Palenque Creation Myth: Lady Cormorant and the Birth of the Triad
The ancient Maya city Palenque (Lakam Ha) had a unique creation myth that linked the origins of their ruling dynasty to primordial goddesses and gods.
All the Maya regions in southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras shared a common creation myth about the Hero Twins and how they outsmarted the Death Lords of Xibalba and resurrected their father, securing life on earth for their people. This legend is recorded in the Popol Vuh, an 18th century copy of the original codex rendition that has been lost. Palenque’s unique myth incorporates deities widely known in their region, but nowhere else honored in the same way. The Triad deities were the patron gods of ancient Lakam Ha, bringing the blessings of abundance and prosperity when properly attended and worshiped. The ruling dynasty was believed to be descended from these gods and their mother, Lady Cormorant (Muwaan Mat in the Mayan language).
Palenque Creation Myth Summarized.
The larger context of the Creation Myth reaches immeasurably far back in time, to the appearance of “First Father” who was ruler “in the heavens” in 3309 BCE, according to a Temple XIX text in Palenque. This god was set upon the throne by another deity called Yax Naah Itzamnaaj, a creator god who is considered by many the most supreme Maya god. First Father, also called Hun Ahau–One Lord, took part in sacrificing the Celestial Caiman and ritual fire-making that set the stage for creating and sustaining the cosmos. This god, also an early version of the Maize God, joined with the Primordial Mother Goddess, Muwaan Mat (Lady Cormorant) to give birth to the Triad Gods. Muwaan Mat, the
Triad Progenitor, was born in 3121 BCE as related in the opening passage of the Tablet of the Cross at Palenque. She brought forth the creation, the “birthing” of the Triad Gods, and established the mythical charter for rulers to interact with the gods they were entrusted to care for and honor.
These creation deities set the stage for the Fourth Sun, the fourth creation of Maya people after the failure of the first three attempts, as told in the Popol Vuh. The gods of the sky (Lords of the First Sky) and underworld (Lords of Death) were set in their proper order. This key calendar date is cited throughout all the ancient Maya lands, the creation of the current era on August 13, 3114 BCE. In the Maya Long Count Calendar, this date is written 220.127.116.11.0, 4 Ahau 8 Kumk’u. On this date, the “hearth was changed” and the three sacred stones were put in place in the heavens, serving as the model for all Maya household hearths. This implies the making of “new fire,” a ceremony that continues to be enacted in Mesoamerican cultures every 52 years at the Pleiades zenith. Over one year later, First Father descended from the sky and occupied the “Six Sky Ahau Place” dedicated to him in the north, indicating a station in the Maya zodiac. He was reincarnated as the first born of the Palenque Triad.
The time was right for birth of the Triad Gods.
Muwaan Mat, Primordial Mother, did “penance” to bring forth her three sons, separated by just a few days in 2360 BCE. They were born in this order, although early Mayanists labeled them out of order as GI, GII, and GIII:
Hun Ahau—One Lord, first born son, “arrived at Matawiil” on Oct. 21, 2360 BCE. His domain is the celestial realm, the Upperworld. He is depicted as the Sun God. (GI) Mah Kinah Ahau—Underworld Sun, also called K’in Bahlam—Sun Jaguar, second born son, “arrived at Matawiil” on Oct. 25, 2360 BCE. His domain is the Underworld, represented by the full moon or night sun. He is depicted as the Waterlily Jaguar swimming in the watery Underworld. (GIII) Ahau K’in—Lord Sun, also called Unen K’awiil, third born son, “arrived at Matawiil” on Nov. 8, 2360 BCE. His domain is the earthly realm and agriculture, the Middleworld. He is the patron of the royal dynasty, often depicted as a baby jaguar with a snake leg. (GII)
Matawiil was a mythical place that lies at the heart of Palenque’s political and religious identity. Called “Place of Reeds,” it implies a swampy place associated with life emerging from fertile watery lands, a common Mesoamerican theme. Metaphorically, these births were described as journeys to some new worldly place, suggesting that a new order was being founded.
Now Muwaan Mat initiated the ruling lineage of Palenque.
By the Maya Long Count Calendar, 800 tuns (360-day years) after her birth, she became the initial “ruler” leading to the Palenque lineage, assuming the throne in 2325 BCE by “tying on the White Headband.” The Triad Gods then took over creating the dynasty, making the Halach Uinik or “real people” of the Fourth Creation. They used yellow and white corn, water and blood to make the first real person, U K’ix Kan. This mythical quasi-human ruler was not born, but simply made and modeled by the Triad Gods acting as mother-father. U K’ix Kan tied on the White Headband 1300 tuns after Muwaan Mat became ruler. After another 1200 tuns, he brought forth the “time of duality” by drinking nine maize drinks given to him by Grandmother Xmucane, Heart of Earth and Goddess of Transformation. He divided into female and male in order to give birth to the first historic ruler of Palenque, K’uk Bahlam I.
K’uk Bahlam I was born on March 31, 397 CE (18.104.22.168.6, 5 Kimi 14 Kayab in Maya Long Count Calendar). He acceded to the Palenque throne thirty-four years later, in 431 CE. From him descended
sixteen generations of rulers, the most famous being K’inich Janaab Pakal I, or Pakal the Great who lived from 603-683 CE. Kan Bahlam II, son of Pakal I, set this creation story in carved hieroglyphs on the panels of the Cross Group, a complex of three pyramid-temples arranged to mirror the three hearthstones of creation.
The next several articles will continue with the
poetic rendition of Palenque’s Creation Myth through translations of these panels, and descriptions of how the Cross Group mirrors these Fourth Creation events.
BUY NOW in print.
BUY NOW in print.
David Stuart & George Stuart. Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya. Thames & Hudson, London, 2008.
Gerardo Aldana. The Apotheosis of Janaab’ Pakal: Science, History, and Religion at Classic Maya Palenque. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, CO, 2007.
Dennis Tedlock. Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, Revised Edition. Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996.
Hunbatz Men. The 8 Calendars of the Maya: The Pleiadian Cycle and the Key to Destiny. Bear & Company, Rochester, VT, 2010.