The Mayans have an unexpectedly large number of creator deities, and references to a number of different creations. Mayan creation history is very complex, and it is difficult to keep track of without supplementary material, such as an understanding of their calendar system.
What follows is an attempt to organize such material somewhat, and thus provide a starting point from which more detailed explorations can begin.
In order to do this, some comments on the Mayan calendar are necessary.The Mayans had a number of different calendars for particular purposes: short-term measurments, long-term measurements, religious cycles, civil cycles, agricultural needs, astrological lore, etc. The standard measurement of large amounts of time was the so-called “Long Count.”
This was a cycle of several units of diurnal measure, not connected to seasons but simply an enumeration of days.
Bear in mind that the Mayan names are likely to be largely inaccurate: K’in is correct, but Tun was almost certainly called “Haab” (it is called Tun nowadays because otherwise confusion would arise from use of “Haab” in the 365 “Vague Year” calendar), Bak’tun was an invention of 19th century archeologists, and the remaining names are at best educated guesses.
Tied to this Long Count seems to have been yet another cyclical measure, called the Great Cycle, identical to it except that it stops at 13 Bak’tuns, and then repeats. All of Mayan history, and thus all the dates and references to dated events found in Mayan inscriptions and texts, have occured within one particular Great Cycle, which commenced on September 8th, 3114 BCE.
Here is a chart of the Long Count units:
KINCHILTUN = 20 Kalabtuns (1,152,000,000 days) = c. 3.15 million years
KALABTUN = 20 Piktuns
(57,600,000 days) = c.157,720 years
PIKTUN = 20 Bak’tuns
(2,880,000 days) = 7886 years
BAK’TUN = 20 K’atuns (144,000 days) = about 394.3 years
K’ATUN = 20 tuns (7200 days) = about 19.7 years
TUN (Haab) = 18 Winals (360 days) = nearly one solar year
WINAL = 20 K’ins (20 days) = c. 3 weeks
K’IN = 01 day = 1 solar day
These Great Cycles play a large part in the ordering of the Mayan Universe.
What follows is an interpretation of the data.
It’s accuracy is emphatically not guarenteed; yet, it fits the information as we understand it today.
The Mayans regarded the Universe as a vast House, the walls of which were the four iguana-divinities, the Becabs of the four cardinal directions. In the beginning of all things, Gucamatz, Tepeu, and Huracan agreed that when dawn emerged the world would commence, and man appear. Therefore they called the earth into being, and created plants and animals.
They called upon the plants and animals to speak, and to praise their creators, but heard only the mindless noises that animals make. Clearly, this creation was not sufficient, and a new one was necessary.
In the next creation the original three were joined by other Gods, and models of mankind were constructed from clay and mud, but these first specific attempts at creating sentient beings failed. Though the creatures built cities in the dark (it had not dawned yet), they could not speak (although they tried), and eventually they simply dissolved in water, breaking apart into the mud the arose from. These entities the Mayans call the Saiyamkoob.
Another attempt was made, more divinities called to the task (Alom, Bitol, and Tzacol among them), and this time wooden images were carved, and these infused with life. They did not dissolve, and they spoke. But they merely wandered over the land, doing nothing but eating; and their words were senseless and without praise.
The Gods were angered by this, and destroyed most of these folk, whom the Mayans call Tsolob. Some survived the destruction by Alom and His demons, and these remnants can be seen today in the forest; they are monkeys.
A final creation took place, during which several divinities split into multiple Gods.
Alom became sundered, leaving not only Himself, but Hunahpu-Guch as well. From Tzacol emerged Ixpiyacoc. Bitol issued Ixmacane. In this creation, sentient creatures were constructed of images formed from maize, and these were infused with life as before.
The work proceeded well, too well in fact, for the race of humans which arose were approximately as powerful as the Gods themselves. The Gods thus clouded their sight and reduced them to mortal levels. These were the original Maya.
The present world holds a mixture of all the previously created beings.
It is not entirely clear from the sources how many creation eras there have been. The Quiche creation account, the Popol Vuh, isn’t specific as to whether the Saiyamkoob were created during the First Age, or should be considered an Age of their own.
Similarly, it isn’t entirely clear whether the Maya had their own age, and are now living as remnants in a subsequent age, or whether this present time is the Maya Age. Depending on how one interprets the texts, we could be living in the Third, Fourth, or Fifth Age.
These eras of creation seem to correspond to the Great Cycle of thirteen Bak’tuns.
Since Mayan cosmology and sacred mathematics is strongly focussed on quadrapartite symmetry, it is a safe bet that there should be four ages, or perhaps era groups of four ages each.
The question is of interest because, as astute readers may have realized, 13 Bak’tuns (1,872,000 days, or 5126 years) measured from the commencement of the current Mayan calendar results in an era just ended. On December 23rd, 2012, we started into a new era.