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Re-Creating Primordial Time

Re-Creating Primordial Time: Foundation Rituals and Mythology in the Postclassic Maya Codices

Gabrielle Vail
Christine Hernández
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Re-Creating Primordial Time
    Book Description:

    Re-Creating Primordial Timeoffers a new perspective on the Maya codices, documenting the extensive use of creation mythology and foundational rituals in the hieroglyphic texts and iconography of these important manuscripts. Focusing on both pre-Columbian codices and early colonial creation accounts, Vail and Hernández show that in spite of significant cultural change during the Postclassic and Colonial periods, the mythological traditions reveal significant continuity, beginning as far back as the Classic period.

    Remarkable similarities exist within the Maya tradition, even as new mythologies were introduced through contact with the Gulf Coast region and highland central Mexico. Vail and Hernández analyze the extant Maya codices within the context of later literary sources such as theBooks of Chilam Balam, thePopol Vuh, and theCódice Chimalpopocato present numerous examples highlighting the relationship among creation mythology, rituals, and lore. Compiling and comparing Maya creation mythology with that of the Borgia codices from highland central Mexico,Re-Creating Primordial Timeis a significant contribution to the field of Mesoamerican studies and will be of interest to scholars of archaeology, linguistics, epigraphy, and comparative religions alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-221-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Preface: The Conceptual and Methodological Underpinnings of Our Study
    (pp. xix-xxvi)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  7. 1 Introduction to the Maya Codices
    (pp. 1-22)

    Studies of prehispanic Maya culture focus primarily on sites in the Classic period heartland—places such as Tikal, Calakmul, Copán, Palenque, and Yaxchilán, which reached their apogee during the sixth through ninth centuries. The northern Maya lowlands are less well known, with the exception of sites such as Chichén Itzá and those in the Puuc region. The time period after the depopulation of the great Maya cities, whether located in the northern or southern regions, has only recently been the focus of extensive research projects. This “Postclassic” period is a time of significant change in virtually all aspects of society....

  8. 2 Mexican Codices and Mythological Traditions
    (pp. 23-44)

    In prehispanic times, we know that central Mexican scribes produced screenfold books to record political histories, royal genealogies, tribute rolls, mythological lore, and texts to divine the fortunes for ceremonies and rituals surrounding a variety of mundane and religious events (e.g., Boone 2000, 2007; Sahagún, Anderson, and Dibble 1950:bks. 4, 6, 7, 8). In the early course of the Spanish Conquest, it was the policy of Spanish ecclesiastical authorities to destroy native screenfolds, most especially the divinatory books because they were regarded as repositories of prehispanic religion and belief (e.g., Durán 1971:55; Gates 1978:82). Fewer than ten of these divinatory...

  9. 3 Mythological Episodes Related in Maya Sources
    (pp. 45-96)

    The different regions of the Maya area do not appear to have shared a single mythological tradition during the prehispanic period, but a number of common themes can be documented, many of which were also shared by other Mesoamerican cultures. Our emphasis will be on outlining stories that are relevant to our understanding of the Maya codices. Some of these are detailed in prehispanic texts and iconography, whereas others are better known to us from indigenous texts recorded during the colonial period such as the Books of Chilam Balam from Yucatán and the Popol Vuh from highland Guatemala. There are...

  10. 4 World Renewal in the Dresden Codex: The Yearbearer Ceremonies
    (pp. 97-154)

    Pages 25–28 of the Dresden Codex (Figure 4.1) have long been known to concern the ceremonies celebrating the transition from one year to the next, linked to the five days of Wayeb and the beginning of Pop. As Karl Taube (1988:219–220) has demonstrated, the fact that they occur immediately following the flood scene on D. 74 (see Chapter 5) suggests that the two sections were intimately connected. He proposes that “page 74 introduces and places the Dresden new year pages in a cosmogonic context—the creation of the four world quarters and cosmic trees following the flood” (Taube...

  11. 5 Flood Episodes and Crocodilians in the Maya Codices
    (pp. 155-190)

    The most quintessential image from the Maya codices interpreted by scholars as concerning creation mythology is that of page 74 of the Codex Dresden (Figure 5.1). The upper part of the page pictures a partial crocodilian creature outstretched, his back portraying the sky, and a stream of water pouring from his mouth. Suspended from his belly are two eclipse glyphs that likewise have streams of water falling from them. Below the crocodilian are two figures: Chak Chel pouring water from an overturned jar, and God L poised to spear something or someone. We agree with the interpretation of previous scholars...

