This morning I was grabbed by a news discussion on NPR about how some groups consider that proposed anti-discrimination legislation would infringe on their constitutionally ordained freedom of religion. Such legislation would in no way prevent these groups from thinking or believing whatever they want, however good or vile, loving or hateful that might be.
That spurious claim of infringement is based on a confusion and conflation of the concepts of freedom and liberty and of thought and action. Everyone in the US is indeed free to think whatever they choose to, no matter its veracity. However, no one in the US is at liberty to act however they choose, no matter their rationale in religious belief or personal inclination.
Our laws are not made to limit freedom of thought/belief but to circumscribe socially acceptable behavior/action. Religious freedom doesn’t mean that any group should be at liberty to infringe on or impact any other segment of society, regardless how devoutly their beliefs are held.
Think anything you like, but for God’s sake, act within the law!
To show I’m not a johnny-one-note constantly harping on mysterious Mesoamerica, or even two-notes ranting about my gay memoirs, I’ll announce that my attention has been drawn elsewhere, specifically to West Africa, by a small book I’m now reading, “Sundiata, An Epic of Old Mali” by D. T. Niane. Three-quarters of the way through it, I’m greatly impressed learning ethnographic details of kingdoms (and empires!) long ago on the great river Niger’s northern curve through today’s (New) Mali.
I was first struck by the fact that the Malinke (Mandingo) society of Old Mali had hereditary castes, largely defined by profession such as farmers, leather-workers, potters, fishermen… Most striking was to read that the most powerful caste was that of blacksmiths, who professed secret knowledge of metal-working, and then to discover in the narrative that entire armies were composed of smiths—who probably forged their own weapons, combining their trades.
This pre-eminence of blacksmiths really snagged my attention because I’d just before heard an NPR program about new insights into Afro-American history, particularly about American society’s reliance on the skills, crafts, and arts of the enslaved. It focused on the popular art of brewing brought over from their West African heritage, but it also mentioned that enslaved blacksmiths were the backbone of the South’s metallurgical industry.
I’d bet that there were a great many free black smiths in the North as well. When you get right down to it, everywhere in the world in fact smiths—black, white or otherwise—were a crucially important profession, making the weapons societies depended on to wage their eternal conflicts, aggressions, and defenses. Note that the ages of man are named for the metals they smithed, and just think about how many people are named Smith. Q.E.D.
Something else strikes me about this epic of conquest set in Old Mali. Apart from the intriguing ethnography, this story could be set almost anywhere in the world at any time in history. All the rationales and methods used in the Malinke conflicts, aggressions, and defenses might just as well be those used by the Shang to drive the Xia dynasty out of China’s Yellow River valley in the second millennium BPE. In coincidental fact, this epic of the conqueror Sundiata (ruled 1235-55), belongs to the same present-era 13th century as good old Genghis Khan.
The Malinke naturally knew nothing of that contemporary incomparable conqueror, casting Sundiata as the greatest conqueror the world had ever seen. Curiously, they put that claim up even against the legend of Alexander the Great—who actually only made it as far west as the Siwah oasis to consult the oracle of Ammon 1500 years before. Doubtless, that legend had been brought into West Africa by Muslim merchants in recent centuries, along with whom Islam infiltrated the native animistic populations.
Consider also that the Malinke had no concept of distances or urban kingdoms anything like those conquered by Alexander and Genghis. With still 30 (small print) pages to go, I have no doubt that, as required for epics, Sundiata will complete his local conquest with great glory. Who really gives a hoot who’s the greatest? Winning is what matters to conquerors.
However, in this ancient oral epic some of the cultural opinions expressed by the traditional singer (griot) named Mamoudou Kouyaté really rubbed me the wrong way, in particular: “Modesty is the portion of the average man, but superior men are ignorant of humility.” I beg your parsnips. That’s not how I understand modesty and humility at all, and besides, an arrogant man who thinks he’s superior is about as ugly as it gets. I doubt I’d have liked Sundiata much personally, though I’m modestly sure I could have taught him some proper humility in bed.
