Aztec Calendar – Death Trecena

The sixth trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Death for its first numbered day, which is also the 6th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Death is Miquitzli, and it’s known as Kimi in Yucatec Maya and Kame’ in Quiché Maya.

For the Aztec significance of the day Death, it is important to put aside the Old-World notions of death as a dire ending. In Mesoamerican philosophy, Death is a positive process, signifying the cycle of life and death, rebirth and renewal. The patron of the day is Tecciztecatl, God of the Moon (also a new patron of the trecena, see below), and the day corresponds anatomically to the forehead (skull), appearing in the codices with various ornaments. Such images are still frequently seen in art for the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

PATRON DEITIES RULING THE TRECENA

The principal patron of the Aztecs’ Death trecena is the sun-god Tonatiuh, nowadays most familiar as the grimacing face in the center of the Stone of the Suns. He is the deity of the Fifth Sun, in Aztec cosmology the fifth world or era known as Four Earthquake, the day-sign for which is the figure on the Stone containing the face. In its lobes are the day-signs of the four preceding eras: Four Jaguar, Four Wind, Four Rain, and Four Water. To become the deity of the Fifth Sun, Tonatiuh, a minor god named Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself by leaping into the creative conflagration ignited by Quetzalcoatl/Ehecatl.

For the ancient Maya, the patron of this trecena was their goddess of the moon Ix Chel. This female patron deity carried over into later centuries as the goddess Metztli. With the rise of the Nahuatl culture’s Fifth Sun cosmology, the new god Tonatiuh was added to the trecena as the main patron, creating the symbolic pair of Sun and Moon. (See my Icon #16.)

However, with increasing Nahuatl dominance, specifically a misogynistic Aztec hegemony, the Moon Goddess was largely replaced in the calendar by a male lunar deity named Tecciztecatl. Another minor deity, he had hesitated to leap into the creative conflagration, and when he finally decided to follow Nanahuatzin, he was made the god of the moon in consolation. In the surviving codices, Metztli only appears once unambiguously as patron of the Death trecena. Tecciztecatl for all intents and purposes shot the Moon.

AUGURIES OF DEATH 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”

This trecena’s theme of death strongly suggests returning to the source in order to regenerate. Although there is a sacrificial component, traditionally there was also a sense of luck associated with Kimi, perhaps because Kimi is associated with the idea of restoration and renewal, a letting go of restrictions in order to achieve a higher level of evolution. This trecena could be seen as a good time to step back, get rid of whatever is no longer wanted or needed, retreat to a place of calm, and allow for the renewal of spirit.

Further to how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at whitepuppress.ca/horoscope/. Look for the Kimi (Death) trecena.

THE 13 NUMBERED DAYS IN THE DEATH 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 the 6th day of the current vientena, 1 Death, this trecena completes with the 18th day, 13 Flint, (proceeding through 2 Deer, 3 Rabbit, 4 Water, 5 Dog, 6 Monkey, 7 Grass, 8 Reed, 9 Jaguar, 10 Eagle, 11 Vulture, and 12 Earthquake).

There are a couple important days in the Death trecena (besides 8 Reed, which is the birth-sign of my twin grandsons and two of my close friends):

One Death (in Nahuatl Ce Miquitzli), like Seven Death mentioned in the Flower trecena, was another of the highest lords of the Maya underworld Xibalba, who tried to defeat the Hero Twins. In Mixtec culture the solar deity Tonatiuh was known as One Death, sometimes depicted with Jaguar symbolism. In addition, the deity Tezcatlipoca, mentioned in the Reed trecena as patron of the day Reed, was day-named One Death in the Florentine Codex, which notes that anyone born on One Death “would prosper and be rich.”

(I have no way of knowing, but I’d bet that Three Rabbit (in Nahuatl Yeyi Tochtli) is another god of some kind of intoxication. Maybe datura or salvia?)

Four Water (in Nahuatl Nahui Atl), the 4th day, is the day-name of the Fourth Sun or era, which was ruled by the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, patron deity of the Reed trecena, and destroyed unsurprisingly by flood.

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!

For my tonalamatl so long ago, I didn’t know anything about the sun-god as patron—or about the late insertion of Tecciztecatl into the calendar’s Death trecena. I’d simply read somewhere that the patron was called “Old Man Moon,” and I knew of no images of him. So, once again I resorted to the style of Codex Nuttall to concoct a figure in traditional half-kneeling position with assorted regalia. Also unaware of Aztec moon symbology, I slyly made his face an Old-World version of the “man in the moon.” In spite of these ill-informed concepts, I think my illustration for the Death trecena succeeded. At least, it gets frequent views on my website.

