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Open letter to science editors


KRONOS Vol. I, Issue 1

Velikovsky, Brasseur, And The Troano Codex
John Myers and Warner B. Sizemore

In a letter to the editor of the journal Chiron [* Now defunct] (Winter-Spring 1974, pp. 44-45), Mr. Ian C. Johnson criticized Velikovsky's use in Worlds in Collision of Charles Etienne Brasseur's delusory translations of the Troano Codex (now part of what is called the Codex Tro-Cortesianus) and of Mayan monument stones. On the face of it, Mr. Johnson's criticism was just, for as Velikovsky, himself, acknowledged in note 2 of "On the Other Side of the Ocean":

The Mayan tongue is still spoken by about 300,000 people, but of the Mayan hieroglyphics only the characters employed in the calendar are known for certain.

But Mr. Johnson then went on to make the following statement:

It is difficult to determine whether the other twenty-seven Brasseur quotations [in Worlds in Collision] covering three different works of this author also share this fault of being based on the translation results of the Landa Mayan "alphabet." More important, the reader cannot determine whether Velikovsky allowed for this defect and selected only soundly based material unless one consults the hard to get originals published a century ago.

The task Mr. Johnson describes is not so difficult as he supposes. In the first place, most of the works in question can be consulted in numerous libraries and it is regrettable that Mr. Johnson did not do so before publicly voicing his suspicions that they might be based on the Landa alphabet. In the second place, he could have allayed his suspicions concerning two of the works simply by comparing their dates of publication with the date of Brasseur's discovery of the Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan in which Diego de Landa presented his "explanation" of Mayan glyphs.

According to V. W. von Hagen,[1] Brasseur made his discovery in 1864. It is therefore impossible for the Histoire des nations civilisees du Mexique et de l'Amerique-centrale, whose four volumes appeared between 1857 and 1859, to have been influenced by the Relacion. The same would be true for Brasseur's translation of the Popol Vuh (sometimes referred to by Velikovsky as the Manuscript Quiche),[2], which appeared in 1861.

Be all that as it may, it is the purpose of this article to place Velikovsky's apparent use of the Troano Codex in the context of our sources of knowledge of things Mayan in general, of Brasseur's involvement with Landa's a]phabet, and of Mayan traditions of repeated cosmic catastrophes.

According to the new Encyclopaedia Britannica,[3] our knowledge of the ancient Maya comes from the following sources:

Archeological remains. From surviving temples, tombs, sculptures, wall paintings, pottery, and carved jades shells, and bone, a significant amount of valuable information can be gained . . . The hieroglyphic inscriptions should supply a wealth of information, but modern scholars still cannot decipher most of them.

Native books in hieroglyphic writing. Only three of the books written in hieroglyphics have survived: the Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis) . . . the Madrid Codex (Codex Tro-Cortesianus) . . . and the Paris Codex (Codex Peresianus) . . . These three remaining books deal with astronomical calculations, divination, and ritual.

Books in native languages written in Latin script by learned Indians. After the Spanish conquest, books were written by learned Indians who transcribed or summarized hieroglyphic records. Such is the case of the Books of Chilam Balam, in Yucatec Maya, and of the Popol Vuh, in Quiche! a highland Maya language. The former consist of historical chronicles mixed with myth, divination, and prophecy, and the latter . . . embodies the mythology and cosmology of the post-Classic Guatemalan Maya. The Ritual of the Bacabs deals with religious symbolism, medical incantations, and similar matters.

Early accounts written in Spanish by conquerors or priests. The most important of these sources is Diego de Landa's Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan ("On the Things of Yucatan") written about 1566. It is the best description of post-Classic religion in Yucatan and other details of late Maya history and life.

Other sources. To these sources may be added the observations recorded by modern anthropologists and ethnologists about present-day Maya, such as the Lacandones. In the Guatemalan highlands, ceremonies connected to the 260-day sacred calendar of the Maya survive, as do ancient prayers and information about Maya gods and goddesses in Yucatan and other areas.

Now let us turn to the involvement of Charles Etienne Brasseur with Diego de Landa's alphabet and the Troano Codex:

When he discovered Bishop Landa's book, with its explanation of Maya hieroglyphs, he was confident that he had found the key to understanding the ancient writings. Triumphant]y, he declared that in reading the Troano Codex he had succeeded little by little in deciphering the enigmas: "the alphabet and the day signs of the Maya calendar I published five years ago with Landa's Relation of the Things of Yucatan have been my Rosetta stone and have served as a point of departure . . ."

