Cuatro artistas impersonando a diferentes dioses entre música y danza. Reconocemos al balam de los nenúfares, al dios del venado y el dios de las abejas.
Cuatro artistas impersonando a diferentes dioses entre música y danza. Reconocemos al balam de los nenúfares, al dios del venado y el dios de las abejas.
Mexican National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, experts will reconstruct the face of an individual who lived some 700 years ago from pre-Columbian skeletal remains, officials said.
The skeleton was recovered 35 years ago in the western Mexican state of Michoacan and belonged to…
Diagram of the various hallucinogens on that famous statue of Xochipilli.
Noblewoman Figurine Rattle, Jaina Style, Late Classic Mayan.
The use of mirrors in general is ancient in Mesoamerica. Prior to obsidian, the material most commonly used was (iron) pyrite (see pic 1), sometimes formed into mosaics with a slate backing; unfortunately, iron pyrite rusts easily and most of the dozen or so still kept today in museums have poorly preserved surfaces. Even older (metallic stone Olmec) mirrors had finely polished concave surfaces; found with holes in the back (as in pic 1), it’s most likely they were worn as pendants, perhaps by priests. Examples of the more common pyrite mirrors have been found throughout the heart of the continent, from SW United States down to Central America. Whilst the more ancient mirrors could well have produced fire, obsidian mirrors, easier to make, didn’t have this ability, didn’t become common until the ‘Late Postclassic’ period (around the time of the Aztecs), and have been found in fewer places - Michoacán, Mexico’s central valley, and Oaxaca.
Mirrors had been used for centuries in ancient Mexico - not just among the Aztecs - as a medium for divination. Their smooth, reflective surfaces, similar to water contained in gourd bowls or small pools, lent themselves to looking into past, present and future worlds. Indeed, the Aztecs had inherited several means of divination prior to the use of (obsidian) mirrors and sacred almanacs: peering into containers of water, tying and untying knots in pieces of cloth, and throwing kernels of maize onto mats (pic 2). Tellingly, the Aztec tonalpouhqui(‘interpreter of destinies’) would refer to his tonalamatl(‘book of fates’) as a mirror and would greet his customers with the words ‘You have come to see yourself in the mirror; you have come to consult the book’.
Obsidian (itztli in Náhuatl) - a naturally occurring volcanic glass formed from its parent material, cooled lava - quickly proved to be a valuable resource to the Mexica, used for making tools, decorative artefacts, weapon blades… and mirrors. Polished with abrasive sand, glued together with bat’s poo, framed in wood, and decorated with feathers, obsidian mirrors were fine works of art, owned and used by rulers, and they became sought-after, exotic objects among the aristocracy of Europe. One found its way into the hands of Dr. John Dee, astrologer, mathematician, consultant to Elizabeth I - and, significantly, magician - and is now on view, with the case he made for it, in the British Museum (pic 3, top right).
Its bright reflective power and its paradoxical ability to allow its user to gaze into ‘other’ worlds but not to pass through them, endowed the obsidian mirror with strong associations with a fiery hearth, the sun, the human eye, a cave (long seen as an entrance to the underworld), and with the surface of still water (pic 4). In this context, at least one Aztec chronicler symbolically refers to both mythical place of Aztec origin (Aztlan) and Mexica capital city (Tenochtitlan) in terms of ‘the great water mirror that surrounds the great city’.
Pic 5: Speech, music or smoke scrolls? Details from: painting of Tezcatlipoca, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (top L); Codex Borbonicus, fol 26 (bottom L) & 5 (top R); Codex Mendoza fol 16 (bottom R) (Click on image to enlarge)
All Aztec diviners called the tools of their trade - book, maize kernel, piece of cloth - a tezcatl or mirror, and the word in Náhuatl for ‘to predict’ (itzpopolhuia) is formed from two words, itztli (obsidian) and popolhuia (to cast a spell). Little wonder, then, that the Mexica referred to obsidian as ‘the talking stone’. An obsidian mirror could reflect images and fates, and asmoking obsidian mirror, with its extended associations with flames, luminosity, divine breath and in turn music and speech (note the similarity between the glyphs for speech/singing and smoke: pic 5) could communicate sacred messages to human beings. Just as sound can be cast back and announced audibly in the form of echo, images could be cast back and reflected visibly in the form of smoke and mirrors.
