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.

#

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

Codex Borbonicus Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

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

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

#

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

Codex Vaticanus Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

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

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

#

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

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

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!

#

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!

#

To Err is Human

—Not to care is divine. So I screwed up way back there in January, 2019 on Icon #16 which I titled TECCIZTECATL & METZTLI, Deities of the Moon. Operating on what I’d learned thirty years earlier for my book of days, I based my totally fanciful drawing of Tecciztecatl being the Nahua people’s male lunar deity ruling their sacred calendar’s 13-day week (trecena) One Death. I read that they stuck him into the calendar to replace the ancestral female lunar deity Metztli.

Tecciztecatl – (God of the Moon)

I could only imagine him then through the lens of Codex Nuttall, the only codex I’d seen in detail that long ago before the internet. Using Nuttall motifs, I constructed a standard half-kneeling figure with stylistically consistent regalia, but I had no idea even that thing in his right hand was an incense bag. I felt quite proud of my trick of turning his face into a moon, also blissfully unaware that the Aztecs saw a rabbit in it instead. We live and learn.

For Icon #16 in late 2018 when I still wasn’t very well-versed in my digital collection of Aztec codices, I chose for models the images in Codex Telleriano-Remensis and its later Italian copy Codex Rios (T-R/R). It looked to me like they’d placed both male and female deities together for that week. I didn’t even wonder about that sun-thing on his back.

God of the Sun and Goddess of the Moon

Only recently learning about the books of days in the other codices, I’ve discovered a different situation. Tecciztecatl is indeed shown as one of the patrons of the week One Death, but he only accompanies Metztli (who’s much smaller), in the Tonalamatl Aubin. In all of them, the god of the moon looks a lot different.

Visions of Tecciztecatl

In the others, the moon god is in company with the big guy, Tonatiuh, god of the Fifth Sun (the present era), and clearly that’s who rules here in T-R/R with the old goddess. Look at that sun-thing on his back, and the bird was yet another dead giveaway. (By the way, I believe the ancient Maya goddess of the moon Ix Chel was AKA the Old Goddess.)

It’s interesting how this week is ruled by both the sun and the moon. Only in Codex Borbonicus, Borgia, and Vaticanus was Tecciztecatl inserted in Metztli’s place with Tonatiuh. Does that mean these three examples were maybe more central in Nahua culture? What can we say about his appearance with Metztli in place of Tonatiuh in Aubin? Obvious doctrinal differences…

Frankly, it seems to me that my models in T-R/R are relics of the ancient Mesoamerican calendar before Tecciztecatl usurped the week One Death in cult traditions. That begs the question of when Tonatiuh himself was installed in it as a patron beside the moon. After all, he wasn’t around during the Fourth Sun, and we can reasonably assume that this sacred Count of Days (tonalpohualli), was running even then—maybe with Metztli in total charge of One Death?

In any case, also being a divinity. I don’t care about my mistake. With this confession, perhaps I’ve atoned for it, and I’ll make appropriate edits elsewhere. But I find it rather fascinating that my silly mistake didn’t really damage Icon #16’s authenticity, just its title, which should now be TONATIUH & METZTLI, Deities of the Sun and Moon.

In fact it was the young god Nanahuatzin who threw himself first into the cosmic conflagration to become Tonatiuh, the Fifth Sun, and timid Tecciztecatl simply dawdled—becoming the moon instead. So that little figure immolating himself is now Nanahuatzin, which makes no difference to the icon’s integrity. I love mistakes that correct themselves.

