Ancestors, Level 1, My Parents

To explain: I’ve just enjoyed a new contact with a young man in Miami about my image of the Aztec deity Xochipilli, who appears (above) on the masthead of my webpages and blogs. As the god of homosexuals (and a whole lot more), the Prince of Flowers has long been my patron. Unfortunately, he sits down by the end of the alphabet (with the other x’s), and it’ll be a couple years till I get around to doing his icon for my coloring book YE GODS!

My new friend Walter identifies as a pagan and practitioner of the Unnamed Path, which sounds quite like mine, though I didn’t think to name my path. We’re both on the beautiful paths (as the Navajo would say, walking in beauty) for men who love men. You can find Walter on his splendid path at http://sacredbonfire.com.  Meanwhile, as a headline on his emails, he includes, “The ancestors are speaking. Are you listening?”

Struck by that profound question, I realized that for a long time that I’ve been dancing around the urge to blog about my ancestors. So far I haven’t written much about them, except in that biography: “Ms Yvonne, The Secret Life of My Mother.” I was too focused on my own terribly fascinating self to pay any attention to the sources of my miraculous being.

Understandably, in researching the biography, I learned a great deal about my parents, as well as about my roots in the generations before them. In that writing, I organized the boxes of old family photographs and in the process quickly became an expert photo-restorer. The art is very like painting, just as aesthetically fulfilling, and playing with pixels to reconstruct an ancestor’s face creates intense emotional connections with the subject, let me tell you. Suffice it to say, I now have plenty photo-paintings to illustrate blogs about several levels of my ancestry.

Naturally, we’ll start at level 1 with my parents, who were people I’d never really known before that research and restoration of their images. I was simply a kid, and they were folks who took care of me. There was no discussion of who they were then or in their pasts, and the oblivious child never even wondered, too busy wondering who I was.

My mother, Yvonne Marie Trinité, was born on January 18, 1919 in Baltimore, Maryland. I discovered that she was quite a fashionable young woman in the thirties who led a nicely sociable life with a number of boyfriends. When she was nineteen, in 1938, a beau took her boating on the Chesapeake and snapped a tiny shot of a virtual goddess of the sea. Retrieving it from a miniature print (1 sq. in) in a foggy blur, I’ve put it up on my refrigerator where I can thank her every morning for solving my life.

Yvonne by the sea, 1938

Meanwhile, over in Wisconsin my future father, Raymond John Balthazor, was born on January 30, 1916 in the village of Bear Creek, and the family soon moved to the big city of Fond du Lac. In school he came down with scarlet fever, an often fatal disease from which he recovered—but with a damaged heart. In 1939, after taking courses at a business college, Ray landed a job with Social Security in Baltimore and had a (retouched) portrait taken for the announcement in the Fond du Lac newspaper. He was a good-looking young man of twenty-three.

Ray, 1939

That’s why Ray and Yvonne met, but further details of their romance are unavailable. They were married on Wednesday, June 19, 1940, both dressed up in the high style of the period:

Wedding of Yvonne and Ray, 1940

True to form, kids came along, first me in 1942 and then my sister Judy in 1947. In 1952 the family moved to LaMarque, Texas for Daddy’s job as a tax accountant in a chemical plant. When we’d moved into our new house, a neighbor took a picture of us for posterity. Notice that at 36 Daddy was already going grey:

The Balthazors in LaMarque, 1952

For two years in Texas we had a fairly normal nuclear family life, but then in 1954 Daddy took us off into the woods of Arkansas to a truck-stop café on Highway 74. Thereafter, our familial relations essentially disintegrated, but that’s another story I’ve reflected in my autobiographical novella “Bat in a Whirlwind.” After I left home for college at eighteen in 1960, Daddy only lived another six years, dying of heart problems at only 50.

In 1971, after five years of widowhood, at 52 Mother married a Texan named Bill Tapp, but only a year later was abandoned by that husband. Afterward, she enjoyed single life in New Orleans for another 42 years, her favorite activity being square-dancing. Yvonne’s really big adventure was surviving Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She kept on square-dancing right up to 93, as in this 2011 snapshot by a dancer friend when she was 92. In early 2013 Yvonne died peacefully at 94.

Yvonne at 92, 2011

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Ancient Coin Found in Ann Arbor MI

While a grad student at the University of Michigan, in the summer of 1967 I moved with my young family into a new subdivision on a sloping street in Ann Arbor. Perched on the gentle slope on a pad levelled by a slight scraping into the rise behind, the house backed up to the low, rounded crown of the hill overgrown with brush and bushes.  I immediately planted some flowers in the strip of freshly disturbed soil between the house and the newly laid sidewalk.  In my digging, I came upon an obviously ancient, apparently bronze coin.  I washed the loose soil off of it but didn’t disturb the lighter-colored material encrusting about 75% of the piece.

 

The coin notably measures precisely 1 inch in diameter. At first I put the coin in with other keepsakes and then some decades ago placed it in a small plastic bag with a note of where it was found.  For the past 50 years it has been only very minimally handled and shown to just a few friends as the one true mystery in my life.

