Tlalocan II – The Drawing

After showing you my reconfiguration of the Teotihuacan mural of Tlalocan in early July, it took me these past three months to turn it into a black-and-white drawing. As such, it will become the lower register in Icon #20 for my digital coloring book YE GODS!

For several centuries the enormous city-state of Teotihuacan “ruled” central Mexico (and parts of the Maya world as well). Painted about 1,500 years ago, the tremendously ornate mural is a fascinating window into that vanished metropolis, a panorama of its people enjoying afterlife in the paradise of their water (storm) god—whom a thousand years later the Aztecs called Tlaloc. My drawing gives you an intimate look at the actual people who lived in the Place of the Gods. (It’s greatly reduced in this illustration, but you can click here to download a full-scale image—at almost three feet long and one foot high.)

Tlalocan – The Paradise of Tlaloc

Within that eye-boggling border, the first telling detail to notice is that there are no women, which may say something about a sexist society in Teotihuacan. Of course Tlaloc’s Eighth Heaven was reserved for victims of drowning and children sacrificed for life-giving rain, but one thinks maybe some women might also have drowned and girl-children been sacrificed too. In all likelihood (if the eschatology of Teotihuacan is reflected in that of the Aztecs), women may well have had their own paradise among the thirteen heavens. But there’s no mural of that one.

The Aztecs definitely inherited the concept of Tlalocan from Teotihuacan, and the iconography of the ancestral water (storm) god is also clearly reflected in that of the much later Aztecs.

Teotihuacan Water and Rain Gods

Tlaloc’s goggle-eyes and fangs crossed the centuries into the figure from Codex Borgia, as well as the head-pitcher he holds for pouring out water:

Aztec Tlaloc and Quiahuitl Day-signs

Teotihuacan’s rain-god image carries over directly into the Aztecs’ golden Four Rain sign (day-name of the Third Sun) on their Stone of the Suns. The Rain day-sign to its right is based on it—drawn thirty years ago for my book of days before I ever learned of the raindrops on the Teotihuacan image. The two lower signs are stylized versions for the calendars in the Fejervary-Mayer and Vaticanus codices; those in other calendars are similar, but often less formal.

Now let’s look into this window on the people of Teotihuacan. First, check out their quite varied fashions in clothing:

Teotihuacan Fashions

Not surprising are the loincloths or breechclouts worn by figures on the left with varying numbers of sashes. Note that children can be nude or just wear “panties.” But then the costumes get weird, like the top center fellow wearing a midriff T-shirt and toreador pants and the guy just below with a full-length T. The runner to his right may be wearing similar pants, but he also has gloves. The guy below is wearing “clam-digger” pants with breechclout; the guy with the tears (ignore those for now) only wears gloves and socks/slippers, as does the cross-legged kid below. On the far right the top figure wears shirt and pants under a loincloth, and the lower figure wears pants/leggings under a kilt with sash.

The variety of outfits may have to do with social classes—or maybe not. But I can say that the cross-legged kid in gloves and socks is remarkably unique in being presented full-face. All the other faces are done in profile—the standard view used by the Aztecs for faces and bodies as well. However, the ancient artist made free to show figures frontally and from many other realistic angles, an iconographic freedom apparently lost over the centuries.

Note also the varying hairstyles: Figures are frequently bald (or with shaved heads?), but many have hairdos of various lengths. The kilted fellow on lower right may be an elder with receding hairline and gray hair. In the mural you can’t tell if the guy at center-top has a topknot or feather headdress. Speaking of hairstyles and headdresses, there is also a wide assortment of such on other figures which again may have something to do with class or occupation—or maybe not.

Teotihuacan Headgear

Here we see several types of hats, headbands, skullcaps, and turbans. Notable is the figure on the upper left wearing an ear-flare, the only one in the whole mural—a fashion that became almost universal under the Aztecs—but there are no nose ornaments. Again, note the cross-legged kid on the lower right wearing what looks like a slightly cocked beret. The flirtatious fellow to his left possibly sports a half-Mohawk crest—or a feathered hat?

So now we know what (at least male) Teotihuacanos looked like! Here are a couple vignettes of their playful activities:

                    Teotihuacan Dancers

  Teotihuacan Toss

 Both of these group activities well illustrate the ancient artist’s stylistic freedom, as well as elements of perspective that the Aztecs would never have attempted. (The curlicues are shouts or songs of joy—a convention that totally carried over into Aztec iconography.) The scene of the tossing is probably celebratory—as happens in many cultures—and not a punishment like that undergone by Sancho Panza in “Don Quixote.”

