Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jeudi: Great Spirits

The Aztecs of what is now known as central Mexico, and the Toltecs they claimed as ancestors, believed that the earth had not four but five directions. The fifth was a straight line bisecting the island Earth and was known as one of their greatest goddesses: Coatlicue "Serpent-Skirted Goddess". The other directions, north south, east and west, were her sisters and they met nightly on Coatepec - "Snake Hill" - to relax, meditate and adorn themselves for the next day with necklaces of white feathers.

But this seemingly playful, introspective maiden was only one form of the great divinity the Aztecs called their mother. As Patricia Monaghan points out in her book Goddesses and Heroines, Coatlicue had something of the maiden/mother/crone aspect known in other mythologies. She was life giver and destroyer, kind and cruel all at once.

Coatlicue was said to have been the first sentient being. She floated for untold years in the shiny abyss of space, creating the stars and presumably the sun to light the void. The sun noticed the beautiful goddess only after many millenia, and then he took her as his bride, making her the Queen of the Moon. This is just one mythos that makes Coatlicue a mother goddess. In another, perhaps less ancient tale, Coatlicue is impregnated while still a virgin by a sprinkling of jade. She then gives birth to a son: the savior god and feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl.

In yet another myth, Coatlicue is not the moon, but the mother of the moon. One of her star children, her daughter Coyolxauhqui whose name means "golden bells", got wind of a rebellion among her sisters and brothers. The stars plotted to kill their mother and Coyolxauhqui defected, informing on her siblings and giving Coatlicue time to plan a counter attack. When the Serpent-Skirted Goddess had wiped out half her progeny, the remaining stars turned on Coyolxauhqui. They dismembered and left it for their mother to find. In another version of the story, it was the sun god who murdered Coyolxauhqui. In her grief over the death of her faithful daughter, Coatlicue took Coyolxauhqui's head and hung it in the sky, where it became the moon.

The darkest aspect of Coatlicue, the bringer of death in all its forms, has been depicted in statuary. Here she is an old woman wearing a necklace of hands and hearts with skulls at her waist, a skirt of snakes and a flayed human skin draped over her body. In the most famous statue now on display in Mexico City, she also wears an enormous headdress in the form of a snake.

With the invasion of Europeans and the holocaust of disease and enslavement that followed, Coatlicue became two separate spirits to the descendants of the mighty Aztecs. She was Tlaltecuhtli, a hideous toad whose appearance foreshadowed trouble and death. But she was also Tonan the gentle mother and healer who would eventually be syncratized with Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As Ms. Monaghan so wisely notes, when it comes to goddesses, a people will rarely give up its own entirely. So it is with Coatlicue, the Serpent-Skirted Goddess, is to this day recognized even if by other names...

Header: The Coyolxauhqui Stone showing her dismembered body via Wikipedia. The Stone was discovered in Mexico City in 1974 and the archaeologists who found it were so overwhelmed that they sang a hymn to the goddess on the spot.

1 comment:

Timmy! said...

Great story, Pauline... And it is just as plausible as any other creation myth.