The Life-cycle of a Tezcatlipoca Ixiptla; the Rendering of Teotl

New Alexandria, 2005
In memory of Charles Irvine Hiltzheimer III

"There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles." -Frank Herbert, Dune

The Aztec world was filled with the ever-present 'teotl' - a presence of what is often known as 'divinity' or 'deity.' The Aztec's had great reverence for the approach to the divine that the 'teotl' concept brought them. From it they constructed an array of rituals that envisioned and situated the Aztec state.

Among the more peculiar of these rituals are those surrounding 'ixiptla' of a teotl-form, namely the transient incarnation of 'god' by a chosen human. The ritual of a human ixiptla was consummated by the sacrifice of the human in a public ritual. The Spaniard's reaction to this practice portrayed an image of the Aztecs that has taken a great amount of scholarship to go beyond.

In order to better understand the impression this ritual had upon the minds of Aztecs this text paper shall investigate many details of the ixiptla ritual in order to situate the reader within the context of Aztec life. The Tezcatlipoca ixiptla will be used to illustrate the many dimensions of this practice, as the teotl-form is one who in 'changing place' had a distinct impact and presence across all levels and reaches of Aztec culture.

To the Aztecs, Tezcatlipoca represented the ideal conception of teotl, and thus the ideal model for the life of the state and the aim of individual within it. The life of the human ixiptla within this context will be portrayed from the ritual, religious and cultural dimensions.

Consideration of the life of an ixiptla, and the reoccurrence of the ritual, will frame a kind of 'research' performed by the priestly and ruling class in their attention to and exploration of teotl. The discussion shall help inform a view of teotl's forms and the way that state-sponsored ritual realized these forms to all social levels, thus establishing the Aztec 'empire' via poetic expression.

Ixiptla and Teotl Up to Top

The presence of Tezcatlipoca, as we shall explore, is so widespread that there are many worthwhile places to begin. As I shall spend a notable portion of this work discussing the ways that Aztec's saw Tezcatlipoca take form, it seems most right to first present 'teotl' and 'ixiptla.' I will present a range of historically documented conceptions of these terms and attempt to frame a more thorough consideration of them.

Let us first consider the human ixiptla - that person whom was treated as Tezcatlipoca. The nearly ubiquitous treatment of this Nahua word in historic academic texts is as "impersonator." I find that Anderson & Dibble's translation that teotl was "given human form" (Sahagún, II:66) is in contradiction to the concept of an "impersonator."(Carassco, 34) 'Impersonate' being a falsification, while 'given' implying an allowance. Hvidtfeldt notes that it is the widely-used Anderson-Dibble translation of Sahagún originates the interpretation of ixiptla as "image" or "impersonator," likely from ixtli meaning 'face.'(Sahagún, II:87)

Soustelle's presents that in ceremonies "it was the god himself who died before his own image and in his own temple." (Soustelle, 8) and that the ixiptla was a "god-presenter." (Soustelle, 104, 110) This informs a perspective that the ixiptla was more an 'incarnation' than "impersonator". (Tomlinson, 270) The ixiptla was a source point through which a form of teotl, such as Tezcatlipoca, emerged. It is supported by the notion that a painted image is a presentation of a thing, and not a separate representation of that 'real' thing. Alfredo Lopez Austin's statement of "teteo imixiptlahuan, ... men possessed by the god..." can still hold in the context of teotl 'emerging,' in that 'possession' proposed to occur due to the great force of the divine being made manifest - greater than that nature of the individual human, thus they lost themselves to the expression of it. (Carrasco, 46)

I lay a position different from the interpretation suggested by statements such as the ever-common 'impersonator' and Carrasco's statement that "many ceremonies involved human beings in whom the god became encapsulated." (Carrasco, 46) The notion of 'encapsulation' does not correspond to interpretations presented by himself and others - that place and space were mutable and of open expanse. Certain sites, humans, or conceptual wholes could be ascribed to having strong bearing upon a teotl-form, but they did not limit it. I choose, instead, to work with the concept of 'emergence' - that teotl would express itself through a certain 'synaesthetic agglomeration.'

It is important to keep in mind, here, Hvidtfeldt's clarification that "in many cases teo- at least clearly and incontestably involves the semantic aspect of 'high potency, intensification, excellence'" (HvidtFeldt, 78) it is surprising to then see him seemingly forget this when he disregards the -tla suffix as a possible component of 'ixiptla.' In as much as my background is not in Nahua, I offer that this may be incorrect. He notes that 'tla means "A place where there is an abundance of" the thing that is denoted in the word-stem. This element of abundance is quite present in the 'bundling' concept ascribed to ixiptla, and offers confirmation to my assertion that an ixiptla was an bundling (i.e. an abundance of) all that was the teotl-form, and little or no presence of anything else. Thus the 'bundling' that is commonly connected with ixiptla of human or non-human form is in itself an intensification, and not merely and drawing together.

Such an agglomeration may be either a natural formation (cave, storm, etc.) an architectural construct (temple, arena, social corridor, etc), statue, or individual human (in poetry, war, rulership, ixiptla). Each of these agglomerations are not identified through a single element, but are critically composed of an array of sensory experiences, involving semi-orchestrated movement (dance, battle, etc), audible expression (war calls, song, instrumental music, etc), and symbolic presence of the human body, natural formations (mountains, lakes, etc) and the architectural elements that echo (as in a temple) or are conjoined (Tenochtitlan on the lake, etc).

Elements of the ritual scene then became the channel through which teotl expressed itself. It became 'place' as much as a teotl-form was understood to manifest through it. Teotl may take presence in two ways: it may fully engage a 'site' temporarily (as during the life-span of an ixiptla), or would vibrantly engage an 'element' of a 'site - perhaps just in someone's voice during a poetic reading, or in a dancers body, or just a part thereof. But just as a person's voice, only, may be the element of the 'site' of the body through which teotl expressed itself, a ritual scene involving many humans may be the 'site' of a teotl-form's expression, emerging transiently like a dance in itself, through elements of the scene (human participants, architecture, and the fixed terrain or random events of nature).

