YE GODS! There Was a Ship…

It’s been a couple (few?) months since I raised a big whoop about my show of black and white Aztec icons (for a coloring book), and that’s what mostly has occupied me lo that many moons.

Richard Balthazar at opening of YE GODS!

Actually, June and July at my show were splendid! YE GODS! opened on June 1 with a wonderful crowd.  There was delicious food (catered by my old Backstreet Bistro and spa buddy David Jacoby and his wife Melanie as our lovely “soda server”) and a marvelous group of female dancers, Danza Azteca, who blessed the icons (and me) and danced ceremonies around a big Aztec drum (the huehuetl).  They even got some in the crowd to join in a friendship dance.

Throughout the run of the show I spent a couple hours each afternoon at El Museo Cultural (de Santa Fe), just to be there and talk to visitors—but also to give the inexhaustible Maria Martinez a bit of a break from staffing the gallery to attend to her many other duties around the nearly 2-acre cultural facility. She is the peaceful animus of the Museo, and I am deeply grateful for all her help and encouragement.

Entrance of Danza Azteca: David Jacoby and Maria Martinez on left, Concha Garcia y Allen center

By the way, the above photos are to be credited to my friend Seth Roffman, who is editor of “Greenfire Times.”

Visitation at the show was steady, even without publicity during July. I greatly enjoyed meeting folks of all walks—and bending their ears about the icons, their mythology, and elements of history.  In particular, I stressed that only one icon in the show was actually a genuine Aztec deity (Huitzilopochtli).  The rest were from long before the arrival of the Mexica (Aztecs), who simply adopted the culture, mythology, and cosmology of the peoples living there already.

What I enjoyed most of all was the series of 15 lectures I slapped together and delivered off the top of my head. Half were about the Aztec codices (picture books), showing pages and discussing their mythology, iconography, and social implications.  The other half were focused on cultural and historical subjects that went from Aztec-specific through general Mesoamerican to all the Americas and then into probable interactions between those societies. I was blessed to have a corps of several interested listeners who came to most of my talks.  After the finale on Codex Vindobonensis, six of them took me out to dinner, and we had a long, leisurely chat about our lives—and of course, some follow-up questions about the whole Aztec thing.

Now that it is over and the icons are stored in my garage, I’m intending to approach many places here in NM and around the country (and internationally?) about hanging YE GODS! It’s a fantastic educational (informational) show, after all, and I’d offer it to presenters free (charging only for the minimal shipping).  I’d also be available to do my scalable series of lectures (for expenses), and presenters could sell the separate prints for coloring.  WHAT A DEAL!

#

Meanwhile, several other things transpired. Most must wait for later posts, but I’ve totally got to let you know right now about another BIG DEAL!  My cousin visited, and when she decided to read my memoir THERE WAS A SHIP, we discovered that there was no link from the web-page to the text.  Two years ago (!) I’d posted a blog (Gay Memoir Redux) with a link to it, but neglected to link it to the page.  Mortified, I corrected the situation immediately.  Now you can go to the text of my memoir from its drop-down page, just like from here.

#

News about MORE BIG DEALS as soon as I can get around to announcing them!

#

BIG WHOOP!

Time to make BIG WHOOPEE!  After plugging away for over four years at drawing Aztec gods and goddesses for my coloring book, I’m having an exhibition of my fifteen epiphanies!

Here’s the flyer for the show with dates, location, and all that.

The large-scale icons (3’ x 4’) are black and white drawings, but I’ve put my colorful patron god Xochipilli on the flyer, poster, and show-banner to catch the eye. And of course, the Flower Prince has been my “insignia” for a long time, including on the banner for this website.

I know you all can’t come to Santa Fe for this art event of the century, but maybe some… In any case, let all your social media know about this great opportunity to see bona fide weirdness!