—Not to care is divine. So I screwed up way back there in January, 2019 on Icon #16 which I titled TECCIZTECATL & METZTLI, Deities of the Moon. Operating on what I’d learned thirty years earlier for my book of days, I based my totally fanciful drawing of Tecciztecatl being the Nahua people’s male lunar deity ruling their sacred calendar’s 13-day week (trecena) One Death. I read that they stuck him into the calendar to replace the ancestral female lunar deity Metztli.
I could only imagine him then through the lens of Codex Nuttall, the only codex I’d seen in detail that long ago before the internet. Using Nuttall motifs, I constructed a standard half-kneeling figure with stylistically consistent regalia, but I had no idea even that thing in his right hand was an incense bag. I felt quite proud of my trick of turning his face into a moon, also blissfully unaware that the Aztecs saw a rabbit in it instead. We live and learn.
For Icon #16 in late 2018 when I still wasn’t very well-versed in my digital collection of Aztec codices, I chose for models the images in Codex Telleriano-Remensis and its later Italian copy Codex Rios (T-R/R). It looked to me like they’d placed both male and female deities together for that week. I didn’t even wonder about that sun-thing on his back.
Only recently learning about the books of days in the other codices, I’ve discovered a different situation. Tecciztecatl is indeed shown as one of the patrons of the week One Death, but he only accompanies Metztli (who’s much smaller), in the Tonalamatl Aubin. In all of them, the god of the moon looks a lot different.
In the others, the moon god is in company with the big guy, Tonatiuh, god of the Fifth Sun (the present era), and clearly that’s who rules here in T-R/R with the old goddess. Look at that sun-thing on his back, and the bird was yet another dead giveaway. (By the way, I believe the ancient Maya goddess of the moon Ix Chel was AKA the Old Goddess.)
It’s interesting how this week is ruled by both the sun and the moon. Only in Codex Borbonicus, Borgia, and Vaticanus was Tecciztecatl inserted in Metztli’s place with Tonatiuh. Does that mean these three examples were maybe more central in Nahua culture? What can we say about his appearance with Metztli in place of Tonatiuh in Aubin? Obvious doctrinal differences…
Frankly, it seems to me that my models in T-R/R are relics of the ancient Mesoamerican calendar before Tecciztecatl usurped the week One Death in cult traditions. That begs the question of when Tonatiuh himself was installed in it as a patron beside the moon. After all, he wasn’t around during the Fourth Sun, and we can reasonably assume that this sacred Count of Days (tonalpohualli), was running even then—maybe with Metztli in total charge of One Death?
In any case, also being a divinity. I don’t care about my mistake. With this confession, perhaps I’ve atoned for it, and I’ll make appropriate edits elsewhere. But I find it rather fascinating that my silly mistake didn’t really damage Icon #16’s authenticity, just its title, which should now be TONATIUH & METZTLI, Deities of the Sun and Moon.
In fact it was the young god Nanahuatzin who threw himself first into the cosmic conflagration to become Tonatiuh, the Fifth Sun, and timid Tecciztecatl simply dawdled—becoming the moon instead. So that little figure immolating himself is now Nanahuatzin, which makes no difference to the icon’s integrity. I love mistakes that correct themselves.
This excursion in esoterica makes me wonder if my next Aztec icon for the coloring book YE GODS! really should be for Tonatiuh after all. I seem to have had him now, and Tecciztecatl feels distinctly second hand. This could be my excuse to take up with the fascinating and dangerous Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the Lord of the House of Dawn. Wish us well…
Usually creating these boggling icons for the coloring bookYE GODS! has felt like giving birth, and this latest one, Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms, felt rather like dropping sextuplets! I prematurely squeezed out two fully formed sections that I posted for the world’s delectation: the historical delirium of Tlalocan and the phantasmagorical Earth Monster. With the thundering central figure and his four wet vignettes, delivering myself of the Storm God himself was like birthing quintuplets. I guess that makes septuplets. Whatever…
I apologize for the dazzling intricacy of this icon and the fact that the curious mural of Tlalocan doesn’t much lend itself to coloring. I mean, look at that minuscule detail of heavenly frolic. However, since it’s in 300 dpi, you could blow it up three or four times to color in. This icon is the story of the Storm God, so lots of detail needs to be explained. The first is that the deity hovers between two root images from his deep past, at the bottom the wild mural from Teotihuacan of the eighth heaven he rules, and at top center his stylized face as Chac from an ancient Mayan temple, both from a thousand years before the Aztecs.
