by Cesar Tort
The Feathered Serpent
For the previous translated chapter see: here. Some translations of 16th century Spanish texts, including Aztec poetry, are mine. Sentences between squared brackets do not appear in the original version of the manuscript.
“The world’s most beautiful city”
Bernal Díaz del Castillo would write in his memoirs about what he saw with his brothers in arms in route to Tenochtitlan when he was twenty-two years old:
And since we saw so many inhabited cities and towns on the water, and on solid ground other large towns, and that causeway so straight and leveled that went to Mexico-Tenochtitlan, we were wonder-stricken, and we said to each other that it all seemed like the enchantment tales of the Amadís book, for the great towers and cúes [temples] and edifices, that they have inside the water, and all of them the product of masonry work, and still some of our soldiers said if all of what they saw was dreamlike.
When the gloomy Luther hammered his theses on the Wittenberg’s gates, no man of the white race knew of the existence of another continent and of the most extensive power that Mesoamerica knew of: an empire that touched both oceans, the capital of which was inundated with light. And even in our times the enormous plaza that amazed Bernal Díaz is unknown because his comrades razed it in its entirety. Notwithstanding that after the conquest Rodrigo de Castañeda blamed Hernán Cortés for wanting to preserve the temples and its effigies, Mexico-Tenochtitlan was the object of a systematic vandalism. Not even one edifice remained standing in what today is Mexico City, something that reminds us what the Romans did in the Third Punic War: they did not leave stone upon stone in Carthage, and built a Roman city on its ruins. Not satisfied with that, after the physical devastation by the soldiers, Zumárraga burned the Mexica libraries. As an Aztec poem says:
We are to leave the beautiful songs
We are to leave the beautiful flowers
However, under New Spain’s edifices some unearthed footings have allowed modern architects to reconstruct how the ancient Indian city looked [see the pictorial reconstruction by Marquina below], in addition to the descriptions of the captain of the conquistadors, who informs us that the streets of Tenochtitlan—:
are very wide and straight, some of them, and all of the other are half of earth and the other half of water, through which they go in their canoes, and all the streets, from stretch to stretch, are opened through where water passes from the ones to the others, and in all of these openings, that some of them are very wide, there are bridges of very wide and large beams together and stout and well carved, and they are such that that ten horses, together eye to eye, can pass through many of them.
Cortés himself wrote to Carlos V that it was la más hermosa cosa del mundo (“the world’s most beautiful thing”). Much larger than Seville, the largest Spanish city of those times, three roads converged toward the center of the lacustrine city, uniting the island with the coast. “It is admirable to see how much reason they employ with all things,” wrote Cortés to the king. On the streets of a city that shone like a jewel of stone and water and sky, the dwellers used to go out “for a ride, some through the water on these boats and others on the land, and they go on conversing.”
The sacred enclosed area
according to the reconstruction
by architect Ignacio Marquina
Tenochtitlan was an object of admiration for its thirty palaces of reddish and porous rock, for its houses for upper-class people (according to conqueror Diego de Ordás, superior to those in Spain); its immense set of immaculate white houses and constructions decorated with bas-reliefs and stone sculptures (in contrast to other peoples who made them of clay), some statues even decorated with gold, feathers and animal skins; for its yellow macaw feathers; for its precious stones such as the green of the jade and the red of the garnets; for “its florid hymns in the Spring and the flower of the opened Nahua heart,” and because in that unwonted world, which had never been found a practical use for the wheel, thousands of canoes, the largest capable of transporting up to sixty Indians, converged every day in the lacustrine city.
