Méxica Religion

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Ney Arkham Institute av Teknologi
Department of Sociology

Contents

Méxica Christianity – the Risen Sacrifice

Extract from a first year student paper

God, our Lord, is invoked everywhere.
Everywhere is He venerated.
It is He who creates things.
He creates himself: God.
Hymn to The Lord of Everywhere by Nezahualcóyotl

One of the most controversial and significant developments in the history of North Amerika was the adoption of the Catholic faith, albeit in a uniquely heretical Mesoamerikan form by the Méxica Empire.

Names and words in Náhuatl have been represented in their standard Norman spellings. Despite centuries of contact, some variation remains.

This paper assesses the impact of external influences on Mesoamerikan religion from first contact with the Nisei through to the Eighteenth Century.

Early History

Perhaps now is coming true, now is coming to pass,
what the men and women of old knew, what they handed down:
that the heavens over us shall sunder,
that the demons of the air shall descend
and come to destroy the earth and devour the people,
that darkness shall prevail, that nothing be left on earth.
Our grandmothers and grandfathers knew it,
they handed it down, it was their tradition
that it would come to pass, that it would come to be.

Contact with the Nisei provided the inhabitants of what would become the Empire of Méxica not only with new foodstuffs and technologies but also with a profound challenge to their perception of the world. Several hundred years before the arrival of the Nisei the mighty city of Teotihuacán collapsed and with it many of the trade routes. In the resulting dark age, the Tolteca centre of Tollán grew to prominence and became the prime conduit for trade with the newcomers to the north west. The chief god of the Tolteca was Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, and thus the warrior caste gradually adopted some of the mannerisms and certainly the weapons of bushi. The legendary conflict between Tezcatlipoca and the godking Ce Acatl Topiltzin, an avatar of Quetzalcóatl was to form a resonance in later history. The godking had revealed the doctrine of a lofty god who cared so much for mortals that he did not demand their lives in sacrifice.

Approximately two centuries after contact between the Nisei and the Tolteca, the stresses of change caused the kingdom of Tollán to disintegrate, and Chichimeca barbarians (the Dog Lineage people) from the north conquered and sacked the city. This signalled a wave of tribal migrations into the south; the seventh of these tribes were the Aztecâ tlaca, ‘the People of the Place of the Herons’. Under the command of their war god, Huitzilopochtli, after many years of wandering, they entered what was to become the Valley of Méxica. These Méxica considered themselves the heirs to the Tolteca, having tarried at legendary Culhuacan-Tollán, and inherited much of the Tolteca culture.

Legend said that the Nahua speaking tribes had emerged from the seven caves of Chicomoztoc: the Acolhua, Chalca, Tepaneca, Tlalhuica, Tlaxcalteca, Xochimilca, and finally the Aztecâ tlaca who became the Méxica.
The name Méxica is given various derivations including ‘In of the Navel of the Moon’ possibly from a mystical name for Lake Texcoco, Metzliapán - ‘Moon Lake’.
The earliest name of the site of mighty Tenochtitlán is recorded as Zoquitlán, ‘Place of Mud’, bestowed by the inhabitants of the cities surrounding the lake prior to, or after the arrival of the Méxica.

The wanderers, given the name Méxica by their god Tetzauhteotl Huitzilopchtli, founded their capital of Tenochtitlán. They achieved dominance over their neighbours following the Triple Alliance with Texcoco and Tecuba.

With the example of the Japanese Buddhist and Shinto priests, a growing number of Méxica priests came to question the endless requirement for the Sun to be fed with human hearts. Although certain tendencies in the Méxica religion horrified visiting Nisei merchants and priests they politely smiled and ignored the mass sacrifices performed by their neighbours, and whilst they did not worship the deities of their trading partners granted them the honoured status of kami. The one major religious synthesis to occur was the recognition of Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl as a hotoke, a form of the Buddha, but the cult was at odds with the martial character of Méxica society, though it enjoyed some popularity in conquered Maya territories.

Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcóatl were closely associated, in a yin-yang relationship, acting out their polarity on the cosmic stage. Together they created Heaven and Earth, but each was constantly striving to defeat the other. This may reflect Nisei influence. The Chinese Yang represents the sun and the Yin the moon. Such symbolism would appeal to the Mesoamerikan priesthoods.

The Tenochca still strove for conquest, and the Flowery Wars were fought to preserve the Fifth Sun, but the sacrifice of captives and slaves slowly reduced in scale. Wars, despite the arguments of modern day historians were fought not merely to offer blood to the Sun but to support the requirements of the Nisei merchants for slaves to clear their lands, dig their mines, and labour in the fields.

By this time, equipped with Nisei weaponry and tactics the Méxica had extended their empire far to the south and dominated the lands inhabited by the fractious Maya. Contact with the Nisei had also expanded the playbook of available military and political strategies. The age of the Classic Maya civilisation was long past, and the conquest pre-empted any recovery. The Méxica rulers were well aware of lands and islands beyond the confines of the One World, but such knowledge was not disseminated to the lower classes, especially amongst the conquered peoples.

Maya Christianity

At the end of the thirteenth age, the sign of God will appear on the heights, and the Cross with which the world was enlightened will be manifested. Receive your barbarous bearded guests from the east, who bring the signal of God, who comes to us in mercy and pity.
The Prophecy of Chilan Balam (‘Jaguar Priest’)

The isthmus of Panama, meaning an ‘abundance of fish and butterflies’ lay temptingly to the west of the territory of the Church Militant. The region had always been more heavily influenced from the south than the north. The jungles, prior to the building of the Aztecâ Canal were almost impassable. In the west, Méxica pochteca merchants had long maintained a presence, and the armies of the Empire eventually followed them. In the east, Maya from the highlands to the north had fled Méxica encroachments and brought their own religion and culture into the area.

Among the first to be converted to Christianity were the Kuna tribes living on a chain of islands off the Caribbean coast. Their matriarchal society, as the first step, was to have a significant influence on the Christianity transmitted to the mainland.

When bearded, pale skinned ascetics with shaved heads and black robes, preaching for an end to human sacrifice arrived out of the east in the southern periphery of the Empire, many hailed this as the return of Quetzalcóatl. Some of the priests were accompanied by armed Templar knights, their flags apparently depicting the red cross of Quetzalcóatl. There had already been a tendency for the Buddha to be equated with the Quetzal-Feathered Serpent, but now it seemed the god had taken human form and returned from the Cloud Lands. The cult of the Kukulcán Hotoke had never been as widespread or as popular in the heartland of the empire as that of Huitzilopchtli but in the south the Catholic missionaries gained considerable success among the defeated Maya. The Church had arrived fishing for souls, not for the jade and gold so prized by the Méxica tax gatherers. The Nisei colonists had introduced many of the Old World diseases to the New, and so European contact did not result in massive plagues amongst the indigenous population.

At first the Méxica governors mistook the Catholic clergy for Nisei Bussō. Their initial reports were swiftly corrected by the Imperial centre at Tenochtitlán. The presence of missionaries from Catholic South Amerika was displeasing to the Huey Tlatoani, the Revered Speaker – the Emperor. He ordered the extermination of the converts and the eradication of the foreigners.

The Church quietly departed, but covertly continued its work. Despite the commandment of the Emperor, the easterners had too many interesting toys and goods to trade and paid good prices for Méxica produce and slaves; the pochteca went abroad to trade and spy on them, but were to form a means by which the Church would enter the Empire.