More immediately, the four vignettes are significant in two ways. The figures in squares at the top corners represent specific seasons in the growth of the all-important maize. They’re drawn from Codex Borgia, but I don’t know which is what. Two of Borgia’s pages have five each of similar Tlalocs, and that quinqunx format is respectfully reflected in this icon. The figures in the circles are symbols of just two of the several solar months “ruled” by Tlaloc, Atlcualco (left—“Water Abandoned,” roughly in February) and Atemoztli (right—“Water Downward Falling,” roughly in December). So much for the solar calendar lesson.
Now we come to the central image I call the thundering Tlaloc. It’s drawn from a series of stylistically consistent Tlalocs in Codex Vaticanus. I see a strong relationship with the Codex Borgia vignettes, for whatever that obvious insight’s worth. While this guy wears the royal jaguar headdress, others in the Vaticanus series wear heads of heron, crocodile, or odd conical caps and sport distinctive regalia. One is even nude. Our fellow’s respectably robed and, like the Borgia figures, has raised his conventional goggle-eyed and fanged face to the sky in a thunderous roar.
The thunder also comes with the lightning emanating from his huge serpent. (The Borgia figures hold only puny little snakes.) The lightning bolts from its head suggest traditional horned snakes like those from Teotihuacan or the American Southwest. The lightnings swerving behind the vignettes define a nanosecond’s reality for this image—an eternal NOW between the bolt on the left striking the Earth Monster under Tlaloc’s tread and that sneaky bolt on the right about to strike under the god’s next footfall. I love this kind of visual legerdemain.
There are more tricks of that sort cued by the lightning passing behind the vignettes. The top Chac frieze and weird lightning-filled sky is even behind that, and the water curtains down the sides are probably way back there too. Meanwhile, Tlaloc very subtly stands in front of the vignettes, as shown by overlapping hand with axe, headdress feathers, and the fire serpent. Along with clues to perspective in Tlaloc’s posture and costume, these tiny details create a depth in the composition that’s very unusual for Aztec art, maybe even iconoclastic. I won’t apologize.
Once again, finishing the long haul on an icon, I hesitate to jump right into another one, but I’m already thinking about breaking alphabetical order yet again and tackling Tonatiuh, the deity of the Fifth Sun, to complete the Mesoamerican set of cosmological worlds. He’d be cutting in ahead of Tlazolteotl, Goddess of Filth, but I’ve already been tempted to insert the Lord of the House of the Dawn, Tlahuizcalpaltecuhtli (the Morning Star) ahead of her. With such a wealth of ethnographic and iconographic material to work on, I guess I can wait a little while to decide. In the meantime, I really should start writing on Chapter 9 of my memoir GAY GEISHA and recall my exciting life in 1975 when I stumbled on two impressive gigs for my Russian language skills.
Despite historic obstacles, 2020 turned out to be a very successful and productive year for me, both artistically and personally. It started with a celebration for completing Aztec Icon #18 – XOCHIPILLI, the Prince of Flowers on the last day of 2019. I’d first drawn this sun god thirty years ago for my book of days. The black and white icon, infinitely more complicated than this old four-color image, breaks all sorts of Aztec iconographic norms and conventions. Go to the link above to see this iconoclastic addition to the coloring bookYE GODS!
On New Year’s Day, 2020 I posted the Flower Prince but still had much to do before adding his icon to my “travelling” exhibition YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities. In mid-January I mounted this show of large-scale banners at its seventh venue in a conference center—with the help of a tall French fellow I’d met during its sixth appearance.
