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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Birth of Huitzilopochtli, Patron God of the Aztecs

Hi dear friends and followers

Today I was most fortunate to find an excerpt from an epic poem of the Aztec People, about the birth of their Sun god, Huitzilopochtli. Everything that follows this paragraph is taken from the work cited and is not mine. It is the intellectual property of one M. Leon-Portilla. I thought about including pictures with this
 work but I felt it best to not "gild the lily," as it were. I hope that you find this nugget as enjoyable to read as I did.

From Leon-Portilla, ed., Native Mesoamerican Spirituality, New York: Paulist Press, 1980.
The Birth of Huitzilopochtli, Patron God of the Aztecs

This is a teocuitatl, "divine song," a sort of epic poem in which the birth of Huitzilopochtli is recalled. The portentous patron god of the Aztecs was the son of Coatlicue, "she of the skirt of serpents," a title of the Mother goddess. This text has been the object of various forms of interpretation.

According to some researchers, the myth has to do with an astral primeval confrontation. Huitzilopochtli is the Sun who is born from Cuatlicue, the earth. His sister, Coyolxauhqui, the moon incites her four hundred brothers, the innumerable stars, to attack the Sun. In the astral struggle the moon and the four hundred stars are defeated.

The triumph of the Sun, the patron god of the Aztecs, anticipates the destiny of the latter. This idea leads to a different or complementary interpretation. If the destiny of Huitzilopochtli has been to defeat his enemies and to deprive them of their possessions, the Aztec people, by siding with their patron God, will become "the people of the Sun," those chosen to impose their rule on many other nations in the four quadrants of the universe.

The Aztecs greatly revered Huitzilopochtli; they knew his origin, his beginning, was in this manner:

In Coatepec, on the way to Tula,

there was living,

there dwelt a woman

by the name of Coatlicue.

She was mother of the four hundred gods of the south

and their sister

by name Coyolxauhqui.

And this Coatlicue did penance there,

she swept, it was her task to sweep,

thus she did penance

in Coatepec, the Mountain of the Serpent.

And one day,

when Coatlicue was sweeping,

there fell on her some plumage,

a ball of fine feathers.

Immediately Coatlicue picked them up

and put them in her bosom.

When she finished sweeping,

she looked for the feathers

she had put in her bosom,

but she found nothing there.


At that moment Coatlicue was with child.

The four hundred gods of the south,

seeing their mother was with child,

were very annoyed and said:

"Who has done this to you?

Who has made you with child?

This insults us, dishonors us."

And their sister Coyolxauhqui


said to them:

"My brothers, she has dishonored us,

we must kill our mother,

the wicked woman who is now with child.

Who gave her what she carries in her womb?"

When Coatlicue learned of this,

she was very frightened,

she was very sad.

But her son Huitzilopochtli, in her womb,

comforted her, said to her:

"Do not be afraid,

I know what I must do."

Coatlicue, having heard

the words of her son,

was consoled,

her heart was quiet,

she felt at peace.

But meanwhile the four hundred gods of the south

came together to take a decision,

and together they decided

to kill their mother,

because she had disgraced them.

They were very angry,

they were very agitated,

as if the heart had gone out of them.

Coyolxauhqui incited them,

she inflamed the anger of her brothers,

so that they should kill her mother.

And the four hundred gods

made ready,

they attired themselves as for war.

And those four hundred gods of the south

were like captains;

they twisted and bound up their hair

as warriors arrange their long hair.

But one of them called Cuahuitlicac

broke his word.

What the four hundred said,

he went immediately to tell,

he went and revealed it to Huitzilopochtli.

And Huitzilopochtli replied to him:

"Take care, be watchful,

my uncle, for I know well what I must do."

And when finally they came to an agreement,

the four hundred gods were determined to kill,

to do away with their mother;

then they began to prepare,

Coyolxauhqui directing them.

They were very robust, well equipped,

adorned as for war,

they distributed among themselves their paper garb,

the anecuyotl [the girdle], the nettles,

the streamers of colored paper;

they tied little bells on the calves of their legs,

the bells called oyohualli.

Their arrows had barbed points.

Then they began to move,

they went in order, in line,

in orderly squadrons,

Coyolxauhqui led them.

But Cuahuitlicac went immediately up onto the mountain,

so as to speak from there to Huitzilopochtli;

he said to him:

"Now they are coming."

Huitzilopochtli replied to him:

"Look carefully which way they are coming."

Then Cuahuitlicac said:

"Now they are coming through Tzompantitlan."

And again Huitzilopochtli said to him:

"Where are they coming now?"

Cuahuitlicac replied to him:

"Now they are coming through Coaxalpan."

And once more Huitzilopochtli asked Cuahuitlicac:

"Look carefully which way they are coming."

Immediately Cuahuitlicac answered him:

"Now they are coming up the side of the mountain."

And yet again Huitzilopochtli said to him:

"Look carefully which way they are coming."

Then Cuahuitlicac said to him:

"Now they are on the top, they are here,

Coyolxauhqui is leading them."

At that moment Huitzilopochtli was born,

he put on his gear,

his shield of eagle feathers,

his darts, his blue dart-thrower.

He painted his face

with diagonal stripes,

in the color called "child's paint."

On his head he arranged fine plumage,

he put on his earplugs.

And on his left foot, which was withered,

he wore a sandal covered with feathers,

and his legs and his arms

were painted blue.

And the so-called Tochancalqui

set fire to the serpent of candlewood,

the one called Xiuhcoatl

that obeyed Huitzilopochtli.

With the serpent of fire he struck Coyolxauhqui,

he cut off her head,

and left it lying there

on the slope of Coatepetl.

The body of Coyolxauhqui

went rolling down the hill,

it fell to pieces,

in different places fell her hands,

her legs, her body.

Then Huitzilopochtli was proud,

he pursued the four hundred gods of the south,

he chased them, drove them off

the top of Coatepetl, the mountain of the snake.

And when he followed them

down to the foot of the mountain,

he pursued them, he chased them like rabbits,

all around the mountain.

He made them run around it four times.

In vain they tried to rally against him,

in vain they turned to attack him,

rattling their bells

and clashing their shields.

Nothing could they do,

nothing could they gain,

with nothing could they defend themselves.

Huitzilopochtli chased them, he drove them away,

he humbled them, he destroyed them, he annihilated them.

Even then he did not leave them,

but continued to pursue them,

and they begged him repeatedly, they said to him:

"It is enough!"

But Huitzilopochtli was not satisfied,

with force he pushed against them,

he pursued them.

Only a very few were able to escape him,

escape from his reach.

They went toward the south,

and because they went toward the south,

they are called gods of the south.

And when Huitzilopochtli had killed them,

when he had given vent to his wrath,

he stripped off their gear ,

their ornaments, their anecuyotl;

he put them on, he took possession of them,

he introduced them into his destiny,

he made them his own insignia.1

And this Huitzilopochtli, as they say,

was a prodigy,

because only from fine plumage,

which fell into the womb of his mother, Coatlicue,

was he conceived,

he never had any father.

The Aztecs venerated him,

they made sacrifices to him,

honored and served him.

And Huitzilopochtli rewarded

those who did this.

And his cult came from there,

from Coatepec, the Mountain of the Serpent,

as it was practiced from most ancient times.2

***************************************

1 The meaning of these last lines is particularly eloquent. When Huitzilopochtli defeated and killed his brothers, he took possession of their insignia and attributes and he introduced them into his own destiny. For the Aztecs this was an anticipation of their own future. They too had to take possession of the riches of others to introduce them into their own destiny.

2 Florentine Codex, book 3, chapter I. Translation by M. Leon-Portilla.



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