Maya Gods and Monsters: Supernatural Stories from the Underworld and Beyond

Maya Gods and Monsters: Supernatural Stories from the Underworld and Beyond

by Carol Karasik


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Maya Gods and Monsters: Supernatural Stories from the Underworld and Beyond by Carol Karasik

Through captivating stories and lush illustrations, this book draws on ancient myth and lore of the Maya people and gives life to wild and quirky gods, magical monsters, and strange creatures. Fiery characters such as the Lords of the Underworld, Water Lily Jaguar, and the Horrible White Bone Centipede reveal Maya creation myths from centuries ago. Fifteen stories blend the natural and the supernatural into one alluring realm, reflecting the heart of the Maya people—one of the greatest civilizations in the New World.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780997216851
Publisher: Thrums Books
Publication date: 04/01/2017
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 637,257
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 7.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Carol Karasik is a writer and editor who has produced a number of books on modern and historic Maya culture. She is the author of The Drum Wars and Turquoise Trail and is the coauthor of Maya Threads. She lives in Washington D.C.

Read an Excerpt

Maya Gods & Monsters

Supernatural Stories from the Underworld and Beyond

By Carol Karasik, Alfonso Huerta

Thrums Books

Copyright © 2016 Carol Karasik
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9972168-8-2



Long before people inhabited the earth, the gods filled the world with noise. They hadn't planned it that way, but all the amazing creatures they made — jaguars, howler monkeys, rattlesnakes, black-winged chachalacas — cackled and roared and hissed incessantly.

"Witz, witz, witz," said the rat. "Xpurpuwek, xpurpuwek," cried Whippoorwill. The gods couldn't sleep or think.

"They know how to grunt and squawk, but they don't know how to pray. They can't even pronounce our names. And those rabbits and hairless dogs are always gossiping and telling tall tales. Soon they'll be stealing our secrets," the Creators complained.

"All right, then. We'll just let them slink around the Underworld, steal through the forests, beat their wings against the sky until they are hunted down and eaten." And so the gods decreed that the animals, birds, and insects would become food for one another.

The next race of beings didn't talk at all because the gods made them out of mud. Those people just waddled about aimlessly. They had no backbones, they had no brains. They were just crumbling lumps with lopsided faces. The mud people simply melted away in the rain

The gods hung their heads in disappointment. "We've made a terrible mistake," they said. "But let's try again. Let's make people who know how to praise us."

Next the gods made people out of wood, but the people of wood had no hearts or minds or blood or fat. They were as stiff as sticks, dry as bricks, and when they spoke, they had nothing good to say. And so the gods decided to destroy those stubborn, heartless, witless creatures.

Monsters with needle teeth chewed their wooden arms and crunched their legs.

Their dogs snapped and snarled. "You cold-blooded people never fed us properly. Now we'll take a bite out of your stubborn shins."

The grinding stones crushed their ribs. "All you've done is cause us pain. Screech, scratch, huqui, huqui! Now we'll do the same to you."

The cooking pots rose up in anger. "You burned our bottoms. Our mouths are black," screaked the pots. "Now we'll toss you into the fire."

The Lord of Thunderbolts sent down a rain of black pitch that darkened the earth and drowned the wooden people for good. Those that escaped to the trees turned into monkeys.

The flood washed away everything on earth. The sky collapsed and the mountains sank. There was no earth and there was no sky. All that was left was an ocean of water, and a deep, dark silence.



Old Itzamna, the highest of the gods, was floating on his back in the middle of the sea, just daydreaming about this and that, when a brilliant idea popped into his head. He clapped his hands, and the seven Gods of Creation, who were quietly snoozing on their reed mats, sat bolt upright.

"You know," said Itzamna, "we should really make a new world. We need more excitement. We need some better company."

"It's true," the gods agreed. "But we've had bad luck before, and now look at the state we're in."

"I'm just circling around without rhyme or reason," moaned the old Sun, Lord of Time.

"I'm so waterlogged I'm beginning to lose my powers," the Lord of Thunder sputtered.

"Yes, I can't remember who I am," sighed the Lord of Death.

"Just as well," said the others.

Itzamna peered into his magic mirror and saw the world as it was and would be. He saw the reflections of the gods, who were reflections of himself, multiplying endlessly. The image of the world was also multiplying — world after world after world, doubling, tripling, and quadrupling until they were bubbling over the edge of his black mirror.