Despite the edicts of the Emperor, many of the new converts retained their faith. The thick jungles were difficult for the Méxica to police, and the long coastline proved very porous. Members of the Maya and Guayami tribes were secretly recruited, trained and sent back into the Empire to preach. A very great number of these were from the hereditary priestly families; with the imposition of Méxica governors even the halach uinic, the heads of states of the various Maya communities had retained only their sacerdotal authority, and even this was jeopardised by the importation of a Méxica elite. Contrary to the hopes of the Church Militant in South Amerika, Christianity was grafted onto native beliefs rather than stamping them out. Curiously, this movement was powered by the desire of the Maya to retain their beliefs before the expansionist Méxica.

Even the more isolated Maya groups such as the Lacandón in the Yucateca peninsula added the newcomer into their pantheon. Jesus Christ became their Hesuklistos, the god of foreigners and the Son of Äkyantho, their god of foreign people and objects.

When a party of Templars from South Amerika landed on the Maya coast they asked the natives where they were. The reply was Uic athan – we do not understand you. This was transcribed onto the Papacy maps as Yucatan. The native name for the region was Land of the Turkey and the Deer. The mistaken labelling of the land was to presage many mutual misunderstandings between the Europeans and the inhabitants of Mesoamerika.
A similar misunderstanding seems to account for the naming of the New World as the Amerikas early in the voyages of exploration. It apparently derives from the name given by the Mosquito tribe of the Carib people to the highlands of the mainland to the west: Amerrique. On Papacy maps this became Amerique or Amèrica applied to both continents, and in Norman, Amerika.

The fact that the missionaries had arrived out of the south east had powerful connotations, for the east was the direction of the ‘strong sun’ and the ‘new sun’ and the south was ‘the sun’s right side’, the direction of the growing maize. Many Maya had been uncomfortable with the presence and influence of the Nisei from the direction of ‘the eaten sun.’

The Mesoamerikan cultures viewed the world as land surrounded by water, divided into five parts – the four quadrants and the centre. The Méxica named the land as Cemanáhuac ‘land surrounded by water’, with the people living on Tlalticpac, ‘Earth’s Surface’. The waters rose upwards to merge with the Ihuicatl ‘the celestial waters’ of the sky to hold up the lowest of the heavens. Beneath Tlalticpac lay Mictlan, the ‘Land of the Dead’.
Each of the quadrants or directions had a specific colour and influence.

The very sign of the Cross coincided with the Maya view of the cosmos.

Its appearance in native iconography in the temple of Ix Chel at the Island of Swallows, Cuzamil [Cozumél] convinced the Catholic missionaries that Saint Thomas had discovered the Amerikan continent centuries earlier and converted the populace to Christianity, which in time had become debased. This served to strengthen their resolve to bring the Word of God to the subjects of the Méxica Emperor. For themselves, the Maya believed that the world was centred on the Wakah-Chan, the sacred flowering cosmic tree and the royal lineages, descendants of Mah K’ina, the great sun lord. The Maya aristocracy, conquered by the Méxica, had all claimed to be ‘sons of the God’.

The Wakah-Chan, the Maya World Tree

Many aspects of the Christian faith were immediately recognisable to the Maya, and even when proscribed by the Imperial Authorities the new cult spread. In time it would resurface as the Maya Lenca church under the guidance of the Sisters of the Rose and achieve Imperial recognition.

Incense played an important part of Church rituals just as it did in Maya rites. God the Father was equated with Hunab Ku, ‘the One God’, Itzamná, lord of the heavens and occasionally with Kinich Ahau, the sun-god. Among other Maya groups, Hesuklistos was perceived as a son of the bak nikte’, a fragrant tree (frangipani – Plumera rubra, known to the Méxica as cacaloxochilt) created by K’akoch, the father of the gods. Among all of the Mesoamikan peoples cacaloxochilt is referred as the symbol of immortality. The Méxica at this time would punish by death any commoner who picked or smelt its flowers.

Kukulcán was seen as an avatar or son of Itzamná, who himself had supplanted older gods when apparently imported into the Yucatan by Tolteca refugees during the dark age following the fall of Tollán. The Buddhist form of Kukulcán Hotoke had reduced the blood sacrifice required by the deity by the time the Christians arrived, and, with the emphasis of culture hero and saviour, Ch’ul Ahau Hesuklistos Kukulcán was viewed as another form of the Quetzal-Feathered Serpent.

The Christian sacrament with the idea of Christ being the bread of life replicated exactly the beliefs surrounding Yumil Kaxob, the maize god. On the Cross Ahau Hesuklistos Kukulcán was depicted in a Maya loincloth embroidered with small red flowers. To the Maya the Cross was both the Wacah Chan, the ‘rising sky’, the World Tree, the link between the sky, the earth and the netherworld and the four Bacab brothers, the sons of Hunab Ku the Creator. The Christos figure therefore combined two major Maya concepts.

The beautiful young maiden goddess Ix Chel, Lady Rainbow, the bride of Itzamná, guardian of childbirth lost many of her threatening aspects and became the Holy Ever-Virgin Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. The Maya religious aspects of the Sun as the Holy Father and the Holy Mother as the moon circling the world were fully incorporated in this hybrid Christianity. The Virgin became the very heart of worship, for arrayed in her blue cloak she denoted the centre of the Maya universe, and also the colour of sacrifice. The Maya knew the colour blue-green as Yax, important in the worship of the rain god Chac. Only royal officials wore the emerald green tail feathers of the Quetzal bird.

The Holy Ever-Virgin Mother of God became the focus of the Chachaac ceremony to ask for rain under the name Na Ix Chel Yax, a combination of three distinct Maya goddesses: Ix Chel and Ix Chebel Yax and the young Moon Goddess, Na, ‘noble lady’.

Cizin ‘the Stinking One’ the god of earthquakes and death, destined to end the Fifth Sun, ruler of the subterranean land of the dead was easily equated with Satan.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with their white, black, red and pale steeds were a direct analogy of the four Bacabs inhabiting the four quarters of the sky. The Biblical Flood was accepted as a version of the end of the Fourth Sun, when the Bacabs must have ceased to support the four cardinal points.

The last five days of the Maya year, the dangerous uayeb, became identified with Holy Week. In the highland regions, this carnival was marked with rites in which dignitaries carried images of images and altars dedicated to Christos Makyumlal, the Virgin Makna’lal and the Saints, including Saint Matthew Samateyu, and Saint Simon Maximón. This latter was the Maya god Mam, denoted by the addition of max meaning tobacco in Tzutujil Maya as the stimulant is believed to provide spiritual power. A lance was carried in procession, symbolic both of Yahvalel Vinahel, the Sun, Owner of Heaven and the spear that wounded Christ. Countless others of the Maya pantheon were identified with or accounted as saints.

The seeds of the Maya Lenca heresy had been sown in very fertile ground. In centuries to come it would flower.