Teotl was not 'mimicked,' 'acted out,' or 'impersonated' by anyone or any thing; it could be expressed through some one or thing but it was not 'encapsulated' or 'contained' there. Let us consider that the usage of teotl is so often based on the translation of Hvidtfeldt, who used the concept of 'mana' to underlay his interpretations. Particularly, he describes something that is "outside the common processes of nature." (Hvidtfeldt, 19-21) Though Hvidveldt make no further affirmation of this component of his assumptions, he neither denies it. I thus bring attention to it in order to punctuate the notion that the 'teotl' of the Aztecs was a natural and inherent part of the world, and in no way outside or absent from life.

A thing 'had' great teotl the longer that it could continually manifest it. Natural features and events proved they could do this in their continuity and perseverance. A human could be identified with teotl by their endurance in performing a certain role; ruler, warrior, priest, artisan, farmer, etc. These roles represented patterns that created a greater whole, and as such were teotl-forms themselves - and thus the worship of 'gods' for each of these stations. The more challenging it was to endure in a role the more venerated a person was for the teotl they manifested. But to falter in the position was the same as the teotl not being present.

Let us consider a song recited by a priest-doctor in healing a patient's broken bone. The poem invokes Quetzalcoatl as though the doctor were he, and references Quail saying "what are you doing here?" The broken bone was not an accident by the person whose body had become injured - it was Quail's teotl expressed in the world. This is in agreement with Carrasco's assertion that the Tezcatlipoca ixiptla (and I would suggest any teotl ixiptla) was a human xochicuicatl - "flower and song" - an excellence of aesthetic form upon the earth.1 We will revisit this line of thought after we have built more awareness of the social context within which it happened.

Selecting the Ixiptla Up to Top

Warfare was a sacred part of Aztec society. Besides its practice for defense and hunting, it was a venue to capture enemy warriors as a way to exhibit one's prowess. Such captives, since they illustrated the greatness of the Aztec state, often became ixiptlas for ceremonies of human sacrifice. We shall look into the dimensions of human sacrifice later. For now let us move forward with the knowledge that the captive warrior selected to be the ixiptla of Tezcatlipoca was a prominent figure. The captive warrior was one who held a high social class before capture, and had exceptional physical form. Around 10 captives were selected as potential ixiptla of Tezcatlipoca, all prominent figures. After one had been selected to become the ixiptla the rest were slain. (Sahagun, II:66) Sahagun's informants give the most complete sense that we have on the nature of the selected person's appearance. The description is a negative attribute list - describing at minimum what the future ixiptla was not to look like:

"he was like something smoothed, like a tomato, like a pebble, as if sculptured in wood; he was not curly haired... he was not rough of forehead... he was not long-headed... he was not of swollen eyelids... he was not of enlarged eyelids, he was not swollen cheeked... he was not of downcast face, he was not flat-nosed: he did not have a nose with wide nostrils, he was not concave-nosed... he was not thick-lipped, he was not gross-lipped, he was not big-lipped, he was not a stutterer, he did not speak a barbarous language. He was not buck toothed, he was not large-toothed, he was not ugly toothed... his teethe were like seashells... he was not cup-eyed, he was not rounded-eyed, he was not tomato-eyed; he was not of pierced eye... he was not long-handed; he was not one handed; he was not handless; he was not fat fingered... he was not emaciated; he was not fat; he was not big-bellied; he was not of wrinkled stomach; he was not shrunken-stomached... he was not of hatched-shaped buttocks. for him who was thus, who had no bodily blemish, who had not mark, ... there was taken the greatest care that he be taught to blow the flute, that he be able to play his whistle; that at the same time he hold all his flowers and his smoking tube. (Sahagún, II:67)

Induction Up to Top

Warfare was a sacred part of Aztec society. These captive warriors were secluded in cells held within a walled ceremonial center, and attended to by civic servants. Those that met the necessary criteria would be reviewed by the priests of Tezcatlipoca, to determine their suitability and prepare one for the Feast of Toxcatl - when he would become ixiptla. Around 10 captives were selected as potential ixiptla of Tezcatlipoca, all prominent figures. After one had been selected to become the ixiptla the rest were slain. (Sahagún, II:66) In grooming an ixiptla, he would be taught to play the flute, behave courteously, talk elegantly, (Olivier, 194) to move and be present with countenance and majesty (Carrasco).

When the existing ixiptla of Tezcatlipoca was sacrificed the one who had been groomed to take his place was immediately inducted via a ceremony at the temple of Tezcatlipoca. Among the first major experiences of the new ixiptla was to wear the flayed skin of the previous ixiptla, as part of the rites to inheriting his role. Shortly thereafter he would appear before the tlatoani (king), who had been fasting and secluding himself until this moment since he was without an ixiptla to carry his prayers.

If this were a time that a new tlatoani was being enthroned then a part of that ascension would include a ceremony where the new ixiptla was introduced to the tlatoani. The ixiptla is structured to inspire and "animate" the tlatoani, and to make the ruler both his seat as well as his flute. As well, the tlatoani is informed that he is both backrest and flute to Tezcatlipoca. The call and response occurs in a continuous manner until the tlatoani submits to this fate and cries aloud his acceptance of it. (Olivier) Otherwise, the tlatoani would receive him as his adored-one, and lavish him with praise and gifts.

The Scene of the Year Up to Top

During the year the ixiptla would receive continuous instruction from the priests of Tezcatlipoca. He was given great allowance to travel about the city where he liked, accompanied by an entourage. In these travels he was highly revered. As he went he played the flute, smoke a pipe, and partook of the aroma of flowers. Flowers represented the presence of the poetic magnificence of the world, and formed an intimate aspect of teotl's realization within the world. He would have the honorific allowance of smelling the center of the flower - all other Aztecs were allowed only to smell at the edges.

Music, particularly that of the flute, was the vehicle for all prayer. Olivier recounts stories of how the Aztecs asserted that without the gift of song they could not commune with the gods, and thus they would be left in turmoil (Olivier, 218) The sound of this flute playing would at times cause those that had committed murder, thievery, fornication, and other transgressions to repent - praying and burning incense for the days of the festival.

