive wept for Balder, then he could return to the Aesir. If not, he would remain with Hel. The Aesir sent messengers throughout the world asking all to weep for Balder. All responded except a Giantess, Thokk (Loki in disguise), whose refusal to weep forced Balder to remain in Hel’s domain. The Aesir succeeded in capturing Loki. To punish him for his many crimes, they chained him beneath a serpent, which dripped venom onto him, causing terrible pain.
The Ragnarok, or end of the world, has been prophesied. When Mirmir no longer guards his well, Yggdrasil’s root will begin to rot. The Nidhog dragon will finally succeed in knawing through the root that ends at Hvergelmer well. The Norns will be alarmed at the pollution of the Urdh well and the yellowing of the leaves of the world tree. Odin’s sacrificed eye lies in Mirmir’s well and sees what is to come. He knows that nothing can stop Fibulwinter, three years with endless winter, which will be followed by Ragnarok.
The days will grow colder until even Urda well freezes solid. Storm and sleet will pound the World-Tree. One of Yggdrasil’s branches will break and fall, striking Jormungand, the world serpent, which immediately will let go of its tail. The Hel ship Naglfar will become visible in the mist. The wolves Skoll and Manegarm will get closer and closer to Sun and Moon, which they have chased for eons. Fenrir wolf and and the Hel-wolf Garm will break their chains. Giants will release Loki from his fetters on the mountain. Nidhoggr will leave the roots of Yggdrasil and head toward Asgard. Behind him will march all the Giants. Heimdall will see all this, and will take up the Gjallarhorn to blow the warning.
Loki will lead monsters and Giants to attack the Gods in the great battle of Ragnarok on Vigrid plain. The leader of the Fire Giants, Surt, will attack Freyr, who will be armed only with a deer’s antler. Freyr will stick his deer horn through Surt’s eye, but then Surt will kill him with his flaming sword. Thor’s son Magni will send a killing arrow toward Nidhoggr’s head. Side by side, Odin and Thor will fight Fenrir and Jormungand. Odin will put his spear, Gungnir, in Fenrir’s chest, but the wolf will crush Odin to the ground. Thor will kill Jormungand with his hammer, Mjollnir, but then will take nine steps backwards and fall down, poisoned by the serpent’s venom. Tyr will kill the wolf dog Garm. Vidar will take revenge for Odin. The enemies Loki and Heimdall will their spears at each other at the same time and both will die. Modi will be surrounded by Giants, but Magni and Vidar will rescue him.
The winds will increase and blow Yggdrasil from every direction until the great World-Tree falls. The Dark Elves forge will tip and the World-Tree will burn. The Bifrost Rainbow Bridge will collapse and one by one each of the Worlds will fall. The remaining Aesir will escape in Freyr’s ship, Skidbladnir. It will be almost taken by the Hel-ship Naglfar. Midgard will then be destroyed by fire, and will sink back into the sea.
This final destruction will be followed by a rebirth, the Earth reemerging from the sea. Seven sons of the dead Aesir will return to Asgard and rule the universe.
As we saw in a previous post, the Seven Macaw was getting way too full of himself.
Here we have the beginning of the defeat and destruction of the day of Seven Macaw by the two boys, the first named Hunahpu and the second named Xbalanque.
Being gods, the two of them saw evil in his attempt at self-magnification before the Heart of Sky. So the boys talked: “It’s no good without life, without people here on the face of the earth.”
“Well then, let’s try a shot. We could shoot him while he’s at his meal. We could make him ill, then put an end to his riches, his jade, his metal, his jewels, his gems, the source of his brilliance. Everyone might do as he does, but it should not come to be that fiery splendor is merely a matter of metal. So be it,” said the boys, each one with a blowgun on his shoulder, the two of them together.
And this Seven Macaw has two sons: the first of these is Zipacna, and the second is the Earthquake. And Chimalmat is the name of their mother, the wife of Seven Macaw.
And this is Zipacna, this is the one to build up the great mountains: Fire Mouth, Hunahpu, Cave by the Water, Xcanul, Macamob, Huliznab, as the names of the mountains that were there at the dawn are spoken. They were brought forth by Zipacna in a single night.
And now this is the Earthquake. The mountains are moved by him; the mountains, small and great, are softened by him. The sons of Seven Macaw did this just as a means of self-magnification.
