Gay Pride 2022 – Xochipilli, Flower Prince

This month of June is Gay Pride 2022, and it’s mete and just that we parade and party. It would be great to have a patron “saint” to celebrate (“saint” being the title the dominant creed uses to replace the earlier gods of paganism). I want to glorify a patron god of gays, not a vengeful and homophobic deity whose devotees revile and condemn us.

There once was indeed such a god of gays in the distant past, beautiful boy named Antinous, who was deified by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. By sacrificing himself to the River Nile to bring his imperial lover good fortune, the divine ephebe became a god of beauty and love.

Head of Antinous from Hadrian’s Villa

Temples, statues, and even an entire city in Egypt were raised for beneficent Antinous, and as an honest-to-god deity, he was for a good while a strong candidate for the title of humanity’s savior—much more appropriate than the heavily marketed Messiah from Judea, who was merely (and messily) executed for rabble-rousing. The cult of Antinous was soon eradicated by righteous believers in less tolerant traditions, and I still mourn the loss.

But nowadays, as ever, it takes a lot more than an imperial decree to become a god. Anyway, beautiful Antinous probably qualifies more as a divine hero than a deity. We can always use more of them. Personally, I’m not into sacrifice and salvation (for and from what?) and prefer to revere a powerful deity with a positive attitude about being gay. It just so happens that in spite of their gruesome fixation on sacrifice, the ancient Aztecs had just such a one, a handsome divinity called the Flower Prince, Xochipilli.

This divine Prince is specifically the patron of homosexuals and an important god of fertility (agricultural produce and gardens). He’s also the god of art, dance, laughter, happiness, beauty and peace, flowers, ecstasy, sleep, and dreams/hallucinations, as well as of the sacred ball-game tlachtli. As patron of writing, painting, and song, he’s known as Chicomexochitl (Seven Flower), and as god of music, games, feasting, and frivolity, he’s called Macuilxochitl (Five Flower). That’s a rather impressive portfolio if you ask me, well worth glorifying.

Long ago before I’d ever seen any picture of Xochipilli, I drew one based on that portfolio and images of males from the Codex Nuttall—for my Aztec calendar as patron of the 20th trecena, Rabbit. (See my 1993 book Celebrate Native America!) As an arrogant humanistic artist, I was offended by the patron of that trecena, Tecpatl (flint—the sacrificial knife) and installed the more appetizing Flower Prince in that ceremonial role in an artistic coup d’état.

My early drawing is startling for the figure’s beard, which I saw in Codex Nuttall images of the historical ruler Eight Deer, and which was a not-infrequent trait of Nahuatl males. Besides loading my figure down with stylized flowers, I added a curlicue song-symbol, the cuciatl. Even that long ago, I recognized in Xochipilli my favorite Aztec deity for a patron and adopted his image for my website banner, little realizing how in-authentic my colorful iconography is.

Now 30 years later, in the codices I’ve found several authentic images of Xochipilli, which don’t look much at all like my invention. They had no ‘literate’ language, so the codices didn’t label the deities, though Spanish annotators did—sometimes with mistakes. It happens.

The image from Codex Laud can be assumed to be of Xochipilli, judging by all the flowers and the seven dots, the Prince being the patron of the number seven and his day-name Seven Flower. In the same way, also lacking identifying regalia or insignias, the Codex Fejervary-Mayer image must be the Prince, judging from the seven flowers adorning his temple. (The round fan he holds, or whatever it is, may be intended as indicative.)

The image from Codex Vaticanus (with only three flowers) I’m taking to be Xochipilli as well, given its similarity to the former—and the fact that both enthroned figures occur in pairs with an enthroned Huehuecoyotl (Old Coyote), who is one of the Prince’s lovers. The Codex Borgia image isn’t explicitly the Prince, unless one notes the flower emblem floating by his head; but this scene occurs in a sequence of calendar days with their patron deities, and he’s also patron of the day Monkey (Ozomatli).

The much different image from Codex Magliabechiano is one of two, both with the red-parrot headdress, and I’ve relied on that motif for my recent portrait of the Flower Prince:

Xochipilli – The Flower Prince

Those familiar with my YE GODS! coloring book will observe that I’ve extracted the central portion of my Icon #18 with the tlachtli ballcourt, worked that black-and-white drawing over a bit, and colored it in with a rainbow of iridescent hues. The psychedelic hummingbird and bee are there to suggest the surreal beauty of Xochipilli’s ecstatic heaven called the Flower World. The most iconoclastic aspects of this “icon” are his physical realism and frontal position, reflecting the posture of ancient Maya figures. I haven’t a clue what kind of flowers those are.

To celebrate Gay Pride 2022, I would like to see my illustration of Xochipilli enthroned appear on cards and in publications and become a celebratory poster or community mural—an emblem of LGBTQ+ dignity, love, and beauty perhaps on a par with our glorious rainbow flag.

I welcome entrepreneurs or afficionados to freely use the image for respectful purposes. To be frank, I’m extraordinarily proud of my modest picture, and I’d be greatly gratified for as many folks as possible to see our great gay deity—and pay the Flower Prince due homage. After all, our gods live on attention, devotion, and love.

As I’ve fortunately had the opportunity to say for some decades:

Happy Gay Pride everybody!

—and thank Xochipilli for our new freedom!

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Aztec Calendar – Death Trecena

The sixth trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Death for its first numbered day, which is also the 6th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Death is Miquitzli, and it’s known as Kimi in Yucatec Maya and Kame’ in Quiché Maya.

For the Aztec significance of the day Death, it is important to put aside the Old-World notions of death as a dire ending. In Mesoamerican philosophy, Death is a positive process, signifying the cycle of life and death, rebirth and renewal. The patron of the day is Tecciztecatl, God of the Moon (also a new patron of the trecena, see below), and the day corresponds anatomically to the forehead (skull), appearing in the codices with various ornaments. Such images are still frequently seen in art for the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

PATRON DEITIES RULING THE TRECENA

The principal patron of the Aztecs’ Death trecena is the sun-god Tonatiuh, nowadays most familiar as the grimacing face in the center of the Stone of the Suns. He is the deity of the Fifth Sun, in Aztec cosmology the fifth world or era known as Four Earthquake, the day-sign for which is the figure on the Stone containing the face. In its lobes are the day-signs of the four preceding eras: Four Jaguar, Four Wind, Four Rain, and Four Water. To become the deity of the Fifth Sun, Tonatiuh, a minor god named Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself by leaping into the creative conflagration ignited by Quetzalcoatl/Ehecatl.