The central plaza shown in the above image (in which place today there is a Zócalo infested with what in my previous book I called “the marabunta of Neanderthals”) took the form of a rectangle. The monuments were adorned with frescoes, lost forever after the collapse of the walls that sustained them, and besides the aqueduct there were fountains that burst forth form the soil of the central island. The palace of Nezahualcóyotl in Texcoco, a state that belonged to the triple alliance together with Tenochtitlan and Tlacopan, was fenced with more than two thousand sabines. In addition to this palace, Nezahualcóyotl had gardens in other locations “with docks full of roses and flowers, and many fruits and rosebushes of the earth, and a pond of fresh water, and another thing to see: that in the flower and fruit garden the large canoes could enter from the lagoon through an opening they had made, without jumping on the ground, and everything very whitewashed and flashing, of many forms of stones and paintings on them that there was so much to ponder.” As in my childhood imaginings recounted in my previous book [La India Chingada], the labyrinths and the artificial cascades of those gardens provided a fresh and invigorating environment.
We can imagine the impression that this world—totally apart from the known civilization—caused in the Europeans, who never ceased to be amazed at the richness of the iridescent clothing; the colors and drawings on the women’s attire with their bluish-purple hair dyed so that it shone, and the teeth stained black with cochineal; the clothing of the nobles decorated in polychromatic embroidery with drawings that represented hearts, and the showing off of necklaces of stings of jade, turquoise or enormous objects of diorite; wigs and jaguar skins, bracelets on the arms and ankles, or the simple “crowd of swarthy-skinned people under their white dresses.” The warriors painted their faces with stripes; others with yellow-ocher powder, spreading out the feet with copal ointments and tattooing their hands with schemes. It was a spectacle to see them around the emperor, the cloth banners and the immense adornments of gold and exquisitely cut quetzal feathers forming bouquets of a thousand colors; arts elaborated under a mosaic-like technique in sharp contrast to the blackish clothes of the priests with figures of skulls and human bones. How mistaken is the petrified image of Diego Rivera’s Anahuacalli Museum to convey the universe opened to the free, luminous and multicolor air of the Aztecs. But how accurate are Rivera’s own murals!
The palace of Moctezuma (which occupied the place where later would be constructed what today is the Palacio Nacional) also caused a stupor in the Europeans. Built with porous volcanic stone, it had more than a hundred bathrooms; walls covered with mosaics and roofs of precious woods; zoos and botanic gardens, pools and flower gardens. The wooden cages were in the charge of hundreds of men who attended the birds, wild cats, pumas, jaguars and coyotes; there were large ponds with herons, ducks, swans and an enormous collection of serpents. The zoo even had human freaks such as dwarfs and albinos.
The humble Nahua male who lived far from the Great Teocalli had so little time indoors and plenty of time outdoors, and when looking up from his chinampa he constantly saw “the silhouette of the pyramids and the blinding white of the edifices under the noonday sun.” (At present the footings of the Spanish buildings are full of pre-Hispanic stone and of the fragments of the bas-reliefs and the statues.) It could scarcely be said that there was profane art: practically all art was charged with religious content. Tlatelolco, the twin city of Mexico, had a plaza about the triple size of Salamanca. (From now on I will avoid the word “Aztec” which was not used until the 18th century. Instead I shall use the original term “Mexicas,” without “n,” or alternatively “ancient Mexicans.”) The appearance of the Mexica capital was of a double city. The main commercial neighborhood “sparked with the shouting of the market’s sales people.” In Tlatelolco the great temple of Huitzilopochtli was impressive because there were no other temples around that cast any shadow on it.