Pic 6: A sacred bundle carried by a Mexica deity-bearer contains a smoking mirror; the four small balls surrounding the mirror are balls of eagle down, symbols of sacrifice. Codex Azcatitlan, fol 7b (Click on image to enlarge)
Mirrors represented wisdom, knowledge and power. A wise man and elder was ‘a large mirror, a mirror pierced on both sides’. Parents and ancestors were often compared with mirrors (and torches). Each Aztec ruler (‘Great Speaker’) owned a mirror with which to observe his subjects - and their transgressions or sins. In this sense he acted on behalf of one of the greatest deities of all, the patron of sorcerers and magicians, the giver of life and death, of all fates good and bad, Lord Smoking Mirror, Tezcatlipoca. Just as the Mexica had been guided on their legendary travels from Aztlan by a smoking mirror (carried in a sacred bundle by a ‘deity-bearer’ - pic 6), Tezcatlipoca guided the tlatoanion the right path, that of his predecessors. He above all others had the duty, in Guilhem Olivier’s words, ‘to perpetuate the community’s heritage’, and the mirror was a powerful symbol of this…
Pic 7: Just two guises of Tezcatlipoca: as jaguar and as turkey - both noble animals: it’s likely that both were associated with meting out punishments to sinners; drawn from the Codex Borbonicus (spot the smoking mirrors!) (Click on image to enlarge)
Both for the Maya and the Mexica the very word ‘mirror’ was synonymous with ‘ruler’. And the mirror - ‘pierced on both sides’ - had two faces and hence two functions: to reveal Tezcatlipoca’s will to the people, and to reveal to Tezcatlipoca the (mis)doings of the Aztec people. It was very much both a receiver and a communicator of divine force, a means - similar to a human eye - with which to see and to be seen. In order to reveal fates, Tezcatlipoca had to make his (smoking) mirror shine, and with its magical power Tezcatlipoca could play tricks, confusing young with old, guilty with innocent (in this way he deceived his younger brother Quetzalcóatl at Tula), dark with light… If (Black, male) Tezcatlipoca represented darkness, the night wind, the jaguar, the waning and night sun, it was in his brighter guise, as Tezcatlanextia (‘The Mirror That Shines’), representing the day sun, that the deity could ‘make appear’, ie reveal, the sins and fates of human beings. If we tell you that Tezcatlipoca had around 130 different names and guises, you get some idea of how complicated it can be to fathom this ‘Trickster’ deity out…!
In Picture 7 you can see the smoking mirror glyph in Tezcatlipoca’s headgear in all its glory (and even clearer in Picture 8), though there are differences (can you spot them?) Though the number of eagle feather down balls surrounding the mirrors varies (from two to seven - interesting, because we find exactly the same range of player numbers in the ritual ballgame!), down balls are always present when one of Tezcatlipoca’s animal doubles is being depicted - such as jaguar (T’s favourite, also known as Tepeyollotl or ‘Mountain Heart’). In the centre of some versions of the smoking mirror glyph, and forming the axis, is a dead man’s bone; Laurette Séjourné suggests that ‘the starry volutes representing Venus symbolize the spiritual life engendered by the sacrifice of perishable matter [the bone]’, and that this reference, redolent with the doctrine of life-giver Quetzalcóatl, ‘points once again to Tezcatlipoca as being the representative of the human race.’
The splendid mask of Tezcatlipoca held at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington (USA) (pic 9, left) is one example of the smoking mirror symbol appearing on the deity’s temple, but without the end of the human bone showing in the centre. The same applies to the date sign 1-Flint (pic 9, right) - also visible in the great Aztec Sunstone, beside the glyph for the first world era or Sun, ruled by Tezcatlipoca. (Calendar signs 1-Flint and 1-Death were sometimes shown with smoking mirror symbols attached). Much more well known, when it comes to ‘bits missing’, however, is the frequent - but not universal - depiction of Tezcatlipoca with a smoking mirror replacing his left foot (see pic 10). Much has been written of this by scholars, suggesting that it forms part of an ‘astronomic code’, that it is symbolic of T’s past sins, that it relates to mythical connections between the foot and the creation of fire (via lightning)…
The Mexica conceived of a black mirror placed in the middle of the sky, attracting, reflecting back - and positively contributing to - the weakening rays of the setting sun in the afternoon, directing the celestial body and its light/heat down to the earth. This downward, nocturnal energy force - so clearly visible in the power of lightning (fire-serpents), but also represented by the torn foot, and by the presence of flint knives penetrating the earth’s surface - symbolized the impregnation of the earth, the ‘procreative fire’ central to the nature of Tezcatlipoca.