Smoking was another way for the individual to connect to the essence, perhaps the teotl, of a material or immaterial thing. The smoke may have been tobacco, or could have been a more intoxicating blend. As he went, people addressed him as 'our lord,' (Carrasco) bowed and ceremonially ate the dirt in a sign of respect. Women presented their children to him in salutation, and by women in general he was called "tall one, head nodder, handful of stars." Everywhere he wen he danced and made music, unless he was graciously greeting people with great pomp. (Olivier).

In these travels about the city he visited Quauhxicalco, where he blew his flute and offered copal. This was the temple that held the so-called calendar stone, so popularly imaged today. He also traveled to the marketplace, where he would sit atop a momoztli (small building). These momoztli were also in some street crossings, and were adorned with flowers that were replaced every fifth day. (Olivier)

Throughout the city occur other cultural events that surround the ixiptla's travels - while he may not have necessarily interacted with each of them. Sick children would be entrusted to the priests of Tezcatlipoca, who would dress them in the way of the teotl-form (i.e. after the manner of the ixiptla) Within Tezcatlipoca's temple was a chamber that held a statue representing the teotl-form. The chamber included an altar that was approximately 6 feet tall, upon which rested a wooden pedestal on which the idol was seated. Priests who had attained sufficient rank to attend to this very special object would perform rituals here day and night during the year. We will return to the scene of the temple as we look at the events of the Feast of Toxcatl.

Styles of Dress Up to Top

Based upon a collection of images, statues and written sources we can get a glimpse of what the ixiptla may have looked like when conducting himself on the streets of Tenochtitlan. We ahve Olivier to thank for collecting some many descriptions of the Tezcatlipoca in his many forms. The ixiptla's hair was worn long, down to the waist. (Sahagún, II:66) His body would be painted black - a coloring that was likely to always cover the extremities, but at times his whole body may be colored as well. His head and face would be painted with three jet black stripes and two of gold. Sometimes he would wear a labret in his nose, made of snail shell or crystalline beryl with a green or blue feather.

About his head he would wear a feathered headdress. Sometimes this would be adorned with flint knives, or yellow feathers with golden stars, and other times simply feathered with quail plumes. His head would be circled in a band of burnished gold, with ear painted with smoke and and aigrette with a bundle of heron feathers. His ears would be pieced and hold golden shell ear plugs, or shell pendants would hang as earrings. About his neck hung a necklace of seashells, or turquoise stones.

Cape with blue knots, tied at tis corners hung around the neck (tzitzilli). Sometime this cape would be black and white with a white border adorned in white, black and red flowers and decorated with plumes - or a red mantle with skulls and crossbones. The ixiptla would wear a breastplate of gold adorned with seashells and unraveled fringe. As well he sometimes wore a jacket with a design, eyelets on its borders and feathered fringe. On his back he carried a quetzal-feathered vessel and a mosaic mirror held at the small of the back. His navel held a turquoise, at times.

His upper arms were adorned in bracers are of gold, though when he later goes to Tepepulco he will wear bands of flint knives. upon his lower legs were bracers of gold, or otherwise gold shells. The golden shells may instead be on the feet, round and pear shaped, and they may be in great number in order to rattle. Most commonly he wore white or obsidian sandals. At some time a deer hoof was tied to his right foot. Feather balls would decorate his feet, particularly when he traveled outside of Tenochtitlan as Toxcatl approached, as this was his time as a warrior.

In one hand he carried a shield with feather balls and low-hanging paper flags. The flags (pantli) are warrior symbols and are associated with sacrifice. At other times he carried a white shield with five balls of cotton forming a cross; four arrows emerged from the shield. During his times representing a warrior he would carry four arrows in his right hand, or a spear thrower (atlatl). There may have been some times where he carried a large arrow with feathers and flint stone (a "god's staff, Teotopilli), but the sources are unclear. As well he may be seen carrying a fife-like instrument and a fan of heron and crow feathers. Duran describes the fan as being of blue, green and yellow precious feathers, emerging from a brilliantly polished mirror of gold. This mirror has a viewing hole in the center of it, through which one may look and observe the world.

Besides his mirror the ixiptla would sometimes wear an anahuatl or carry a tlachieloni, both facilitating his capacity for visions. The tlachieloni is a scepter with a round medal was perforated with a small hole. Tlachieloni means 'lining sight', as the hole would be looked through to make observations of the world. This medal was made of gold and polished to a mirror. An anahuatl is a circle in the shape of a ring, from which two cords with dove-tailed ends hang

The these presence of teotl that these adornments brought and the willful meandering taken by the Tezcalipoca's ixiptla presented him as "a true god, whose abode was everywhere - in the land of the dead, on earth and in heaven." (Sahagún, Book I) His mirror is Itlachiayaque "Place from which he watches" (Duran, 99) "It is as if smoke, mist arose before thee." Sahagun, Book 6) Thus he could see into the heart of everything, including trees, rocks, etc. Thus he was the "Lord of the near and of the far", "night, wind", capricious one", "tyrannical one" "we are his slaves" "knower of people" "adorner of people" "the enemy" "the enemy on both sides" "the mocker" "by virtue of whom one lives" "creator of man" (Sullivan)

Next transformation Up to Top

After the human's initial transformation into an ixiptla, he would transform again. At one point during the year, Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla would be taken before the tlatoani once more. He was adorned repeatedly, arrayed and given gifts with great pomp. The tlatoani took to him as a beloved.

These gifts formed the basis of the ixiptla's next stage of "transformation into the ruler's god;" Tezcatlipoca (Carrasco, 35). His head was pasted with eagle down and popcorn flowers, and he was arrayed with "the flowery stole." Golden shell pendants were placed on his ears and turquoise mosaic plugs were inserted in the lobes, a shining seashell necklace and white seashell breast ornament were draped on his neck and chest; a snail lip pendant was inserted in his lip. Hardly an area on his body escaped transformation. Golden bracelets covered his upper arms while turquoise bracelets covered almost all his forearm. A net cape of wide mesh with a fringe of brown cotton hung above his costly breechcloth, which reached to the calves of his legs. His legs were covered with golden bells above obsidian sandals with ocelot skin ears.

