Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oh My Goddess!*
The Great Mother of Teotihuacan
A Note

Near Mexico City is the great ruin of the city of Teotihuacan, which was a major metropolitan centre from c. 0-650 C.E. The city with its quite impressive architecture and its two huge pyramids, one called the pyramid of the Sun, the other the Pyramid of the Moon, has been the object of much speculation and an enormous amount of spade work over the years. One of the perennial questions has been the nature of its chief God. Well it appears we have an answer its chief God was a Goddess.

The idea has been put forth since the mid 1980’s and is a development of previous ideas of the nature of the chief God of Teotihuacan. In essence it appears that the central deity of Teotihuacan was an earlier version of the Goddess wife of Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue, the water goddess.1

Now pantheons in which the chief or presiding deity is female are very much the minority in human religion. Perhaps the best example in modern religious belief systems is the Shinto faith which has as its chief deity Amaterasu-┼Źmikami, the Sun Goddess who is also the goddess of the Universe.2

The usual pattern of human religious belief is to conceive of the chief or presiding deity as male. Even monotheistic faiths, although they tend to strongly de-sex the deity generally think of God has masculine / he, rather than female. The de-sexing is done because in a monotheistic faith to conceive of God or thee God has male is to diminish “him” in some fashion so that God is de-sexed to make “him” even more omnipotent.3

In the case of Teotihuacan it was thought by many for quite a while that the chief God was the rain god Tlaloc. This was because the iconography associated with the god was seen to be that of Tlaloc.

However it should not be thought that Tlaloc at Teotihuacan was necessarily a rain god. Most books about the religions of Mesoamerica contend that the name of the rain god Tlaloc comes from the Nahuatl word Tlaloc meaning to run as in rain running or failing. This may be an error the name Tlaloc could instead come from the Nahuatl word tlalli meaning earth.4

What it shows is that a “rain” god or goddess was not necessarily conceived of as just that but also as an earth or fertility figure . In the case of Teotihuacan it seems like the central deity was an earth mother goddess, associated with rain with as a spouse a “storm” god that seems to be similar to the later God Tlaloc.5

We don’t know the name of the deity but it appears likely that she was the ancestress of Chalchiuhtlicue, if not actually, the spouse of Tlaloc. Like him she was a deity of rain and earth and crops, although at this time she was the dominant one in the pair and the principal deity of the state.

Perhaps a memory of the time when she was the dominant deity is preserved in the myths of the suns. In Mesoamerican myth there have been 5 suns with a separate sun dominating each separate world before its destruction and then the creation of a new world with a new sun. In the myth she presided over the world of 4 water, the previous world to the 5th sun the Aztecs felt they were living under. That world was destroyed by flooding.5

Chalchiuhtlicue was a goddess of birth and commonly shown with twin boy and girl children issuing from her vagina with a gush of birth waters. The fertility aspects of the deity are obvious in that water also fertilized fields giving rise to “children” in the form of crops. Chalchiuhtlicue was considered very important in the rites surrounding birth and death in that death was considered a type of birth. The Goddesses name Chalchiuhtlicue meant she of the jade skirt, so she was commonly shown dressed in such further she was almost always shown with two short black lines down her lower cheeks.6

Now the storm god at Teotihuacan, who was probably a form of Tlaloc most often shown with ringed eyes, a upper lip with what could be a moustache a water lily hanging from his mouth and a five knot headdress and a long tongue. The identification with the later god Tlaloc is mainly from the portrayal with ringed eyes a characteristic that the god Tlaloc had when the Spanish came.7

The Storm God, "Tlaloc"

In the case of the goddess at Teotihuacan the previous identification with Tlaloc came unglued when it was noted that that the figure had a frame headdress with a bird at the center. The face and hands were yellow with a mask and nose bar.

The key indications of femininity aside from the female style skirt she was wearing was the presence of spiders and spider imagery. In Mesoamerica spiders represent weavers and as such were considered symbols of women and activities specific to women. That the deity is dressed in the female skirt called a huipil rather than male garments and that the priests were attending her were also so attired would appear to indicate that the deity was female.