One question that must be posed is, why, despite long-term contact the religions of the Nisei had so little influence upon the beliefs of the Méxica? There had been considerable technological and commercial exchange. The Jaguar and Eagle knights wore armour and used weapons of Nisei design. The Japanese concepts of bushido heavily influenced the military campaigns of the Méxica Empire, though the Flowery Wars continued. Countless loanwords had been introduced to Náhuatl and considerable cultural changes had arisen.
The reasons are varied.
Whilst the Méxica were more than willing to accept the useful tools learned from the Nisei, there was the matter of their origins in the unfortunate west, the ‘women’s place’. The Tlamatinime, the wise men of the Méxica also pondered the fall of the perfect society of the Tolteca.
The Kami of Nisei belief were recognisably similar but alien to the majority of the indigenous deities. Furthermore, there was the perplexing loyalty to the Emperor overseas embedded within Shinto religious observances. It would be entirely impossible for any Méxica to venerate this rival to their Huey Tlatoani, the Revered Speaker of the Tenochca. (Incidentally, the first European visitors to Japan believed the Emperor to be the Japanese Pope.)
Other than for minor similarities to the teachings of Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl, the object of Buddhism, to free the spirit by the rejection of the five great passions in order to leave this world for Nirvana was the antithesis of Méxica philosophy. The dimension of self sacrifice and duty to a higher purpose was a point of similarity, but the Méxica lived fully within the world and its extensions into Heaven and the Underworld, the central Cosmic Tree being the foundation of all being. A Méxica desired not to leave the world and achieve non-being, but to prolong the being of the entire universe, to ensure the movement of the Sun.
A warrior would forget himself in combat, truly a forgetfulness of self, freed from the constraints of mortality, forget the edginess or arrogance of the warrior in mundane times, when 'Huitzilopochtli overcame one', but this was not the 'death of self' promised by the teachings of the Buddha. This was not the death of passion. The death of warriors in Méxica poetry is usually described in terms of intoxicating beauty, the dying 'rain down like flowers'.
The concepts of reincarnation were also alien. It was more an attribute of the gods than of mortals, although flights of butterflies and hummingbirds were described as the souls of dead warriors, the sun-dancers, rewarded in the afterlife for their courage dying in battle or upon the stone of sacrifice by living perpetually in abundance and joy. (The great drifting clouds of companies of colourful butterflies in parts of Méxica do offer a glimpse of the ancient warriors arrayed for battle, the knights in their finery, the war leaders decked out in their glorious and attention seeking panoply.)
Therefore, despite apparent differences, Christianity, founded upon the concept of divine sacrifice, as brought to the New World by the Church Militant, enjoyed far greater acceptance and understanding than the creeds of the Nisei.

Aztecâ Christianity

Therefore I decided to leave the country,
Therefore I have come as one charged with a special duty,
Because I have been given arrows and shields,
For waging war is my duty,
And on my expeditions I shall see all the lands,
I shall wait for the people and meet them
In all four quarters and I shall give them
Food to eat and drinks to quench their thirst,
For here I shall unite all the different peoples!

In the days of the fall of Tollán, with these words the god Tetzauhteotl is said to have tasked his high priest Huitzilopochtli, Hummingbird on the Left, accounted later to be the god himself, to set the Aztecâ on the path to rule all of Anáhuac. War was the means by which the Méxica would dominate the world and bring order to the universe; the Sun would be kept in motion by the blood of warriors fallen in battle, the blood of sacrifices, and the blood drawn freely by the nobility and priests themselves.

After the numerous victories, the Emperor Itzcóatl and his Cihuacoatl (literally ‘Snakewoman’, the chief-minister) Tlacaélel encouraged the Méxica to see themselves as Huitzilopochtli’s chosen people, initiating the Imperial Cult and reversing the trend for a reduction in the level of human sacrifice. The Blue Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli was the protector of the Sun, Tonatiuh, He Who Goes Shining Forth personified by Ollin the sun of movement, and the entire Méxica state would exist to ensure the rebirth of the Sun from the underworld each morning. It is said that Tlacaélel invented the custom of the Flowery Wars during a drought-induced famine.

Within this framework, the Empire was tolerant of conquered cities and nations; those considered as near equals enjoyed the privilege of partaking of the Flowery Wars that had the dual purpose of providing sacrifices and preventing the cultural decadence that had destroyed the realm of the Tolteca. Needless to say, many of the conquered viewed the requirement to provide tribute and sacrificial victims and slaves to the Tenochca with less than joy. Even with the market in slaves for the Nisei to the north west, the scale of blood sacrifice performed by the Méxica priests was far greater than that of any of the surrounding cities.

The sheer scale of human sacrifice by the Tenochca seems inhuman. It should be remembered that in Fourteenth Century Europe religion created delirious flagellants and ecstatic priests, the mass burning of heretics and bloody wars of religion, and enormous contrasts in the Church ranging from sybaritic luxury to pious asceticism. The past is a foreign country…

As the Empire grew, aided by the importation of horses, steel and gunpowder, two major trends developed. Within the Méxica elite, the mystical and military ideology established by Tlacaélel remained the imperial cult of Huitzilopochtli. Others, however, grew weary of the constant warfare against the supposed threat of decadence and turned increasingly to the worship of the White Tezcatlipoca named also Quetzalcóatl as a messianic saviour, rejecting the belief that only violence and blood were the sole means of entrance into the divine. As the former was strongest amongst the Tenochca and the latter amongst the elite of the former independent states, the philosophical conflict began to erode the structures and institutions of the Empire. The eastern Nahua, Mixteca and Zapoteca had always revered the Plumed Serpent as their patron god, with their kings and queens naming themselves as the Children of Quetzalcóatl.

In addition, despite their arrogance, one deep-rooted fear threaded its way throughout the civilisation of the Méxica. They had emulated the ways of the Tolteca to such a degree that the name itself was applied as meaning artist or revered ancestor, but the suspicion was growing that their immense recreation of ancient Tollán was flawed.

Of all the pyramidal cities of Mesoamerika, Tenochtitlán was the supreme flowering of a two thousand year old heritage. It was unequalled in beauty and terror. But its elite harboured the suspicion that somehow they had misunderstood the legacy of the Tolteca, that their creations in stone and mortar, painted stucco and dried blood were imperfect in the sight of the gods. Soon, perhaps very soon, their failure would draw back the godking Quetzalcóatl out of the east just as Tollán had collapsed after his departure. The cyclic nature of time demanded it. Such a cultural malfunction might bring the end of the Fifth Sun and plunge the entire world into chaos and darkness. The architects and priests of the city knew that theirs was no Eternal City no matter how they claimed it to be at the very centre of the world, at the axis of Heaven and Hell between the four cardinal directions. Instead they knew in their hearts that Tenochtitlán was built on the brink of destruction.

Even the leaders of the Triple Alliance in the heartland were not immune to the conflict and malaise. The poetry of Nezahualcóyotl, ruler of the principal ally of Tenochtitlán, Tetzcoco, demonstrates the influence of this conflict and certain evidence suggests that the king was a covert convert to Christianity, a claim fervently denied by modern Méxica historians. His hymns and poems venerate the Tloque Nahuaque, Lord of Everywhere.

The subtle influence of the growing cult of the Maya Ch’ul Ahau Hesuklistos Kukulcán as well as Dominican friars teaching within the calmecac schools of the provincial nobility and pochteca continued. As god of learning, the cult of Quetzalcóatl already dominated the schools. Méxica religion allowed one god to assume the persona of another, much as an honoured sacrifice could adopt the ixiptla, the god-disguise of a deity. It was a simple matter to assume that Toteucyo Jesuchristo of the easterners was a mask of Quetzalcóatl. In the legends of the Méxica the gods had sacrificed themselves to renew the Sun, and so the resurrection of the Son of God and his sacrificial transformation as the Risen Sacrifice was readily accepted.