This excursion in esoterica makes me wonder if my next Aztec icon for the coloring book YE GODS! really should be for Tonatiuh after all. I seem to have had him now, and Tecciztecatl feels distinctly second hand. This could be my excuse to take up with the fascinating and dangerous Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the Lord of the House of Dawn. Wish us well…

#

Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms

Usually creating these boggling icons for the coloring book YE GODS! has felt like giving birth, and this latest one, Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms, felt rather like dropping sextuplets! I prematurely squeezed out two fully formed sections that I posted for the world’s delectation:  the historical delirium of Tlalocan and the phantasmagorical Earth Monster. With the thundering central figure and his four wet vignettes, delivering myself of the Storm God himself was like birthing quintuplets. I guess that makes septuplets. Whatever…

TLALOC, God of Storms

I apologize for the dazzling intricacy of this icon and the fact that the curious mural of Tlalocan doesn’t much lend itself to coloring. I mean, look at that minuscule detail of heavenly frolic. However, since it’s in 300 dpi, you could blow it up three or four times to color in. This icon is the story of the Storm God, so lots of detail needs to be explained. The first is that the deity hovers between two root images from his deep past, at the bottom the wild mural from Teotihuacan of the eighth heaven he rules, and at top center his stylized face as Chac from an ancient Mayan temple, both from a thousand years before the Aztecs.

More immediately, the four vignettes are significant in two ways. The figures in squares at the top corners represent specific seasons in the growth of the all-important maize. They’re drawn from Codex Borgia, but I don’t know which is what. Two of Borgia’s pages have five each of similar Tlalocs, and that quinqunx format is respectfully reflected in this icon. The figures in the circles are symbols of just two of the several solar months “ruled” by Tlaloc, Atlcualco (left—“Water Abandoned,” roughly in February) and Atemoztli (right—“Water Downward Falling,” roughly in December). So much for the solar calendar lesson.

Now we come to the central image I call the thundering Tlaloc. It’s drawn from a series of stylistically consistent Tlalocs in Codex Vaticanus. I see a strong relationship with the Codex Borgia vignettes, for whatever that obvious insight’s worth. While this guy wears the royal jaguar headdress, others in the Vaticanus series wear heads of heron, crocodile, or odd conical caps and sport distinctive regalia. One is even nude. Our fellow’s respectably robed and, like the Borgia figures, has raised his conventional goggle-eyed and fanged face to the sky in a thunderous roar.

The thunder also comes with the lightning emanating from his huge serpent. (The Borgia figures hold only puny little snakes.) The lightning bolts from its head suggest traditional horned snakes like those from Teotihuacan or the American Southwest. The lightnings swerving behind the vignettes define a nanosecond’s reality for this image—an eternal NOW between the bolt on the left striking the Earth Monster under Tlaloc’s tread and that sneaky bolt on the right about to strike under the god’s next footfall. I love this kind of visual legerdemain.

There are more tricks of that sort cued by the lightning passing behind the vignettes. The top Chac frieze and weird lightning-filled sky is even behind that, and the water curtains down the sides are probably way back there too. Meanwhile, Tlaloc very subtly stands in front of the vignettes, as shown by overlapping hand with axe, headdress feathers, and the fire serpent. Along with clues to perspective in Tlaloc’s posture and costume, these tiny details create a depth in the composition that’s very unusual for Aztec art, maybe even iconoclastic. I won’t apologize.

Once again, finishing the long haul on an icon, I hesitate to jump right into another one, but I’m already thinking about breaking alphabetical order yet again and tackling Tonatiuh, the deity of the Fifth Sun, to complete the Mesoamerican set of cosmological worlds. He’d be cutting in ahead of Tlazolteotl, Goddess of Filth, but I’ve already been tempted to insert the Lord of the House of the Dawn, Tlahuizcalpaltecuhtli (the Morning Star) ahead of her. With such a wealth of ethnographic and iconographic material to work on, I guess I can wait a little while to decide. In the meantime, I really should start writing on Chapter 9 of my memoir GAY GEISHA and recall my exciting life in 1975 when I stumbled on two impressive gigs for my Russian language skills.

#

Making Lemonade

            Despite historic obstacles, 2020 turned out to be a very successful and productive year for me, both artistically and personally. It started with a celebration for completing Aztec Icon #18 – XOCHIPILLI, the Prince of Flowers on the last day of 2019. I’d first drawn this sun god thirty years ago for my book of days. The black and white icon, infinitely more complicated than this old four-color image, breaks all sorts of Aztec iconographic norms and conventions. Go to the link above to see this iconoclastic addition to the coloring book YE GODS!