Now we come to some distinctly odd images that I have a hard time parsing:

             Teotihuacan Oddities

This guy with the tears (in gloves and socks) seems to be singing loudly or shouting, but why is he crying and waving a branch, and what’s he got flowing from his chest? In the mural the flow doesn’t seem to be blood, and why should it be? The guy with the long stuff flowing from his head (hair?) seems to be chewing on a stick (sugarcane?). The four fellows holding each other’s wrists maybe are playing some game? Since this is in Tlalocan, whatever’s going on must surely be joyful fun.

I hope my little drawing has given you some visual notion of the lost and almost forgotten world of Teotihuacan.

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The Old Queen’s Proclamation

When I began this website back in late 2013, I suggested that in 2012 I’d “incarnated” in my eighth identity or persona as a writer and artist. Now seven years later I’ve written a webpage to characterize this incarnation (thus far) as the Venerable Old Queen. In it you can read about this time of monkish peace and great productivity in books and art, all utterly fascinating.

I hope to continue being peaceful and productive for a long time yet in spite of our dire new reality. The old reality of our world recently underwent a total paradigm shift. As your Venerable Queen, I declare that Friday, March 13, 2020 was the end of the world as we’ve known it. To my neo-Aztec mind, on that day the Aztec Fifth Sun (World) came to an emphatic end. In their calendar, this was the day Four Rain, ominously the day-name of the Third Sun, which was destroyed in a rain of fire. That apocalyptic detail aptly marks this ending of the Fifth Sun.

In Aztec cosmology the Fifth Sun was called Four Earthquake (Nahui Ollin) and was destined to end by earthquake. However, “ollin” means more broadly “movement,” not only the terrestrial kind but the abstract as in “motion” or “dynamism.” If ever anything has moved dynamically, it’s the Corona virus sweeping the world—and destroying the Fifth Sun.

In addition, my venerable highness proclaims that the next day, March 14, 2020, was the first day of a brand new Sun, the Sixth. In my 1993 calendar book, I’d proposed that the Sixth Sun began with the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521; since the invaders actually arrived in 1519, on the average I was only off by precisely 500 years.

In my youthful enthusiasm, I gave the Sixth Sun the day-name Four Flower (Nahui Xochitl) and assigned Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal as its patrons to foster “love and happiness, artistic inspiration, fertility, pleasure, feasting, music, dancing, beauty and peace.” Obviously, I was feeling optimistic, even utopian, about the Sixth Sun, and now in spite of serious counter-indications, I’m trying to be the same as it begins for real. I do indeed accept Four Flower as this new Sun’s day-name and the divine patrons I channeled for it in 1993. The illustrations below are from the old book, and I use this image of the Prince in the banner on my webpages.

        Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers, and Xochiquetzal, Flower Feather, Patrons of the Sixth Sun Four Flower

Let’s look at the divinatory portents in the ceremonial calendar.

Per Azteccalendar.com, March 14 was the day Five Flower (Macuilxochitl), which is the day-name of the deity of games, music, dancing and singing. Five Flower is a nagual (manifestation), of good old Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers, the youthful solar deity of vegetation and abundance, as well as of pleasure, male beauty, learning, and the arts. His day-name is Seven Flower (Chicomexochitl), and coincidentally he’s the patron of both the sacred ballgame tlachtli and of homosexuality. Maybe it was for that latter fact that I chose him, but obviously he’s already become the divine patron of this new Sun without my puny gay-mortal help.

About Flower days in general, that day is ruled by Xochiquetzal, Flower Feather, so again I was right on in my channeled inspiration. She’s the ever-young goddess of love, beauty, female sexuality, and fertility and is the twin sister and wife of Xochipilli. She protects young mothers in pregnancy and childbirth, and is patron of weaving, embroidery, artisans, artists, and prostitutes. The calendar website says that a Flower day is one for creating beauty and truth, which fits right into my forecast, and significantly adds that the day tells us that life, like the flower, is beautiful but quickly fades.

