The Mythology Behind the Book of Life

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

See Channing Tatum, Zoë Saldana, and Diego Luna talk about becoming a hero in this featurette from The Book Of Life. Artistically created after the ever popular Dia de Los Muertos holiday, also known as the Day of the Dead, the Book of Life not only boasts a stunning visual masterpiece, but a promising story line backed by some of Hollywood’s favorite names.

Aztec and Mayan Mythology References in the Book of Life

The Day of the Dead, Dia de Los Muertos

The Book of Life plays homage to the legendary Day of the Dead festival. Dia de los Muertos, now widely recognized in Latin America and growing throughout the Untied States, was formed from a combination of indigenous Aztec rituals and Catholicism. Held on All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2), it is a colorful, beautiful and sacred holiday held to honor the lives of the dead.

In Mexican culture and catholic cultures around the world, it is believed that mourning the death of a loved one, more specifically the sadness displayed as a result of the loss, would insult the departed. So, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of loved ones passed with food, drink, parties and activities that their dead loved ones enjoyed in their living years. It is believed that the dead are still very much a part of the living community, and that they momentarily awaken in their final rest, to share the celebrations with their loved ones.

America is falling head over heels with the Day of the Dead. The “sugar skull” has long been introduced into pop culture as the eye grabbing, ornate, filigree skull plastered on everything from notebooks to body parts. It’s a visual holiday; it’s stunning, mysterious and creepy, but in a fun and somehow comforting manner. We just can’t get enough.

Xibalba, the Gateway to Hell

The Book of Life also references Xibalba, the Mayan underworld more notably thought of as the Gateway to Hell. There is a great mythological significance to this legend, and of course we’re going to tell you about it.

travelers had to survive passing rivers of scorpions, blood, and pus, then enchanted crossroads that gave misleading directions towards deadly traps.” –National Geographic, Essential Visual History of World Mythology

Xibalba, “Place of Fear” ruled by the death gods in Mayan Mythology. This underworld kingdom of the dead was thought to be reached only by extreme difficulty through the mortal world.

the book of life

“Actun Tunichil Muknal”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There are two locations where local folklore states the entrance to the underworld resides. in the Candelaria Caves of Coban, Guatemala and the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave in Belize where the skeleton of a girl was discovered. It is believed to be the remains of human sacrifice. A common ritual done in efforts to please the 12 demons known as the “Lords of Xibalba”. To put it simply, they believed anyone who died during childbirth, suicide or human sacrifice would go straight to the gods in heaven and evade having to spend any time in Xibalba before reaching heaven. Thus, people of great wealth and significance we often sacrificed before meeting a more natural fate to avoid this cumbersome journey. It is also believed by the K’iche Maya of Cobán that the Candelaria Caves near CobánGuatemala is the entrance to Xibalba, and that it still holds an association with death.

For a cool story on this location, check out Everywhere Once’s Hell’s Tale of an Empire’s Fall

The Book of Life Opens October 17


About Christa Thompson

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Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day. "It's never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams." -Christa Thompson

2 Comments on this post

  1. […] Mexican holiday, Dia de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.  It wasn’t too long ago when The Book of Life was released with the same theme by 20th Century Fox. I am very curious to see how […]

  2. […] tattoos to kitchen towels. It has even made its way into pop film (as we saw two years ago with The Book of Life and the soon to be released new Pixar animated film, Coco.  There’s something incredibly […]

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