Mesoamerican Influences in Mississippi

Recently recalling the artistic themes and concepts I’d encountered in my old artifact drawings in my Gallery of Pre-Columbian Artifacts, I decided to gather examples of probable influence of Mesoamerica on the Mississippian civilization in North America. But first I needed to update my collection of artifacts using Google Images.  In the intervening 25 years a lot of new things had been found.

Coming upon an incised shell gorget (a disc of conch shell worn on a cord round the neck) provided me with a true Eureka Moment:

Fifth Sun gorget – AL

Since I’d also spent some 30 years working on the art and mythology of Central Mexico, I instantly recognized the designs in the band  encircling the very Mississippian-style head.  They are standard Mexican day-signs from their ceremonial calendar and virtually identical to those in Codex Fejervary-Mayer:

Day-signs, Codex Fejervary-Mayer

One of the few Mexican manuscripts to survive the Conquest’s book-burning, the Codex is believed to have come from the area of Veracruz, but the calendrical day-signs usually only varied slightly in codices from other cultural areas of Central Mexico.

As hieroglyphs, these day-signs also convey other information. Crocodile is the first day of the 20-day month, and Flower is the last.  (Why are there two of them?)  All I can read into Vulture is that it’s the day right before Earthquake.  But the four Earthquake signs are eloquent. In traditional Mexican cosmology, Four Earthquake is the ceremonial day-name of the current Fifth Sun (or Era).  So the head on the gorget is most likely that of the Mexican god of the Fifth Sun, whom the much later Aztecs called Tonatiuh.  He is familiar as the face in the center of the Stone of the Suns, which is itself the decorative day-sign/name of the Fifth Sun.

This is unambiguous and conclusive evidence of Mesoamerican influence in Mississippi!  Still, I do have to wonder about the three lines on the apparent deity’s face.  In Mexican codices they are most frequently encountered on the goddess of flowing water, Chalchiuhtlicue, the Jade Skirt.  But this face doesn’t look like a female, which in any case is rarely, if ever, encountered in Mississippian art.

This Fifth Sun gorget was found by Charles H. Worley, an employee of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930’s and 40’s who salvaged artifacts from mound sites soon to be flooded by the many dams to be built by the TVA, specifically in the Muscle Shoals area of northwestern Alabama.

Mr. Worley also left ethnographic notes from his Chickasaw associates about their legend of originally being “Toltecs” from Old Mexico who migrated into the Tennessee River Valley.  Don’t be misled by the reference to “Toltecs.” The term here is more indicative of the time period (ca. 900 – 1,200 CE) when that militaristic culture based in Tula (in Anahuac) and Chichen Itza (in Yucatan) controlled much of Mexico.  Many other sophisticated cultures lived in Old Mexico at that time, including the Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Huastecs, and so on.

When the Toltecs invaded the area of Veracruz (per Wikipedia), most of the indigenous Totonacs fled north to Cempoala, but at least one group of refugees evidently continued to trek north along the Gulf Coast, across the Mississippi River, and up into the Tennessee River Valley.

As migrations go (like the Indo-Europeans, Mongols, Huns, and such nomads out of central Asia, or for that matter, Asiatics from Siberia all the way down to Tierra del Fuego), this was simply a hop, skip, and jump.  In addition, there are many good reasons to believe that many people of other Mexican cultures also fled from their Toltec conquerors north into the Mississippi Valley, including Mayans driven out of their magnificent cities of Chichen Itza and Mayapan.  In fact, there was probably a mass exodus.

But then I had a second Eureka! moment.  I googled up another gorget called simply “Muskogee Creek,” suggesting a provenance also in the Tennessee River Valley, with a dramatically Mexican image:

Turkey Gorget – AL

The turkey was the important Mexican symbol of war and military glory, as in the later Aztecs’ god Chalchiuhtotolin, the Jade Turkey.  In my studies of the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Borgia (both from Puebla), I’d often wondered what a strange protrusion out of the turkey’s breast might be.