It’s been suggested that at midday the sun itself ‘returns home’, and it is its reflection in the mirror, a kind of ‘fake’ sun, a lunar or nocturnal sun, which descends to the earth as it sets, presaging (announcing) its eventual disappearance; and it is precisely this idea of the black mirror heralding, predicting, foreseeing, in the form of an omen, a fateful end (to the day) that has been closely linked to one of the notorious omens said to have been witnessed by the Aztecs shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. According to the Florentine Codex (see pic 11), Moctezuma II was shocked one day to see, brought to him by some fishermen, a strange crane-like bird with a mirror on its head showing the sky and stars - even though it was midday. Moctezuma saw reflected in the mirror large numbers of warriors astride giant deer, approaching from a distance. Just as the deeply troubled emperor consulted his astrologers regarding the meaning, the bird and the vision vanished…
Superstitious to the core, the Mexica believed that different types of bird could reveal their fates to whoever captured them. Not surprisingly, Moctezuma saw in this sign the end of the Aztec world at the hands of the advancing Spanish. In a vain attempt to turn them back, he sent to meet Cortés, at San Juan de Ulua, a ‘lookalike’, Quintalbor, who even the Spanish admitted ‘resembled Cortés’. Mindful of the way Tezcatlipoca had deceived Quetzalcóatl with a mirror at Tula, Moctezuma perhaps hoped that, by seeing his image reflected in this ‘human mirror’, Cortés would take flight (and fright), imagining himself somehow diminished (like a waning sun) by the vision. Sadly, some would say, Cortés didn’t get the message…
Ironically, as Guilhem Olivier so eloquently puts it, ‘the night abruptly appearing at noon in Motecuhzoma’s mirror, on the head of the bird, presages the fall of his empire and counterbalances the light that appeared at midnight in the east, a representation of the nascent sun of the Spaniards…’ And the rest, of course, is history.
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From cracked.com the Aztecs made 2nd place;
“Yeah. So it’s these things, or the army of skeleton monsters. Almost a coin toss.
We won’t pull any punches: It’s been 500 years since our last heart donation, so the Tzitzimime are long overdue. Today, most humans are too selfish to donate our organs to science, so forget appeasing the wrathful gods. And, we won’t even stop driving our SUVs to avert the sun’s wrath, so forget about any crash programs to ramp up the human sacrifices.
Maybe Sigourney Weaver will come along and battle their queen from a construction bot, but we’re thinking we need to get the hell off this planet anyway, just to be safe. Though our warp engines might tear a passage through to hell or our own ship’ artificial intelligence may decide that human life must be extinguished, we have to take the risk because those Aztec gods just do not give a fuck.”
Yep, this is true. They tried to educate everyone. They had two different schools, Calmecac, for nobles, and Telpochcalli, for commoners/warriors.
Pic 1: Turquoise and obsidian mask, thought to represent Tezcatlipoca, British Museum
…However, this didn’t mean that he was always good and loyal to his people. He was willful, in a second giving or taking away riches, terrible illnesses and poverty. The Aztecs had to make sure that they pleased him, regularly praying, holding fasts, rituals, ceremonies and banquets in his honour. They did not want to see Tezcatlipoca in a bad mood!
Name of God: Tezcatlipoca, “Smoking Mirror”.
Parents: The original creator, the dual god Ometeotl “Two God”, also known as Omecihuatl, “Two Lady” and Ometecuhtli “Two Lord”.
Siblings: Ometeotl had four offspring, two of which were different aspects of the same god: Red Tezcatlipoca and Black Tezcatlipoca. The other two were Quetzalcoatl “plumed serpent” and, according to experts, either Tlaloc (rain god) or Huitzilopochtli (Aztec patron and war god).
Current abode: Luckily for him, Tezcatlipoca can be everywhere at one time, on earth, the heavens and in the underworld.
Favourite colours: Black and red. The title of “Smoking Mirror” linked Tezcatlipoca to obsidian, a black, volcanic stone whose shiny surface could be used as a mirror. The darkness of the obsidian mirror symbolised the black/dark aspects of his being. Tezcatlipoca’s bellicose [warlike] nature related him to red.
Tezcatlipoca was a creator… According to the Aztecs, the world as we know it was created at the beginning of an age called the ‘Fifth Sun’. The beginning of the Fifth Sun followed a catastrophic deluge that destroyed all things, both living and inanimate, belonging to the previous age of the ‘Fourth Sun’. After the flood there existed only a vast expanse of water, and in it swam a monstrous being, Tlalteotl, or ‘Earth God’ (Pic 3). She was covered in eyes and mouths and hunted throughout the vast ocean for living flesh.
Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, his brother, were chosen to create the new world of the Fifth Sun, so they turned into snakes and sought Tlalteotl in her watery depths. Upon finding her they tore her in two. However during the battle she bit off one of Tezcatlipoca’s feet (Pic 4). Defeated nonetheless, Tlalteotl had her bottom half thrown upwards by the brothers, thus forming the heavens. Her top half became the earth; her back was the mountains, and rivers ran down her sides. Tlalteotl, earth goddess, was sacrificed for the good of mankind, who lived from her body: the earth and sky. Therefore, it was understood that she must be rewarded with sacrifice: the blood and hearts of men.
TEZCATLIPOCA FACT FILE
Thirteen day calendar sign: Ce Ocelotl (1 Jaguar). This birth sign brought little but bad luck. Men born under Ce Ocelotl were likely to become war prisoners in foreign lands, womanisers or slaves, whilst women would commit adultery and suffer a life of hardship.
Pic 6: Ce Miquiztli (One Death), Codex Borgia
Sahagún’s informers also attributed power to Tezcatlipoca in the thirteen day period of Ce Miquiztli (1 Death). This was an auspicious sign to be born under if you were a dutiful and devout subject to Tezcatlipoca. If you weren’t, however, a life of bad luck lay in store.
The Ce Miquiztli thirteen day period was the perfect time for great leaders, nobles, warriors and merchants to pray that Tezcatlipoca did not take away their fortunes. Commoners who begged humbly to Tezcatlipoca were equally as likely to gain favour from him, and be presented wealth and good health.
Pic 7: Obsidian mirror, late postclassic (Aztec), Mexico City
Day sign: Acatl or Reed
Festive Month: Toxcatl or ‘Dryness’. This twenty day ‘month’ took place throughout May and involved a number of rituals that, in the most part, were dedicated to Tezcatlipoca. The ceremonies started once the Ixiptla or ‘live image’ of the god, in the form of a young man, was sacrificed. Over the next few days a statue of Huitzilopochtli, made out of dough, was worshipped and people made special offerings to this Aztec patron in their homes, killing quail in his honour. Later on, young women, holding cane and paper in their hands, went, along with priests, and performed many dances, among which was Tlanaua, in which Huitzilopochtli was symbolically ‘embraced’ by them. To end the twenty days, another young man was killed, this time the live image of Huitzilopochtli, although he was considered to be far less important than Tezcatlipoca’s counterpart.
Pic 8: Tezcatlipoca depicted in the Florentine Codex
Mischievous or mean? Tezcatlipoca was hell-bent on destroying Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs.
Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, being ‘creator’ gods and direct sons of the original deity Ometeotl, constantly struggled against each other for power. Alternating as regents of each of the five Ages, it was Quetzalcoatl who had become the solar deity during the Fifth Sun. In one of many episodes concerning the two brothers’ rivalry, Tezcatlipoca came down from the heavens on a rope made of spider webs, chased and ousted Quetzalcoatl, now an old priest, from his home in Tollan Xicocotitlan (Tula). Using his great art of disguise, Tezcatlipoca targeted the inhabitants of Tollan for their loyalty to his brother. The Florentine Codex recounts the many harmful acts the deity inflicted upon the Toltecs, Huémac (their king) and Quetzalcoatl. In one, Tezcatlipoca, disguised as an old man, tricked Quetzalcoatl into drinking a potion to cure him of his oldness and infirmity. After consuming the liquid, Queztalcoatl realised, too late, that it was teómetl, an alcoholic drink from the Maguey plant, and he became drunk, breaking his religious vows and thus provoking his exile and downfall.
Pic 9: The preparation of Tezcatlipoca’s live image or ‘Ixiptla’ shortly before sacrifice. Raúl Cruz, Arqueología Mexicana, no. 34
Luxury, women, and god-like status… why not become Tezcatlipoca’s ‘live image’ or Ixiptla? Only one hitch though…
Tezcatlipoca’s Ixiptla was a young attractive man with not a scar on his body. He was chosen to be the god’s own image and representative on earth for the space of a year from amongst the captives caught in Aztec campaigns abroad. His abilities to learn music were remarkable, and during his time as Tezcatlipoca’s ‘living image’ he was constantly accompanied by eight page boys. Together they would roam the streets of Tenochtitlan at night, playing melancholy tunes on the flute. He would attend ceremonies and banquets laid out by nobles, and all those that met him in the street would prostrate themselves before him in reverence.