He demonstrated the results of his endeavor with the publication of the Troano Codex. In 136 quarto pages he displayed the Maya characters and their variants, and he presented 57 pages of translation of portions of the document. Unfortunately, his version failed to make sense of the text, and later he had to admit that he had begun at the wrong end of the codex[4]

Let us see precisely then what "information" Velikovsky derived from Brasseur's hallucinatory translations. In "The World Ages," Velikovsky quotes Brasseur as follows:

"The most ancient of these fragments [Katuns or calendar stones of Yucatan] refer, in general, to great catastrophes which, at intervals and repeatedly, convulsed the American continent, and of which all nations of this continent have preserved a more or less distinct memory."

Since this statement is from S'il existe des Sources de l'historie primitive du Mexique dans les Monuments egyptiens, which appeared the same year Brasseur discovered the Relacion, it presumably (though not certainly, for we have not yet gained access to this work) represents a reflection of Landa's alphabet. It should be noted, however, that this citation follows a statement by Velikovsky to the same effect, for which he gives his sources as Alexander's Latin American Mythology and Humboldt's Researches. But let us see exact]y what the great Alexander von Humboldt had to say about catastrophes and world ages:

The most prominent feature among the analogies observed in the monuments, the manners and traditions of the people of Asia and America, is that which the Mexican mythology exhibits in the cosmogonical fiction of the periodic destructions and regenerations of the world. This fiction . . . goes back to the highest antiquity. The sacred books of the Hindoos. especially the Bhagavata Pourana speak of the four aces, and of the pralayas, or cataclysms, which at different epochs have destroyed the human race. A tradition of five ages analogous with that of the Mexicans, is found on the elevated plain of Thibet . . . It cannot but be admitted, that a certain resemblance exists between the Indian tradition of the Yougas and the Kalpas, the cycles of the ancient inhabitants of Etruria, and that series of venerations destroyed, which Hesiod characterizes under the emblem of four metals.

The nations of Culhau. or Mexico, says Gomara, who wrote about the middle of the sixteenth century, believe according to their hieroglyphical paintings that, previous to the sun which now enlightens them, four had already been successively extinguished. These four suns are as many aces, in which oar species has been annihilated by inundations. by earthquakes, by a general conflagration, and by the effect of destroying tempests. After the destruction of the fourth sun, the world was plunged in darkness during the space of twenty-five years. Amid this Profound obscurity. ten years before the appearance of the fifth sun, mankind was regenerated. The gods. at that period, for the fifth time, created a man and a woman.[5]

In "The Hurricane," we read that, "Manuscript Troano and other documents of the Mayas describe a cosmic catastrophe during which the oceans fell on the continent and a terrible hurricane swept the earth."

In the documents of the collection of Kingsborough, the writings of Gomara, Mitolinia, Sahagun, Landa, Cogolludo, and other authors of the early postconquest time, the cataclysm of deluge, hurricane, and volcanoes is referred to in numerous passages....

In "Boiling Earth and Sea," the Manuscript Troano is one of three sources that Velikovsky gives for his contention that the Venusian cataclysm provoked massive volcanic activity and the creation of new mountain ridges. One of the other sources he mentions is the Popol Vuh, in which we find a vivid description of the raising, shaking, and leveling of mountains. These activities were carried on by the two "sons" of the arrogant demon Vucub-Caquix, personification of the malign nucleus of the Venus-comet and one of the American counterparts of Isaiah's Lucifer:

Popol Vuh 1.5: Zipacna played ball with great mountains: Chigag, Hunahpu Pecul, Yaxcanul, Macamob and Huliznab. These are the names of the mountains which existed when it dawned and which were created in a single night by Zipacna.

Cabracan moved mountains and because of him both the great and the small mountains trembled.

In this manner the sons of Vucub-Caquix. proclaimed their pride: "Listen! I am the sun!" said Vucub-Caquix. "I am he who made the earth!" said Zipacna. "I am he who shakes the sky and moves the whole earth !" said Cabracan. [6]

Also in the Popol Vuh—both in its description of the cataclysm and in the migration account—we read of profound darkness (1.3-4, 3.6-9) and of a sustained black rain ( 1.3, 3.5), phenomena which are consonant with heavy volcanic activity. In addition, we read in the migration account (3.5) of an indescribable cold, a natural concomitant of the darkness.