Tenochtitlan was an amphibian city in the middle of “waters of flowers, waters of gold, waters of emerald,” a city in such a spaced architecture of the Valley of Mexico that it had as roof the sky, and as foundation the immense greenish-blue Texcoco lake. The quantity of gods of the Mexica pantheon was so large—of the principal deities alone there were about two hundred—that the chroniclers lost count. The terraces of the nobles were crowned with gardens. Moctezuma, who had many children with his wives and concubines, had three thousand servants in his palace. The Great Pyramid or Tenochtitlan or Teocalli, shown in the above illustration, rested upon a space of 100 meters long by 80 meters wide, and it was 60 meters high. The façade began with great serpent heads, and on the platform statues supported the banners that were displayed at the celebrations. The pyramid was completely surrounded by serpent heads, which formed a fortified outer wall of approximately 400 meters long by 300 meters wide, with four doors. The two shrines, inhabited by the Tláloc-Huitzilopochtli duality, were painted: one white and blue on the north side, the other white and red on the south side. The last one was embellished with engraved skulls and battlements with the form of butterflies. To defend the temple of Huitzilopochtli was considered one of the duties of the sovereigns. Sun and rain, Huitzilopochtli and Tláloc, were the legacy of the Tenochcas: nomad warriors and sedentary Mexicas. The shrines that crowned the truncated pyramid were tight but high enclosures, which sheltered a pair of three-meter statues of these gods. The crested roofs imitated the Mayan temples, and conveyed the visual effect of higher altitude. (It is remarkable that on the other side of the Atlantic a very similar structure, the Ziggurat, had been common in the Chaldean and Babylonian temples: cultures that Julian Jaynes also called bicameral kingdoms.)
The ancient Mexicans gladly detached from themselves their best art: burying animals, feathers, flowers, insects, treasures, and even human beings as offerings to the deities. The temples themselves were an immense offering loaded inside with the remains of these sacrifices that remained trapped each time that the edifice was reconstructed. The Great Pyramid or Tenochtitlan was reconstructed several times. Just as the Teotihuacan and Mayan temples, it possessed several layers, one above the other like Russian nested dolls. When the Spaniards destroyed the temple they found that its entrails hid innumerable jewels of gold, precious stones and bones that had remained enclosed as an offering. Inside this pyramid was also located the military theocratic school for the education of the elite of the Mexica boys. Drawn using a perfect arithmetic that reminds us of Teotihuacan, in front of the Great Pyramid the temple of Quetzalcoatl looked special, the only circular edifice of the great plaza, and on one of the Great Pyramid’s sides, the pyramid of Tezcatlipoca. Around the temples there were annexes for worship such as the tzompantli full of decapitated human heads, many of them decomposed until they turned into skulls, artistically placed in horizontal order. The houses of the Indian chiefs were enormous constructions of wood. The largest rooms were more than thirty meters long and thirty meters wide.
It is curious that my imaginings when taking a bath in my house of San Lorenzo, as recounted in my previous book [I was seven years old], had a counterpart in the reality of the past. It is true that in those imaginings I did not visualize the resonating drums or the reddish homes of the temples, if we consider that in Tenochtitlan mostly percussion instruments were used. But something of these dances and collective intoxication, a catharsis of something recondite in the Nahua soul, reached the mind of the child I was then. (Many have listened to the group of children, myself included, playing the vertical drum called huéhuetl thanks to a commercial recording made when I studied in the musical method of my father: a man passionate for the native folklore.) The great dance celebrated at the bottom level of the pyramids lasted hours under the light of huge braziers deep in the night. Dances started at the hiding of the sun amidst the sound of the flutes (precisely what I imagined hearing when I was a child), the drums of the temples, and the flames of the enormous tripods burning woods. Nothing was more important, writes Jacques Soustelle, than these songs and dances for the ancient Mexicans.
Nothing of my name will some day be?
Nothing of my fame on earth?
At least the flowers, at least the songs!
As an immigrant I have worked in the heart of Houston, in the middle of its skyscrapers. The photographic postcards of downtown I saw in the hotel where I worked were deceptive: they flaunted only the luminous side of the Texan city. They never showed what I saw a few blocks away from my job: ugly streets, dreadful misery and homeless blacks.
Something similar can be said about the illustrations of the previous section. If Tenochtitlan was kept beautiful it was because of the captive people from other towns forced to work. The Anonymous Conqueror tells us that the war prisoners whom the Mexicas would not cannibalize were made slaves. Had one of them written an autobiography, say, like the ones written by those women who escape the countries under Sharia, it would be a literary sensation in our times. And who had worked to build up the great temples and to open the wide avenues? The swarms of workers around the Texcoco lake, forced to work as part of the towns’ tribute to the empire, should not have looked very different from the scenes of Apocalypto before the camera showed us the center of the Maya city.
