The Cosmogonic World Age Model of the Postclassic Yucatec Maya

Only a few data to Yucatec creation accounts before 1600 AD are extant.26 The unsurpassed information derives from The Books of the Chilam Balam, which originated in Yucatan, Mexico written c. 1600 AD - c. 1700 AD with the Latin alphabet in Yucatec probably by Yucatec Maya learned descendants of the Indigenous nobility in Catholic mission schools.27


The creation events are associated with the cycles of the Short Count calendar of 13 k’atun or c. 256,43 years. Much of the content of The Books of Chilam Balam is, nevertheless, influenced by Catholic theology. The texts are obscure and cryptic and there are quite a few Christian concepts as well as Spanish and Latin terms.[1] The cosmogony of the Yucatec was accordingly outlined within a Catholic paradigm. A coherent creation account cannot be identified in The Books of the Chilam Balam. A reconstruction of the number of world ages is difficult because there are few headlines or other indications from the context of the rather enigmatic texts. The creation and destruction of various world periods are told in three of The Books of the Chilam Balam (Barrera Vasquez and Rendon 1948; Thompson 1970: 337; Liljefors Persson 1996: 45). Thompson (Thompson 1970: 337-342) and Bodil Liljefors Persson (Liljefors Persson 1996: 45-52) have constructed models of the various Yucatec cosmogonies.2[2] Thompson has found two creation events in The Books of the Chilam Balam. But he claims that a Yucatec series of four creations and three destructions of the world may be reconstructed from contemporary ethnographic material (Thompson 1970: 337-342). Liljefors Persson has identified three different creations in The Chilam Balam Book of Chumayel, which is the most complete and elaborated version of the postclassic Yucatec creation story (Liljefors Persson 1996: 49-51).[3]

As in Nahua creation accounts, Yucatec cosmogony comprises a conception of a creation and destruction of various worlds or world ages. In Nahua creation stories there was a conception of five world ages whereas a notion of maximum three destroyed worlds is outlined in The Books of the Chumayel—if we accept the interpretation of Liljefors Persson. Hence, the Yucatec Maya of the postclassic period were living in the fourth world age. Despite the influence of Catholic theology, a conception of various cre?ations of worlds endures in the creation stories of contemporary Maya people[4] [5] [6]—Hach Winik (Lacandon), Chamula, Mam, Tzotzil and Tzeltal— whereas a perception of three previous creations and annihilations of world eras subsists in the accounts of the contemporary Yucatec Maya.32 This corroborates the hypothesis of a postclassic and colonial Yucatec conception of a demolition and creation of three world ages.

  • [1] Cf. Hanks study of the language of The Books of the Chilam Balam (2010).
  • [2] Cf. Knowlton for his interpretive synopsis and analysis of colonial Yucatec Christian/Maya creation stories (2004; 2010).
  • [3] For reconstruction cf. Pharo (2006).
  • [4] Lacandon or Hach Winik (Boremanse 1989; McGee 19997), Chamula (Gossen 1974:22-25), Mam (Wagley 1949: 51; Thompson 1970: 336), Tzotzil (Guiteras 1961: 156-157; 176;186-187; 194; 253-254; 282; 287; Holland 1963: 71-72) and Tzeltal (Thompson 1970: 346-348).
  • [5] Accounts of cosmogonies of the contemporary Yucatec Maya have been collectedby Alfred Tozzer from around Valladolid (Tozzer 1907: 153-154; Tozzer 1941: 136, note 633),by Robert Redfield and Alfonso Villa Rojas in the village of Chan Kom (Redfield and VillaRojas 1934: 330-331; Thompson 1970: 340-342) and by David Bolles in the village Komchen(Bolles 1985).
  • [6] Cf. Justeson for outline of the constructed names of Maya high numbers accordingto Spanish colonial sources (Justeson 2010: 51-52).
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >