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I mentioned in my last post that I wrote a myth about the creation of the isthmus that now comprises Central America for a novel I’m writing. The myth lies at the heart of what this novel is about: love and devotion, duty and self-sacrifice, beauty and brutality, saving and savoring the world, creativity and destruction, and uniting two into one whole. In some ways the myth mirrors the creative process, what we have to love, what we have to slay, what we have to sacrifice to create anything worth making and saving. I’d be pleased to know what you think.

A Mayan Legend of True Love: Balanque and Malenque, Hero Twins

Eons ago before the world was whole, mighty gods ruled heaven and earth. The two great land masses we now call the Americas were separated by a tumultuous sea, and knew not each other’s names. Two heroes, sired of two gods, one ruling above and the other below, were born with one sacred mission: to unite the two into one whole.

Now in those days many gods inhabited the Underworld, but the fairest of them all was the goddess Xite with her long dark flowing hair and lithe limbs shimmering with rainbow scales, for she lived in the ocean’s depths and played in the sea’s waves. But the greatest of these Underworld gods was her uncle, the Demon Bird-Dragon who some called Vucub.

Now it was Vucub who kept the seas between the two Americas in constant turmoil as he pursued the lovely Xite round and round the two continents. The whipping of his forked serpent’s tail, the beating of his great dragon wings, and the fiery breath that spilled from his great beaked head kept the seas in constant motion, spilling upon the shores and flooding the plains, all to the consternation of Hun, the god of the Americas who stood with one massive foot on each continent. And much to the distress of Xite, who sought to escape Vucub’s lust.

Then one day, during one of Xite’s ceaseless circling to escape her uncle, the great golden god Hun glimpsed her swimming by, shimmering through the waves with her rainbow limbs and flowing hair and fell in love. From their fateful mating the twins Balanque and Malenque were born, their flesh joined at the hip.

Now the two loved each other very much as twins always do, for they complement and complete each other, representing as they did male and female, strength and beauty, hubris and humility, bravery and sacrifice, might and meekness. They grew up laughing and playing together, never finding their joined flesh a hindrance but a symbol of their mutual love and devotion.

Their sweet days of play and leisure were numbered, however. So adept were they in uniting what was parted that their mother and father, still relentlessly harried by Vucub, whose pursuit of Xite was now driven by a raging jealousy as well as lust, laid upon the twins a great mission: to create a land bridge between the two land masses. This would unite the two Americas that Hun ruled, as well as divide the sea in two, preventing Vucub from pursuing their mother from one sea to the other.

And so the twins, ever ready to please and serve their parents, took up this great task. Balanque stretched out his right hand to the land mass in the north while Malenque stretched out her left hand to the south and the two together pulled and tugged, tugged and pulled, day and night, night and day, until they drew one long strand from each land mass to meet in the middle uniting them forever. Thus the slender waist now known as Central America was created.

When the task was completed, the twins were so depleted they lay down to rest at the center of the isthmus and fell fast asleep. Each dreamed of their great making and all it could become. From their dreams rose all the flora and fauna that now adorns and inhabits the isthmus.

From Malenque’s soft curves and flowing hair, her hips and breasts, came the flowing rivers and waterfalls, the tangling vines and trees of the jungle, the hills and mountains and fertile valleys. From her rosebud lips, blooming cheeks, and dancing eyes came the wild orchids and sweet mangos, the trilling songbirds and darting butterflies. Balanque’s dreams were full of jaguars and howling monkeys that sprung from his powerful thighs and grasping arms. Red and yellow macaws flew out of his mouth, and great sensuous snakes slithered from his muscled calves.

But when the Demon Bird-Dragon discovered he could no longer pursue his beloved Xite because of the land-bridge her offspring created, he grew wild with fury and rose up to destroy what they had wrought. With his great forearms grabbing the edge of the isthmus and his serpent tail and mighty wings thrashing the sea, he created a great army of waves to rise up to destroy the land-bridge and drown all the flora and fauna that flourished there, and Malenque and Balanque along with them.

Now the howls of the monkeys and the roars of the jaguars woke the sleeping twins, but they were still too drunken with dreams and heavy-limbed in their drowsiness to rise up to defend their creation. When they struggled to rise, bound together as they were, they could not. Balanque struggled to his knees but Malenque was still entangled in the vines and tree roots of the great jungled forests and could only rise up on her elbows. When Vucub saw Balanque rising but trapped by his sister he called out in triumph.

“See how it feels to be trapped and bound, to be forever prevented from rising up to pursue what you love, to be dragged down by a lust that consumes you? I shall destroy all you created together and separate your mother from your father and take her down to the nether parts of the sea where the world and the great god Hun shall see her no more forever. And you, the twins your parents spawned, shall drown beneath a thousand waves as all you created collapses into the sea.”

In great alarm and rage, Balanque pulls with all his might to rip his sister from the land’s grasp so he can rise and defeat the demon, but he cannot pull her loose. Her hair is threaded in the rivers, her limbs tangled in the vines, her feet are roots binding her to the earth. He sees the anguish and pain in her eyes as she tries to tear herself away to help protect what they created. He knows they are doomed, whatever they do. If he rips her away, he could lose her forever; if he doesn’t, he loses her and everything they birthed together.

Malenque sees his pain and shares it. She tells her brother, “Break away from me and kill Vucub. It is your duty!” Encouraged by her words and in a lust for battle, Balanque rises from his knees to his feet in a low crouch and lifts his heavy sword over his head to slay the Demon Bird-Dragon. As he does so, Malenque is dragged upward with him but still fastened to the land that will not let go.

Seeing that her brother is still tied by his love for her, and their sacred mission is doomed to failure because of it, she begs him to slash down with his mighty sword and part their bodies so he can rise up to fight Vucub. But Balanque, who he loves his sister more than his own life, cannot lift the sword to separate them for fear doing so will slay her. Malenque, seeing the fearful love in his eyes, knows what must be done. She grabs his sword from his hand and strikes down with all her might between them, severing his hip from hers, and freeing him to fight.

Balanque looks in horror at what she has done, what she has sacrificed to save them all. As the blood spills from her lifeless body, with a screech of grief and rage and icy revenge, he grabs his sword from her hand and rushes forward screaming in blood lust. With one mighty blow he slays the Demon Bird-Dragon, severing its head from its thrashing body.

Vucub’s shriek of terror abruptly ends as its severed body convulses and its mighty wings fall. The raging waves recede taking the Demon’s body with it. But Balanque holds up the demon’s head and bowing deeply, presents it to his mother. She takes the head with its tuft of brilliant feathers, its fierce eyes and sharp beak and sets it upon Balanque’s head as a crown. Now he too is a god, like his mother and father, but he takes no pleasure from it, for his beloved Malenque is no longer at his side. Her body has been reclaimed by the land.

Now when he walks there, he sees her everywhere, her laughter in the sound of the waterfalls, and her whispers in the swaying trees, her wide eyes in the orchids, and her graceful arms in the jungle vines. His grief at her loss is so constant and fierce the deluge of his tears become great lakes and his cries shake the earth and topple boulders. His wrath rises up in fiery volcanos that spill memories of her blood sacrifice across the land.

And so, even today, the beautiful isthmus that Balanque and Malenque created together to join two great continents—this slender thread, this graceful waist that unites them—is riven with the tremors and terrors of Balanque’s great grief, even as it sings with the beauty of Malenque’s great sacrifice, and the Hero Twins’ everlasting love.