Thus the tlatoani's rendered Tezcatlipoca to the ruler's preferences and desired image. "His god" i.e. his rendering and vision of the teotl's form within the city-state. (Carrasco) Thus he became living symbol of physical, cultural and imperial splendor, and presented himself in the pathways of the city again for the people to behold the ruler's beloving of Tezcatlipoca.

Appearance in Other Festivals Up to Top

During the feasts of Teotl Eco and Quecholli, in particular, Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla carried a xonecuilli - a curved stick adorned with stars. The xonecuilli is echoic of the constellation Ursa Major, and is illustrative of his command over it during the time of year in which those festivals occurred. After this he hands it off to Huitzilopochtli, whose ixiptla is seen brandishing it during the festival of Tititl. (Olivier, 206) The events of Quecholli occurred, to some degree, in parallel with Toxcatl, and the former had strong erotic overtones. At it sat the ixiptla of four goddesses who were likely to be the wives of the Tezcatlipoca ixiptla.

During the feast of Uey Tozoztli (immediately preceding Tozcatl) Tezcatlipoca wed his four wives; Xochiquetzal (her plumage blooms - fertility) [sister of xochipilli, wife of Tlaloc], Xilonen (young maize ear), Atlatonan (patron of the deformed & lepers), and Uixtocihuatl (salt & salt water, older sister of Tlaloc). At this marriage the ixiptla hair was cut to the two-level style of a warrior and he changed his garments and adornments to those of a warrior as well.

He then stayed with the women for 20 days, performing all aspects of life as though married, including pleasure and ritual union. This was the time period between Uey Tozoztli and Toxcatl, and were the last 20 days of the life-cycle of the ixiptla. During four of the last five before the end of Toxcatl (Olivier, 212), the Tezcatlipoca ixiptla and the four ixiptla wives danced, sang, and distributed food and gifts at specific sites. In this time the ruler secluded himself within his royal palace. (Olivier, 194) They visited four ceremonial locations: Tecanmen; where the ixiptla of Titlacauan was guarded; in the middle of the lagoon at Tepetzinco, then on the fourth day at Tepepulco3. This movement is a unification of the ritual landscape (Carrasco)

Let us give some note to who these women may have been. There are suggestions that the wife ixiptla were of noble blood within the Aztec imperial state. In their impregnation by the Tezcatlipoca ixiptla they would bear into the ruling bloodlines the strength of the teotl. Olivier recounts evidence supporting this (Olivier, 212). However, he also recounts information which suggests they could have been prostitutes. Perhaps there were not always suitable noble wives available, or the lord giving his wife may not have been compulsory.

Regardless, after their merriment and unification, the entourage moves off the land into the waters. The act further depicts the everywhereness of the Tezcatlipoca teotl - being on the water, which nurtures and threatens the land in its capriciousness. While his wives console and encourage him, they all travel to a place called Acauilpan (or Cuatepec). After arriving on land near Tlapitzahuayan, the "place where wind instruments are played," the women separated from him and he is escorted by his guardians and servants only.

However, while this is happening, the Feast of Toxcatl has already gotten underway...

The Feast of Toxcatl Up to Top

Toxcatl was the fifth 'veintena' of the year. It is during this festival that the present ixiptla sacrificed and a new ixiptla chosen. In the European calendar Toxcatl is generally believed to have occurred mid-to-early May. Perhaps the most overt aspect of the festival was the ending of the dry season. At this time fields were burnt for re-sowing.

The first public events of the festival began with a personage of the teotl-form (priest or slave) adorned as Tezcatlipoca emerged from the temple. Holding flowers in one hand and a flute in the other, he blew on the latter in each of the four directions. All present, hearing the sound, then ate soil in respect. "They wept and asked the wind and the night not to abandon them, or at least to shorten their earthly suffering." (Olivier, 195). Those who had concealed misdeeds cut themselves, that these transgressions would be revealed and their lives alleviated. The warriors addressed Tezcatlipoca, the sun, Huitzilopochtli, Cihuacoatl, Quetzalcoatl and the utmost form of teotl to grant the success in battles to come.

The walls all about the temple precinct were covered in flowers, and the courtyard and steps of the temple had agave leaves placed upon them.

On this first day of the celebration a representative (human or statue - we are unsure) of Tezcatlipoca was carried on a litter by priests dressed in the way of the teotl. The litter was adorned with pieces of yellow, green, blue and red cloth. Priests burned incense to the representative on the litter, and at each incensing all present raised their hand to the sky as high as they could, just as the smoke rose, sending prayers to the heavens. Young men and women emerged from the temple - the arms and legs of the young girls were covered in read feathers, and their cheeks painted. All of the youths were dressed in the same manner as the priests. They surrounded the litter with thick twisted ropes of grilled maize, and distributed necklaces of grilled maize and flowers to the lords. The procession was led by two priests, who burned incense. Followers of the procession flailed themselves with agave ropes. Participants offered flowers to the young men and women, who passed them on to the priests.

Later, the priests would place these flowers in the room of the idol / bundle, and in the temple courtyard. Devout persons also offered pieces of cloth, precious stones, resinous wood, copal, maize ears and quail - which they had promised to Tezcatlipoca.

The priests would decapitate the quail by hand, and then toss the bodies of the birds at the foot of the altar. Food offerings were kept in the apartments of the priests. After all had been given and distributed the gathered people went home to eat.

(The following day?) Women, who had promised to bring food to the temple, delivered these things to the priests at the temple. At noon, young girls who had been secluded during the ritual and painted their mouths' black, brought the food dishes to the foot of the temple stairs. This procession was led by an old man, who then led them back to their rooms. After the girls had left, the young men arrived with temple officials, and they carried the food to the rooms where the calmeca teteuctin (high priests) had been fasting for five days. Only these priests were allowed to eat the offered food.

(on another day?) The people from the city gathered once again within the temple compound. Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla, fully adorned, presented himself at noon and was sacrificed.

People then went to Ixhuacan, where young people played music. Priests and lords danced and sang while holding a rope made of roasted maize. When night fell the young girls were again led by the old priest to the courtyard in front of the room where Tezcatlipoca's statue was kept. They carried with them a mixture of amaranth and honey that was bundled in a cloth adorned with skulls and bones. Young men threw arrows at these bundles and then raced to get to them so that they could keep them as relics. The first four to arrive received awards. The young men and girls were then authorized to leave the area. When they did young students from the schools hit them with bags full of galingale, and teased them. This ended the Feast of Toxcatl.

