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.

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Tlalocan II – The Drawing

After showing you my reconfiguration of the Teotihuacan mural of Tlalocan in early July, it took me these past three months to turn it into a black-and-white drawing. As such, it will become the lower register in Icon #20 for my digital coloring book YE GODS!

For several centuries the enormous city-state of Teotihuacan “ruled” central Mexico (and parts of the Maya world as well). Painted about 1,500 years ago, the tremendously ornate mural is a fascinating window into that vanished metropolis, a panorama of its people enjoying afterlife in the paradise of their water (storm) god—whom a thousand years later the Aztecs called Tlaloc. My drawing gives you an intimate look at the actual people who lived in the Place of the Gods. (It’s greatly reduced in this illustration, but you can click here to download a full-scale image—at almost three feet long and one foot high.)

Tlalocan – The Paradise of Tlaloc

Within that eye-boggling border, the first telling detail to notice is that there are no women, which may say something about a sexist society in Teotihuacan. Of course Tlaloc’s Eighth Heaven was reserved for victims of drowning and children sacrificed for life-giving rain, but one thinks maybe some women might also have drowned and girl-children been sacrificed too. In all likelihood (if the eschatology of Teotihuacan is reflected in that of the Aztecs), women may well have had their own paradise among the thirteen heavens. But there’s no mural of that one.

The Aztecs definitely inherited the concept of Tlalocan from Teotihuacan, and the iconography of the ancestral water (storm) god is also clearly reflected in that of the much later Aztecs.

Teotihuacan Water and Rain Gods

Tlaloc’s goggle-eyes and fangs crossed the centuries into the figure from Codex Borgia, as well as the head-pitcher he holds for pouring out water:

Aztec Tlaloc and Quiahuitl Day-signs

Teotihuacan’s rain-god image carries over directly into the Aztecs’ golden Four Rain sign (day-name of the Third Sun) on their Stone of the Suns. The Rain day-sign to its right is based on it—drawn thirty years ago for my book of days before I ever learned of the raindrops on the Teotihuacan image. The two lower signs are stylized versions for the calendars in the Fejervary-Mayer and Vaticanus codices; those in other calendars are similar, but often less formal.

Now let’s look into this window on the people of Teotihuacan. First, check out their quite varied fashions in clothing:

Teotihuacan Fashions

Not surprising are the loincloths or breechclouts worn by figures on the left with varying numbers of sashes. Note that children can be nude or just wear “panties.” But then the costumes get weird, like the top center fellow wearing a midriff T-shirt and toreador pants and the guy just below with a full-length T. The runner to his right may be wearing similar pants, but he also has gloves. The guy below is wearing “clam-digger” pants with breechclout; the guy with the tears (ignore those for now) only wears gloves and socks/slippers, as does the cross-legged kid below. On the far right the top figure wears shirt and pants under a loincloth, and the lower figure wears pants/leggings under a kilt with sash.

The variety of outfits may have to do with social classes—or maybe not. But I can say that the cross-legged kid in gloves and socks is remarkably unique in being presented full-face. All the other faces are done in profile—the standard view used by the Aztecs for faces and bodies as well. However, the ancient artist made free to show figures frontally and from many other realistic angles, an iconographic freedom apparently lost over the centuries.

Note also the varying hairstyles: Figures are frequently bald (or with shaved heads?), but many have hairdos of various lengths. The kilted fellow on lower right may be an elder with receding hairline and gray hair. In the mural you can’t tell if the guy at center-top has a topknot or feather headdress. Speaking of hairstyles and headdresses, there is also a wide assortment of such on other figures which again may have something to do with class or occupation—or maybe not.

Teotihuacan Headgear

Here we see several types of hats, headbands, skullcaps, and turbans. Notable is the figure on the upper left wearing an ear-flare, the only one in the whole mural—a fashion that became almost universal under the Aztecs—but there are no nose ornaments. Again, note the cross-legged kid on the lower right wearing what looks like a slightly cocked beret. The flirtatious fellow to his left possibly sports a half-Mohawk crest—or a feathered hat?

So now we know what (at least male) Teotihuacanos looked like! Here are a couple vignettes of their playful activities:

                    Teotihuacan Dancers

  Teotihuacan Toss

 Both of these group activities well illustrate the ancient artist’s stylistic freedom, as well as elements of perspective that the Aztecs would never have attempted. (The curlicues are shouts or songs of joy—a convention that totally carried over into Aztec iconography.) The scene of the tossing is probably celebratory—as happens in many cultures—and not a punishment like that undergone by Sancho Panza in “Don Quixote.”

Now we come to some distinctly odd images that I have a hard time parsing:

             Teotihuacan Oddities

This guy with the tears (in gloves and socks) seems to be singing loudly or shouting, but why is he crying and waving a branch, and what’s he got flowing from his chest? In the mural the flow doesn’t seem to be blood, and why should it be? The guy with the long stuff flowing from his head (hair?) seems to be chewing on a stick (sugarcane?). The four fellows holding each other’s wrists maybe are playing some game? Since this is in Tlalocan, whatever’s going on must surely be joyful fun.

I hope my little drawing has given you some visual notion of the lost and almost forgotten world of Teotihuacan.

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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.

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