The 13-day week (trecena) that the day Five Flower occurs in (One Vulture), is ruled by Xolotl, the Evening Star. I write in my encyclopedia of the Aztec pantheon that he is the god of sickness, deformity, monstrosities, malice, treachery, and danger, and represents the animal aspect of behavior and the unconscious. It’s rather ominous that he’s also the psychopomp (like the Greeks’ Charon), who leads the dead through the Land of the Dead, Mictlan.

Azteccalendar.com remarks that a Vulture week itself signifies the wisdom and freedom of old age, a fact this venerable old queen can relate to. Terribly right on in its generality for the time around March 14, 2020, it adds that these are good days for disengaging and bad days for participating.

This horoscopic reading for Saturday, March 14 seems uncannily perceptive in our shifted paradigm, and the Flower World it portends is an actual theme in the theology of northwestern ancient Mexico, complete with Xochipilli as its sun-god. Now that he rules this Sixth Sun, I think it would be entirely appropriate to create a new ballgame in his honor.

Let’s play with the idea of tlachtli and maybe call it “Xochiball.” It’s played on a circular court 50 ft. in diameter, where two teams of two players try to knock a soccer-size (but softer?) ball through a vertical hoop (possibly spinning) which is suspended over the center of the court. No catching or hitting the ball with hands is allowed, and the losers don’t get sacrificed. Feel free to make up the rest of the rules.

By the way, on my new page for Venerable Old Queen I didn’t mention the harsh lesson of this eighth persona: The rarest thing in the world is people who get what they really truly deserve. As a case in point, there’s no earthly way I truly deserve the many blessings I’ve had in my long life. When you get right down to it, again as the Aztecs believed, human life is simply a matter of dumb luck, and we’ve got to do everything we can think of to appease and flatter any deities who supposedly control our fortunes. Myself, I’m not poking any thorns through my tongue.

          Aztec Penance

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Tlalocan – The Paradise of Tlaloc

Occasionally I’ve interrupted drawing for my coloring book to remark on particularly interesting details (like the Divine Volcanoes and Visions of Tezcatlipoca), and here I go again.

The icon I’m working on right now is for Tlaloc, God of Storms (as well as rain and weather in general), a very ancient deity with antecedents among the Maya as Chak and in Teotihuacan, his actual name unknown, at least a thousand years before the Aztecs. In conceptualizing the icon, I’m including as the base register an image of Tlalocan, the Paradise of Tlaloc, adapted from a mural at Teotihuacan (c. 500 CE).

In my process, I first gather, massage and manipulate source material to create a layout. After settling on the composition, I turn the images into line drawings. Working with a mural from Teotihuacan—and snitching a neat piece of Codex Vindobonensis—I’ve reconfigured it to be what I call the Tlalocan, the Paradise of Tlaloc, restoring the heavily damaged left half:

Teotihuacan Mural Reconfigured by Richard Balthazar

Keep in mind that the Teotihuacan mural (with an obfuscating deep red background), was painted some 1,500 years ago—before European monks ever started illuminating manuscripts.

Some scholars argue that this mural represents the sacred Water Mountain—Cerro Gordo behind the city—and was associated with the (also nameless) Great Goddess. While her mural is positioned right above this one, I heartily disagree and have removed the arguable “mountain,” moving in the centerpiece from the upper border (enlarged), an indubitable image of the fanged, goggle-eyed deity the later Aztecs dubbed Tlaloc.

The deity also holds “head”-pitchers like those Tlaloc holds in Codex Borgia pouring water onto the maize-fields. As well, the dedication to Tlaloc is tripled by the matching busts of the iconic water deity in the upper corners. In upper center, I’ve installed an anachronistic Mouth of the Earth pouring forth water (from Vindobonensis). The name Tlaloc means “He of the Earth.”

I have no problem with Cerro Gordo being the sacred Water Mountain of Teotihuacan. That nearby massif may well have sourced lots of springs and streams, and I gather there’s evidence of intensive agricultural terracing and other works on its slopes and summit. The original Water Mountain image in the mural I assert to be in fact the way of entry into the afterlife of Tlalocan. The figures in its waters aren’t just gaily swimming around but struggling, sinking, maybe drowning, and ultimately erupting into the Paradise of the god later known as Tlaloc. Note the attempted life-saving. I found the image nice but unnecessary. After all we’re worshipping LKA Tlaloc here.