Just as with the Maya, the converts to Christianity adopted the new faith in their own terms, and another fusion of belief took place.

Once again, it will be like it was then and there.
Once again, it will be ordered as it was:
Sometime, someplace.

One problem conveniently ignored by the Church is the disparity in the timelines. If we assume the departure of Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl from Tollán as an historical event, possibly in the Eleventh or even as late as the Thirteenth Century then the chronology and relationship of events in the Old and New Worlds collapses. Some simply point to the destruction of the scrolls by Itzcóatl or to the cyclic nature of time. This proposes that the whole cycle takes place in mythological rather than sidereal time, and there is no discontinuity in the apparent discrepancies between the date of the Crucifixion, the birth of Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl, and his foretold return.

One of the tools used by the friars was the similarity between theos and teo, commonly given with a suffix to become teotl. They explained that the numerous Méxica gods were not deities of themselves, but aspects of the divine. This coincided with the indigenous belief that the other teotl, gods, were expressions of the primordial male-female creative principle, named as Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, or the Lord and Lady of Sustenance, that could further be identified with the monotheism implied by Nezahualcóyotl’s Lord of Everywhere, Ometéotl, the God of Duality.

Furthermore, the previous Suns of Creation could be compared (with some difficulty) to the four eras in the Bible: The Garden of Eden, the Antediluvian world, the world after the Flood, and the Years of Our Lord. There were even giants in ancient times before the Flood, just as in the Third Sun. The problems implicit in combining the Suns, with their gradual evolution especially in the foodstuffs available to each race of man, and the Creation of Christianity, were conveniently ignored.

Alternatively, Eden can be compared with Aztlan, the mythic place of origin of the Méxica-Tenochtitlán. Leaving Aztlan, they had entered the time of the Fifth Sun and would be weighed down by food, for by eating the stuff of the Fifth Sun, they became one with that Age and would be doomed to die.

One further parallel existed between the indigenous faith of Quetzalcóatl and Christianity. Quetzalcóatl had been defeated and shamed by the premier gods of the Méxica, but in addition to promising to return, his teachings included an apocalyptic prophecy that held meaning and hope for those disenfranchised by the conquest and power of the Empire. This holds a certain historical resonance with the spread of the Christian faith in the Roman Empire and its eventual adoption by that Empire.

Just as among the Maya, the symbol of the Cross was recognisable to the citizens of the Méxica Empire. The cross within a circle was known as the Shield of the God of Dawn, the planet Venus, named in Náhuatl as Citlalpol, and known as Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, an avatar or form of Quetzalcóatl.

Méxica Shield of the God of Dawn
For the Tenochca, the planet Venus had two aspects, representing the twin gods, the gracious and kindly Morning Star, the Precious Twin Quetzalcóatl and his Dark Twin the Evening Star, the canine god Xolotl who pushes the sun into darkness. For the ancient Méxica the fate of their Empire and their world hung in the balance between the confrontation of these two gods.

In some accounts Xolotl is the faithful companion of Quetzalcóatl and plays a role in the creation of the Fifth Sun, or is a mask of Tezcatlipoca.

In the beliefs of the Mesoamerikans Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was either the defender or the enemy of Tonatiuh the sun. It was also significant that the calendar wheel representing the xiuhmolpilli, the bundle of years, the Perfect Circle, the fifty two year cycle described a cross within a wheel. The xiuhmolpilli was implicitly tied to Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl who had been born, according to legend on the day ce acatl, one reed, and departed exactly fifty two years later. Furthermore, the cycle of the xiuhmolpilli utilised the orbit of Venus to determine doomsday, for it was foretold that the Fifth Sun would die at the end of one of the fifty two year cycles. The life span of the Fifth Sun was believed to be 676 years when it would be destroyed by famine and earthquake, and darkness would eat the sun. (The Age of each Sun was thirteen of the fifty two year cycles.)

This tendency towards the end of the world was matched by the eschatological beliefs of the Christian faith. The new converts had little difficulty in believing that the Fifth Sun, that had commenced according to the calendar in Matlactli Omei Acatl, 1011 AD, had now drawing to an end. Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl, with his death on the Cross, on the stone of sacrifice as they perceived it, began the Sixth Sun, the Teoxochitl Tonatiuh, the Sun of the Sacred Flower. At that moment the world had ended and been reborn, and the Méxica priests had not noticed!

Christianity Triumphant?

Proud of itself
Is the city of Méxica-Tenochtitlán
Here no one fears to die in war
This is our glory
This is your command
Oh Giver of Life!
Have this in mind, oh princes,
Do not forget it.
Who could conquer Tenochtitlán?
Who could shake the foundations of heaven?

Matters came to a head in the year 1467, in the reign of Huehue Motecuzoma Ihuilcamina.

According to prophecy, Quetzalcoatl would return on the anniversary of his birth. The priests of the Black Tezcatlipoca knew that the adversary of their god would return in the year One-Reed and the day Nine-Wind, a combination that occurs once every 52 years. 1467 was such a year in the cyclic count, and privately many of the priests feared for the end of their power and perhaps the end of the Fifth Sun and the world.

The Quetzalcóatl totec tlamacazqui, the high priest of Huitzilopochtli with all his entourage had gathered at the great temple in the centre of Tenochtitlán, to celebrate the ceremony of Atemoztli, the Descent of Water to honour the Tlaloque rain gods and the mountain gods.

In the provinces the friars had begun to preach openly, and throughout the Empire, the converts among the subject peoples professed their faith publicly. Many declared that this was the day long prophesied, that the White Christ was truly Quetzalcóatl, for had not Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl declared he would rescue them from the Méxica: ‘When the time has come, I will return into your midst, by the eastern sea, together with bearded men.’

Outraged, the governors sought to remove the foreigners and attempted to shut down the infected calmecac schools. The local nobility moved to protect their priests, who escaped into the rural areas to preach to the peasantry. Insurrection appeared immanent; Calpisqui, tribute gatherers, were attacked and abused, barely escaping with their lives. Even as the ceremonies began in the centre of Tenochtitlán, thousands of pilgrims flooded into the city, certain that very soon, they would witness the triumphant Second Coming of the Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl.

The Emperor sent forth his Jaguar and Eagle knights who seized countless numbers of pilgrims. Alarmed, the priests of Huitzilopochtli began to sacrifice the prisoners, their consternation growing as the sacrifices willing climbed the pyramids, singing in xochitl, in cuicatl, not in honour of the rain gods but of this god out of the east. They willingly went to the altar as martyrs, and yet more were filling the causeways and finding their way into the city. The Huey Tlatoani in his palace below Mount Ixtaccihuatl ordered the causeways blocked – never in its history had Tenochtitlán fallen, and now his own subjects were defying the will of the city’s gods – and the sacrifices to continue.

The sound of the huehuetl and teponaztli drums atop the pyramids strove to drown out the chanting of those imprisoned and those ascending to their deaths. Riots broke out in the city, the prisoners liberated, and the streets of Tenochtitlán ran red with blood. Events then become confused with the records speaking of the miraculous destruction of the lesser temple of Huitzilopochtli and similar occurrences in Tetzcoco and Tlacopan.