  12. 6 Creation Mythology in Reference to Chaak, Chak Chel, and Mars in the Maya Codices
    (pp. 191-228)

    The Upper Water table (UWT; Figure 6.1) is a separate instrument from the Lower Water table (LWT), but we believe there is a common bond between the two that involves creation mythology, which again is best demonstrated by an analysis of the first two frames of the table. We begin with the entry date calculation in the sixth column on page 73 (Figure 6.1, upper right). The column begins with a hieroglyphic caption that reads (http://www.hieroglyphic

    ___ix kab [tun?] ha’ ?? kab? lob? ak’bal nah

    Lady Earth stone? __ water ?? earth; evil? night/darkness house.

    This caption is...

  13. 7 Creation Mythology in the Dresden Venus Table and Related Almanacs
    (pp. 229-354)

    For the ancient Maya, celestial bodies such as the moon, Venus, and Mars embodied gods who could impact or influence the daily lives of humans and their surrounding environment in a multitude of ways. The revolutionary cycles and interacting orbital paths of these astronomical objects produced regular patterns of visibility and movement across the nighttime sky that amounted to observational data that priest-scribes recorded, analyzed, and passed down to future generations in the form of divinatory almanacs and tables.

    Venus was of particular concern to ancient Mesoamericans, likely because of its brilliance at times, its appearance in both the predawn...

  14. 8 Madrid Yearbearer Celebrations and Creation Mythology
    (pp. 355-384)

    In hisRelación, Landa comments on a number of different deities of importance to the prehispanic Maya. Of these, the Bakabs receive considerable attention; they are “four brothers placed by God when he created the world, at its four corners to sustain the heavens lest they fall” and were also survivors of the flood that destroyed the world (Gates 1978:60). They are associated with the four world quarters and with the yearbearer ceremonies, where they signify the prognostications for the year in question.

    For each of the four rotating yearbearer ceremonies, Landa notes the association of a particular Bakab: Hob[o]...

  15. 9 World Renewal Ceremonies in the Madrid Codex
    (pp. 385-410)

    Thirty almanacs in the Madrid Codex begin on the day 4 Ahaw in the tzolk’in calendar. The 4 Ahaw almanacs depict a number of different activities (see Table 9.1), many of which functioned as ceremonies of renewal. Several can be demonstrated to be rituals associated with renewing the world, having a function similar to ceremonies documented in Santiago Atitlán in connection with Holy Week (Christenson 2001) and by Landa in hisRelación(see Chapter 3).

    Our discussion begins with M. 19b (Figure 9.1), which has a number of elements that tie it to creation mythology and to rituals replicating primordial...

  16. 10 A Reconsideration of Maya Deities Associated with Creation
    (pp. 411-460)

    God Y is depicted as a deer god on a number of occasions in the Maya codices (see, e.g., D. 13c, M. 45c, M. 50c, M. 51c, M. 68b; Figures 9.12, 10.1). Among the Yucatec Maya today, the spirits that guard the deer are calledsip. The same name is given to the figure on D. 13c (Figure 10.2 and prefixed bywuk(seven), the collocation readssi-pu, or Sip (Fox and Justeson 1984:39). In another context, God Y is named with T159, followed by T181, orah(see Figure 10.3). We interpret this as readingah sip. In...

  17. 11 Cosmology in the Maya Codices
    (pp. 461-468)

    In his volumeAztec and Maya Myths, Karl Taube (1993a: 18) put forth a statement suggesting that the Maya codices contain little in the way of mythological content, being concerned instead with divination and prophecy. Unwittingly, Taube had thrown down the gauntlet for students and investigators of the Maya codices, and we have now risen to the challenge. Granted, Taube’s observation was originally made more than a decade ago, and since that time significant advancements have been made in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic texts, the decoding of the calendrical structure of almanacs, and understanding the role of astronomy in...

  18. References Cited
    (pp. 469-492)
  19. Index
    (pp. 493-503)