“Water Mountain” from Original Mural at Teotihuacan

Circumstantially, priority entry into Tlalocan, a joyful place of games, butterflies and flowers, was granted to victims of drowning, then to children sacrificed to Tlaloc—note the many children in the mural’s pastiche—and only afterwards to victims of certain diseases such as leprosy. Those less than enviable passports aside, Tlaloc’s 8th heaven (out of the 13), was a great place to wind up, all dancing, singing, and having fun. In the other heavens, not so much…

If you squint at the little figures in the mural, you’ll see groups engaging in several games. On the far left it’s with soccer-type balls while another guy runs in perhaps a hybrid of bowling and hopscotch. Moving to the right, we come to a bunch of dancers, and beside them a guy getting tossed into the air. On the deity’s crest, four fellows play perhaps some version of leapfrog. On their right, kids play marbles, and four guys play on something maybe related to a teeter-totter.

Historically significant are those little curlicues issuing from the figures’ mouths, the symbol for song: These folks are rejoicing, singing out their joy. Even the birds I lifted from the Great Goddess mural are singing as on far right. (In the original a tiny worm also sings!) I know this symbol because it’s widespread in the Aztec codices of a thousand years later meaning the same.

I’m taken with the little guy on the lower right bending to admire a flower. This stretch of plants and figures has been called a scene of farming, but that’s just nonsense. Farming in heaven? The man standing on the far right might be yodeling, and the kid under the bush is merrily waving a flower, not particularly agrarian activities. Various other figures scattered around seem to be telling stories or doing tricks. A good time is being had by all.

Generally, I try not to engage in much speculation, but this time it’s terribly tempting. Let me suggest an intriguing possibility. Perhaps with the Water Mountain adjacent to their prosperous city the Teotihuacanos came to think of their world as literally Tlalocan on earth. Maybe they didn’t, but Mesoamerican history could have—taking that long-gone civilization into their cosmology as the Third Sun, Four Rain.

According to the Aztecs, Four Rain was ruled by Tlaloc while consorting with Xochiquetzal (Flower Feather), who might have been the Great Goddess, though She was usually seen as the proto-Chalchiuhtlicue (Jade Skirt). Lore has it that when Tezcatlipoca (The Smoking Mirror) abducted his goddess, Tlaloc raged and destroyed the Third Sun in a rain of fire.

This apocalyptic detail suggests another possibility. I’ve read that right around 600 CE there was a major eruption of Popocatepetl which, besides raining fire, spread a pyroclastic flood of toxic gases all over the valley of Anahuac (Mexico). Is it just coincidence that at exactly this time the civilization and people of Teotihuacan vanished?

Just wondering…

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The Faces of Death

In this dire virus situation, we are all looking death in the face, but we can’t really see what it looks like wearing a mask and standing at a sociable distance. So I tried to get an up-close look at the face of death through the sanitized lens of Aztec art. They were intimate with that inevitable fact of life and drew many detailed pictures of it.

In their calendars, the Aztecs represented the day Death, Miquitzli, the sixth in their 20-day month, as a skull, often fancifully ornamented:

Signs for the Aztec Day Death

While the examples from Codex Cospi are the most varied and almost playful, they’re not exactly “fun” or amenable. Not that they were supposed to be… By the way, notice the tassels fed through the earlobes. Ears on a skull? This could become a new fashion fad!

The Aztecs also personified, or if you will, deified death as Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead (Mictlan). He was portrayed in various styles with many common motifs as a skeleton, often with a sacrificial knife for a nose and a semi-circular headdress, usually with a central spike. (Note two incipient examples of the spike among the Cospi signs above.) In Codex Borgia, he often wears a hand as a tassel through his earlobe. In the display below I skipped the skeletons and show only the skulls. None of them is particularly warm and cuddly, but again I guess Death’s heads simply aren’t.

Heads of Aztec Lord of Death

These gruesome images, which underlie many Day of the Dead graphics, weren’t especially frightening for the Aztecs who had a deep reverence for Mictlantecuhtli, even to the point of ritual cannibalism. I felt a similar, though not so hungry, reverence a few years ago when I drew the icon for the Lord of Death. He’s existentially pretty grand, but his beckoning gesture isn’t very enticing. Note the spiked ornament and the Magliabechiano headdress. Besides a vaguely realistic jaguar pelt, I used my artistic license to hang that spider web across his midriff. Oh, and those are eyeballs hanging from his cape. They do look a bit like googly eyes.