In past years I occasionally read about Roman coins being found around the American Midwest, mostly along major river valleys, and marveled that I too had found one. Mine was found in the low hills of southern Michigan but not far from the Huron River.  Reading more recently about mounting evidence for a Roman presence in pre-Columbian America, I tried to identify my coin by researching the databases of the American Numismatic Society but was overwhelmed by their 42,000 + examples of Roman coinage.

After inspecting only a couple thousand of the coins in their collection, I noted that in the mostly illegible legends on mine the “IMP” on the obverse is standard for “Emperor.” Meanwhile, I found no portraits resembling the head, none with that tassel or braid at the back of the head, and none with that decidedly un-Roman nose.  On the reverse, the standing figure differs in posture from more usual standing figures of Apollo and holds something like a bag in the right hand and possibly a floral bundle in the left arm.  Also, the legend or symbols uniquely continue beneath the figure’s feet, and a strange rayed symbol peeks through the encrustation by the knee.

I’m sending this description and image to the following authorities in hopes:

1) that the American Numismatics Society will authoritatively identify this coin;

2) that the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology will advise on appropriate steps for analysis and conservation and suggest means for further research at the discovery site;

3) that the Historical Society of Michigan will advise me of similar or related finds in the state and suggest an appropriate repository for the artifact; and

4) that the City of Ann Arbor will facilitate any further research at the discovery site and any publicity that might follow.

Meanwhile, I’m posting this letter on my website www.richardbalthazar.com and requesting similar input from the Internet world at large.  Please email me at rbalthazar @ msn.com.  I will incorporate any responses in more web postings and plan to publish an article on the artifact in the magazine “Ancient American.”

About the discovery site, I researched my old address on Google Earth and found the house still there. The low hill behind is still undeveloped after these 50 years and covered with large trees.  After some decades of researching Indian mounds (and publishing the book “Remember Native America, The Earthworks of Ancient America”), I reasonably suspect that the hilltop could well be a mound containing far more prehistoric material than a single coin.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

More Indian Mounds

It’s been a good while since my last posting in June about the Aztec Codices, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered my multitudinous non-readers worldwide.

Shortly after that, I went on the family vacation I mentioned in the first week in July. We went to a place on a lake near Hot Spring, Arkansas and had a lovely rural time of it, though we came home with a bunch of chiggers.

While there, we visited the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park near Little Rock, a site I’d never seen before, though I’d included a drawing of it in my old book on the Indian mounds called “Remember Native America.” It was a rainy afternoon, but I still managed to take some pictures of two of the surviving pyramids, which I’ve finally managed to figure out how to add to the Gallery of Indian Mounds.

AR one pyramid, Toltec Mounds

AR another pyramid, Toltec Mounds

The Toltec mounds (no connection whatsoever to the Toltecs of Mexico) are an early Mississippian site, abandoned by 1050 AD, which may actually be related to the Mayan civilization. It might well have developed under the influence of Maya or Teotihuacan traders, or even migrations at the collapse of those civilizations around 800 AD.  We’ll just have to see what further research makes of that possible connection.

Meanwhile, I’ve also uncovered a number of earlier photos (slides) I took of other mound sites and have also added them to the Gallery: more from Moundville AL, Cahokia IL, Marietta OH, Crystal River FL, and Nanih Waya MS.  Check them out.

Which brings us back to my suggestion from when I put the Gallery together nearly four years ago: Surely there are other folks out there who have good pictures of Indian mounds, and I would love to include them in the Gallery.  Email them to me at rbalthazar @ msn.com with the state and site name.  I’ll plug them in to this collection, which as far as I know, is the only one of its kind.

YE GODS! THE AZTEC CODICES

Here it is at last, the third part of YE GODS!  This is the promised illustrated commentary on the Aztec Picture-Books, a unique discussion with examples of the fifteen codices that survived the book-burning during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.  I can guarantee you’ll never have seen anything like this in terms of art history, mythology, and Aztec ethnography.

Click here to view or download YE GODS!  THE AZTEC CODICES

Or click here to visit the cover page for the new section

It’s been a couple months since I last posted anything, (not that anybody out there really cares, I suspect), but the time has been well spent on completing this project, in and around many other developments in my life.  Not the least of those was running around trying to set up an exhibition of the Aztec Icons, without success to date, and to interest a local non-profit publisher called Radius Books in making a book on the whole three-part YE GODS! shebang, which may still materialize.  The next epiphany of 13 icons still remains to be drawn.

In other developments, it took these couple months to move to a new apartment, including some weeks to move my iris garden to the new place.  It’s splendid with a huge balcony/porch and a big area for a garden and enormously convenient to my gym and other amenities.

In terms of iris, I’m thrilled to report that after five years of looking and wheedling, I’ve finally found someone to start up my plant recycling business again.  A young fellow named Aaron jumped in with his shovel and has already been selling iris on Craigslist like hotcakes.  He plans on selling at farmers markets around here and should do a land-office business, so to speak.

Now my big plan is to go with the family for a vacation during the first week of July at Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It should be a sentimental time because it’s quite close to my childhood home in the southwestern woods of that state.  Maybe I can even get my grandsons to read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND!