Olivier offers the interpretation that the arrow-throwing and racing of the young men was a symbolic training to perform warfare and capture the enemy - an enemy who may in time become a sacrificed ixiptla. The remains of the ixiptla would constitute a sacred bundle - the tribute of warfare.

Following the feast of Toxcatl began the feat of Etzalcualiztli, dedicated to Huitzilopochtli (who was a mirror of Tezcatlipoca in their solar capacities).

The Last Act Up to Top

The entourage returned to the mainland and abruptly traveled 15 miles to the ceremonial center of Chalco, south of Tenochtitlan. According to Chimalpahin, Chalco was organized into four communities oriented to the four cardinal directions, with the Tlacochcalco temple as the center of the Chalcan kingdom.

There his entourage left him and he ascended a small temple called Tlacochcalco, which he ascended of his own free will to where he would die. As he went up be broke his flutes and whistles ont he steps. The 'pace' then increased as he was grabbed by the priests and thrown on his back over the stone, had his breast cut open and heart taken from him and raised to the sun in dedication. The heart was raised with hands as high as possible "offering its steam to the sun" (Duran, 107) The ixiptla's body was carefully lowered from the temple, its head cut off, emptied and hung on the skull rack.

Olivier summates much evidence that the individual performing the sacrifice was the tlatoani himself, and that in Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla being 'a king's god' the tlatoani was symbolically sacrificing himself

It is unclear to me whether several of Carrasco's assertions hold weight; chiefly, breaking of his flute may not symbolize a "return to the image of the warrior" but rather may be only a ceremonial ending of a method of expression. As the flute and whistle is a part of the teotl's expression then to sacrifice the ixiptla with them intact may have been felt to imply a death to the expression. Thus the vehicles of that expression of ceremonial broken in order to ritually 'close' them as a route for expression. Now all that remains is the perfect body of the teotl ixiptla, prepared to offer itself (blood. heart. et al) for the continuity of life.

Had the meaning of "this life betokened our life on earth. for he who rejoiced, who possessed riches, who sought, who esteemed our lord's sweetness, his fragrance - richness, prosperity - thus ended in great misery. Indeed it was said: "No one on Earth went exhausting happiness, riches, wealth." (Sahagún, Book II)

Carrasco's interprets this in the context of the ceremony being upheld by the state, and the undertone of "ought-ness" in rhetorical orations of huehuetlatolli from elder to youth. He offers that those that seek and find the greatest of life were also destined to slip from those vantages in their death on earth - and that it was their duty to walk as boldly to that "misery" as one did to the "richness, prosperity." This is perhaps what is suggested by "No one on Earth went exhausting happiness, riches, wealth" - that such things were for those of the Earth, and they did not die with the human beholding them.

Post Ritual Up to Top

The sacrificed ixiptla would be flayed, and they skin distributed to the main personages within the city and new ixiptla, the latter of which (at least) would wear the skin around as part of the rites of the inheriting his role.

The clothes of the sacrificed were kept in a box that was covered with a cloth. These were much venerated, and those that came to the home of the owner would find them at the entryway of the home, and would themselves revere and adore the box. Were the owner to die, the cloth, box and its contents were to be cremated or buried with them.

The clothing worn by the ixiptla during the year were preserved with great care in a box or basket that was also covered with a cloth of Tezcatlipoca. This presented a tlaquimilolli. Duran describes that inside with these clothes was also kept ornamentation, bracers, and other adornments. There were included explicitly for their presence, and were not used else-wise.

The femur of the ixiptla was held by the warrior owning the slave that became the ixiptla. The bone was adorned by a 'vest' made of cords and strung with heron feathers. This bone formed the core element of Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla bundle. the bundle would be used at times of war to bring force and fortune to the battle.

Lopez also brings focus to another reason for the death of an ixiptla - that the death was a ritual renewal of the teotl. Were the teotl not to die it would diminish in a corporeal aging process, as all that lives upon the earth is seen to do. Thus the teotl was always experienced in the vibrancy of its nature. The experience of teotl is clearly that of a great force, and the transience is ritualized through the life cycle experienced by all on the earth.

This ritual may inform part of our understanding why the tlatoani fasts in seclusion until the arrival of the new ixiptla. The previous ixiptla has broken his flutes upon the steps of the temple, and in doing do perhaps has 'broken' and unmade who the tlatoani was in the previous year. This could serve to alleviate the tlatoani of any transgressions he had performed, and give him the opportunity for renewal; to be reborn as Tezcatlipoca within a new ixiptla.

Renewal Up to Top

Ritual renewal was thus the way for a thing to maintain its teotl over the course of its life-cycle, and perhaps most conspicuously this entered consideration for the life-cycle of a tlatoani. Olivier asserts that the ritual life-cycle of enthronement presented "the mythical stages lived by their tutelary gods," of which included Tezcatlipoca. The enthronement ritual preceded and culminated in the creation of the bundle, tlaquimilolli. (Olivier, 78) Moreover, Olivier brings light to an interesting association between the tlatoani and Tezcatlipoca's year-long ixiptla; that the vestments of the ruler's enthronement "illustrate his transformation into a sacred bundle," and as well express, "his passage inside the ground before his 'rebirth' as a sovereign." (Olivier, 80-81)

Lending credence to the tlatoani's rebirthing we may consider Hvidtfelt's translation of this passage from the Feast of Toxcatl in the Florentine Codex: "At that time, in these days,/ nothing more is known about Motecuçoma," then he add in parenthesis "(Motecuçoma does not appear at all)" (Hvidtfelt, 88) I offer that to the Aztec people, highly aware of this pivotal feast, the theatrical yet poignantly public disappearance of their tlatoani would shift all attention of rulership to "our lord" Titlacahuan / Tezcatlpoca's ixiptla. Whom, during this time of increased attention is sacrificed, his skin flayed and worn by the new ixiptla - the latter of which then goes to greet and 'call out' into public life again the tlatoani. The tlatoani, is later known to also wear the skin of the previous ixiptla. It would be all-too-symbolic if the tlatoani's skin-wearing were to have happened following his re-emergence (if only the historic sources were so detailed!). Hvidtfeldt himself indicates that for the tlatoani to be represented by the ixiptla is a possible as a direct linguistic interpretation of Sahagún's account. (Hvidtfeldt, 89)