Pic 10: The Aztec glyph for Toxcatl
So where was the flaw in this idyllic lifestyle? A year after the Ixiptla was chosen, he was sacrificed to mark the beginning of the spring Toxcatl festivities. Twenty days before this date, he was wed to four maidens representing goddesses. His sacrifice would take place without spectators, in a neglected temple far from the city centre. The Ixiptla slowly climbed to the temple’s top of his own free will, breaking one of his flutes with each step upwards (Pic 11). Once with the priests, he was held, spread eagled, by four of them while their leader cut open his chest and pulled out his heart.
So you see, for us, being Tezcatlipoca’s Ixiptla was not worth all the banquets in the world. Nevertheless, to be chosen for this role was considered by the Aztecs to be a great honour.
Tezcatlipoca’s different names:
As Titlacauan or ‘We his Slaves’ Tezcatlipoca represented a source of universal power, just like his identity as Moyocoyatzin or ‘Maker of Himself’. In this role, the deity did everything that he wanted to as nobody, mortal or immortal, could stop him. Nahua belief in Tezcatlipoca’s potential to destroy and pull down the sky, killing all living things, served to gauge his position as possibly the most powerful of all Aztec deities. Other names such as Nécoc Yaotl, ‘Enemy’, confirm his position as the ‘sower of discord’. Telpochtli or ‘Male Youth’, classed him as patron of the Telpochcalli, school for commoners. Additionally, he was called Yohualli Ehécatl, ‘Night Wind’, Ome Acatl, ‘Two Reed’, and Ilhuicahua Tlalticpaque, ‘Possessor of Sky and Earth’.
A good time to be a slave…
During the thirteen day period of Ce Miquiztli, those families that owned slaves took them out of their bindings, washed, clothed and bestowed gifts upon them. They were looked upon as the children of Tezcatlipoca. If anyone treated a slave badly during this period, it was thought that he or she would be punished, losing all wealth or becoming sick with either leprosy, tumours, gout, scabies or dropsy.
If slaves went missing, became free and prosperous, or a slave owner lost his fortune, it was all down to Tezcatlipoca. It was seemingly simple: humility would help achieve greatness or appease the deity and arrogance could secure his anger and, therefore, one’s downfall. Tezcatlipoca wasn’t anybody’s faithful friend; he was just looking for a reason to wreck and ruin, or create and lavish. That was his nature.
Did Moctezuma really own a zoo?
The last of the Aztec emperors, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, housed a large collection of live animals, said by some to form a zoo, within the luxurious confines of his palace. Some investigators, however, think that these animals represented ‘nahualtin’, the gods’ animal representatives on earth. According to their theory, the animals would have been religious symbols, not mere amusements for the emperor and his entourage. Tezcatlipoca, himself, was represented in various animal forms, as a coyote, lobster, monkey, turkey and vulture. In his regal form of jaguar, he represented darkness, earth and femininity. At the end of the First Sun or age, of which Tezcatlipoca was regent, Quetzalcoatl defeated him in one of their many battles, by turning him into a jaguar (then considered to be the most powerful animal in Mesoamerica).
Pic 14: The Plumed Coyote (Cóyotl Ináhual) was the patron of feather workers. He is carrying the glyph ‘two reed’ on his chest linking him to Tezcatlipoca. One of his animal forms was the coyote.
Tezcatlipoca was always represented as a young god and some important elements of his human form can be found in the statue dedicated to his worship. Made of obsidian, it was adorned with rich robes, earrings of gold and silver, and from its lip hung a crystal with a feather inside it. He wore a gold ornament with smoke curls etched on it, the smoke representing the pleas of suffering people. Another interesting feature was on his left hand: a gold ornament as shiny as a mirror. It was called ‘itlachiaya’ or ‘his lookout’, which meant that he saw all that happened in the world. Tezcatlipoca also symbolised justice, and in this guise he was portrayed sitting down by a cloth with small skulls and shin bones on it. His left hand held a shield and his right hand grasped four spears and a dart that was lifted up as if ready to be thrown forward in
Some of my works on Tlaloc in watercolors and marker.
The top image is based on Tlaloc pots that in certain festivities would be filled with water and then busted by people with a stick to simulate rain. It’s the origins of the Mexican pinata.