Eye to eye with its beauty, handicapped people, thieves and prostitutes were also visible in Tenochtitlan; and unlike the nobles, the common people carried only a loincloth and a special cape, not of cotton cloth but derived from the threads of the maguey cactus, and walked barefoot before their superiors. Only those elevated in the social strata were allowed to wear sandals. And just as in contemporary Mexico City, with its old mansions of Las Lomas or the Americanized building district in Santa Fe coexisting with the poorest neighborhoods, unlike the Nezahualcóyotl palaces and the mansions near the Teocalli, the Mexica common home consisted of a single sleeping room.
It is true that flowers and death adorn the lyrics of the Mexicas. But a line of one of their poems—“Let’s hope (prisoners) are dragged here, All the country must be desolated”—unveils the other side of the Nahua soul. In that world flowers rain incessantly beside the macabre, although magnificent, Mexica statuary. Every time I watch the panic stare of the Chac Mool found at the footings of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan I ask myself what could he have been looking at (excavations performed between 1978 and 2000 in the temple recovered more than a hundred skulls, many of them of children). There is much truth, and also much deception, in the illustration of the previous section. For example, blood is not shown on the staircases. In the real Tenochtitlan, not in the idealized postcard, the very steep temple staircases—whose purpose was that the bodies could fall without obstacles—were stained with sacrificial blood (such staircases’ blood is visible in one of Rivera’s murals and in Gibson’s film).
In the pictorial reconstruction based on the plans of the architect Ignacio Marquina, the pathos of the sacrifice that is taking place over the immense stone quauhtemaláctl is also missing, a stone that in the illustration is visible in the plaza of the Great Teocalli. This circular stone was used as theater of a gladiatorial sacrifice where the attackers gradually injured a leg, the head or the abdomen of a man tethered to the stone in a ritual properly called tlahuahuanaliztli, “the laceration.” (This was the human equivalent to a wounded bull in bullfighting, where those colorful sticks with a barbed point are placed on the top of the bull’s shoulder.) At the end of the gladiatorial sacrifice the human heart was extracted. This was such an important spectacle that the king Axayácatl requested the manpower of hundreds of men to drag the monumental stone from the road that united Coyoacán with Tenochtitlan. Needless to say, the comfort that in the illustration the noble who watches the spectacle experiences under the shadow is the inverse of what in real life the lacerated man must have felt in the world’s most beautiful city.
As of this writing, during the previous month the movie Apocalypto was still in the Mexican theaters. Contrary to the prognostication that it would not have a good welcome in Mexico, the film’s revenues displaced other memorable movies. Still, many people became furious claiming that it was unjust to focus on the dark side of the Maya culture instead of its mathematics, astronomy, or disappearance. Guatemala Indian activists asked the public not to go to the theaters and some people even denied the historicity of human sacrifice in pre-Columbian America. One of the craziest Mexicans wrote a month before the premier: “Personally, I’m ashamed of the little Spanish blood I have. I prefer to be a cannibal and demonstrate the splendor of this culture far higher than the Spanish. I crave to die at the obsidian’s edge. Our hearts only want the glorious death.” (Obsidian is brittle; the Mexicas used instead silex knife blades.) As a response to this rending of nationalist garments, in an editorial of the Mexican newspaper Reforma Juan Pardinas wrote: “The bad news is that this historical interpretation bears some resemblances with reality. Mel Gibson’s characters are more similar to the Mayans of the Bonampak murals that the ones that appear in the SEP school textbooks,” the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education, where children learn that the ancient Yucatecans used the zero before the Europeans. This is like saying that the Maya had been a civilization of thinkers and scientists: the Indian Athens of the Americas. But what not even Gibson dared to show us on the silver screen is that not only adults, but also small kids had been victims of Maya sacrifices.
