Meso-American Myths of Creation

Maya - Mexico

Mud men from the Popol Vuh

The Popol-Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, contains within its creation story a tale of the destruction of the first beings by a flood. This flood differs from others in that it is not a punishment, but rather a remedy for a faulty creation. The Feathered Serpent first created man from mud. These creatures were a failure; they couldn't see, they dissolved when it rained, etc. So the god broke them up and tried again.

"This time he made men out of wood. They were better than the mud-men. They could walk and talk; they had many children, built many houses, but they had no minds nor souls nor hearts. The Feathered Serpent was disappointed with what he had created, so he sent a great flood to cleanse the earth of his mistake.

Myth 2

In the beginning was only Tepeu and Gucumatz (Feathered Serpent). These two sat together and thought, and whatever they thought came into being. They thought earth, and there it was. They thought mountains, and so there were. They thought trees, and sky, and animals etc, and each came into being. But none of these things could praise them, so they formed more advanced beings of clay. But these beings fell apart when they got wet, so they made beings out of wood, but they proved unsatisfactory and caused trouble on the earth. The gods sent a great flood to wipe out these beings, so that they could start over. With the help of Mountain Lion, Coyote, Parrot, and Crow they fashioned four new beings. These four beings performed well and are the ancestors of the Quich.



Somewhere to the north the first humans climbed out of a hole in the earth into the sunlight. The underground place from which they came is called Sipapu. This is a sacred place. The Great Spirit protected them as they wandered the land. At long last they came upon a place they knew was meant for them. They settled there.


The great spirit Quatz created woman, whom he left alone in the dark forest. The woman lamented day and night, until Quatz took pity and appeared to her in a canoe of copper, in which many handsome young men were rowing. One of the rowers told her it was the great spirit who was supplying her with the companionship she craved. At these words she cried the more, and as the tears trickled down, they fell to the ground. Quatz commanded her to look, and she saw with amazement a tiny child, a boy, entirely formed. Her firstborn son became the ancestor of the taises(?), while from her other sons the common people are descended.


In the beginning, Lord Con Ticci Viracocha, prince and creator of all things, emerged from the void and created the earth and the heavens. Then he created animals and a race of giants (who lived in eternal darkness as he had neglected to create a source of light). These beings enraged the Lord, and he turned them into stone. Then he flooded the earth till all was under water, and all life extinguished. In a new start, he created the sun, moon, and stars. Now he created new birds and animals. Again he decided to form human beings: these he fashioned from stone. Some he painted with long hair, some with short hair; some women he painted as pregnant, some as caring for the babies fashioned beside them; and on each figure he painted the clothes they would continue to wear. Finally he divided the stone figures into groups, giving each group its own language, its own food to grow, and its own songs to sing. Then he buried all the figures in the earth toawait his command that would bring them to life. Viracocha then summoned his helpers and told them to go forth on the earth in different directions to prepare places for the new humans to occupy. Viracocha then traveled the land, calling each group into life as he passed the land they were to populate, whereupon he taught them how to live on the land selected for them. (There is a continuance of this story that has Viracocha and his companions, when finished with their teachings, walking on the waves of the ocean as they disappear toward the setting sun. Viracocha means "foam of the sea".)

Winged figures on the side of the Gateway of the Sun at Tiahuanaco

Tiahuanaco, located on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, was a major religious center of the Huari-Tiahuanaco empire. During the Middle Horizon (AD 600-1000), the Huari military organization dominated the Peruvian Andes, and eventually linked up with the formidable priestly apparatus at Tiahuanaco to create a �powerful theocratic state.

The symbolic relief carvings on the Gateway of the Sun at Tiahuanaco, often strikingly well-preserved in slabs of volcanic andesite, were first reported in detail by Ephriam G. Squier in his 1877 book, �Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas.

Squier describes the tiers of winged condor-headed and human-headed figures kneeling toward the central sun god figure "as if in adoration, each one holds before him a staff or sceptre..." �These winged figures represent the heads of condors, tigers, and serpents. The central figure in the Sun Gateway, holding a pair of staffs, is probably linked to the much earlier Chavin Staff God (from ca. 800-300 BC).

Squier also notes that the islands of Lake Titicaca were traditionally thought to have produced the founders of the Inca Empire. This appears to be upheld by modern archaeology, which shows that during the Huari-Tiahauanaco period, centralized state organization occurred with regional storehouses, roads, and redistribution of resources and local populations, all preceding the much better documented Inca empire by hundreds of years.


Quetzalcoatl, the light one, and Tezcatlipoca, the dark one, looked down from their place in the sky and saw only water below. A gigantic goddess floated upon the waters, eating everything with her many mouths. The two gods saw that whatever they created was eaten by this monster. They knew they must stop her, so they transformed themselves into two huge serpents and descended into the water. One of them grabbed the goddess by the arms while the other grabbed her around the legs, and before she could resist they pulled until she broke apart. Her head and shoulders became the earth and the lower part of her body the sky. The other gods were angry at what the two had done and decided, as compensation for her dismemberment, to allow her to provide the necessities for people to survive; so from her hair they created trees, grass, and flowers; caves, fountains, and wells from her eyes; rivers from her mouth; hills and valleys from her nose; and mountains from her shoulders. Still the goddess was often unhappy and the people could hear her crying in the night. They knew she wept because of her thirst for human blood, and that she would not provide food from the soil until she drank. So the gift of human hearts is given her. She who provides sustenance for human lives demands human lives for her own sustenance. So it has always been; so it will ever be.

Myth 2

The mother of the Aztec creation story was called "Coatlique", the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes. She was created in the image of the unknown, decorated with skulls, snakes, and lacerated hands. There are no cracks in her body and she is a perfect monolith (a totality of intensity and self-containment, yet her features were sqaure and decapitated).

Coatlique was first impregnated by an obsidian knife and gave birth to Coyolxanuhqui, goddess of the moon, and to a group of male offspring, who became the stars. Then one day Coatlique found a ball of feathers, which she tucked into her bosom. Whe she looked for it later, it was gone, at which time she realized that she was again pregnant. Her children, the moon and stars did not believe her story. Ashamed of their mother, they resolved to kill her. A goddess could only give birth once, to the original litter of divinity and no more. During the time that they were plotting her demise, Coatlicue gave birth to the fiery god of war, Huitzilopochtli. With the help of a fire serpent, he destroyed his brothers and sister, murdering them in a rage. He beheaded Coyolxauhqui and threw her body into a deep gorge in a mountain, where it lies dismembered forever.

The natural cosmos of the Indians was born of catastrophe. The heavens literally crumbled to pieces. The earth mother fell and was fertilized, while her children were torn apart by fratricide and them scattered and disjointed throughout the universe.

Ometecuhlti and his wife Omecihuatl created all life in the world. Their children were:

  • Xipe Totec - The Lord of the Springtime
  • Huitzilopochtli - the Sun god
  • Quetzalcoatl - the Plumed Serpent
  • Tezcatlipoca - the god of Night and Sorcery
  • Coatlicue - She of the Serpent Skirt