And The Dead Start Jumping for Joy

Sometimes a scary story is just the thing. Sometimes doubling down on a messy reality with more of the same throws things into perspective. Know what I mean? The Maya were masters of the horrible. Not for them those sylph-like goddesses arising from seashells or descending from rainbows. Nope, their deities were more likely to be cranky, nasty, capricious, and actually not very competent, god-wise.

The great ruler of the Underworld! Illustration by Alfonso Huerta from Maya Gods & Monsters.

I love Carol Karasik’s re-telling of the Maya creation myths in Maya Gods and Monsters:Supernatural Stories from the Underworld and Beyond because she does not pull any punches. Her gods and goddesses are right at home in the chaos of making a world from scratch, and there’s enough gore and drool and insulting language to satisfy anyone’s inner pre-teen boy. But there’s also enough pure rowdy joy to give one hope.  Here’s the first chapter, “The Three Creations, A Multitude of Blunders,” and the final chapter, “The Water Lily Jaguar,” for your weekend entertainment. Don’t you want to know what happens in between?
—Linda Ligon, Publisher


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.

Old Itzamna, the highest of the gods, used to be a blue macaw. Illustration by Alfonso Huerta from Maya Gods & Monsters.

“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.

The Earth Monster. Illustration by Alfonso Huerta from Maya Gods & Monsters.

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.


Water Lily Jaguar swims in the silver rivers of the rainforest. Water Lily Jaguar swims in the silver pool of the moon. When waves of lily pads tremble and heave, you know the Water Lily Jaguar is swimming underwater, searching for tasty catfish. When he comes up for air, he will be dripping in water lily flowers, water lily vines, from head to toe. If he doesn’t rise to the surface, he has dived deeper, down to the bottom of the bottomless lagoon, down through the sunless caverns, down to the sunless palace where the Lords of Death are having supper.

Water Lily Jaguar Marches, Water Lily Jaguar prowls the halls sniffing for something to eat. There is nothing on the fire but stacks of burning bones, nothing to drink but jugs full of blood. Next time one of those dreadful lords—Pus Master or Bone Scepter—says something nasty, he may have to take a nibble. But the Lords of Death never speak crossly to Water Lily Jaguar. They show him great respect, not simply because he is fierce, but because he is a terrific dancer.

Water Lily Jaguar dripping in water lily vines from head to toe. Illustration by Alfonso Huerta from Maya Gods & Monsters.

When Water Lily Jaguar prances, the eyeballs on his necklace jangle, the bells clang on his tail. When Water Lily Jaguar dances, water lily petals sweeten the air as he spins. His coat of stars is sending out sparks, his golden fur is flashing rays of light.

Oh, he is really whirling now, and the Lords of Death are beating their turtle shell drums and pounding their feet. They’re shuffling and stumbling and tottering in circles, banging and crashing and crunching each other’s toes. The kings are wearing their high-backed sandals and stomping on the stones.

“And the dead start jumping for joy.” Illustration by Alfonso Huerta from Maya Gods & Monsters.

And now they’re all coming out of the woodwork, the knife bats and fish flies and two-headed geeks. The footless birds and spiny worms are delighted there’s a party. The crabs and the lizards are waltzing up a storm. The music is getting louder now because the anteaters are blowing their trumpets. And who’s that hairy frog tooting on his horn?

And who’s that coming here and steaming up the room? Why it’s the Sun, Our Father, dancing with Grandmother Moon! And isn’t that Venus leading the snake dance with the lightning-footed god of storms? And isn’t that the Night Wind doing the one-step all alone?

Grandmother Moon weaves the world. Illustration by Alfonso Huerta from Maya Gods & Monsters.

The dance floor is thundering with hoof beats and claws. The air is reeling with glass wings, dog stinks, and buzzing antennae. Things get out of hand when Water Lily Jaguar dances, and the dead start jumping for joy.
—Carol Karasik


Meet Chak the Rain God, White Bone Centipede, Grandmother Moon, and a quirky cast of characters in Maya Gods & Monsters.

You can dance with the dead, too! We’ve transformed Alfonso Huerta’s fabulous illustration of dancing skeletons into a jigsaw puzzle. PLAY HERE!


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