The temple of Huitzilopochtli burst into flames. It is thought that no one set it afire, that it burned down of its own accord. The name of its divine site was Tlacateccan ‘the House of Authority’. The flames, the tongues of fire shoot out, the bursts of fire shoot up into the sky. The flames swiftly destroyed all the woodwork of the temple… and the temple burned to the ground.
An eyewitness account of events in Tenochtitlán, 1467.

The officers of the legions in the city refused to move against the rebels, for the belief had spread even among the soldiers that the Sun had risen the day before, not because of the blood sacrifice but by the faith of Jesuchristo. And on that day the sun did not rise when the Quetzalcóatl totec tlamacazqui began his rites, and the city became hushed, as all wondered if this was truly the end of the Fifth Sun, and they waited for the earthquakes that would herald the end of the world. The sky remained black save for the lightning on the mountaintops, and the priests of Huitzilopochtli shivered, knowing that the thunderstorm was a form of the Quetzal-Feathered Serpent.

And then the Christians, even those waiting patiently to ascend the steps began to sing. And the sun rose.

In the weeks that followed, massed conversions were performed. The Emperor Motecuzoma Ihuilcamina accepted baptism, and then declared himself Warrior of Jesuchristo, Protector of the Faith, Smiter of the Infidel, the thirteenth Apostle and rightful heir to Peter, the Tetlteocalli, the rock of the Church. This term had a strong relevance to the indigenous religion, in which gods were named as teotl, a word having its origin as 'stony', but in a figurative sense: Permanent, powerful, wonderful, awesome, terrifying, the numinous quality of deity. It was not lost on the Méxica converts that Peter also means stone.

Thus was born the heretical Aztecâ Catholicism.

In the earlier baptisms, tens of thousands had accepted the Christian Faith. Now millions accepted the worship of Jesuchristo, and inevitably they would retain much of their earlier beliefs.

The Emperor was already the legitimate head of religion within the Empire, his authority rooted in religious sanction as the mediator between men and gods. By declaring himself a rival to the Pope, he usurped Christian authority within the Empire, thereby ensuring not only its survival but also reducing external influence. Commentators are divided as to whether this was an astute political ploy to force social and economic change within the domain of the Méxica or an opportunistic strategy to prevent a collapse of the nature of that suffered by Tollán centuries before.

The audacity of the Emperor’s declaration was not without precedent. The Solar Disk and the Shield of the God of Dawn became the Christian Cross, itself representing the stone of sacrifice. This mirrored the Roman Emperor Constantine adopting the symbol of the staff of the sun god Apollo and the sign of Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun for his newly adopted Christianity. At the same time, he had moved the sabbath to Sunday, and the day of Jesus’ birth moved to the day of Natalis Invictus, the day of the rebirth of the sun. One cannot but wonder if the Huey Tlatoani had some knowledge of the decisions of this earlier Emperor.

The most sacred symbol of the Méxica, the sun disk, was reinvented as a Cross surrounded by a halo, and thereby merged with the Shield of the God of Dawn. This symbol would much later become the sign of the Knights of the Flowering Sun.

With the priestly schools already influenced by Christian dogma, it was relatively simple for the priests to accept the word of an Emperor whose will by tradition could not be questioned. The Church Militant had targeted the nobility, and the highest priests were drawn from the pipiltin, the hereditary nobility. The majority of the clergy accepted conversion.

Already there were broad similarities between the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Augustinians and the Méxica priesthood. An Aztecâ priest was not allowed to marry and his daily routine was as taxing as that of a monk; four times during the day and five times at night he was required to offer incense and pray. He wore a long black robe, often with a hood and had only been distinguished from a friar by his blood-matted hair. He often fasted, and now, if he was no longer to offer the still beating hearts of sacrifices to the gods, he could still mortify his own flesh with flagellation and ritual blood letting. He lived within a regime equivalent to a monastery, with specialist scribes, codex painters, and astronomers.

The Quetzalcóatl totec tlamacazqui of Huitzilopochtli and the Quetzalcóatl tlaloc tlamacazqui were anointed as Cardinals, the Mexicatl Teohuatzin became an Archbishop, and swiftly a hierarchy of Archbishops and Bishops spread throughout the Empire. The friars were swept up in this, suddenly faced with the dilemma of answering to their own Pope or the nearby authority of the Huey Tlatoani Tetlteocalli. To protest might earn them the strangulation cord, to flee might lead to charges of heresy by the Holy Office of the Inquisition and death at the stake.

Almost immediately one important doctrine was put in place. The Emperor knew full well the structures of the Church Miltant from the information gathered by his faithful spies. He used this knowledge to ensure that whilst Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl had become the god of the Méxica, the military strength of the Tenochca would not be diminished. In his first address to the faithful he made this clear. “The divine fluid will be spilled in full measure, pleasing both the Holy Mother and her Son.”

What ensued was nothing less than the reformation of Méxica theology. The Dominicans had long misunderstood the meaning of teotl, translating it to meaning anything from god and angel to devil. In the new Méxica creed it was adopted as indicating divinity. Numerous old Tenochca gods were reinvented as aspects of God the Father or of his Son. Goddesses were translated into the Virgin Mary, or even Mary Magdalene. The most important Méxica gods became angels or saints. The ability of the old gods to adopt different faces or avatars or even the characteristics of a totally separate god aided this process.

Some commentators have noted that certain aspects of the Aztecâ doctrine point to the gnostic sects of the Old World, but no such link has ever been demonstrated.

An Early Méxica representation of Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl carrying the Cross

The greatest deities of the Méxica pantheon became associated with the Archangels.

  • The Blue Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli was obviously a guise of Saint Michael, leading the hosts of heaven to war. It was apparent that Huitzilopochtli had led the Aztecâ tlaca, as a chosen people to the promised land of the Valley of Méxica. The Franciscans were to claim that the Méxica nation was the thirteenth Lost Tribe of Israel. In 1431 the Emperor Itzcóatl had ordered the burning of all the old codices recording Méxica history, possibly to hide the lowly origins of the nation. It could now be claimed that these lost books described the wanderings of the Aztecâ from the Old World. One of the first creations of the Aztecâ Church was the codex known as the Teo-Amoxtli, the Divine Book, said to have been inspired both by the Bible and by an ancient Tolteca codex that had somehow survived the book burning of Itzcóatl.
At least one Catholic friar believed that the Companions of Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl had been Romans, Carthaginians or even Éirish monks.
Another, more favoured with ingenuity than his understanding of Náhuatl determined that Tenochtitlán was ‘the City of Enoch’ when the true translation is ‘Place of the Prickly Pear Cactus’.
  • The Black Tezcatlipoca, was astonishingly linked with the angel Saint Gabriel, possibly because of his associations with destiny and fate. In his depictions by the Méxica he is shown holding his obsidian mirror, by which he grants the gift of prophecy. A few sects are said to have seen Tezcatlipoca as a form of Lucifer in his legendary opposition and tempting of Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcóatl into sin but this heresy was ruthlessly suppressed; the Smoking Mirror was too deeply revered by the Méxica elite to be consigned into Hell.
  • The Red Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec, the Flayed God was equated with Saint Raphael, for his powers of healing.
  • Saint Uriel, with his connotations of fire, was merged with Xiuhtecuhtli, whilst Jeremiel was the disguised Tlaloc, his compassion bringing rain.

