Aztec Calendar – Deer Trecena

The third trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Deerfor its first numbered day, which is the 7th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Deer is Mazatl, and it’s known as Manik’ in Yucatec Maya and Quej in Quiché Maya. As the only other large food-animal in Mesoamerica (the peccary and turkey being much smaller than either), the deer was important protein for the populations, and their relationship to this timid animal is celebrated in many codices, mostly of slaughtering it. The leg (haunch) of the deer is also a frequent motif. Each of the days (tonalli) represents a specific human body part, and the deer is connected with the right leg. Don’t ask why.


Tepeyollotl (Heart of the Mountain), god of caves and echoes, is the principal patron of the Deer trecena. He causes earthquakes, avalanches, and volcanos, and cures and causes diseases. A deity of witchcraft, he guards the entrance to Mictlan, the Land of the Dead. Possibly God L of the Maya, he may also be the primordial jaguar-man from even deeper in pre-history. As the Jaguar of the Night whose roaring heralds the sunrise, Tepeyollotl is a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, also known as the Lord of Jewels (mines) and 8th lord of the night. (See my Icon #17.)

There is doctrinal disagreement among the codices about the secondary patron of the Deer trecena. In Borgia and Vaticanus, it’s the goddess Tlazolteotl, but in the rest it’s Quetzalcoatl. This may well reflect regional calendar cults. Make of it what you will.

Tlazolteotl (Goddess of Filth) is goddess of fertility and sexuality, motherhood, midwives, and domestic crafts like weaving. On another hand, she is also the patron of witchcraft and fortune-tellers and of lechery and unlawful love, including adulterers and sexual misdeeds. She cures diseases, particularly venereal, and as the goddess of purification and bathing, forgives sins. (Her mouth is usually black from eating all those filthy sins). People confess their sins to her only once in their life, usually at the very last moment, and besides that rite (which Spanish clergy recognized as parallel to their sacrament of confession), her rituals include offerings of urine and excrement. One of several earth-mothers, Tlazolteotl is reputedly the mother of the maize deities Centeotl and Chicomecoatl, though divine genealogy is notoriously nebulous. She is also 7th lord of the night and patron of the number 5. According to some codex images, her day-name may be Nine Reed, which isn’t particularly pertinent to her divinatory significance.

Quetzalcoatl has been discussed at length as the sole patron of the previous Jaguar trecena. There remains little or nothing to add in conjunction with this appearance in a supporting role.


By Marguerite Paquin, author of “Manual for the Soul: A Guide to the Energies of Life: How Sacred Mesoamerican Calendrics Reveal Patterns of Destiny”

Another strongly earth-oriented time period, this trecena is aligned with the general idea of “sacrifice and reconciliation.” It is often a period that calls for “give and take,” negotiation, cooperation, and even “forgiveness” in response to events of a high-stakes nature. The idea of the deer working with the hunter to provide a “giveaway” in order to sustain life is a metaphor that could apply here. Emphasis is on working together towards achieving “sacred balance” and harmony with the earth.

Further how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at Note that the Maya equivalent is the Manik’ trecena.


The Aztec Tonalpohualli, like the ancestral Maya calendar, is counted through the sequence of 20 named days of the agricultural “month” (vientena), of which there are 18 in the solar year. Starting with 1 Deer, the trecena continues 2 Rabbit, 3 Water, 4 Dog, 5 Monkey, 6 Grass, 7 Reed, 8 Jaguar, 9 Eagle, 10 Vulture, 11 Earthquake, 12 Flint, and 13 Rain—completing the count before finishing the vientena.

The Deer trecena contains at least two significant days:

One Deer (Ce Mazatl) may be the day-name of Xochiquetzal, the Flower Feather. (Lacking birth certificates, divine birthdays, like genealogies, often depend on cults and are no more certain or verifiable than those of mythical beings in western religious traditions.) She’s the ever-young goddess of love, beauty, female sexuality, and fertility—though her worship involves some surreally gruesome sacrificial rites. Xochiquetzal protects young mothers in pregnancy and childbirth, and is a patron of weaving, embroidery, artisans, artists, and prostitutes. As she’s the patron of the 19th trecena, Eagle, more of her scandalous mythology will be presented there.

One Deer (Ce Mazatl) is also the day-name of one of the Cihuateteo, warrior spirits of women who die in childbirth, who escort the sun from noon to its setting. Demons who cause seizures and insanity, after sunset they go to the crossroads to steal children and seduce men to adultery. Probably a nagualof Xochiquetzal, this one’s area of dangerous influence is beauty, sex, and love. In an image pairing the Cihuateteo with the male Ahuiateteo (gods of pleasure), she’s posed indicatively with Five Lizard (Macuil Cuetzpallin), the deity of sexual excess.

One Deer (Ce Mazatl) is also the day-name in the regional Mixtec tradition for the creative couple, Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl (collectively Ometeotl), likely because of the connection between deer and the sun and provision of sustenance. (See the Crocodile trecena.)

Two Rabbit (Ome Tochtli) is the name-day of the principal god of drunkenness, Izquitecatl, one of the innumerable pulque gods known the centzon totochtin (400 rabbits). Among the other 399 rabbit-children of Mayauel and Patecatl who patronize every form of intoxication, alcoholic and herbal, one can name Tezcatzoncatl, Tlilhua, Toltecatl, and Tepoztecatl.


Several of the surviving so-called Aztec codices (some originating from other cultures like the Mixtec) have Tonalamatl sections laying out the trecenas of the Tonalpohualli on separate pages. In Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin, the first two pages are missing; Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios are each lacking various pages (fortunately not the same ones); and in Codex Borgia and Codex Vaticanus all 20 pages are extant. (The Tonalpohualli is also presented in a spread-sheet fashion in Codex Borgia, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Cospi, but that format apparently serves other purposes.)


