Chapter 11

Mesoamerica: Popol Vuh

This chapter gives us the opportunity to view the sacred narrative of a specific group of Maya of Central America, the Quiché (K'iché). Preserved for centuries in written form, it still serves its ancient function: establishing religious and cultural norms for the Quiché based on the example set by the founding deities of their culture. As a result of its long years of continuous tradition, the Popol Vuh is extremely rich in insights that myths can provide (see Ch. 1 for detailed discussions of these).

Like the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni creation stories (Chapter 8), the Popol Vuh describes the creation of human beings as the culmination of a kind of trial-and-error process in which less successful creatures are replaced by increasingly more able figures. In fact, you will notice in this selection that the Quiché gods fear that their humans are actually too competent and decide to engineer limitations.

As you read, compare details with the Southwest United States creation stories (Ch. 8) and look for characteristics that set this Mesoamerican myth apart from the stories of other world cultures dealt with in Part 2 (Chapters 3 through 11). Consider also the trickster creator Raven in northwestern North America (Ch. 23): why might a culture revere an animal figure with dubious morals, placing him in so high a position as the creator of the world?

Website Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy
Please send comments or suggestions about this Website to