Numerous other angels and saints were created from the thousand or more gods of the Méxica. The gods of the Tenochca had been venerated very like Catholic saints, as personal allies to be invoked and aided.

Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the land of the dead became Satan, and the nine levels of the underworld were inevitably regions of Hell.

Certain historical figures that were worthy examples of sacrifice were also promoted to the rank of saint. Tlalhuicole, the Tlaxcalan warrior venerated for his nobility in demanding sacrifice at the temalacatl, the stone of combat in the gladiatorial sacrifice known as the tlahuahuanaliztli, was recognised as a saint.

Each of the thirteen levels of Heaven became associated with the hierarchy determined from a mixture of Catholic and Méxica elements.

One aspect present in Méxica religion, but lacking in Christianity was duality. In the Old World, the early religions had held opposing forces, but in Mesoamerika the duality was expressed by male and female counterparts. To the priesthood, it was obvious that Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl required a spouse, and the figure of Mary Magdalene was adopted into the role as Mariham Quetzalpetlatl, the ‘elder sister’ of Quetzalcóatl in the original Tolteca myth cycle. She would adopt aspects of Tlaelcuani, the goddess of confession, and even be found in shrines of the Floating World district with the attributes of Tlazoltéotl. Along with the Mother of God, his ‘elder sister’ was destined for a prominent role in the emerging doctrine.

The two very highest levels of Heaven had been deemed the Place of Duality, holding the throne of Ometéotl. This deity as Tloque Nahuaque, Lord of Everywhere, Moyocoyani, He Who Gives Existance to Himself, had been worshipped by Nezahualcóyotl was too remote for the needs of both the Méxica state and citizenry. The religious emphasis was initially Our Lord and Our Lady, and the numerous angels and saints. Slowly Christ the Risen Sacrifice as the new embodiment of the Sun would become increasingly remote, the focus of devotion by the priesthood, but not to the commoners and peasantry, who would remain attached to their traditional gods, albeit in the form of angels and saints.

The entire edifice created as Aztecâ Catholicism was filled with contradiction and discontinuity. In part at least this was a cultural manifestation of the Méxica trend of adopting the gods of conquered people. Prior to the mass conversion, the coateocalli building in the ceremonial centre of Tenochtitlán had housed an astonishing array captive statues and paraphernalia, and the Méxica pantheon was bewilderingly diverse. These disparate beliefs were integrated together, the contradictions ignored to create unity from chaos. The theology that developed from that fateful day in 1467 was to rejoice in the same harmonious disorder.

In the following centuries the Méxica Church was to reflect the conflicts taking place in the Mother Church as the Church Spiritual and the Church Militant warred and rival Popes claimed the throne of Peter in exile in the Azores. In the Empire, internal and external wars and continuing economic pressures would lead to decadence and corruption.

In 1531 a new vision of Aztecâ Catholicism would begin.

A Question of Destiny
Compared with the civilisations of the Old World, the cultures of the New World suffered disadvantages in terms of livestock and technology. The first hunters to arrive in Itzachilatlán, the Amerikas, were at least a factor in the extinction of the mammoth, horse and camel that had preceded their eastbound journey. The fauna of the New World was unprepared for the onslaught of the hunters and was relatively quickly eliminated. The absence of sheep, cattle, camels and horses had a profound effect on the Amerikan social development. Many of the technological developments of the Old World, the wheel, the pulley, gears, cogs and screws were destined to remain unknown until their introduction by the Nisei around the Twelfth Century.
Despite this, the Valley of the Méxica, as with the valleys of the Indus, Nile, and the Yellow Rivers and coastal Peru, is one of the locations on Anahuac that favours the concentration of a settled population, leading to the building of cities and social stratification. Indeed, the very word civilisation can be traced to the Latin for citizen, an inhabitant of a city. Though the inhabitants of the Valley of the Méxica were living virtually in the Stone Age until the arrival of the Nisei, they were already sophisticated dwellers in cities. They had culture and writing – though inferior to other systems such as kanji and kana, the ‘Red and Black’ pictograms remain as icons in everyday use today.
The impetus of metalworking and other aspects introduced by the Nisei had a profound effect on all of Mesoamerika. As relatively new and aggressive newcomers, the Tenochca took every advantage provided both by the old city-states of the Valley and by the strangers out of the west. The history of their great city is one of conquest and a desire for domination. In this the Aztecâ conceived of themselves as a chosen people, and, like other chosen peoples rewrote their history to prove it. Equipped with a sense of purpose, to preserve the world and to conquer it, their imperial mindset encompassed arrogance and fortitude, pride and strength.
With the Nisei technologies and the model of empires beyond their own ‘world’ in addition to the Tolteca, the Tenochca purposefully and aggressively pursued the formation of Empire as their manifest destiny.
The apparent conversion of the Emperor, and, supposedly the entire population, moved the Aztecâ onto a much larger world stage. Purportedly now part of the Christian world, they proceeded to expand into that world with zeal and self-confidence. Trade, conquest and the ambition of the chosen people made them overcome their late start. Occasionally the Empire fractured, the result of internal schisms and too rapid expansion, but in time the Aztecâ would affect history in lands as distant as Britain and Afriqa and eventually the fate of all humanity.
One Swedish historian has described the Méxica as ancient Assyrians suddenly equipped with stirrups and steel, muskets and cannon, and unleashed upon the World.

The Holy Mother of Tepeyac

O, our mistress, may you think of us,
May you remember us in our deprivation!

The hill of Tepeyacac (later shortened to Tepeyac) was once the site of a temple to the Méxica goddess Tonatzin, the Honoured Mother, Lady of the Serpent Skirt. This goddess was an aspect of Coatlique, the goddess of the earth and protectress of mankind who had been subsumed, following the adoption of Christianity with the Virgin Mary. It lay at the northern end of a causeway leading out of Tenochtitlán. In earlier times it had been the destination of pilgrimages to honour the earth goddess.

A prince of Tetzcoco named Cuauhtlatoatzin, Lord Singing Eagle, a descendant of Nezahualcóyotl and at one time a Tlacateccatl, a commander of eight thousand soldiers, heard a voice calling to him when he was passing the hill. It was a cold day before dawn. He climbed the ancient pyramid at the summit and was astonished to find a young girl, dressed as a Méxica princess with a blue robe, surrounded by singing birds and silhouetted by the golden rays of the rising sun.

“Am I not your mother?” she asked him, and she bade the prince, who was middle-aged, that it was her desire to have a church built on the site of the temple, which had fallen into disuse.

The prince duly brought the words of the apparition before the Cardinals of Tenochtitlán, with the hope that they would convey the message to the Emperor himself. His news was greeted with disdain. Would not such a vision be granted to the most holy and anointed ones, they asked. Although Cuauhtlatoatzin was of one of the great clans of the empire, he was fifty-seven years old, retired from the army and out of favour at court for being a mystical and silent man. Many saw his divine vision as an attempt to regain imperial favour. With the conversion of the old ways into the new, and the continuing growth of wealth and prestige, the hierarchy of the Méxica had become cynical and dissolute.

Despite his reception at court, Cuauhtlatoatzin returned to the hill. Unbeknownst to him, the Cardinals had set agents of the Mirror to covertly watch the prince. They saw him climb the hill and the old temple, and then disappear. However, Cuauhtlatoatzin had again encountered the radiant figure, who promised that if he returned the next day he would be granted a sign.