We’d hung the show by January 18 (for my mother’s 101st birthday), and I turned to our trip for the New Orleans Opera premiere of my new translation of Tchaikovsky’s heroic opera JOAN OF ARC on February 2 & 9. My clan gathered for the occasion at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, and I enjoyed their acclaims, as well as those of appreciative audiences. I believe my linguistic work has turned the composer’s simply inspired piece into a masterpiece.
By Monday, February 11, I was gratefully back in Santa Fe for my comfortable retired life in my eyrie apartment, my Casa Arriba penthouse high above the world. With a gratified sigh of relief, I slipped back into my splendid routines of writing/drawing, gym, dinners out, and especially the ecstatic dancing on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
After a couple leisurely weeks, I started on my second memoir, picking up my sordid tale of after marriage when I came out for the second time. Covering the next two traumatic and extremely sexual years of my fourth persona (the HIPPIE POET, footloose and feckless), I pretentiously included my own poetry, a device stolen from “Dr. Zhivago.” My routines and retrospective writing trance held me nicely right up almost to the middle of March.
In my Mesoamerican fascination, I consider Friday, March 13, 2020 or the Aztec day Four Rain to have been the emphatic end of the Fifth Sun, the Sixth Sun starting on Saturday. Suffice it to say that Friday the Thirteenth brought enormous turmoil into my life when my gym closed down due to a virus they were already calling a pandemic.
On March 14, 2020 everything locked down (my show as well), and since then I’ve fortunately been living safely and comfortably in Casa Arriba. The loss of gym, dinners out, and ecstatic dancing has left me with only the splendid routine of writing and drawing. Right away I replaced my gym workouts with walking/running around the nearby track, but I could do nothing about the sauna except miss it miserably. Cooking simply, I didn’t miss restaurant food—just my regular companions at meals. I was driven to solo dancing to radio reggae and salsa in my living room and to sorely missing all the young bacchantes at Paradiso.
I joked about going into solitary confinement but didn’t really feel that way. I deeply appreciated being made to step away from the world’s sound and fury, to take care of my physical needs simply in solitary peace, and to do my work on my natural schedule without distractions. I found it fascinating to watch my hair grow, now longer than it’s ever been, and I rather like it. Perversely, I didn’t feel lonely, isolated, or confined at all, but instead felt blessedly secluded, a secular anchorite. Six decades later, this new Sixth Sun feels like a confirmation and redemption of my solitary youth in backwoods Arkansas.
Staying snugly at home (except for walks at the track and to grocery stores), let me focus on the memoir, which I titled LORD WIND, alternating between writing it and drawing on Icon #19 – TEZCATLIPOCA, The Smoking Mirror. By mid-May I’d finished and posted the icon, which went much deeper into the god’s story than this old drawing for the book of days.
And by early June I’d finished the memoir. Rejoicing, I posted LORD WINDon the web as individual chapters or entire text.
On the urging of my French friend, in June I began conjuring up visions of Tlaloc, the God of Storms, and at the same time started the third volume of memoir, soon entitled GAY GEISHA, about my stylish gay life in Washington DC in the 1970s. Once again, for sanity’s sake, over the next months I switched back and forth between creative processes.
Meanwhile, a few important things happened in the solitude of October. First, I rode my bike to the Convention Center and voted early against the scumbag, whereupon I put it and its filth out of mind. Next, I finally struck my icon show after nine months’ lockdown—with the kind assistance of my tall grandson. Then, accepting that my life was utterly changed for the foreseeable future, I gave him my little red car and happily became a true pedestrian.
In mid-November I started posting chapters of GAY GEISHA serially and by mid-December had published eight covering about a quarter of the decade. The switch then back to the icon was for a final push, aiming to finish it by New Year’s. I didn’t quite make it though. Only the other day, almost two weeks into 2021, I finally wrapped Tlaloc up, though he doesn’t look much like my first fanciful drawing of him for that old book of days. Still, that goggle-eye and fangs are standard features.
Please allow me to count Aztec Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms, as an accomplishment for wretched but productive 2020. (I’ll post it very soon.) I’m tremendously gratified by creating my three icons, memoirs of gay liberation, and the operatic masterpiece.
