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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
According to V. W. von Hagen, 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),,
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
According to the new Encyclopaedia Britannica, 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
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
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.
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. 
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. 
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: 
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
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. 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. 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
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
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?
 Victor W. von Hagen, World of the Maya (New
York, 1960), p. 195.
 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.
 "Mayan Religion," Macropaedia 11:719
 R. L. Brunhouse, In Search of the Maya: The First
Archaeologists (New York, 1974), pp. 129-31.
 Alexander von Humboldt, Researches concerning the
Institutions of the Ancient Inhabitants of America . . ., 2 volumes
(London, 1814), II, 15-17.
 This citation represents our own literal rendering of
the Spanish version of Adrian Recinos.
 M. Brasseur de Bourbourg, Manuscrit Troano: Etudes
sur le Systeme graphique et la Langue des Mayas (Paris, 1869), I, 141.
 "Mayan Religion," Maeropaedia 11:720-21.
 The katun is a 20-year period, with each year, or tun,
lasting 360 days.
 El Libro de los Libros de Chilam Balam, tr.
Alfredo Barrera Vasquez y Silvia Rendon (Mexico, 1948).