"We need order!" cried Itzamna, and without wasting another word, he started giving the Creator Gods instructions.

First they unraveled their silken cords and measured out the universe. They stretched the cords and laid out the four directions, east, west, north, and south. They created a perfect square. If you could look down upon it from a spot beyond infinity — which is impossible because infinity is too vast to see or imagine — the square would resemble a four-petaled flower.

"Excellent!" said Itzamna. The fallen sky was still lying upon the water, and there was hardly any room to walk around and breathe. "But we'll need more space for our new world. And we'll need a place to build a fire."

Just then, two gods came paddling along in their dugout canoe.

"Blood?" said one.

"Liar?" said the other.

"Wrong!" said Itzamna. "I said world. I said fire!"

"Wormbird, sire?" said the bowman, straightening his bashed-in jaguar helmet. "That sounds positively delicious! In which case, we'll be staying for supper."

"But where will we fry her?" asked the other paddler, twisting the dreadful stingray spine he wore through his nose. The two of them were as deaf as moles and as contrary as day and night.

"We've been paddling around this whirlpool forever and a week," muttered the Jaguar Paddler.

"That's if you call a fever a leak," the Stingray Paddler said with a sneer.

"There's no one living or dead to ferry, and besides ..."

"It's darker than a vat full of chocolates."

"I've never seen a bat full of pockets, have you?"

"I've never seen an iguana wrap his tail around his ears," said the Stingray Paddler, pointing his bony finger at Itzamna who was turning into a storm, a stork, a lizard with blue feathers.

In the center of the four-petaled flower, where the oceanic sky and celestial sea came together, the three old gods placed three round stones. The three stones formed the hearth where the fire of creation would blaze forth.

Now Thunderbolt and the Plumed Serpent were in the middle of the waters, stirring the waves with their thoughts and worries. "How shall we make the earth?" they asked themselves and each other. "How shall we bring the world to life?"

Itzamna's melodious voice floated across the waters. As if by magic, his words became the things he uttered.

"Earth," he said, and the earth lifted her huge body from the deep.

"Stone," and mountains of jade and turquoise rose from the green plains.

"Light," and little flames flickered in the eyes and hearts of trees, bees, flowers, fleas, fish, deer, and opossums.

With each word, a new marvel sprang to life. Thrush. Crystal. Tapir. Banana. And as his words echoed throughout the world, Itzamna instantly invented writing and wrote the words down on paper.

Now some will tell you that the Plumed Serpent spoke the words. Others will tell you that it was Thunderbolt. Some will even tell you that the creation of the earth happened in an entirely different way, not through words but a terrible tug of war.

You see, Itzamna was a great sorcerer and shape-shifter. Disguised as the god of night, Tezcatlipoca, he went off to rouse the Earth Monster, who was lurking at the bottom of the primordial sea. This monster looked like a cross between a crocodile and a slimy blood-sucking toad.

Tezcatlipoca called to her, "Hoooooo," but nothing stirred, not even a ripple.

Then he stuck out his big toe to lure her from the muck. Before he could wiggle his big toe twice, she swallowed his foot in one gulp. Ooooh, his screams were louder than the waves slapping against the monster's hideous teeth and claws.

Hearing Tezcatlipoca's cries, the Plumed Serpent rushed in to help. Immediately he grabbed the monster by the right arm and left leg and coiled himself around her. Tezcatlipoca grabbed the left arm and right leg. The two gods twisted and pulled until, with one big bone-splitting crack, they ripped the monster in two. Then they heaved her, warts and all, out of the turbulent waters. One half of her went todwell in the sky. The other half became the earth. The beast's bumps and ridges grew into mountains. Trees and flowers sprouted from her hair, springs and rivers poured from her weeping eyes.

While she was thrashing about and wailing, Tezcatlipoca's wounded foot turned into a black obsidian mirror wreathed in curls of smoke. When he walked he made no sound. The monster couldn't hear him limping across the bridge of her nose or climbing up and down the steep mountains of her back. When he reached the place where the three hearthstones lay, the Lord of Night stood very still. Then he spun on his mirrored heel and created fire.

