A Maya creation myth has its origin in the glowing fire pit of the Great Orion Nebula. By E. C. Krupp
Even without evidence of pretelescopic recognition of a smoky star in Orion's Sword, we can reasonably guess it was often noticed by discerning watchers of the ancient skies. The Lacandon Maya, who reside in the tropical forests of southeastern Chiapas, Mexico, still see fumes around the middle star of the Sword. In a recent paper in the Journal of Latin American Lore (vol. 20, no. 1, summer 1997), two anthropologists -- R. John McGee and F. Kent Reilly III -- collect traditional Lacandon star names and verify that the Lacandon regard the nebula as smoke from burning copal incense.
E. C. KRUPP
The ancient Maya also kindled a blaze in the Sword of Orion and read a story of cosmic renewal in its flames. For them, Theta Orionis burned in the Hearth of Creation, a celestial inglenook marked by other stars in Orion. Traditional hearths in Maya territory comprise three stones arranged as the corners of a triangle, and the three stones of the heavenly hearth
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are Alnitak (the southernmost star in Orion's Belt), Saiph (Orion's right knee), and Rigel (Orion's left foot). The flames of creation are fanned in the middle, where the nebular fires are fed. Specialist knowledge of native literatures of the Americas had earlier allowed Dennis Tedlock to certify this tradition among the Quich� Maya of highland Guatemala. With these celestial clues, the late Linda Schele, an influential authority on Maya writing and art, dusted the soot off the old Maya symbols and stoked up the story of the fire of creation. Death is the key transformation in this Maya tale of cyclic renewal. The action really begins when First Father, the divine ancestor who first lifted the sky like a roof over Earth and propped it up with a world-axis ceiba tree, is killed in Xibalba, the Maya underworld, by the Lords of the