As described in my earlier blog The Aztec Calendar – My Obsession, some thirty years ago—on the basis of very limited ethnographic information and iconographic models —I presumed to create my own version of a Tonalamatl, publishing it in 1993 as Celebrate Native America! With no awareness of secondary patrons, I created an image of Tepeyollotl out of thin air to be the patron deity of the Deer trecena. Well, not quite: I knew what his name meant and that he was the god of volcanos. Working with motifs from Codex Nuttall, I concocted a fairly Mixtec design of angular and stepped patterns with an eruption in his headdress and an abstract pendant suggesting a “heart of the mountain.” Meanwhile, I must have been channeling deep Maya iconography to come up with his front-on cross-legged pose.

Aztec Calendar – Deer trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

At this point, I should remark on the layout of the various tonalamatls, about which I had no clue thirty years ago. With the days arranged around three sides of the patron panel, mine was totally unorthodox, resulting in a roughly 3 X 4 height-width ratio. The authentic codices all present their tonalamatls on basically square pages. I’ll explain with each one how that works.

TONALAMATL BORGIA (re-created by Richard Balthazar from Codex Borgia)

Aztec Calendar – Deer Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

The layout of the Borgia tonalamatl creates square pages by stacking two of the rectangular trecenas. The first ten trecenas run along the bottom of the pages, and then the second ten turns around in boustrophedon fashion to run on top back to the beginning. Thus, the 1st trecena (Crocodile) is capped with the 20th (Rabbit), the 2nd (Jaguar) with the 19th (Eagle), this 3rd (Deer) with the 18th (Wind), and so on. The progression of unnumbered days also switches direction with nine running across the bottom of the panel and four up the side.

In this Borgia trecena Tepeyollotl appears as an in-the-flesh jaguar, which is in keeping with his being the Jaguar of the Night. Note the stars in his night-sky throne. The golden squiggles rising from his nose represent his roar. Once more, I can’t remark on the fancy paraphernalia floating around in the middle of the panel, except to point out the striped “power serpent” that lurks significantly at the bottom. I wonder what species of snake has that dark tail section. In some other codices the serpents are clearly the quintessential New World rattlesnake, but in Borgia the tails generally have only this dark point, though some flaunt ornamental plumes for tails.

The figure of Tlazolteotl as secondary patron of the trecena displays her emblematic black mouth, her usual curved nose ornament, and a weaving spindle in her headdress. The crescents on her skirt likely refer to her relationship with the moon (menstrual cycles). I have no idea why she’s holding a shield and handful of arrows, but the uniquely trussed-up figure she’s holding by the hair is presumably a sacrificial offering.

Note that the little guy has two right hands. Speaking of which, Tlazolteotl has two left hands, though her supposed right hand is impossibly contorted even for a left one. While I did nothing to “correct” this egregious example of “ideoplasty,” in the interest of aesthetic transparency, I must admit to some artistic plastic surgery on the goddess’s thumbs. In the original image they were both hugely over-sized, that on her left hand twice as large as anatomically proportional. I seriously doubt there was any deeper significance to the monstrous distortion.

TONALAMATL YOAL (compiled and re-created by Richard Balthazar on the basis of Codex

Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Deer Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

The original two separate pages of Telleriano-Remensis and Rios are essentially square illustrations divided between days five and six, with ten tonalli across the top and three down the side. The lower sections of the separate pages were used for Spanish and Italian commentaries, respectively, with many notes intruding on the images, naming the tonalli, and coding the lords of the night as to good, bad, or indifferent luck. My compilation and re-creation have dispensed with all that archaic clutter.

Observe that the god Tepeyollotl here is in a human form dressed in an entire jaguar pelt, head and claws included. I have greatly refined his face peering from the jaguar’s fanged mouth to reflect his image as 8th lord of the night, second from right on top above the day 9 Eagle. (Note that the third bust from right is Tlazolteotl as 7th lord of the night—with the black mouth and weaving spindles in her headdress.) Again, for transparency, I will admit to giving Tepeyollotl a “correct” right hand with the scepter. Here two left hands were just too jarringly ideoplastic! Otherwise, I strategically adjusted details and made only a few changes to his color scheme.

The figure of Quetzalcoatl as secondary patron is closely related to his image in the Jaguar trecena with outrageous headdress, curious medallion on his forehead, conch-shell pendant, and inexplicable “basket” on his back. Obvious differences are the lack of an Ehecatl-mask and black stripe down the face, the nautilus shell in his left hand (apparently symbolic of eternity), and the sacrificial victim held by the hair in his right hand. While the victim is quite in accordance with the trecena’s theme of sacrifice, it’s disturbing on two counts. Quetzalcoatl is famously opposed to human sacrifice, and the victim seems to be a child—normally sacrificed to Tlaloc.


As the incomplete Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin start with the Deer trecena, I can now offer their patron panels for comparison. Apart from the differing secondary patrons and graphic styles, they’re remarkably consistent theologically.

The pages of Tonalamatl Aubin are laid out in squares with the patron panel in the upper left corner. Reversing the pattern of Borgia, the tonalli range from upper right with four down that side and nine across the bottom in ranks of four blocks. The first contain the numbered tonalli, the second the lords of the night, the third the lords of the day, and the fourth the totem-birds of the numbers. This results in a densely packed page, an effect only exaggerated by an extremely awkward cartoonish style of the images, particularly of the heads of the lords and birds.