Xochipilli – The Prince of Flowers – (God of pleasure, feasting, and dancing)

            On New Year’s Day, 2020 I posted the Flower Prince but still had much to do before adding his icon to my “travelling” exhibition YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities. In mid-January I mounted this show of large-scale banners at its seventh venue in a conference center—with the help of a tall French fellow I’d met during its sixth appearance.

            We’d hung the show by January 18 (for my mother’s 101st birthday), and I turned to our trip for the New Orleans Opera premiere of my new translation of Tchaikovsky’s heroic opera JOAN OF ARC on February 2 & 9. My clan gathered for the occasion at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre, and I enjoyed their acclaims, as well as those of appreciative audiences. I believe my linguistic work has turned the composer’s simply inspired piece into a masterpiece.

            By Monday, February 11, I was gratefully back in Santa Fe for my comfortable retired life in my eyrie apartment, my Casa Arriba penthouse high above the world. With a gratified sigh of relief, I slipped back into my splendid routines of writing/drawing, gym, dinners out, and especially the ecstatic dancing on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Casa Arriba

            After a couple leisurely weeks, I started on my second memoir, picking up my sordid tale of after marriage when I came out for the second time. Covering the next two traumatic and extremely sexual years of my fourth persona (the HIPPIE POET, footloose and feckless), I pretentiously included my own poetry, a device stolen from “Dr. Zhivago.” My routines and retrospective writing trance held me nicely right up almost to the middle of March.

            In my Mesoamerican fascination, I consider Friday, March 13, 2020 or the Aztec day Four Rain to have been the emphatic end of the Fifth Sun, the Sixth Sun starting on Saturday.  Suffice it to say that Friday the Thirteenth brought enormous turmoil into my life when my gym closed down due to a virus they were already calling a pandemic.

            On March 14, 2020 everything locked down (my show as well), and since then I’ve fortunately been living safely and comfortably in Casa Arriba. The loss of gym, dinners out, and ecstatic dancing has left me with only the splendid routine of writing and drawing. Right away I replaced my gym workouts with walking/running around the nearby track, but I could do nothing about the sauna except miss it miserably. Cooking simply, I didn’t miss restaurant food—just my regular companions at meals. I was driven to solo dancing to radio reggae and salsa in my living room and to sorely missing all the young bacchantes at Paradiso.

            I joked about going into solitary confinement but didn’t really feel that way. I deeply appreciated being made to step away from the world’s sound and fury, to take care of my physical needs simply in solitary peace, and to do my work on my natural schedule without distractions. I found it fascinating to watch my hair grow, now longer than it’s ever been, and I rather like it. Perversely, I didn’t feel lonely, isolated, or confined at all, but instead felt blessedly secluded, a secular anchorite. Six decades later, this new Sixth Sun feels like a confirmation and redemption of my solitary youth in backwoods Arkansas.

            Staying snugly at home (except for walks at the track and to grocery stores), let me focus on the memoir, which I titled LORD WIND, alternating between writing it and drawing on Icon #19 – TEZCATLIPOCA, The Smoking Mirror. By mid-May I’d finished and posted the icon, which went much deeper into the god’s story than this old drawing for the book of days.

Tezcatlipoca – Smoking Mirror – (Lord of the Night Sky)

  And by early June I’d finished the memoir. Rejoicing, I posted LORD WIND on the web as individual chapters or entire text.

           On the urging of my French friend, in June I began conjuring up visions of Tlaloc, the God of Storms, and at the same time started the third volume of memoir, soon entitled GAY GEISHA, about my stylish gay life in Washington DC in the 1970s. Once again, for sanity’s sake, over the next months I switched back and forth between creative processes.

            Meanwhile, a few important things happened in the solitude of October. First, I rode my bike to the Convention Center and voted early against the scumbag, whereupon I put it and its filth out of mind. Next, I finally struck my icon show after nine months’ lockdown—with the kind assistance of my tall grandson. Then, accepting that my life was utterly changed for the foreseeable future, I gave him my little red car and happily became a true pedestrian.

