(being continued from 20/06/18)

The Aztec Universe

THE AZTEC WORLD-PICTURE (Plate XXXIII) is the first sheet of the “Night Side” of the Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, an old Mexican painted book now in the Free Public Museums at Liverpool. The foundation for the series of paintings is a sort of parchment made of deerskin covered on both sides with a thin coating of an extremely adhesive paste on which the paintings were executed in the usual way–the outlines in deep black and the spaces filled in with colours. It consists of twenty-two folded shapes 17½ cm. square. One side Dr. Eduard Seler, its interpreter, calls the “Night Side,” the other the “Day Side.”

This first sheet is the most interesting and the most famous of the entire manuscript. It represents the Five Regions of the Aztec world and their tutelary deities, spread out like a cross, all their spaces filled with figures of

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trees, gods, birds, rivers, and symbols of the cosmos, both of its objects and its attributes.

In the Middle Place, says Seler, 1 is the Fire deity, Xiuhtecutli, “the Mother, the Father of the gods, who dwells in the navel of the Earth.” From his body four streams of blood flow towards the four cardinal points, and are continued beyond the square space enclosing the centre to the outer corners of the picture, where the signs acatl, “Reed,” tecpatl, “Flint,” calli, “House,” and tochtli, “Rabbit,” are seen on shields respectively borne by a quetzal bird, an arara, an eagle, and a green parrot. “These are the four signs by which the consecutive years are named with constant reiteration, because they are the signs which fall on the first days of those years, and therefore, since they are exhausted with the number four, have become symbols for the four cardinal points, East, North, West, and South.”

The stream of blood pointing to the sign acatl (Reed), that is, to the East (left-hand above), terminates with a hand painted yellow–“the hand (ray) of the Sun god?” The stream pointing to the sign tecpatl(Flint) ends with the stump leg of the god of the North. The stream flowing towards the sign calli (House) or West (right-hand below) ends in a figure of a chest formed by the vertebrae and adjoining ribs of a skeleton. “For the West is the region of the setting (dead) Sun.” The stream flowing towards the sign tochtli (Rabbit) or South ends in a head in whose hair is stuck a downy feather ball, which symbolises

<img src="; alt="PLATE XXXIII. A WORLD-PICTURE OF THE AZTECS<br> <i>First page of the Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, representing the five regions of the world, and their tutelary deities</i>.<br> (From <i>Mythology of All Races

First page of the Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, representing the five regions of the world, and their tutelary deities.
(From Mythology of All Races, 1927, Vol. XI, Plate VI)

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the “warrior in the South” and at the same time, the “warrior in the North,” the dual god of the two quarters.

Above the upper side of the central square is a sort of platform with steps in the centre; that is to say, to the right of the corner which, owing to the shield with the sign acatl, “Reed,” we have to regard as the East corner.” At the level of the steps, which are painted red, is shown the image of the Sun. “This can obviously be nothing but the House of the Sun, the East.”

Above the left side of the central square is a votive dish in which are a rubber ball, an agava-leaf thorn, and a bone dagger. They are the symbols of sacrifice, of blood-letting, of self-torture, voluntarily made in honour of the gods, but, says Scier, they belong to the gods of the South, and bringing them into the Northern quarter of the heavens means a reversion of the order, or an interchange of North and South.”

Above the lower side of the central square is seen a monster descending from above, that is, here, from be-low. It would seem to be tolerably certain that this is intended to represent the Tzitzimimê, the demons which symbolise the realm of darkness, the eclipse of the Sun. I shall have more fully to explain farther on that the Tzitzimimê are originally images of the stars, which, merely because at the solar eclipses the stars become visible in broad daylight, have been made demons of darkness, symbols of the devouring gloom. In any case, here the figure denotes the West, the region of the setting Sun, of the light swallowed up by the Earth.”

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Above the fourth or right-hand side of the central square is seen “the wide open throat of a monster hieroglyph of the Earth, which in this form is obviously thought of as the taker of life, the mictlampa, the realm of death, i.e., the North.”

The flowering tree rising above the picture of the Sun (upper East side) is surmounted by a quetzal bird and guarded by Itztli, the Stone-knife god (on the left), and Tonantiuh, the Sun god, all symbolising the Eastern quarter. This tree, like all in the four quarters, has the form of a cross.

The tree above the left side of the central square is a thorn tree surmounted by an eagle, and is guarded by Tlaloc, the Rain god, and Tepeyollotli, the Heart of the Mountains or the Voice of the Jaguar in the Mountains–symbols of the North.

The tree of the West, growing out of the forehead of the Tzitzimitl, or the dragon of the eclipse, has a stem set with huge upright thorns. Instead of flowers, it bears feather balls at the tips of its branches. “On it is perched doubtless a humming bird,” which according to Aztec belief, dies with the dry and revives with the rainy season. The guardian deities are Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of flowing water, and the Earth goddess Tlazolteotl.

Above the South side (right) is a tree growing out of the open jaws of the monster symbolising the Earth; “its stem is set with notches (or fruit pods?) turned downwards, while the branches bear a kind of star-shaped blossom like that of the tree of the North.” On it is perched

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a parrot, and it is guarded by Cinteotl, the maize god, and Mictlantecutli, god of death.

The deities depicted about the four arms of the St. Andrew’s Cross, that is, in the spaces enclosed by the trapezes above the four sides of the central square, are the eight gods of the four quarters. In the central square stands the Fire god; he belongs to the Centre or the Middle Place because he represents the hearth fire which burns in the middle of the house. These nine are the deities of the Five Regions and “Lords of the Night.”