The sacrifice of children in Mesoamerica began many centuries before the nomadic tribes of the north established themselves around the Texcoco Lake. In El Manatí, an Olmec archaeological site in Veracruz associated with a sacrificial ritual, bones have been found of babies; femurs and skulls. After the Olmecs there came the Teotihuacans. In the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest of the Valley of Mexico, Leopoldo Batres discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century several child skeletons: offerings to the god of the water (the Teotihuacans were contemporaries of the Mayans). When I saw a photograph of the skeletons in the Pyramid of the Moon it reminded me the horrific finding of sacrificed and cocooned humans in a high wall of the film Aliens.
Let us skip the history of similar findings throughout the twentieth century and focus on the present century.
On December 2005 Reforma published an article about archeologist Ricardo Armijo Torres’s finding in Comalcalco, a Chontalpa region that some believe was the cradle of the Maya civilization, where the Mayans had perpetrated “a massive sacrifice of children of approximately one or two years old.” Chichén-itzá was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, with both the proud nationals and the foreign fans ignoring the fact that it had been the location of a ritual carnage. The Chac Mool at the top of the temple has a stone vessel used to hold the hearts of sacrificed humans. Thousands of Mayans died in ritual sacrifices in times of great droughts: a pointless holocaust that could not save Chichén-itzá from its fate. In the Maya ball game participants sometimes played with a decapitated head. The local legends recount that maids were thrown over into the cenote. This was confirmed recently by dredging one of them and discovering the skeletons. In addition to the physical evidence there exists pictorial evidence in Mayan art about the sacrificed children. On page 25 of the September-October 2003 issue, Arqueología Mexicana published a painted scene from a ceramic of the Late Classic period “that indicates that child sacrifice was performed in well-defined circumstances.” On that very page it also appears a photo of Stelae 11 of Piedras Negras, Guatemala, showing a dead child with an abdominal cavity signaling that his heart was extracted. The sacrifice of small children continued in the Post-classic period. It was also performed in the first years of the Spanish colonization, albeit clandestinely and under the protective shadow of the caves.
The Mayans abandoned their big cities and their enormous crop fields of the Classic period. Without being subjugated they conserved distant relationships with the empire of the Mexicas. Once Mayan hieroglyphics were deciphered, the vision of the Mayan world changed. How well I remember the moment when I received the first information on this subject when reading a book-review in The New York Times about The Blood of the Kings, published in 1986 when I lived in the States. Although I didn’t keep the review, I remember that I got excited. In those days I wrote to a friend informing her that, far from being “the Greeks of America,” the Mayans performed rituals which objective was to provoke hallucinations in the mutilated people; that they venerated blood as a magical elixir and that every ceremony, whether of birth, marriage or death bore a tribute of human blood. I will quote extensively my letters to this friend in my next book. For now I would only add that I also wrote her about a Bonampak fresco showing a Mayan prince “with a wicked face,” his court and the captives lying at his feet with panic-stricken eyes, apparently asking for a pity that they would not receive (a decapitated head can be observed on the floor). The Mayans had them cut their fingertips for the precious liquid to run free. The fresco is so famous that it appeared for some time on the Mexican twenty peso banknotes. A few years later, in the cultural magazine of Octavio Paz, I read the words of a Maya scholar, Michael Coe: “Now it is surprisingly clear that the Mayans of the Classic times, and their Pre-classic ancestors, were governed by an hereditary dynasty of warriors, for whom self-sacrifice and the spilling of blood, and the sacrifice by human beheading were supreme obsessions.”
Going back to the Mexicas, Fray Diego Durán wrote about the ritual sacrifice of children in an important celebration of the Valley of Mexico with the Indian governors present. Several months of the Mexica calendar were devoted to the sacrifice of children at the top of the mounts, just what the distant Incas did. Children were transported in adorned litters along with their executioners chanting and dancing. They were made to cry so that their tears became a good omen for the raining season. The more the child cried, the happier the gods were.