            In mid-November I started posting chapters of GAY GEISHA serially and by mid-December had published eight covering about a quarter of the decade. The switch then back to the icon was for a final push, aiming to finish it by New Year’s. I didn’t quite make it though. Only the other day, almost two weeks into 2021, I finally wrapped Tlaloc up, though he doesn’t look much like my first fanciful drawing of him for that old book of days. Still, that goggle-eye and fangs are standard features.

Tlaloc – (God of Rain)

            Please allow me to count Aztec Icon #20 – TLALOC, God of Storms, as an accomplishment for wretched but productive 2020. (I’ll post it very soon.) I’m tremendously gratified by creating my three icons, memoirs of gay liberation, and the operatic masterpiece.

#

The Earth Monster

Nowadays we sometimes think (and some of us worry) about the planet Earth, this infinitesimal speck of dust in the infinite cosmos, as our mother—and quite reasonably so. In scientific fact, like all life, we’re indeed children of the female Earth sired by the male Sun. However, the ancient Egyptians believed we’re the offspring of the male Geb (earth) and the female Nut (sky).

In the Judeo-Christian, Islamic, and Hindu traditions, people were purportedly created magically (asexually like amoebas?) by a male deity with the Earth playing no role except as a location to hold dominion over. Characteristically, Buddhists don’t have a creation story since they consider the notion of origins meaningless. Take your pick because it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Meanwhile, ancient Mesoamericans believed people were created by the Earth as a deity named Tlaltecuhtli, which was conveniently a hermaphrodite—and not at all anthropomorphic. Most often it was depicted as a huge, gaping maw, a two-way street through which people were born and then on death passed back into the Underworld, the Earth being the mystical source and destination of all life. Creation wasn’t considered a one-shot deal but an ongoing process.

When not a mouth spitting out or devouring people, the deity of the Earth was generally shown as a monster with impressive fangs and claws. Its species was apparently the crocodile (caiman), a creature called Cipactli (also the name of the first day of the month in their calendar).

The Mesoamerican Earth Monster

I drew this surreal image of the Earth Monster as a detail in my next icon for the coloring book YE GODS! It’s based on a smaller version in the Codex Borgia. In some other instances in the codices, Tlaltecuhtli/Cipactli has no limbs, but the fanged jaw was put to good use in biting off the left foot of the god Tezcatlipoca. That’s another story.

Of the various creation fantasies, I much prefer the Mesoamerican narrative since it recognizes that our planet Earth is the parent of life and illustrates the principle of dust to dust. It really does matter after all to acknowledge that our Earth is a living creature, a metaphorical monster not to be dominated but to be cherished and nurtured. Remember, even planets can die!

#

The Old Queen’s Proclamation

When I began this website back in late 2013, I suggested that in 2012 I’d “incarnated” in my eighth identity or persona as a writer and artist. Now seven years later I’ve written a webpage to characterize this incarnation (thus far) as the Venerable Old Queen. In it you can read about this time of monkish peace and great productivity in books and art, all utterly fascinating.

I hope to continue being peaceful and productive for a long time yet in spite of our dire new reality. The old reality of our world recently underwent a total paradigm shift. As your Venerable Queen, I declare that Friday, March 13, 2020 was the end of the world as we’ve known it. To my neo-Aztec mind, on that day the Aztec Fifth Sun (World) came to an emphatic end. In their calendar, this was the day Four Rain, ominously the day-name of the Third Sun, which was destroyed in a rain of fire. That apocalyptic detail aptly marks this ending of the Fifth Sun.

In Aztec cosmology the Fifth Sun was called Four Earthquake (Nahui Ollin) and was destined to end by earthquake. However, “ollin” means more broadly “movement,” not only the terrestrial kind but the abstract as in “motion” or “dynamism.” If ever anything has moved dynamically, it’s the Corona virus sweeping the world—and destroying the Fifth Sun.

