The Earth Monster

Nowadays we sometimes think (and some of us worry) about the planet Earth, this infinitesimal speck of dust in the infinite cosmos, as our mother—and quite reasonably so. In scientific fact, like all life, we’re indeed children of the female Earth sired by the male Sun. However, the ancient Egyptians believed we’re the offspring of the male Geb (earth) and the female Nut (sky).

In the Judeo-Christian, Islamic, and Hindu traditions, people were purportedly created magically (asexually like amoebas?) by a male deity with the Earth playing no role except as a location to hold dominion over. Characteristically, Buddhists don’t have a creation story since they consider the notion of origins meaningless. Take your pick because it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Meanwhile, ancient Mesoamericans believed people were created by the Earth as a deity named Tlaltecuhtli, which was conveniently a hermaphrodite—and not at all anthropomorphic. Most often it was depicted as a huge, gaping maw, a two-way street through which people were born and then on death passed back into the Underworld, the Earth being the mystical source and destination of all life. Creation wasn’t considered a one-shot deal but an ongoing process.

When not a mouth spitting out or devouring people, the deity of the Earth was generally shown as a monster with impressive fangs and claws. Its species was apparently the crocodile (caiman), a creature called Cipactli (also the name of the first day of the month in their calendar).

The Mesoamerican Earth Monster

I drew this surreal image of the Earth Monster as a detail in my next icon for the coloring book YE GODS! It’s based on a smaller version in the Codex Borgia. In some other instances in the codices, Tlaltecuhtli/Cipactli has no limbs, but the fanged jaw was put to good use in biting off the left foot of the god Tezcatlipoca. That’s another story.

Of the various creation fantasies, I much prefer the Mesoamerican narrative since it recognizes that our planet Earth is the parent of life and illustrates the principle of dust to dust. It really does matter after all to acknowledge that our Earth is a living creature, a metaphorical monster not to be dominated but to be cherished and nurtured. Remember, even planets can die!

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