In the nineteenth century a copy of the the Popol Vuh - The Book of Council surfaced in highland Guatemala. The book was written in Quiche Maya but in the Roman alphabet. As mysteriously as it appeared, it disappeared but was available long enough to be copied. The manuscript is dated to the sixteenth century, but the story is rooted in the past, far beyond. The intriguing question arises: Are there other manuscripts, jealously guarded from prying outsiders, somewhere among the five million Maya?
The Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh are Hunahpu and Xpalanque, the sons and nephew of two other ill-fated twins.
The story begins long before their illustrious appearance. It tells of the three other creations before this one. Each previous world was destroyed because of grave faults in their characters. The older twins, Hun-Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu, were ballplayers called down to Xibalba by the Lords of Death because they were making too much noise with their ball playing. The lords challenge the twins to a game which they have no intention of losing. They defeat the twins by cheating and then sacrifice them. One head was buried under the ball court and the other was hung from the calabash tree as a warning not to offend the Lords of Xibalba. The daughter of one of the lords is fascinated by this head on the tree and goes for a closer look. The head tells her to stretch out her hand and he spits into her palm, magically impregnating her. Learning of her condition, the lords order her sacrifice but she convinces the executioner to release her and she escapes to the Middle world where she seeks out her mother-in-law. After initial skepticism, the mother-in-law takes her in and she gives birth to the Hero Twins.
The twins do not know of their identity; instead they believe that they are farmers and after many adventures, they find out that they are ballplayers. They retrieve their father's gear which the grandmother had hidden and take up ball playing. Surely enough, they disturb the lords and are called to answer for their indiscretion, but unlike their ancestors, they outwit the lords. The first trial was to keep a torch and two cigars lit all night in the Dark House. They trick the lords by putting fire flies on the tips of the cigars and passing off a macaw tail as the flame of the torch. The following day the twins play ball against the lords and allow themselves to lose. That night, they have a second challenge and the following days and nights proceed similarly. Each task placed by the lords is won by trickery
The final night, they are placed in the Bat House, filled with shrieking bats. They crawl into their blowguns to escape them and as morning comes, the bats quiet down. As Hunahpu peeks out the muzzle of his blowgun, a bat swoops down and beheads him. His head is the ball in the next ball game. Xpalanque recovers his brother's head by switching a squash carved to look like a head when it rolls into high grass. When the squash smashes on the ball court the Lords of Death are enraged to find out that they have been fooled once again. The lords decide to burn the Twins to death this time. Learning of this plan, the twins instruct two wise men to advise the lord on how to dispose their remains. The lords lure them to the stone pit and the twins are challenged to jump over the pit. Instead, the twins willingly jump in. The lords follow the seers' advice and grind the twins' bones and throw the powder into the river. After five days, they are resurrect with faces of catfish. On the sixth day, they take on their human head and begin to travel Xibalba as magical performers. The Lords of Death learn of their amazing skills and order a performance in their court.
The twins comply and enthrall the lords with decapitations and dismemberments of animals and themselves from which they recover whole. The anxious lords insist on becoming a part of the act and the twins willingly sacrifice them but do not bring them back to life. In this way the lords are defeated and hope is given to humankind. Any soul which is called to Xibalba has the hope of defeating death and becoming an ancestor.