Book Review: Popol Vuh

For years, I have enjoyed reading about mythology from around the world. Whether it is Ancient Greek and Roman myths or the stories of Chinese and Japanese Gods, or the ancient Celts origin stories, I loved it all. But the one place I haven’t really read any myths about is South America. The problem with studying the ancient Mayans and Aztecs (as well as others people of that area) is that historians actually don’t know that much about them. They didn’t write books like the ancient Chinese and Romans did, and much of their society has been lost.

Saying that, I was browsing through articles on the oldest classics from South America and I came across this one, which is a classic tale (originally written in Mayan hieroglyphics) of the origin of the Quiche (Mayan) people, who lived near the city of Guatemala (in the republic of Guatemala). This version (originally written in Spanish) was written by three unnamed authors from Quiche Kingdoms in the sixteenth century, considered to be the alphabetic Popol Vuh, though this is just a collection of mythical tales which were told for hundreds of years before that.

Release: 1996 (this English translation)

Synopsis: This is the Quiche Mayan book of creation, a collection of stories about the first deeds of the Mayan gods and their quest to create humanity and bring the world out of darkness.


I found myself constantly comparing this book to the Bible as I read it. Possibly this is because this written version was written by people who had been influenced by Spanish missionaries coming into their country. But many of the stories (a virgin woman conceiving of a god, a great flood which wipes out all the ‘clay’ humans, etc.) are surprisingly reminiscent of Christianity. Saying that, these gods are pretty much as ridiculous as the Roman gods, doing the most stupid things. In many ways, I find the gods created by man to be the most absurd creatures. If you create a god, why would you create one with such fallibility? Perhaps it is because we make them in our own imagine, instead of the other way around. Saying that, this book is like reading Roman myths combined with Grimm fairytales, and is a fun book to read if you don’t take it too seriously.

The story starts with creation, where many gods (including Plumed Serpent, Heart of the Sky, etc.) come together to try to bring light to the earth and create something to worship them. But unlike the Christian tale of God creating earth, these gods are pretty useless at everything they do. They try many times to create humans, failing each time (first they create animals, who don’t have human intellect, then they create clay humans also lack intelligence). I mention this story in particular because it kind of encompasses just how useless these gods are. The stories which follow are about the gods overcoming adversities as they try to populate the earth, fight each other, and bring havoc upon everyone.

One of my biggest issues was the level of characters mentioned. There were so many gods and goddesses, that it was hard to keep track of all the names and who was who. Who was who’s mother or father. Who killed who. You get it. Saying that, I have the same issue with trying to learn Greek and Roman mythology, so that isn’t a criticism to the mythos itself.

If you are interested in reading about mythology from around the world, I highly recommend this book. It’s fun and hilarious.

Have you heard of this book? What is your favorite mythology from around the world? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Popol Vuh

  1. I find myself begin to love the gods in the book! They are more like ordinary people. Somehow I find them adorable and inspiring! They give me a feeling that ” See, even gods fail so many times before they make it. Don’t be too frustrated when we screw things up. ” Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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