“Here am I: I am the sun,” said Seven Macaw.
“Here am I: I am the maker of the earth,” said Zipacna.
“As for me, I bring down the sky, I make an avalanche of all the earth,” said Earthquake. The sons of Seven Macaw are alike, and like him: they got their greatness from their father.
And the two boys saw evil in this, since our first mother and father could not yet be made. Therefore deaths and disappearances were planned by the two boys.
And here is the shooting of the Seven Macaw by the two boys. We shall explain the defeat of each one of those who engaged in self-magnification.
This is the great tree of Seven Macaw, a nance, and this is the food of Seven Macaw. In order to eat the fruit of the nance he goes up the tree every day. Since Hunahpu and Xbalanque have seen where he feeds, they are now hiding beneath the tree of Seven Macaw, they are keeping quiet here, the two boys are in the leaves of the tree.
They are now hiding beneath the tree of Seven Macaw. In this classic Maya vase painting from the lowlands, Seven Macaw is shown perched in the top of a fruit tree. The tree itself is portrayed as animate, with a face and ears at its base. Hidden behind the tree is Xbalanque, whose pawlike hand protrudes above the tree’s left ear. Crouching at the right is Hunahpu, in the act of shooting Seven Macaw with his blowgun. (The presence of a scorpion beneath the tree remains unexplained.)
And when Seven Macaw arrived, perching over his meal, the nance, it was then that he was shot by Hunahpu. The blowgun shot went right to his jaw, breaking his mouth. Then he went up over the tree and fell flat on the ground. Suddenly Hunahpu appeared, running. He set out to grab him, but actually it was the arm of Hunahpu that was seized by Seven Macaw. He yanked it straight back, he bent it back at the shoulder. Then Seven Macaw tore it right out of Hunahpu. Even so, the boys did well: the first round was not their defeat by Seven Macaw.
And when Seven Macaw had taken the arm of Hunahpu, he went home. Holding his jaw very carefully, he arrived: “What have you got there?” said Chimalmat, the wife of Seven Macaw.
“What is it but those two tricksters! They’ve shot me, they’ve dislocated my jaw. All my teeth are just loose, now they ache. But once what I’ve got is over the fire- hanging there, dangling over the fire- then they can just come and get it. They’re real tricksters!” said Seven Macaw, then he hung up the arm of Hunahpu.
Meanwhile Hunahpu and Xbalanque were thinking. And then they invoked a grandfather, a truly white-haired grandfather, and a grandmother, a truly humble grandmother- just bent-over, elderly people. Great White Peccary is the name of the grandfather, and Great White Tapir is the name of the grandmother. The boys said to the grandmother and grandfather:
“Please travel with us when we go to get our arm from Seven Macaw; we’ll just follow right behind you. You’ll tell him: ‘Do forgive us our grandchildren, who travel with us. Their mother and father are dead, and so they follow along there, behind us. Perhaps we should give them away, since all we do is pull worms out of teeth.’ So we’ll seem like children to Seven Macaw, even though we’re giving you the instructions,” the two boys told them.
“Very well,” they replied.
After that they approached the place where Seven Macaw was in front of his home. When the grandmother and grandfather passed by, the two boys were romping along behind them. When they passed below the lord’s house, Seven Macaw was yelling his mouth off because of his teeth. And when Seven Macaw saw the grandfather and grandmother traveling with them:
“Where are you headed, our grandfather?” said the lord.
“We’re just making our living, your lordship,” they replied.
“Why are you working for a living? Aren’t those your children traveling with you?”
“No, they’re not, your lordship. They’re our grandchildren, our descendants, but it is nevertheless we who take pity on them. The bit of food they get is the portion we give them, your lordship,” replied the grandmother and grandfather. Since the lord is getting done in by the pain in his teeth, it is only with great effort that he speaks again:
“I implore you, please take pity on me! What sweets can you make, what poisons can you cure?” said the lord.
“We just pull the worms out of teeth, and we just cure eyes. We just set bones, your lordship,” they replied.
“Very well, please cure my teeth. They really ache, every day. It’s insufferable! I get no sleep because of them- and my eyes. They just shot me, those two tricksters! Ever since it started I haven’t eaten because of it. Therefore take pity on me! Perhaps it’s because my teeth are loose now.”
