Update on the Pandemic Pandemonium

UPDATE: November 8, 2020

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


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.  


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!


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.


The Faces of Death

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

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

Signs for the Aztec Day Death

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

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

Heads of Aztec Lord of Death

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

Aztec Lord of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faces of the Lord of Mictlan (Codex Rios)

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

Lord of Mictlan

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


Totems of the Aztec Lords of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

Totems of the Lords of the Day

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


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.  Many surviving Olmec sculptures are of infant were-jaguars.

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.

Perhaps the most dramatic Aztec jaguar is a sculpture (receptacle for sacrificial hearts!), now in the Museum of Anthropology:

Aztec Jaguar

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.



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.


Aztec Icon #11 – OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

At long last –Aztec Icon #11: OCELOTL, Lord of the Animals.  In the midst of other projects and family stuff, it’s taken me all summer to finish this icon for the coloring book YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS.  Not for lack of effort but the enormous amount thereof.  Actually I’d already done the jaguar rampant a couple years ago, my first drawing directly to digital.  Thanks to my freeware graphics program GIMP, in rendering this boggling Mesoamerican zoo, I’ve discovered almost godlike powers over pixels.  But I try to be a beneficent deity.

The vast amount of effort came first in locating historical images of creatures in the ancient codices for stylistic models. Those I couldn’t find had to be drawn from photographed nature.  Actually, my iconic jaguar is a departure from Aztec style in its naturalistic treatment.  While there are many jaguars in the codices, in my opinion they all look too “cartoonish” to make an impressive deity.  Besides, I liked the challenge of creating the pelt pattern for the little Jaguar Knights in the Chalchiuhtotolin icon.  The regalia indicates the creature’s divine nature, and the wavy fork at its muzzle is the symbol of its howl.

Please note the large “dots” at each corner of the icon. They are the Aztec number four, and this is the calendrical day-name Four Jaguar, the First Sun (World) in the Mesoamerican cosmological sequence.  That very first YE GODS! icon of Atl was the day-name Four Water, the Fourth Sun, and the fifth icon of Ehecatl was the day-name Four Wind, the Second Sun.  You’ll have to wait a bit for the third and fifth Suns later in this series.

Ocelotl is lord of all animals:  those belonging to Huixtocihuatl, Lady of Salt (Goddess of the Sea on the upper left); those belonging to Tlaltecuhtli, the hermaphroditic Lord of the Earth (on upper right); and those of the air ruled by Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent (at top).

The split circle over the deity’s head is the traditional symbol of day and night, showing its lordship over diurnal and nocturnal animals, the jaguar itself being nocturnal. The eagle to the left represents the Aztecs’ main god Huitzilopochtli as the sun at midday, and my very own “batterfly” on the right is Itzpapalotl, Goddess of the Night Sky, who was often depicted as butterfly, bat, and/or bird.

Ocelotl is also lord of the strange animal Man, as can be seen in the vignette at the bottom depicting the legendary creation of man from a primordial tree as shown in Mixtec codices.

By the way, I’ll note that the Aztecs adopted most of their cosmology and “religion” from the peoples living then and earlier in central Mexico like the Mixtec, Zapotec, Huastec, Toltec, etc., etc.—as had they from the even more ancient Teotihuacan and Maya. In the long history of Mesoamerican civilizations, their underlying myths have mostly been related, even inherited.

Ocelotl, the Jaguar, is a mythology from deep in history. The earliest (in Mesoamerica) Olmec famously revered the Jaguar (jaguar-headed babies?), and may have named the day in the calendar for it.  Or maybe not.  Elsewhere I’ve suggested that the Mesoamerican calendar could have come from South America, from the even earlier Chavín civilization, and curiously, the Jaguar-Man was also a prominent feature of that culture.  Just saying…  Deep history.

Some other notes on my Mexican menagerie: I can’t even identify some of the animals or birds, especially the silly little bugs.  That odd creature at the end of the deity’s tail is the salamander called in Nahuatl axolotl.  My Monarch butterfly (center left, just above the stunning Turkey) is geographically appropriate, as are my several other nature drawings of Mexican fauna, including the quetzal birds (top right).  Don’t overlook the Xoloitzcuintli, national dog of Mexico, at the Jaguar’s left foot.  Can you identify any more of the critters in this montage?

(You can still see or download the previous ten icons in the YE GODS! series by clicking on them in the list on the page for the coloring book.)