For the ancient Maya, the patron of this trecena was their goddess of the moon Ix Chel. This female patron deity carried over into later centuries as the goddess Metztli. With the rise of the Nahuatl culture’s Fifth Sun cosmology, the new god Tonatiuh was added to the trecena as the main patron, creating the symbolic pair of Sun and Moon. (See my Icon #16.)

However, with increasing Nahuatl dominance, specifically a misogynistic Aztec hegemony, the Moon Goddess was largely replaced in the calendar by a male lunar deity named Tecciztecatl. Another minor deity, he had hesitated to leap into the creative conflagration, and when he finally decided to follow Nanahuatzin, he was made the god of the moon in consolation. In the surviving codices, Metztli only appears once unambiguously as patron of the Death trecena. Tecciztecatl for all intents and purposes shot the Moon.

AUGURIES OF DEATH TRECENA

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

This trecena’s theme of death strongly suggests returning to the source in order to regenerate. Although there is a sacrificial component, traditionally there was also a sense of luck associated with Kimi, perhaps because Kimi is associated with the idea of restoration and renewal, a letting go of restrictions in order to achieve a higher level of evolution. This trecena could be seen as a good time to step back, get rid of whatever is no longer wanted or needed, retreat to a place of calm, and allow for the renewal of spirit.

Further to how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/. Look for the Kimi (Death) trecena.

THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE DEATH 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 the 6th day of the current vientena, 1 Death, this trecena completes with the 18th day, 13 Flint, (proceeding through 2 Deer, 3 Rabbit, 4 Water, 5 Dog, 6 Monkey, 7 Grass, 8 Reed, 9 Jaguar, 10 Eagle, 11 Vulture, and 12 Earthquake).

There are a couple important days in the Death trecena (besides 8 Reed, which is the birth-sign of my twin grandsons and two of my close friends):

One Death (in Nahuatl Ce Miquitzli), like Seven Death mentioned in the Flower trecena, was another of the highest lords of the Maya underworld Xibalba, who tried to defeat the Hero Twins. In Mixtec culture the solar deity Tonatiuh was known as One Death, sometimes depicted with Jaguar symbolism. In addition, the deity Tezcatlipoca, mentioned in the Reed trecena as patron of the day Reed, was day-named One Death in the Florentine Codex, which notes that anyone born on One Death “would prosper and be rich.”

(I have no way of knowing, but I’d bet that Three Rabbit (in Nahuatl Yeyi Tochtli) is another god of some kind of intoxication. Maybe datura or salvia?)

Four Water (in Nahuatl Nahui Atl), the 4th day, is the day-name of the Fourth Sun or era, which was ruled by the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, patron deity of the Reed trecena, and destroyed unsurprisingly by flood.

THE TONALAMATL (BOOK OF DAYS)

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.)

TONALAMATL BALTHAZAR

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!

For my tonalamatl so long ago, I didn’t know anything about the sun-god as patron—or about the late insertion of Tecciztecatl into the calendar’s Death trecena. I’d simply read somewhere that the patron was called “Old Man Moon,” and I knew of no images of him. So, once again I resorted to the style of Codex Nuttall to concoct a figure in traditional half-kneeling position with assorted regalia. Also unaware of Aztec moon symbology, I slyly made his face an Old-World version of the “man in the moon.” In spite of these ill-informed concepts, I think my illustration for the Death trecena succeeded. At least, it gets frequent views on my website.

Aztec Calendar – Death trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

Though I was ill-informed about so many things, I managed to ornament the Death day-sign skull appropriately with the authentic mystical symbol called “burning water.”

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

Aztec Calendar – Death trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

The Death trecena page from the Codex Borgia is a prime example of the Aztecs’ historical revisionism, presenting Tonatiuh with Tecciztecatl as patrons. The figure of the sun-god on the right is one of the more ornate representations of that deity, though with little in the way of regalia to identify him. Perhaps the blue bird’s head on his ‘bustle’ and the odd plaque-like pendant are identifiers as they occur in other Borgia images of the god, but the war-butterfly in his headdress is the same marker of divinity as we saw earlier with Tonacatecuhtli in the Crocodile trecena and Chalchiuhtlicue in the Reed trecena. His most unique detail would seem to be the curved red line around his eye with dot on the cheek—which will recur in a very similar image in the later Flint trecena, not yet re-created.

Meanwhile, the figure of Tecciztecatl on the left, possibly an elder personage, apparently has no feature to identify him. We might take the curved blue blade in his hand as symbolic of the crescent moon, but that’s a stretch of imagination. In my amateur opinion, the usurper is such a new-comer to the pantheon that he hadn’t found any iconographic insignias yet—or there’s some arcane meaning behind that ceremonial-looking blade, one better not imagined.

The assorted items in the center of the panel are mostly familiar motifs, except for the rabbit in the square, which I assume refers to the Mesoamerican vision of a rabbit in the full moon. (That was another detail I didn’t know when I drew my Death trecena.) In fact, the Maya Moon Goddess Ix Chel was depicted with a rabbit. The dot-numeral 12 might refer to either the rabbit or the flint as day-names, but both days are anomalous, neither occurring in this trecena.

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

Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Death trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

Both Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios must have been of an old-believer school. As the second patron of the Death trecena, they present the orthodox lunar goddess Metztli (right). On her back she wears a stylized conch-shell, the standard symbol of the moon. In her headdress, she wears a curious band of fleur-de-lys designs that I’ve never seen elsewhere in Aztec pictography. The Rios copy is in such bad shape that one can’t really make them out.