Turkey, Codex Vaticanus

Definitely unnatural, that plume (?) has to be iconically significant of something, and here I found it again on a turkey from Alabama.   Meanwhile, another gorget from Tennessee presents the quintessentially Mexican motif of the anthropomorphic jaguar:

Jaguar Man gorget – TN

In the codices (primarily Bodley, Nuttall, and Vindobonensis–all three of Mixtec origin), there are many images of traditional Mexican Jaguar Warriors of the Night.

Jaguar Knight, Codex Vindobonensis

The artist of the Tennessee example clearly had the concept down pat but just as clearly wasn’t familiar with the real pattern of a jaguar’s pelt.  (Nor did the Mexicans manage to illustrate realistically the creature’s rows of rosette designs.) Several other Mississippian gorgets with jaguars also show fanciful patterns for the feline which by then and there must have become a purely mythical creature.

Above and beyond their shared tradition of earthworking, these few artistic artifacts alone are more than enough to convince me of a significant Mesoamerican cultural contribution to North America’s Mississippian civilization.



Aztec Icon #14 – QUETZALCOATL, Plumed Serpent

Sorry to take so long to finish the 14th icon for my coloring book YE GODS!  My work was delayed by that time-consuming thing called life.  Anyway, the icon’s done and my digital wizard has turned it into vector drawings for free sizing.  Here you have the most famous Aztec deity of all, QUETZALCOATL, the Plumed Serpent:

Quetzalcoatl, Plumed Serpent

QUETZALCOATL (Plumed Serpent) {ke-tsal-ko-atł} is the god of intelligence, learning, writing, arts and crafts, the calendar, priests, and merchants and was the bringer of maize to mankind.  Opposed to human sacrifice, he is called the White Tezcatlipoca and is the 9th lord of the day and god of the West. As the planet Venus, he is known as Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the morning star, and his twin Xolotl is the evening star.  He ruled the Second Sun (Four Wind) and created the current Fifth Sun (Four Earthquake) by using his own blood to give new life to the bones in Mictlan.  He was known as Kukulcan to the Maya and a major deity in Teotihuacan, and Quetzalcoatl was the traditional name/title of the Toltec rulers of Tula.

This icon is available as 8X10 with a caption/sources page by clicking here.  The freely sizable vector versions are available by clicking here.

By way of explaining this new icon, I must first thank Eliseo Rosales, a tattoo artist in California, for his suggestions, particularly for the design on the pedestal and for the important theme of maize.

The central figure of Quetzalcoatl is based on an image from Codex Borbonicus with details of costume and accoutrements mostly from Codex Magliabechiano, though the serpent on his back is adapted from those on the Stone of the Suns. Don’t be surprised by his beard, which occurs in other codex images:  According to some, he was supposedly blond and white-skinned.

In his left hand, the deity holds the weapon known as Xiuhcoatl (Fire Serpent), and on his shield is his standard ‘cross’ symbol. His peaked cap of jaguar pelt is apparently a Huastec influence.  Sprouting from his forehead is a ritual ‘blooming shinbone,’ the significance of which escapes me.  The numeral by his left foot is Nine, of which he is the patron, and the day-sign One Reed directly over his head is his ceremonial day-name.

Now for the other motifs. The pedestal, as mentioned above, illustrates the depth of the history of the Plumed Serpent.  It comes from the frieze on the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in Xochicalco (c. 1000 AD), which was a city/culture that arose in the aftermath of the Classic civilizations of the Maya and Teotihuacan.  As evidence of his even deeper history, the two heads flanking his day-name are views of sculptures on the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in Teotihuacan (c. 600 AD).  The paired feathered serpents on his either side are taken from Codex Borbonicus and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, and the paired quetzal birds are merely grace-notes.

The border design is adapted from one of his images in Codex Telleriano-Remensis. The day-signs embedded in it represent the ceremonial calendar which the deity brought into Mexico in the dim past.  Each group of five days represents a direction in the Aztecs’ odd world-view.  At the bottom is West, of which he is the patron.  At the top is East, on the left North, and on the right South, the standard Aztec spatial orientation as it was also for the Maya.

