Demolition Myth

03 March 2014 Comments Off on Demolition Myth


If you recall the Kojiki column from a few weeks back, you’ll remember my comment that most creation myths begin with a progenitor deity manifesting from the primordial chaos and begetting the first (and usually most influential) gods—who then try to create a paradise for themselves (and not the mortals, mind you—in Sumerian myth, mortals were in fact created for the explicit purpose of doing the dirty work that gods found beneath them) and usually end up with a gigantic bleeding mess. Such was the case for the principal gods of Aztec mythology, who managed to create not one, but a full set of five worlds—and also managed to run all but one into the ground (this is one reason why the Aztecs took their blood sacrifices so seriously: they had lost four worlds already, and sure weren’t intent on messing up the fifth). This week will be devoted to this ragtag bunch of deific misfits, and their adventures in world creation and destruction (mostly destruction).

The Aztec creator-gods are not a divine couple, as is the case in many creation narratives, but a set of four brothers—Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec and Huitzilopochtli—who, despite their clashing personalities (Quetzalcoatl despises human sacrifices, which the other three can’t get enough of) and only a boundless ocean to work with, prove to be surprisingly capable creator-gods, although their initial efforts are quickly foiled by their first nemesis, Cipactli, a giant crocodile with extra mouths on its joints and a great hunger for anything that the brothers can create (Aztec mythology features some beautifully creative monster designs; another fan favorite is the ahuizotl, an aquatic dog-thing with a hand on the tip of its tail, with which it captures people and eats their eyes, teeth and nails—and absolutely nothing else). At home in a world that lacks any substantial landmass, the oceanic monster foils every effort to capture and slay it—until Tezcatlipoca, having noticed that only divine flesh would entice the beast to surface, fishes out the creature with his own leg and kills it after a hard-fought battle (this is another example of Chaoskampf, a mythological motif involving the battle between a hero and a primordial monster—comparable battles are fought between Zeus and Typhon, Thor and Jormungandr, Marduk and Tiamat, and Set and Apep).

The body of Cipactli proves to be ideal material for creation efforts, and Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca rapidly fashion the world out of this carcass (another parallel with Tiamat here, and perhaps also with Ymir and Purusha). Unlike Tiama’s head and Ymir’s eyes, however, Cipactli’s corpse is no good for the creation of a sun, and a god must step up to the task—and here Tezcatlipoca again sacrifices himself, becoming the first sun of many to come. He botches this and becomes only half a sun, but this is apparently good enough for the world, and everything is fine until Quetzalcoatl gets jealous of his brother and knocks him out of the sky (note here that Quetzalcoatl is the single “peaceful” god in Aztec mythology, which should speak volumes about what the rest of the bunch are like). In retaliation, Tezcatlipoca has his jaguars (the jaguar is the sacred animal of Tezcatlipoca, and he is sometimes depicted in that form) eat everyone, and this is the way the world ends: Not with a bang, but jaguars.

But the gods are all up and kicking, so they create a new one from scratch, and it is Quetzalcoatl’s turn to be the sun. This world, too, turns out pretty well (these four are actually really good at creating things; now if only they didn’t destroy them at the drop of a hat…), but the people eventually forget to worship the gods, which obviously is grounds for divine punishment.  Tezcatlipoca judges humanity and finds them lacking, and their punishment is to turn into monkeys, which doesn’t sit well with Quetzalcoatl, who loves humanity—so he shows his love by creating a great tempest and killing all the monkeys. Onward to take three, then.

The third sun is a newer god, called Tlaloc, who reigns over water and is infamous for demanding the sacrifice of babies, whose tears remind him of the rain he adores (this never really sat well with me since, well, he’s a rain god—he could just, you know, make it rain). This world, too, is off to a good start—until Tezcatlipoca seduces Xochiquetzal, Tlaloc’s wife, sending the rain-god into a depressive episode with no sign of recovery. Since Tlaloc’s main job is to maintain the water cycle, his absence means a permanent drought, and soon enough desperate worshippers start petitioning for the resumption of rain, much to his annoyance. Still heartbroken, poor Tlaloc eventually has had enough with humanity’s complaints and decides that, hey, if they want rain, he’ll give them rain.

Then he makes it rain fire until everyone dies.

Chalchiuhtlicue, the second wife of Tlaloc, is the next to take up the mantle of the sun, and the first goddess to do so—and her reign is a particularly pleasant one, since she bears no ill will toward people. But Tezcatlipoca again ruins everything, this time by confronting the goddess and claiming that she has become too vain and proud, maintaining a kind façade only to gain the worship of mortals. The world gets destroyed in the ensuing Facebook drama, as Chalchihuitlicue, despite being kind and loving, is still an Aztec goddess—and Aztec goddesses can do things like crying blood for half a century, until every human on the planet drowns under a torrent of divine ichor (in other accounts she merely creates a great flood, but also transforms people into fish as an act of mercy).

Quetzalcoatl then resurrects humanity using some corn and his own blood, and makes preparations for the ascension of a new sun—which, due to a series of mishaps, is created from the god of scabs (the ceremony involves hurling yourself into a fire, and wasn’t exactly popular with the Aztec pantheon), and happens to be the one we are now stuck with. The current world will end in about 2060, according to the predictions of one Sir Isaac Newton, and is supposed to be torn apart by earthquakes.