Tonalamatl Aubin Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

Here Tepeyollotl is again an actual jaguar (oddly with only three claws on his forepaws). Apart from another “power serpent” (clearly a rattlesnake), the central paraphernalia is different than that in Borgia, though the conch is a frequent motif. Quetzalcoatl is recognizable as the secondary patron by his simplified headdress, black face-stripe, stylized conch-shell pendant, and in particular by the cross symbols on his sandals. The item in his right hand isn’t recognizable as a nautilus shell, but the victim held by the hair in his left is consistent iconography—and may also be a child. It’s amusing to note the blue finger- and toe-nails.


The pages of the tonalamatl section in Codex Borbonicus are also laid out in squares with patron panels in the upper left corners. However, its tonalli range from the lower left with seven across the bottom and six up the right side in ranks of two blocks. In the first blocks are the numbered tonalli with the lords of the night, and in the second are the lords of the day with respective totem-birds. While the style of the relatively large Borbonicus patron panels is ornate and colorful (with a superbly bright shade of blue), the surrounding small figures of tonalli, lords, and birds are so schematic that they’re difficult to distinguish. Nevertheless, the overall effect of the trecena pages is quite dramatic.

Codex Borbonicus Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

The Borbonicus Deer trecena is the third with Quetzalcoatl as secondary patron. Here the figure is very like the deity in Tonalamatl Yoal, including all the usual insignia, conch pendant, nautilus shell, and childlike sacrificial victim, but his face is the tri-color we saw earlier in the Borgia and Vaticanus images of the god in the Jaguar trecena. The principal patron Tepeyollotl is a hugely ornamented living, roaring jaguar with human hands (two lefts!) and right foot; to indicate that he’s a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, his left foot is replaced by a mystical smoking mirror. Generally indicating divinity, Tepeyollotl’s be-ribboned pendant is also worn by Xiuhtecuhtli, Xipe Totec, Chalchiuhtotolin, and many other deities.

The surrounding paraphernalia is mostly familiar, like the conch and serpent, but new are the fat spider and the sacrificial knife on the upper right. The containers of unidentifiable “stuff” are complicated by damage to the one on the lower right. The smudge continued along under Quetzalcoatl’s feet obscuring apparent Spanish annotations, which were also inserted into the border blocks to count the tonalli and name them. (Though I cleaned up that smudge, I held off doing any “repairs” to these images, but it was sorely tempting.)


In the previous Crocodile and Jaguar trecenas, we saw the peculiar, again cartoonish style of Codex Vaticanus, and here it is again in the patron panel for the Deer trecena. Similarly simplistic, the unnumbered tonalli run from the lower right with seven up that side and the remaining six across the top. The resulting square page is dominated by the large patron panel to much the same degree as in a Borgia trecena.

Codex Vaticanus Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

The presence here of Tlazolteotl as secondary patron is more evidence of a close relationship between the Vaticanus and Borgia codices. She is identified only by the black mouth, but she holds the requisite young sacrificial victim. The power serpent in the bundle on her back now seems to be a rattlesnake. Like in Borgia, Tepeyollotl is again a full-scale jaguar without human features. The bluish item above its nose is curiously much the same as that in the Borbonicus patron panel—and disturbingly, the jaguar has five claws on each of its forepaws. Your guess is as good as mine as to what these details might signify.

The extra items are also very similar to some in the Borgia trecena: the shield and arrow bundle and the mysterious beaded loop with bow. The pot harks back to the elegant container in Borgia but now has a fanged face, perhaps relating to the pot in Borbonicus with the skulls for feet.


I can only point out these odd details—not explain them. Let’s leave interpretations to those who would use these images for divination (as they were originally intended). Apropos the doctrinal disagreement about secondary patrons mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, we’ve now checked out these six examples of the Deer trecena, and the vote is three for Quetzalcoatl, two for Tlazolteotl, and one abstention. Why don’t we just call it a tie and let would-be fortune-tellers pick and choose their auguries?

Another outcome of comparing these six tonalamatls is that I no longer feel like a heretic for the unique layout of my old Tonalamatl Balthazar. So what if my tonalli range around three sides? There’s nothing sacrosanct about dividing up the thirteen tonalli or the direction they run. I frankly think my modern trecenas are as authoritative and veracious as any of those ancient tonalamatls—and at least as beautiful.


The next trecena will be that of Flower with its fun-loving patron Huehuecoyotl (the Old Coyote) and a couple other deities of celebration. Stay tuned!


Aztec Calendar – Jaguar Trecena

The second trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Jaguar for its first numbered day, which is the 14th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language it is Ocelotl and is referred to as Ix in the Yucatec Maya language and I’x or B’alam in Quiché Maya. Ever since those distant Maya times, jaguar pelts in shades of tawny gold to white have been the sacred possessions of deities, priests, and royalty. For the Aztecs, the nocturnal Jaguar is the patron of scouts and warriors, and the elite corps of warriors of the night is known as the Jaguar Knights.

In Mesoamerica, the Jaguar is deified as Lord of the Animals (see my Icon #11), remarkably including even the human animal. This New World animistic concept contrasts sharply with Old World humanistic notions of homo sapiens as assigned by a divinity to hold dominion over the whole world and all its animal life. (See an enlightening discussion of this profound distinction in the book “Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari.)

In Nahuatl the day Ocelotl is sometimes called teyolloquani (“magician”) as the Jaguar is a nagual (manifestation) of the god Tezcatlipoca, the Black One, god of magic and divination, as well as of much else. The nagual relationship is a widespread phenomenon of exchange, overlap, or confusion of divine identities apparently reflecting an incipient syncretism in the polytheistic religion of Mesoamerica. (Naguals will be encountered again below and later in many instances.)     