“Very well, your lordship. It’s a worm, gnawing at the bone. It’s merely a matter of putting in a replacement and taking the teeth out, sir.”
“But perhaps it’s not good for my teeth to come out- since I am, after all, a lord. My finery is in my teeth- and my eyes.”
“But then we’ll put in a replacement. Ground bone will be put back in.” And this is the “ground bone”: it’s only white corn.
“Very well. Yank them out! Give me some help here!” he replied.
And when the teeth of Seven Macaw came out, it was only white corn that went in as a replacement for his teeth- just a coating shining white, that corn in his mouth. His face fell at once, he no longer looked like a lord. The last of his teeth came out, the jewels that had stood out blue from his mouth.
And then the eyes of Seven Macaw were cured. When his eyes were trimmed back the last of his metal came out. Still he felt no pain; he just looked on while the last of his greatness left him. It was just as Hunahpu and Xbalanque had intended.
And when Seven Macaw died, Hunahpu got back his arm. And Chimalmat, the wife of Seven Macaw, also died.
Such was the loss of the riches of Seven Macaw: only the doctors got the jewels and gems that had made him arrogant, here on the face of the earth. The genius of the grandmother, the genius of the grandfather did its work when they took back their arm: it was implanted and the break got well again. Just as they had wished the death of Seven Macaw, so they brought it about. They had seen evil in his self-magnification.
After this the two boys went on again. What they did was simply the word of the Heart of Sky.
From: Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
This was when there was just a trace of early dawn on the face of the earth, there was no sun. But there was one who magnified himself; Seven Macaw is his name. The sky-earth was already there, but the face of the sun-moon was clouded over. Even so, it is said that his light provided a sign for the people who were flooded. He was like a person of genius in his being.
“I am great. My place is now higher than that of the human work, the human design. I am their sun and I am their light, and I am also their months.
“So be it: my light is great. I am the walkway and I am the foothold of the people, because my eyes are of metal. My teeth just glitter with jewels, and turquoise as well; they stand out blue with stones like the face of the sky.
“And this nose of mine shines white into the distance like the moon. Since my nest is metal, it lights up the face of the earth. When I come forth before my nest, I am like the sun and moon for those who are born in the light, begotten in the light. It must be so, because my face reaches into the distance,” says Seven Macaw.
It is not true that he is the sun, this Seven Macaw, yet he magnifies himself, his wings, his metal. But the scope of his face lies right around his own perch; his face does not reach everywhere beneath the sky. The faces of the sun, moon, and stars are not yet visible, it has not yet dawned.
And so Seven Macaw puffs himself up as the days and the months, though the light of the sun and moon has not yet clarified. He only wished for surpassing greatness.
This was when the flood was worked upon the manikins, woodcarvings.
From: Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
From the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, we have this account of how the Gods destroyed their second failed experiment with creating humans.
Again there comes a humiliation, destruction, and demolition. The manikins, woodcarvings were killed when the Heart of Sky devised a flood for them. A great flood was made; it came down on the heads of the manikins, woodcarvings.
The man’s body was carved from the wood of the coral tree by the Maker, Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed the pith of reeds for the woman’s body. They were not competent, nor did they speak before the builder and sculptor who made them and brought them forth, and so they were killed, done in by a flood:
- There came a rain of resin from the sky.
- There came the one named Gouger of Faces: he gouged out their eyeballs.
- There came Sudden Bloodletter: he snapped off their heads.
- There came Crunching Jaguar: he ate their flesh.
- There came Tearing Jaguar: he tore them open.
They were pounded down to the bones and tendons, smashed and pulverized even to the bones. Their faces were smashed because they were incompetent before their mother and their father, the Heart of Sky, named Hurricane. The earth was blackened because of this; the black rainstorm began, rain all day and rain all night.
Into their houses came the animals, small and great. Their faces were crushed by things of wood and stone. Everything spoke: their water jars, their tortilla griddles, their plates, their cooking pots, their dogs, their grinding stones, each and every thing crushed their faces.
Their dogs and turkeys told them: “You caused us pain, you ate us, but now it is you whom we shall eat.” And this is the grinding stone:
“We were undone because of you.
Every day, every day,
in the dark, in the dawn, forever,
right in our faces, because of you.