While we’re on the subject of the moon, I should point out that some scholars of the Aztec calendar—which I’m not, just an interested artist—suggest that the 13-day “week” is derived from the cycles of the moon. Given that the lunar cycle is really 28 days, at first glance that suggestion sounds dubious, but there’s another way of looking at it. If we consider the day of the full moon and that of the dark of the moon as “nodes,” there are indeed 13 days between them, the days of waxing and waning. For a source of the trecena count, that seems as good as any.

Meanwhile, Tonatiuh as the sun-patron (left) is more recognizable here than in Borgia. Here he brandishes his usual omen-bird, a blue parrot, and sports an elegant solar disc on his back, an identifier often seen in Borgia elsewhere. You may notice that the Lord of the Night in the upper corners, Pilzintecuhtli, the Young Lord, also wears a similar, if smaller, disc. He’s the god of the planet Mercury and consequently closely related to the sun, viewed in some quarters as a nagual or manifestation of Tonatiuh.

There’s also a strong solar connection for the god Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers—(See Icon #18 and the Jaguar trecena for a discussion of his artsy nagual Chicomexochitl.)—and young Pilzintecuhtli could be the Prince’s nagual too, or maybe just his lover. In some heretical western, non-Aztec cults, Xochipilli himself is seen as the sun-god and ruler of a joyful paradise called the Flower World, but he has no role in the canonical calendar.

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OTHER TONALAMATLS

Tonalamatl Aubin patron panel for Death trecena

After that scattered commentary on Tonalamatl Yoal’s elegant patrons, we come upon them in Aubin in that tonalamatl’s idiosyncratic style, something less than magnificent or realistic. The big-plumed guy on the right must intend Tonatiuh, though without identifiers, unless you count the beribboned circle pendant, but that’s a frequent adornment on many deities. In Aztec art, both genders wore skirts, so the figure on the upper left is ambiguous—Metztli or Tecciztecatl, take your pick. Again, the big conch adjacent to “their” nose symbolizes the moon, the question-mark red squiggle representing the living mollusk notwithstanding.

The other floating objects are recognizable sketches of familiar motifs, and then at the bottom there’s that tethered cloven-hoofed creature, very like a piglet. I’m no authority, but I’d wager it’s a young peccary. With it inside a standard place symbol are two inscrutable objects, possibly hieroglyphs identifying a specific location. Is the peccary-piggie tethered for sacrifice? I assume it relates to the self-sacrifices to become heavenly bodies. Or not…

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Codex Borbonicus patron panel for Death trecena

The patron panel for the Death trecena in Codex Borbonicus is unusual, if only for including a place-area with assorted creatures. The tethered one is clawed and patterned like a jaguar—that red stuff on his head I figure is a sign of sacrifice. There are the same markings on the poor critter being half-eaten by Tlaltecuhtli, Lord of the Earth, a devouring maw also symbolic of the entrance to Mictlan, the Underworld. Besides the delicate conch-moon, the cactus with flower and spilling water may again be hieroglyphs of location. Maybe not…

The floating miscellany of objects each symbolize something or other important, but I’m not terribly interested in them. Most enigmatic is the abstract kachina-like item at top-center that I wouldn’t mind understanding. The Tonatiuh on the right has much in common with the one in Yoal, including his blue parrot and heavy-duty pendant, but he wears no solar disc. Maybe the bright design behind his head is supposed to be one. To confuse matters further, that’s another moon-conch hanging directly over his head. I’ve also got to wonder why on earth he’s wearing Tlazolteotl’s lunar-crescent nose-ornament.

On the upper left is unquestionably a very dark Tecciztecatl, either levitating like the god he is, or with one foot touching the ground, perhaps intending night or the dark of the moon? After all, the good old conch is over there in the daytime with the sun. Immediately obvious is the god’s packet of two knob-ended staffs nicely banded and carried over his shoulder; I’ve seen similar bundles in codex scenes of a new-fire ceremony, which may have happened at night. Those spots in his headdress/crest are likely stars. Again, the circular pendant is pretty common god-bling.

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Codex Vaticanus patron panel for Death trecena

Right up front, I’ll confess that I was bothered by the scattered and skewed images in the Codex Vaticanus patron panel and “rectified” the layout, keeping the distribution of images the same, making minor reconstructions, and repairing various lines. I must say that the Vaticanus artist(s) were rather poor draftsmen—couldn’t even color inside the lines!—but they sure knew how to cleave to dogma. Here they’ve switched the gods, Tonatiuh on the left seated on a divine jaguar throne looking all stern (and/or powerful?) His arms are painfully contorted, and those may be tattoos. But there’s no red curve or dot on his face like we saw in Borgia. He bears no identifying marks or symbols, except that over-worked war-butterfly on his forehead.

On the right, Tecciztecatl sits on a standard Borgia-like throne, definitely looking like Old Man Moon with a protruding tooth. (There are many such-toothed codex figures, especially in Codex Vindobonensis, which sadly has no tonalamatl.) Note that his headdress contains three nested flowers, reminiscent of the god’s two in the Borgia panel, whatever that may mean. The curved “rod” he clutches also echoes that ominous blue blade in Borgia. Can we hope maybe it’s just an old geezer’s cane?

The floating stuff is a repeat of the Borgia motifs—except for the dot-numeral 12 now being inarguably associated with the rabbit in the box (full of stars). I think that what we’ve got here is the Aztec day-name of the rabbit in the moon: Twelve Rabbit. It’s a good bet he’s also the patron of some kind of intoxication. Lunacy?

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It was fascinating to look at how a new-comer deity usurped the title of lunar deity. And what’s more, a male! We know Alice Walker’s famous contention that all lunar deities are supposed to be female. However, I know of a Sumerian god of the moon surprisingly named Nanna or Sin in Akkadian. It’s tremendously important that Tonalamatl Yoal and its codex antecedents preserve an image of the primordial Mesoamerican moon goddess, especially this one so grand—dare I say iconic? When you get right down to it, she’s a not bad-looking woman. And now we even know the name of her pet bunny-rabbit!

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UPCOMING ATTRACTION

The next trecena will be that of Rain with the mighty Tlaloc, the God of Storms, as its patron. Stay tuned!

