The eleventh trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Monkey for its first numbered day, which is also the 11th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Monkey is Ozomatli, and it’s known as Chuwen in Yucatec Maya and B’atz in Quiché Maya.
The day Monkey, one of the five days symbolizing the direction West, is considered a good day to start a journey. In some codices, birth almanacs indicate that a child born on a Monkey day would be ill-favored, though dramatic, clever, and charming. In general, Monkey is a day for creating, playing, celebrating, fun, frivolity, and merriment. (For some arcane reason, it’s paired anatomically with the left arm.)
This Aztec concept was clearly inherited from the earlier Maya, for whom the Monkey represented cleverness and mental agility, creativity, capriciousness, playfulness, and cleverly weaving things/themes together. Monkeys were also viewed negatively as tricksters, for their child-like behavior and magical stratagems. As tricksters they were associated with drunkenness, capriciousness, and licentiousness, behaving sometimes with reckless abandon.
The Maya concept of Monkey was shaped by their mythical Monkey Twins, Hun B’atz and Hun Choven (One Monkey and One Artisan), the talented older half-brothers of the celebrated Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque. In the Classic Maya Popol Vuh, the account of Quiché Maya creation, these Monkey Twins were scribes and sages, as well as musicians, flautists, singers, carvers, ball players, and diviners. They were also comedians of ritual humor, famous for mocking political positions, and interpreters of sacred knowledge. The tradition connecting monkeys and artists/craftsmen survived across the many centuries into Aztec culture.
The patron of the day Monkey is Xochipilli, the Flower Prince (See Icon #18). god of the arts, fertility (agriculture and flowers), happiness/ecstasy, dreams/hallucinations, and indiscriminate sexuality.
PATRON DEITY RULING THE TRECENA
The divine patron of the Monkey trecena is Patecatl, the god of medicine, surgery, and, most importantly, the alcoholic drink Pulque (octli) and psychedelic herbs. (See Icon #13.) Both the drink and the psychedelics are crucial elements in Aztec religious ceremonies. With his wife Mayauel (goddess of Pulque and patron of the Grass trecena), he’s the father of the 400 Rabbits, the libidinous deities of all sorts of drunkenness.
AUGURIES OF MONKEY TRECENA
By Marguerite Paquin, author of “Manual for the Soul: A Guide to the Energies of Life: How Sacred Mesoamerican Calendrics Reveal Patterns of Destiny”
The theme of this trecena is Creation and Play. In the “Chilam Balam of Chumayel” it’s referred to as the “Creation” trecena initiating a 20-day month (uinal) in the Maya calendar, and the time period aligns with high creativity and “time weaving.” The tie-ins with pulque and “monkey business” suggest an association with healing and even re-invention through play and artistry. While “anything is possible” during this period, there’s also potential for both intoxication and reckless abandon. Overall, this period is associated with good fortune and the arts—a good time to give oneself permission to play!
Further to how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/. The Maya equivalent is the Chuwen trecena.
THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE MONKEY TRECENA
The Aztec Tonalpohualli, like the ancestral Maya calendar, is counted through the sequence of 20 named days of the agricultural “month” (vientena), of which there are 18 in the solar year. Starting with the 11th day of the current vientena, 1 Monkey, this trecena continues with 2 Grass, 3 Reed, 4 Jaguar, 5 Eagle, 6 Vulture, 7 Earthquake, 8 Flint, 9 Rain, 10 Flower, 11 Crocodile, 12 Wind, and 13 House.
In general Aztec calendrics there are only two days in this trecena of particular import, One Monkey and Four Jaguar. However, for the ancient Maya, as the middle point in the calendar, One Monkey had been seen as the center of the Tree of Life, symbolic of the creative forces of the universe, the day of magic and potential, like a conductor or overseer of the process of creation to unfold over the next 20 days. In this context, it’s instructive to remark on all the thirteen days in their “Creation” trecena. Please forgive my amateur editorializing on the steps in the cosmological sequence kindly provided by Dr. Paquin.