This was the service we gave you at first, when you were still people, but today you will learn of our power. We shall pound and we shall grind your flesh,” their grinding stones told them.
And this is what their dogs said, when they spoke in their turn: “Why is it you can’t seem to give us our food? We just watch and you just keep us down, and you throw us around. You keep a stick ready when you eat, just so you can hit us. We don’t talk, so we’ve received nothing from you. How could you not have known? You did know that we were wasting away there, behind you.
“So, this very day you will taste the teeth in our mouths. We shall eat you,” their dogs told them, and their faces were crushed. And then their tortilla griddles and cooking pots spoke to them in turn:
“Pain! That’s all you’ve done for us. Our mouths are sooty, our faces are sooty. By setting us on the fire all the time, you burn us. Since we felt no pain, you try it. We shall burn you,” all their cooking pots said, crushing their faces.
The stones, their hearthstones were shooting out, coming right out of the fire, going for their heads, causing them pain. Now they run for it, helter-skelter. They want to climb up on the houses, but they fall as the houses collapse.
They want to climb the trees; they’re thrown off by the trees. They want to get inside caves, but the caves slam shut in their faces.
Such was the scattering of the human work, the human design. The people were ground down, overthrown. The mouths and faces of all of them were destroyed and crushed. And it used to be said that the monkeys in the forests today are a sign of this. They were left as a sign because wood alone was used for their flesh by the builder and sculptor.
So this is why monkeys look like people: they are a sign of a previous human work, human design- mere manikins, mere woodcarvings.
From: Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
From the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, we have this account of the Gods first experiment with creating humans. This experiment was undertaken because the final result of the creation of the animals did not go as planned.
Again there comes an experiment with the human work, the human design, by the Maker, Modeler, Bearer, Begetter:
“It must simply be tried again. The time for the planting and dawning is nearing. For this we must make a provider and nurturer. How else can we be invoked and remembered on the face of the earth? We have already made our first try at our work and design, but it turned out that they didn’t keep our days, nor did they glorify us.
“So now let’s try to make a giver of praise, giver of respect, provider, nurturer,” they said. So then comes the building and working with earth and mud. They made a body, but it didn’t look good to them. It was just separating, just crumbling, just loosening, just softening, just disintegrating, and just dissolving. Its head wouldn’t turn, either. Its face was just lopsided, its face was just twisted. It couldn’t look around. It talked at first, but senselessly. It was quickly dissolving in the water.
“It won’t last,” the mason and sculptor said then. “It seems to be dwindling away, so let it just dwindle. It can’t walk and it can’t multiply, so let it be merely a thought,” they said. So then they dismantled, again they brought down their work and design.
Again they talked: “What is there for us to make that would turn out well, that would succeed in keeping our days and praying to us?” they said.
Then they planned again: “We’ll just tell Xpiyacoc, Xmucane, Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu Coyote, to try a counting of days, a counting of lots,” the mason and sculptor said to themselves. Then they invoked Xpiyacoc, Xmucane. Then comes the naming of those who are the midmost seers: the “Grandmother of Day, Grandmother of Light,” as the Maker, Modeler called them. These are names of Xpiyacoc and Xmucane.
When Hurricane had spoken with the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, they invoked the daykeepers, diviners, the midmost seers: “There is yet to find, yet to discover how we are to model a person, construct a person again, a provider, nurturer, so that we are called upon and we are recognized: our recompense is in words.
our grandmother, our grandfather,
let there be planting, let there be the dawning
of our invocation, our sustenance, our recognition
by the human work, the human design,
the human figure, the human mass.
So be it, fulfill your names:
Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu Coyote,
Bearer twice over, Begetter twice over,
Great Peccary, Great Tapir,
Maker of the Blue-Green Plate,
Maker of the Blue-Green Bowl,
incense maker, master craftsman,
Grandmother of Day, Grandmother of Light.
You have been called upon because of our work, our design. Run your hands over the kernels of corn, over the seeds of the coral tree, just get it done, just let it come out whether we should carve and gouge a mouth, a face in wood,” they told the daykeepers.
And then comes the borrowing, the counting of days; the hand is moved over the corn kernels, over the coral seeds, the days, the lots.
