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Re-Creating Primordial Time

Foundation Rituals and Mythology in the Postclassic Maya Codices

Gabrielle Vail and Christine Hernández

Publication Year: 2013

Re-Creating Primordial Time offers 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 the Books of Chilam Balam, the Popol Vuh, and the Códice Chimalpopoca to 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 Time is a significant contribution to the field of Mesoamerican studies and will be of interest to scholars of archaeology, linguistics, epigraphy, and comparative religions alike.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. iii-v

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv


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pp. xv-xvii

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pp. xix-xxv

Prior to the past twenty or so years, the most intensive period of research involving the Maya codices occurred during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During that time the possibility that the hieroglyphic script involved a syllabic component was being considered ...

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p. xxvii-xxvii

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our mentors, Victoria and Harvey Bricker, for their support and encouragement of our codical studies over the past twenty years. It was their inspiration that led to the present volume. A number of other colleagues—most particularly Tony Aveni, ...

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1. Introduction to the Maya Codices

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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 ...

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2. Mexican Codices and Mythological Traditions

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pp. 23-43

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, ...

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3. Mythological Episodes Related in Maya Sources

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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 ...

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4. World Renewal in the Dresden Codex: The Yearbearer Ceremonies

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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 ...

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5. Flood Episodes and Crocodilians in the Maya Codices

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pp. 155-189

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 ...

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6. Creation Mythology in Reference to Chaak, Chak Chel, and Mars in the Maya Codices

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pp. 191-227

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 ...

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7. Creation Mythology in the Dresden Venus Table and Related Almanacs

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pp. 229-353

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 ...

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8. Madrid Yearbearer Celebrations and Creation Mythology

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pp. 355-383

In his Relación, 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 ...

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9. World Renewal Ceremonies in the Madrid Codex

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pp. 385-409

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 ...

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10. A Reconsideration of Maya Deities Associated with Creation

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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 called sip. The same name is given to the figure on D. 13c (Figure 10.2 and http://www .hieroglyphic research.org/Documentation/UPClink269 ...

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11. Cosmology in the Maya Codices

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pp. 461-467

In his volume Aztec 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 ...

References Cited

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pp. 469-492


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pp. 493-503

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322214
E-ISBN-10: 1607322218
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322207
Print-ISBN-10: 160732220X

Page Count: 552
Illustrations: 95 b&w photographs, 56 line drawings
Publication Year: 2013