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Aztec Calendar – Reed Trecena

The fifth trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Reed for its first numbered day, which is the 13th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Reed is Acatl, and it’s known as B’en in Yucatec Maya and Aj in Quiché Maya. For the Aztec, the reed was used to make arrows and darts, whence a military undertone in its significance. The day Reed is the symbol of personal authority and closely associated with rulers and potentates, and the patron of the day is the Black One, Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, who is one of the most powerful deities. (See my Icon #19.) In the anatomical scheme, the day Reed is identified with the heart (as the seat of the soul and/or power). The symbol for the day Reed varies between a single arrow, a bunch of them, or an ornamented “potted” plant, which can be seen in the various tonalamatls below. One just has to get used to which symbol is being used, and there can be variation within individual codices.

PATRON DEITY RULING THE TRECENA

There is total agreement that the patron of the Reed trecena is the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, the Jade Skirt, the deity of flowing water, rivers, streams, and lakes, as well as of youthful beauty and ardor, and her iconography is remarkably consistent. (See my Icon #2.) Every stream or lake had its own local chalchiuhtlicue. As goddess of storms and forces of nature, she’s dangerous, drowning people indiscriminately. With the day-name Ce Atl (One Water), she is patron of the number 3, women in labor, childbirth, children, and motherhood, and the 5th lord of the night.

Chalchiuhtlicue is commonly considered the wife of Tlaloc but also reputed to be the wife of Xiuhtecuhtli. From one or the other of those marriages, she supposedly became the mother of Tecciztecatl and the twins Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl, but keep in mind how dicey the family trees of the Aztec deities are. During the Third Sun, Four Rain, a millennium before the Aztecs, she may have been the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, though I’d personally vote for Xochiquetzal in that role. Meanwhile, Chalchiuhtlicue ruled the Fourth Sun—Four Water—until she ended it by drowning everybody in a flood. Certain of her purification rites struck Spanish clergy as similar to the sacrament of baptism, but that didn’t stop them from considering her a demon.

The Reed trecena possibly has a second patron deity, Tlazolteotl, Goddess of Filth (last seen in the Deer trecena). In Tonalamatl Yoal, she appears like an abstract logo as a surreal head with no eyes, and in Tonalamatl Aubin, Chalchiuhtlicue holds what might be her head. With no evidence of her in the other tonalamatls, who knows how important she really was in this context?

AUGURIES OF REED TRECENA

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

Associated with robust growing corn, the B’en trecena is aligned with strong self-determination and tenacious personal authority. Exhibiting great intensity, this trecena tends to generate events associated with significant social or political adjustment, often associated with “cleansing” or “purifying.” Individuals born during this period often have a strong sense of purpose and can become deeply involved with the world at large, with the force of their character or personal convictions forging new directions in terms of world-shifting or world-shaping. This is a good trecena for pushing forward towards one’s goals.

Further how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/. Look for the B’en (Reed) trecena.

THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE FLOWER 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 the 13th day of the current vientena, 1 Reed, this trecena completes it with 2 Jaguar, 3 Eagle, 4 Vulture, 5 Earthquake, 6 Flint, 7 Rain, and 8 Flower, and then starts the next vientena with 9 Crocodile, 10 Wind, 11 House, 12 Lizard, and 13 Snake.

The Reed trecena contains only one culturally significant day that I know of:

One Reed (Ce Acatl) is the birth day-name of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Lord of the House of the Dawn, who’s a nagual of Quetzalcoatl as the Morning Star and a god of war. Some say he’s the patron of the number 12, though others say this is Ehecatl—which is just more of the nagual confusion. Some say he’s the god of the East, which would make sense—but others say Xipe Totec is the god of that direction. Not that any of that really matters… His greatest quality is having perhaps the longest name of any deity! The light of the morning star was considered very dangerous, and he’s depicted with “lightning eyes” attacking people and places.

As a historical footnote, One Reed was also the birth day-name of Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl, the mostly mythological ruler of Tollan (Tula) and the Toltec Empire in the 10th century. According to legends, he set sail eastward in a canoe, promising to return someday, which is what underlies the myth of Quetzalcoatl’s return that caused such confusion with the appearance of Cortez. After his reign, new rulers of Tollan used Quetzalcoatl as their name/title to ensure legitimacy.

Another important day in the trecena—significant only for me personally—is Eight Flower. It’s the day-name of my younger daughter. I’ve found out the day-names of everyone in my family so folks can enjoy more than one birthday each year. You can discover your own Aztec ceremonial day-name and a horoscopic reading by going to www.azteccalendar.com and entering your month, day, and year of birth. For instance, my own day-name is Two Reed, coincidentally the same as that of the god Tezcatlipoca, for whatever that may be worth.

THE TONALAMATL (BOOK OF DAYS)

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.)

TONALAMATL BALTHAZAR

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!

For my tonalamatl so long ago, I drew Chalchiuhtlicue based on the only image I knew of her back then—from Codex Borbonicus—using more Nuttall regalia and clearing away the poor drowning victims in her jade skirt. As a nod to her role as a goddess of motherhood, I also gave her a suckling babe, which I lifted from a nursing figure in Codex Fejervary-Mayer, probably Xochiquetzal. Note that I adopted the “potted plant” form of the day-sign for Reed. All in all, if I do say so myself, I think my vision of the goddess is rather elegant.

Aztec Calendar – Reed trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

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

Aztec Calendar – Reed Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

This Codex Borgia vision of Chalchiuhtlicue is by far the most elaborate and intricate of the several images of the Reed trecena. Besides her ornate clothing, she sports a double-serpent nose-piece and an earth-monster headdress frequently seen in other images of this goddess. That odd little head mounted on her forehead is an ancient symbol of divinity inherited from the Maya, a “war-butterfly,” which appears in the headdresses of many Aztec deities. The two green lines on her cheek/jaw are also identifying marks of Chalchiuhtlicue.

Note the curious twin-peaked coiffure on the little guy on the left; it must have some significance because we’ll see other examples below. Like the seductive One House in the Flower trecena, this little woman in the middle is topless. As the Aztecs didn’t believe in brassieres, they were prime candidates for a National Geographic spread on uncivilized natives. Even great goddesses like Tlazolteotl in the Deer trecena and Chalchiuhtlicue here let their breasts swing free. For the most part men wore loincloths, but many also wore skirts over them.