The patron deity of the Jaguar trecena is Quetzalcoatl, the famous Plumed Serpent, who was the bringer of culture to mankind in Mesoamerica, including the ceremonial calendar and the staple maize. (See my Icon #14.)  He is the nameless god known in that same capacity from Olmec times, as well as Kukulkan (in Yucatec) or Gugumatz (in Quiché) for the Maya and the so-called “feathered serpent” of Teotihuacan. “Quetzalcoatl” was also the standard name/title of rulers of the later Toltecs of Tula.

As the god of learning, writing, arts and crafts, priests, and merchants, Quetzalcoatl is opposed to human sacrifice, content simply with the sacrifice of birds and incense. He embodies the planet Venus, with his nagual Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Lord of the House of the Dawn) representing the morning star. (Meanwhile, Xolotl, another nagual of Tezcatlipoca, is considered the evening star.) Quetzalcoatl ruled the Second Sun (Four Wind)—as his main nagual Ehecatl (see below)—and created the current Fifth Sun (Four Earthquake) by using his own blood to give new life to the bones of the people of the Fourth Sun (Four Water)—which were fetched up by Ehecatl from Mictlan, the Land of the Dead. Reflecting another confusing nagual relationship, he’s also called the White Tezcatlipoca but is also irrationally considered the sacred twin of Tezcatlipoca (maybe because of the astronomical relationship with Xolotl), though they were born on different days, and is the sibling of other deities. The divine family tree is a tangled web of parents, siblings, offspring, and naguals.


By Marguerite Paquin, author of “Manual for the Soul: A Guide to the Energies of Life: How Sacred Mesoamerican Calendrics Reveal Patterns of Destiny”

Strongly connected with the powers and mysteries of the Earth, the Jaguar trecena brings into play the enchantment, mystery, and power of the Jaguar in combination with Quetzalcoatl, its “sacred twin,” the embodiment of wisdom, light, and life. This combination of the Jaguar’s association with survival, protection, power, and instinct, with the life-aligned forces of the patron energies provides a time frame is highly aligned with both rulership and transformation. The general theme of “posturing or pushing for power and authority” often plays out during this period, with a certain amount of “jostling for position” to bring about Earth-related change.

Further information on how these energies connect with world events can be found in the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at Look for the Ix (Jaguar) trecena.


The Aztec Tonalpohualli, like the ancestral Maya calendar, is counted through the sequence of 20 named days of the agricultural “month” (vientena), of which there are 18 in the solar year. Starting with 1 Jaguar, this trecena proceeds: 2 Eagle, 3 Vulture, 4 Earthquake, 5 Flint, 6 Rain, and with 7 Flower completes the vientena. Starting again on the next one, the count continues with 8 Crocodile, 9 Rain, 10 House, 11 Lizard, 12 Snake, and 13 Death.

The Jaguar trecena contains three very significant days:

Four Earthquake or Movement (in Nahuatl Nahui Ollin) is the day-name of the Fifth Sun created as described above by Quetzalcoatl. The titular god of this current Sun is Tonatiuh, who became the solar deity by leaping into the creative conflagration (as illustrated in my Icon #16). The face of Tonatiuh is at the center of the Stone of the Suns.

Seven Flower (in Nahuatl Chicome Xochitl) is the day-name of Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers (subject of my Icon #18). He is the god of a great many things including art, music, dance, games, (homo)sexuality, fertility (flowers and agriculture), beauty, peace, ecstasy, sleep, and dreams/hallucinations.  As patron of writing, painting, and song he manifests as his nagual/alias deity Chicome Xochitl, and in some of his roles as other naguals to be encountered later. The Prince is also a patron of the sacred ballgame tlachtli.

Nine Wind (in Nahuatl Chicnahui Ehecatl) is sometimes called the day-name of Quetzalcoatl, inasmuch as it is actually the day-name of his principle nagual Ehecatl, God of the Wind (air, the breath of life, and spirit) and inspiration/intelligence (see my Icon #5). Note that the day-sign is the stylized head of Ehecatl. The relationship between these two deities is even closer than being naguals of each other, more like a split personality. In actual fact, the existential Ehecatl is much more popular in the codices and rituals than the notorious Quetzalcoatl. (More on this below.)    


Several of the surviving so-called Aztec codices (some originating from other cultures like the Mixtec) have Tonalamatl sections laying out the trecenas of the Tonalpohualli on separate pages. In Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin, the first two pages are missing; Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios are each lacking various pages (fortunately not the same ones); and in Codex Borgia and Codex Vaticanus all 20 pages are extant. (The Tonalpohualli is also presented in a spread-sheet fashion in Codex Borgia, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Cospi, but that format apparently serves other purposes.)


As described in my previous blog The Aztec Calendar – My Obsession, some thirty years ago—on the basis of very limited ethnographic information and iconographic models —I presumed to create my own version of a Tonalamatl, publishing it in 1993 as Celebrate Native America! For the patron deity of the Jaguar trecena, I created an image of Quetzalcoatl with a plumed serpent on his back much like the Codex Borbonicus image of Xiuhtecuhtli in its Dog trecena. In my ignorant enthusiasm, I wisely added items of regalia and symbols I’d read about in my limited sources, like the conical Huastec cap (with jaguar fur), flowering shinbone, fire-serpent weapon, cross symbol on his shield, golden beard, and others. In consequence, he wound up looking remarkably authentic in terms of Aztec iconography.