In addition, my venerable highness proclaims that the next day, March 14, 2020, was the first day of a brand new Sun, the Sixth. In my 1993 calendar book, I’d proposed that the Sixth Sun began with the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521; since the invaders actually arrived in 1519, on the average I was only off by precisely 500 years.

In my youthful enthusiasm, I gave the Sixth Sun the day-name Four Flower (Nahui Xochitl) and assigned Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal as its patrons to foster “love and happiness, artistic inspiration, fertility, pleasure, feasting, music, dancing, beauty and peace.” Obviously, I was feeling optimistic, even utopian, about the Sixth Sun, and now in spite of serious counter-indications, I’m trying to be the same as it begins for real. I do indeed accept Four Flower as this new Sun’s day-name and the divine patrons I channeled for it in 1993. The illustrations below are from the old book, and I use this image of the Prince in the banner on my webpages.

        Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers, and Xochiquetzal, Flower Feather, Patrons of the Sixth Sun Four Flower

Let’s look at the divinatory portents in the ceremonial calendar.

Per Azteccalendar.com, March 14 was the day Five Flower (Macuilxochitl), which is the day-name of the deity of games, music, dancing and singing. Five Flower is a nagual (manifestation), of good old Xochipilli, Prince of Flowers, the youthful solar deity of vegetation and abundance, as well as of pleasure, male beauty, learning, and the arts. His day-name is Seven Flower (Chicomexochitl), and coincidentally he’s the patron of both the sacred ballgame tlachtli and of homosexuality. Maybe it was for that latter fact that I chose him, but obviously he’s already become the divine patron of this new Sun without my puny gay-mortal help.

About Flower days in general, that day is ruled by Xochiquetzal, Flower Feather, so again I was right on in my channeled inspiration. She’s the ever-young goddess of love, beauty, female sexuality, and fertility and is the twin sister and wife of Xochipilli. She protects young mothers in pregnancy and childbirth, and is patron of weaving, embroidery, artisans, artists, and prostitutes. The calendar website says that a Flower day is one for creating beauty and truth, which fits right into my forecast, and significantly adds that the day tells us that life, like the flower, is beautiful but quickly fades.

The 13-day week (trecena) that the day Five Flower occurs in (One Vulture), is ruled by Xolotl, the Evening Star. I write in my encyclopedia of the Aztec pantheon that he is the god of sickness, deformity, monstrosities, malice, treachery, and danger, and represents the animal aspect of behavior and the unconscious. It’s rather ominous that he’s also the psychopomp (like the Greeks’ Charon), who leads the dead through the Land of the Dead, Mictlan.

Azteccalendar.com remarks that a Vulture week itself signifies the wisdom and freedom of old age, a fact this venerable old queen can relate to. Terribly right on in its generality for the time around March 14, 2020, it adds that these are good days for disengaging and bad days for participating.

This horoscopic reading for Saturday, March 14 seems uncannily perceptive in our shifted paradigm, and the Flower World it portends is an actual theme in the theology of northwestern ancient Mexico, complete with Xochipilli as its sun-god. Now that he rules this Sixth Sun, I think it would be entirely appropriate to create a new ballgame in his honor.

Let’s play with the idea of tlachtli and maybe call it “Xochiball.” It’s played on a circular court 50 ft. in diameter, where two teams of two players try to knock a soccer-size (but softer?) ball through a vertical hoop (possibly spinning) which is suspended over the center of the court. No catching or hitting the ball with hands is allowed, and the losers don’t get sacrificed. Feel free to make up the rest of the rules.

By the way, on my new page for Venerable Old Queen I didn’t mention the harsh lesson of this eighth persona: The rarest thing in the world is people who get what they really truly deserve. As a case in point, there’s no earthly way I truly deserve the many blessings I’ve had in my long life. When you get right down to it, again as the Aztecs believed, human life is simply a matter of dumb luck, and we’ve got to do everything we can think of to appease and flatter any deities who supposedly control our fortunes. Myself, I’m not poking any thorns through my tongue.