The following day the prince was unable to keep his promise as his uncle, his last living relative lay ill. His uncle was failing, and Cuauhtlatoatzin left him to find a priest. On the way, the apparition came before him, and bade him return to Tepeyac and pick the flowers that grew there. Mystified, the prince obeyed, though it was midwinter and no flowers could be in bloom. To his amazement at the top of the old derelict pyramid a rose bush had given bud to numerous flowers. He gathered them up in his mantle and took them before the Cardinals of Tenochtitlán.

To the astonishment of all, when he opened his cloak to let the miraculous blossoms fall to the ground, a perfect image of the Dark Virgin had formed on the fabric. Despite this miracle, the Cardinals refused to accept this visitation, and the prince was beaten with cudgels and thrown out of the palace, his rank and rights striped from him.

Unbowed, the elderly Cuauhtlatoatzin wandered out of the Valley of Méxica and eventually travelled into the old lands of the Maya, still bearing his cloak. Within Tenochtitlán some few of the commoners heard of the story and began to build a humble shrine atop the ruined pyramid.

In the east, Cuauhtlatoatzin was taken in by one of the devout rural orders and his story and his message spread. In time, the prince would be accounted a saint, and his news become one of the foundations of the religious order that was to become the Sisters of the Rose, and return in triumph to build a great cathedral on Tepeyac hill.

The roots of Cuauhtlatoatzin’s vision should be explored.

It took place near the very time when, in the pagan Méxica tradition, the statue of the goddess Tonatzin to whom the temple on Tepeyac was dedicated, would have been carried among her worshippers, and then ceremonially sacrificed to mark the death of the old sun of winter. As Tonatzin she was the goddess who gave birth to all the Méxica gods, the moon, the stars and also the nurse and protectress of all the people as her children. She was also a virgin goddess.

It does not require a great leap of imagination to see this goddess reborn herself as the Mother of God, Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl.

Just as the blue-green associated with the Virgin Mary had associations for the Maya as yax, for the Méxica it was chalchihuitl, jade, the most precious stone, identified with water, sky, maize and with life itself. Jade was of particular importance in relation to the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, She of the Jade Skirt.

As a purifying water goddess, Chalchiuhtlicue was associated with lakes and bodies of water such as the sea. To the Méxica, Maya and the ancient Chinese, green signified water.
This mirrored some facets of the adoption of the Virgin Mary in the waning of the Classical civilisations of the Old World, where the similarity between Mary and ‘mer’, led to associations with the old sea goddesses such as Aphrodite Marina, who brought forth fish from the sea. The fish was an early Christian sign and in a medieval hymn Jesus Christ was referred to as ‘the little fish in the Virgin’s womb”. Aphrodite Marina was also portrayed wearing a blue robe.
The ancient temple of Aphrodite at Paphos on Cyprus was converted to a sanctuary of Mary relatively early in the Christian era. Until a late date, one church on the island of Cyprus gave the Virgin the title of Panaghia Aphroditessa ‘all-holy’ Aphrodite. Another named her as Our Lady Galatariotessa, derived perhaps from the wife of Pygmalion.
Later doctrine would have Chalchiuhtlicue as an aspect of Tonatzin, the Honoured Mother.

In the rites of Chalchiuhtlicue a young maiden would be dressed as the goddess as her ixiptla and sacrificed. The description of the Virgin Mary as a Méxica princess with a robe that was undoubtedly blue-green rather than merely blue, decorated with greenstone jewellery is identical with that of the maiden garbed in the god-disguise, sitting in her bower and waiting to be sacrificed.

Even the roses are similar to the floral discs of the earth and corn goddess Chicomecoatl who is herself an aspect of Tonantzin as the generic mother goddess of the Méxica pantheon.

The depiction of the Virgin Mary in Méxica art is also significant.

To Old World Catholic eyes they are often strange or heretical.

The figure is crowned, with the head surrounded by the solar rays of the nimbus, and stands on a crescent moon decorated with Aztecâ astronomical symbols. The Virgin's face echoes the naturalistic style of ancient Teotihuacan masks and figurines, depicting a young Méxica girl who is speaking - a sign of authority reinforced by the ancient title of the Tenochca Emperor: Huey Tlatoani, the Revered Speaker. Nowhere else in Christian iconography is the Virgin Mary depicted as speaking. Her robes, decorated in the blue-green colour of jade, suggest Huitzilopochtli in the feathers overlaid on the area of the dress, and the floral discs, tassels and flint blades associated with Chicomecoatl. The discs can also be seen as the Solar Disk and the Shield of the God of Dawn.

The Sisters of the Rose

At last my heart knows it:
I hear a song,
I contemplate a flower…
May they never fade!
From a poem by Nezahualcóyotl

In the centuries that followed the adoption of Christianity, wealth and power began an inevitable corruption at the heart of the Méxica Empire. The aristocracy provided much of the priesthood, and the old ways of social mobility became increasingly impractical with the new methods of war. The poor remained poor, whilst the nobility grew rich. Spreading out from Tenochtitlán, society became increasing stratified and the distance between the commoners and nobility grew increasingly wide.

This malaise ultimately led to a series of civil wars and revolts in territories abroad. The Empire seemed to be the throes of dissolution, and for many of its subject peoples this seemed as if the prophecies of Quetzalcóatl were at last coming true. The Aztecâ Church was itself wealthy, indolent, fat and lazy, a description fitting for many of its priesthood.

The Huey Tlatoani Tetlteocalli was an increasingly remote figure, feared and the focus of near worship by his hierarchy, as had always been the case, but the Church he headed had ceased to satisfy the spiritual needs of his people. His growing power had utterly eclipsed that of the calpulli, the districts or clans, and the tlamatinime, the wise elders.

In outlying regions, missionaries from the Azorean Papacy, and the Hussite Church of central Europe (itself a heresy) started to find converts. Also, local sects, mostly ignored by the Aztecâ Church, began - or continued - to spread their own teachings. Some of these sects were little more than a return to the old gods, the veneer of Christianity running increasingly thin. Rumours hinted that in some hidden shrines, deep in the mountains or in the forests of Mesoamerika smoking hearts were once again offered up to demanding and awful deities. Even in the great cities, visiting ambassadors from the Azorean Papacy complained in their letters of ‘idols behind altars’.

The strongest Christian sect was to be found in the Maya lands to the east, where Cuauhtlatoatzin had carried his miraculous cloak bearing the image of the Dark Virgin. Although the origins of his vision seem rooted in the foundations of a pure Méxica vision of sacred space and cosmos, as well as a very old pre-Christian mother goddess it was also the first true synthesis between local traditions and those of the Christian world. The formation of Aztecâ Catholicism represented a grafting of one faith on top of another, and it may be argued that this was the first real union of the two traditions. Certainly as nurturing mother, intercessor and go-between to the divine The Holy Mother of Tepeyac was the first truly indigenous figure to spring from the miraculous (and dubious) mass conversions.

Strengthened by the only native relic in the Amerikas, the rural Lenca Order started to spread and grow. The steady stream of pilgrims from the Valley of Méxica ensured that the previously predominantly Maya character of the Order was merged with the traditions of the heartland of the empire, but unsullied by the character of the decadent Church in imperial Tenochtitlán. In addition to the peasantry, the growing Order of the Rose drew those aristocrats sickened by the corruption and vice in the capital.

