Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quetzalcoatl the Aztec God.

   In the ancient and purely mythical narrative, Quetzalcoatl is one of four divine brothers, gods like himself, born in the uttermost or thirteenth heaven to the infinite and uncreated deity, which, in its male manifestations, was known as Tonaca tecutli, Lord of our Existence, and Tzin teotl, God of the Beginning, and in its female expressions as Tonaca cihuatl, Queen of our Existence, Xochiquetzal, Beautiful Rose, Citlallicue, the Star-skirted or the Milky Way, Citlalatonac, the Star that warms, or The Morning, and Chicome coatl, the Seven Serpents.
The usual translation of Tonaca tecutli is "God of our Subsistence," to, our, naca, flesh, tecutli, chief or lord. It really has a more subtle meaning. Naca is not applied to edible flesh--that is expressed by the word nonoac--but is the flesh of our own bodies, our life, existence. See Anales de Cuauhtitlan, p. 18, note.]
Of these four brothers, two were the black and the red Tezcatlipoca, and the fourth was Huitzilopochtli, the Left handed, the deity adored beyond all others in the city of Mexico. Tezcatlipoca--for the two of the name blend rapidly into one as the myth progresses--was wise beyond compute; he knew all thoughts and hearts, could see to all places, and was distinguished for power and forethought.
At a certain time the four brothers gathered together and consulted concerning the creation of things. The work was left to Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli. First they made fire, then half a sun, the heavens, the waters and a certain great fish therein, called Cipactli, and from its flesh the solid earth. The first mortals were the man, Cipactonal, and the woman, Oxomuco, and that the son born to them might have a wife, the four gods made one for him out of a hair taken from the head of their divine mother, Xochiquetzal.
Now began the struggle between the two brothers, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, which was destined to destroy time after time the world, with all its inhabitants, and to plunge even the heavenly luminaries into a common ruin.
The half sun created by Quetzalcoatl lighted the world but poorly, and the four gods came together to consult about adding another half to it. Not waiting for their decision, Tezcatlipoca transformed himself into a sun, whereupon the other gods filled the world with great giants, who could tear up trees with their hands. When an epoch of thirteen times fifty-two years had passed, Quetzalcoatl seized a great stick, and with a blow of it knocked Tezcatlipoca from the sky into the waters, and himself became sun. The fallen god transformed himself into a tiger, and emerged from the waves to attack and devour the giants with which his brothers had enviously filled the world which he had been lighting from the sky. After this, he passed to the nocturnal heavens, and became the constellation of the Great Bear.
For an epoch the earth flourished under Quetzalcoatl as sun, but Tezcatlipoca was merely biding his time, and the epoch ended, he appeared as a tiger and gave Quetzalcoatl such a blow with his paw that it hurled him from the skies. The overthrown god revenged himself by sweeping the earth with so violent a tornado that it destroyed all the inhabitants but a few, and these were changed into monkeys. His victorious brother then placed in the heavens, as sun, Tlaloc, the god of darkness, water and rains, but after half an epoch, Quetzalcoatl poured a flood of fire upon the earth, drove Tlaloc from the sky, and placed in his stead, as sun, the goddess Chalchiutlicue, the Emerald Skirted, wife of Tlaloc. In her time the rains poured so upon the earth that all human beings were drowned or changed into fishes, and at last the heavens themselves fell, and sun and stars were alike quenched.
Then the two brothers whose strife had brought this ruin, united their efforts and raised again the sky, resting it on two mighty trees, the Tree of the Mirror (tezcaquahuitl) and the Beautiful Great Rose Tree (quetzalveixochitl), on which the concave heavens have ever since securely rested; though we know them better, perhaps, if we drop the metaphor and call them the "mirroring sea" and the "flowery earth," on one of which reposes the horizon, in whichever direction we may look.
Again the four brothers met together to provide a sun for the now darkened earth. They decided to make one, indeed, but such a one as would eat the hearts and drink the blood of victims, and there must be wars upon the earth, that these victims could be obtained for the sacrifice. Then Quetzalcoatl builded a great fire and took his son--his son born of his own flesh, without the aid of woman--and cast him into the flames, whence he rose into the sky as the sun which lights the world. When the Light-God kindles the flames of the dawn in the orient sky, shortly the sun emerges from below the horizon and ascends the heavens. Tlaloc, god of waters, followed, and into the glowing ashes of the pyre threw his son, who rose as the moon.
Tezcatlipoca had it now in mind to people the earth, and he, therefore, smote a certain rock with a stick, and from it issued four hundred barbarians (chichimeca). Certain five goddesses, however, whom he had already created in the eighth heaven, descended and slew these four hundred, all but three. These goddesses likewise died before the sun appeared, but came into being again from the garments they had left behind. So also did the four hundred Chichimecs, and these set about to burn one of the five goddesses, by name Coatlicue, the Serpent Skirted, because it was discovered that she was with child, though yet unmarried. But, in fact, she was a spotless virgin, and had known no man. She had placed some white plumes in her bosom, and through these the god Huitzilopochtli entered her body to be born again. When, therefore, the four hundred had gathered together to burn her, the god came forth fully armed and slew them every one.