Aztec Calendar – Jaguar trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

TONALAMATL BORGIA (re-created by Richard Balthazar from Codex Borgia)

Aztec Calendar – Jaguar Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

This Borgia image of Quetzalcoatl wears only a few identifying emblems: the conch-whorl cutout pendant, the double serpent headdress, and sea-shell ornaments. Borgia also uses the black body with grey markings for other deities, apparently to indicate their supernatural nature. Note the jaguar pelt draped over the seat of the god’s throne and the divine fur on his collar. I should point out that for some dramatic reason Borgia almost always “bloodies” the corners of eyes, including those of the day-signs.

I can’t explain the significance of the temple with the star in its doorway or of the other items, but the small human figure deserves comment, at least for the curious fact of his having two left hands. In her monumental book “Descendants of Aztec Pictography,” Elizabeth Hill Boone (who taught art history at my alma mater Tulane University long after my time there) excuses this startling feature intellectually as “ideoplastic:” an image meant to be understood in intended detail rather than as optically accurate. As a latter-day descendant of Aztec pictography myself, I consider two left hands to be like a childish drawing, the artist simply being careless about verisimilitude, especially since this confusion of hands only occurs occasionally.

On the other hand, you will note here with Quetzalcoatl and the little guy, as well as later on everywhere (including in my own Tonalamatl and most other codices) a lack of distinction between figures’ right and left feet. Perhaps this physical discrepancy can appropriately be called ideoplastic because of the pronounced difficulty, if not impossibility, of rendering the toes in proper perspective. One easily gets used to understanding the intended detail.             

TONALAMATL YOAL (compiled and re-created by Richard Balthazar on the basis of Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Jaguar Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

Unlike Borgia’s “plain” image of Quetzalcoatl, this one in Tonalamatl Yoal is loaded with symbols and emblems of the deity, lacking only the double serpent in his stupendous headdress. Like the black body in Borgia, here the unnatural bluish-mauve body indicates his divine nature. The “mound” on which he’s standing/dancing is the symbol of a physical location, often (as in Codex Nuttall) adorned with the emblem of a specific place or town.  I’m unable to explain the apparent basket on his back or the items he holds in his hands, but I should point out that he’s wearing the mask of his nagual Ehecatl. This is in fact the schizoid deity Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl with emblematic elements of the Wind God’s headdress added to his own. The oddity is the mask’s many teeth—usually Ehecatl has only a single fang as in the day-sign.

Now I should show you what was involved in “compiling” and “re-creating” the images of Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl from these two codices:

Telleriano- Remensis Comparison with Rios Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl

To be kind, I can only call the original T-R image on the left crude and its Italian copy in Rios on the right imprecise, if slightly more realistic. By adjusting proportion and orientation and refining detail and color, my work was to turn these primitive sketches into a finished work. The large part of that (here and in most other cases) was correcting the position of the arms. Perhaps reasonably, Dr. Boone cites the distorted connection of limbs to figures’ torsos as another instance of ideoplastic art, but as a contemporary descendant, I’m offended by the contortion. By moving the arms to their natural positions, I can also reveal the profile detail of the face. (In this connection, note that as a stylistic rule, Aztec figures are almost exclusively drawn in profile, which is coincidentally a strict convention shared with ancient Egyptian paintings.)

Now let us consider the attendant figure, which I’ve adapted directly from T-R as more refined and dramatic (more blood!) than the Rios copy. The blood aside, you’ll observe that he has two right hands and misshapen feet, one with six toes! So much for ideoplasticity! Folks indoctrinated in Old World cults would call what this patently human figure is doing–piercing his tongue–doing “penance,” making retribution or punishing himself for inherent and inherited sinfulness, but it’s not.

In the Mesoamerican ethos, he’s sacrificing his sacred life-blood to the deity. Ceremonial blood-letting through the tongue or genitals was practiced since time immemorial to incur the good will of deities or to express gratitude for blessings. Heart sacrifice was a prayer to the gods that they continue the current Sun (world), and through the sacrificial ritual the donor experienced apotheosis with the subject deity. After the rite, quite like any other food animal, the donor’s body was consumed by the animistic population as sacramental communion. (If I might be permitted a personal comment here, I believe that the death of all beings, whether or not eaten afterwards, is apotheosis, the deceased merging with that deity in which they believed.)              


Since Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin also lack the Jaguar trecena, I can only offer the patron panel from Codex Vaticanus for comparison.

Codex Vaticanus Patron Panel for Jaguar Trecena

The elements of this image are a stylistically different restatement of those in the Borgia panel, lacking only the elegant night-day symbol. Note the close similarity of the bowl of offerings and arrow bundles, including that odd shield-like item pinned to one of them. The attendant figure kneels in exactly the same position; his hands, here now two right ones, are also held in the same position, probably a worshipful gesture (like a salute?) but not overtly suggesting sacrifice as in Yoal. (The position of figures’ hands is apparently symbolic, though poorly understood.)

The figure of Quetzalcoatl is even plainer than in Borgia with only the double serpent in his headdress and a few seashell ornaments, lacking even the conch-shell pendant and divine jaguar pelt accoutrements. He shares the supernatural black body and tri-color face but differs in boasting a beard—a puzzling genetic phenomenon for “native American” males. Another puzzle is the little tag on his nose-bar which is normally emblematic of the god Tezcatlipoca.

I can’t leave this image of Quetzalcoatl without complaining about his arms—and two left hands. Their connection with the deity’s torso is beyond distorted—almost like two left arms. The choice of how to “excuse” this glaring feature is yours: extreme ideoplasty, artistic ineptitude, or proto-Cubism? (In the original Borgia image, the distinction between his arms is unclear against the god’s black body, but it required only a tiny adjustment of the gray outline to line up the figure’s appropriately right and left hands.)

