For the past three weeks I’ve backed off from writing on my next memoir and working on the next Aztec icon (Quiahuitl, God of Rain). Irresponsibly wasting my creative time on a project shelved about thirty years ago, I goofed off by finally wrapping up my Aztec calendar playing cards which I call Tonalli (Days). Basically, it was a three-week working vacation.
The Aztec Turquoise Year or tonalpohualli (count of days) is based on four sets of thirteen, quite but not quite like the suits of thirteen in a regular 52-card deck. The difference is that the calendar has eight intersecting suits, which blows standard poker probabilities out of the water. The other four suits are color-based for the four cardinal directions: red—East; black—North; white—West; and blue—South. The four intersecting suits are defined by the patron god of each direction.
The intersection of suits is created by the Aztecs’ curious system of counting the days across the suits. It’s like counting: One Club, Two Diamonds, Three Hearts, Four Spades, Five Clubs, Six Diamonds, etc. If that doesn’t compute for you, try laying out a standard deck in those four sequences, and you’ve got four more suits. If that’s not clear, I’m sorry. I can’t explain it any better.
Taken from Codex Laud, the twenty day-signs have only been slightly color-adjusted. Aztec numerals are simply the respective number of dots, so the single dot means “Ace.” The deuce has two dots, etc. There are no “face” cards, just elevens, twelves, and thirteens.
So, after a mere thirty years it would seem that my work here is done. If anybody out there would like to produce this unique deck of cards and merchandise/market it, grab that ball and run with it. You’re welcome to it. I’ve got plenty other Aztec fish to fry (icons to draw). Just let me know at email@example.com.
Since the images on the above cards are so small, here are larger versions of the directional gods:
Tezcatlipoca is in the style of Codex Borgia and only slightly reworked from my earlier version in the book Celebrate Native America. The other three are adapted from Codex Borbonicus. You can check out the deities’ descriptions in my YE GODS! encyclopedia.
In another way, these directional deities form a sort of divine quartet. Tezcatlipoca, The Black One, was perhaps the ‘greatest,’ as the other three were often seen as his manifestations. Per the traditional colors of the directions, Xipe Totec was called the Red Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl the White Tezcatlipoca, and Huitzilopochtli the Blue Tezcatlipoca.
Speaking of the White Tezcatlipoca, I’ve taken the liberty of colorizing Quetzalcoatl (image from my Aztec Icon #14) as a blond, bearded individual because there are legendary rumors to that effect. Curiously, beards aren’t all that unusual in Aztec iconography, and in the ancient codices one sees many shades of skin color, including black, and various physiognomies, which may indicate a mix of races in the early Mexican population. An intriguing proposition.