In Mesoamerican ritual and cultic practice the priests while performing rituals on behalf or for a particular deity would dress has that deity. That being the case the in this matter since the figures that appear to be priests are dressed in female garb the deity must be female.8

Thus we get the following extraordinary image of the goddess:

The Goddess and her Attendants

The Goddess
Detail of Above Image

The Goddess and her Tree
Drawing detail of above Image

She carries in her headdress a bird that is probably the celestial bird of creation and from her headdress and or back erupts two intertwined tree branches that spread into more tree branches they are both yellow and red. The yellow probably symbolizes earth and the red both blood and water. For the Mesoamericans thought of water has symbolically the blood of the gods. And blood like water that nourished the ground and man and beast, nourished the gods. In the branches are butterflies and spiders. The spiders represented the essential femininity of the goddess and the butterflies probably played into her role has creator.

The tree emerging from her back is laden with flowers and is dripping water, which is also blood. The goddess is standing with her arms extended and from her hands a liquid, probably water / blood, drips with jade ornaments intermingled. She is wearing a skirt with bits of jade in it. Thus showing perhaps she is an earlier form of Chalchiuhtlicue. Her mouth is hidden by a large nose piece and mask. The mask she wears on her face has spider parts in it. From her mouth gushes forth water / blood and also water / blood seems to issue forth from under her skirt, like birth waters and birth blood. And in the resulting flow, shell fish, plants and animals live and grow. There is an upside down U shape that likely symbolizes a cave.

She is flanked by two priests who wear garb similar to hers and from whose hands it appears that blood / water and offerings are given to the goddess.9  

Another image of the goddess is similar in that it shows her with the same headdress with the arms out stretched with jade ornaments and water / blood issuing from her hands and wearing the spider parts mask. In her headdress like those of the previous depiction are images of human hearts.

The Goddess

The Goddess
Reconstruction of Above Image

The cave imagery is important because it appears that the pyramid of the Sun the largest pyramid at Teotihuacan had a sacred cave under it associated with birth and it appears a sacred spring. In other words a place of birth. So it appears possible that the pyramid of the Sun was dedicated to the Goddess.10

This is no beneficent kindly mother earth goddess. Although she provides for her worshippers she requires sacrifice likely in the form of blood offerings at least occasionally and likely the occasional human sacrifice.

As mentioned above the Mesoamericans associated water with blood and blood with water. Images showing water were had the double meaning of also implying blood. Thus life giving water was also the stuff of life – blood.

Thus the imagery is of life giving blood and water and of the need to feed the gods in that just has man needed blood / water to grow his crops so did the gods need blood / water to sustain themselves. And so long has the gods got this they would continue to sustain man and the earth.

Certainly this is no mild female deity but a fierce, dominant deity whose ferocity is shown by the spider parts mask she wears and the human hearts in her headdress. Yes she is beneficent but she has needs from her followers as indicated by the human sacrifices found in the pyramid of the Sun.11

Paradise of the Goddess

In one of the murals of Teotihuacan just below a mural of the goddess is shown what appears to be a paradise yet several of the figures in it show water / blood issuing from wear their hearts should be and one image seems to show a heart sacrifice. It appears that what we are being shown is at least in part the paradise that awaited the victims of human sacrifice. In this case the paradise of the goddess who rewarded those who gave their lives for her sustenance.

Human Sacrifice in Paradise

Like life itself even the beneficent goddess had her dark aspect to the people of Teotihuacan and her femininity was no proof against them. Just like life requires death so too did the goddess require death to give life.

A Last Look at
The Paradise of the Goddess

 * Oh My Goddess!, was a famous Japanese manga and anime about an ordinary Joe who just happened to have his own goddess. See Oh My Goddess!Wikipedia  Here.

1. Miller, Mary, & Taube, Karl, An Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, Thames and Hudson, London, 1993, p. 60. .  Pasztory, Esther, Teotihuacan: An Experiment in Living, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK, 1997, pp. 73-94.

2. AmaterasuWikipedia Here.

3. See Eilberg-Schwartz, Howard,  God’s Phallus and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism, Beacon Press, New York, 1994. 

4. Davies, Nigel, Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, Penguin Books, London, 1982, p. 83.

5. Footnote 1.

6. IBID, Davies, p. 221.

7.  Pasztory, p. 86, Coe, Michael, & Koontz, Rex, Mexico, Sixth Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 2008, pp. 114-115.

8. IBID, Pasztory, pp. 86-87.

9. IBID.

10. IBID, pp. 91-94.

11. IBID, pp. 116. See previous posting Here.

Pierre Cloutier.

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