Now I should explain something about this “re-creation” process. Some of the codex images only survived in rough shape, scraped, flaked, torn, and even burnt! Re-creating the images from Codex Borgia meant dealing with lacunae as in this selection of the original Chalchiuhtlicue’s earplug and parts of her headdress, where whole details had to be re-created.

—————–Earplug Section —————————————- Section of Jade Skirt

Here’s my theory about interpreting original colors that have deteriorated over the several centuries. The lower parts of the feather spray on the upper right of the earplug section were originally a green now faded to a brownish gold easily distinguished from the “real” gold of decorative details. Similarly, I’ve assumed that most of the medium-to-lighter greys started out as various shades of blue that have darkened. It’s easy to recognize the “real” blacks.

Acting on this intuitive theory, I’ve re-imagined items seen in other contexts, and reviving the greens and blues certainly makes an impressive difference in her Jade Skirt. Meanwhile, the cochineal red (made from insects!) has only faded a bit. It would be interesting to learn the vegetable and mineral sources of the Aztec colors, especially of that splendid Borbonicus blue, but I’m content with re-visioning what they once were. Besides, someone somewhere knows.

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

Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Reed Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

In Tonalamatl Yoal, we find the most explicit evidence of Tlazolteotl as the secondary patron of the Reed trecena. I’ve used the facial outline from Rios. In the original Telleriano-Remensis, her head is only a free-floating mouth and nosepiece with the headdress.

This image of the Jade Skirt gets more explicit about the drowning danger, and here she holds a threatening blade of sorts in her right hand. In her left is a spindle of thread for weaving like those in Tlazolteotl’s headdress, which I take as corroboration of their connection for this trecena. After all, they sit side by side in the lords of the night sequence. I won’t ask why Chalchiuhtlicue’s face is red. But I will share my sneaking suspicion that these patron figures were made by a different artist than those in the preceding Yoal trecenas. Besides the intense abstraction of the head, the mouths are unusual with clenched teeth, and the Jade Skirt’s whole figure is stylistically much different. Though orthodox in her iconography and monumental in her own way, she’s not as dynamic or profusely ornate as other deities in Tonalamatl Yoal.

OTHER TONALAMATLS

Tonalamatl Aubin patron panel for Reed trecena

As might be expected, the Aubin Chalchiuhtlicue is an awkward restatement of the Jade Skirt theme with two little folks being swept away in the flood. The item between them recalls the beaded band held by the woman in the Borgia panel, but it’s no more decipherable here. My guess is that the head she’s holding belongs to Tlazolteotl, and I’ll note that the floating items bear motifs like the head’s headband that recall the abstract head in Tonalamatl Yoal. The lack of ornamentation and symbolic items in the deity’s regalia is disappointing.

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Codex Borbonicus patron panel for Reed trecena

This Borbonicus image of the Jade Skirt, while lacking the earth-monster headdress, does the goddess full justice with exuberant detail and that striking blue. Note her perfectly divine raiment in the Borgia panel as opposed to an entirely different style here. This Borbonicus goddess is arrayed in the kind of costume worn by a ceremonial impersonator of the deity—made largely of folded blue paper (origami!) with black spots of liquid rubber representing drops of water. The object in her lower left hand is most likely a rain-stick.

Again there are two little folks being washed away, one of whom has that twin-peaked coiffure noticed in Borgia, which must indicate a certain class. The shield probably intimates that she’s also a danger for soldiers. Again, my best guess is that the object in her skirt with a handle and feather-crest, also appearing in the upper right corner, must relate to Tlazolteotl. Note that here, as in the Yoal and Aubin images and in the following one from Vaticanus, Chalchiuhtlicue’s face is red. Maybe she’s angry?

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Codex Vaticanus patron panel for Reed trecena

This Vaticanus image has lost a lot of the paler blue in the Jade Skirt, but it ties in closely with the Borgia image with the little woman and roped box, a string of beads, and the guy standing on the end with another twin-peaked hairdo! (Maybe he’s a priest?) I can’t make out what the item in the flood under her throne might be, but I’m happy to see the goddess wearing the typical earth-monster headdress. The box-like item at top center seems to be another version of the inexplicable plumed item in Borgia.

In summation, Chalchiuhtlicue is the undisputed patron of the Reed trecena, vague references to Tlazolteotl notwithstanding. The many stylistically consistent items in her panels must surely have a much larger story to tell, but I’m no divinatory authority to unpack it.

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UPCOMING ATTRACTION

The next trecena will be that of Death with a pair of astronomical patrons who have a lot of dramatic back-story. Stay tuned!

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Aztec Calendar – Flower Trecena

The fourth trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Flower for its first numbered day, which is the 20th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Flower is Xochitl, and it’s known as Ajaw (sun, lord) in Yucatec Maya and Ajpu in Quiché Maya. For the Aztec, the day Flower is the symbol of the soul, purity, and holiness. Through its essential connection to Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers, the day is also related to the arts, music, and dance, though the patron of the day is Xochiquetzal, the Flower Feather, who was briefly described in the preceding Deer trecena. In the anatomical scheme, the day Flower is identified with the breast or chest since the soul was supposed to be located in the heart—whence the crucial importance of heart sacrifice.

PATRON DEITY RULING THE TRECENA

My illustrious informant for matters Maya, Dr. Marguerite Paquin, advises that we really don’t know much about the ancient Maya patrons of the days or trecenas, since so many thousands of their books were burned by the Christian invaders. (But we know that the Maya saw the days as embodying specific deities, as well as each number depicting a deity. For instance, the number one was Ix-Chel, the Maya Moon goddess.) It was only over several intervening centuries that the “Aztec” system of trecena patrons evolved.

