Creation stories are part of life and Maya Gods & Monsters by Carol Karasik will capture your imagination with tales of the supernatural. This beautiful little book delves into the ancient realm of the Maya underworld where gods and monsters thrive. New from Thrums Books, this collection of Maya myths and folktales, illustrated by Alfonso Huerta, is sensuous poetry in motion.
Maya Civilization Runs Deep
Before you leap into a world of gods and monsters, let’s check out the culture that produced such intriguing stories. These age-old tales have been gathered out of a dim and shadowy past that is over 2000 years old in a region that covers much of tropical Central America. These tales floated on the air through Oaxaca and influenced faraway places like Teotihuacan in Central Mexico and even the American Southwest. The Maya had a pantheon of gods who guided them through life, watched over the seasons, and influenced the development of their culture including textile designs. The geometric designs that pop-up throughout the book illustrate the strong ties between textiles and stories. And don’t forget – the Maya people are still alive and well, telling stories and weaving their dreams.
The Cast of Characters
Who is in this line-up you will meet in these pages? For the weavers and textile lovers among us, there is Grandmother Moon who taught women how to weave and creates the connection between cloth and culture. Hun Hunahpu, the god of corn, lives inside each precious kernel of corn that allowed Maya culture to thrive. (The importance of corn in this entire region, including the U.S. Southwest, is found in imagery of corn plants in weavings and paintings.) Itzamna, the highest of all Maya gods, is a tricky shapeshifter; this old iguana is a supreme wizard and magician watching over everything. And the feathered Plumed Serpent is a deity worshiped by many groups in the region. Teotihuacan is believed to be the first culture to use the feathered serpent as a religious and political symbol and built a pyramid in honor of the fancy snake. The Aztec called the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl – a flying dragon that kept the boundaries between earth and sky.
Are Words Stronger than Stones?
The great stories of the Maya relate a cultural narrative to make sense of the world for generations of people. Their worldview is one cultural view created over millennia. We all have a worldview that shapes our perception of life and culture; the stories we tell dig deep into the meaning of life, regale and entertain, make us laugh, and explain the unexplainable. If words are stronger than stones, then storytelling will never end. We all have gods and monsters – what’s your story?
You may want to start towards the back of the book (page 90) and explore the history of the Maya, the map of their world and peruse the glossary and pronunciation guide before descending into the magical underworld – if that’s your style.
Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas by Walter Morris JR and Caral Karasik, 2015, ThrumsBooks.
A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas by Walter Morris. JR, 2011, Thrums.