Icon #17 – TEPEYOLLOTL, Heart of the Mountain

So… It’s been another long haul to complete the next icon for my coloring book YE GODS! Something like four months, but no apologies.  I’ve had to take a lot of sanity breaks—to continue writing on my next memoir and to deal with the sorrows of life.  Namely, in late March, at the tender age of 18 my eldest grandson Ike chose to end his life.  We know nothing about why but can only respect, accept, and lament his decision.  That’s my reason for tearfully dedicating this Icon #17 – Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain to him.

Tepeyollotl, Heart of the Mountain

Tepeyollotl (Heart of the Mountain) {te-pe-yol-lotł} is the god of caves/mines and echoes and causes earthquakes, avalanches, and volcanos.  As the Lord of Jewels and underground treasures, he is the male spirit of the earth and a nagual of the hermaphroditic Tlaltecuhtli, Lord of the Earth.  A deity of witchcraft, he cures and causes diseases and guards the entrance to Mictlan (the Land of the Dead). Tepeyollotl is the ancestral were-jaguar and may be the God L of the Maya. Also a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, he is the Jaguar of the Night whose roaring heralds the sunrise, and as 8th lord of the night he is sometimes depicted as a jaguar leaping toward the rising sun.  

I’ve already posted a couple pieces about this icon in process, The Divine Volcanoes and Jaguars Changing Spots, and the above caption gives the rest of the information I’ve learned about this deity. On the coloring book page I’ve now listed a free download of it with caption and models, and when it comes back home to me in vectors from Bangladesh, I’ll add the two versions for sizable prints.

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Jaguars Changing Spots

I seem to be at my stellar best when I’m boring folks with useless information—or at least with stuff they don’t give a rat’s patootie about. The following verbiage may well fall into both categories.  And since it’s on the Internet, there’s the distinct possibility (but minuscule probability) of boring millions of readers to tears.  What more could I hope for as I hold forth on jaguars’ spots?  I bet you’ve never given that esoteric subject even a nanosecond’s thought.

But I have. For some years, as you likely don’t know, I’ve been drawing digital icons of Aztec deities for a coloring book called YE GODS! Since the jaguar is a major mythological figure for most of the ancient cultures of the Americas (see A Roar of Jaguars), I had to come to terms with how it was depicted in the iconography of those cultures.  In fact, as the Lord of the Animals, the jaguar was my first try at digital drawing.

Already well versed in the iconography of the few Aztec codices that survived the Conquest of that empire by the Spanish, I wasn’t terribly impressed by their renderings of the unique and complex pattern of the jaguar’s pelt. For the most part the ancient Aztec artists made do with a simple scattering of spots looking a lot like those of the Old World leopard.In the Codex Borgia, a more elaborate picture-book, the pelt was sometimes depicted in greater complexity. I chose to use two of those stronger patterns for figures in my later icon of the deities of the moon, but the first pattern was just too weirdly abstract, if oddly more realistic.

For my first digital drawing (eventually used in the icon for OCELOTL), I pompously tried to reproduce a naturalistic jaguar pelt—and believe I did a decent job. It convinced me of the amazing power of computer imaging and kicked off the whole coloring book project.  Having mastered the pattern, I used it also for a seat-cushion in the icon for the goddess CHANTICO (also see the icon for MICTLANTECUHTLI), and for a detail of a jaguar-warrior in that for the god CHALCHIUHTOTOLIN.

Chantico and Jaguar Warrior

At present I’m in the final throes of the icon for TEPEYOLLOTL (see The Divine Volcanoes), who is a were-jaguar (an anthropomorphic creature), appearing in a number of the codices.

Here comes another sneak preview. There are two jaguars in this icon.  I chose to use the Nuttall jaguar, radically restructured, for the leaping one and the Vindobonensis figure as model for the god himself—with a pelt based on one of the Borgia examples.

Leaping Jaguar and Tepeyollotl

This illustration shows that I haven’t yet completed Tepeyollotl’s face, though I have already given him an aesthetic nose-job. While the open-ring pattern may not be any more naturalistic than the plain spots on the Vindobonensis model, I did that on purpose—for the coloring.

I’ve only given explicit directions for coloring the icons in a few cases. First, for the pelt in OCELOTL, I described the animal’s range of coloration from rusty gold to white.  For the icon of EHECATL, I explained that scallop shells come in black, white, and all shades of the rainbow, though very dark and dusky like in the last hues of twilight.  For TEPEYOLLOTL, I will direct the colorist to make those open rings various colors as in these almost hallucinatory images:

In this second Telleriano example, the spots are inexplicably green, and in the psychedelic Aubin figure red, blue, and gold. (By the way, the general Aubin style of illustration might most kindly be called “casual:” Note the incomplete claws, stubby tail, and curious wrinkles on its back.)

The rationale for vari-colored spots on my Tepeyollotl is that, among several other mythical qualities, he’s the Lord of Jewels. Also, any deity worth its salt really should be hallucinatory, psychedelic, and/or surreal.

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The Divine Volcanoes Popocatepetl and Itzaccihuatl

For too long I’ve telling folks I’m still plugging away on Icon #17 for the YE GODS! coloring book, and now I can change my tune. At last I’m on the home stretch!  Just one more vignette and the figure of Tepeyollotl Himself, the Heart of the Mountain.  (I seem to have been keeping the deity itself for the last to be informed by the story of the surrounding details.)

So now it’s high time I give you something in the way of a sneak preview of #17: the Mountain.  Actually it’s the two divine volcanoes that loom dangerously over Ciudad de México, deified as Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain) and Itzaccihuatl (Obsidian Lady).

Popocatepetl and Itzaccihuatl

Here they are shown in the style of Codex Nuttall, Popocatepetl in its smoking majesty and Itzaccihuatl as a bonafide, stern-visaged goddess. Her codex model is iconographically notable being one of the few full-faced figures to be found in Aztec 2-D graphic art.  The Maya also preferred profiles (those marvelous foreheads!).  3-D sculpture was of course a different story.

The stylized sigils appearing in each of the “hills” are authentic names of real places. Apart from the self-evident symbol for Popocatepetl, I don’t have a clue what places the others intend.

The above is my second treatment of the divine volcanoes. The first was for a vignette in Icon #7 Huitzilopochtli, Hummingbird of the South, showing the arrival of the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan:

Arrival of Aztecs at Tenochtitlan

In the upcoming icon, beneath these volcanoes resides the Heart of the Mountain. Don’t let this be a spoiler, but you need to know that Tepeyollotl, as most often depicted in the Aztec codices, will be a were-jaguar, an ancient mythological being with possible roots three thousand years before in Peru.  Check out this boggling image of the Raimondi Stela from Chavín de Huantar.

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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.

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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.)

ICON #11: OCELOTL

(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.