Explore what the Popol Vuh says about Zipacna, his family & Herucan!

Hi there  Tomb Raider fans!

For today’s topic, I shall dive into the Maya mythos again with a few gods from their pantheon. You will recognize several from the DLCs The Grand Caiman and the Pillar. This article will tie in “The Path of Huracan” as well by identifying Huracan in the Popol Vuh. Huracan is aka Heart of Sky and he is also one of their creator gods.

Note: I also wish to point out that Shadow of the Tomb Raider pulls a lot from the Popol Vuh in its traditional story elements that I find fascinating and compels me to respect the research put into the development of the plot.

Zipacna is the son of the bird demon Vucub Caquix. You can find an architectural element of Vucub Caquix at Copan, and you can learn more about him at the previous link.  It is no accident that the caiman that rotates into different positions in the tomb represents Zipacna. He looked like a giant caiman according to the codex of Maya creation the Popol Vuh. It is a codex that explains the  Kʼiche peoples,  mythos and history from the Guatemala highlands area not far from Guatemala City.

In the game, there is an erupting volcano and earthquakes borne from the volcanic activity. The legend of Zipacna boasted of him creating mountains and his brother created earthquakes. These are symbolic of Zipacna and his brother. Therefore, it fits together well in the game.

Let’s take a look at what the Popol Vuh says about Zipacna and his family members

Upon studying the Popol Vuh, I realised that the characters are connected. In saying that I mean, Xiquic, the mother of the hero twins, her twins play a role in the story of Zipacna as well as his father and brother. The reason Vucub-Caquix became injured by the twins in the jaw and the result was painful teeth and death.  

From the Popol Vuh: “Very well. Cure my teeth, which are really making me suffer day and night, and because of them and of my eyes, I cannot be calm and cannot sleep. All of this is because two demons shot me with a pellet [from their blowgun] and for that reason, I cannot eat. Have pity on me, then, tighten my teeth with your hands.”  The father of Zipacna and Cabracan asked an old man that came with the twins in disguise to his home to finish their job. The man removed the arrogant lord’s teeth, replacing them with corn kernels. Vucub-Caquix, in turn, lost all his riches. He lost everything that made him king, and after that, he died. Then shortly after his wife died. So ended the father of Zipacna and Cabracan. By the hands of the hero twins under the order of Hurrican. They were very arrogant and destructive to all. It was considered the heroic, proper thing to do. Read on …

The Story

Original Popol Vuh translation translated by Dennis Tedlock

Note:  The Popol Vuh Based on the manuscript of the Dominican priest, Francisco Ximenez.

Swimming in a river, Zipacna noticed 400 youth walk past. They were dragging a log which they would use in building their house. Curious about the boys, he asked them what they were doing.  The boys told Zipacna they could not carry it on their shoulders, so Zipacna offered to help them, and he took the log. Oddly enough, the boys wished for Zipacna to stay with them so they could kill him later.

I think they were intimidated by his inordinate strength and tried to do away with him.

The bad boys devised a plan that entailed them, digging a deep hole. They tricked Zipacna into going in and helping them to dig deeper because they could not reach depths as deep as he could with his exceptional strength. However, the boys miscalculated the cleverness of Zipacna. He knew they were trying to kill him and he dug a second hole on the side of the deeper hole. When he,finished, he called out to the boys. However, he was already safely in the side hole for protection. The boys knocked the weighty log into the pit and Zipacna pretended to be hit and killed.

The boys felt it was the end for Zipacna and went off to make chicha (A South American & Maya beverage) and celebrate their new home and their victory over the crocodilian Zipacna. The boys were sure of themselves and figured a sure sign of his death was the ants coming and going with his hair and fingernails to name a few things. What they did not know is tricky Zipacna cut off his hair and chewed his nails off so the ants would come and take them away. So the boys, convinced of Zipacna’s death, decided to party and became very drunk. So drunk they knew nothing about what went on around them. While they slept off their drunkenness, Zipacna came from the pit and collapsed the house on top of all of them. Not one of the boys survived.

According to the Popol Vuh, the boys, became the Motz after they died. We know the Motz as the constellation Pleiades.

Oh, but how do the hero twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué fit into this story?

Before this part of the story gets started I want to point out the central plot of the Tomb of Zipacna with all the crab symbols and the eventual crab artefact Lara returns to the temple. Read on …

The Popol Vuh says that Zipacna ate lots of fish and crab along the river and carried the mountains by night. The hero twins knew this about him, too. They heard about how he killed the 400 boys and grew livid. They devised a plan to kill Zipacna for his evil deed. They created a giant crab, his favourite food, from magic and placed it in a cave at the foot of a mountain called Meaguán.

He saw the twins and asked what they were doing. They told him a story about the giant crab in the cave, and they could not catch it because it bit them. The twin’s story about the crab sounded great to Zipacna because he was ravenous. The crab story was the catalyst that led to him going with the boys to the cave where the crab of his doom awaited. When he crawled into the cave far enough, the hillside slid down upon Zipacna, and he turned into stone.  The boys stood victorious in their plan to get rid of the giant arrogant caiman and so ended the legend of Zipacna.

Hero Twins and Cabracán Zipacna’s Brother

Now, something quite fascinating happens. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we read about Huracan. The DLC “The Pillar” in the challenge tomb “The Path of Huracan” Remember all the wind? There is a reason for that. It is because he is the Maya god of storms as well as a creator god known as “Heart of Sky”. He is also in the Maya Popol Vuh.

Huracan, along with others, told Xiquic’s hero twin sons to defeat Cabracan. “I demolish the mountains,” is what Cabracan boasted about regularly. Their arrogance was not something the gods admired. 

From the Popol Vuh: “Let the second son of Vucub-Caquix also be defeated. This is our will, for it is not well what they do on earth, exalting their glory, their grandeur, and their power, and it must not be so. Lure him to where the sun rises,” said Huracán to the two youths.

When the twins caught up with Cabracan, he was levelling mountains and bragging about all the destruction he created. When Cabracan asked the twins their names, they said they had none. They told him they were hunters of birds on the mountains and used blowguns as their weapon. They told him about a giant mountain where the sky is pink, and the sun rises. He wanted them to point it out so he could demolish it.

With that, the twins showed him the road to the mountain. Along the way, the boys hunted some birds and later built a fire to roast them. However, they covered one of the birds with chalky white earth. The twins gave this bird to Cabracan, and it spelt his end. He ate the bird and became weak, losing his power entirely. Then they tied him up and buried him. That was the end of Cabracan brother of Zipacna the arrogant ones.

These are relevant throughout Shadow, and it makes me smile seeing this addition as well as others. I will be back with much more. See you later!

Explore the World!



Caiman – Description, Habitat, Image, Diet, and Interesting Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 19, 2019, from https://animals.net/caiman/

Coe, M. D. (1999). Breaking the Maya Code. Thames and Hudson, New York. Retrieved 5 19, 2019

Hero Twins. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 19, 2019, from Mythweb: http://www.mythweb.com/teachers/why/other/hero_twins.html

Menjívar, J. C. (2016). Precious Water, Priceless Words: Fluidity and Mayan Experience on the Guatemalan-Belizean Border. Dialogo, 19(1), 23-32. Retrieved 5 19, 2019, from https://muse.jhu.edu/article/620566

Myers, B. J. (2002). Hero Twins: Explorations of Mythic and Historical Dichotomies. Retrieved 5 19, 2019, from http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=uhp_theses

Schele, L., & Miller, M. E. (1986). The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. Kimbell Art Museum. Retrieved 5 19, 2019

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