Aztec Lord of Death

These boney specters were the way I saw the Aztec face of Death until quite recently when I decided to re-create the book of days (tonalamatl) in the Codex Rios. I suddenly got glimpses of his real face instead of a fleshless skull.

They say that Codex Rios (one of the zillions of documents held by the Vatican Library) is a 16th-century Italian copy of the more or less pre-conquest codex called Telleriano-Remensis. As a copy it wasn’t terribly faithful, taking many liberties with images—some really worked; some didn’t—and making several mistakes in the numbering of days. But it was good that Rios took liberties because T-R is crude artistically speaking, though at times the copy itself was sloppy.

The T-R tonalamatl was drawn in pieces, each 13-day week (trecena) laid out with the first five days and main patron on one page and the last eight on another with the second patron/symbol. Rios followed that format exactly. In my re-creation, the weeks will be presented whole on their own pages to give an integral view of the time periods and supernatural characteristics.

The T-R and Rios tonalamatls include the nine Lords of the Night in sequence with the days, a cycle taking many years to complete (9 Lords/260 days). These Lords also appear (very sketchily) in Codex Cospi and in the complicated layouts of Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin along with Lords of the Day and totem birds, but in T-R/Rios the Lords of the Night are shown prominently alone in distinctive portrait busts.

The fifth Lord of the Night—and Lord of the fifth (mid-night) hour of the night—is none other than Mictlantecuhtli. He occurs 29 times during most of the 260-day years. In T-R he’s rendered as a full-fleshed “person” with remarkably consistent accoutrements. There are only 22 faces of Lord Death below because I don’t have copies of a few of the T-R pages. I doubt the missing pages will contain any surprises:

Faces of the Lord of Mictlan (Codex Telleriano-Remensis)

Again, the headdress with spiked ornament is standard, as well as a black lower face. Since these are given in order, there seems to be a greater finesse in the first several busts, if only for the green on the scarf “flaps.” The artist probably got tired as the days rolled by.

Note the plus signs on most of the scarves—they’re NOT crosses but a geometric motif possibly having to do with the four directions and center. Most consistent are the profiles of the Lord. The protruding mouth and often pendulous lower lip must have some iconographic significance, but unless it’s meant to convey menace, I haven’t a clue. Note also the almost identical noses—which appear on several other T-R Lords of the Night. This ancient artist had a clear template.

On the other hand, the artist(s) of the Codex Rios copy did not have a standard physiognomy for Mictlantecuhtli. Even standard formats in Rios tend to vary widely in execution and detail. As well, the artist(s) had to squeeze the day- and deity-images to accommodate notes (in Italian) naming the days and good, bad, or indifferent luck. With mostly consistent traditional ornamentation, the faces of Death in Rios are strongly individual:

Faces of the Lord of Mictlan (Codex Rios)

In my re-creation of the Rios tonalamatl, I won’t render all the variant images of the deities but will repeat an established portrait of each one using the modern magic of copying. I cherry-picked among the above 29 images to choose my favorite details and distilled them down to this interpretation of Mictlantecuhtli, the face of Death.

Lord of Mictlan

When I peered through Aztec art and discovered this evocative human face, I fell in love with lovely Death. Now I can look this beautiful Lord in the eye and happily know he awaits. I plan on making him wait for a great long while, but when he beckons, it will be good to fall into his arms.

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Memoir of My Second Coming Out

Over the past few years I’ve switched back and forth between drawing Aztec icons for my coloring book and writing on my second memoir. At last I’ve wrapped the latter up and have just added it to the growing list of my Writings. Note that I don’t copyright my writing; people shouldn’t have to pay to enjoy my art, graphic or literary. So I post it for free download and avoid noxious commercialism. The more folks to read or see my work the better. Or to do something with it if they so feel like…

LORD WIND is the memoir of my second coming out in Milwaukee in 1970. My first coming out was in New Orleans in 1961 (in the gay Stone Age when we lived in caves of secrecy), and I’ve written about my unusual life as a gay man both in my (semi-fictional) novels BAT IN A WHIRLWIND and DIVINE DEBAUCH and in my first (also semi-fictional) memoir THERE WAS A SHIP. The latter (1964-66), was my scandalous tale of going back into the closet.