One Monkey (in Nahuatl Ce Ozomatli) is the day-name of one of the Cihuateteo who, to judge by her day-name, was perhaps a licentious trickster. She was apparently paired with Five Rabbit (Macuil Tochtli), one of the Ahuiateteo, a god of drunkenness. Also, according to the chronicler Sahagun, anyone born on One Monkey was regarded favorably and would entertain others, likely becoming a singer, dancer, or scribe and producing some work of art. In the Florentine Codex, One Monkey is also connected with Aztec singers, dancers, and painters, much like the earlier day One Flower (See Flower Trecena).
(in Yucatec Maya 1 Chuwen), according to the “Chilam Balam of Chumayel,” the first day in the Creation sequence when 1 Monkey “manifested himself in his divinity and created Heaven and Earth.”
Two Grass (in Yucatec Maya 2 Eb’) the day when the first pyramid (aka the first staircase) was made to descend “from the heart of the heavens.”
Three Reed (in Yucatec Maya 3 B’en) the day when “all things” of heaven and earth and the seas were made. Note that Heaven and Earth had already been created on 1 Chuwen—with a pyramid/staircase constructed between them on 2 Eb’.
Four Jaguar (in Nahuatl Nahui Ocelotl) is the day-name of the First Sun (Era), a world created by Tezcatlipoca after defeating the Earth Monster (Cipactli) and losing his left foot in the battle. He ruled that Sun, which was peopled by giants and ultimately destroyed by divine jaguars. The day-sign Four Jaguar appears in the center of the Stone of the Suns.
(in Yucatec Maya 4 Ix) the day when the separation of Heaven and Earth took place. Note that the two realms were already separate and linked only by the aforementioned staircase or pyramid. I find this sequence of creation not a little confusing.
Five Eagle (in Yucatec Maya 5 Men) the day when “everything” was made. How this relates to 3 B’en isn’t clear, “all things” apparently being construed as somehow different than “everything.”
Six Vulture (in Yucatec Maya 6 Kib’) the day when the first candle was made, when it became light, and “when there was neither sun nor moon.” Again, it’s unclear what such a candle was to bring the light when there “was neither sun nor moon.”
Seven Earthquake (in Yucatec Maya 7 Kab’an) the day when honey was first created and the earth was born. I can’t even guess what that “honey” was (since honey bees were an Old World species), and the notion of the earth being born rather than created is intriguing. One wonders who its parents might have been. Besides, the earth had already been created on 1 Chuwen.
Eight Flint (in Yucatec Maya 8 Etz’nab) the day when “he rooted hands and feet upon earth” and made birds. We can only assume that “he” was 1 Monkey.
Nine Rain (in Yucatec Maya 9 Kawak) the day when, for the first time, there was an attempt to create hell. This step in the Creation sequence is fraught with questions: Why create hell in the first place, and why did this first attempt fail? We can only assume that this “hell” was supposed to be the Underworld, Xibalba.
Ten Flower (in Yucatec Maya 10 Ajaw) the day when “wicked men went to hell.” We’re missing something in this Creation sequence because men had not yet been created, wicked or otherwise, and the attempt to create hell the day before had failed. The text tries to explain this discrepancy by adding “because the holy God had not yet appeared,” but that only adds to the confusion. Who was the “holy God? If it was 1 Monkey, he had indeed already “rooted” on earth on 8 Etz’nab, and we haven’t heard about any other deity yet. Some accounts apparently translate this explanation as “so they might not be noticed,” but that only makes things even murkier: noticed by whom?
Eleven Crocodile (in Yucatec Maya 11 Imix) the day when rocks and trees were formed. This may relate to the Aztec concept of Tezcatlipoca building the world of the First Sun on the back of Cipactli, the Earth Monster.