Drawn respectively from the Cospi, Vaticanus, and Borgia codices, the standing deities in the upper section are: on the left, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Lord of the House of Dawn (as the Morning Star), on the right Xolotl (as the Evening Star), and at the top his nagual (manifestation) as Ehecatl, God of the Wind.

In the upper corners are scenes representing his gift of maize to mankind. On the left is Tlaloc, the Storm (Rain) God, nurturing the goddess of maize Chicomecoatl, and on the right is the goddess of flowing water Chalchiuhtlicue tending the god of maize Centeotl.

That’s all the mythology I could manage to cram into this icon. Surely it’s enough.


Another note of interest about Quetzalcoatl. In the September, 2017 issue of ANCIENT AMERICAN magazine, my article just appeared entitled “The Plumed Serpent in North America.”  Click here to check out a copy.

Coloring Book Overhaul – The Aztec Icons

BIG NEWS FOR ALL YOU COLORING ENTHUSIASTS! Whether you’re new to this website, have just been keeping your eye on it, or have actually colored some of my unusual icons of Aztec deities, you’ll find my overhauled coloring book now has a lot more to offer.

While there are no more icons beyond the currently completed 13, each is now accompanied by a page with its descriptive caption and full-color images from the Aztec Codices that served as models for drawing the icon. Those images will give a good idea of the varying styles of the ancient picture-books and maybe even suggest authentic colors to use in your own coloring.

Check out this example of the caption/model page for CHALCHIUTLICUE, the Jade Skirt.

caption-model page for Chalchiuhtlicue

As before, all the icons can be viewed or downloaded individually from the coloring book page, either as a pdf file with caption/models page or as freely sizable vector drawings. But now they are also all bundled together into an actual book:  YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS.

But that’s almost the least of the overhauls. In addition to that book, there is now a major revision and expansion of the earlier catalog and appendix—a complete illustrated encyclopedia of essentially all the Aztec deities:  YE GODS!  THE AZTEC PANTHEON.

Its 88 alphabetical entries include some 1,300+ divinities (depending on how you count), and there’s usually an authentic image for each selected from the Aztec Codices. Again, the images illustrate their varying styles and provide even more suggestions for coloring the icons.

Here’s a sample page from the encyclopedia:

sample page – The Aztec Pantheon

Of itself, YE GODS! THE AZTEC PANTHEON amounts to a crash course in ancient Mexican mythology, history, culture, and art.  YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS takes this another step further—into illustrating details of Aztec society.

For perhaps excessive example, with Huehuecoyotl, the Old Coyote, there are vignettes of people playing musical instruments, singing, and dancing; with Huitzilopochtli, Hummingbird of the South, there’s a pictorial narrative of the legendary migration of the Aztecs to Tenochtitlan; with Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead, there’s a vague map of the soul’s way to Mictlan; and with Patecatl, God of Medicine, there are scenes of medical practices and medicinal herbs. Each icon contains its own type of social commentary.

I haven’t quite started on Aztec Icon #14: Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, but hope to do so shortly.  In the meantime, I’m working on yet a third component of my Aztec project, another section on the Aztec Codices themselves.  It will be a description of and commentary on each of the 15 surviving picture-books, including sample pages and Internet sources to view the whole documents.  I perhaps unrealistically hope to complete it in the next couple months, and guess what:  I’ll call it YE GODS!  THE AZTEC CODICES.  Watch for a post announcing it.


Aztec Icon #13 – PATECATL, God of Medicine

So—six weeks now seems to be my new average to produce an Aztec icon for the coloring book YE GODS! Here’s Icon #13, PATECATL, which I drew on my old system (GNU) and believe it or not, using the mouse in my left hand.  Back while drawing #12 I started getting pains in my right hand from all the clicking—so I switched.  Nothing to it!

This is a standard pixelated image, and it’s currently winging its electronic way to my graphic wizard for conversion to vectors. The vectorized files for #12, OMETEOTL, have now been added to the list on the coloring book page, where you can also view and download all the previous icons.

To download this one as a pdf file with a page of caption and model images from the Aztec Codices, just right-click here and select “Save as.”  You can also download it in freely sizable vector drawings from the coloring book page.