Nowadays we sometimes think (and some of us worry) about the planet Earth, this infinitesimal speck of dust in the infinite cosmos, as our mother—and quite reasonably so. In scientific fact, like all life, we’re indeed children of the female Earth sired by the male Sun. However, the ancient Egyptians believed we’re the offspring of the male Geb (earth) and the female Nut (sky).
In the Judeo-Christian, Islamic, and Hindu traditions, people were purportedly created magically (asexually like amoebas?) by a male deity with the Earth playing no role except as a location to hold dominion over. Characteristically, Buddhists don’t have a creation story since they consider the notion of origins meaningless. Take your pick because it doesn’t really matter anyway.
Meanwhile, ancient Mesoamericans believed people were created by the Earth as a deity named Tlaltecuhtli, which was conveniently a hermaphrodite—and not at all anthropomorphic. Most often it was depicted as a huge, gaping maw, a two-way street through which people were born and then on death passed back into the Underworld, the Earth being the mystical source and destination of all life. Creation wasn’t considered a one-shot deal but an ongoing process.
When not a mouth spitting out or devouring people, the deity of the Earth was generally shown as a monster with impressive fangs and claws. Its species was apparently the crocodile (caiman), a creature called Cipactli (also the name of the first day of the month in their calendar).
I drew this surreal image of the Earth Monster as a detail in my next icon for the coloring book YE GODS! It’s based on a smaller version in the Codex Borgia. In some other instances in the codices, Tlaltecuhtli/Cipactli has no limbs, but the fanged jaw was put to good use in biting off the left foot of the god Tezcatlipoca. That’s another story.
Of the various creation fantasies, I much prefer the Mesoamerican narrative since it recognizes that our planet Earth is the parent of life and illustrates the principle of dust to dust. It really does matter after all to acknowledge that our Earth is a living creature, a metaphorical monster not to be dominated but to be cherished and nurtured. Remember, even planets can die!
As my daughter Aimée’s birthday and the day after a most joyous occasion—the calling of the 2020 election and consignment of the scumbag to the trash heap of history—today’s a great time to report on the past four months of pandemic pandemonium as an update to my biographical age on the Venerable Old Queen.
1) THE FLAP AT THE TRACK
The most alarming event was on August 18 when a security guy hailed me on the track at the Aspen School and advised that I’d have to leave because school was starting on Monday, and they were closing the grounds to protect the kids from the virus. I ignored him and continued on my way, but that weekend they shut the big gate at La Madera with a chain and lock. I couldn’t do my walk on Saturday or Sunday.
On Monday I looked out my window and saw the gate open, so I went to walk, and there was no one there of course, because the students had to stay home—except a couple cars parked way off by the back building for the teachers running the distanced learning classes. That night the gate was locked again but open by six the next morning. I walked the track peacefully, marveling that the schools were so irrationally paranoid as to lock up weekends and nights when absolutely no one was around and open up again when only a few folks were way off over there.
And I wasn’t looking forward to missing my next Saturday and Sunday walks. By Wednesday I got to feeling really irked and noticed that the lock and chain were just hanging there loose at the gate. I put them in a paper bag, placed it under a board just outside the fence not six feet away, and left a note: “The lock and chain have not been stolen; they’ve been hidden.” That night the gate was closed but not chained—and open again in the morning.
Pitying the stupidity, on Thursday morning I moved the bag to within three feet of the gate, just behind a piece of fence leaning there for no apparent reason. Any idiot couldn’t miss it. And that night they performed the empty exercise again, obviously not even looking for the bag. Friday morning I traipsed onto the track and worried they’d actually find the lock and chain and close me out for the weekend. Something told me I’d have to fight fire with fire.
Three miles later, I went home to my hermitage and emailed the Fire Marshal, advising that the school had started (irrationally) locking the grounds—which cut off emergency access to the several buildings at the back of the campus. A fire engine couldn’t get anywhere near them. He didn’t respond to me, naturally, but I saw a fire engine roll by around seven just checking, and since that night the gate has stayed open. And the bag still sits there for any idiot to find. My Nepali friend, the guys who play soccer on Saturday mornings, and a multitude of other community folks can still enjoy the facility.
