The legend of Camazotz: the woolly bat that dominated the Mayan underworld in the Popol Vuh

With a wingspan of more than a meter, the woolly bat is the largest chiropteran in Mexico. For the Mayans, he dominated the underworld with his bloody jaws.

By spreading its wings, an average woolly bat reaches a meter wingspan. In fact, it is the largest bat species in Mexico. It has a sharp nose, wide ears – similar to those of rabbits – and small, perfectly round eyes. With this appearance, inspired the most important creation stories of the Popol Vuhthe sacred Mayan scriptures.

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Representation of Camazotz in the sculpture museum of Copan, Honduras. | Credit: Dennis Jarvis/Wikimedia Commons

Also known as ‘false woolly vampires’, the bat (Chrotopterus auritus), is a species native to Central and South America. As documented by the platform Naturalistis distributed «from the south of Mexico to southern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina«.

In the Mayan worldview, these animals played a leading role in the creation of the world. When the Mayan twins Hunahpú and Ixbalanque made their way through the Mayan underworld —the Xibalbá—, the god Camazotz tested them throughout the night. In the holy scriptures, he was described as a man with the head and fangs of a bat.

Just before sunrise Hunahpu was beheaded. Overwhelmed with grief, Xbalanque called the bats of Xibalbá and asked them for his favorite food. With it, he rebuilt the head of his brother. With the first rays of the sun, both they were victorious and managed to beat Camazotz together.

What do bats represent in the Mayan cosmovision?

From this mythological story, according to the historian Roberto Romero Sandoval of the University National Autonomous of Mexico, in the Popol Vuh «they were related to night, darkness and death«. More than anything, Explain the specialist, because the ancient Mayans They saw how they fed on the blood of other animals.

Even today, the bat some abounds in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, in the Yucatan peninsula. They are commonly found in the caves of the protected natural area, as well as in the temples and abandoned ruins that the Mayans erected centuries ago.

Unlike other bat species, woolly bats do not live in large groups. Rather, they inhabit the caves of Central and South America in small families, to ensure they can protect each other. In general, they eatlizards, large insects such as grasshoppers, birds and mice«, documents the UNAM. Until now, no Mayan warriors have been recorded beheading, beyond the mythological plane.

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The legend of Camazotz: the woolly bat that dominated the Mayan underworld in the Popol Vuh – National Geographic in Spanish