Twelve Wind (in Yucatec Maya 12 Ik’) the day when the breath of life was created. It’s interesting that birds had already been created on 8 Etz’nab; on 10 Ajaw there were wicked men to go to a hell that hadn’t been successfully created; and trees had been created on 11 Imix. The Maya must not have considered birds and trees as being truly alive.
Thirteen House (in Yucatec Maya 13 Ak’b’al) the day when man was shaped from water and moistened clay. This is an iconic way to wrap up the trecena’s creation sequence, but there remain enormous inconsistencies. Vaguely parallel to the Judeo-Christian 7-day account in the Book of Genesis, this Maya sequence doesn’t mention a Garden of Eden—or Elohim—but maybe those details will emerge in the first seven days of the Lizard trecena to follow.
THE TONALAMATL (BOOK OF DAYS)
Several of the surviving so-called Aztec codices (some originating from other cultures like the Mixtec) have Tonalamatl sections laying out the trecenas of the Tonalpohualli on separate pages. In Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin, the first two pages are missing; Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios are each lacking various pages (fortunately not the same ones); and in Codex Borgia and Codex Vaticanus all 20 pages are extant. (The Tonalpohualli is also presented in a spread-sheet fashion in Codex Borgia, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Cospi, but that format apparently serves other purposes.)
As described in my earlier blog The Aztec Calendar – My Obsession, some thirty years ago—on the basis of very limited ethnographic information and iconographic models —I presumed to create my own version of a Tonalamatl, publishing it in 1993 as Celebrate Native America!
Again, when I made my version of the Monkey trecena, I knew nothing about Patecatl and simply relied on Codex Nuttall for a figure of a male deity, properly enthroned:
I’m gratified that totally by accident I gave him a fairly appropriate nosepiece, but there’s yet another accidental item worth noting. To represent Patecatl’s patronage of herbs, I constructed a plant, and to my surprise, the combination of green and red made the plant’s red stalk come across as brown—a serendipitous psychedelic effect.
TONALAMATL BORGIA (re-created by Richard Balthazar from Codex Borgia)
The figure of Patecatl on the left has nothing in particular to identify him. In fact, the nosepiece, the crescent designs on his “skirt,” and his awkward teeth look a lot like the goddess Tlazolteotl in the Deer trecena. Like in my concocted version, the Borgia artist seems not to have had a clear iconographic concept of this deity, adorning him with standard, if androgynous, regalia.
The intricate jaguar on the right is nowhere mentioned as a patron of this trecena, but we’ll see him again later. It’s curious that in the Deer trecena, Tlazolteotl is also paired with the jaguar of the night, Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain. This one would seem to be the deity Ocelotl, Lord of the Animals (See Icon #11), possibly reflecting the special day Four Jaguar. The many sacrificial knives attached to its body must emphasize its divine nature, but who knows what the banner signifies? Note that this image ignores the real animal’s muscular proportions and especially its powerful jaw (with one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom).
Meanwhile, the pattern of this jaguar’s bright pelt is even more highly stylized than that of Tlazolteotl’s jaguar of the night, which is darker and somewhat less intricate. In most Aztec images of a jaguar, the codex artists never attempt a naturalistic treatment of the animal’s complex and varying coloration and markings. In “Jaguars Changing Spots,” I’ve discussed the various Aztec treatments of its natural patterns as shown in this collection:
Quite conspicuous as the centerpiece of this patron panel, the assemblage of shield, arrows, and ceremonial objects is one of the more ostentatious in the Tonalamatl Borgia, of which there are many. I can’t rightly explain what all the material represents or signifies but have decided to call the whole kit and kaboodle simply a “conglom” (i.e., a conglomeration of assorted symbolic items). I suspect that such congloms were intended primarily as decorations.
