Posted by: Johan Normark | January 3, 2011

2012: Multiple creations in the present

Mayanists and 2012ers alike often assume that the Classic and Formative Maya believed in multiple creations (additional creations beyond the current creation and those few events that occurred before the creation). Most likely this is dependent on the fact that the current creation was formed on 13 Baktun and that some pre-era dates are recorded at Palenque. However, no inscription to my knowledge suggests that there were several 13 Baktun cycles before this creation and that there will be several others in the future. Distance numbers that relate a date from our creation to distant events in the past or the future do not indicate that the events occur in X number of creations from this one. The distance numbers simply follow the single Long Count system.

However, current Maya, such as the Tzutujil around Lake Atitlan in highland Guatemala believe in several creations. Not only may this have to do with later Central Mexican influence but the very idea of several creations are not that of a series of repeated cycles in the ancient past but these creations occur in the present.  A potential interpretation is that the four “earlier” creations are rather coexisting with the fifth one.

In the book Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: Unmasking the Mysterious World of the Living Maya (1998), the non-Maya author Martín Prechtel tells his personal story of how these layers of creations forms a human being. Prechtel lived for many years in Santiago de Atitlan and he has published a couple of articles together with anthropologists. However, in this book he gives his own account and it is therefore not a trustworthy source of information regarding the way the Tzutujil themselves understand these five creation layers. Still, it raises the possibility that the creations can be seen from another perspective than what they normally are seen as.

According to him “every child born into the village had already been born into and passed through the other four layers of creation, one layer at a time. In each of these consecutive creations, the child received an essential layer of his/her own physical and spiritual composition. After having received and lived these four layers of lives, the child was given form and born into this fifth layer of the Earth Fruit, the world of form, this world. In this way, all of us humans relived the history of the world and actually were diminutive earths walking around in the earth, with everything inside us in miniature that was visible to us on the outside” (p. 104-105).

An old male sculptor and an old female weaver shape the body from words in each creation layer. The sculptor carves out the body parts with his words and the weaver weaves them together in her loom so that the parts begin to work (seems like a forerunner to DeLanda’s assemblage theory despite its “linguistic” turn…). Several divine pairs form the body parts of the child by expressing magical words and phrases. The baby is “counted” into life.

In the first layer of creation, at the very conception, the child receives stone and fire that is materialized in the skeleton, gall bladder, and heart. The fire comes from the sun and lives in the bones. In the gall bladder the dreams emerge and the personal soul of the child resides in the heart. In the second layer of creation another divine pair forms the flesh out of corn. The male god ties knots that become the child’s muscles and his wife weaves a history to the future life of the child. In the third layer, the layer of water, the child is given blood, nerves, and other body fluids. In the fourth layer, the layer of wind, the child receives sight, movement, and breath. In short, the Tzutujil here describe the morphogenesis/ontogenesis of an individual (although it obviously does not follow the contemporary biological standards of explanation).

All these four layers are part of the Old Life Tree of the Village from which everything emerges. The first creation is the roots of the tree. The tree consists of three additional layers or creations; trunk, heartwood, and bark. It is in these layers were the three other creations occurs, within the world without forms. During childbirth the infant emerges into the fifth layer of creation and becomes fruit on the branches of the Life Tree. At the time of birth all the memories of these creation layers that the child has passed through are lost. Through life an individual will gain access to these lost memories and acquire layers of remembrance (literally speaking in the form of clothing acquired at initiation rituals). At the time of death an old man or woman is a living memory that returns to the Earth as an offering since the ancestors feed on memories.

We lack evidence that the ancient Maya believed in multiple creations that occurred through millennia (such as in Jenkins’ galactic alignment theory). However, if it turns out that they had some belief in several creations we cannot be sure if they actually meant earlier past “macro creations”/new worlds as in the Aztec case or if they rather referred to something similar to the Tzutujil example. Since the Maya stelae and similar monuments often deals with the life and deeds of rulers it would not surprise me if some of them referred to “multiple micro creations” of their own beings/becomings, such as in the apotheosis of Pakal (on the famous sarcophagus lid).


Artwork by Martín Prechtel




  1. […] Is December 21, 2012 the end of the world as we know it? Climate change seems inevitable with countless hurricanes, earthquakes and innumerable disasters around the globe in recent years. What did the ancient Maya know and why did they place such significance on this date? As we near the final date of the Mayan Calendar, mankind must face what is perhaps the most difficult hurdle of all…a profound change in ourselves. This enigmatic film unveils the other side to the 2012 engima; * The Underlying Mystery of 2012 * The True Nature of Time * Current Evolution of the Human Mind Geoff Stray and Philip Coppens take us on a journey into the Mayan mysteries to uncover a startling perspective on 2012, the lost meaning of the great cycle of the ages. They challenge the doomsday prophets and argue that 2012 is not the apocalyptic end of times, it is in fact only the beginning. Time will never be the same again. Video Rating: 4 / 5 Further you can see this related post: […]


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