Perhaps in reaction to the male domination of both the Church of the Azorean Papacy and the Aztecâ Church, the Lenca Order elevated the female, ordaining women as priests, to the horror of the clergy both at home and abroad. Mention has already been made of Quetzalpetlatl, the ‘elder sister’ of Quetzalcóatl. In Méxica tradition, ‘elder sister’ may be taken to mean priestess.

As Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl was a remote figure, his mother and other females in the Gospels were elevated in importance. Na Mary Yax Tonatzin was revered as the intercessor, and the symbol of the rose became the symbol of her Sisters of the Rose.

In the European tradition the rose was a symbol of the next world, of paradise, and as the queen of flowers the symbol of Mary. Three white roses represented the Holy Trinity.
(Interestingly in medieval times it was also used to depict courtly love, perhaps reflecting Panaghia Aphroditessa; in Classical times the rose represented beauty, and the season of spring and love. Processions to honour the Virgin would walk on rose petals, just as the Roman processions carrying the images of the pagan gods had done.)
A thornless rose was an attribute of Mary as the second Eve, and she was named the Mystic Rose.
In Mesoamerika however, the rose of Mary has thorns, reflecting the tradition of autosacrifice by the elite using sharp obsidian lancets or barbs.

This was to be the Sacred Flower of the Sixth Sun, the Teoxochitl Tonatiuh.

The symbolism of the three Marys at the Cross was a powerful one to the Order.

Mary Tonatzin as the Virgin Mother, filled with the spirit of Ometéotl, the God of Duality, was in Méxica eyes Omecihuatl, the Lady of Sustenance and to the Maya the wife of Itzamná. She was the subject of intense veneration.

As in the Aztecâ Church Mary Magdalene was known as Mariham Quetzalpetlatl, the ‘elder sister’ of Quetzalcóatl, and the intercessor to the Sixth Sun. In her guise as Tlaelcuani and Tlazoltéotl, she was a focus of prayers as the Sister of mortals, able to bring their hopes and sins before Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl. In the Catholic Church the Magdalene is sometimes an ambiguous figure.

In the painting Martha and Mary Magdalene by Caravaggio she leans by a mirror as Martha reproaches her for her vanity. The mirror is also a symbol of truth, as it cannot lie.
A flawless mirror in Christian European art is an attribute of the Virgin Mary, but the mirror in the painting reflects pride, vanity, and perhaps lust (the latter derived from the Classical Aphrodite). In Mesoamerika, her vague associations with a mirror suggested the obsidian mirror of the Black Tezcatlipoca and the gift of prophecy.
In La Tour’s Repenting Magdalene (also known as Magdalene with Two Flames) she stares into a mirror as if at the cusp of choosing between two lives.
The Magdalene, as the repentant sinner fascinated many artists of the European Renaissance.

The third Mary at the Cross, Mary Clopas, (who some authorities identify as the mother of Saint James) represented a priestess of the Rose, adoring the Word of God.

The Black Sisters quietly spread throughout the Empire and across the Atlantic to Mali Ax in West Afriqa at a time when tensions were running high between the Imperial Méxica authorities and the foreign churches. Through the efforts of one ambitious Tenochca Empress the Lenca Order was proclaimed as the religion of both the royal Méxica house and the Empire. The conversion of the Empire’s churches was not without incident. Many of the supplanted hierarchy counselled insurrection and revolt, whilst others bowed before the Sacrament of the Holy Mother.

The break with the Azorean Papacy was absolute.

Among the Tenochca the priesthood had always worn black cloaks similar to the cassocks of Catholic priests and long gowns. This naturally remained the dress of the Méxica clerics, and it was also adopted in the Maya regions of the Empire, including the priests and priestesses of the Sisters of the Rose, giving rise to them being named as the Black Sisters.
The Holy Mother of Tepeyac, the Dark Virgin witnessed by Saint Cuauhtlatoatzin, has certain parallels with the Black Madonnas of Europe. Tradition links those in the Mediterranean with a servant of the Virgin Mary named as Sara the Egyptian or Sara-la-Kâli. Some scholars see Sara as a survival of the Isis cult introduced in Roman times. Others suggest that this is the Virgin replacing Isis or other pagan goddesses.
In the Eighteenth Century, the Sisters were to build a great temple to the Virgin at Ephesus in Asia Minor to honour the house where she had lived. In ancient times Ephesus was the home of a magnificent temple to the Goddess, known to the Greeks as the Artemis Diana, one of whose titles was ‘Queen of Heaven’ and to the Persians as Anahita, the Great Goddess, ‘Mistress of the Waters’. Legend had the city founded by the Amazons.

With the fire of a rising religious movement the Sisters of the Rose swept across great swathes of Itzachilatlán, North and South Amerika. Within the Empire, the cycle of palace intrigue had not burnt itself out. The Empress had murdered her husband to ensure her son ascended the throne in order to ordain the religious revolution. When her son died in 1719, choking on a grape, and she ascended to the throne – for all of nine days – chaos erupted in the heart of the Empire, before a victorious general had himself proclaimed the Huey Tlatoani.

Out of this fire came a new Lenca military Order, the Order of Tlahulli, the Order of the Flowering Sun, declared to be the Shield of the Sun against the Ten Thousand Enemies. In time one branch of this Order would become the Flower War priests, the xochiyaotinime, overseeing the Xochiyaoyotl, the War of Flowers and acting as military archivists, dedicated to the service of Saint Xochiquetzal – Precious Flower – the goddess of spring. Just as the ancient Flowery Wars had been fought to provide blood and hearts to feed the Fifth Sun, the new wars would be conducted both to maintain the edge of the imperial Army, and to keep the pledge of the first Christian Méxica Emperor. “The divine fluid will be spilled in full measure, pleasing both the Holy Mother and her Son.”

The Sisters of the Rose had been transformed from a local monastic order to the Primacy of an Empire, tinged with the same demands of politics that had bedevilled the Catholic Papacy and only ended with the division of the Church Spiritual and the Church Militant.

Toteucyo Jesuchristo Quetzalcóatl was now embodied as the Son of God, and the Sun, the creator of the Sixth Sun. His mother became pre-eminent, before an array of angels and saints, a combination of European, Méxica and Maya traditions.

One of the dichotomies of Méxica Christianity (and of the Azorean Papacy, for it was the Church Militant who first encountered the Empire) that whilst the faith ordained the ethos of military bloodletting, it was tempered by the figure of the Virgin Mary, preaching charity, devotion, love and spirituality.

Lenca Christianity by the middle of the Eighteenth Century became the third major Christian Church, destined for an inevitable collision with the Catholic and Hussite Churches of Europe and Afriqa.

Note: All religions are used fictitiously in this essay.

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  • Read, Kay Almere, Time and Sacrifice in the Aztec Cosmos
  • Royal Academy of Arts, Aztecs
  • Spence, Lewis, The Myths of Mexico and Peru
  • Tompkins, Ptolemy, This Tree Grows Out of Hell
  • Townsend, Richard F., The Aztecs
  • Watanabe, John M., Maya Saints & Souls in a Changing World
  • Whitlock, Ralph, Everyday Life of the Maya

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"In the time of the Sixth Sun" by Thomas Harlan
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