Aztec Icon #15 – QUIAHUITL, God of Rain

I’ve just checked the date when I posted Icon #14, Quetzalcoatl, for my serialized coloring book YE GODS! and must hang my head in shame that it’s taken me nearly six months to finish Icon #15, Quiahuitl, God of Rain. I understand that nobody out there has been waiting with baited breath to see my latest work of genius, but I managed to draw the earlier deities much more quickly, 14 of them in 3 ½ years.  My excuses are that this past winter I spent a lot of time on my second memoir, and for what it’s worth, this icon turned out to be just about as detailed as Icon #11, Ocelotl (Jaguar).  There’s a lot going on in it.

Quiahuitl, God of Rain

This icon is available as 8X10 with a caption/sources page by clicking here.

In the central image, Quiahuitl {kee-a-hweetł} is shown emerging from the Underworld, rising up out of the maw of the Earth Monster.  The Aztecs understood that moisture mysteriously rises from the earth to the sky (the crest across the top), where the god turns it into rain.  Every locale had its own Quiahuitl to conjure and appease, as indicated by drops falling on trees which symbolize the cardinal directions.

Quiahuitl is of crucial importance to the cultivation of maize, and the lower panel is a homage to that crop. In the center, the plant grows out of another Earth Monster, and on it perches a mythical bird, which is actually a motif inherited from the ancient Maya, Itzamnaaj—the Bird of the Sun.  Just above it is another nod to the Maya, the head of a centipede which they saw as the face of the Underworld.  On the left is Chicomecoatl (Seven Snake), chief of the several goddesses of maize, and on the right is Centeotl, the main god of maize.

But that’s not all. The four big dots indicate that the god is also a day-sign in the ritual calendar, Four Rain (Nahui Quiahuitl).  You’ve already seen the same thing in the icons of Four Water, Four Wind, and Four Jaguar.  I haven’t yet made it alphabetically to the god Tonatiuh and Four Earthquake, the Fifth Sun, our current era.

Anyway, Four Rain is the day-name of the earlier Third Sun (era), a paradise ruled by the Storm God Tlaloc. However, when Tezcatlipoca abducted his wife Xochiquetzal, Tlaloc destroyed that world in a rain of fire.  Its poor humans were turned into butterflies, birds, dogs, and turkeys—which I rather doubt was a great deal of help in the rain of fire.

As I said before, there’s a lot going on in this icon, and there were times I wondered if I was ever going to complete it. Besides, all these past months we’ve been suffering severe drought, and I started to fear it was because I hadn’t finished the god’s icon.  Well, I finally did it last night—and it still hasn’t rained!  I’ve done what I could…

This morning I fired #15 off to my digital wizard in Bangladesh to be turned into a vector drawing, which will be added to the coloring book page.  Then it will follow the other 14 to my print shop. At Santa Fe Signs & Images, they’re being printed on 3’ x 4’ vinyl banners for my upcoming exhibition.

NEWS FLASH!

I’ve recently arranged to have a show of my coloring book pages to be called YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities.  It will be at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, opening June 1, 2018 and running through July 29.  There’s much to be done in preparation, of course, and I’ve at least gotten calendar listings out to the media.

Now come the million details, and I seriously doubt that I’ll even get started on Icon #16, Tecciztecatl, God of the Moon, till later in the summer. According to the original project plan, I’ve still got 11 icons to go, which at this rate will take a minimum of three more years, maybe four.  What the hell!  I’ll only be 80!

###

Aztec Gods of the Directions

For the past three weeks I’ve backed off from writing on my next memoir and working on the next Aztec icon (Quiahuitl, God of Rain). Irresponsibly wasting my creative time on a project shelved about thirty years ago, I goofed off by finally wrapping up my Aztec calendar playing cards which I call Tonalli (Days).  Basically, it was a three-week working vacation.

The Aztec Turquoise Year or tonalpohualli (count of days) is based on four sets of thirteen, quite but not quite like the suits of thirteen in a regular 52-card deck.  The difference is that the calendar has eight intersecting suits, which blows standard poker probabilities out of the water.  The other four suits are color-based for the four cardinal directions:  red—East; black—North; white—West; and blue—South.  The four intersecting suits are defined by the patron god of each direction.

The intersection of suits is created by the Aztecs’ curious system of counting the days across the suits. It’s like counting:  One Club, Two Diamonds, Three Hearts, Four Spades, Five Clubs, Six Diamonds, etc.  If that doesn’t compute for you, try laying out a standard deck in those four sequences, and you’ve got four more suits.  If that’s not clear, I’m sorry.  I can’t explain it any better.

