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Olmec mythology

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Author Topic: Olmec mythology  (Read 1495 times)
Michelle Sandberg
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« on: June 04, 2007, 03:07:28 pm »




Monument 19, from La Venta, the earliest known representation of a feathered serpent in Mesoamerica.
© George & Audrey DeLange, used with permission.


The mythology of the Olmec people significantly influenced the social development and mythological world view of Mesoamerica. Many scholars have seen echoes of Olmec supernaturals in the subsequent religions and mythologies of nearly all later pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures.
The Olmec civilization developed on present-day Mexico's southern Gulf Coast in the centuries before 1200 BCE. The culture lasted until roughly 400 BCE, at which time their center of La Venta lay abandoned. The Olmec culture is often considered a "mother culture" to later Mesoamerican cultures.
There is no surviving direct account of Olmec religious belief, unlike the Maya, with their Popul Vuh, or the Aztecs, with their many codices and conquistador accounts.
Archaeologists, therefore, have had to rely on other techniques to reconstruct Olmec beliefs, most prominently:
•   Typological analysis of Olmec artifacts.
•   Comparison to later, better documented pre-Columbian cultures.
Using these techniques, researchers have discerned several separate deities or supernaturals. These representations include a feathered serpent, a man of crops with corn growing out of his head, and a rain spirit in the guise of a dwarf or child.
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Michelle Sandberg
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« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2007, 03:09:25 pm »



An Olmec-style feathered serpent painted onto the walls of the Juxtlahuaca cave.

Feathered Serpent
 
An Olmec-style feathered serpent painted onto the walls of the Juxtlahuaca cave.The mythological figure of the feathered or plumed serpent depicted throughout North America and Mesoamerica probably originated in Olmec times. In later traditions the Quetzal Feathered Serpent deity was known as the inventor of books and the calendar, the giver of maize corn to mankind, and sometime as a symbol of death and resurrection, often associated with the planet Venus. The Maya knew him as Kukulkán; the Quiché as Gukumatz. The Toltecs portrayed the plumed serpent as Quetzalcoatl, the rival of Tezcatlipoca. Art and iconography clearly demonstrate the importance of the Feathered Serpent Deity in Classic era as well as Olmec art.
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Michelle Sandberg
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« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2007, 03:10:14 pm »

Man of Crops

The Man of Crops is a fertility figure in Mesoamerican mythology. Among the Olmec, gods are often depicted with a distinct cleft on the forehead, perhaps identifying this characteristic as divine. A carved celt from Veracruz shows a representation of God II, or the Maize God, growing corn from his cleft, and also shows this god with the snarling face associated with the jaguar (Coe 1972:3).

The Man of Crops was a human man or boy who chose to give his life so that his people might grow food. The heroic Man of Crops is sometimes mentored or assisted by a god figure from the other world. The myths of the Popoluca people of Veracruz make him a tribal hero, sometimes called Homshuk, whose death gives food to all mankind. This hero names himself as "he who sprouts at the knees." In Aztec, Tepecano, and Tarascan versions, he is buried and corn or tobacco grows from his grave. A myth of the Christianized Quiché states that, during and following his crucifixion, corn and other crops spilled from the body of Jesus.

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Michelle Sandberg
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« Reply #3 on: June 04, 2007, 03:10:48 pm »

Rain Spirit

The Olmec image of the rain spirit appears frequently in the mythology of succeeding cultures. Invariably the rain spirit is male, though he may have a wife who shares authority over the waters. Often he is perceived as a child or a young man, sometimes as a dwarf. He may also be portrayed as a powerful rain god, with many helpers.

In Aztec and Maya traditions, the rain lord is a master spirit, attended by several helpers. His name in the Aztec language is Tlaloc, and his helpers are "tlaloque." The Maya of the Yucatán recognize Chaac and the "chacs." In the Guatemalan area, these spirits are often associated with gods of thunder and lightning as well as with rain. The rain spirits are known as Mam and the "mams" among the Mopan of Belize. In some traditions, as with the Pipil of El Salvador, the figure of the master is missing, and the myths focus on "rain children," or "rain boys." Modern Nahua consider these numerous spirits to be dwarfs, or "little people." In the state of Chiapas, the Zoque people report that the rain spirits are very old but look like boys.

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Michelle Sandberg
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« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2007, 03:12:29 pm »



Were-jaguar votive axe, green jadeite, from the British Museum. Note the downturned mouth and the cleft head.

Jaguar

The Olmec carved distinctive human figures in stone, some of monumental size. Smaller items were carved from fine jade and jadeite, including many human figures with strong jaguar features. As the jaguar was an indigenous predator in the area, jaguar figures may visually represent an Olmec myth about the interaction of the jaguar or a jaguar spirit with human beings. Despite the large number of what are thought to be jaguar or were-jaguar images, it is not known whether the Olmec actually considered the jaguar or were-jaguar as a god or deity (as the Egyptians did with Anubis, for example).

The image of the jaguar is pervasive in later Maya inscriptions and the word B'alam, "jaguar", is an element in the names of mythical heroes and some Maya rulers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olmec_mythology
« Last Edit: June 04, 2007, 10:35:26 pm by Elric » Report Spam   Logged
Elric
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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2007, 10:36:50 pm »

Nice topic, Michelle, I fixed the last picture for you.
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Michelle Sandberg
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« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2007, 01:30:41 pm »

Thanks, Elric!
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