This month of June is Gay Pride 2022, and it’s mete and just that we parade and party. It would be great to have a patron “saint” to celebrate (“saint” being the title the dominant creed uses to replace the earlier gods of paganism). I want to glorify a patron god of gays, not a vengeful and homophobic deity whose devotees revile and condemn us.
There once was indeed such a god of gays in the distant past, beautiful boy named Antinous, who was deified by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. By sacrificing himself to the River Nile to bring his imperial lover good fortune, the divine ephebe became a god of beauty and love.
Temples, statues, and even an entire city in Egypt were raised for beneficent Antinous, and as an honest-to-god deity, he was for a good while a strong candidate for the title of humanity’s savior—much more appropriate than the heavily marketed Messiah from Judea, who was merely (and messily) executed for rabble-rousing. The cult of Antinous was soon eradicated by righteous believers in less tolerant traditions, and I still mourn the loss.
But nowadays, as ever, it takes a lot more than an imperial decree to become a god. Anyway, beautiful Antinous probably qualifies more as a divine hero than a deity. We can always use more of them. Personally, I’m not into sacrifice and salvation (for and from what?) and prefer to revere a powerful deity with a positive attitude about being gay. It just so happens that in spite of their gruesome fixation on sacrifice, the ancient Aztecs had just such a one, a handsome divinity called the Flower Prince, Xochipilli.
This divine Prince is specifically the patron of homosexuals and an important god of fertility (agricultural produce and gardens). He’s also the god of art, dance, laughter, happiness, beauty and peace, flowers, ecstasy, sleep, and dreams/hallucinations, as well as of the sacred ball-game tlachtli. As patron of writing, painting, and song, he’s known as Chicomexochitl (Seven Flower), and as god of music, games, feasting, and frivolity, he’s called Macuilxochitl (Five Flower). That’s a rather impressive portfolio if you ask me, well worth glorifying.
Long ago before I’d ever seen any picture of Xochipilli, I drew one based on that portfolio and images of males from the Codex Nuttall—for my Aztec calendar as patron of the 20th trecena, Rabbit. (See my 1993 book Celebrate Native America!) As an arrogant humanistic artist, I was offended by the patron of that trecena, Tecpatl (flint—the sacrificial knife) and installed the more appetizing Flower Prince in that ceremonial role in an artistic coup d’état.
My early drawing is startling for the figure’s beard, which I saw in Codex Nuttall images of the historical ruler Eight Deer, and which was a not-infrequent trait of Nahuatl males. Besides loading my figure down with stylized flowers, I added a curlicue song-symbol, the cuciatl. Even that long ago, I recognized in Xochipilli my favorite Aztec deity for a patron and adopted his image for my website banner, little realizing how in-authentic my colorful iconography is.
Now 30 years later, in the codices I’ve found several authentic images of Xochipilli, which don’t look much at all like my invention. They had no ‘literate’ language, so the codices didn’t label the deities, though Spanish annotators did—sometimes with mistakes. It happens.
The image from Codex Laud can be assumed to be of Xochipilli, judging by all the flowers and the seven dots, the Prince being the patron of the number seven and his day-name Seven Flower. In the same way, also lacking identifying regalia or insignias, the Codex Fejervary-Mayer image must be the Prince, judging from the seven flowers adorning his temple. (The round fan he holds, or whatever it is, may be intended as indicative.)
The image from Codex Vaticanus (with only three flowers) I’m taking to be Xochipilli as well, given its similarity to the former—and the fact that both enthroned figures occur in pairs with an enthroned Huehuecoyotl (Old Coyote), who is one of the Prince’s lovers. The Codex Borgia image isn’t explicitly the Prince, unless one notes the flower emblem floating by his head; but this scene occurs in a sequence of calendar days with their patron deities, and he’s also patron of the day Monkey (Ozomatli).
The much different image from Codex Magliabechiano is one of two, both with the red-parrot headdress, and I’ve relied on that motif for my recent portrait of the Flower Prince:
Those familiar with my YE GODS! coloring book will observe that I’ve extracted the central portion of my Icon #18 with the tlachtli ballcourt, worked that black-and-white drawing over a bit, and colored it in with a rainbow of iridescent hues. The psychedelic hummingbird and bee are there to suggest the surreal beauty of Xochipilli’s ecstatic heaven called the Flower World. The most iconoclastic aspects of this “icon” are his physical realism and frontal position, reflecting the posture of ancient Maya figures. I haven’t a clue what kind of flowers those are.
To celebrate Gay Pride 2022, I would like to see my illustration of Xochipilli enthroned appear on cards and in publications and become a celebratory poster or community mural—an emblem of LGBTQ+ dignity, love, and beauty perhaps on a par with our glorious rainbow flag.
I welcome entrepreneurs or afficionados to freely use the image for respectful purposes. To be frank, I’m extraordinarily proud of my modest picture, and I’d be greatly gratified for as many folks as possible to see our great gay deity—and pay the Flower Prince due homage. After all, our gods live on attention, devotion, and love.
As I’ve fortunately had the opportunity to say for some decades:
Happy Gay Pride everybody!
—and thank Xochipilli for our new freedom!