Tezcatlipoca kept on spinning, and as he spun he turned into a mirrored tree whose spreading branches, spiraling upward, lifted the monstrous sky high above the earth. Round and round he whirled, filling the sky with stars. All the stars began whirling, and the great wheel of time started turning with the same steady motion as the stars.

The tree turned into an iguana, the iguana turned into Itzamna, and as soon as he was himself again he split himself in four. Each of his four selves raised its iguana tail and lifted up the four corners of the earth. That's why Earth is called "Iguana House."

But Itzamna is always changing.

Sometimes he takes the shape of a serpent and sprouts wings. "Woo-koo, woo-koo!" he cries.

Sometimes he becomes the giant crocodile that carries the earth on its back. All day he lazes by the river, watching butterflies land on his snout. He is so quiet and still that trees take root and grow from his wrinkled hide. When darkness falls, he wades across the hollows of the sky and becomes the starry path of the Milky Way. His belly is the center of our galaxy.

The old iguana is a supreme wizard and magician. Draped in darkness, he moves among the great and small, stitching the leaves, mending the stars, healing the birds. He is the wind whispering in the ear of the sleeping Sun, the celestial vapor embracing the Moon. Itzamna is everything he made and watches over.

He lives in water,
shapes the rain,
lights the fire,
plows the dirt,
comes from the iron bell of the earth,
and his heart rings.
Skin made of moss,
beard made of catfish whiskers,
head sprouting antlers,
hair hiding birds.
Ants and lightning live inside him.
His arms are wings.
"Sunlight," he whispers when he sways
over the branches of the Milky Way.



Before the sun had risen and people came to dwell on the surface of the earth, Itzamna was an entirely different sort of bird. He used to be a giant macaw whose silver eyes and jeweled teeth dazzled like the sun.

When he wasn't catching snakes, the proud and boastful Seven Macaw would fly about screeching, "Look at me! I am the sun, I am the moon." All those who were waiting in the dim light for the coming of the first dawn got tired of it. "If only someone would get rid of that noisy parrot," they grumbled.

As soon as the twin boys Hunahpu and Xbalanque heard about it, they grabbed their blowguns and began hunting the fabulous bird. Crouched in the bushes, they watched him as he dove out of the sky and perched in his favorite fruit tree. And while he was preening his scarlet feathers, the boys shot him with their blowguns and hit him squarely in the jaw.

The wounded bird landed with a crash. His dazzling teeth were rattling, his crumpled metal eyes were bulging in his aching head. "Ouch!" he screeched. Now he looked like a turkey vulture.

A little while later, two curers happened along, carrying a bag full of dental equipment. "We'll fix you up!" they said and quickly yanked out all his precious teeth. They left that vain macaw ragged and dejected, an empty shadow of bedraggled feathers. Now he circles the night sky as the star bird some call the Big Dipper.

The heroic twins lived with their grandmother, Xmucane, who gave them no love or affection. She ignored them when they cried and certainly never fed them. The boys had to do everything for themselves.

Now their father had two older sons who were left behind in Xmucane's not-so-tender care. The older brothers were great artists and musicians who loved to entertain their grandmother. They were also good at dreaming up vicious pranks to play on their little brothers, like sitting them on an anthill and stealing all their food. Xmucane always took their side.

"I'm sick of their tricks," said Hunahpu to Xbalanque as they were walking through the forest. "They'd be happy to let us starve."

"They paint and write very well," said Xbalanque to Hunahpu, "but they behave like wild monkeys."

Just then the boys discovered a tree full of luscious fruits, and they started jumping and whooping for joy. "Let's run home right away and tell our older brothers. These fruits were meant for them."

The older brothers couldn't wait to climb the tree, but as they climbed, the tree grew higher and higher until it almost touched the sky.

"Help!" they hollered.

"Turn your loincloths around so the flap hangs in back. That should help," Hunahpu suggested.

The older brothers did as they were told, and the minute their loincloths were flapping like tails, Hunahpu and Xbalanque turned them into monkeys. The boys laughed themselves silly, but oh, their grandmother cried and cried.

The old woman had never told the boys how their father and his twin brother had disappeared. Yes, her own dear sons, One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, went off to the caves beneath the earth and never came back, and the old woman never stopped weeping and waiting for their return. "My sons are lost forever in the Underworld of Xibalba," she sobbedto herself, and the light in her heart grew fainter. Yes, it was a very sad story, but the boys had to find out for themselves.

