The material following was written as an appendix to The Fire Within, Cloud Serpents, and Crystal Spiders. The last two have not been published as yet, but publication in e-book format is planned for this year (2013). To those reading this text without having read The Fire Within and the other novels, the names (John Goss, for example) will be meaningless; these are the names of the characters in the books, and may be ignored if this material is being read purely for its informative content.
IMPORTANT: If you have not read the novels yet, you would do well to ignore the names mentioned above, since the identities of these characters are at times "reveals" in the stories.
Better yet, read the books first, then come back here.
At first glance, the religions of the Indians of Mexico-the ancient Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayas, and so on-is so confusing as to appear incoherent, especially to those of us used to thinking in terms of the well-defined Greek and Roman gods. There are several reasons for this. First, we are seeing the religion of ancient Mexico not only from a distance in time, but almost solely through the eyes of such suspect sources as Catholic missionaries, Conquistadors, and early christianized Indians eager to impress the friars with their advocacy of their new faith; it cannot be forgotten that backsliders could face the Inquisition! Still, some of these constitute our best sources, particularly the friars Sahagun and Duran. Nevertheless, many aspects of the religion-particularly the erotic aspects-have been neglected or intentionally hidden.
The names as given here are in Nahuatl, which was the language spoken by the Aztecs and Toltecs, and which is still spoken by more than a million Indians in modern Mexico. It should be realized that some of these names are "date names"-that is, the name and number of the day on which a specific person was born, just as if a person in today's society was given a name such as, "12 August". These are noted in the following charts with an asterisk (*). Additionally, many of the Teotl have numerous names, only a few of which are mentioned; often there is a different name for each aspect-Quetzalcoatl/Ehecatl/Tlahuizcalpantecuhlti (see below) is a good example.
Here we shall not go into details of concept-these are scattered through the stories. Rather, we will confine ourselves to a definition of the Teotl (the word usually translated as "god") in relation to the characters. The reader should remember that the Aztec gods were not static like those of Rome; they were very fluid, appearing in many guises and avatars, changing into one another.
Nahuatl as written is pronounced exactly the same as Spanish, with one exception-the "x" is sounded as "sh" in English. All Nahuatl words are accented on the next-to-last syllable.
...and so on.
That the civilizations of ancient Mexico produced and used highly accurate calendars is well known. One of the primary functions of these calendars was the prediction of future events; and obviously, an event of great interest was the projected end of the Fifth Sun, which was expected to be accompanied by earthquakes of such magnitude as to destroy all life on earth.
A note about these calendars is in order here, though the reader is referred to Valliant and Waters for fuller discussions. The late Maya cultures and the Aztec cultures used only a "short count" of years, starting each group of fifty-two-known as a "bundle" of years-as a new unit. But they left us no distinction between units. For example, 1987 was a Ce Acatl (One Reed) year; if the Aztec used our notation, they might refer to this year simply as '87, and we would not know whether they meant 1087, 1587, or 1987.
For the Classic Maya, however, the situation was quite different. Their "long count" extended tens of thousands of years into the past and future. It is from this-from the date correlation developed by Thompson and others-that the quoted date of Dec. 24, 2011 is derived (this is of course subject to much academic debate). This date, according to Maya prophecy, represents the End of the World.
But relating this precisely to Aztec myth and prophecy presents a few problems. The Aztec believed that the end of the world would be heralded-or would occur, we can't be sure from the old sources-at the close of a "bundle" of years. The new bundle was always started with a year Ome Acatl (Two reed); the last of these was 1975, the next will be 2027. On New Year's eve of the years preceding Ome Acatl years (The Aztec New Year fell on Feb. 2 according to Sahagun, though others disagree-Duran says Mar. 1, for example), the priests watched the skies for a sign that man had been granted another fifty-two year "bundle." The sign was the meridian transit of the star group known to us as the Pleiades, in the constellation Taurus (or, according to some others, the rising of the constellation known to the Aztecs as the "fire drill" and known to us as Orion's belt). If it happened, "new fire" was drilled in the chest cavity of a sacrificial victim slain especially for the purpose, and there was general celebrating.
But the myth of the Fifth Sun states specifically that Tonatiuh will die on a day Nahui Ollin (Four movement). This cannot be on a new fire day, since that is always Ome Acatl. There is at least one Nahui Ollin day each year-the one nearest the Maya count (using Sahagun's new year) is Dec. 13, 2011.
These discrepancies may represent errors in the old records or correlations-for example, an 11-day error in the Thompson correlation, or a new year's day of Feb. 13 instead of the second (Valliant believes it was in fact the fourteenth, putting the two projections only a single day apart). Or, these could represent stages in the process of the death of a Sun. All we can say with any certainty is that the significant years are 1975/1976, 1987/1988, and 2011/2012.
Spence, Lewis G: The Gods of Mexico. London: Unwin, 1923.
Nicholson, Irene: Mexican and Central American Mythology. London: Paul Hamlyn, 1967.
Peterson, Frederick: Ancient Mexico. New York: Putnam, 1979.