(Lord of the Animals)

To download this icon as a pdf file with a page of caption and model images from the Aztec Codices, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can also download it in freely sizable vector drawings from the coloring book page.

OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

OCELOTL {o-se-lotł} (Jaguar) is the Aztecs’ deity of all animals of land, sea, and air. It is a nagual of the god TEZCATLIPOCA who created the First Sun, Nahui Ocelotl (Four Jaguar), a world peopled by giants who were devoured by divine jaguars.  Ocelotl, the 14th day of the month, was usually a lucky day, but anyone born on the day Ce Ocelotl (One Jaguar) was destined for sacrifice to one god or another.  OCELOTL is patron of scouts and warriors, and the elite corps of warriors of the night were known as the Jaguar Knights.  Ever since the Maya, in Mesoamerica jaguar pelts in shades of tawny gold to white were the sacred possessions of priests and royalty.


Huixtocihuatl and Mictlancihuatl, Aztec goddesses

No, I haven’t been on vacation since the middle of May. Well, actually I did go away with family for a week at the beginning of July to a beach house in Galveston.  Just a week though.  Otherwise I’ve been making good progress on the eleventh icon (Ocelotl-Jaguar) for my YE GODS! coloring book and restoring photographs by the dozen for a biography of my mother, which I hope to finish by October and publish under Writing.  As if that weren’t enough of an excuse for no blog postings these three months, I’ve also been dealing with some medical issues I won’t bore you with, except to say they involved surgery and prescription for a blood thinner.  No fun whatsoever.

Meanwhile, I’ve wondered what to write about next. I considered a lament about the current sad climate for dance in Santa Fe, but you don’t want to read about my withering opinion of what they’re calling nightlife and dance music nowadays.  Rants about today’s absurd political situation seemed particularly egregious, and philosophical essays seemed pointless.  I’ve been planning to write about 30 years ago, but that purely autobiographical subject, while formative and somewhat dramatic, isn’t all that exciting.  So I’ll fall back on my eccentric art for a topic.

Sorry about taking so long on the Ocelotl icon, but it demands an exorbitant number of elements. The Jaguar being the Aztec’s main animal deity, lord of the animals, I’ve got to include as many of the animals indigenous to Mexico as I can manage.  It’s been a hoot drawing them:  armadillo, peccary, xoloitzcuintli, quetzal, turkey, iguana, tortoise, coati, etc. There are several yet to go, like pelican and giant anteater. It will present the Mesoamerican biota of creatures of the land, air, and sea.

To show this inclusiveness, I’ve drawn Tlaltecuhtli, the androgynous deity of the earth (the land); Quetzalcoatl, the composite deity of the sky (the air); and Huixtocihuatl, the Lady of Salt (the sea). In addition, in the tenth icon of Mictlantecuhtli I included a new cameo of the Lady of the Land of the Dead, Mictlancihuatl.

Since these two divine Ladies don’t figure in the Aztec ceremonial calendar, they didn’t make it into my batch of illustrations for that 1993 book. So here for your delectation are images of two more Aztec goddesses:

Huixtocihuatl, Lady of Salt, and Mictlancihuatl, Lady of the Land of the Dead

Huixtocihuatl, Lady of Salt, and Mictlancihuatl, Lady of the Land of the Dead


Source of Aztec Calendar

A friend mentioned that the Aztec ceremonial calendar of 260 days might be based on the zenithal passage of the sun at some particular latitude. I calculated:  260 calendar days / 365.25 solar days = 0.7118 of the annual cycle X 93.6 degrees per year (back and forth between the Tropics) = 66.62834 X .5 = 33.3142 degrees – 23.4 from Tropic of Capricorn to Equator = 9.9142 degrees N (9o 54’ 51”).  I was surprised that this latitude runs through Costa Rica.

Reading the book “Cycles of the Sun, Mysteries of the Moon” by Vincent H. Malmström (University of Texas Press, 1997), I was even more surprised that the professor of geography announced the latitude as 14.8 degrees N, without showing calculations. He then identified the pre-Olmec site of Izapa as where the calendar was probably invented.  By my count, at 14.8 degrees N, the southern lap of the sun’s cycle lasts about 297 days.  That’s way off.