Huehuecoyotl (Old Coyote) came into the calendar to rule the Flower trecena at some point probably well before the ascension of the Aztec empire (See my Icon #6). In Maya mythology, One Ajaw is the day-name of Hunahpu, one of the Hero Twins. (For more on those bad boys, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_Hero_Twins.) As told in the Popol Vuh, the Maya creation story, Hunahpu and Xbalanque played a ballgame with the lords of the underworld, dancing around every weird thing thrown at them by the death lords and ultimately defeating them through cunning, bravery, creativity, and trickery. Those being qualities of the coyote, Huehuecoyotl was a logical eventual choice for patron of the Flower trecena.

He’s a trickster god of mischief and pranks and can lead one into trouble. Also a deity of sexual indulgence, music, dance, storytelling, and choral singing, he personifies astuteness, pragmatism, worldly wisdom, male beauty, and youth. He’s a balance of old and new, worldly and spiritual, male and female, and youth and old age. He’s a shape-shifter, turning into animals or humans with sexual partners female or male of any species—among his male lovers the aforementioned Xochipilli. Huehuecoyotl brings unexpected pleasure, sorrow, and strange happenings, and people appeal to him to mitigate or reverse their fates.

To return to the multi-faceted Huehuecoyotl entering the ritual calendar, I’ve researched the natural history of the coyote and found that the range of that species only expanded southward from North America down into central Mexico some centuries after the Maya period in Yucatan, probably around 11-1200 AD (CE). Coincidentally, this was also the period when the Nahua peoples entered Mexico, moving into the vacuum left by the collapse of the Toltec empire—or causing it? Considering that the Nahuas seem to have come from the north (at least out of Chihuahua-Chichimeca) and the ancient roots of the mythical coyote in the American Southwest, they may well have migrated together. When the newcomers adopted the ancient calendar, they might reasonably have deified their wily wild companion.

AUGURIES OF FLOWER TRECENA

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

Integral to this “Divine Artistry” trecena are the energies associated with the heat and fire of the sun, which were seen as forces so powerful that they were deified. Although events associated with this time frame can be intense, it can also be a period for “enlightenment” and “flowering.” The overall emphasis is on creativity and craftsmanship in all forms. Those born within this period could become great singers, musicians, song-writers, visual artists, dancers, entertainers, diviners and healers, storytellers, scribes, or orators. Overall, this is a great trecena for tapping into those divine sun-generated creative forces.

Further how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/. Note that the Maya equivalent is the Ajaw (Sun) trecena.

THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE FLOWER 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 the last day of the preceding vientena 1 Flower, this trecena continues into the next vientena: 2 Crocodile, 3 Wind, 4 House, 5 Lizard, 6 Snake, 7 Death, 8 Deer, 9 Rabbit, 10 Water, 11 Dog, 12 Monkey, and 13 Grass.

The Flower trecena contains several significant days:

One Flower (Ce Xochitl) was the Day of Flowers, a holiday for feasting and celebrating the arts of all kinds. The Florentine Codex says that Centeotl, the principal maize deity, was born on One Flower with Tlazolteotl (Goddess of Filth) as his mother—as remarked in discussion of the Deer trecena—and Piltzintecuhtli (the Young Lord, the planet Mercury) as his father. This Flower connection suggests to some cults that Centeotl is yet another nagual of Xochipilli. (See the comments on Seven Flower as that deity’s day-name in the Jaguar trecena.)

Five Lizard (Macuil Cuetzpallin) is the day-name of one of the five male Ahuiateteo, gods of pleasure (and excess thereof). His arena of enjoyment is sex. Inasmuch as Huehuecoyotl is the patron of the day Lizard and himself a deity of sexual indulgence, I’d bet that Five Lizard is also his divine day-name, and that the lusty Ahuiateotl is his nagual. If not, he should be.

Seven Death (Chicome Miquitzli): In Maya times, Seven Kimi was a high lord of Xibalba, the underworld, one of the aforementioned deities defeated by the Hero Twins. Though by Aztec times this ancient history was surely long forgotten, it’s likely that one of their many death-lords (ruled by Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead) was also known by this day-name.

Eight Deer (Chicueyi Mazatl): Dr. Paquin informs me that for the Maya this was the Day of the Lord Deer with a “resurrection” type of energy of sacrifice and reciprocity. In the Mixtec tradition (widely pictured in those codices) their most famous ruler, leader, and/or warrior of centuries earlier was named Eight Deer Jaguar Claw. He appears many times in the historical Codex Nuttall in uniform portrait images with a jaguar claw added as his heroic epithet and a very recognizable beard.

Eight Deer Jaguar Claw

(In the context of day-names of historical individuals in this trecena, President Biden’s is Two Crocodile. That day relates to (re)birth, nurturing, and ferocious protection, an energy which Marguerite says the Maya connected with the “Womb of Creation” and “world-making.” There’s surely an appropriately heroic epithet in there somewhere, but I’ll leave that to history to choose.)

Nine Rabbit (Chicnahui Tochtli): I have no way of knowing for sure, but there’s a good chance that this is the day-name of another of the 400 Rabbits, another god of intoxication. Maybe it’s the deity of a magic mushroom or the peyote cactus. Who knows? Or cares?

THE TONALAMATL (BOOK OF DAYS)

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.)

TONALAMATL BALTHAZAR

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 models, I once more created an image of Huehuecoyotl out of thin air to be the patron deity of the Flower trecena. Working with the decorative motifs from Codex Nuttall, I concocted an iconic semi-kneeling figure frequent in that codex—and coincidentally often observed in the ancient art of the Andes (a fact I didn’t know at the time). Using my artistic license, I made him a coyote headdress with a fluffy coyote tail. To indicate his patronage of the day Lizard, I put one on his shield, and lacking anything better, I gave him the serpent-staff of Chicomecoatl, a maize goddess. That long ago, I didn’t know that a rattle would have been much more appropriate.

Aztec Calendar – Flower trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

A decade or two ago, I was much gratified that somebody boldly took my idiosyncratic image of Huehuecoyotl from the old book, laid it over my version of the Stone of the Suns, and printed it on a T-shirt! At the time, I considered that infringement of copyright was surely the sincerest form of compliment, and later I renounced copyrights in general, hoping that anyone anywhere would make whatever hay they cared to with my art and writing. That’s why I was flattered two years ago that someone apparently liked my work enough to steal the banner of Chantico, Lady of the House, from the last venue of my exhibition YE GODS!

