A Roar of Jaguars

In the past few years, I’ve realized that, in the Native American tradition, I seem to have an animal totem, the jaguar. This past year when I started my second memoir, I understood my deep connection to this apex predator of the Americas and included an illustration:

My Totem Jaguar

I also realized that this magnificent feline has been lurking in my background for at least 35 years. At a yard sale I’d bought a carved-wood figurine and stashed it away as a curiosity.  Later I gave it as a birthday gift to a friend, who returned it explaining that there was some spirit in it which didn’t “resonate” with him.  Stashed away again, it sat on a shelf for decades—following me around to various domiciles.  Then about a year ago I recognized it for a jaguar-priest or shaman from some South or Meso-American tradition.

My Jaguar Priest Figurine

It suddenly made sense that this jaguar figurine was probably why some 30 years ago I’d gotten so involved in the Aztec milieu. I soon learned that this New World King of Beasts had originally roamed throughout most of the South and Meso-American jungles and even ranged north into the American Southwest (apparently now making a comeback in southern Arizona!).

I also learned that the noble jaguar was central to the mythologies of basically all the ancient civilizations of the New World (just as the lion was to those of the Old). First off, I found it in the Aztec calendar, as the 14th day of their agricultural month and in the second week of their ceremonial count of days (tonalpohualli).  Starting with the day Ce Ocelotl – One Jaguar (those with this birth day-name coincidentally being destined for sacrifice), that second week was under the patronage of the god Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.

I already knew that the Aztec ceremonial calendar had been more or less inherited from the much earlier Maya and then discovered that it, just like its patron deity, was also revered by the even earlier Olmec. Then about three years ago in considering that maybe the sacred calendar’s count of days had originated in the still earlier Chavín civilization in Peru, I learned that the jaguar was for them also a major deity, often seen as an ornate man-jaguar.  Do note this Chavín were-jaguar’s startling snake-locks!

Chavin Were-Jaguar

If my suggestion that the count of days originated at Chavín de Huantar is correct, that ritual (more like a religion), was carried north by trader-missionaries to populations along the Pacific coast. Ultimately they crossed the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and proselytized the Olmec with the sacred way of telling time.  While many surviving Olmec sculptures are of infant were-jaguars, I’ll show you their dramatic animal.

Olmec Jaguar

Coincidentally, earliest calendar lore has it being brought by a god, namely the Plumed Serpent, who was also the bringer of maize (and culture). Between the calendar, the jaguar, and this legendary civilizer deity, they had a rather well-rounded theosophy, even if some rituals might have involved sacrifices frowned on nowadays.

It’s now become reasonable to think that the early Maya were “civilizing” in Yucatan at much the same time as the Olmec were hard at it in Veracruz. More mercenary missionary work was probably what took the calendar to the Maya.  They hugely elaborated and ornamented the new “faith” with their own deities and even started writing about it in glyphs.

Along with calendar, the jaguar deity (B’alam) came to the Maya, but their representations of it were generally not anthropomorphized.  I found a spectacular relief at Chichen Itza on Google Images, apparently a repro in gold (!), that’s both naturalistic and stylized.  Not to gross you out, but I bet that’s a heart it’s holding in its paw and licking.

Mayan Jaguar from Chichen Itza

Of course, the third part of the religion was the Plumed Serpent, the civilizer deity whom they called Kukulcan (or Gugumatz).  This Triad then moved west and north to early Teotihuacan, where the Serpent likely became known as Quetzalcoatl, or maybe that was amongst the later Toltecs.  That calendar religion reigned across the centuries and other areas of Mexico, as shown by this jaguar totem from the Zapotecs, possibly a funerary urn.

Zapotec Jaguar

Eventually, the barbarian Aztecs came out of the north and adopted the local religion, and it came to be known and misunderstood as the “Aztec Calendar.” In their historical or genealogical picture-books, many of which were from other cultures like the Mixtec, the were-jaguar shows up as jaguar warriors.  These “jaguar-weres” were simply humans wearing jaguar pelts.

In their religious documents, the jaguar is generally depicted as a divine animal such as these two from Codex Borgia, (adjusted and adapted to prepare for drawings in my next icon).  By the way, those wavy figures represent the jaguar’s roar.

Jaguars from Codex Borgia

Modelling mine on the image on the left, several years ago as my first attempt at drawing on computer, I drew a jaguar with a realistically patterned pelt (and more aggressive demeanor). Intended to be the apotheosis of the Lord of the Animals, the drawing had to wait some three years to be enthroned in YE GODS! Icon #11 – OCELOTL.

My Jaguar–Lord of the Animals

But I’m not done with this roar of jaguars! Recalling that the historical range of the jaguar reached up into North America, there is the possibility that the creature may have been known, or at least recalled, by populations outside of the desert Southwest.  I’m talking about my other favorite topic, the Mississippian “civilization.”

I found a trace of the calendar and image of a heavily stylized man-jaguar in the Southeast and drew this fanciful animal below from a shell gorget (from Fairfield MO across the river from Cahokia) for a book on the Indian mounds.  (See my Gallery of Pre-Columbian Artifacts.)

Jaguar Gorget – Fairfield MO

In the magazine “Ancient American,” Vol. 21, No. 116, I wrote about the cult of the Plumed Serpent in North America, which shows that the trinity of Calendar-Jaguar-Serpent was a Pan-American “religion.”  Small wonder I feel the jaguar my totem—it’s the totem for all Americans.

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Ancient America-Asia Coincidences

Recently I came across two historical coincidences worthy of comment. Both may be archaeologically, or at least anthropologically, significant.

  1. The Rabbit in the Moon.

Readers should be advised that I’ve “studied” (more like “obsessed with”) things Mesoamerican for about 30 years now, and have become fairly conversant about their mythology and art, mainly of the Aztecs. More about that in a moment.