2) AZTECS STILL ACTIVE
My show of Aztec icons (YE GODS!) went up last January at the conference center of the Ohkay Casino in Española and in mid-March got locked down with the rest of the world. The manager said he didn’t know when they’d get the center open again and had no problem with me just leaving it there. Nevertheless, I went up last month with my grandson to retrieve my artwork. I’ve no idea where I’ll ever manage to hang the show again—or when. But that hasn’t stopped my working on the next icon, #20: Tlaloc, the god of storms (water, lightning, etc.).
In this Aztec context, there have been some other developments. A few weeks ago I heard from a young woman fashion designer in Chicago that she wanted to use my images on clothing; the sample hoodie with my Ocelotl on it was stunning. I told her to go for it. Last week I heard from a guy in California that he wanted to paint my old calendar deities, and I told him to go for it—and to take a look at the icons. This is the kind of action I’ve been hoping for.
Another recent Aztec connection is with Marguerite Paquin (in British Columbia) who does a Maya horoscope blog. See https://whitepuppress.ca/the-ok-dog-trecena-oct-30-nov-11-2020/. Since the Maya calendar is basically the same as the Aztecs’, she started using the images from my old book for the trecenas (13-day weeks), and now that she’s worked through that ceremonial year, I’m re-creating the pages from the tonalamatl (book of days) from Codex Borgia for her. For when she’s worked through those 20 weeks, I’m also re-creating the tonalamatl from Codex Rios—which entails combining separate pages into a single layout and considerable artistic refinement. When these calendars are complete (and there are still others left to work over), I’m going to load them as galleries here on this website, so watch for them!
3) THE GRANDFATHER IN SECLUSION
For months I walked around my car sitting in the yard, a 2014 red Toyota Corolla, and maybe drove it twice a week to a grocery store. Then in early October I realized that my grandson Jammes was soon to turn 18, and ever the generous grandfather, I decided to give him my car. I can easily walk to the grocery stores, and he’ll give me lifts home when I’ve got too much to carry or take me on errands.
In this connection, my ecstatic dance group started getting together again (clandestinely). Jammes took me there last Wednesday, joining in the dance, and now he’s ready to take me weekly. Maybe even bring a friend along? There’s reasonable distancing and some masks, and so it’s only slightly contrary to mandated practice. After all, we’re not talking here about a Republican political rally. It’s such a joy to have something to look forward to each week, lots more fun than my usual solo dancing around the apartment to salsa or reggae.
In between Wednesdays, however, with all my art and writing projects, the days seem to fly by. An example: Every day before lunch I have half a cup of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar—recommended to me by a curandero friend—and today when I went to mix it, I got the distinct impression I’d just done that like five minutes before. Twenty-four hours of eating, walking, reading, napping, writing, drawing, cooking, watching a silly movie, and sleeping a healthy 7 ½ hours had collapsed into a mere five minutes. This is how we get so old so fast.
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.
Lots of folks around Santa Fe, New Mexico consider this little city and its high desert environs to be a very special, natural place, if not actually a paradise. I’ve been living here for some forty years, and though not a believer in heavens on earth, I do think of Fanta Se as a place blessedly removed from the worst evils of modern life. Or at least until recently.
This past spring I once more watched a splendid cherry tree outside my kitchen window explode in white blossoms.
After a couple days of such a floral vision, I started wondering why there were relatively so few bees around the blooms in comparison with earlier years. It was disturbing, but at least I got to watch a modicum of fruits forming among the new green leaves.
Now in the past weeks of late spring and early summer, my garden has again exploded in a bumper crop of larkspur. Given a chance, they really do spread like weeds, and if they show up in the wrong place, I simply yank them out. What’s left seems ample for survival of the species.
In previous years, the zillions of larkspur flowers (that look like birds with little wings), would always be crowded with buzzing bees—even fat bumblebees lumbering around like trucks.