It is not hard to guess who are these four hundred youths slain before the sun rises, destined to be restored to life and yet again destroyed. The veil of metaphor is thin which thus conceals to our mind the picture of the myriad stars quenched every morning by the growing light, but returning every evening to their appointed places. And did any doubt remain, it is removed by the direct statement in the echo of this tradition preserved by the Kiches of Guatemala, wherein it is plainly said that the four hundred youths who were put to death by Zipacna, and restored to life by Hunhun Ahpu, "rose into the sky and became the stars of heaven."
Indeed, these same ancient men whose explanations I have been following added that the four hundred men whom Tezcatlipoca created continued yet to live in the third heaven, and were its guards and watchmen. They were of five colors, yellow, black, white, blue and red, which in the symbolism of their tongue meant that they were distributed around the zenith and to each of the four cardinal points.
Nor did these sages suppose that the struggle of the dark Tezcatlipoca to master the Light-God had ceased; no, they knew he was biding his time, with set purpose and a fixed certainty of success. They knew that in the second heaven there were certain frightful women, without flesh or bones, whose names were the Terrible, or the Thin Dart-Throwers, who were waiting there until this world should end, when they would descend and eat up all mankind. Asked concerning the time of this destruction, they replied that as to the day or season they knew it not, but it would be "when Tezcatlipoca should steal the sun from heaven for himself"; in other words, when eternal night should close in upon the Universe.
The myth which I have here given in brief is a prominent one in Aztec cosmogony, and is known as that of the Ages of the World or the Suns. The opinion was widely accepted that the present is the fifth age or period of the world's history; that it has already undergone four destructions by various causes, and that the present period is also to terminate in another such catastrophe. The agents of such universal ruin have been a great flood, a world-wide conflagration, frightful tornadoes and famine, earthquakes and wild beasts, and hence the Ages, Suns or Periods were called respectively, from their terminations, those of Water, Fire, Air and Earth. As we do not know the destiny of the fifth, the present one, it has as yet no name.
I shall not attempt to go into the details of this myth, the less so as it has recently been analyzed with much minuteness by the Mexican antiquary Chavero.I will merely point out that it is too closely identified with a great many similar myths for us to be allowed to seek an origin for it peculiar to Mexican or even American soil. We can turn to the Tualati who live in Oregon, and they will tell us of the four creations and destructions of mankind; how at the end of the first Age all human beings were changed into stars; at the end of the second they became stones; at the end of the third into fishes; and at the close of the fourth they disappeared, to give place to the tribes that now inhabit the world. Or we can read from the cuneiform inscriptions of ancient Babylon, and find the four destructions of the race there specified, as by a flood, by wild beasts, by famine and by pestilence.
The explanation which I have to give of these coincidences--which could easily be increased--is that the number four was chosen as that of the four cardinal points, and that the fifth or present age, that in which we live, is that which is ruled by the ruler of the four points, by the Spirit of Light, who was believed to govern them, as, in fact, the early dawn does, by defining the relations of space, act as guide and governor of the motions of men.
All through Aztec mythology, traditions and customs, we can discover this ancient myth of the four brothers, the four ancestors of their race, or the four chieftains who led their progenitors to their respective habitations. The rude mountaineers of Meztitlan, who worshiped with particular zeal Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, and had inscribed, in gigantic figures, the sacred five points, symbol of the latter, on the side of a vast precipice in their land, gave the symbolic titles to the primeval quadruplet;--
Ixcuin, He who has four faces.
Hueytecpatl, the ancient Flint-stone.
Tentetemic, the Lip-stone that slays.
Nanacatltzatzi, He who speaks when intoxicated with the poisonous mushroom, called nanacatl.
These four brothers, according to the myth, were born of the goddess, Hueytonantzin, which means "our great, ancient mother," and, with unfilial hands, turned against her and slew her, sacrificing her to the Sun and offering her heart to that divinity. In other words, it is the old story of the cardinal points, defined at daybreak by the Dawn, the eastern Aurora, which is lost in or sacrificed to the Sun on its appearance.
Of these four brothers I suspect the first, Ixcuin, "he who looks four ways," or "has four faces," is none other than Quetzalcoatl, while the Ancient Flint is probably Tezcatlipoca, thus bringing the myth into singularly close relationship with that of the Iroquois, given on a previous page.
Another myth of the Aztecs gave these four brothers or primitive heroes, as:--
Of these Dr. Schultz-Sellack advances plausible reasons for believing that Itztlacoliuhqui, which was the name of a certain form of head-dress, was another title of Quetzalcoatl; and that Pantecatl was one of the names of Tezcatlipoca. If this is the case we have here another version of the same myth.