Then they spoke to them, one of them a grandmother, the other a grandfather. This is the grandfather, this is the master of the coral seeds: Xpiyacoc is his name. And this is the grandmother, the daykeeper, diviner who stands behind others: Xmucane is her name.
And they said, as they set out the days:
“Just let it be found, just let it be discovered,
say it, our ear is listening,
may you talk, may you speak,
just find the wood for the carving and sculpting
by the builder, sculptor.
Is this to be the provider, the nurturer
when it comes to the planting, the dawning?
You corn kernels, you coral seeds,
you days, you lots:
may you succeed, may you be accurate,”
they said to the corn kernels, coral seeds, days, lots.
“Have shame, you up there, Heart of Sky:
attempt no deception before the mouth and face
of Sovereign Plumed Serpent,”
they said. Then they spoke straight to the point: “It is well that there be your manikins, woodcarvings, talking, speaking, there on the face of the earth.” “So be it,” they replied.
The moment they spoke it was done: the manikins, woodcarvings, human in looks and human in speech.
This was the peopling of the face of the earth: They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they had sons, these manikins, woodcarvings. But there was nothing in their hearts and nothing in their minds, no memory of their mason and builder. They just went and walked wherever they wanted. Now they did not remember the Heart of Sky.
And so they fell, just an experiment and just a cutout for humankind. They were talking at first but their faces were dry. They were not yet developed in the legs and arms. They had no blood, no lymph. They had no sweat, no fat. Their complexions were dry, their faces were crusty. They flailed their legs and arms, their bodies were deformed.
From: Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
This part of the Mayan Creation Story explains why animals became food.
Now they planned the animals of the mountains, all the guardians of the forests, creatures of the mountains: the deer, birds, pumas, jaguars, serpents, rattlesnakes, yellowbites, guardians of the bushes.
A Bearer, Begetter speaks: “Why this pointless humming? Why should there merely be rustling beneath the trees and bushes?”
“Indeed- they had better have guardians,” the others replied. As soon as they thought it and said it, deer and birds came forth.
And then they gave out homes to the deer and birds: “You, the deer: sleep along the rivers, in the canyons. Be here in the meadows, in the thickets, in the forests, multiply yourselves. You will stand and walk on all fours,” they were told.
So then they established the nests of the birds, small and great: “You, precious birds: your nests, your houses are in the trees, in the bushes. Multiply there, scatter there, in the branches of trees, the branches of bushes,” the deer and birds were told.
When this deed had been done, all of them had received a place to sleep and a place to stay. So it is that the nests of the animals are on the earth, given by the Bearer, Begetter. Now the arrangement of the deer and birds was complete.
And then the deer and the birds were told by the Maker, Modeler, Bearer, Begetter:
“Talk, speak out. Don’t moan, don’t cry out. Please talk, each to each, within each kind, within each group,” they were told the deer, birds, puma, jaguar, serpent. “Name now our names, praise us. We are your mother, we are our father. Speak now:
‘Hurricane, Newborn Thunderbolt, Raw Thunderbolt, Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth, Maker, Modeler, Bearer, Begetter,’ speak, pray to us, keep our days,” they were told.
But it didn’t turn out that they spoke like people: they just squawked, they just chattered, they just howled. It wasn’t apparent what language they spoke; each one gave a different cry.
When the Maker, Modeler heard this: “It hasn’t turned out well, they haven’t spoken,” they said among themselves. “It hasn’t turned out that our names have been named. Since we are their mason and sculptor, this will not do,” the Bearers and Begetters said among themselves.
So they told them: “You will simply have to be transformed. Since it hasn’t turned out well and you haven’t spoken, we have changed our word: “What you feed on, what you eat, the places where you sleep, the places where you stay, whatever is yours will remain in the canyons, the forests. Although it turned out that our days were not kept, nor did you pray to us, there may yet be strength in the keeper of days, the giver of praise whom we have yet to make. Just accept your service, just let your flesh be eaten.
“So be it, this must be your service,” they were told when they were instructed – the animals, small and great, on the face of the earth. And then they wanted to test their timing again, they wanted to experiment again, and they wanted to prepare for the keeping of days again. They had not heard their speech among the animals; it did not come to fruition and it was not complete.
And so their flesh was brought low: they served, they were eaten, they were killed – the animals on the face of the earth.