Like the Tibetan and Kalmuck worlds, the four quarters of the Aztec world have their four colours, and they are: East, red; North, yellow; West, blue; and South, green. These are the colours also of the years and of the days. The whole figure symbolises the orientation of the world-powers in Space and Time-years and Earth-realms and Sky-realms.

Tartar-Mongol Worlds

IN Picture-Writing of the American Indians, Garrick Mallery has collected a delightful group of Tartar and Mongol magic drum tops, over which a little time will not be wasted just here. These drums were used–are used–by various Tartar and Mongol tribes in religious ceremonies, and their shamans believe that the sound of one design or figure painted on the stretched skin differs essentially from that of another pattern painted, and that therefore, one drum sounded may kill or torment, while

p. 194

another may heal. Many of these designs are little world-pictures purely.

<img src="; alt="FIGURE 80. <i>Painted Tartar and Mongol drums</i>.<br> (From <i>Picture-Writing of the America, Indians

FIGURE 80. Painted Tartar and Mongol drums.
(From Picture-Writing of the America, Indians; Garrick Mallery, 1894, p. 515.)

The upper left-hand design in Fig. 80, for instance, suggests at first glance not only a two-storied division of heaven and Earth, but a World Mountain and a World Tree. According to Mallery, the two circles with inner dots above the cross-bar represent the Moon and Sun.

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[paragraph continues] Two shamans or priests of magic are pictured on the left, and with them a wild goat and five serpents. On the right are three shamans and a deer.

The upper right-hand design (b) had the same four-quarter division, with a face indicated in the top loop of the axis or tree, and with the upper heavens spangled with stars, suns and moons. Below the cross-bar are a rainbow with stars beneath it, and, above the rainbow, two “heavenly maidens.” This magic drum design represents “the bringing of the horse to sacrifice.”

The lower left-hand design (c), says Mallery, “is the external delineation of a head without eyes and nose.” The shamans who owned this drum said that the circles, two above the cross-bar and six below, all empty, are “representations of drums, and the three human figures are masters or spirits of localities.”

The fourth design (d) was explained by the shaman no further than to say that the five wave-lines on either side of the face above the cross-bar are “serpents.”

The upper left-hand design in Fig. 81 has above its dividing line two trees. “On each of them sits the bird karagush with the bill turned to the left.” “On the left of the tree,” Mallery goes on to say, “are two circles, one dark (the moon), the other light (the sun).” But the design as given shows but one. Below the horizontal lines are three animals, a frog, a lizard, and a serpent–all of them watery animals, who appear to be swimming in the waters under the tree-bearing Earth.

The upper right-hand design (b) “has on the upper half two circles, the sun and moon; on the left side four horsemen;

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and under them a bowman, also on horseback. The centre is occupied by a picture of a net and sieve for winnowing the nuts and seeds of the cedar tree. On the right

<img src="; alt="FIGURE 81. <i>Painted Tartar and Mongol drums</i>.<br> (From <i>Picture-Writing of the American Indians

FIGURE 81. Painted Tartar and Mongol drums.
(From Picture-Writing of the American Indians; Garrick Mallery, 1894, p. 516.)

side are two trees, beigamin (literally, the rich birch), over which two birds, the karagush, are floating. Under a division on the right and on the left side are oval objects

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with lattice-figures or scaly skin. These are two whales. In the middle, between them, are a frog and a deer, and below them a serpent. Above, toward the hoop of the drum, is fastened an owl’s feather.”

The lower left-hand design (c) has, in the upper half, seven figures “reminding one of horses, bura, going to heaven, i.e., their sacrifice.” Above them are two light-giving circles, the sun and the moon; on the right of the horses are three trees; under a horizontal line on the left is a serpent, on the right a fish, “the kerbuleik, the whale according to Verbitski, literally the bay-fish.”

The lower right-hand design (d) has its upper half divided into three layers, the first of which “is heaven, the second the rainbow, and in the lower stratum the stars.” At the left and right are the sun and moon, below, a goat, and three trees.” Mallery adds that underneath there was an undefined figure not given in this drawing which the interpreting shaman called “the bura. Some said that it meant a cloud; others that it meant heavenly horses.”

The left-hand design in Fig. 82 is divided by four vertical and four horizontal lines. “The latter,” says Mallery, “represent the rainbow; the vertical lines borsui. Circles with dots in the center are represented in three sections, and in the fourth one circle.” Further than this, the shaman did not interpret.

The right-hand design shows in its upper section five human figures. “These, according to the shaman’s own explanation, are heavenly maidens (in the original Turkish, tengriduing kuiz). Below, under a rainbow, which is represented by three arched lines, are portrayed two serpents,

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each having a cross inside. These are kurmos nuing tyungureyi.e., the drums are kurmos’s. Kurmos is the Altaic word for spirits, which the shamans summon.”

The shamans of these tribes admit three worlds; the world of the Heavens (hallan jurda); the middle one of the Earth (onto-doidu); and the lower one of Hell (jedăn tiigara);

<img src="; alt="FIGURE 82. <i>Painted Tartar and Mongol drum</i>s.<br> (From <i>Picture-Writing of the American Indians

FIGURE 82. Painted Tartar and Mongol drums.
(From Picture-Writing of the American Indians; Garrick Mallery, 1894, p. 517.)

the first the realm of light, the last the realm of darkness. The middle world, or Earth, has for a time been given over by the Creator (Jut-tas-olbohtah Jürdan-Ai-Tojan) to the will of the devil or tempter, and the souls of men at death, according to their merit, are sent either to the upper or the lower world. When, however, “the earth world has come to an end, the souls of the two realms will wage a war against each other, and victory must remain on the side of the good souls.”



190:1 Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, elucidated by Eduard Seler, 1901, pp. 5-24.”


About sooteris kyritsis

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