The Four Tonalli Aces

Taken from Codex Laud, the twenty day-signs have only been slightly color-adjusted. Aztec numerals are simply the respective number of dots, so the single dot means “Ace.”  The deuce has two dots, etc.  There are no “face” cards, just elevens, twelves, and thirteens.

So, after a mere thirty years it would seem that my work here is done. If anybody out there would like to produce this unique deck of cards and merchandise/market it, grab that ball and run with it.  You’re welcome to it.  I’ve got plenty other Aztec fish to fry (icons to draw).  Just let me know at rbalthazar@msn.com.

Since the images on the above cards are so small, here are larger versions of the directional gods:

Aztec Gods of the Directions

Tezcatlipoca is in the style of Codex Borgia and only slightly reworked from my earlier version in the book Celebrate Native America. The other three are adapted from Codex Borbonicus.  You can check out the deities’ descriptions in my YE GODS! encyclopedia.

In another way, these directional deities form a sort of divine quartet. Tezcatlipoca, The Black One, was perhaps the ‘greatest,’ as the other three were often seen as his manifestations.  Per the traditional colors of the directions, Xipe Totec was called the Red Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl the White Tezcatlipoca, and Huitzilopochtli the Blue Tezcatlipoca.

Speaking of the White Tezcatlipoca, I’ve taken the liberty of colorizing Quetzalcoatl (image from my Aztec Icon #14) as a blond, bearded individual because there are legendary rumors to that effect. Curiously, beards aren’t all that unusual in Aztec iconography, and in the ancient codices one sees many shades of skin color, including black, and various physiognomies, which may indicate a mix of races in the early Mexican population.  An intriguing proposition.

#

Mesoamerican Influences in Mississippi

Recently recalling the artistic themes and concepts I’d encountered in my old artifact drawings in my Gallery of Pre-Columbian Artifacts, I decided to gather examples of probable influence of Mesoamerica on the Mississippian civilization in North America. But first I needed to update my collection of artifacts using Google Images.  In the intervening 25 years a lot of new things had been found.

Coming upon an incised shell gorget (a disc of conch shell worn on a cord round the neck) provided me with a true Eureka Moment:

Fifth Sun gorget – AL

Since I’d also spent some 30 years working on the art and mythology of Central Mexico, I instantly recognized the designs in the band  encircling the very Mississippian-style head.  They are standard Mexican day-signs from their ceremonial calendar and virtually identical to those in Codex Fejervary-Mayer:

Day-signs, Codex Fejervary-Mayer

One of the few Mexican manuscripts to survive the Conquest’s book-burning, the Codex is believed to have come from the area of Veracruz, but the calendrical day-signs usually only varied slightly in codices from other cultural areas of Central Mexico.

As hieroglyphs, these day-signs also convey other information. Crocodile is the first day of the 20-day month, and Flower is the last.  (Why are there two of them?)  All I can read into Vulture is that it’s the day right before Earthquake.  But the four Earthquake signs are eloquent. In traditional Mexican cosmology, Four Earthquake is the ceremonial day-name of the current Fifth Sun (or Era).  So the head on the gorget is most likely that of the Mexican god of the Fifth Sun, whom the much later Aztecs called Tonatiuh.  He is familiar as the face in the center of the Stone of the Suns, which is itself the decorative day-sign/name of the Fifth Sun.

This is unambiguous and conclusive evidence of Mesoamerican influence in Mississippi!  Still, I do have to wonder about the three lines on the apparent deity’s face.  In Mexican codices they are most frequently encountered on the goddess of flowing water, Chalchiuhtlicue, the Jade Skirt.  But this face doesn’t look like a female, which in any case is rarely, if ever, encountered in Mississippian art.

This Fifth Sun gorget was found by Charles H. Worley, an employee of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930’s and 40’s who salvaged artifacts from mound sites soon to be flooded by the many dams to be built by the TVA, specifically in the Muscle Shoals area of northwestern Alabama.