Meaning of the name "Toxcatl" Up to Top

Olivier collects a wide array of interpretations for the name of this feast and veintena. Several popular interpretations each refer to a "dry thing," that which is withered or lacking water. "Toxcatl" is also name of the twisted rope of grilled maize under during the ceremony. Other attempt to develop the topic further through references cultural artifacts and homonyms. These include the glyph of Toxcio being a maize braid with corn kernels tied to it, the word Tozcatl meaning 'collar,' tozquitl meaning 'voice / chant / throat,' and a root verb toxana meaning 'to spread maize / beans / soil.' The latter is proposed by Nuñez indicate that Toxcatl would mean "sowing." Serna conveys the feast's name as Tochcatl, which he proposes means "effort" based upon the old root ochtilia, which means to strive. Moreno proposes that Tozcatl could be an old form of Tezcatl, meaning mirror. As well, other names ascribed to the feast translate as imply incense, fumigation and smoke. The naming of this feast by cultures surrounding the Aztec state have similar allusions.

In light of the smoothly interpenetrated nature of the poetic form that was the aim of all Aztec life (xochicuicatl), I will explore the possibility that most, if not all, of these renderings are relevant to understanding a facet of the feast and its relationship to Tezcatlipoca. Maize is presented both as dried husks and as kernels being sown. These 'opposites' sit comfortably together considering Tezcatlipoca's presence as a force of renewal, among the most potent to the Aztecs. His calendrical feast is represented by the day 1 Death - and a skull, a known symbol of death and renewal. As well, he is the whirlwind who holds life (rains) and death. This life-bringing capacity is also alluded to by two of his wives having a relationship to Tlaloc; Xochiquetzal at times appearing as Tlaloc's wife and Uixtocihuatl being Tlaloc's older sister.

The maize being braided into a circle not only denotes the continuity of life, but as well it may connote the teotl's name Titlacauan, meaning "we are his slaves." That the voice emerges from the throat, around which any collar would be placed, is nicely dovetailed here, and complements the 'effort' and 'struggle' that the Aztecs undertook in the reverence of the Tezcatlipoca teotl. Further, it may not be too much of a stretch to consider the casting and sowing of seeds to be echoic of incensing, fumigating and smoking. Thus the Aztecs may have been attempting to 'smoke' the land in sowing maize to keep in step with Tezcatlipoca's 'changing of place.'

Landscape of ceremony Up to Top

Place is not a fixed construct, but rather is a thing derived of terrain, social, architectural (labyrinth-like), and calendrical domains. Many pieces portray the city-state as we know a theater, the cosmos a projection of the human body, and the human body understood in terms of general cosmic processes. It was the living human form of teotl, power hierarchies and natural forces, each moving through the landscape, that constituted the presence of the aztec "theater-state". Most significant anatomical metaphors to these processes were the head, heart, hair, blood and eyes. Carrasco and others state that much of the basis for ritual was in observation of motion - the eyes both feeling and conveying the essence of power.

Lawrence Sullivan discussed synaesthetic unification of the senses as unifying the experience of body, state and cosmos. (Carrasco, 38) Rys Isaac's concept of a society leaving marks upon of meaning (buildings, streets, ceremony, any and all remnant) further depicts the domains within which the Aztec mind was situated. The relationship of architecture with the land speaks of the large social relationship with the world. As well, it speaks to the relationship formed in the meeting of Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla with those seen by him, and the transformations experienced by all in the actions of the ixiptla.

Tezcatlipoca becomes a representation of unity in the Aztec state, a vehicle for its growth, and a constancy amidst ever-present change. Thus the smoking (ever changing and unclear) mirror (reflection of individual, social, imperial and cosmic whole). Carrasco presents that ixiptla's movements present a "vision of place organized by powerful transformations, metamorphosis; a vision of place in which the terrain of the sacred is not concentrated, limited or restricted to one or several locations." (Carassco, 40)

Similar to the meandering footprints in Aztec codicies, Tezcatlipoca's movement alters our direction of vision and create striking juxtapositions, which synaesthetically unify to form a conception of place - of a multi-scale whole. This is in line with Tezcatlipoca's description as being a capricious teotl who changed places and forms.

Sacred Body Up to Top

Tezcatlipoca was the god of whirling things; tornados, whirlpools, & hurricanes. Hunt proposed as well that as the god of all directions this includes the whirling of the sky and its stars. At the center of this celestial whirling is the pole stars, which she proposes to be the body of Tezcatlipoca. The constellation we call Ursa Major. It is built from the case that the black (star-less) circle of the ecliptic pole is the teotl's smoking mirror.

We may note that to the Maya, Tezcatlipoca was known as Hurakan, from hum (one), ra (third person possessive), kan (leg). The origins of our word Hurricane. (Hunt 241-2) "He has one leg" - so which is the leg, the one with the foot or without? Consider the metonym of the whirling sky of stars. At the center of the movement is the smoking mirror - all else moves about it. In connection with the human body, all else would be traversed by Tezcatlipoca's one human leg. It can take steps, but only in circles as the other leg, being without a foot, cannot take steps. The steps taken with the one foot move as the seasons and the sky; they 'change place.'