Now the purely non-fictional LORD WIND (1970-72), picks up again after years of wedlock when I escaped from my cage—and discovered that gay life had evolved into a (Post-Stonewall) Neolithic Era. As a former French Quarter faerie/slut, and now a divorced father and esoteric scholar of 28, I had to deal with the realities of the strange gay “civilization” and make a new life for myself in it.

Richard Balthazar in December, 1970–newly come out for the second time

No longer an outlaw, I still wasn’t exactly socially condoned, but in the new gay atmosphere of openness and promiscuity, I quickly found romantic/sexual entanglements to complicate life. In those two years I learned a heck of a lot about loving men and several hard lessons in maturity.

I’m trying a new format with this book on the web—for ease of access. The webpage is actually its Title page and chapter list, and each can be directly accessed through its link. No more bulky .pdf files of entire texts. I’ll try to convert the others to it too. Early on I issued each chapter of BAT IN A WHIRLWIND separately in blogposts, so that one will be easy to convert.

Wrapping up this book is a really great feeling for me. With it I’ve now built a four-volume saga (epic?) of my life from innocent adolescent through lascivious, debauched youth and responsible, though philandering, husband to a maybe more mature, but at least way more experienced, gay man of 30. This is gay ancient history according to moi… Now I can start the third memoir covering the 70s in Washington DC. In many ways that decade was a Classic Age of gay life and DC an epicenter, and I was right in the middle of it.

However, before I write a word of it, I’ve got to make some good progress on the next icon (#20) of the God of Storms, Tlaloc. While on that subject, you’ll notice that I simply had to use my drawing of Ehecatl, Aztec God of the Wind as a most appropriate title image for LORD WIND.

BTW, my YE GODS! Show is still under lockdown at the Ohkay Conference Center. There’s nothing else I can do with it, so why not?

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A New Human Age

Maria Branyas, survivor

In isolation at a care-home in Spain where she’s been living for 20 years, Maria Branyas (113) survived Covid-19. For The Guardian, she reflected on what the world may look like after the pandemic: “…I think nothing will be the same again, and don’t think about redoing, recovering, rebuilding. It will have to be done all over again and differently. … You need a new order, a change in the hierarchy of values and priorities, a New Human Age…”

The old order which Maria rejects is, of course, the economic system that informs and directs society. But the Oxford Dictionary defines “economy” as: 1) “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services” and 2) “careful management of available resources.” Note no mention here of an “order” or “system,” and “management” is simply an undefined process.

Our old order has been in place for millennia. Ever since humans lived in trees, on savannahs, or in caves, there’s been only one rule for management of resources: Take what you can get and keep it. The sole modus operandi for humanity’s economic activity has been private enterprise.

Since absolutely forever, private enterprise has been the only game in town. Political systems will sometimes tweak the rules—and simply complicate matters and magnify existing inequities and injustices. Maria is totally correct about doing it all over again and differently. We don’t need to change the rules of the old game but to start a whole new ball-game!

As the old order, private enterprise has now outlived its effectiveness for managing resources and providing for the common good. In a new ball-game, the wealth and resources of countries or regions can no longer be private property of individuals but public property. And the people can manage their resources themselves, with benefits accruing to the public at large.

A new order of public enterprise and benefit can focus on the common good, supporting, embodying and perfecting democracy. Vigorously and very likely violently opposed by the entrenched old order, such a systemic switch of values and priorities for a “New Human Age” will not come easily. And I’m certainly not the one to say how to make it happen.

After the pandemic devastates economically all but the (corporate) elite, for at least a decade, they say, the old order will try to redo, recover and rebuild. Fantasizing about a future on a global, monopolistic scale, the obsolete system of private enterprise will surely prove even less productive of common good then with the world’s population essentially infinite in number.

If it doesn’t kill us first, this wretched pandemic ironically offers us a now-or-never opportunity to birth a New Human Age. At this unprecedented crux in human history, maybe we can at last create a truly humane society.

Let’s do it!

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Aztec Lords of the Night

After finishing Icon #19 for my coloring book, and before jumping on the next one, I’ve been plugging along on another Aztec project, this one in color! Some time ago I decided to “re-create” the calendar from 16th-century Codex Rios, apparently a slightly later Italian copy of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Both of them offer fairly crude versions of deities and day-signs, with Rios tending to be at least a little more “artistic,” and both present the ceremonial count of days in disjointed pieces. So my re-creation will also be a re-construction.