In any case, it’s evident that Codex Borgia and Codex Vaticanus must have been products of the same priestly school. I find it disturbing that in her great book Dr. Boone does not discuss these outstanding examples of pictography, except to dismiss them as “codices of the Borgia group, from the Puebla-Tlaxcala-Mixteca areas south of the valley of Mexico” and merely to include them among “the Mixtec genealogical histories and the divinatory manuscripts of the Borgia Group.” Nor does she even mention Tonalamatl Aubin. Within her very narrow geographic parameters of “Aztec” pictography, she includes much detail on the late Borbonicus, Telleriano-Remensis, Rios, and other codices and refers generously to the much later Magliabechiano, Mendoza, and Tudela manuscripts. However, as an artistic descendant of this fascinating pictography, I would argue that those parameters should embrace a much broader historical period and the wider geographical area of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.              


The next trecena will be that of Deer with scandalous and mysterious patrons: the Goddess of Filth and the Heart of the Mountain. Stay tuned!


Aztec Calendar – Crocodile Trecena


The first trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Crocodile for its first numbered day, also the first of the 260-day ritual Turquoise Year. In the Nahuatl language it is Cipactli and is referred to in the ancestral Maya languages as Imix in Yucatec and Imox in Quiché. Crocodile is the mythical Earth Monster which carries the world on its back; it was defeated by the god Tezcatlipoca, who lost his left foot in the battle, to create the First Sun, Four Jaguar (as shown in my Icon #19).


The patron deities of the Crocodile trecena are Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl (Lord and Lady of Sustenance). Also known as the dualistic deity Ometéotl, the conjoined pair Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl (Lord and Lady of Two) is the supreme creator and progenitor of the primary Aztec gods. As shown in my Icon #12, they rule the highest (13th) heaven of Omeyocan where unborn souls reside, and Omecihuatl chooses the days for their birth and thus their fates. The pair is also called Ilamatecuhtli and Ilamacihuatl (Lord and Lady of Creation). This deity of duality has no cult, rites, or temples and exists beyond the stars, in which capacity they are Citlalatonac and Citlalicue (Lord and Lady of the Stars).


By Marguerite Paquin, author of “Manual for the Soul: A Guide to the Energies of Life: How Sacred Mesoamerican Calendrics Reveal Patterns of Destiny”

The Crocodile trecena is associated with the watery primordial realm or place of origin that was seen as the birthplace and source of nourishment for all life, overseen by the masculine and feminine energies at the nucleus of life, and protected by the fierce Earth Monster. Symbolic of the fertile earth, as well as the cosmos itself, this is a time frame that can set the stage for new beginnings and the development of new possibilities. Although it can be somewhat chaotic as new ideas take shape, this trecena is seen generally as a favorable period representing the “realm of all potential.”

For information on how these energies connect with world events, see Marguerite’s Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at


The Aztec Tonalpohualli, like the ancestral Maya calendar, is counted through the sequence of 20 named days of the agricultural “month” (or vientena, of which there are 18 in the solar year). Starting with 1 Crocodile, the trecena continues with 2 Wind, 3 House, 4 Lizard, 5 Snake, 6 Death, 7 Deer, 8 Rabbit, 9 Water, 10 Dog, 11 Monkey, 12 Grass, and 13 Reed. Each day and number have their own patron deity and divinatory significance, and for additional auguries, each is associated with a specific Lord of the Day and a cyclical Lord of the Night.


Several of the surviving so-called Aztec codices (some originating from other cultures like the Mixtec) have Tonalamatl sections laying out the trecenas of the Tonalpohualli on separate pages. In Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin, the first two pages are missing; Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios are each lacking various pages (fortunately not the same ones); and in Codex Borgia and Codex Vaticanus all 20 pages are extant. (The Tonalpohualli is also presented in a spread-sheet fashion in Codex Borgia, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Cospi, but that format apparently serves other purposes.)


As described in my previous blog The Aztec Calendar – My Obsession, some thirty years ago—on the basis of very limited ethnographic information and iconographic models —I presumed to create my own version of a Tonalamatl, publishing it in 1993 as Celebrate Native America! In my artistic ignorance—let’s less harshly call it naiveté—I chose as patron of the Crocodile trecena the goddess Omecihuatl (Tonacacihuatl), modelled on the secular Codex Nuttall, which was the only one I’d found. Since most of the other tonalamatls show only Ometecuhtli (Tonacatecuhtli), maybe I unwittingly exercised a bit of much-needed gender balance.

Aztec Calendar – Crocodile trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

The serpentine framework for the days was my own fantasy based on the snakes encircling the Stone of the Suns. With my artistic license, I arranged the normally linear number-dots in easily recognizable composite shapes. The ornate regalia and headdress of the goddess are pure Nuttall, but they turned out to be perfectly appropriate for deities. I was mystified by the items she carries, which I later found out are a torch and an incense bag. Live and learn.

TONALAMATL BORGIA (re-created by Richard Balthazar from Codex Borgia)

Aztec Calendar – Crocodile trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

Codex Borgia doesn’t indicate the days’ numbers, simply relying on the sequence (starting from lower right in this first half of the Tonalpohualli). In his right hand Tonacatecuhtli holds a fancy incense bag, sacrificial knife, and plant-symbol of life; in his left he holds penitential thorns. I’m unable to explain why he has golden hair or what that temple is with the strange extrusions (some containing stars). However, the serpent below it is a standard symbol of existential power. The two figures on the left would seem to represent the union of duality consistent with the patron deity, but there’s no indication of sexual duality, unless the male is gripping the female’s arm… Why they’re sucking on a sacrificial knife is beyond me, but I recognize the incense-burner on the upper figure’s head, lending the scene a sacred aspect.