History Redux

This morning over my grapefruit, I serendipitously read an essay that ruined my breakfast with the bitter taste of irony. The quotes that follow have been redacted to mask the actual subject.  Please read them and guess who.  Afterwards, I’ll reveal his identity and that of the writer, publication, and other references.

“[The subject]…arrived on the national scene just in time to capitalize on the [current ‘scare’].  An unprincipled political opportunist, he began to make an issue of [purported enemies]…, thereby drawing attention to himself and nurturing his hopes for a continuing political career.

“…[He] made a speech during which he [claimed to have a list of people] known to be [enemies].  [At the time] this was not at all an illegal affiliation, but the [group] was certainly a suspicious [class of people].  …that list itself never existed.  It was a fiction, a prop for [his] political theater. … But that hardly mattered.  With his trumped-up list, [he] had struck a mindless nerve in the body politic, and the Age of [Fear] had acquired its messiah, a leader of the yelping pack.

“[He] proved himself a master of reckless accusation, unabashed equivocation, and outright lying.  He determined guilt by association and made liberal use of innuendo, half-truth, character assassination, and intimidation.  When officials questioned his allegations, [he] countered by questioning their loyalty and their intentions.  Since he … was the champion of the [anti-enemies], anyone who raised any doubts about him was interfering with his patriotic work, seeking, presumably, to stop him in this noble pursuit.  Those who[m] [he] cast aspersions upon were often unemployed or disgraced shortly thereafter.

“Many people recognized at once that [he] was a fraud…

“Chairing a committee charged with investigating [his] allegations, [the Chair] issued a report … that found not a shred of evidence in support of his charges.  He was effectively branded a liar.

“[His] reaction to this supposed reverse is instructive. [He] said, ‘The most loyal stooges of the [enemy] could not have done a better job of giving a clean bill of health to [foreign enemies] in this country.’  [The committee chair] was giving ‘aid and comfort’ to the enemies of the United States.  …he said, ‘let me make it clear … that this fight against [the enemy] shall not stop, regardless of what any group … may do.’  He was undaunted and undeterred.

“He was a genius at manipulating the news media. He understood, apparently, that the press was a knee-jerk institution.  [He] quickly mastered the techniques necessary to dominate the news.  He would call a press conference to announce that he would have a press conference the next day, and the day’s papers would carry headlines heavy with proclamatory import…  And when some allegation of his was proven completely wrong, [he] simply shifted his attack and targeted a new victim.  The sensation of his new charges drew fresh headlines, displacing stories about his errors.  His was the tactic of a guerrilla raider, and he used it time and again with astonishing effectiveness.

“[He] was by no means laying waste to cherished American freedoms without being criticized. Many newspapers attacked him on their editorial pages—while giving him headlines on their front pages—but nationally prominent political figures were slow in rising to the challenge.  When a [prominent journalist] fired a shot or two, [he] rounded on him.  He insinuated that [the journalist] was a tool of [the enemy] and advised people [to boycott the writer’s sponsor].

“Television journalists were nearly silent. Finally…one of the most prestigious journalists in the world attacked [him] … [with] an exposé [that] alternated film clips of [him] making charges and assertions with shots of [the journalist], live, presenting the contradictory facts.  The relentless rhythm of lie refuted by truth again and again drummed in the flagrancy of [his] perfidy.  Given [his] power, going on the air with any sort of an attack at that time took guts.

“…With many of the journalistic fraternity, [a syndicated cartoonist] had long ago recognized that he was at least a charlatan and perhaps a monstrous one, spewing the sulfurous fumes of intimidating invective with every press conference…ripe as a subject for satirical ridicule. [He] was still riding high, with his minions and his actions claiming headlines daily on the front pages of the nation’s papers.

“[The cartoonist] conjures up nightmares of book burning, evoking memories of the Nazi regime in the 1930’s.

“On various editorial pages throughout the land some perceptive souls recognized that [he] was employing methods that had been used to advantage…earlier by an Austrian paper-hanger and his gang in Nazi Germany.”

Okay, no matter your obvious first guess, this damning verbiage was actually about Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin in the early 1950’s. The [enemies] weren’t foreign terrorists but Communists.  The truth-finding committee chair was Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland, and the brave journalist was Edward R. Murrow.  The [syndicated cartoonist] wasn’t Gary Trudeau in “Doonesbury,” but Walt Kelly in “Pogo.”  The prophetic essay, ironically titled “Swamp Talk” by R. C. Harvey, appeared in “Pogo, Evidence to the Contrary,” the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Vol.  3, published by Fantagraphics in 2014.

Let’s remember the quote from philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist George Santayana:

            Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The horror is that historical travesties seem to get worse with each new iteration. Elevating travesty to tragedy, our current villain hasn’t been discredited and disgraced, but has managed through demagoguery, hate, and lies to become, as Pogo might say, President of the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed U. S. and A, and now our nationable future looks dog-bone miserabobble.

Honestly, I don’t blame those terrified, thoughtless, and forgetful folks who voted for him. It’s the fault of all those apathetic and forgetful folks who didn’t vote for anybody.  And the fault of the craven cowards in Congress who are letting their rogue elephrump run rampant in our beloved Okefenokee.