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

#74605

Thank you so much Stephen! As usual, a great pleasure to riff with you, to improvise together, on the wake of our latest BLAST into the mythic dimension! And yes, it is true, after 25 years of study and artistic development, the Popol Vuh continues to be the hot topic of my mytho-historic studies. Like you, I was raised a catholic and the similarities one finds between the Popol Vuh and the Bible are indeed mind boggling.

With respect to the Christian Trinity, the parallel with the Triple Lightning Heart of Sky is obvious enough but the difference between them is more subtle and quite interesting. Although we cannot really go too deeply into this, suffice it to say that the acceptance of the Two as the One, which is expressed in the image of the Sovereign Plumed Quetzal Serpent, means that the Three are part of a wider constellation of creative powers. When the Three are in concert with the Two, they become God-5 which plays a special role in the creation of speech and thus of humanity in particular. The raw power of cosmic creation, on the other hand, is relegated to God-4, the result of the First Two doubling themselves.When intervention into human history is the task, however, then God 9 is required to ignite transformation. All in all, about 11 to 13 Gods are involved in the entire process of popol-vuhan creation, but their configuration and number changes according to the specific task or aspect of creation.

So you can get a glimpse here of how immensely fascinating the differences are, and that it is precisely in the play differences, not in the generic sameness, that the living incandescent matter of myth resides. From a mytho-historic perspective, what constitutes the identity of sameness—in this case, the presence of a Trinitarian archetype in both traditions—vanishes as relatively uninteresting in the dialectical play of differences that animates the Popol Vuh from within.

Another interesting example that you bring up is the myth of the flood, which punctuates both Maya and Christian traditions, among others, including the famous accounts from ancient Babylonia. In each of these traditions, the archetypal meaning of the Flood is to be found in its mythic details and historic contexts. Even the general similarity that  Campbell finds between flood myths of different cultures in the aftermath, when, after a massacre of genocidal proportions,“There was a new world, and life could get started again,” would not exactly fit into the narrative frame of the Popol Vuh. For after the wooden people were wiped out by fire and water, what follows is a curious regression into the mana state of individualism, a state of self-deification, that at all times characterizes an inflation of consciousness. This state is symbolized by Principal Macaw and Sons, the great postdiluvian giants who arrogated to themselves the status of Gods. Life does not start a new after the flood but has a tendency to go back along the riverbed of reactionary channels.

One fundamental difference between the floods of the Bible and the Popol Vuh, lies in the kind of people that were wiped out in most ruthless fashion. In the Maya account, the people that were wiped out were not exactly human. They were self-animated little puppets made out of wood; they were mythic creatures leading to the existence of spider monkeys, who likewise merely resemble the human design, lacking all the characteristics of the human soul. According to the Popol Vuh, the wooden people were a failed attempt at the creation of humanity, not to be confused with humanity itself. The Flood was part of an experimental method of creation and destruction and not yet a sacrificial bloodbath of fully constituted human beings “of flesh and blood.”

The difference between these two meanings could not be more grave and constant. In both versions, a certain mythic description of mass genocide is given justification. In the Biblical version, non-believers are wiped out in an effort to purify the human race. In the Maya version, the beings that had to be wiped out were not yet human, but a fantastic race of wooden men and women. On a certain level of mytho-history, when literal human sacrifice was a core component of Maya religion, the sacrificial victims were dehumanized to the status of wooden puppets for a mythic performance and simultaneously exalted in this performance to the archetypal status of a God or Hero.

Looking at these parallels and differences, I always like to be clear about the fundamental difference between two kinds of universality in myth. Why do I say that the true archetypal significance of an event lies in its details rather than its generic form? With this, I don’t mean to downplay the importance of form or formal structure, but to put forward a way of presenting a form which is filled with content. So content matters just as much as form—hence my predilection for a mytho-historic approach. So there are two kinds of universality at play when we talk of similarities and differences. One is the universality of an abstract or generic form, of pure formal structure, and the other is what I like to call, following Hegel, a form of concrete universality, a mytho-historic form that has existential weight. So, in a way, you could say that mytho-history is the science of concrete universalities in the temporality of human existence on earth.