"Tunkan - the stone God - is the oldest spirit, we think, because he is the hardest. He stands for
creation, you know, like the male part. Hard, upright, piercing - like the lance
and arrow heads fashioned from it in the old days."
"The future doesn't exist, or if it does exist, it is the obsolete in reverse. The
future is always going backwards. Our future tends to be prehistoric."
The first quote above explains the positions stone plays in the creation of the
world. It was there, as stone is here with us today due to its being the most
permanent material in nature's world.
The second quote was made by one of our foremost contemporary artists.
His work will be discussed in a separate section, but his importance here is on 'beginnings.' How we
began seems of utmost importance to us. We seem to yearn our way back to beginnings. Smithon's
work seems to be a reflection on this yearning to re-enter that process -- (the process being nature's
very relaxed way of realtering her materials) -- and his statement on the future, on first reading, tends
to sound negative, but in fact is a positive re-positioning on man within the realm of nature's process.
"The world was created by God the ruler, he who was hidden within the stone, hidden within the night,
was born, where there was neither heaven nor earth. Then he came out of the stone and fell into the
second stone. Then it was he declared his divinity." 14
Thus begins the creation of the world as found in the book "Chilam Balam of Chumayel." The prophet
Balam was the last and greatest prophet of the Mayan people. The book was completed in the year
1782, long after the end of the Mayan civilization, but fortunately contains very little European material
and is based upon prophecies and the history of the Mayan people by the prophet Balam, who lived
during the last decades of the fifteenth century, and probably the beginnings of
the sixteenth century. He came into prominence by foretelling of the coming of
strangers from the east who would establish a new religion.
The books were written in the Mayan language, but in the European script. They
contain chronicles, fragmentary historical narratives, rituals, prophecies,
native catechisms, mythological accounts of the creation of the world;
almanacs and medical treatises.
Here in this section I want to concentrate on the account of the creation of the
world. The creation began with God falling and entering between a series of
stones. "He loosened himself from his stone and declared his divinity." 15
Why is he created out of a stone? I can only believe it refers to Lame Deer's
statement that stone is the hardest and most durable of materials. An interesting point in Lame Deer's
statement is the name of the stone God" "Tunkan." Lame Deer, a north American Indian, living at the
turn of the century, uses a name that has its beginnings with the Mayans. The word in Mayan for a
precious stone is "tun", while the word for ordinary stone is "tunich." The term was also used in the
measuring of time. Tun is the name of the Mayan time period of 365 days.
"...where there was neither time nor space..." The key word is 'where.' 'When' is not spoken of, thus
the creation is placed beyond time -- now when time was not or outside of time. To the Mayans, the
"first time" was outside material creation, so that God had to descent to the "second time" before he
could declare his divinity. Are we referring to stone (tun), time (tun), or both?
God continued creating the heavens and earth from stones. Hebones, the only son of God, was born
upon the stone of his father, and man was born of stone when moisture fell upon it. It is interesting that
God, at the first heaven, has a stone in one hand and in the other his 'kabahil', the Mayan potter's
wheel. The stone in his one hand at this first heaven was the one used to create the planets "which he
held in his grasp when he created them," 16 while in the other the potter's wheel on which were "hung
the four changing winds." 17
God was free but the forces governing the universe and represented by lesser Gods were subject to
the laws of time.
Freedom was relative. The planets could turn only on the whim of god's grasp. The potter's wheel was
the perpetual moving outward to the four points of the created world and inward to a still hub.
The balance must be kept between time and space and it is the duty of the four changing winds to maintain it.
As with all matters of time, there is a beginning and an end. The Mayans felt that the universe would end when creation would return to its
beginnings. Thus, creation ends with Smithson's statement "the future is always going backwards."
Robert Smithson did a work in the Yucatan, ancient home of the Mayans, and while traveling by air from Bonampak to a small village, he wrote, as
if with a full understanding of the Chilam Balam creation, "The immense horizon contracted its endless rings. Lower and lower into the vortex of
Agua Azul, into the calm infernal center, and into the flaming spiral of Xuihtecuhtle." 18 Running through the whole universe, extending from the
fire place in the land of the dead, through the fire in the homes of earth, straight through to the pole of the heavens, was the strange spindle of the
fire God Xuihtecuhtle, taking souls to their final absorption and leading souls into the earth. It as he who presided at every moment of fertilization
and at every birth. Yet, there was no temple for him anywhere on earth because he had no permanent place in the material world, only "a flaming
14. Roys, Ralph L. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman: 1967.p. 111