From: Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
Now it still ripples, now it still murmurs, ripples, it still sighs, still hums, and it is empty under the sky. Here follow the first words, the first eloquence: There is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, forest.
Only the sky alone is there; the face of the earth is not clear. Only the sea alone is pooled under all the sky; there is nothing whatever gathered together. It is at rest; not a single thing stirs. It is held back, kept at rest under the sky. Whatever there is that might be is simply not there: only the pooled water, only the calm sea, only it alone is pooled.
Whatever might be is simply not there: only murmurs, ripples, in the dark, in the night. Only the Maker, Modeler alone, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, the Bearers, Begetters are in the water, a glittering light. They are there, they are enclosed in quetzal feathers, in blue-green. Thus the name, “Plumed Serpent.” They are great knowers, great thinkers in their very being.
And of course there is the sky, and there is also the Heart of Sky. This is the name of the god, as it is spoken.
And then came his word, he came here to the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, here in the blackness, in the early dawn. He spoke with the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, and they talked, then they thought, then they worried.
They agreed with each other, they joined their words, their thoughts. Then it was clear, then they reached accord in the light, and then humanity was clear, when they conceived the growth, the generation of trees, of bushes, and the growth of life, of humankind, in the blackness, in the early dawn, all because of the Heart of Sky, named Hurricane. Thunderbolt Hurricane comes first, the second is Newborn Thunderbolt, and the third is Raw Thunderbolt.
So there were three of them, as Heart of Sky, who came to the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, when the dawn of life was conceived: “How should it be sown, how should it dawn? Who is to be the provider, nurturer?”
“Let it be this way, think about it: this water should be removed, emptied out for the formation of the earth’s own plate and platform, then comes the sowing, the dawning of the sky-earth. But there will be no high days and no bright praise for our work, our design, until the rise of the human work, the human design,” they said.
And then the earth arose because of them, it was simply their word that brought it forth. For the forming of the earth they said “Earth.”
It arose suddenly, just like a cloud, like a mist, now forming, unfolding. Then the mountains were separated from the water, all at once the great mountains came forth. By their genius alone, by their cutting edge alone they carried out the conception of the mountain-plain, whose face grew instant groves of cypress and pine.
And the Plumed Serpent was pleased with this: “It was good that you came, Heart of Sky, Hurricane, and Newborn Thunderbolt, Raw Thunderbolt. Our work, our design will turn out well,” they said.
And the earth was formed first, the mountain-plain. The channels of water were separated; their branches wound their ways among the mountains. The waters were divided when the great mountains appeared. Such was the formation of the earth when it was brought forth by the Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth, as they are called, since they were the first to think of it. The sky was set apart, and the earth was set apart in the midst of the waters.
Such was their plan when they thought, when they worried about the completion of their work.
From: Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
The first four humans, the first four earthly beings who were truly articulate when they moved their feet and hands, their faces and mouths, and who could speak the very language of the gods, could also see everything under the sky and on the earth. All they had to do was look around from the spot where they were, all the way to the limits of space and the limits of time.
But then the gods, who had not intended to make and model beings with the potential of becoming their own equals, blew mist into their eyes, and limited human sight to what was obvious and nearby. Nevertheless, the lords who once ruled a kingdom from a place called Quiche, in the highlands of Guatemala, once had in their possession the means for overcoming this nearsightedness, an ilbal, a “seeing instrument” or a “place to see”; with this they could know distant or future events. The instrument was not a telescope, not a crystal for gazing, but a book.
The lords of Quiche consulted their book when they sat in council, and their name for it was Popol Vuh or “Council Book.” Because this book contained an account of how the forefathers of their own lordly lineages had exiled themselves from a faraway city called Tulan, they sometimes described it as “the writings about Tulan.”
Because a later generation of lords had obtained the book by going on a pilgrimage that took them across water on a causeway, they titled it “The Light That Came from Across the Sea.” And because the book told of events that happened before the first sunrise and of a time when the forefathers hid themselves and the stones that contained the spirit familiars of their gods in forests, they also titled it “Our Place in the Shadows.”
And finally, because it told of the first rising of the morning star and the sun and moon, and of the rise and radiant splendor of the Quiche lords, they titled it “The Dawn of Life.”
From: Popol Vuh: the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
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