Astro-myths: Stars and the Invisible

I have been contemplating the Popol Vuh (PV) in relationship to the astronomical dimensions of Mayan myth that I have been absorbing (slowly) through The Star Gods of the Maya. The PV is broken up into several movements, cycling from the cosmic, to the mythic, to the historical. As I consider those layers, as I consider those layers in relationship to the heavens, I am led to two related insights.

The first: while the different movements of the PV can be meaningfully read as a linear, temporal sequence (i.e., first this, then that, then that…), the movements can also be read as co-temporal layers so that as historical time is going on, so too is the act of creation. As creation is going on, so too is subjugation of the lords of Xibalba. As Xibalba is subjugated, so too does the history of the Quiche unfold.

This makes sense of some of the astronomical phenomena that structure the myths. As One and Seven Hunahpu descend into Xibalba, so too do Venus and Mercury disappear from the night, again and again, alongside the day-to-day progress of historical time, with its peoples and lineages.

It sits well with the Mesoamerican calendars, too, which interweave repeating and non-repeating days and years. There is that which returns, but also that which occurs once. Here the different creations become exemplars of those singular passings, of movements which pass and are replaced by something new, something novel.

The second: Even as it becomes possible to read the cosmological and mythic events as mirrors of celestial phenomena, the myths themselves highlight that they take place in a time before the phenomena existed, that they are the origin, foundation, or arche of them. The story of Xibalba is the story of the first dawn, of the coming to be of the visible world as we know it.

The PV asserts, then, that the invisible world precedes and grounds the visible world, and that what is manifest in the visible is a potency that was made real in the invisible world. The cosmic and mythic elements point the reader to look beyond their human world to the sky and to contemplate an invisible order which the wise can modulate by their actions, most specifically by praise.

This sits very nicely against the work being done in the Kabbalistic material. Yes, there are all of the planetary and stellar associations, but these can be seen to derive from a more fundamental root in shared invisible reality, and it is the shared reality which is accessed through the long work of permutation.

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