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

Aztec Calendar – Flower Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

This Borgia Huehuecoyotl as an anthropomorphic animal is the more usual image of the god and perhaps the most elegant example with a divine jaguar pelt draped over his throne. The fact that he has two right hands is by now almost to be expected, as does the little guy at his feet. I’ve left them both that way simply for effect. But I did correct the god’s right foot which in the original had seven toes! Though it’s not immediately evident, the hands on the other two figures are turned backwards in painfully unnatural positions. I’ve now gotten fed up with these irritating ideoplastic contortions, and in future, I’ll just fix them whenever they go too far over the top.

Let’s consider the attendant figures (other than the inexplicably floating/falling little guy) and turn first to the topless, buck-toothed female on the left. She kneels in what has to be a seductive pose in keeping with the sexual overtones of the trecena’s patron. She is identified by the items above: the roof of a temple and part of a dot, i.e., the numeral one. She’s a Cihuateotl (warrior spirit of a woman who died in childbirth), One House (Ce Calli), exercising her seductive wiles. Besides being promiscuous, to judge from the augury of the day House, she probably represents intelligence and nobility. In other words, she’s a classy chick.

The bug-eyed guy dancing beside her is her counterpart among of the male Ahuiateteo, Five Flower (Macuil Xochitl), called by some cults Ixtlilton, appropriately the god of games, music, singing, dancing, and merry making and yet another nagual of Xochipilli. Also a sexual deity, Five Flower’s long nose may well be a phallic inuendo, and the flesh-colored lower curl on his song symbol (cuciatl) probably indicates off-color lyrics. (Note also that wavy golden cuciatl as Huehuecoyotl’s happy howling.) These gods are throwing a wild party!

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

Aztec Calendar – Flower Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

The first thing to note in this Yoal trecena is that the Lord of the Night just above the day One Flower (and in the upper right corner) is the maize god Centeotl, who was born on that day. His mom Tlazolteotl is the fourth Lord from left and last in the row at the bottom right, and his dad Piltzintecuhtli sits beside him second from right.

The next thing to note is that, like my invented deity, this Huehuecoyotl is a real person wearing a coyote headdress. He looks like he’s dancing, but that same pose is often seen in several codices, an iconic position likely indicating that the supernatural being is floating or flying. While this Huehuecoyotl holds an appropriate rattle in his left hand, I’m at a total loss to explain the gruesome severed arm in his right. Obviously, this scene is no party I’d want to go to!

In spite of her seductive pose, the female figure is also no inducement to party with these folks. Even for ritual sacrifice, poking a stick in your eye is no way to have fun. It does, however, explain the copious tears, the one falling from her left eye symbolizing her as a Cihuateotl. A Spanish notation on the original Codex Telleriano-Remensis mistakenly identifies her as Xochiquetzal, but this promiscuous gal is certainly that goddess’s nagual One Deer. Since it’s her party, I guess the girl can cry if she wants to. Being a spirit of the day Deer, she probably suffers OCD for self-sacrifice and can’t help herself. Another notation identifies the golden material in the bowl in her left hand as “mierda:” Mesoamericans considered gold to be the feces of the gods! Thanks a lot for the invite, but I think I’ll skip this one.

OTHER TONALAMATLS

Tonalamatl Aubin Patron Panel for Flower Trecena

Overlooking the rather grotesque style of this Aubin patron panel, I’ll remark on the strangeness of the anthropomorphic Huehuecoyotl’s wearing Quetzalcoatl’s conch-shell pendant and point out that the items in one of his right hands seem to be sticks for eye-poking, and that the beribboned thing in his other hand looks suspiciously like part of the severed arm in Yoal. Overlooking those macabre facts as well, this scene looks like another hearty party.

Five Flower is in the lower left corner with a rattle and plays on a great big drum (huehuetl), and in the middle bottom is another Ahuiateotl, the oversexed Five Lizard, also with a rattle and a cup of brewski. The simple shield between them is lip service to the standard ornament (see the elegant one in the Borgia trecena). Above Five Lizard’s head hovers his counterpart One Deer with the emblematic tear of the Cihuateteo and skirt and face patterned in red like her nagual goddess Xochiquetzal. Whatever she’s scattering from her bowl doesn’t look much like gold—maybe a powdered entheogen? The item over her head is inscrutable, unless it’s a pitcher of said brewski, and what’s that stool hanging over Five Flower’s head? Party on!

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Codex Borbonicus Patron Panel for Flower Trecena

The Borbonicus patron panel for the Flower trecena presents us with a more subdued, if more cluttered, party. In his two right hands, this again anthropomorphic howling Huehuecoyotl holds a fancy rattle and innocent flower-fan and hovers in the iconic “dancing” position. His enthroned companion is Five Flower singing and beating on the huehuetl. This image of that Ahuiateotl is the finest I’ve ever found with a detailed emblematic tattoo around his mouth. (Usually it’s a five-fingered hand—or a confused pattern like that on the Borgia figure above.) The giant ornate cuciatl in the upper center represents the loud thump of the drum. Let’s ignore the rest of the esoteric clutter and enjoy this noisy party.

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Codex Vaticanus Patron Panel for Flower Trecena

By now we can easily recognize the elements of this typically sketchy Vaticanus patron panel (clockwise from the left): another anthropomorphic Huehuecoyotl on his throne (with empty hands); the Cihuateotl One Deer with that seductive hand gesture, a tattooed teardrop, and an (empty?) bowl; a nicely complicated shield motif; the bug-eyed sex fiend Five Lizard dancing around; a little guy (like the one we ignored in the Borgia panel) also dancing (or falling down drunk?); and in the middle that anomalous stool we saw in the Aubin panel. Excuse me, but I think I’ll skip this boring party too.

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UPCOMING ATTRACTION

The next trecena will be that of Reed with its monumental patron Chalchiuhtlicue (Jade Skirt), Goddess of Flowing Water. Stay tuned!

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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.

PATRON DEITIES RULING THE TRECENA

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.