Mr. Worley also left ethnographic notes from his Chickasaw associates about their legend of originally being “Toltecs” from Old Mexico who migrated into the Tennessee River Valley.  Don’t be misled by the reference to “Toltecs.” The term here is more indicative of the time period (ca. 900 – 1,200 CE) when that militaristic culture based in Tula (in Anahuac) and Chichen Itza (in Yucatan) controlled much of Mexico.  Many other sophisticated cultures lived in Old Mexico at that time, including the Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Huastecs, and so on.

When the Toltecs invaded the area of Veracruz (per Wikipedia), most of the indigenous Totonacs fled north to Cempoala, but at least one group of refugees evidently continued to trek north along the Gulf Coast, across the Mississippi River, and up into the Tennessee River Valley.

As migrations go (like the Indo-Europeans, Mongols, Huns, and such nomads out of central Asia, or for that matter, Asiatics from Siberia all the way down to Tierra del Fuego), this was simply a hop, skip, and jump.  In addition, there are many good reasons to believe that many people of other Mexican cultures also fled from their Toltec conquerors north into the Mississippi Valley, including Mayans driven out of their magnificent cities of Chichen Itza and Mayapan.  In fact, there was probably a mass exodus.

But then I had a second Eureka! moment.  I googled up another gorget called simply “Muskogee Creek,” suggesting a provenance also in the Tennessee River Valley, with a dramatically Mexican image:

Turkey Gorget – AL

The turkey was the important Mexican symbol of war and military glory, as in the later Aztecs’ god Chalchiuhtotolin, the Jade Turkey.  In my studies of the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Borgia (both from Puebla), I’d often wondered what a strange protrusion out of the turkey’s breast might be.

Turkey, Codex Vaticanus

Definitely unnatural, that plume (?) has to be iconically significant of something, and here I found it again on a turkey from Alabama.   Meanwhile, another gorget from Tennessee presents the quintessentially Mexican motif of the anthropomorphic jaguar:

Jaguar Man gorget – TN

In the codices (primarily Bodley, Nuttall, and Vindobonensis–all three of Mixtec origin), there are many images of traditional Mexican Jaguar Warriors of the Night.

Jaguar Knight, Codex Vindobonensis

The artist of the Tennessee example clearly had the concept down pat but just as clearly wasn’t familiar with the real pattern of a jaguar’s pelt.  (Nor did the Mexicans manage to illustrate realistically the creature’s rows of rosette designs.) Several other Mississippian gorgets with jaguars also show fanciful patterns for the feline which by then and there must have become a purely mythical creature.

Above and beyond their shared tradition of earthworking, these few artistic artifacts alone are more than enough to convince me of a significant Mesoamerican cultural contribution to North America’s Mississippian civilization.

#

 

Aztec Icon #14 – QUETZALCOATL, Plumed Serpent

Sorry to take so long to finish the 14th icon for my coloring book YE GODS!  My work was delayed by that time-consuming thing called life.  Anyway, the icon’s done and my digital wizard has turned it into vector drawings for free sizing.  Here you have the most famous Aztec deity of all, QUETZALCOATL, the Plumed Serpent:

Quetzalcoatl, Plumed Serpent

QUETZALCOATL (Plumed Serpent) {ke-tsal-ko-atł} is the god of intelligence, learning, writing, arts and crafts, the calendar, priests, and merchants and was the bringer of maize to mankind.  Opposed to human sacrifice, he is called the White Tezcatlipoca and is the 9th lord of the day and god of the West. As the planet Venus, he is known as Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the morning star, and his twin Xolotl is the evening star.  He ruled the Second Sun (Four Wind) and created the current Fifth Sun (Four Earthquake) by using his own blood to give new life to the bones in Mictlan.  He was known as Kukulcan to the Maya and a major deity in Teotihuacan, and Quetzalcoatl was the traditional name/title of the Toltec rulers of Tula.

This icon is available as 8X10 with a caption/sources page by clicking here.  The freely sizable vector versions are available by clicking here.

By way of explaining this new icon, I must first thank Eliseo Rosales, a tattoo artist in California, for his suggestions, particularly for the design on the pedestal and for the important theme of maize.

