Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

Deviant Art: Aztec gods

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I haven’t done one of these in a while, so here we go! Today I’m featuring some cool art of Aztec gods/goddesses. If you like the art, be sure to click on over to Deviant Art, to check out the other work these fabulous artists have made. One of these was an illustration for one of my short stories, published in Space & Time Magazine. I’ve also included some brief discussion of the mythology behind each god.

Coyolxauhqui Moon Godess by Cangrejo-Volador on deviantART

Coyolxauhqui is the sorceress sister of the war god Huitzilopochtli. The story goes that when her mother became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli, she sent her brothers to kill her, but Huitzilopochtli sprang from his mother’s womb fully-grown and slew his brothers. He then chased his sister into the mountains, and when he finally caught her, he chopped her into pieces and tossed her head into the sky to create the moon.

Tezcatlipoca by doingwell on deviantART

Tezcatlipoca, also known as the Smoking Mirror, is the god of darkness and deceit, of sorcery and war. He’s credited with helping Quetzalcoatl create the earth by tearing the earth monster Cipactli in half, and during that task, he lost his foot, which he replaced with a magic obsidian mirror. It is also said that he and Quetzalcoatl constantly battled each other for supremacy in the Heavens where they would knock each other from the sky, causing the end of the world each time (the Aztecs believed the world had ended four times, and a fifth time was not that far off).

Jade Bones by MartinHanford1974 on deviantART

Mictlantecuhtli was the god of death and the ruler of the Aztec underworld, Mictlan. All those who didn’t die at the sacrifice would have to walk the road into Mictlan once they died, and to buy their eternal rest, they had to cut out their own hearts and give them to Mictlantecuhtli. The god of the dead wasn’t considered a very smart god; in the old tales, the god Quetzalcoatl traveled into the underworld to steal some bones to make the new generation of humans, but Mictlantecuhtli wouldn’t let him have them unless he could play a rock like a flute. Quetzalcoatl convinced some worms to eat holes in the rock, making it into a flute, and foiled Mictlantecuhtli’s plans.

Our Lord the Flayed One by DougDougmann on deviantART

Xipe Totec was the god of agriculture. He was known as the Flayed One because it was said that he had flayed himself to make the crops grown, and so every year the priests would flay a sacrificial victim and wear the skin, to honor this sacrifice.

Huitzilopochtli by AdriansWall on deviantART

Huitzilopochtli is the Aztec god of war, and in addition to his origin story already told above, he is also credited with leading the Mexica (the Aztecs) out of slavery in Aztlan, and told them that they should build their capital where they found an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake. Said eagle was eventually discovered on the island where Tenochtitlan was built out on Lake Texcoco. He and the rain god Tlaloc were the highest gods in Tenochtitlan, each having a temple atop the Temple Mayor in the heart of the city.

Tlaloc by DougDougmann on deviantART

Tlaloc the rain god was perhaps the most important and oldest deity in the pantheon. He poured rain from jars in the clouds and oversaw Tlalocan, the paradise where those who drowned went after they died.

Yo tambien Desaparecere by LiamSkitso on deviantART

Quetzalcoatl, also known as the Feathered Serpent or Precious Twin, was the god of civilization; he gave humanity life with his own blood, and he gave them the arts of writing and calendar-keeping. He was the light to Tezcatlipoca’s darkness, which was why they were always at odds. He was the founder of the priesthood, and the highest priests took his name for their title. He was also believed to be the father of the royal bloodline through Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, the legendary priest-king of the Toltecs.

Tezcatlipoca, Fantasia-style

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Tezcatlipoca the Smoking Mirror gets a pretty bad rap in The Bone Flower Throne, though I think that changes some with the next book, where we get to see more of him “in the flesh”. I just found this small animated movie about Tezcatlipoca, done in the style of Fantasia, and it’s both charming and beautiful. I wish it went on further than it does (and brought in Quetzalcoatl as well), but I couldn’t help but smile while watching it.

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: Three Tellings (Mythology)

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The Bone Flower Throne takes place in the mythical-historical world of 10th century Mexico, at the beginning of the Toltec Period. In the south, the mighty Maya Empire was in sharp decline, and the major civic and religious center in the Valley of Mexico–Teotihuacan–had been abandoned for at least a hundred years, leaving a handful of small city-states around the valley to vying for supremacy. Eventually, the city of Tollan (Tula) would emerge as the powerhouse, lead by her priest-king ruler named Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl; a man shrouded in mystery and controversy.

Who was Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl?

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl

Legendary Priest-King Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl

England had King Arthur, Mesoamerica had Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. He was a legendary ruler who united all the city-states under his rule in Tollan and infuriated the gods when he outlawed human sacrifice. There are numerous stories about his life, where he came from, and how he died (or in some cases became the Feathered Serpent god Quetzalcoatl), each one as different as the next, but his importance as a cultural hero is irrefutable; the Mexica emperors of Tenochtitlan claimed to be his blood descendents, holding his throne in anticipation of his promised return, and some sources even claim (erroneously) that the Emperor Moctezuma thought Cortes and his men were Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and his followers returning from exile.