* * *

When One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu were still living on the surface of the earth, they did nothing but play ball, and the racket really upset the lords living down in the Underworld.

"Who's that kicking and bouncing over our heads? It sounds like a pack of wild boar," they grumbled.

"Let's teach them some respect," said Pus Master and Jaundice Master. "We'll make them swell up and turn yellow."

"I'll grind them down to skin and bones," said Skull Scepter.

"I'll puncture them in the belly," said Stab Master.

"And I'll catch the blood," said Blood Gatherer.

"Then they'll die for sure," said One Death and Seven Death.

The gods were really in a huff. So they sent four messengers to invite the brothers down to play a game with the Lords of Death. The owl messengers had sharp wings but no legs, beaks like daggers, and one owl had no head at all. The brothers could hardly refuse.

They followed the owls down a steep canyon, crossed the river of spikes, crossed the river of blood, and stumbled down the black road to Xibalba. By the time they arrived, all the lords were laughing so hard their bones were rattling. "You're already finished," they said. The brothers didn't even have a chance to play the ball game. The Lords of Death sacrificed them, buried them, and hung the head of One Hunahpu in a cacao tree that was growing beside the ball court. As soon as they placed the head in the fork of the tree, the tree bore delicious chocolate fruits. All of Xibalba was forbidden to go near it.

One day a beautiful girl came along. Her name was Blood Woman, and she was the daughter of Blood Gatherer. As she was reaching up to pluck the sweet fruits from the tree, the head of One Hunahpu spoke to her.

"Why would you want the bones from this tree?" said the head of One Hunahpu.

"You think they're tasty, you think they're sweet, these hard black seeds in a white shell?"

"I do," said Blood Woman.

"Well, I will give you a sign for my firstborn sons. Tell them their father hasn't disappeared. He is alive and will go on living." And the skull spit in the girl's hand. Immediately she conceived.

Pretty soon her horrible father noticed she had something growing in her belly, and his hollow eyes burned red with rage. "Bring me her heart!" he commanded.

Blood Woman escaped through a hole in the earth and fled to the house of One Hunahpu's mother. It wasn't easy putting up with Xmucane's miserable temper. The suspicious old crone didn't want that girl around and said so whenever she had the chance. Still, her stubbornness was no match for Blood Woman's brains and magic powers, which she naturally passed on to her beautiful twin boys, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

"Cry babies," Xmucane called them the moment they were born. And so they went to live in the mountains, and when they grew up they became great hunters and ballplayers. The clever boys learned everything on their own.

* * *

Every gray, sunless day the boys practiced ball, and every gray, sunless day the Lords of Death woke up fuming and cursing. They couldn't help it. The sound of the bouncing rubber ball was giving them a splitting headache. "Who's that kicking and banging over our heads?" they grumbled. "What nerve!"

Again they sent their owl messengers to the surface of the earth. But the boys were playing in the ball court and only their grandmother was at home to receive the bad news.

Old Xmucane gave the message to a tiny louse, but on the way, the louse was swallowed by a toad, the toad was swallowed by a snake, and the snake was swallowed by a laughing falcon. When the falcon reached the ball court, he called out, "Woo-koo! I have a message in my belly."


Excerpted from Maya Gods & Monsters by Carol Karasik, Alfonso Huerta. Copyright © 2016 Carol Karasik. Excerpted by permission of Thrums Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Maya Gods and Monsters,
Three Creations,
Itzamna and the Fourth World,
The Dawning of the Sun and the Moon,
The Gift of Corn,
K'inich Ahau Eye of the Sun,
Grandmother Moon Weaves the World,
Lady Yellow Ramon Leaf,
Chak, the Rain God,
How the God of Death Lost His Hat,
Tezcatlipoca, Lord of the Smoking Mirror,
Four Supernatural Serpents,
Saved from the Horned Serpent,
The Serpent of Fire,
The Cloud Serpent,
The Vision Serpent,
Tales of the Plumed Serpent,
The Horrible White Bone Centipede,
Water Lily Jaguar,
The Maya — A Brief History,
Map of Mesoamerica,
The Story of this Book,
Glossary and Guide to Pronunciation,

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