Icon #17 – TEPEYOLLOTL, Heart of the Mountain

So… It’s been another long haul to complete the next icon for my coloring book YE GODS! Something like four months, but no apologies.  I’ve had to take a lot of sanity breaks—to continue writing on my next memoir and to deal with the sorrows of life.  Namely, in late March, at the tender age of 18 my eldest grandson Ike chose to end his life.  We know nothing about why but can only respect, accept, and lament his decision.  That’s my reason for tearfully dedicating this Icon #17 – Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain to him.

Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain

Tepeyollotl (Heart of the Mountain) {te-pe-yol-lotł} is the god of caves/mines and echoes and causes earthquakes, avalanches, and volcanos.  As the Lord of Jewels and underground treasures, he is the male spirit of the earth and a nagual of the hermaphroditic Tlaltecuhtli, Lord of the Earth.  A deity of witchcraft, he cures and causes diseases and guards the entrance to Mictlan (the Land of the Dead). Tepeyollotl is the ancestral were-jaguar and may be the God L of the Maya. Also a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, he is the Jaguar of the Night whose roaring heralds the sunrise, and as 8th lord of the night he is sometimes depicted as a jaguar leaping toward the rising sun.  

I’ve already posted a couple pieces about this icon in process, The Divine Volcanoes and Jaguars Changing Spots, and the above caption gives the rest of the information I’ve learned about this deity. On the coloring book page I’ve now listed a free download of it with caption and models, and when it comes back home to me in vectors from Bangladesh, I’ll add the two versions for sizable prints.

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Fictional Truth About Gay History

I’ve been trying to control my urge to blather about whatever, mostly focusing on things Aztec, but occasionally—out of desperation?—holding forth on things political. Of course, the latter is just more hot air.  But this time I’m going to indulge in things literary.  (In the distant past I had some experience in critiquing various classic works of Russian literature.)

Recently, my old friend Don turned me on to a novel by an Irish writer, “A Long Long Way” by Sebastian Barry, about a young man from Dublin in the trench warfare in Flanders during WWI. With little exposure to contemporary literature, I was stunned by both the writer’s ability to render that horrendous time rather long before his own birth—and the character of a youth in a situation unlike anything he could have personally experienced.  Without exaggeration, it was a tour de force.

Just as I finished reading the novel, Don and I went to a lecture (one of a long series sponsored by the Lannan Foundation) featuring none other than Sebastian Barry. It was an inspiring presentation including readings from both “A Long Long Way” and Barry’s newer novel “Days Without End.”  The author explained that he’d written that in honor of his son who had courageously come out as gay.

Don quickly bought us a copy of “Days Without End,” and I read it with scarcely a pause for breath. The story of two young men experiencing America in the mid-19th century, it’s even more stunning in its reality, in its humanity, and in the finesse of its narrative technique.  I can only concur with one of its cover blurbs that the work is a ‘masterpiece.’  Elsewhere someone has astutely remarked that it is the ‘great American novel’—written by an Irishman!

Above and beyond those kudos, I have to say that Barry’s novel opens an entire chapter in gay history with the truth only fiction can achieve. It should be put at the top of any LGBT+ reading list!  And at the risk of sounding politically stupid (but with a lot more justification than certain recent claimants), I think it should be nominated for a Nobel Prize!

Corroboration of my opinion has also come from a different quarter. While I’m not so sure about the predictive nature of horoscopes, I’ve found that the weekly sign-based messages in Rob Brezsny’s “Free Will Astrology”  are often right on as insightful interpretations of the immediate past.  For the week after I finished “Days Without End,” the astrologist suggested that I (as a Taurus) seek out stories that have the power to heal.  If ever a story has had that power, it’s “Days Without End.”

Please forgive me now for a brief vanity break: About 30 years ago I wrote a story called “Traveling Men”.  I can’t claim that it has the power to heal but do believe it’s fictionally true about gay history.  I’d be honored if you’d care to read it and agree.

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Jaguars Changing Spots

I seem to be at my stellar best when I’m boring folks with useless information—or at least with stuff they don’t give a rat’s patootie about. The following verbiage may well fall into both categories.  And since it’s on the Internet, there’s the distinct possibility (but minuscule probability) of boring millions of readers to tears.  What more could I hope for as I hold forth on jaguars’ spots?  I bet you’ve never given that esoteric subject even a nanosecond’s thought.

But I have. For some years, as you likely don’t know, I’ve been drawing digital icons of Aztec deities for a coloring book called YE GODS! Since the jaguar is a major mythological figure for most of the ancient cultures of the Americas (see A Roar of Jaguars), I had to come to terms with how it was depicted in the iconography of those cultures.  In fact, as the Lord of the Animals, the jaguar was my first try at digital drawing.

Already well versed in the iconography of the few Aztec codices that survived the Conquest of that empire by the Spanish, I wasn’t terribly impressed by their renderings of the unique and complex pattern of the jaguar’s pelt. For the most part the ancient Aztec artists made do with a simple scattering of spots looking a lot like those of the Old World leopard.In the Codex Borgia, a more elaborate picture-book, the pelt was sometimes depicted in greater complexity. I chose to use two of those stronger patterns for figures in my later icon of the deities of the moon, but the first pattern was just too weirdly abstract, if oddly more realistic.

For my first digital drawing (eventually used in the icon for OCELOTL), I pompously tried to reproduce a naturalistic jaguar pelt—and believe I did a decent job. It convinced me of the amazing power of computer imaging and kicked off the whole coloring book project.  Having mastered the pattern, I used it also for a seat-cushion in the icon for the goddess CHANTICO (also see the icon for MICTLANTECUHTLI), and for a detail of a jaguar-warrior in that for the god CHALCHIUHTOTOLIN.

Chantico and Jaguar Warrior

At present I’m in the final throes of the icon for TEPEYOLLOTL (see The Divine Volcanoes), who is a were-jaguar (an anthropomorphic creature), appearing in a number of the codices.

Here comes another sneak preview. There are two jaguars in this icon.  I chose to use the Nuttall jaguar, radically restructured, for the leaping one and the Vindobonensis figure as model for the god himself—with a pelt based on one of the Borgia examples.

Leaping Jaguar and Tepeyollotl

This illustration shows that I haven’t yet completed Tepeyollotl’s face, though I have already given him an aesthetic nose-job. While the open-ring pattern may not be any more naturalistic than the plain spots on the Vindobonensis model, I did that on purpose—for the coloring.

I’ve only given explicit directions for coloring the icons in a few cases. First, for the pelt in OCELOTL, I described the animal’s range of coloration from rusty gold to white.  For the icon of EHECATL, I explained that scallop shells come in black, white, and all shades of the rainbow, though very dark and dusky like in the last hues of twilight.  For TEPEYOLLOTL, I will direct the colorist to make those open rings various colors as in these almost hallucinatory images:

In this second Telleriano example, the spots are inexplicably green, and in the psychedelic Aubin figure red, blue, and gold. (By the way, the general Aubin style of illustration might most kindly be called “casual:” Note the incomplete claws, stubby tail, and curious wrinkles on its back.)

The rationale for vari-colored spots on my Tepeyollotl is that, among several other mythical qualities, he’s the Lord of Jewels. Also, any deity worth its salt really should be hallucinatory, psychedelic, and/or surreal.

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