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Reply To: Returning to the Void,” with mythologist Norland Telléz, Ph.D.”


Hi Veronicawood!

Thank you for joining us here in Conversations of a Higher Order (COHO). I love your observations about the similarities and differences between the Popul Vuh and other traditions. (I especially appreciate your point that the order of appearance of the elements of creation stories – land, flora, fauna, humans – mirrors the same sequence in the primary creation story that contemporary culture still seems to subscribe to, in terms of evolutionary theory).

This observation really struck a chord:

So I went to film a Kaqchikel Mayan community in Guatemala, where the Popol Vuh is common cultural knowledge, and almost every part of life seems to reference the text. The birthing rituals often involve corn as Mayans are ‘people of the corn’ created by maize. Tepeu Gucumatz and the creator gods decorate altars and textiles. It was a delight to see the deep importance of the story of creation.”

We tend to think of rites as those accompanying critical transitions — birth, coming of age, marriage, death — sacraments all . . . but seems there was a time when ritual permeated every aspect of life:

“[T]he archaic world knows nothing of “profane” activities: every act which has a definite meaning — hunting, fishing, agriculture, games, conflict, sexuality — in some way participates in the sacred . . . the only profane activities are those which have no mythical meaning. . . . Thus we may say that every responsible activity in pursuit of a definite end is, for the archaic world, a ritual.

Every ritual has a divine model, an archetype . . ‘We must do what the gods did in the beginning.’ ”

(Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, 27–28, 21)

Eliade illustrates his point by providing examples of construction rituals in early cultures — required, for example, in ancient Mesopotamia, whether laying the foundation of temple, palace, or peasant’s house. These rites replicate “the primordial act” of the creation of the cosmos (traces of such construction rituals echo today in the rites of the Masonic Order). Yet other examples of “the divine model” abound in rituals still observed, from the Judeo-Christian Sabbath (God rested on the seventh day, after six days of creation) to the marriage ceremony (the divine Hierogamy of the union of Heaven and Earth).

Campbell arrives at a parallel conclusion:

Well, the value of mythology in the old traditions, one of the values, was that every activity in life had been mythologized. You saw something of its relevance to the Great Mysteries and your own participation in the Great Mysteries in the performance — in agriculture, in hunting, in military life and so forth. All of these were turned into spiritual disciplines. Actually they were. There were rituals associated with them that let you know what spiritual powers were being challenged, evoked, and brought into play through this action.”

(Joseph Campbell, The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, New Dimensions Radio Interview with Michael Toms on audiocassette, Tape I, Side 1, emphasis mine)

These comments about the interplay between myth, ritual, and every day life underscore your observation about the practice of this Mayan community in the present day: ” . . . almost every part of life seems to reference the text.”

Along with the breakdown of myth in general, that resonance between ritual, myth, and mundane life seems largely missing in modern society, whether for good or ill . . .