Valliant, George C.: The Aztecs of Mexico. New York: Penguin, 1950.
Waters, Frank: Mexico Mystique. Chicago: Sage Books, 1975.
"Original" sources available in English:
Duran, Diego: The Book of the Gods and the Rites. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.
Sahagun, Fray Bernardino de: The Florentine Codex. (Anderson and Dibble translation). Santa Fe: The School of American Research, 1951.
Bierhorst, John: Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1974.
Note 1-Source Material:
1. The myths and legends of the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans, as derived from 14th and 15th Century original sources.
Especially, the three original sources mentioned in Appendix D above. In addition, many of the events are fictionalizations suggested by the imagery in the various Pre-Columbian codices, particularly the Codex Borgia and the Codex Borbonico.
2. The general worldview of Native Americans, as derived from their writings and from conventional anthropological research.
With emphasis, of course, on the worldview of the Mesoamericans, filled in here and there with a North American concept. See Appendix D.
3. The concepts of parapsychology, in particular the researches and discoveries made while the author was a researcher at J.B. Rhine's lab in Durham, NC.
4. The writings of Carlos Castaneda (The Teachings of Don Juan and other books).
The works of Carlos Castaneda are never directly mentioned in The Fire Within/Precious Water, but one of them, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge; is mentioned in Dark Winds/The Nagual. This is consistent with the setting of that book, 1969; Castaneda was a common topic of conversation then, especially in the counterculture.
But the reader who is familiar with Castaneda's work, in particular such volumes as A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan, will undoubtedly have noticed that a considerable number of concepts defined in those books have been used in these novels. One might logically ask, then, if Castaneda's books have been used as source material for the novels, and the answer is, of course, yes, they have been.
Castaneda's books are presented as non-fiction, i.e., they are said by Castaneda to be a literal account of his time spent under the tutelage of a Yaqui shaman named Don Juan. As Castaneda held a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA, it would not be unreasonable to accept them as such. However, in the years since The Teachings of Don Juan first appeared, considerable doubt has been expressed concerning their literal veracity. Chronologies in particular can be shown not to be logical; in many cases Castaneda has interactions with a character long before he met that character. More, investigations have placed him at UCLA on days he states he was in the Mexican desert with Don Juan.
It seems therefore logical to ask if the author considers Castaneda's books to be non-fiction. The answer is no; it seems likely that "Don Juan" is a wholly fictional character in a series of cleverly and compellingly-but in ways rather carelessly-written novels. An excellent example of this can be found in "Don Genero's" demonstration of seemingly impossible physical feats at a waterfall for Castaneda in Journey to Ixtlan. Genero's feats are almost identical to those performed by Huichole shaman Ramón Medina, who in 1966 demonstrated such abilities to anthropologist Peter Furst (in the novels, these events are reflected in Patecatl's demonstration for David in The Fire Within/Precious Water, Part II, Chapter 15).
This, and other examples, suggest that while the Castaneda books are almost certainly fiction, they are not without value as resource material. It appears that Castaneda has rather exhaustively researched the shamantic/magical traditions and beliefs of Native Americans, including in particular Mesoamericans, and has combined these into characters like Don Juan and Don Genero. It is possible, of course, that some of the concepts may be Castaneda's own invention, but most appear to be genuinely within the traditions.
Note 2-The Nagual:
Throughout the books, several characters, all clearly able to perform incredible feats, are referred to as "naguals," but the term is never entirely explained. The word itself is the modern form of the original Nahuatl word Nahual, refers to a belief quite widespread in the New World, the idea that each person has a double, a doppelganger, normally but not always an animal; as an example, various sources refer to Xolotl as Quetzalcoatl's nagual. Any person's animal double is referred to as his/her nagual. A person is called a nagual when they master the ability to shapeshift to and from their nagual. In ways this is similar to the European concept of the werewolf, except that the transformations in these cases are entirely voluntary and the animal form acts according to the intent of the nagual (person), not mindlessly violent as is commonly the case with the werewolf-although those actions may be subject to the normal instincts of the animal in question.
In most Mesoamerican cultures, the person who has become a nagual is also seen as a brujo (a witch or sorcerer), able to perform feats of real magic. In some cultures they are respected as shamans, in others they are hated and mistrusted. Castaneda (see Note 1 above) takes this a step further, defining the nagual (person) as one who can move freely between the normal world of everyday reality (the tonal) and the extraordinary world of the supernatural (also referred to as the nagual). The word is used in this sense in these novels.
Note 3-Dates, Kindle editions 2012/2013:
When Dark Winds/The Nagual and The Fire Within/Precious Water were first published (1989-1991), many of the dates referenced in the text and in appendix C above were still well in the future. Now, however, both December of 2011 and 2012 have come and gone, and it's probably self-evident that the world did not in fact end.
So what's up with that, huh?
Well, more novels are planned in this series, and will be released as Kindle editions very soon. Those (even though they too were originally planned in the 1990s) will answer those questions.
|The Aztec Gods (illustrated)||Further discussions of the Mesoamerican calendar|