AUGURIES OF DEER TRECENA

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 whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/. Note that the Maya equivalent is the Manik’ trecena.

THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE DEER 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.

THE TONALAMATL (BOOK OF DAYS)

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.)

TONALAMATL BALTHAZAR

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.

OTHER TONALAMATLS

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

UPCOMING ATTRACTION

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!

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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.)     

PATRON DEITY RULING THE TRECENA

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.

AUGURIES OF JAGUAR TRECENA

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 whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/. Look for the Ix (Jaguar) trecena.

THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE 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.)    

THE TONALAMATL (BOOK OF DAYS)

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.)

TONALAMATL BALTHAZAR

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.)              

OTHER TONALAMATLS

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.              

UPCOMING ATTRACTION

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!

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Aztec Calendar – Crocodile Trecena

THE 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).

PATRON DEITIES RULING THE TRECENA

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).

AUGURIES OF CROCODILE TRECENA

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 whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/

THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE CROCODILE TRECENA

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.

THE TONALAMATL (BOOK OF DAYS)

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.)

TONALAMATL BALTHAZAR

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.

OTHER TONALAMATLS

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.

UPCOMING ATTRACTION

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

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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 www.azteccalendar.com.)

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 www.richardbalthazar.com 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.

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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

1) THE FLAP AT THE TRACK

The most alarming event was on August 18 when a security guy hailed me on the track at the Aspen School and advised that I’d have to leave because school was starting on Monday, and they were closing the grounds to protect the kids from the virus. I ignored him and continued on my way, but that weekend they shut the big gate at La Madera with a chain and lock. I couldn’t do my walk on Saturday or Sunday.

On Monday I looked out my window and saw the gate open, so I went to walk, and there was no one there of course, because the students had to stay home—except a couple cars parked way off by the back building for the teachers running the distanced learning classes. That night the gate was locked again but open by six the next morning. I walked the track peacefully, marveling that the schools were so irrationally paranoid as to lock up weekends and nights when absolutely no one was around and open up again when only a few folks were way off over there.

And I wasn’t looking forward to missing my next Saturday and Sunday walks. By Wednesday I got to feeling really irked and noticed that the lock and chain were just hanging there loose at the gate. I put them in a paper bag, placed it under a board just outside the fence not six feet away, and left a note: “The lock and chain have not been stolen; they’ve been hidden.” That night the gate was closed but not chained—and open again in the morning.

Pitying the stupidity, on Thursday morning I moved the bag to within three feet of the gate, just behind a piece of fence leaning there for no apparent reason. Any idiot couldn’t miss it. And that night they performed the empty exercise again, obviously not even looking for the bag. Friday morning I traipsed onto the track and worried they’d actually find the lock and chain and close me out for the weekend. Something told me I’d have to fight fire with fire.

Three miles later, I went home to my hermitage and emailed the Fire Marshal, advising that the school had started (irrationally) locking the grounds—which cut off emergency access to the several buildings at the back of the campus. A fire engine couldn’t get anywhere near them. He didn’t respond to me, naturally, but I saw a fire engine roll by around seven just checking, and since that night the gate has stayed open. And the bag still sits there for any idiot to find. My Nepali friend, the guys who play soccer on Saturday mornings, and a multitude of other community folks can still enjoy the facility.  

2) AZTECS STILL ACTIVE

My show of Aztec icons (YE GODS!) went up last January at the conference center of the Ohkay Casino in Española and in mid-March got locked down with the rest of the world. The manager said he didn’t know when they’d get the center open again and had no problem with me just leaving it there. Nevertheless, I went up last month with my grandson to retrieve my artwork. I’ve no idea where I’ll ever manage to hang the show again—or when. But that hasn’t stopped my working on the next icon, #20: Tlaloc, the god of storms (water, lightning, etc.).

In this Aztec context, there have been some other developments. A few weeks ago I heard from a young woman fashion designer in Chicago that she wanted to use my images on clothing; the sample hoodie with my Ocelotl on it was stunning. I told her to go for it. Last week I heard from a guy in California that he wanted to paint my old calendar deities, and I told him to go for it—and to take a look at the icons. This is the kind of action I’ve been hoping for.

Another recent Aztec connection is with Marguerite Paquin (in British Columbia) who does a Maya horoscope blog. See https://whitepuppress.ca/the-ok-dog-trecena-oct-30-nov-11-2020/.  Since the Maya calendar is basically the same as the Aztecs’, she started using the images from my old book for the trecenas (13-day weeks), and now that she’s worked through that ceremonial year, I’m re-creating the pages from the tonalamatl (book of days) from Codex Borgia for her. For when she’s worked through those 20 weeks, I’m also re-creating the tonalamatl from Codex Rios—which entails combining separate pages into a single layout and considerable artistic refinement. When these calendars are complete (and there are still others left to work over), I’m going to load them as galleries here on this website, so watch for them!

3) THE GRANDFATHER IN SECLUSION

For months I walked around my car sitting in the yard, a 2014 red Toyota Corolla, and maybe drove it twice a week to a grocery store. Then in early October I realized that my grandson Jammes was soon to turn 18, and ever the generous grandfather, I decided to give him my car. I can easily walk to the grocery stores, and he’ll give me lifts home when I’ve got too much to carry or take me on errands.

In this connection, my ecstatic dance group started getting together again (clandestinely). Jammes took me there last Wednesday, joining in the dance, and now he’s ready to take me weekly. Maybe even bring a friend along? There’s reasonable distancing and some masks, and so it’s only slightly contrary to mandated practice. After all, we’re not talking here about a Republican political rally. It’s such a joy to have something to look forward to each week, lots more fun than my usual solo dancing around the apartment to salsa or reggae.

In between Wednesdays, however, with all my art and writing projects, the days seem to fly by. An example:  Every day before lunch I have half a cup of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar—recommended to me by a curandero friend—and today when I went to mix it, I got the distinct impression I’d just done that like five minutes before. Twenty-four hours of eating, walking, reading, napping, writing, drawing, cooking, watching a silly movie, and sleeping a healthy 7 ½ hours had collapsed into a mere five minutes. This is how we get so old so fast.

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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.

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