Mayan mythology emerged from the traditions and religion of a civilization as old as 3,000 years from a vast region called Mesoamerica: territories that are now the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Yucatan, in addition to some parts of Central America. Even though many of the texts written by the Mayans were burned on the arrival of the Spanish, some legends have survived and continue to be told today.
Mayan mythology is fascinating. The stories below serve a double purpose: to remember the traditions of a civilization that continues to be alive. To shed some light on a culture that we are immerged in.
The legend of the Aluxes: mystical beings that since the beginning of time take care of their owners.
The legend of Xtabay: a story that gives life to a liquor found in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The love story of Sac-Nicte & Canek: one of the many legends that explain the abandonment of Chichen Itza.
The legend of the Uxmal dwarf: an unlikely king who builds spectacular structures and made a city grow.
The legend of the Aluxes:
The aluxes are tiny beings, created out of clay that were hidden and in that way they were able to protect its owner. The aluxes (pronounced ah-lu-shes), had a strong tie to their creator. Once they were created, they were offered prayer and offerings to make them come to life.
The aluxes were known to be faithful to their owners and mischievous with strangers. When the properties of their owners were passed down to others, the aluxes would come out and scare the children. To please them, the new owners would have to give them food, cigarettes, honey, and corn.
Today, the aluxes continue to take care of the mayan towns. Some original clay figurines can be found in the Dzitnup and Samula cenotes, near the city of Valladolid. Some people believe that the aluxes are here to bring light to the world. The creatures are hardly ever seen as they are agile and light, like the wind. The Mayans believe that if respected, the aluxes will protect you and will take care of your properties.
The legend of Xtabay and the flower of Xtabentun
Pronounced eesh-ta-bai, this legend tells the story of two beautiful sisters. One of them was known as the sinner and the other as the good one. The first one was not wanted because she gave herself to love, but in reality was loved by the sick and the weak ones. The second one was appreciated by the town, but in the interior she was rigid and incapable of loving those around her.
Upon Xbeban’s (the sinner) death, she received visitors from all over. Her tomb was surrounded by beautiful, colorful flowers and from that place a sweet smell filled the air. Then Utz-Colel (the good women) died. As fast as she died, her body started to emit a disgusting smell and all the flowers around her grave died. From Xkeban’s tomb grows a particular flower called Xtabentun while in Utz-Colel’s tomb, a cactus called tzacam grows.
Utz-Colel’s death was hard and she returned from eternity to take revenge on the kindness of her sister. To imitate her sister’s life, Utz-Colel offers mundane love to strange men. She lures them to her and then she kills them. She waits for them by the ceiba trees as she combs her hair with a brush made out of tzacam.
The legend of Sac-Nicte and Canek
Sac-Nicte means white flower. She was born in Mayapan: the powerful alliance that lived in peace—Mayab, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza. Canek means black serpent, a brave prince with a kind heart. When he turned 21 years of age, he was chosen as king of Chichen Itza. That same day he met princess Sac-Nacte. She was 15 years of age. Both quickly fell in love; however Sac-Nicte was destined to be married with young Ulil, prince of Uxmal.
The legend says that a young adviser to the princess told Canek that Sac-Nicte would be waiting among green flowers and that it would be necessary to fight for her, before destiny fought against them.
The day of the wedding, Canek arrived with 60 of his best warriors and climbed to the altar screaming Itzalan! Itzalan! As if he was in the battlefield and stole the princess from the altar. Ulil, enraged, launched a war: Mayapan and Uxmal against Izta. The itzaes abandoned their homes and temples in Chichen Itza. Leading the way was King Canek, hand-in-hand with his beloved Sac-Nicte. The Uxmal and Mayapan armies found an empty Chichen Itza, left dead, abandoned by its citizens.
The Dwarf in Uxmal
Uxmal is pronounces ush-mal. The legend says that a long time ago in the ancient Mayan city, there lived an ancient woman that worked as an oracle in the city. The woman was unable to conceive children and therefore asked the god Chic Chan to bring her the shell of a large turtle. A few months later, a tiny green dwarf with red hair was born.
One day, the dwarf decided to make a large gourd, which would serve as a kind of rattle. There was a prophecy that said that people who played a similar instrument would become the new king. The king at the time became angry and challenged the dwarf to a dual. He had three tests for the dwarf. For the first test, he asked the dwarf the number of trees in his palace. The dwarf succeeded. For the second test, the king asked the dwarf to bring a turkey male to lay eggs. The next day, the dwarf brought a man who appeared to be pregnant, to prove that it was impossible to do the same with the turkey. The judges gave him the points. In the third test, the king asked Saiya to place a kind of hickory on his head to be broken with a spearhead. Not only was he able to pass the test, but the dwarf asked the king underwent the same experiment. The king died because of his pride and so the little man was proclaimed as king.
As king, the dwarf built the famous temple “the governor’s house” and a house for his mother which he called “the house of the elderly mother.” Both buildings can be seen in the Mayan ruins of Uxmal.