Popol Vuh


I love old religious texts.



I know, I’m a nonbeliever.  So go sit on it.  I love the color and invention that all of earth’s cultures have thrown into the business of figuring the world out, on (admittedly) limited information.



I have read the Shinto stories about Izanami and Izanagi dancing around the pillar together. And doing it wrong.  And having children that don’t turn out quite right, and putting them in a boat to get rid of them.


Epic of Gilgamesh!  Classic.  Lots of running around.  Gilgamesh has a big Incredible-Hulk best friend named Enkidu (they pound on each other for a long time, then decide they like each other), and they go off to defeat the Huwawa.



I used to own Prichard’s edition of “Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament.)  Both volumes!  Delicious stuff.  (I had to get up just now to make sure I don’t still have them; I can’t believe I was such a fool as to get rid of them.)  I have a dim pleasant memory of a Sumerian text called the Ludlul Bel Nemeqi – “I will praise the lord of wisdom.”  It is a sad gentle psalm to the gods, from someone who’s suffering.  Some things never change, do they?



The Egyptians had lots of early stories, lots of mythologies.  Too much to put together!  The Osiris-Isis- Horus-Set one is probably the best-represented.  But there’s the Ra story (which I think Isis sort of preempts later), and the Ptah story (not sure why this one didn’t get more play).  Also the wonderful folktales.  “I shall enchant my heart, and shall place in on top of the flower of the cedar . . .”



But my real favorite is the Popol Vul.



It is, to translate, “The Book of the Council Mat.”  It is a document written down sometime (perhaps) in the 1600s by a member of the Quiche Maya people of Mexico and Guatemala, detailing many of their origin stories and root myths.



I wish I knew enough Quiche to read it in the original.  Even in English it’s fascinating.  It has characters with names like Xpiyacoq and Xbalanque and Xmucane and Ixquiq.  People are always playing ball games, and eating other people’s hearts, and getting pregnant by eating special gourds, and sleeping in the House of Knives. 



And then, strangely, even after all of the fighting and chopping up bodies, the main characters rise into the sky, and become the sun and moon and the evening star.



Now that’s creative.



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