You may note a marked difference between the day-signs in this Borgia trecena and those in mine. There is even variation in other Borgia trecenas, and other codices have their own styles. The vientena sequence remains the same, and you’ll just have to get used to the variant day-signs. Oddly, the Borgia day-sign for Deer has no horns.

TONALAMATL YOAL (compiled and re-created by Richard Balthazar on the basis of Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Crocodile trecena -Tonalamatl Yoal

I call this Tonalamatl Yoal (Night) because it includes with the days the cycle of the nine Lords of the Night:  Xiuhtecuhtli, Itztli, Pilzintecuhtli, Centeotl, Mictlantecuhtli, Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlazolteotl, Tepeyollotl, and Tlaloc, most of whom will later appear as patrons of other trecenas. Because of the number nine—if my math is correct—the cycle takes nine Turquoise Years to repeat. However, all the extant tonalamatls start with Xiuhtecuhtli, even the Codex Cospi spreadsheet, the only one of those to include the Night Lords.

This tonalamatl righteously presents both Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl as patrons of the Crocodile trecena and helpfully includes the dot-numbers for the days. I can only ascribe the omission of Tonacacihuatl as a trecena patron from the other tonalamatls—and the remarkable difference in “divine magnificence” in this one—to a strain of misogyny in the Aztec culture. Perhaps making her the patron in Tonalamatl Balthazar may atone for this in some way.

The central figures more explicitly represent unity in duality, though it’s impossible to determine which is male or female. In Aztec iconography it’s standard to indicate sex by figures behind a blanket, but I have no clue what the “club” between them is—or the items above their heads.


Since Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin lack the Crocodile trecena, I can only offer the patron panel from Codex Vaticanus for comparison. a much less picturesque image:

Aztec Calendar – Crocodile trecena – Patron Panel from Codex Vaticanus

Note the awkwardly cross-legged figure of Tonacatecuhtli, the power-serpent, and the two figures suggesting unity in duality. These may be vaguely gendered with the upper male gripping the lower female’s arm as in Tonalamatl Borgia. Surely the different colors are supposed to signify something, and one must wonder about the striations on the upper body.

In any case, the iconography and orthodoxy of the Crocodile trecena seems fairly consistent in the extant tonalamatls. I wish we could see the missing patron panels in Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin and would bet that the lost Borbonicus page showed the pair of deities in its typically ornate fashion.


The next trecena will be that of Jaguar, its patron the rock-star god Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent. Soon! Stay tuned!


The Aztec Calendar – My Obsession

The Aztec count of days (tonalpohualli in the Nahuatl language) is commonly called the “Aztec Calendar,” a ritual cycle of 260 days in 20 13-day “weeks” or trecenas, its purpose divinatory or prophetic. Like the well-known zodiacal system of horoscopes in which a person is born in one of 12 “houses” with character and fate influenced thereby, the Aztec day on which one is born is that person’s ceremonial name and is believed to determine their character and fate. (You can discover your own Aztec day-name by entering your birth-date at

Calling the Tonalpohualli “Aztec” is in fact a historical misnomer. They inherited the basic ritual of the calendar from the ancient Maya, who in their turn adopted it from the even earlier Olmec. I have found circumstantial evidence that the roots of this Mesoamerican ceremonial calendar may reach still deeper into the past, possibly originating in distant South America. See my blog posting on this iconoclastic theory:  Source of Aztec Calendar.

The way my obsession with the Tonalpohualli came about is a long and probably tedious story, but I’m going to tell it—if only as a cautionary tale about unbridled enthusiasm. Over several decades, my possession by the Aztec muse happened gradually, simple curiosity growing into bemused fascination, to an eccentric fixation, and then to a full-fledged obsession.

Like most folks, in high school I learned about the conquest of the heathen Aztecs by the devout Catholic Conquistador Hernando Cortez in 1519, supposedly thanks merely to his miraculous horses and muskets. (Only in the 90s did I learn that his dramatic victory was actually thanks to10,000 Tlaxcalan warrior allies, and that the godly Conquest destroyed a monumental city, an efflorescent culture on a par with the Roman empire, and untold millions of native peoples.)

In the later 70s I came across a later16th-century narrative by Fray Diego Duran about the arduous legendary migration of the barbarian Aztecs into the Valley of Mexico and was intrigued by the intertwined story of their war-god Huitzilopochtli, Hummingbird of the South. For a while I sketched out a pseudo-sci-fi novel about that journey but finally abandoned the project.

About ten years later, a friend passed me the book “The King Danced in the Marketplace” by Frances Gilmore which gave me somewhat more information on the Conquest, though hardly less fanciful or slanted. In the story of the Aztec ruler Montezuma, the author also made an off-hand comment that the Aztec “century” was only 52 years long, counted in four sequences of thirteen. Being a crypto-mathematician, I was struck by the numerical system—and by the curious fact that it sounded exactly like a deck of playing cards.

That inspiration triggered a creative frenzy in the later 80s. On the model of the century-count, I laid out a deck of cards with eight intersecting suits called Palli for the four 13-year periods. Then, discovering that the ceremonial year was counted in 20 sequences of 13 numbered days, I created another deck called Tonalli (days) to reflect that cycle. Having nowhere to go with these “inventions,” I forged on to design a Tarot-type fortune-telling deck called Ticitl (priest/teacher), a couple unworkable board games, and a set of six-sided dice. I wrote out detailed rules, but frankly, these thirty years later, I can’t remember how the games were supposed to be played.