This interpretation complements the name of Tezcatlipoca's mirror being Itlachiayaque, "Place from Which He Watches", and the notion that he could see all by looking into the mirror. By looking at the movement of the night's sky & stars one could divine life on earth. In seeming confirmation, the Borgia Codex depicts Tezcatlipoca with all 20 day-signs attached to his body. Movement (earth) is on his cheek. Flower (sun) comes from his mouth. Jaguar on his human foot, alligator (cipactli, earth monster) on his smoking foot. His hair is reed. Somewhere around his center torso (stomach?) is flint knife. From his bowels or rear end sits House. The front of the loin cloth is the snake (i.e. phallus) while the rear of the loin cloth is Wind. Monkey is off his earring or held on his back. He also bears an elaborate customary piece, which contains several day signs on it; death, a bird, and two animals. (Hunt)

Into the Earth Up to Top

There is a story where the "earth monster" bites of the foot of Tezcatlipoca. Some depictions show an alligator / "earth monster" image with a foot in its mouth, signifying this relationship. This story of Tezcatlipoca's 'missing' foot may be grounded in his relationship to the constellation Ursa Major. In souther latitudes one of the stars of Ursa Major disappears due to the change in vantage on the celestial sphere. (Hunt, 153) The disappearance of a star from the constellation and the change in place on the earth go hand-in-hand. Thus, the star's disappearance is idiomatic to the earth, in its forms.

Several translation sources associate foot mutilation with sexual transgressions. As well, the word yecoa translates both in terms of carnal relations and war making. These are also placed alongside several stories in which the amputated foot of Tezcatlipoca bring fire (to man, the earth, etc.) Thus, the story of Tezcatlipoca entering the mountain Popocatepetal3 and it thereafter being volcanic as an account of impregnation of the earth. (Olivier, 264)

This is reinforced by another fertility aspect of Tezcatlipoca: that the roaring of the jaguar is felt to exist within the mountain (earthquakes et al), and as the thunder of storms. According to Ichon the Totonacs say that "It is only when the four Thunders have answered each other that the rain can start." The voice of the jaguar is thus a herald of coming fertility.

The jaguar's spots are rendered as stars, and are often depicted with the 'eye' symbol connected to stars and other such points. Codex Bodley contains a depiction of a jaguar bearing a house upon its back. House is associated with the observation of the sky, thus the jaguar (and Tezcatlipoca) is the ruler of such motions and the wisdom that arise from their realization.

Olivier indicates that the jaguar is associated with the darkness, stars, Ursa Major, the moon and the Earth - all of which in Aztec though are "merged with the unsettling image of the cave, the favored residence of the feline." The cave being, as well, an obvious rendering of 'house' supports the portrayal of Tezcatlipoca's actions as framing the 'house of the earth.' The teotl's force transforming all that exists under the roof of the cosmos.

By themselves, these pieces may suggest that Tezcatlipoca's amputated foot is an allusion to an amputated sexual member. The suggestion is potentially reinforced by stories throughout Mesoamerica of certain women and female figures possessing teeth within their vagina, much to the ruination of careless males. Olivier provides a host of cultural stories from the areas that make this association difficult to dispute, let alone overlook. (Olivier, 264)

Skin-wearing, in the nature of Xipe Totec, denotes a ripening in the manner of husking corn, or similar. (Thompson, 145) Thus the final removal of the skin of the previous ixiptla would present the ripening of the ixiptla wearing the skin. Similarly, the disrobing of flayed skin has been shown to be indicative of the drawing of the foreskin in procreation. (Garibay, 180) Therefore, the final removal of the flayed skin from the ixiptla may be indicative of the emergence of the genitalia (male & female) from the prepuce during infancy - another affirmation of the ixiptla's life-cycle being a maturation process.

These pieces alone cast a rather new light on the nature of Tezcatlipoca within the scope of Aztec society. However, Graulich's presentation that the Aztec's viewed copulation as war, and birthing as the taking of captive, presents an additionally poignant vantage. (Olivier, 264) I propose that it lets us see an aspect of Aztec life that may have ranged from subliminal to overt - yet have been missed by historical reconstruction: that Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla, being a captive, was thus a child. Warfare for his capture was 'sex,' i.e. the intercourse of city-states practicing "sacred warfare."

From this new perspective we can consider the ixiptla's life-cycle to be a maturation of the empire from infancy to sexual potency. The marriage to his four wives near end of his life-cycle is indicative of his arrival to adolescence Olivier's historiographic analysis leads right up to this conclusion so well that is it a wonder that he did not take this next step. In fact, one of Hvidtfeldt's translations of Sahagún's account of the Toxcatl feast also affirms the Tezcatlipoca ixiptla becoming a 'child of the state:' "Its (Toxcatl's) beginning was Tezcatlipoca's great festival,/ there was born (shaped), there was erected/ in order to die there/ his ixiptla...." (Hvidtfeldt, 85-86)

Bundling Up to Top

A passage from the ceremony or Toçozontli may given further insight, now, into the nature of the 'bundling' that was at the ocre of an ixiptla. Hvidtfeldt translates "and he removed the flesh which was still left/ on the captive's hip-bone,/ and (took) a string-coat/ to which was fastened a small heron plume./ And the hip-bone he thoroughly wound with paper,/ provided it with a mask./ And this was called (a) captive-teotl. [... malteotl]" and then follows up with his own comment "For the hip-bone originated from a captive he had taken and who had been sacrificed." (Hvidtfeldt, 82)

Based upon my previous point of captives and birthed infants being identical and bundles (ixiptla) being the 'incarnations' of teotl, I present that even though the hip-bone came from a captive that the ceremony of wrapping it in paper is akin to wrapping up a new-born baby and that the hip-bone has "captive-teotl" because the priest has ceremonially 'birthed' it.

An interesting and verifying parallel to this 'birthing,' and the life-cycle it speaks to, exists in the ceremonies held for Huitzilopochtli. In rituals pertaining to Huitzilopochtli warriors compete to win bits of amaranth dough. Then "they carry with them the dough of amaranth seeds which they have won,/ take it home with them,/ for it is really their captive, they eat it,/share it with their families/ and their neighbours in the street,/ eat it together." (Hvidtfeldt, 131) Considering that Huitzilopochtli yearly life-cycle is considered to be something of a twin to Tezcatlipoca's this episode portrays a distribution of captive-teotl that connotes the life-cycle of Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla.

If there is any doubt of this let us revisit the end of the Feast of Toxcatl, wherein young boys throw arrows at amaranth bundles that had been set in place by young girls, and race to the bundles in order that they may win prizes (and take the bundles home?). In light of the similitude between birthing and child and taking a captive we may consider the amaranth bundles to be 'birthed' by the young girls and boys. The children are ultimately practicing for their later ritual roles in society; the women who will birth children and the men who will, under the banner of Huitzilopochtli, take human captives to become Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla.

