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…