Samples of Early Games Based on Aztec Calendar

Palli                                     Tonalli                                Ticitl                                    Aztec Dice

Only much later did I come to understand the complicated connection between the 52-year century, the 260-day Tonalpohualli, and the solar year with 18 months of 20 named days. However, in the course of working on those games, I’d drawn all the day signs and several deities, mostly on popular models from the Codex Borbonicus, and when I decided in the early 90s to create my own Aztec Book of Days (published in 1993), all I had to do was lay out the trecenas and draw the other patron deities. Coloring them was time-consuming but great fun.

In those BI (Before Internet) years, finding authentic models for those other Aztec deities was almost impossible. Fortunately, in the University of New Mexico library I found a rare facsimile of the Codex Nuttall, which I photographed and studied for figures, regalia, and paraphernalia. (More than a decade later I happened upon “The Codex Nuttall” in a 1975 Dover edition.)

I had no way of knowing at the time that Nuttall was actually a historical document rather than a ritual model. As a result, my images of the deities largely reflected that secular iconography. However, my skewed artistic inspiration produced 20 trecenas with eye-catching deities which are often viewed on my website under “Aztec Images.” (Visitors have often used them with my compliments for design purposes on clothing, other products, and even tattoos.) One of my more imaginative Nuttall-inspired creations was the God of the Moon:

Tecciztecatl – (God of the Moon)

Resting on these Aztec artistic laurels, for the next dozen years or so I turned to sculpture (found-object assemblages). Though focusing on sculpture, I still had the Aztec bug, and amongst many abstract works, I created figures of various Aztec-deities and day-signs. By 2008. my enthusiasm for sculpture faded, and I reverted to my old Aztec obsession, creating another deck of cards. “Six Snake” was much simpler than my earlier calendrical fantasies, composed of 54 cards with six suits of nine in the colors of the rainbow. Intended as a game for children to learn math, it worked on the closed numerological system of collapsing numbers to a single digit, 1 to 9. But the elegant idea proved to be flawed because it could only handle addition and multiplication; subtraction and division were beyond its scope.

After that, in the later AI (After Internet) years, I assembled a complete collection of the other Aztec codices that survived the book-burnings after the Conquest of Mexico and wrote a summary treatise on them: Ye Gods! The Aztec Codices. Studying these hundreds of ancient pages, I identified the vast Aztec assortment of gods and goddesses and posted an illustrated encyclopedia of them on my website: Ye Gods! The Aztec Pantheon.

Over the next several years I used these authentic images to create digital black-and-white icons of 20 deities for a coloring book called Ye Gods! The Aztec Icons.

Detail from Icon for Ehecatl, Aztec God of the Wind

In the midst of these painstaking digital drawings, in 2018 I was once again seized by the mania for cards and made a deck reflecting both the Tonalpohualli and the Aztec concept of specific gods and groups of days representing the cardinal directions. Those cards turned out to be too complicated to play with reasonably, but I presented them in a blog entitled “Aztec Gods of the Directions,” which for some odd reason has become far and away the most popular of my posts.

Aztec Gods of the Directions

Early in that same year, I had my icons printed on large-scale vinyl banners for an informational exhibition called Ye Gods! Icons of Aztec Deities. The exhibition was shown for two years in six venues before tragically being closed down by the covid pandemic in March 2020.

After eight years of drawing icons, this year I turned to re-creating the book of days (tonalamatl) pages from the Codex Borgia for Canadian friend Marguerite Paquin’s use in her blog on current Mayan trecenas, that calendar of course being quite the same as the Aztec. Only last year did I see the faithful full-color restoration/facsimile of the entire Codex Borgia published in 1993 by Gisele Díaz & Alan Rodgers (Dover Publications), but my digital re-creations are much freer in color and “rectified” detail, creating images essentially impossible for the ancient Aztec artists.

Chalchiuhtotolin, The Jade Turkey

In tandem with my Tonalamatl Borgia re-creations, I’m also compiling and re-creating the trecenas from the related Telleriano-Remensis and Rios codices, which both present them on two separate pages. The latter codex is a later 16th-century Italian (slap-dash) copy of the (awkwardly sketchy) former document, and my compiled re-creation attempts visually sophisticated images of their unique day-signs and deities. As this Book of Days also includes the cycle of the nine Lords of the Night, I’m calling it the Tonalamatl Yoal (Night).

As the various trecenas of the Tonalamatls Borgia and Yoal are completed, I’ll post them along with those from my 1993 Tonalamatl Balthazar, present Dr. Paquin’s notes on their auguries, and remark on their iconography.

The obsession endures. When I’ve completed the Tonalamatls (should I live that long), I intend to create another series of 20 icons, this time in color—of the day-signs with their patrons and divinatory details. After that (if the creek don’t rise), I plan to build a complete mandala of the complex Aztec concept of time and space.


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  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 supposedly 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 perhaps more importantly as patrons of their specific numbers, and though I’ve not seen any references to this, I’m willing to bet that the same Lords also rule the respective 13 daytime hours. Much of the confusion arises from the fact that everybody seems to consider Centeotl, God of Maize, as the 7th Lord of the Day, but meanwhile it’s generally accepted that Xochipilli, The Prince of Flowers, is the god of the number 7. Whatever…

I say this because the 9 nighttime hours have specific, widely acknowledged divine 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.)

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 purported volatile totems for the 13 Lords of the Day (and more specifically for the days of the week and probably the 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.

Please read the following proposal for a direction-based deck of cards with the understanding that it has now been superseded in my plans by a new more comprehensive system with a slightly expanded design. Someday I may have time to produce it.

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

Unfortunately, various scholarly sources disagree as the assignment of gods to the directions. However, I’ve arbitrarily chosen one interpretation for this project. Since the images on the above cards are so small, here are larger versions of the directional gods I’m using:

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.