At the heart of symbolism

Ceiba, the Mayan World tree


Ceiba pentadra tree at the entry of Tikal site

The creation of the Mayan-quiche world

Four centuries ago, a wise man wrote the story of the Quiche people of Mesoamerica in a book entitled the “Popol Vuh” (The Book of Councel). The text told, in symbolic language, the myth of the creation of the Mayan-quiche World, resulting from the Word of an uncreated God.

In the beginning, the World was only darkness enveloping the Primeval Waters. Then, the dark Sky appeared and Earth emerged from waters. Darkness penetrated into the depths of Earth, at Xibalba, the underground world or world below.

Then, plants covered Earth. The creation of man followed and took place in several stages. It successively generated the animal form, the clay figure, the wooden sculpture and, finally, the being made of corn pulp. That is why, Mayas are called “corn beings”. This succession occurred during four consecutive Ages. The transition from one Age to another consisted less in a destruction than a transformation of the preceding Age, in order to integrate it into the following. So, each Age was enriched of a whole past.

During these Ages, different gods appeared as many facets of the original God. Therefore, these gods could only hold “Councel” as one God to decide on the way forward in the course of each Age.

All three worlds (celestial, terrestrial and underground) were connected by an axis symbolized by the World Tree. Its roots plunged into the depths of Earth, its trunk stood up from the ground and its branches flushed the clouds and the Sky. However, the late appearance of the first celestial glimmers hid, in men's eyes, the Tree and the way to follow to exit darkness and reach light. The first beings to get there, after having overcome many obstacles, were the twin brothers Hunahpu and Xbalanque. (Master Magician and Little Sorcerer), the god-heroes of the “Popol Vuh”.

The World Tree represents the link between what is above and what is below, the union of celestial forces and telluric powers. It can be run up and down, in both directions. The Tree helps us to understand why the Mayan man first had to descend into the underground world before raising to the celestial world. Indeed, he was obliged to browse all the degrees of the scale symbolized by the World Axis. The Tree also shows that the three worlds could not be considered separately as they were part of a whole called (Tree of the) World.

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