TONALAMATL YOAL (compiled and re-created by Richard Balthazar on the basis of
Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)
As opposed to his anonymous image in the Borgia version above, the figure of Patecatl here on the left wears a load of regalia, probably to make the god of medicine look divine, hoping some of the symbols will indicate who he is. In fact, that crescent nosepiece we’ve seen before is an identifier of this patron god. In this mix of iconographic items, there are several items normally emblematic of other gods. On top of his outsized headdress, there’s a spiked crown like that of Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Night in the upper corners, and that flowering shinbone in front of it is a sure signal of Quetzalcoatl. But that stalked flowery ornament sticking out front is a true indication of Patecatl.
That’s just the top of the headdress. Below that, we find an elaborate bow construction which in earlier calendrical images identifies Ehecatl/Quetzalcoatl. Then comes the standard divine fore- and aft-flanged fans that appear with several of the Lords of the Night above. I’m at a loss to decode the oddly decorated base of his crown with those almost googly eyes, and the necklace of cowry shells strongly suggests Quetzalcoatl again. But the flint-bladed club in the god’s left hand we’ll see again as another emblem of Patecatl. (Maybe it’s an Aztec scalpel for his surgical magic.) Likewise, the feathered fan/wing of apparent eagle-feathers on his back seems to be his symbol, and the unusual, frilled bag an appropriately shamanic “medicine-pouch.” His red face looks awfully fierce, and ironically, as in the Borgia image, he direly needs orthodontic work.
The Yoal patron is again juxtaposed with a banner-bearing jaguar—as well as with a banner-waving eagle, the Lords of the Animals and Birds respectively. Their lordliness is emphasized by their nearly free-form headdresses and “bustles, and both are seriously anthropomorphic with human faces—a frequent motif in images of “jaguar- and eagle-men” and animal headdresses. These can be men in jaguar/eagle costumes or “were-creatures” like were-wolves, etc. Note this jaguar has human hands but jaguar feet. In the crude Telleriano-Remensis and Rios originals, the eagle also had hands, which I judiciously chose to replace with proper claws.
Speaking of crude originals, whoever drew these two lordly beasts in Telleriano-Remensis surely probably wasn’t the one who portrayed Patecatl. The god’s image was awkward enough, but nowhere near as sketchy and slap-dash as that jaguar and eagle. The images in Rios could have been by the same artist as they are equally blurry (and sloppy). I had no choice but to completely re-envision this divine pair, of course using the original motifs and positions and improvising more naturalistic details. In particular, in my jaguar I combined the white fringes of the stylized Borgia creature with the feline’s more normal muscular proportions, and to guild the lily, I gave it one of those natural pelt-patterns. But I still wonder what those banners might signify.
In the Tonalamatl Aubin Patecatl is recognizable by his crescent nose-piece, eagle-feather fan on his back, and spiked crest of Mictlantecuhtli in his headdress. But the Xiuhcoatl he’s waving and the cross symbols on his sandals are usually suggestive of Quetzalcoatl. It’s rather odd that he has no eyes. The day-night symbol (sun-stars) is a surprise, but the jaguar and eagle are now familiar motifs, and they are both closely connected to the diurnal cycle, the jaguar with the night and the eagle with the day—possibly also their significance in the Tonalamatl Yoal.
The patron panel in Codex Borbonicus also features a jaguar and eagle with headdresses and “bustles” a bit simpler than those in Tonalamatl Yoal. Each again carries a banner; in Aubin those were blank, and in fact, in the Yoal originals they were also blank, but I gave them these Borbonicus stripes. Logically, the jaguar’s black stripes could correlate with the night and the eagle’s red with the day, reflecting the prominent central day-night symbol.
The figure of Patecatl on the left is adorned with the same borrowed spiked crest, bows, and shinbone and is identified by the stalked flower in his headdress, crescent nosepiece, flint-bladed club in his hand, and frilled medicine-bag pendant. Meanwhile, the rest of the panel is basically a dis-integrated conglom with much miscellanea, probably representing medicinal concoctions. The little pot below the day-night symbol definitely holds magic mushrooms. On the medicinal pulque pot in the lower left is a Monkey day-sign for the Monkey trecena.
