Mayan mythology brings together tales of gods, heroes, and personified forces of nature under one label. The oldest record myths date from the sixteenth century, from documents found in Guatemala. The Popol Vuh, or “book of the council,” is the most important of these documents, as it contains stories of the Mayan creation myth as well as adventures of a number of different heroes. There are a number of important themes that recur throughout the mythology, including the creation and end of the world, the creation of mankind, heroes, the relationship between humans and crops, and the origin of the sun and the moon.
The ancient Mayans were advanced in many ways including art, architecture, mathematics, and astronomy. Mayan cosmology has been of particular interest in recent years. Some people believe that the Mayan calendar is predicting the end of the world in 2012, and this has brought a great deal of attention to the culture and civilization ancient people. The documents of the Ancient Maya are now under even more scrutiny as a result of this theory. Another important text of Mayan mythology is Chilam Balam, found in the Yucatan. Mythological passages in these books added to what was learned with the Popol Vuh.
The Popol Vuh is most notable for containing Mayan creation myth. Early accounts of Mayan mythology are so scarce that this document is extremely valuable to scholars. The subjects covered in the Popol Vuh are ancestry, creation, cosmology, and history. The story of creation is discussed in detail, stating that animals came first, and then humans. A development of humans is discussed in this passage, as the author states that the first humans were made of mud, and the second humans were made of wood. Another fascinating section of this text includes a genealogy of several leaders before the Spanish conquest.
This text also contains stories about actions of heroes. The best-known tale is the story of the hero twins, who defeat both a bird demon and the gods of disease and death. In a similar story, the hero of corn defeats the gods of thunder and lightning, and establishes a deal with them. Some of these stories were also part of the oral tradition in Ancient Maya. These tales of heroes, and also details about Mayan creation myth were spread not only in text but with storytelling and oral traditions as well. These documents also mention the end of the world. The Chilam Balam, for instance, has one passage describing the sky collapsing.
Mayan mythology also tries to explain things about the natural world, such as the origin of the sun and the moon. In many of the tales, the goal is to describe not only the natural world, but the relationship between people and their environment. Since the Spanish conquerors burned so many potentially important documents written by the Mayans, these documents of Mayan mythology are even more crucial to understand the culture. Reading up on Mayan mythology before you visit Mayan ruins will help you to understand the people, their religion, and their way of life. This background is sure to illuminate more details during your visit to Mayan archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza and Tikal.