A Trans Deity

Suddenly I’ve found something dramatic and significant to add to the burgeoning trans phenomenon. As a plain old faggot I haven’t been involved, but I’ve always welcomed the T in our LGBT acronym.  The QA+ETC simply go without saying…

Anyhow, this goes back to that book I mentioned in an earlier post called Chinese Myths and Legends, edited by Jake Jackson. Sorry I can’t give a full citation or authoritative quotes because I gave the book to the library at my grandson’s high school.  After some horrific legends of dragons, monsters, vengeance and murderous arbitrary fury, I was pleased to come upon a very curious legend of the goddess Kwan Yin.

Some may not be familiar with this goddess, who is known and venerated all across the orient and even India. I’ve been collecting her statues/figurines for lo these many and gathering her lore.  Kwan Yin is a complex deity:  goddess of compassion, travellers, sailors, children, motherhood, wisdom and enlightenment.  She’s the female Buddha—who achieved nirvana but declined to go “there” until all humanity can accompany her.  In that respect, I think we should also call her the goddess of patience.  She’ll need it!

Back to the curious legend. It struck me on the reading, but only now have I realized what an important piece of LGBT cultural history it is.  At some time way back in ancient history among the imperial BC dynasties, a virtuous young prince took to the spiritual/religious life and became a nun, who eventually got deified.  That’s right:  The young man became a young woman.  As I recall, the legend didn’t go into any detail about this primordial transsexual process, but he became the goddess.

Representations of Kwan Yin (unless heretical), always show her dressed as a beautiful woman without breasts. Many show her bare-chested, and there are no mammaries there.  Here are six such figures of the legendary trans deity:

The Trans Deity Kwan Yin

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Jaguar of the Night

I really must devote a word or two to a favorite detail from my Aztec Icon #17, Tepeyollotl—just in case it slipped your notice. It’s my rendition of the Jaguar of the Night, one of the various manifestations of the Heart of the Mountain.  The divine Jaguar leaps at the rising sun, greeting it with its roars (those odd wavy sound symbols).

Jaguar of the Night

                             From Icon #17                                          Model from Codex Nuttall

One reason I’m showing you this drawing is to sing the praises of my sweet graphics program, GIMP.  (You can Google it for free download!)  It really makes me feel like a magician.  I took the splendid image of a jaguar from Codex Nuttall and with a few adjustments in proportions and position turned the rampant figure into a leaping one.  Of course there were many pixels to wrestle with, but that’s the name of the digital drawing game.

Also: I’m quite pleased with this drawing of my totem animal and rather proud of it.  Hope you like it too.

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Trouble in Paradise

Lots of folks around Santa Fe, New Mexico consider this little city and its high desert environs to be a very special, natural place, if not actually a paradise. I’ve been living here for some forty years, and though not a believer in heavens on earth, I do think of Fanta Se as a place blessedly removed from the worst evils of modern life.  Or at least until recently.

This past spring I once more watched a splendid cherry tree outside my kitchen window explode in white blossoms.

Cherry Blossoms

After a couple days of such a floral vision, I started wondering why there were relatively so few bees around the blooms in comparison with earlier years. It was disturbing, but at least I got to watch a modicum of fruits forming among the new green leaves.

Now in the past weeks of late spring and early summer, my garden has again exploded in a bumper crop of larkspur. Given a chance, they really do spread like weeds, and if they show up in the wrong place, I simply yank them out.  What’s left seems ample for survival of the species.

In previous years, the zillions of larkspur flowers (that look like birds with little wings), would always be crowded with buzzing bees—even fat bumblebees lumbering around like trucks.

Larkspurs in my garden

This year there are no bees. I do not exaggerate.  No bees!  The only pollinators I’ve seen this year are one hummingbird moth in the dim twilight—once—and one single, solitary tiger-swallowtail butterfly flitting about the flowers most mornings.  Its yellow-striped wings are a beautiful contrast to their purple/blue, but it’s too flighty to work through the masses of flowers.  Now I find many of the bloom stalks not making seed pods.  This is beyond disturbing.

This past week I’ve been even more horrified to see the cherries ripening on the tree next door—and simply hanging there till over-ripe and falling to litter the ground. Always before, as the cherries started to turn red, the tree would be a-flutter with flocks of birds pecking the heck out of them.  Now I’ve seen no more than three or four little birds struggling to reach a fruit or two.

Where have all the bees gone? Where have all the birds gone?  What’s going on?

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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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The Divine Volcanoes Popocatepetl and Itzaccihuatl

For too long I’ve telling folks I’m still plugging away on Icon #17 for the YE GODS! coloring book, and now I can change my tune. At last I’m on the home stretch!  Just one more vignette and the figure of Tepeyollotl Himself, the Heart of the Mountain.  (I seem to have been keeping the deity itself for the last to be informed by the story of the surrounding details.)

So now it’s high time I give you something in the way of a sneak preview of #17: the Mountain.  Actually it’s the two divine volcanoes that loom dangerously over Ciudad de México, deified as Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain) and Itzaccihuatl (Obsidian Lady).

Popocatepetl and Itzaccihuatl

Here they are shown in the style of Codex Nuttall, Popocatepetl in its smoking majesty and Itzaccihuatl as a bonafide, stern-visaged goddess. Her codex model is iconographically notable being one of the few full-faced figures to be found in Aztec 2-D graphic art.  The Maya also preferred profiles (those marvelous foreheads!).  3-D sculpture was of course a different story.

The stylized sigils appearing in each of the “hills” are authentic names of real places. Apart from the self-evident symbol for Popocatepetl, I don’t have a clue what places the others intend.

The above is my second treatment of the divine volcanoes. The first was for a vignette in Icon #7 Huitzilopochtli, Hummingbird of the South, showing the arrival of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan:

Arrival of Aztecs at Tenochtitlan

In the upcoming icon, beneath these volcanoes resides the Heart of the Mountain. Don’t let this be a spoiler, but you need to know that Tepeyollotl, as most often depicted in the Aztec codices, will be a were-jaguar, an ancient mythological being with possible roots three thousand years before in Peru.  Check out this boggling image of the Raimondi Stela from Chavín de Huantar.

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