The Codex Vaticanus patron panel reverses the Borgia layout and radically changes the figure of Patecatl, leaving only the crescent nosepiece to identify him. His pose on the throne and complete swaddling almost suggest a funereal corpse-bundle, which doesn’t make much sense. In later Vaticanus trecenas, for some reason we’ll see some deities even more severely wrapped.
Another radical aspect of this patron panel is that the figures don’t face each other. In the Borgia panel, the jaguar’s banner embodies the diurnal cycle with black stripes with a red spot, but here it’s merely black for the night. Ignoring that tongue, this jaguar is stylized much the same as in Borgia—until one looks at those claws. Most Aztec jaguars are usually portrayed with four claws, three in front and one in back, but the real jaguar paw has five digits, four claws in front and the fifth, a “dew-claw,” further up the wrist/ankle much like in this image. Only the dew-claw is supposed to be turned forward like the fourth in earlier images. This Vaticanus jaguar only has five claws on one paw, and the rest have four… As we’ve seen with the issue of pelt-patterns, naturalism wasn’t a particularly strong parameter for Aztec artists. (Remember my earlier discussion in the Jaguar trecena of “ideoplastic” art? This is a prime example.)
Now it’s time to reveal my takeaway from this long discussion of the symbols and emblems in this Monkey trecena. For one thing, in the five Aztec codex patron panels I’ve noticed nothing at all to do with the ancient Maya Creation trecena, but the continuity of Monkey symbolism from Maya down to Aztec is really noteworthy. I can’t give you any examples of monkeys from the Teotihuacan civilization, roughly contemporaneous with the Maya, but that culture used the same calendar and probably would’ve held Monkey traditions like those of the Maya.
After the long hegemony of Teotihuacan in the valley of Mexico, for more centuries, the Toltec empire continued the sacred calendar and kept Monkey connections with artists and craftsmen. The Toltecs were considered masterful painters and scribes, carvers and builders, skillful in whatever they did. Much later, the Aztecs celebrated all things historically Toltec (toltecayotl) and of course, inherited the calendar’s Monkey business. Unfortunately, the Monkey wound up losing his role in Mesoamerican cosmology as the mythical Creator—to later upstarts called Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and others. Across the centuries, many other Maya traditions naturally faded away or were usurped by new myths (like the Nahuatl/Aztec cosmology of the Five Suns overtaking the Maya Creation legend), making for many gaps in connections between the Maya and the Aztec eras.
The Tonalpohualli, the ceremonial count of days, I consider the principal thread of continuity running through Mesoamerican history, with roots far back into the Olmec era—and possibly even deeper into pre-history. (See my ancient blog/rant “Source of Aztec Calendar.”) As both Day and Trecena in that monumental temporal ideology, the creative, playful Monkey also became a major cultural theme, maybe not as fierce or existential, but as consistent as the jaguar and plumed serpent.
As the patron of the Monkey trecena, Patecatl is a fairly innocuous, almost anonymous, figure with vague iconography (except in Yoal), though I expect he was very highly regarded for his pharmaceutical blessings. He and his wife Mayauel (again see Grass Trecena) probably threw some wild pulque parties—which I’m sure made them both very popular deities to worship.
Judging by these five codex panels, I suggest we add the divine jaguar as the secondary patron of this trecena, either as Lord of the Animals (including Man), as the symbol of night, or both. Along with the day-night symbol in two panels, the day-eagle in three of them argues that the diurnal cycle was especially important for divination of this time-period. I prefer to think of this strikingly illustrated trecena as a ritual prayer for the good health of all creatures 24/7, or in Aztec terms 22/13.
The calendar’s twelfth trecena will be that of Lizard with the existential deity Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror) and his nagual Itztlacoliuhqui (Curved Obsidian Blade) as patrons. Here’s where things start getting weird. Stay tuned.
You can view all the calendar pages I’ve completed up to this point in the Tonalamatl gallery.