The central figure of Quetzalcoatl is based on an image from Codex Borbonicus with details of costume and accoutrements mostly from Codex Magliabechiano, though the serpent on his back is adapted from those on the Stone of the Suns. Don’t be surprised by his beard, which occurs in other codex images:  According to some, he was supposedly blond and white-skinned.

In his left hand, the deity holds the weapon known as Xiuhcoatl (Fire Serpent), and on his shield is his standard ‘cross’ symbol. His peaked cap of jaguar pelt is apparently a Huastec influence.  Sprouting from his forehead is a ritual ‘blooming shinbone,’ the significance of which escapes me.  The numeral by his left foot is Nine, of which he is the patron, and the day-sign One Reed directly over his head is his ceremonial day-name.

Now for the other motifs. The pedestal, as mentioned above, illustrates the depth of the history of the Plumed Serpent.  It comes from the frieze on the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in Xochicalco (c. 1000 AD), which was a city/culture that arose in the aftermath of the Classic civilizations of the Maya and Teotihuacan.  As evidence of his even deeper history, the two heads flanking his day-name are views of sculptures on the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in Teotihuacan (c. 600 AD).  The paired feathered serpents on his either side are taken from Codex Borbonicus and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, and the paired quetzal birds are merely grace-notes.

The border design is adapted from one of his images in Codex Telleriano-Remensis. The day-signs embedded in it represent the ceremonial calendar which the deity brought into Mexico in the dim past.  Each group of five days represents a direction in the Aztecs’ odd world-view.  At the bottom is West, of which he is the patron.  At the top is East, on the left North, and on the right South, the standard Aztec spatial orientation as it was also for the Maya.

Drawn respectively from the Cospi, Vaticanus, and Borgia codices, the standing deities in the upper section are: on the left, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Lord of the House of Dawn (as the Morning Star), on the right Xolotl (as the Evening Star), and at the top his nagual (manifestation) as Ehecatl, God of the Wind.

In the upper corners are scenes representing his gift of maize to mankind. On the left is Tlaloc, the Storm (Rain) God, nurturing the goddess of maize Chicomecoatl, and on the right is the goddess of flowing water Chalchiuhtlicue tending the god of maize Centeotl.

That’s all the mythology I could manage to cram into this icon. Surely it’s enough.

#

Another note of interest about Quetzalcoatl. In the September, 2017 issue of ANCIENT AMERICAN magazine, my article just appeared entitled “The Plumed Serpent in North America.”  Click here to check out a copy.

My Jubilee

Recently having turned 75, I think that respectable age qualifies for a jubilee celebration. At least I’m jubilant.  To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I had a portrait taken by the talented local photographer Carolyn Wright of the Photography Studio.  For the first time ever, I must say that this picture does me justice, and I’ve already featured it on my homepage.

Richard Balthazar, Writer and Artist

I jubilate in celebration of my many blessings:

First, having grown up, had a family, and gotten old in this country (USA)—where I’ve been ostensibly free, in spite of spending most of my life as an outlaw (gay), and could make a reasonable living doing what I like (arts, education, horticulture…). That covers many bases.

Next, having been in extraordinarily good health all my life. There have been a few medical emergencies and curable conditions, but especially in these later years I seem to have crafted a very healthful diet and regimen of physical activity (gym and dancing).  I try not to be too proud of my deceptively youthful (and handsome) appearance above and am more than happy to tell anyone my anti-aging secret (Kombucha).

Also, having had such exciting experiences, like trips all over around this country and into Canada and Mexico, fascinating festivals (esp. Mardi Gras and lots of Gay Pride celebrations), and wonderful performances by fantastic artists. I’ve lived a culturally rich life style.

On this my jubilee, I also jubilate big time over the exceptional things I’ve accomplished, though they may not have made me rich or famous. My jubilee is the perfect time to toot my own horn—since nobody else is going to.  So here goes:  Toot!