Let’s assume that the invention of the calendar happened 1400—1100 BC to allow time for it to get to Izapa and, as Malmström so reasonably proposes, cross over the Isthmus of Tehuantepec into the early Olmec area. But there were pre-Olmec cultures all along the Pacific coast from Mexico through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and down into Costa Rica.  As a matter of fact, in Costa Rica the Las Mercedes site (from 1500 BC) lies on the slope of the (active) Turrialba volcano at 10.167 degrees N.  It’s worth noting that Turrialba’s peak is at 10.01 degrees N, so Las Mercedes is directly east, which would make for a huge gnomon.

Now I read in “The Art of Mesoamerica” by Mary Ellen Miller (Third Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2001) that the unworkable Izapa proposition has survived in scholarship for at least four more years. But this author proposes the human nine-month birth cycle as more likely.  I calculate 9 x 30 days = 270—close but no cigar, and too variable.  Miller argues that a zenithal source of the ceremonial count “seems an unlikely basis for a calendar first recorded to the north of the 15-degree latitude.”  Given the astronomical bent of the ancients, I’d say it’s an exquisitely likely basis for a calendar, whenever or wherever first conceived or recorded.

IF the 260-day ceremonial calendar was based on the sun’s zenithal passage, THEN it must have been invented at a latitude where that time period obtained—approximately 9.9 degrees.  That latitude also runs along the Caribbean across the northern sections of Colombia and Venezuela, but there don’t seem to be any significant culture sites in those areas from appropriate times.

If not in Costa Rica, then how about at 9.9142 degrees South? That imaginary line runs across the Amazon basin just slightly north of the Beni region in Brazil and Bolivia —which by the way hosted an enormous hydrological culture from 4000 BC to 1300 AD(!).  Though they built canals, causeways, raised fields and living sites, we essentially know nothing about them.

That latitude also crosses the Andes in Peru, running right through Chavín de Huantar in the Ancash valley. It was the main site of the earliest South American civilization (1200—400 BC), which occupied many other sites in the region and along the coast.  Other sites were even older though, like El Paraíso (2500—1100 BC).  But the Chavín culture was the first to produce distinctive art and ceremonial architecture, specifically truncated pyramids.  Chavín de Huantar lies directly east of an Andean peak which again could serve as a magnificent gnomon.

Significantly, there are many obelisk– and slab-shaped stelae/gnomons at the site, the main one being the Lanzon stela, a 15+-foot stone spire with wonderful decorative carvings. It stands within a pit in the “temple” and extends up through a hole in the roof, a foolproof way to demonstrate the exact zenithal passage of the sun.  By the way, the figure carved on the stela points eloquently upward with one hand and downward with the other.  Of course, this site’s 260 days between the sun’s passages are on its northern lap between the Tropics.

I propose that Chavín de Huantar was the birthplace of the 260-day calendar, which probably was what caused its rise in ceremonial importance around 1200 BC, turning it into the cultural and religious hub of that first civilization and a destination for pilgrimages and rituals. Even though no archaeological traces of a 260-day calendar have been found amongst these non-literate Andean civilizations, they may well have observed it religiously alongside the solar calendar, which is precisely how it worked later in Mexico.  And it got to Mexico by sea.

The Chavín and other even earlier Pacific coastal cultures were accomplished sea-faring folk using balsa-wood rafts and boats. (Balsa trees grow all along the coasts of South and Central America.)  There was a lot of maritime activity, trade, and exchange among the various cultures long before the Chavín.  In the dim past maize was brought from Mexico to the Andes, and the art of metal-working passed in the opposite direction. The Pacific coast from western Mexico down to northern Chile was one enormous “economic zone” of productive ecologies between sea and mountains.  The Chavín were the first efflorescence of those cultures (fertilized by contacts with the Beni?), and wherever they went, they understandably preached their religious calendar.

Besides the calendar, the Chavín spread other concepts of their culture and art all along the coast. Their pyramids and intricate figures and motifs of jaguars, caimans, and serpents bear a distinct resemblance to the architecture, themes, and imagery of the later Maya and other Mexican cultures.  The Chavín anthropomorphic jaguar and truncated pyramid must surely have accompanied the ceremonial calendar across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to inspire the Olmec—and subsequent Mesoamerican cultures.