          Aztec Penance

#

      

Tlalocan – The Paradise of Tlaloc

Occasionally I’ve interrupted drawing for my coloring book to remark on particularly interesting details (like the Divine Volcanoes and Visions of Tezcatlipoca), and here I go again.

The icon I’m working on right now is for Tlaloc, God of Storms (as well as rain and weather in general), a very ancient deity with antecedents among the Maya as Chak and in Teotihuacan, his actual name unknown, at least a thousand years before the Aztecs. In conceptualizing the icon, I’m including as the base register an image of Tlalocan, the Paradise of Tlaloc, adapted from a mural at Teotihuacan (c. 500 CE).

In my process, I first gather, massage and manipulate source material to create a layout. After settling on the composition, I turn the images into line drawings. Working with a mural from Teotihuacan—and snitching a neat piece of Codex Vindobonensis—I’ve reconfigured it to be what I call the Tlalocan, the Paradise of Tlaloc, restoring the heavily damaged left half:

Teotihuacan Mural Reconfigured by Richard Balthazar

Keep in mind that the Teotihuacan mural (with an obfuscating deep red background), was painted some 1,500 years ago—before European monks ever started illuminating manuscripts.

Some scholars argue that this mural represents the sacred Water Mountain—Cerro Gordo behind the city—and was associated with the (also nameless) Great Goddess. While her mural is positioned right above this one, I heartily disagree and have removed the arguable “mountain,” moving in the centerpiece from the upper border (enlarged), an indubitable image of the fanged, goggle-eyed deity the later Aztecs dubbed Tlaloc.

The deity also holds “head”-pitchers like those Tlaloc holds in Codex Borgia pouring water onto the maize-fields. As well, the dedication to Tlaloc is tripled by the matching busts of the iconic water deity in the upper corners. In upper center, I’ve installed an anachronistic Mouth of the Earth pouring forth water (from Vindobonensis). The name Tlaloc means “He of the Earth.”

I have no problem with Cerro Gordo being the sacred Water Mountain of Teotihuacan. That nearby massif may well have sourced lots of springs and streams, and I gather there’s evidence of intensive agricultural terracing and other works on its slopes and summit. The original Water Mountain image in the mural I assert to be in fact the way of entry into the afterlife of Tlalocan. The figures in its waters aren’t just gaily swimming around but struggling, sinking, maybe drowning, and ultimately erupting into the Paradise of the god later known as Tlaloc. Note the attempted life-saving. I found the image nice but unnecessary. After all we’re worshipping LKA Tlaloc here.

“Water Mountain” from Original Mural at Teotihuacan

Circumstantially, priority entry into Tlalocan, a joyful place of games, butterflies and flowers, was granted to victims of drowning, then to children sacrificed to Tlaloc—note the many children in the mural’s pastiche—and only afterwards to victims of certain diseases such as leprosy. Those less than enviable passports aside, Tlaloc’s 8th heaven (out of the 13), was a great place to wind up, all dancing, singing, and having fun. In the other heavens, not so much…

If you squint at the little figures in the mural, you’ll see groups engaging in several games. On the far left it’s with soccer-type balls while another guy runs in perhaps a hybrid of bowling and hopscotch. Moving to the right, we come to a bunch of dancers, and beside them a guy getting tossed into the air. On the deity’s crest, four fellows play perhaps some version of leapfrog. On their right, kids play marbles, and four guys play on something maybe related to a teeter-totter.

Historically significant are those little curlicues issuing from the figures’ mouths, the symbol for song: These folks are rejoicing, singing out their joy. Even the birds I lifted from the Great Goddess mural are singing as on far right. (In the original a tiny worm also sings!) I know this symbol because it’s widespread in the Aztec codices of a thousand years later meaning the same.

I’m taken with the little guy on the lower right bending to admire a flower. This stretch of plants and figures has been called a scene of farming, but that’s just nonsense. Farming in heaven? The man standing on the far right might be yodeling, and the kid under the bush is merrily waving a flower, not particularly agrarian activities. Various other figures scattered around seem to be telling stories or doing tricks. A good time is being had by all.