Not much is known–historically-speaking–about the Toltecs and their famous king, for much of what we know was passed down orally by the Mexica, and like many before them, they likely twisted and changed the tellings to benefit their own interests. Tollan is an actual place though, with magnificient ruins that include Atlantean  warrior statues and numerous temples decorated with reliefs of eagles and coyotes. The word “Toltec” means “artisan” in Nahuatl, and all the archeological evidence found in pottery and sculpture supports that attribute. It’s unknown if Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was ever a real, historical figure but the Mexica and many other tribes treated him as such.

My favorite source for the myths of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl is the book Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs by H. B. Nicholson. It is the single most comprehensive collection of the stories about the legendary priest-king, drawn straight from the original Nahuatl sources. If you have an interest in Topiltzin, I highly recommend it, to get you started. Below are some of the myths that informed my own vision of the world portrayed in The Bone Flower Throne.

Juan Caños Relaciones

This source is a mixture of two known sources which were thought to derive from a third unknown source of some antiquity. It takes its name for Juan Cano, who petitioned a Franciscan monk to prepare the account, in an attempt to trace the true lineage of Doña Isabel, or Lady Tecuichpo, daughter of Emperor Moctezuma. Below are the parts that relate to Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.

After the gods created mankind at Teotihuacan, the Chichimeca group moved to a town called Teocolhuacan and elected their first ever leader, Lord Totepeuh, who has a son he named Topiltzin. Totepeuh though is soon after assassinated by his brother-in-law, who steals Teocolhuacan’s throne for himself.

To properly honor his departed father, Topiltzin buries his father’s bones and builds a temple atop them. This move angers his uncle, but when the man comes to kill him, Topiltzin shoves him down the temple steps, killing him. With his father avenged, Topiltzin takes back the throne of Teocolhuacan and rules there for a number of years.

Inspired by the gods, eventually Topiltzin gathers his followers and takes them on a fourteen year journey that ends when they finally reach Tollan, which is only then a small Chichimec settlement. Topiltzin and his men build it into a grand city, and he rules prosperously for twelve years.

But trouble is brewing; during those twelve years, he’s forbidden anyone to perform human sacrifices in Tollan, and the gods Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca have taken note of this blasphemy. They demand he start offering human sacrifices again, or get out. Mysteriously, instead of dealing with them as he did with his uncle, he decides to abandon Tollan without any kind of fight. He goes to Tlapala and within two years, he’s dead and everyone mourns for him. Except Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, who are still angry and so don’t allow anyone to rule Tollan for almost a hundred years. Eventually, they permit a blood relative of Topiltzin, a man named Huemac, to take the throne, but his reign ends in disaster when a monster attacks and drives most people from the city.

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl

The Feathered Serpent god Quetzalcoatl

Histoyre du Mechique

This is a french copy of a famous lost manuscript once written by Fray Andrés de Olmos.

Topiltzin is born under the name Quetzalcoatl, to the god Camaxtli and the goddess Chimalma, but as the gods are prone to do, Chimalma dies giving birth and so Quetzalcoatl is raised by his grandparents. When he’s reunited with his father and brothers, the latter–in a fit of jealousy–plot to kill him, first by trying to set him on fire, then shooting arrows at him.

He escapes both murder attempts but refuses to burden his father with the knowledge that his own brothers are trying to kill him. However, when their father confronts the brothers about it, they kill him, and this time, Quetzalcoatl gathers his friends and together they kill his treacherous brothers. To celebrate their victory, they get intoxicated drinking liquor from cups made from his brothers’ skulls.

Once they recover from their revelry, they head for Tollan. Once there, Quetzalcoatl becomes a celibate priest and instructs them in the proper methods of ritual sacrifice, and, in turn, they worship him as a god for the next 160 years.

But then the god Tezcatlipoca arrives to liven things up. He can’t stand Quetzalcoatl (whom he’s adamant isn’t a god at all), so he steals Quetzalcoatl’s rain-making mirror and vandalizes the temple. He then torments the people by transforming into various monsters, showing off how much more powerful he is than Quetzalcoatl. But after he beats up the temple attendants, Quetzalcoatl flees Tollan.Tezcatlipoca follows him though, taunting and attacking him everywhere he tries to settle.

Eventually, Quetzalcoatl can’t take it anymore. He flees into the desert and commits suicide by shooting himself with an arrow. Beside themselves with grief, his followers cremate him, and the smoke gathers in the sky to create the planet Venus.


Atlantean warriors in Tollan.