Larkspurs in my garden
This year there are no bees. I do not exaggerate. No bees! The only pollinators I’ve seen this year are one hummingbird moth in the dim twilight—once—and one single, solitary tiger-swallowtail butterfly flitting about the flowers most mornings. Its yellow-striped wings are a beautiful contrast to their purple/blue, but it’s too flighty to work through the masses of flowers. Now I find many of the bloom stalks not making seed pods. This is beyond disturbing.
This past week I’ve been even more horrified to see the cherries ripening on the tree next door—and simply hanging there till over-ripe and falling to litter the ground. Always before, as the cherries started to turn red, the tree would be a-flutter with flocks of birds pecking the heck out of them. Now I’ve seen no more than three or four little birds struggling to reach a fruit or two.
Where have all the bees gone? Where have all the birds gone? What’s going on?
I seem to be at my stellar best when I’m boring folks with useless information—or at least with stuff they don’t give a rat’s patootie about. The following verbiage may well fall into both categories. And since it’s on the Internet, there’s the distinct possibility (but minuscule probability) of boring millions of readers to tears. What more could I hope for as I hold forth on jaguars’ spots? I bet you’ve never given that esoteric subject even a nanosecond’s thought.
But I have. For some years, as you likely don’t know, I’ve been drawing digital icons of Aztec deities for a coloring book called YE GODS! Since the jaguar is a major mythological figure for most of the ancient cultures of the Americas (see A Roar of Jaguars), I had to come to terms with how it was depicted in the iconography of those cultures. In fact, as the Lord of the Animals, the jaguar was my first try at digital drawing.
Already well versed in the iconography of the few Aztec codices that survived the Conquest of that empire by the Spanish, I wasn’t terribly impressed by their renderings of the unique and complex pattern of the jaguar’s pelt. For the most part the ancient Aztec artists made do with a simple scattering of spots looking a lot like those of the Old World leopard.In the Codex Borgia, a more elaborate picture-book, the pelt was sometimes depicted in greater complexity. I chose to use two of those stronger patterns for figures in my later icon of the deities of the moon, but the first pattern was just too weirdly abstract, if oddly more realistic.
For my first digital drawing (eventually used in the icon for OCELOTL), I pompously tried to reproduce a naturalistic jaguar pelt—and believe I did a decent job. It convinced me of the amazing power of computer imaging and kicked off the whole coloring book project. Having mastered the pattern, I used it also for a seat-cushion in the icon for the goddess CHANTICO (also see the icon for MICTLANTECUHTLI), and for a detail of a jaguar-warrior in that for the god CHALCHIUHTOTOLIN.
Chantico and Jaguar Warrior
At present I’m in the final throes of the icon for TEPEYOLLOTL (see The Divine Volcanoes), who is a were-jaguar (an anthropomorphic creature), appearing in a number of the codices.
Here comes another sneak preview. There are two jaguars in this icon. I chose to use the Nuttall jaguar, radically restructured, for the leaping one and the Vindobonensis figure as model for the god himself—with a pelt based on one of the Borgia examples.
Leaping Jaguar and Tepeyollotl
This illustration shows that I haven’t yet completed Tepeyollotl’s face, though I have already given him an aesthetic nose-job. While the open-ring pattern may not be any more naturalistic than the plain spots on the Vindobonensis model, I did that on purpose—for the coloring.
I’ve only given explicit directions for coloring the icons in a few cases. First, for the pelt in OCELOTL, I described the animal’s range of coloration from rusty gold to white. For the icon of EHECATL, I explained that scallop shells come in black, white, and all shades of the rainbow, though very dark and dusky like in the last hues of twilight. For TEPEYOLLOTL, I will direct the colorist to make those open rings various colors as in these almost hallucinatory images:
In this second Telleriano example, the spots are inexplicably green, and in the psychedelic Aubin figure red, blue, and gold. (By the way, the general Aubin style of illustration might most kindly be called “casual:” Note the incomplete claws, stubby tail, and curious wrinkles on its back.)
The rationale for vari-colored spots on my Tepeyollotl is that, among several other mythical qualities, he’s the Lord of Jewels. Also, any deity worth its salt really should be hallucinatory, psychedelic, and/or surreal.