Aztec Calendar – Death trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

Though I was ill-informed about so many things, I managed to ornament the Death day-sign skull appropriately with the authentic mystical symbol called “burning water.”

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TONALAMATL BORGIA (re-created by Richard Balthazar from Codex Borgia)

Aztec Calendar – Death trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

The Death trecena page from the Codex Borgia is a prime example of the Aztecs’ historical revisionism, presenting Tonatiuh with Tecciztecatl as patrons. The figure of the sun-god on the right is one of the more ornate representations of that deity, though with little in the way of regalia to identify him. Perhaps the blue bird’s head on his ‘bustle’ and the odd plaque-like pendant are identifiers as they occur in other Borgia images of the god, but the war-butterfly in his headdress is the same marker of divinity as we saw earlier with Tonacatecuhtli in the Crocodile trecena and Chalchiuhtlicue in the Reed trecena. His most unique detail would seem to be the curved red line around his eye with dot on the cheek—which will recur in a very similar image in the later Flint trecena, not yet re-created.

Meanwhile, the figure of Tecciztecatl on the left, possibly an elder personage, apparently has no feature to identify him. We might take the curved blue blade in his hand as symbolic of the crescent moon, but that’s a stretch of imagination. In my amateur opinion, the usurper is such a new-comer to the pantheon that he hadn’t found any iconographic insignias yet—or there’s some arcane meaning behind that ceremonial-looking blade, one better not imagined.

The assorted items in the center of the panel are mostly familiar motifs, except for the rabbit in the square, which I assume refers to the Mesoamerican vision of a rabbit in the full moon. (That was another detail I didn’t know when I drew my Death trecena.) In fact, the Maya Moon Goddess Ix Chel was depicted with a rabbit. The dot-numeral 12 might refer to either the rabbit or the flint as day-names, but both days are anomalous, neither occurring in this trecena.

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TONALAMATL YOAL (compiled and re-created by Richard Balthazar on the basis of

Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Death trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

Both Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios must have been of an old-believer school. As the second patron of the Death trecena, they present the orthodox lunar goddess Metztli (right). On her back she wears a stylized conch-shell, the standard symbol of the moon. In her headdress, she wears a curious band of fleur-de-lys designs that I’ve never seen elsewhere in Aztec pictography. The Rios copy is in such bad shape that one can’t really make them out.

While we’re on the subject of the moon, I should point out that some scholars of the Aztec calendar—which I’m not, just an interested artist—suggest that the 13-day “week” is derived from the cycles of the moon. Given that the lunar cycle is really 28 days, at first glance that suggestion sounds dubious, but there’s another way of looking at it. If we consider the day of the full moon and that of the dark of the moon as “nodes,” there are indeed 13 days between them, the days of waxing and waning. For a source of the trecena count, that seems as good as any.

Meanwhile, Tonatiuh as the sun-patron (left) is more recognizable here than in Borgia. Here he brandishes his usual omen-bird, a blue parrot, and sports an elegant solar disc on his back, an identifier often seen in Borgia elsewhere. You may notice that the Lord of the Night in the upper corners, Pilzintecuhtli, the Young Lord, also wears a similar, if smaller, disc. He’s the god of the planet Mercury and consequently closely related to the sun, viewed in some quarters as a nagual or manifestation of Tonatiuh.

There’s also a strong solar connection for the god Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers—(See Icon #18 and the Jaguar trecena for a discussion of his artsy nagual Chicomexochitl.)—and young Pilzintecuhtli could be the Prince’s nagual too, or maybe just his lover. In some heretical western, non-Aztec cults, Xochipilli himself is seen as the sun-god and ruler of a joyful paradise called the Flower World, but he has no role in the canonical calendar.

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OTHER TONALAMATLS

Tonalamatl Aubin patron panel for Death trecena

After that scattered commentary on Tonalamatl Yoal’s elegant patrons, we come upon them in Aubin in that tonalamatl’s idiosyncratic style, something less than magnificent or realistic. The big-plumed guy on the right must intend Tonatiuh, though without identifiers, unless you count the beribboned circle pendant, but that’s a frequent adornment on many deities. In Aztec art, both genders wore skirts, so the figure on the upper left is ambiguous—Metztli or Tecciztecatl, take your pick. Again, the big conch adjacent to “their” nose symbolizes the moon, the question-mark red squiggle representing the living mollusk notwithstanding.