­An Outrageous Coloring Book

Icons of Aztec Deities and Commentary

By Richard Balthazar


For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”

ATL, Aztec God of Water

ATL, Aztec God of Water

ATL {atł} is the deified element of water, and is a nagual (manifestation or bodhisattva) of TLALOC, the ancient God of Storms (Rain).  In the tonalpohualli or ceremonial count of days, also called the Turquoise Year, Atl is 9th of the 20 named days in the month, a lucky day.  As above, Nahui Atl (Four Water), the 4th of the 13 numbered days in one of the weeks, is the day-name of the Fourth Sun, a previous world ruled by CHALCHIUHTLICUE and destroyed by Water.  Its humans were turned into fish.  The four dots are the Aztec numeral 4.  The extended upper lip (harelip?) has been traditional for Mesoamerican water deities ever since the Olmec.


 Rather long ago for my book CELEBRATE NATIVE AMERICA, I originally drew the Aztec deities for the ceremonial calendar.  Now I’m redrawing in the digital medium and expanding them into full-scale icons.  And believe it or not, the YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS coloring book is offering you these amazing neo-Aztec icons for FREE.  That’s right—at no risk—not even any postage.

Color them in as you wish with my compliments.  The wrinkle is that this coloring book will be posted serially as each icon is completed.  That could well take the next couple years—a good reason to keep checking back with me.  At the moment only one is available, but there are four more almost ready for posting, and a sixth is well on the way.

The Aztec deities are a fascinating crowd of inter-related personalities involved in a soap-opera mythology of creation/destruction, love/strife, and life/death that makes the gods of Olympus look like wimps.  Perhaps the confusing dramas, frequent aliases, and surreal images are due to the fact that the Aztecs and their deities indulged in psychoactive drugs like alcoholic pulque, peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and other psychedelic herbs.  So hold on to your hats for some challenging images to color, such as the current posting above.

Using only a bit of my artistic license, I’m basing YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS on extant Aztec artifacts and their surviving picture-booksYou can use these almost authentic Aztec icons as cartoons for large-scale murals, smaller-scale tattoos, needlepoint patterns, and other design or illustration needs.

YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS should also be seen as a free and unique teaching tool for classes not only in art, but also in cultural and historical studies.  In addition, YE GODS!  THE AZTEC PANTHEON is an illustrated encyclopedia of Aztec deities that comprises a crash course in Aztec cosmology, mythology, ritual, society, and history.

Don’t be shy.  Make lots of copies to experiment on.  You’ll need to.




An Aztec Book of Days

By Richard Balthazar (Five Flower Press, 1993, out of print)

CNA cover

For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” 

I recently announced  that I’ve put my old out-of-print book on the Aztec ritual or ceremonial calendar up for free download.  Anyone with interest in art, mythology, history, or horoscopy will find it an unusual experience.  You’ll learn some weird stuff you never ever imagined, money-back guarantee.

The book presents the 260-day sacred Turquoise Year, which was used for divination and prophesy, in color plates of their 13 ‘months’ of 20 days spread over 20 ‘weeks’ of 13 days.  My weekly illustrations also include their patron gods or goddesses in images based on surviving Aztec books, primarily the Codices Borbonicus, Borgia, Nuttall, Fejervary-Mayer, Kingsborough, and Vindobensis.

For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” 

If you don’t want the book itself, all its illustrations are up for individual free download from my galleries of godsdays, and weeks on this site.  Do whatever with them with my blessing.

The Turquoise Year was an evolution of the earlier Mayan calendar of similar structure with roots among the even earlier Olmec.  It was the ancient Mesoamerican horoscope.  The birth day-name was a person’s ceremonial and official name, and the deities who ruled the numbers, days, weeks, and months, each with light and dark sides, controlled individual and societal fates.

By the way, you can quickly find out your Aztec name by going to azteccalendar.com, and while there, you can even pick up your Aztec horoscope, which I admit will be much more detailed than what you’ll find in my old book.

For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” 

READERS: Please disregard the final chapter and its mind-boggling concordance.  My hubristic attempt to start up a new Sixth Sun at the fall of Tenochtitlan was at best poetic, but that calendar has now run out anyway.  Forget about it.

Another note:  I exercised my artist’s license on the 20th week, One Rabbit, naming as its patron a far more appetizing deity, Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers.  The actual patron was a quasi-deity called Tecpatl (Flint—the sacrificial knife).  Feeling like a nagual (or bodhisattva) of Xochipilli, I’ve dared to use his image in the banner on this website.