Here we have a view of the many cultural levels that bundled teotl could be experienced across. Participation was something that involved people at all levels, and thus may have been seen as the 'life-blood' of the culture. Certainly the importance of offering human blood in 'birthing' ixiptla reinforces the metaphor of blood within the 'cultural body.'
Research Up to Top

The process alluded to reinforces the notion that there is a kind of coherence being enforced through ritual practice. That the decorating and adornment of a person, place or thing in the ritual objects & practices was not ornamental. Rather it 'decoration' was to be illustrative of the person, place, or thing's absence of all else that was not the nature of the teotl's pattern. It is as though the 'bundling' of an ixiptla is a process of lessening. It removes all else that is not indicative of the teotl, rather than packing together *more*.

Thus, the use of a living human allows a special form of incarnation to occur, where teotl is enabled to manifest in direct human form. This is different than 'distributed' human form of a society, or body-less / body-abstract in nature. When nature did things it took a form of body, ala Austin's assertions. Giving a body as ixiptla to a teotl-form was reverence of it (allowing it human incarnation) as well as 'research' of it, that it may be more effectively worshipped, for the benefit of all.

My opinion founded upon the potential of human choice, the capability of divine-inspired poetic and musical emergence, immersion of the ixiptla in majestic beauty of social ritual, and the freedom from future prejudice or psychological complication afforded by the guarantee of sacrifice. The latter being somewhat like the transformation of identity possible in role-playing, but pushed 'over the top' by the timeliness of the experience.

In his endnotes Carrasco offers a compelling piece for considering that a kind of 'research' was being enacted. He states that it is "seeing of the ceremony and images [ixiptla] of the divine, that stimulates the senses most persuasively and leads to new knowledge or a special quality of knowledge." (p.55) I feel the focus of enacting Carrasco's "synaesthetic crossing of sensory inputs" through a human form is founded in a desire to perform a kind of 'research' - a scrying of the nature of a teotl-form. A practice undertaken by the priests, from their vantage of watching detailed difference of enactment chosen - drawn out, I suggest - by generation after generation of ixiptla as they undergo these transformations.2 Performing this kind of 'research' through the life-cycle of Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla places it not only in the broadly graspable framework of a lifetime, it also portrays it through the life of the 'god of gods' (or 'teotl of teotl'?) and the vitality of the Aztec state.

The view of a 'research' that is being performed may inductively draw us back to legendary Teotihuacan. It was there that the "gods were born in darkness" and that the state-sponsored practice of human sacrifice was created. Thus the dual origin of teotl ("gods") and ixiptla sacrifice may be more inextricable linked than previously considered.

Notes Up to Top

1: "Xochicuicatl." It is not much of a stretch to propose that this word be considered a kind of 'skeleton key' into Aztec consciousness. Its poetic meaning encompasses an ever-present aspect of the 'ideal' life. As with most, if not all, Nahua words 'xochitl' (flower) and 'cuicatl' (song) encompass broader range of metaphors than Western consciousness often invests in a single word. Xochitl presents all fertile blossoming, aesthetic unfolding and nutritive solar potency. Cuicatl conveys the ever-changing kaleidoscope of personal and cultural emotions rendered into timeless song that ever moves body and earth with its rhythm. In truth of poetic form, these are only my attempt at these words, but I feel they draw together many of the more prominent associations. Thus the word xochicuicatl is, at very least the hope of, a transcendent and transformative aesthetic perfection upon the Earth.

When considering the meaning of the complex and venerated Aztec word 'xochicuicatl' it is important to consider Gordon Brotherston assertion that "the valences of words in lyrical nahuatl, especially focal terms like 'xochitl' are so different from those available in Indo-European grammatical patterns as to make translation a hatchet affair".

Perhaps more correct to identify the difference in terms of conceptual handling and fusions, rather than grammatical pattern. Garibay's device of the 'difrasismo,' or diphrasis, consisting of "joining two metaphors which together yield the symbolic means of expressing a single thought" may offer a direction for thought in using often-written Indo-European language in the rendering of xochitl. (Tomlinson, 264)

Tomlinson speaks to the "inconceivability of the Cantares in the Nahua mind" in terms of the fixedness that a book text would impart upon a mind where "the existence there of other valences between utterance, inscription and the world" was the cornerstone, which "challenges at a deep level expectations of linguistic commonality that are basic to our usual modes of historical understanding" (Tomlinson, 267)

This paints a picture of rendered form, regardless of media or other dimension, that in itself was evocative of Tomlinson's "songish" expressions, rather than being bounded by alphabetic grammars or conceptual consensus. (Tomlinson, 266) As well, it is suggestive of worldly forms whose physical or dynamical morphology was depicted loosely through image or dramaturgical stage.

Where Tomlinson offers "what we might imagine as Nahuatl's ephemeral, immaterial orality, that is probably seemed to the indigenous speaker something more like a voluminous intersection" of the many worldly and cultural aspects of life, Gruzinski complements with the suggestion that beyond written and spoken expressions is an "architectural, iconographical, choreographical, liturgical, musical, ornamental vocabulary that makes doubtful and inevitably partial an attempt at an exegesis in our writing." (Tomlinson, 268) In the spirit of these contemplations I have attempted to present a spectrum of forms from the life of the Aztecs, in hopes that it may holograph an awareness often left unstructured by the topology of languages.

2: Here is also an undertone of an argument against a cosmologically-enforced hierarchy, based on the conceptions of the divine (teotl) interpenetrating all material things. In such a framework there is no 'top,' and perhaps this was some of Ahuitzotl's intention with allowing commoners into 'high ranks.' He may have been acknowledging the ability for teotl, as real and strong as that which 'built' the Aztec imperial state, to emerge from any person.

3: Map of Mexico Valley

Bibliography Up to Top

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  • Nicholson, I. Firefly in the Night. Faber and Faber Ltd, London. 1959
  • Schultes, Hofmann & Rästch. Plants of the Gods. McGraw-Hill, 1979
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New Alexandria 2005