Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Guest Post with M.G.Harris: Mayan Myths in popular culture – 2012 and all that

A big Scribble City Central welcome to M.G.Harris, author of the wonderful Joshua Files books, riproaring action thrillers with just the sort of ingredients I like--ancient prophecies, car chases, sinister baddies and a good dash of mythic mystery! It's all a bit like Indiana Jones crossed with James Bond--only better.  Scribble City Central is the 5th stop on M.G.'s blog tour, and I asked her to tell us something about Mayan myths and how they relate to her books.The Mayans are a people I've always found fascinating and don't know enough about.  Now I'm itching to learn more after reading her post...over to you, M.G. and thanks for visiting!

M.G. says: The 2012 movie, The Joshua Files and an upcoming series from the Syfy channel all feature a Mayan ‘prophecy’ that the world will end in December 2012.  In fact, whether or not such a prophecy even exists is controversial. The Mayan Long Count calendar ends on a date which is translated variously as 21st (or 23rd) December 2012 – that is something which all Mayan scholars agree on. Then there’s the mysterious ‘Tortuguera 6’ monument – the single known written reference to the end date – known in Mayan as 13 Baktun. The translation of the legible part of the inscription is tantalising enough to add further intrigue. And how cool is it that it becomes unreadable just beyond the mention of the date…? 

Except that…an evidence-based approach to this doom-laden ‘prophecy’ casts huge doubts over any actual threat. 2012 is a myth, a Nostradamus-style prophecy that’s apparently embedded in the culture of an enigmatic lost civilisation.

What storyteller can resist a myth like that?

Other aspects of Mayan mythology have also provided inspiration for The Joshua Files. Theirs is a pantheistic religion with a creation myth that was written down by Spanish-speaking Mayans in a book known as the Popul Vuh. The Mayan world is divided into the world, the sky and the underworld – Xibalba. There are gods who represent the Sun, Moon, the sky, the Earth, and many more.

Like most Mesoamerican peoples, the Maya have their version of the feathered-serpent god Quetzelcoatl: they call him Kukulkan. The Aztecs mistook the Spanish conquistador Cortes for the legendary Quetzelcoatl, something which almost certainly hastened their doom.

After Kukulkan, Itzamna is perhaps the Maya’s most enigmatic figure. Itzamna; bringer of writing and agriculture to the Maya: who else to cast in a Chariot-of-the-Gods style plot strand…? But whilst the mysterious Itzamna who leaves his mark in The Joshua Files is a real person (readers are still waiting to find out just who), the Mayan Itzamna is purely mythological. In temple adornments Itzamna’s features sometimes decorate the corners, or an occasional frieze. Itzamna the Earth Monster!

The Itzamna of The Joshua Files, like the mythological figure, left behind four sons to continue his legacy. In Mayan legend these four sons, the Bakabs, hold up the four corners of the world. In The Joshua Files this translates to the Bakabs becoming the guardians of four crucial Mayan codices: books of ancient knowledge.

The Mayan worldview saw the earthly province split into four directions equivalent: Ix, Kan, Muluc, Cauac, centred about the central World Tree – the Mayan version of the commonly-held myth of the Tree of Life. Under the tree was Xibalba, the underworld of demons and trials. At the top was the Heart of Sky.

The Heart of Sky brings us back to 2012. A popular ‘theory’ for the 2012 myth, concerns an alignment of our own sun with the centre of the galaxy – perhaps the Mayan ‘heart of sky’. What catastrophes could we dream up as a consequence of such an alignment? The 2012 movie imagines earthquakes, a polar shift, tidal waves. In The Joshua Files it’s a superwave of energy from the galactic core: a gigantic electromagnetic pulse.

Modern-day Mayan elders have gone on record to say that their legends hold no such prophecy of doom, that the calendar end-date is no more significant than our annual December 31st. A culture which believed in time as cyclical, the Mayan myths seem to point more to rebirth and new beginnings more than to an ending.

A misunderstanding that amounts to a clash of cultures was perhaps inevitable. Western culture has been overwhelmingly about linear progress; from basic civilisation to some imagined future like the utopia of Star Trek’s Federation. Yet over in the Americas, the Maya constructed a civilisation in which everything was as predictably cyclical as the Sun, the Moon and stars, as the growth of crops and the harvest.

It’s a safe bet that whilst thousands of people all over the world are anxious or excited on 21st December 2012, most of the six million native Mesoamerican people with Mayan heritage will be, in the words of Voltaire, simply ‘cultivating their garden’.

N.B. For child-friendly information about the Maya and 2012 see HERE
Next on the ZERO MOMENT blog tour - One Hundred Years of Solitude – a bluffer’s guide at http://theviewfromheremagazine.com/ (17 April)


Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

Oh this is brilliant - I've long been fascinated by Mayan mythology and culture but know very little about it. The Joshua Files is going straight onto my "I have to get this book!!!" list!
Thanks Lucy and MG Harris!

kathryn evans said...

Oh my gosh - so exciting! We visited some Mayan ruins in Mexico and was thrilling to see the painted hands all over the buildings...looking forward to Joshua Files too....

Susie Day said...

Ooh - this is fab! I cannot WAIT to get my hands on the 4th book next year: such a fantastic series.

Love the new paint job too Lucy!

Lucy Coats said...

Looks like we're all fans of Joshua then! Glad you like the new bloglook, Susie--I'm rather pleased with it myself--amazing that I managed to do it, really, being such a tecchie idiot.

anonomous said...

i have been doing some josh related research of my own and it seems the Tortuguera 6’ monument was written in the 10th baktun
unless they had time travel *_*
oh, and if you have a joshua files story go to joshuafilesff.com to have it put on the website
(please exuse shameful self publishing) :)

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