The other floating objects are recognizable sketches of familiar motifs, and then at the bottom there’s that tethered cloven-hoofed creature, very like a piglet. I’m no authority, but I’d wager it’s a young peccary. With it inside a standard place symbol are two inscrutable objects, possibly hieroglyphs identifying a specific location. Is the peccary-piggie tethered for sacrifice? I assume it relates to the self-sacrifices to become heavenly bodies. Or not…

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Codex Borbonicus patron panel for Death trecena

The patron panel for the Death trecena in Codex Borbonicus is unusual, if only for including a place-area with assorted creatures. The tethered one is clawed and patterned like a jaguar—that red stuff on his head I figure is a sign of sacrifice. There are the same markings on the poor critter being half-eaten by Tlaltecuhtli, Lord of the Earth, a devouring maw also symbolic of the entrance to Mictlan, the Underworld. Besides the delicate conch-moon, the cactus with flower and spilling water may again be hieroglyphs of location. Maybe not…

The floating miscellany of objects each symbolize something or other important, but I’m not terribly interested in them. Most enigmatic is the abstract kachina-like item at top-center that I wouldn’t mind understanding. The Tonatiuh on the right has much in common with the one in Yoal, including his blue parrot and heavy-duty pendant, but he wears no solar disc. Maybe the bright design behind his head is supposed to be one. To confuse matters further, that’s another moon-conch hanging directly over his head. I’ve also got to wonder why on earth he’s wearing Tlazolteotl’s lunar-crescent nose-ornament.

On the upper left is unquestionably a very dark Tecciztecatl, either levitating like the god he is, or with one foot touching the ground, perhaps intending night or the dark of the moon? After all, the good old conch is over there in the daytime with the sun. Immediately obvious is the god’s packet of two knob-ended staffs nicely banded and carried over his shoulder; I’ve seen similar bundles in codex scenes of a new-fire ceremony, which may have happened at night. Those spots in his headdress/crest are likely stars. Again, the circular pendant is pretty common god-bling.

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Codex Vaticanus patron panel for Death trecena

Right up front, I’ll confess that I was bothered by the scattered and skewed images in the Codex Vaticanus patron panel and “rectified” the layout, keeping the distribution of images the same, making minor reconstructions, and repairing various lines. I must say that the Vaticanus artist(s) were rather poor draftsmen—couldn’t even color inside the lines!—but they sure knew how to cleave to dogma. Here they’ve switched the gods, Tonatiuh on the left seated on a divine jaguar throne looking all stern (and/or powerful?) His arms are painfully contorted, and those may be tattoos. But there’s no red curve or dot on his face like we saw in Borgia. He bears no identifying marks or symbols, except that over-worked war-butterfly on his forehead.

On the right, Tecciztecatl sits on a standard Borgia-like throne, definitely looking like Old Man Moon with a protruding tooth. (There are many such-toothed codex figures, especially in Codex Vindobonensis, which sadly has no tonalamatl.) Note that his headdress contains three nested flowers, reminiscent of the god’s two in the Borgia panel, whatever that may mean. The curved “rod” he clutches also echoes that ominous blue blade in Borgia. Can we hope maybe it’s just an old geezer’s cane?

The floating stuff is a repeat of the Borgia motifs—except for the dot-numeral 12 now being inarguably associated with the rabbit in the box (full of stars). I think that what we’ve got here is the Aztec day-name of the rabbit in the moon: Twelve Rabbit. It’s a good bet he’s also the patron of some kind of intoxication. Lunacy?

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It was fascinating to look at how a new-comer deity usurped the title of lunar deity. And what’s more, a male! We know Alice Walker’s famous contention that all lunar deities are supposed to be female. However, I know of a Sumerian god of the moon surprisingly named Nanna or Sin in Akkadian. It’s tremendously important that Tonalamatl Yoal and its codex antecedents preserve an image of the primordial Mesoamerican moon goddess, especially this one so grand—dare I say iconic? When you get right down to it, she’s a not bad-looking woman. And now we even know the name of her pet bunny-rabbit!

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UPCOMING ATTRACTION

The next trecena will be that of Rain with the mighty Tlaloc, the God of Storms, as its patron. Stay tuned!

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Ancient America-Asia Coincidences

Recently I came across two historical coincidences worthy of comment. Both may be archaeologically, or at least anthropologically, significant.

