The Third Magic War: The Lords of Xibalbá

Solapas principales

In the series of the first, second, and third magic war, the third and ultimate magic war is the clearest manifestation of the power of the word.  Junajpu and Xbalanke/Ixbalanqué use their intelligence to communicate with the natural world, achieve a common end, bring about the punishment of transgressors, and maintain the equilibrium of life -- the ultimate goal of Mesoamerican cosmology. Or, as Nahum Megged puts it: “Ellos [Hunahpú and Ixbalanqué] darán lugar al amanecer que coincidirá con el nacimiento del hombre civilizado.  Por ello, antes de su apoteosis tiene que librar al mundo del inframundo” (101). 

In other words, the work of the twin brothers is to make possible the birth of light; in order to do so, the cycles of transgression and punishment that have thus far dominated Xibalbá must come to an end. Punishment allows the twin heroes to demonstrate their intelligence, to utilize the power of the word to deliver punishment, giving way to the light of day. The end of Xibalbá, as the end of human sacrifice, marks the final transition form a world of the body to a world of the mind; it constitutes the final step in the transformation of a collectivity into a society.

The war against the Lords of Xibalbá symbolizes the battle between light and darkness, of civilization against primitivism. According to Rafael Girard: “El héroe civilizador fija las pautas de conducta del ser ético que debe actuar siempre conforme al deber.  Durante toda su existencia exalta, con su ejemplo o con sentencias, la ética como mas alta expresión de la vida humana, tratando de formar el tipo ideal de hombre maya-quiche” (186). In this way, the cycles of transgression and punishment lead to the transformation of being -- one that is defined by the dichotomy of darkness and light dichotomy that frames the entire text. In this new order, collectivity must prevail.

The pride and the personal satisfaction of the Lords of Xibalbá contrasts with the humility and sense of collectivity represented by the twin brothers.  For Girard: “La sentencia anterior constituye un verdadero tratado de ética maya-quiche, una exposición de las cualidades que deben caracterizar al hombre verdadero o sea civilizado, en contraposición con los vicios de la época de barbarie que Hunahpú repudia enérgicamente. Ésta será en adelante la Ley, el compendio de valores morales que dan significado a la vida.” (245).  Furthermore, the act of usurpation by the Lords of Xibalbá derives from their desire to strip the twin heroes of their instruments of play.  In doing so, they strip them symbolically of their divinity.  Alfonso Rodríguez points out that “despojar a los muchachos de sus instrumentos de juego significa despojarlos de su privilegiada condición de dioses, o por lo menos hacerlos caer en deshonra” (197). That is the major transgression committed by the Lords of Xibalbá, and that is why they are punished.  Usurpation, i.e. the theft of divinity, is intolerable in the cosmovisión proposed by the Popol Wuj.

As Douglas Cameron argues, “The older set of twins fail to pass the tests of Xibalba because they are lead to accept the representational aspects of language as equaling the truth about social life and as a result respond directly to the implied reality of words, never suspecting the problematic contexts for words used by the Lords of Xibalba.  They persist in understanding words literally.” (27).  The acts of justice of the twin heroes are embedded within what he calls a “discourse of resistance” (26), where the patterns of deception are turned against the transgressors. 

The descent into the underworld serves as a test of resistance and intelligence, embedding spiritual trials in movement through space and time. In Xibalbá, trickery is part of the cycles of transgression and punishment, and even though those who are endowed with the means to bring upon justice, must also beware the possibility of being tricked. The descent into the underworld is the last stage in the path towards civilization and unsurprisingly is the most difficult because it is here where the twin heroes are challenged.

Whereas the other two  groups -- Wuqub Kak'ix, Sipakna and Kabraqan, on the one hand, and Jun Batz' and Jun Chowen, on the other -- are proud but lacking in intelligence, the Lords of Xibalbá are proud but smart. In this sense, they are more evolved figures; their use of trickery serves as an index of such "progress," such that the battle with the Lords of Xibalbá is, above all, an intellectual battle. 

In the end, Junajpu and Xbalanke/Ixbalanqué know that they have won the battle when the Lords of Xibalbá are sacrificed at their own request -- that is, when the hero twins trick the Lords into asking for their own undoing. At that point, the Lords of Xibalbá have failed the test of intelligence, and their punishment is finally completed.