  1. Won an essay contest in high school (1958) and represented Arkansas representative at the First National Youth Conference on the Atom in Atlantic City. I still have my essay on atomic energy, and its blue-ink penmanship still reads intelligently, if archaically.
  2. Sailed gaily through college at Tulane in the early 1960’s with a double major in Russian and French Quarter debauchery and made Phi Beta Kappa.
  3. Wrote a Master’s thesis and a few doctoral dissertations in the later 60’s, contributing exactly nothing to world knowledge, but they got me a job teaching at a university.
  4. Appeared in theatrical productions: ballet (peasant in Coppelia, 1970), play (sailor in The Tempest, 1971), and operas (extra in Prokofiev’s War and Peace at Wolftrap, 1975, and supernumerary cardinal in Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys, 1980, on Broadway, no less).
  5. Coached the Paul Hill Chorale to sing Kabalevsky’s Requiem in Russian at the Kennedy Center In 1975 and translated for the composer in interviews and social occasions.
  6. Was a stage interpreter with the Bolshoi Opera in Lincoln and Kennedy Centers In 1976 and got to watch their repertoire many times over (from down-stage left).
  7. Translated Tchaikovsky’s opera Maid of Orleans into English for productions by the Canadian Opera Company, 1978, and Detroit Opera Theatre, 1979. This was my first truly artistic achievement, a triumph of rhymed triplets in iambic pentameter. Toot-toot!  I’ve included a poetical excerpt in my Public Library for your enjoyment.
  8. Wrote the play The Special Case, a detective drama drawn from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, which was produced by the Santa Fe Community Theatre in 1990 and ran for two weeks to no reviews. An actor praised it as “a Russian Colombo.” Yes.  It can be read (and is available free for production) in my Public Library.
  9. Discovered the suppressed subject of the Indian Mounds, spent about 15 years researching them, and finally published Remember Native America, a mound travelogue, in 1992. It has since been superseded by much more research and revision of timelines, but all the same, it’s available here for free download.
  10. Discovered the neglected subject of the Aztec calendar, spent some five years drawing, and published Celebrate Native America, a new book of days, in 1993 with my artwork and an abortive attempt to proclaim a Sixth Sun, also available here for free download.
  11. Created a unique and exciting profession in 1997, spending 15 years as the Used Plant Man  (or the Iris Man in summer), a plant recycler at the Farmers Market, maybe not an artistic achievement, but I spread beautiful iris all over town. Good enough.
  12. Built an innovative greenhouse in 2000, a semi-subterranean, ecologically efficient structure for raising cacti, succulents, and ornamentals for market. Again maybe not artistic, but it was definitely an architectural achievement .
  13. Wrote the novella Bat in a Whirlwind (over about 30 years), an autobiographical story of almost coming out in the backwoods, published electronically on this website, 2015. Click here for free download.
  14. Wrote the novel Divine Debauch (over maybe 25 years), fictionalizing my dissolute years in the French Quarter, published by AuthorHouse.com , 2005. It really needs a rewrite, but I haven’t the energy or time. Meanwhile, it’s still a great gay read.
  15. Wrote the handbook Getting Get, a glossary of the English verb, (after 40 years of linguistic research), published by AuthorHouse.com , 2006, but also available electronically for free by clicking here.  Frankly, it’s my work of genius.
  16. Wrote the memoir There Was a Ship covering my time in in Seattle (1965-66), published electronically on this website, 2016. Click here for free download. It’s the story of a gay man going (kicking and screaming) back into the closet.
  17. Wrote the biography Ms. Yvonne, the secret life of my mother, published electronically on this website, 2016. Click here for free download. It was fascinating detective work and much photo restoration to uncover the life of a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.
  18. Wrote the unique reference on the Aztecs, YE GODS! an illustrated encyclopedia of deities, an essay on the surviving Pre-Conquest codices, and a coloring book of thirteen of my icon drawings based on images in the codices, published electronically on this website, 2017. Click here for free download of the separate sections.

Goodness! That was almost a whole horn concerto of jubilee toots.

 

I won’t be able toot about anything else for a while. I’ve only just begun a second memoir, this one about gay life in the carefree 1970’s, and there are still 13 more icons to draw for YE GODS!  You’ll be the first to hear about any new achievements.