  1. The Rabbit in the Moon.

Readers should be advised that I’ve “studied” (more like “obsessed with”) things Mesoamerican for about 30 years now, and have become fairly conversant about their mythology and art, mainly of the Aztecs. More about that in a moment.

Some decades ago I learned that the Mesoamerican peoples saw a rabbit in the moon. This “moon rabbit” was famous amongst the early Maya, shown here with the moon goddess Ix Chel:

The image of a rabbit in the moon occurs in two of the surviving pre-Conquest Aztec codices (picture-books) and in one of the post-Conquest documents.

Aztec Rabbits in the Moon

Learning about this lunar bunny, I checked out the full moon and immediately saw it clearly. Before, I’d never really been able to see a face in the moon (the European tradition), and now I can see nothing but the rabbit.  In my Aztec obsession, I’ve spent the past several years drawing icons of their deities and am now working on the god of the moon, Tecciztecatl.  As a detail for that icon, I’ve concocted my own Moon Rabbit in an Aztec style and in the orientation I’ve scientifically observed.

Imagine my surprise when I read a book about Chinese myths and legends and discovered that the ancient Chinese also saw a rabbit in the moon. Under “Moon Rabbit” on Wikipedia, I learned that in their inscrutable oriental way, the image the Chinese saw was a rabbit facing to the right—and anthropomorphically using a mortar and pestle to pound herbs or medicines (that equipment occupying the area of my bunny’s bottom).

The entry advised that this traditional image also spread to Japan and Korea and added, “Legends of moon rabbits exist among some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.” Then the entry states categorically:  “These legends were not influenced by Asian cultures.”  This gratuitous pronouncement smacks of a polemical personal opinion designed to forestall any further discussion of the subject.  Typical…

Now, I’m not arguing that this coincidence necessarily shows any America-Asia connection. It’s quite reasonable that the two widely separated peoples could see the same familiar creature (in differing perspectives) in the Rorschach blur on the moon’s orb.  The bunny could well be a pure coincidence (though some say there are no coincidences).

  1. The Ten Suns

In the same book of Chinese myths and legends, one struck me as surpassingly surreal. The god of the eastern sky, Di Jun was the father of ten suns [sic!] which took turns crossing the sky on each of the ten days of the week.  But they got bored with the routine and one day decided to ride in their chariots all together across the sky, which heat caused great damage to the earth and its creatures.  Unable to make his suns behave properly, Di Jun summoned the Divine Archer Yi and gave him a magic bow and arrows to make the suns resume their rotating duties.  Yi shot down nine of them, leaving only one to cross the sky every day.  That solution greatly distressed Di Jun, who condemned Yi to live a mortal life.  Curious tale…

A few months later I read a book called “Native American Myths and Legends,” which was published by Arcturus Publishing Ltd. in London (2017). The stories were recorded by a range of different writers/ethnographers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The story that stopped me in my tracks was attributed to a tribe called “Shastika” and taken from a book by Katharine Berry Judson, “Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest (1912). That tribe from northern California/southern Oregon is now called simply Shasta or Shastan and logically relates to the magical Mount Shasta. Per Wikipedia, by the early years of the 20th century perhaps only 100 Shasta individuals existed, and some few Shasta descendants apparently still reside in various reservations with other tribes.

The story is called “Old Mole’s Creation.” (Forgive my disrespectful levity, but the title calls to mind a character from that ancient comic strip “Pogo”—Ol’ Mole was blind as a mole and an avid bird-watcher!) Anyway, first “Old Mole burrowed underneath Somewhere and threw up the earth which forms the world.” Then, “in the beginning, Sun had nine brothers, all flaming hot like himself. But Coyote killed the nine brothers and so saved the world from burning up.” Those two simplified sentences are an obvious restatement of the Chinese legend of the ten suns.

But the Shasta tale does the Chinese one better by adding a parallel plot: “But Moon also had nine brothers, all made of ice like himself, and the Night People almost froze to death.” So as the Moons arose, Coyote killed nine of them with his flint-stone knife saved the Night People. Native American story-telling loves coyotes and symmetry.

These two tales of the ten suns are simply too counter-intuitive (and weird) to have developed independently. So I’ll boldly claim that they prove an ancient cultural connection between Asia and America. (They clearly support Gavin Menzies’ book “1421: The Year China Discovered America” and Laurie Bonner-Nickless’ interminably titled book about Chinese exploration of North America in 1433-34, which was just reviewed in “Ancient American,” Issue 121.)

Cue the academic inquisitors!

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