Patecatl, God of Medicine

Patecatl, God of Medicine


God of Medicine

PATECATL {pa-te-katł} is the god of healing and fertility, medicine (herbology) and surgery, who gives comfort in illness. Logically he is patron of day Grass.  Husband of MAYAUEL, he is the father of the Centzon Totochtin (400 Rabbits), the gods of drunkenness led by Ome Tochtli (Two Rabbit). As well as being a pulque god like his wife, he’s the deity of intoxication by peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and psychotropic herbs such as datura (jimson weed), morning glory, and marijuana. These plants were used in healing, fortune telling, shamanic magic, and public religious ceremonies, hopefully also to tranquilize sacrificial victims and enhance the sacramental nature of the ritual.


There are several points of interest in this icon:

  1. The god’s physiognomy is iconographically authentic, quite the way he appears in Codex Borgia, nose, buck-teeth, and all. His eye is just as baleful in the model, where (as is often the case with gods, male and female) it’s horribly blood-shot. I won’t even guess what that’s all about.  Also, since it’s so obvious here, in general the Aztecs didn’t bother with the difference between right and left feet, but they usually tried to distinguish between right and left hands.
  2. The vignettes in the upper section of the icon are based on medicinal scenes from various codices, including Nuttall, Borgia, Fejervary-Mayer, Vaticanus, and even the post-Conquest Florentine Codex.
  3. The vignette of nose-piercing is remarkable for two reasons. In the Nuttall model, the patient is not only bearded, but black. Throughout the codices there are frequent black personages, both human and divine, and indisputable beards.  Make of that what you will.
  4. The plants scattered around the icon are actual medicinals, several adapted from early herbal illustrations, from Nuttall, and from nature.
  5. Meant as a House of Healing, the temple in the upper right may be a bit over the top ornamentally, but it’s stylistically real.  The figure of the snake ingesting a rabbit is based on a page from Vaticanus, where an eagle is also seizing the snake.  I’ve included it to symbolize life as a food cycle, very much the way the Aztecs saw it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Lord of the Animals)

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

OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

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


Huixtocihuatl and Mictlancihuatl, Aztec goddesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Aztec Icon #10 – MICTLANTECUHTLI, Lord of the Land of the Dead

Though there were times when I wondered if I’d ever finish this drawing, I’ve actually managed to complete the next icon in the series for the coloring book YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS.

This icon of the Lord of Mictlan, the Land of the Dead, contains a lot more mythological narrative than even hinted in the caption.  Starting at the upper left and moving clockwise around the temple, dead persons enter Mictlan at the mouth of the Underworld.  Then the monstrous deity Xolotl serves as their guide (psychopomp), and the dog Itzcuintli is their companion through Mictlan, where they must climb eight hills and cross nine rivers (in four days).  The realm of Mictlantecuhtli is an empty place of darkness, dust, and vermin/vile insects (centipedes and scorpions among others), but that’s where most people had to go after death.  I wonder why they ever bothered to struggle over all those hills and rivers just to get to a nowhere like that.

Meanwhile, in the center of the lower register the wind deity Ehecatl (nagual of Quetzalcoatl) negotiates with the Lady of the Land of the Dead, Mictlancihuatl, for the bones from the Fourth Sun (Four Water).  He then breathes life into those bones to create the people for the current Fifth Sun (Four Earthquake).

(You can still see or download the previous nine icons by clicking on them in the list on the page for the coloring book.)


(Lord of the Land of the Dead)

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

Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead

Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead

MICTLANTECUHTLI {meek-tłan-te-kooh-tłee} is the most prominent of several deities of death, 5th lord of the night, and 6th lord of the day.  His worship reputedly involved ritual cannibalism.  (Counter-intuitively, skulls and skeletons were symbols of fertility, health, and abundance.) His wife is Mictlancihuatl.  Only souls who died normal deaths went to the Land of the Dead, Mictlan; souls of heroes, warriors, sacrificial victims, or who die in childbirth joined TONATIUH in the Fourth Heaven, and those who drown went to TLALOC’s Eighth Heaven, the paradisiacal Tlalocan.