Posted by: Johan Normark | September 7, 2011

Quote of the day: David Stuart on Popol Vuh

“I’m of the strong opinion that the Popol Vuh has been overused as the document on Maya religious thought, almost as a template or lens through which we can interpret much of the ancient culture’s art and cosmology” (Stuart 2011:215).

Readers of my blog and my published articles and books should by now know that I am a strong opponent of projecting the contents of later historical sources into a more distant past and places further away. Such is the case with Popol Vuh, the “Maya Bible” as it has been called. This creation myth was written down after the Spanish conquest and primarily deals with the history of the Kiché Maya in the highlands of Guatemala. However, researchers have for long highlighted parts of this myth in order to see similarities with much earlier iconography from the lowlands (primarily Hero Twins, Seven Macaw, ballgame scenes, etc.). There are similarities but the differences are more significant nowadays as epigraphers have located depicted myths on ceramics and other media that have nothing in common with Popol Vuh. The depicted scenes on earlier Maya art that do relate to events in Popol Vuh are far fewer than other mythical scenes. Popol Vuh is a fascinating myth but it primarily deals with 15th and 16th century highlands, not the Late Formative or Classic period lowlands.

Stuart, D. 2011. The Order of Days. Harmony Books, New York.


  1. Have you seen Oswaldo Chinchilla’s new book? He presents I think the best case for this overuse/abuse of the Popol Vuh as the “Maya Bible” and presents a very interesting new take on the “hero twins”, who he does not see as reflecting Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

  2. Nope, but I better get a hold of it. Is it available on Amazon?

    • I doubt it. It is published in Guatemala only I think.

      • What is the title?

  3. Some Modern-day Maya In Guate.Belive The “Hero Twins”Were One Male/Hunapu And One Feamale/Xbalanque.The Recently Unearthed Plaster Carving From El Mirador Shows Hunapu Diving Down To Recover His Father’s Head From The Waters Of Xibalba.The Popol Vu May Be Colored By The Colonization But There Is Some Cultural Myth.

  4. It depends on how much one is willing to generalize. Some of the events in Popol Vuh resemble what we can see in Classic and Formative iconography. However, the majority of the scenes depicted have little to no connection to Popol Vuh. Therefore it is always problematic to use a later document in order to interpret older ideas. One is simply reversing the arrow of time and ignore historical trajectories and local variation. I prefer less generalization.


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