In Codices Borgia and Vaticanus, the 13-day week (trecena) is laid out simply with ruling deities and the day-count. In Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin, the Lords of the Day and Night are included, but hard to differentiate, as well as their totem birds, mostly of dubious species.

Codices Rios and Telleriano-Remensis accompany the day-count and patron deities only with the nine Lords of the Night in a super-cycle that takes some centuries to complete. In sequence, the Lords of the Night preside over the nights of each calendar day and at the same time, in sequence, they preside over each of the nine hours of those nights.

Forgive me for saying this, but in these two related calendars, the images of the Lords are really sloppy, even slap-dash, though the deities are drawn with consistent, if careless, motifs. It would be rude to show you the original images of those abused Lords of the Night. Instead, refining their iconographic details, I’ve re-created them with more realistic faces in the style of Codices Fejervary-Mayer and/or Laud.

You can check them all out in greater detail in my Aztec pantheon, but here are some artist’s notes on these Lords of the Night.

1st Lord: Xiuhtecuhtli—Lord of the Turquoise/(Fire). Perhaps he has a red mouth from eating fire? The peaked headdress and red ribbon are standard emblems.

2nd Lord: Itztli—Obsidian. He’s a nagual (manifestation) of Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror. Again, I don’t know what the standard black markings on his face signify, but those things in his “hat” are sacrificial flint knives.

3rd Lord: Pilzintecuhtli—Young Lord. God of the planet Mercury, he is also a “sun-lord” as shown by the sun in his headdress. I can’t explain his golden hair, but all the Lords’ hair-colors are inexplicably the same as these in the earlier, purely Mexican codex.

4th Lord: Centeotl—God of Maize. Check out the cobs of maize in his headdress.

5th Lord: Mictlantecuhtli—Lord of the Land of the Dead. In this most appealing image I’ve ever found of the death-god, the black lower face is standard. (The pointy thing in the headdress is reminiscent of the regalia of the god Itztlacoliuhqui.)

6th Lord: Chalchiuhtlicue—Jade Skirt. She’s the ancestral Great Goddess from ancient Teotihuacan.

7th Lord: Tlazolteotl—Goddess of Filth. Her mouth is black from eating people’s filth/sins. I can’t identify the tasseled objects in her headdress.

8th Lord: Tepeyollotl—Heart of the Mountain. His tri-color face (and yellow hair) are standard features for this god in these calendars.

9th Lord: Tlaloc—God of Storms. His goggle-eyed, long-toothed visage is emblematic in most codex contexts.

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Totems of the Aztec Lords of the Day

In Aztec culture, notions of time are central and perhaps inordinately important in terms of fate. Life was embedded in and permeated by strict divisions of divinatory time, starting with the agricultural and ceremonial calendars, in which respectively the 20 named days of the “month” were counted in 13 numbered days of the “week” (trecena). The basic division of the day was, of course, between day and night (with Cipactonal as god of the daytime and Oxomoco as goddess of the nighttime). This is where things get strange from our modern perspective.

Having no clocks per se, the Aztecs decided there were 13 “hours” in the daytime and 9 in the night. Probably with only an amorphous measure for a “minute,” I doubt they even thought about an Aztec “second.” Their 22-hour diurnal cycle meant their hour was in our terms almost 65½ minutes long. Thus their day lasts 14.18 and night 9.82 of our hours. It would be interesting to compare those figures with average periods of light and dark at the latitude of Mexico City.

Anyway, there’s a deity in charge of each day of the week, 13 gods or goddesses called Lords of the Day. With significant exceptions, most Lords are also considered patrons of their specific numbers, and though I’ve not seen any references to this, I’d bet that the same Lords rule the respective 13 daytime hours.

I say this because the 9 nighttime hours have rulers. The nine Lords of the Night are (in order): Xiuhtecuhtli, Itztli, Piltzintecuhtli, Centeotl, Mictlantecuhtli, Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlazolteotl, Tepeyollotl, and Tlaloc. (You can look them up in my Aztec Pantheon.) Surely the daytime hours were also ruled in order by the Lords of the Day. However, sources disagree about the ruling deities for some of the numbers/days.