Generally, I try not to engage in much speculation, but this time it’s terribly tempting. Let me suggest an intriguing possibility. Perhaps with the Water Mountain adjacent to their prosperous city the Teotihuacanos came to think of their world as literally Tlalocan on earth. Maybe they didn’t, but Mesoamerican history could have—taking that long-gone civilization into their cosmology as the Third Sun, Four Rain.

According to the Aztecs, Four Rain was ruled by Tlaloc while consorting with Xochiquetzal (Flower Feather), who might have been the Great Goddess, though She was usually seen as the proto-Chalchiuhtlicue (Jade Skirt). Lore has it that when Tezcatlipoca (The Smoking Mirror) abducted his goddess, Tlaloc raged and destroyed the Third Sun in a rain of fire.

This apocalyptic detail suggests another possibility. I’ve read that right around 600 CE there was a major eruption of Popocatepetl which, besides raining fire, spread a pyroclastic flood of toxic gases all over the valley of Anahuac (Mexico). Is it just coincidence that at exactly this time the civilization and people of Teotihuacan vanished?

Just wondering…

#

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.

#

Aztec Lords of the Night

After finishing Icon #19 for my coloring book, and before jumping on the next one, I’ve been plugging along on another Aztec project, this one in color! Some time ago I decided to “re-create” the calendar from 16th-century Codex Rios, apparently a slightly later Italian copy of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Both of them offer fairly crude versions of deities and day-signs, with Rios tending to be at least a little more “artistic,” and both present the ceremonial count of days in disjointed pieces. So my re-creation will also be a re-construction.

In Codices Borgia and Vaticanus, the 13-day week (trecena) is laid out simply with ruling deities and the day-count. In Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin, the Lords of the Day and Night are included, but hard to differentiate, as well as their totem birds, mostly of dubious species.

Codices Rios and Telleriano-Remensis accompany the day-count and patron deities only with the nine Lords of the Night in a super-cycle that takes some centuries to complete. In sequence, the Lords of the Night preside over the nights of each calendar day and at the same time, in sequence, they preside over each of the nine hours of those nights.

Forgive me for saying this, but in these two related calendars, the images of the Lords are really sloppy, even slap-dash, though the deities are drawn with consistent, if careless, motifs. It would be rude to show you the original images of those abused Lords of the Night. Instead, refining their iconographic details, I’ve re-created them with more realistic faces in the style of Codices Fejervary-Mayer and/or Laud.

You can check them all out in greater detail in my Aztec pantheon, but here are some artist’s notes on these Lords of the Night.

1st Lord: Xiuhtecuhtli—Lord of the Turquoise/(Fire). Perhaps he has a red mouth from eating fire? The peaked headdress and red ribbon are standard emblems.

2nd Lord: Itztli—Obsidian. He’s a nagual (manifestation) of Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror. Again, I don’t know what the standard black markings on his face signify, but those things in his “hat” are sacrificial flint knives.

3rd Lord: Pilzintecuhtli—Young Lord. God of the planet Mercury, he is also a “sun-lord” as shown by the sun in his headdress. I can’t explain his golden hair, but all the Lords’ hair-colors are inexplicably the same as these in the earlier, purely Mexican codex.

4th Lord: Centeotl—God of Maize. Check out the cobs of maize in his headdress.

5th Lord: Mictlantecuhtli—Lord of the Land of the Dead. In this most appealing image I’ve ever found of the death-god, the black lower face is standard. (The pointy thing in the headdress is reminiscent of the regalia of the god Itztlacoliuhqui.)

6th Lord: Chalchiuhtlicue—Jade Skirt. She’s the ancestral Great Goddess from ancient Teotihuacan.

7th Lord: Tlazolteotl—Goddess of Filth. Her mouth is black from eating people’s filth/sins. I can’t identify the tasseled objects in her headdress.

8th Lord: Tepeyollotl—Heart of the Mountain. His tri-color face (and yellow hair) are standard features for this god in these calendars.

9th Lord: Tlaloc—God of Storms. His goggle-eyed, long-toothed visage is emblematic in most codex contexts.

#