Anales de Cuauhtitlan

This is a complication of various stories from different sources within the Basin of Mexico and Pueblo, with the details often conflicting with each other. Below are the aspects of these tellings that influenced the story in The Bone Flower throne.

The woman Chimalman becomes pregnant with Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl after swallowing a turquoise or jade stone. His uncle Ihuitimal rules Tollan while Topiltzin is young, but once he dies, Topiltzin takes the throne. He grew up a very religious young man and carries this over into his rule, building all kinds of temples and penance houses, and offering only sacrifices of butterflies, snakes, and birds. He keeps himself out of the public eye during his reign, remaining sequestered away to live the proper life of a celibate priest.

Angry about the lack of human sacrifices going on, Tezcatlipoca, Ihuimecatl and Toltecatl plot to drive him from Tollan. Tezcatlipoca sneaks past the guards into Topiltzin’s private sanctuary and shows him his own reflection in an obsidian mirror. Topiltzin is shocked to see how old and ugly he’s become with the years. Claiming to help him feel better about himself, the gods dress him in feathers, to make him beautiful again, and they prepare a magnificent feast. After much effort, they convince him to sample the octli (pulque) and he finds it so delicious that he puts away four cups and insists all his attendants try it as well. With everyone drunk and having a good time, Topiltzin calls for his “sister”, the priestess Quetzalpetatl, and takes her away from her ritual fasting so she too can try the octli. They spend the night neglecting their religious duties, drinking and making merry (and possibly doing other things he’d sworn off as a celibate priest….).

Once dawn comes though, Topiltzin is beside himself with guilt and, having failed at his religious duties, he decides he can’t be ruler of Tollan anymore. Taking his attendants with him, he leaves, but he fails to find anywhere that gives him the joy and love he felt in Tollan. Grieving all he’s lost, he dresses himself in his finest clothes and jewelry, then he sets himself on fire. His burnt heart rises into the heavens as the Morning Star.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come for more of the myths of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and the various gods.

Want to win a digital ARC of The Bone Flower Throne? Click here for details. Contest ends Tuesday September 3rd.

deviantART: Eades, Herrera, and Gaillet

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I spend a bit of time each day on deviantART, searching for artwork to add to my slide-show desktop, and let me tell you, there’s a ton of really good art out there. I’d like to share the best stuff I’ve found, along with new stuff as I find it. I like art a lot; I used to do some drawing and painting when I was younger, and once had starry-eyed dreams of being a Disney animator. I still dabble a bit (and you can see some examples of my recent art here), but I’m in awe of the sheer talent to be found on websites like deviantART. Mostly I look for Aztec or Mayan-inspired work, but sometimes I come across some really stellar fantasy and science fiction work. And who knows, maybe the cover artist for your next self-published title is over there waiting for you to find them. I’ll post three new artists every Friday, to start the weekend off. I want to respect owners’ copyrights and so will only post art that the artist has allowed deviantART to offer embedding code for. If there is no code available, I’ll still talk about the artist but will instead include links to their work on deviantART. Be sure to click on the pics to see their full galleries and prepare to be blown away.

So, onto the art!

Mauricio Herrera

Quetzalcoatl 2.0 by *el-grimlock on deviantART

Mauricio Herrera does a lot of really cool fantasy and science fiction art, and he’s quite prolific. I’ve been following his account on deviantART for a couple years now and he posts new work every few weeks or so. He also has some speed-painting videos available on YouTube, where you can see him work on a digital painting from start to finish; it’s quite remarkable to see, even with the increased video speed to fit it into a watchable video. Herrera has done a number of Aztec mythology paintings, including these ones of the Tzitzimime and Tezcatlipoca. I hope he does more in the future; would really love to see his take on Huitzilopochtli or an ahuitzotl. He’s a native of Chile and has done work on prominant video games like God of War.

Carolina Eades

Tepeyolotl by *Carolina-Eade on deviantART

Carolina Eades is another fantasy illustrator from Chile. I really enjoy the darkly whimsical quality of her work, and I imagine she could create really cool covers for weird western books, particularly my series starring Mextli, when I get around to writing those novels–or at least fixing the one I’ve already written. Maybe someday…. She does a lot of art for card games and RPGs, and her work is just fantastic. I think if Realms of Fantasy were still around, her artwork would have been right at home in there.

David Gaillet

With the moon as witness by ~DavidGaillet on deviantART

When I saw this one, I was just…wow! Seeing more of his work produces more of the same reaction. David Gaillet is a french illustrator from Toulouse, France, but beyond that, I don’t know much about him, other than that he’s wildly talented. Even the stuff that treads on familiar territory has its own provocativeness that makes you want to stare at the fine detail for a very long time. He has a facebook page where he occasionally posts work.

Have a good weekend, everyone, and next Friday I’ll showcase three more artists.