What we do know for sure is the totems for the Lords of the Day (whoever they really are) and their connection to specific numbers. These totems are called in the jargon “volatiles” because they’re things that fly: birds and a butterfly. (Apparently other deities also have volatiles, like the bat or vulture of Itzpapalotl, but I’m not all that up on the finer details of Aztec ornithology.) Here are my versions of the volatile totems for the 13 Lords of the Day, days of the week, and I extrapolate, daytime hours—drawn on models from Codex Borgia.

Totems of the Lords of the Day

It could be fun chasing down the exact species of Totems 1 through 4: There are simply scads of hummingbird, hawk, and quail types in Mexico—and several eagles for Totems 5 and 8. I like seeing the Screech and Horned Owls differentiated and the distinctive Turkey, Macaw, Quetzal and Parrot. That Butterfly (Totem 7) has to be the most unusual one I’ve ever seen. Is there a lepidopterist in the house?

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Icon #19 – TEZCATLIPOCA, the Smoking Mirror

I’m happy to announce the completion of Icon #19 – Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror. Once again, the designs and motifs in this icon are drawn from images in the surviving pre-Conquest Aztec codices. It and the preceding 18 icons can be downloaded as .pdf files with captions from the YE GODS! coloring book page.

Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror

First, I should offer some tips for coloring if you’re so inclined:

1) The black stripes on the faces of the upper left and right figures should be paired with yellow, which is the emblematic color-scheme for this deity; in the original, the upper central figure is mostly white with a few color highlights—at your discretion.

2) All those sacrificial knives (flints) in the borders are supposed to be half white and half red, in whatever pattern you choose.

3) The patterns on the limbs and face of the main figure are supposed to be red tattoos; I should also note that in the original he has brown hair.

4) The hair-like figure flowing from the head of the monster should be red blood as well as the apparent stream from the deity’s severed leg. The rest of the colors are up to you.

The horned owl at top center is Tezcatlipoca’s personal “volatile” symbol (many deities have one). The upper figures are some of his various manifestations. The main scene is the story of the god’s battle with the Earth Monster (Cipactli) in which he lost a foot and then created the First Sun (or world), Four Jaguar, on her back. The day-signs along the bottom are those representing the direction North, with Jaguar numbered as four to name the Sun being created just above. The dots along the side are the numeral 10, of which Tezcatlipoca is patron, and they also indicate that he is the 10th lord of the Day.

That should be enough to get you going. As soon as I can, I’ll post the icon on the coloring book page in vectors so it can be sized freely with no change in line quality. Now, when I’ve caught my breath, I’ll move on to Icon #20 – Tlaloc, the Storm God.

Visions of Tezcatlipoca

In the couple months since my last posting about the Maid in New Orleans, my self-incarceration for the Corona virus has made it easy to focus on the last chapters of my second memoir “Lord Wind” (soon to be posted for free download), and drawing on Icon #19: Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, for the coloring book YE GODS!

Like the 18 previous deities in the series, this icon is modelled on images from the few surviving Aztec codices and reflects the mythology summarized in my illustrated encyclopedia of the Aztec pantheon. The icon will present several visions of Tezcatlipoca, who is sometimes called The Black One. I offer here two of the vignettes as “teasers.”

The first is Tezcatlipoca as an eagle, which is based on an image from a calendar week in Codex Rios. I’ve re-created this unusual manifestation of the deity using the stylistics of Codex Nuttall and certain motifs from Codex Borgia. (The eagle is a symbol of power and dominance.)

Tezcatlipoca as eagle

The second is Tezcatlipoca manifesting as Itztlacoliuhqui (Curved Obsidian Blade), who is the god of stone, cold, sin, punishment, objectivity, and blind justice. This surreal image is a re-working of one from Codex Borbonicus, though similar, sometimes even more surreal, details can be found in other codices as well. It presents some striking innovations in the stylebook of Aztec iconography and raises questions about certain motifs. Your guess about what they mean is as good as mine.

Tezcatlipoca as Itztlacoliuhqui

One of these solitary days I’ll finish this icon. I’m still waiting for some final tweaks on the vectors for Icon #18: Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers. Meanwhile, like everything else, my show of larger icons at the Ohkay Casino and Conference Center has been locked down… In this “unprecedented” viral situation, the show of smaller icons lies in storage with no prospective venues.

I have no options but to keep on with the drawing—next will be Tlaloc, the Storm God—and like Candide, work in my garden. My 35 varieties of iris are just now coming into bloom to bring joy to this best of all possible worlds.

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