Some decades ago I learned that the Mesoamerican peoples saw a rabbit in the moon. This “moon rabbit” was famous amongst the early Maya, shown here with the moon goddess Ix Chel:

The image of a rabbit in the moon occurs in two of the surviving pre-Conquest Aztec codices (picture-books) and in one of the post-Conquest documents.

Aztec Rabbits in the Moon

Learning about this lunar bunny, I checked out the full moon and immediately saw it clearly. Before, I’d never really been able to see a face in the moon (the European tradition), and now I can see nothing but the rabbit.  In my Aztec obsession, I’ve spent the past several years drawing icons of their deities and am now working on the god of the moon, Tecciztecatl.  As a detail for that icon, I’ve concocted my own Moon Rabbit in an Aztec style and in the orientation I’ve scientifically observed.

Imagine my surprise when I read a book about Chinese myths and legends and discovered that the ancient Chinese also saw a rabbit in the moon. Under “Moon Rabbit” on Wikipedia, I learned that in their inscrutable oriental way, the image the Chinese saw was a rabbit facing to the right—and anthropomorphically using a mortar and pestle to pound herbs or medicines (that equipment occupying the area of my bunny’s bottom).

The entry advised that this traditional image also spread to Japan and Korea and added, “Legends of moon rabbits exist among some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.” Then the entry states categorically:  “These legends were not influenced by Asian cultures.”  This gratuitous pronouncement smacks of a polemical personal opinion designed to forestall any further discussion of the subject.  Typical…

Now, I’m not arguing that this coincidence necessarily shows any America-Asia connection. It’s quite reasonable that the two widely separated peoples could see the same familiar creature (in differing perspectives) in the Rorschach blur on the moon’s orb.  The bunny could well be a pure coincidence (though some say there are no coincidences).

  1. The Ten Suns

In the same book of Chinese myths and legends, one struck me as surpassingly surreal. The god of the eastern sky, Di Jun was the father of ten suns [sic!] which took turns crossing the sky on each of the ten days of the week.  But they got bored with the routine and one day decided to ride in their chariots all together across the sky, which heat caused great damage to the earth and its creatures.  Unable to make his suns behave properly, Di Jun summoned the Divine Archer Yi and gave him a magic bow and arrows to make the suns resume their rotating duties.  Yi shot down nine of them, leaving only one to cross the sky every day.  That solution greatly distressed Di Jun, who condemned Yi to live a mortal life.  Curious tale…

A few months later I read a book called “Native American Myths and Legends,” which was published by Arcturus Publishing Ltd. in London (2017). The stories were recorded by a range of different writers/ethnographers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The story that stopped me in my tracks was attributed to a tribe called “Shastika” and taken from a book by Katharine Berry Judson, “Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest (1912). That tribe from northern California/southern Oregon is now called simply Shasta or Shastan and logically relates to the magical Mount Shasta. Per Wikipedia, by the early years of the 20th century perhaps only 100 Shasta individuals existed, and some few Shasta descendants apparently still reside in various reservations with other tribes.

The story is called “Old Mole’s Creation.” (Forgive my disrespectful levity, but the title calls to mind a character from that ancient comic strip “Pogo”—Ol’ Mole was blind as a mole and an avid bird-watcher!) Anyway, first “Old Mole burrowed underneath Somewhere and threw up the earth which forms the world.” Then, “in the beginning, Sun had nine brothers, all flaming hot like himself. But Coyote killed the nine brothers and so saved the world from burning up.” Those two simplified sentences are an obvious restatement of the Chinese legend of the ten suns.

But the Shasta tale does the Chinese one better by adding a parallel plot: “But Moon also had nine brothers, all made of ice like himself, and the Night People almost froze to death.” So as the Moons arose, Coyote killed nine of them with his flint-stone knife saved the Night People. Native American story-telling loves coyotes and symmetry.

These two tales of the ten suns are simply too counter-intuitive (and weird) to have developed independently. So I’ll boldly claim that they prove an ancient cultural connection between Asia and America. (They clearly support Gavin Menzies’ book “1421: The Year China Discovered America” and Laurie Bonner-Nickless’ interminably titled book about Chinese exploration of North America in 1433-34, which was just reviewed in “Ancient American,” Issue 121.)

Cue the academic inquisitors!

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Aztec Deities At It Again!

Announcement:

YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities

October 22 – November 16, 2018

NICK SALAZAR CENTER FOR THE ARTS

Northern New Mexico College

The Nick Salazar Center for the Arts in Española, New Mexico, presents an exhibition by local artist Richard Balthazar, who was formerly the Used Plant Man (or Iris Man) at the Santa Fe Farmers Market and once upon a time sold plants at the Española Farmers Market. Presented in large-scale format on vinyl banners, his 15 black and white drawings are designed for a coloring book, and prints for coloring and/or framing are available for free download from his website:

www.richardbalthazar.com.

Ehecatl, Aztec God of the Wind

The icons were drawn digitally (using a computer graphics program), allowing the artist to achieve a rare level of fine detail. The deities are so striking and startling that everyone will surely exclaim, “YE GODS!

Essentially a crash course in Aztec myth, history, and culture, the deities are portrayed in their full contexts, in authentic Aztec iconography.

Each deity is accompanied by a description and images from the surviving Aztec codices (picture-books) that served as models or themes and show the authentic colors used by Aztec scribes.

Cultural and educational groups are cordially invited to contact Mr. Balthazar to arrange for tours of the exhibit and gallery talks on the mythology and history of the images.

For more information or tour arrangements, contact Richard Balthazar at rbalthazar@msn.com.

 

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!

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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