Now let us consult in Brasseur's Manuscrit Troano, the passage to which Velikovsky refers in note I of "The Hurricane" and we will make some interesting discoveries:

As for the cataclysm, it should not surprise those readers who are acquainted with Mexican history. It is well known that its account is found, even in highly detailed form, in all documents originating in Mexico or Central America . . . Whether one reads the annotations to the Manuscript Letellier . . . or examines one by one all the documents contained in the Kingsborough collection, or compares them to the writings of Gomara, Motolinia, Sahagun, Landa, Cogolludo, etc., he will find everywhere the same testimony to this cataclysm. Usually, it is also qualified in these documents as a deluge, and their authors describe it as accompanied by volcanic explosions and violent winds threatening to annihilate the human race. [7]

The first thing we learn from this passage is that Velikovsky should have credited Brasseur with that part of note 2, "The Hurricane," which we cited further above. The second thing we learn is that Velikovsky drew from Brasseur's translations of Mayan glyphs—both those of the Troano Codex and those of the calendar stones—absolutely nothing except restatements of the commonplace of Mayan catastrophist traditions. In other words, Brasseur projected this commonplace into his glyphs, and Velikovsky then picked up its "ghost." That Mayan catastrophist traditions are universally accepted as a commonplace can easily be demonstrated by again referring to the Encyclopaedia Britannica: [8]

Creation. The Maya. like other Middle American Indians . . . believed that several worlds had been successively created and destroyed before the present universe had come into being. The Dresden Codex holds that the end of a world will come about by deluge: although the evidence derived from Landa's Relacion and and from the Quiche Popol Vuh is not clear, it is likely that four worlds preceded the present one . . .

Eschatology. The present world, the Maya believed, is doomed to end in cataclysms as the other worlds have done previously. According to the priestly concept of time, cycles repeated themselves. Therefore, prediction was made possible by probing first into the past and then into the future: hence the calculations, bearing on many millennia, carved on temples and stelae. Evil influences were held to mark most of the Katun endings.[9] The Chilam Balam books are full of predictions of a markedly direful character. The priests probably believed that the present world would come to a sudden end, but that a new world would be created so that the eternal succession of cycles should remain unbroken.

To illustrate the "direful" character of the predictions in the Chilam Balam, we will cite a few.[10] At the same time, we will demonstrate the essential homogeneity of man's response to the traumatic advent of the Venus-comet by presenting some analogous passages from the Bible:

Chilam Balan, p. 84: The Sun will roll over [Spanish se volteara], the face of the Moon will roll over; blood will come down through the trees and stones [Spanish bajara la sangre por los arboles y las piedras]: the heavens and the earth will burn by the word of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Revelation 8.7 (RSV): The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, which fell on the earth; and a third of the earth was burnt up . . .

Chilam Balam, p. 102: 2 Ix, Jaguar, will be the time of violent struggle, the time when fire will burn in the midst of the heart of the flat country, when the earth and the sky will burn; when one will devour terror like food; the time when one will implore the heavens.

2 Peter 3.10: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.

Chilam Balam, pp. 105-6: But at the complete turn of the katun the heavens will be rent, will be violently broken, and clouds will stand in front of the Sun together with the Moon, totally.

Mark 13.24-25: "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken."

Mr. Johnson has rightfully pointed out Velikovsky's error (certainly not a deliberate misuse) but it is quite another matter to prove that he erred in concluding that there existed among the ancient Maya a strong and persistent tradition of repeated cosmic catastrophes. To do that, Mr. Johnson will have to demolish not only Worlds in Collision, the Popol Vuh, and the Chilam Balam, but the Encyclopaedia Britannica as well.

Mr. Johnson closed his letter with the following remarks:

Obviously, Velikovsky is not naive nor careless, as he took ten years to research his book (1940-50). Also, all this particular material forms only a minute portion of his argument for celestial catastrophism within the time of "civilized" man. Let those who instinctively distrust history, myth, and archaeology as bases for a theory of catastrophism read Earth in Upheaval (1955 ) .

But would it not be remarkable, indeed, if global catastrophes of the shattering intensity described in Earth in Upheaval had not left a profound impression upon mythology and religion, and even—as we intend to demonstrate elsewhere—upon the very nature and content of the human soul?


[1] Victor W. von Hagen, World of the Maya (New York, 1960), p. 195.
[2] It was, in fact, Brasseur who first named the manuscript the Popol Vuh - cf. Adrian Recinos. Popol Vuh: Las antiguas historias del Quiche, quinta edicion (Mexico, 1961), p. 13.
[3] "Mayan Religion," Macropaedia 11:719
[4] R. L. Brunhouse, In Search of the Maya: The First Archaeologists (New York, 1974), pp. 129-31.
[5] Alexander von Humboldt, Researches concerning the Institutions of the Ancient Inhabitants of America . . ., 2 volumes (London, 1814), II, 15-17.
[6] This citation represents our own literal rendering of the Spanish version of Adrian Recinos.
[7] M. Brasseur de Bourbourg, Manuscrit Troano: Etudes sur le Systeme graphique et la Langue des Mayas (Paris, 1869), I, 141.
[8] "Mayan Religion," Maeropaedia 11:720-21.
[9] The katun is a 20-year period, with each year, or tun, lasting 360 days.
[10] El Libro de los Libros de Chilam Balam, tr. Alfredo Barrera Vasquez y Silvia Rendon (Mexico, 1948).

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