The Mexica name for the first month of the year is Atlcahualo. It spans part of February in its Gregorian counterpart (the months of the Mexica calendar lasted twenty days). Children were sacrificed to the water deity Tláloc, and to Chalchiuhtlicue, “she of the jade skirt” and goddess of thermal waters. In other ceremonies children were drowned. In the third month of the calendar children were, again, sacrificed. The French ethnologist Christian Duverger wrote something that disturbed me. In his book La Fleur Létale (The Lethal Flower) this passage can be read:
The torments. In the context of the violent pre-sacrificial stimulations, I believe it is convenient to give a place to the torture, and precisely because it is only performed by the Aztecs before the human sacrifice. The torture is not necessarily integrated to the sacrificial prelude, but it may occur. The tearing off the nails of the children that had to be sacrificed to the god of the rain is a good example of ritual torture. The nails belonged to Tláloc. Through the sacrifices of the month Atlcahualo the Mexicans paid homage to the tláloques [Tláloc servants] and called for the rain. In order for the ritual to be effective, it was convenient that the children cried profusely in the moment of the sacrifice.
Then a face pack of hot rubber was applied to them and they were thrown over a pit that hardened the rubber and prevented them from breathing.
Tláloc, the rain god, was one of the most honored gods of the Mexicas. Along with the temple of Huitzilopochtli, Tláloc’s sky-blue temple existed in the highest spot of Tenochtitlan. With the skeletons discovered at the end of the twentieth century to the beginnings of the twenty-first century it was determined that dozens of children, most of them six-year-olds, were sacrificed and buried in the northwest corner of the first temple dedicated to Tláloc (keep in mind that the temple consisted of several layers; only the first survived as mere footings to the great Spanish destruction). In June of 2005 the archeologists who worked on the temple ruins announced another discovery in the footings: a sacrifice of a very young boy to Huitzilopochtli, probably during the consecration of the building.
Photo by Héctor Montaño
I confess that over the years I have harbored the morbid fantasy of finding out the aspect of the statue of Huitzilopochtli. I dream with some futuristic “machines to see the past” to know, with a wealth of detail, exactly how terrible the deity was. It is recognized that to know the soul of a culture there is nothing like having its art in front of us. Some of the pages that I like the most of Arthur Clarke’s short sci-fi stories appear in Jupiter five, where some explorers find a statue representing an alien in the art room of an abandoned ship thirty kilometers in diameter. Sometimes the Mexica world seems so distant from my civilization that the comparison does not look excessive to me.
But going back to my fantasy. The pages that I read with most interest of The Truthful History of the Conquest of New Spain were those in which Bernal Díaz described the great statue of Huitzilopochtli he saw at the top of the great pyramid:
And then our Cortés told Montezuma, with Doña Marina, the translator: “Milord, it has been your will, and much more your majesty deserves; we have been idle about seeing your cities; what I ask you as a favor, since we are already here, in your temple, that you show us your gods and teules [demigods].” And Montezuma said he first had to talk to his great papas [high priests]. And when he had talked to them he said that we were to enter a turret [the shrine at the pyramid’s top] and an apartment in the form of a room, where there were two altars, with very rich planking over the roof, and in each altar there were two shapes, giant-like, very tall and stout bodies. The first one, to the right, they said it was Uichilobos [Huitzilopochtli], their god of war. It had a very broad face with deformed, horrifying eyes; and the whole body was covered with precious stones, gold and pearls and seed-pearls stuck on with wheat paste, which they make in that land with some sort of roots, and all of the body was full of it, and circled with some sort of great snakes made of gold and precious stones, and in one hand he held a bow and in the other some arrows. And a small idol standing by him they said was his page, he held a not very long lance and a shield rich of gold and precious stones; and around the neck of Uichilobos were Indian faces and things like the hearts of these Indians, the latter of gold and the former of silver, decorated with many precious blue stones; and there were braziers with incense, copal incense, and in them they were burning the hearts of three Indians they had sacrificed that day, and with the smoke and the copal they had done that sacrifice. Every wall of that shrine was covered with the blackness of the blood scabs, as well as the floor, and it stank so much.
The Indian baptized as Andrés de Tapia claimed that the statue of Huitzilopochtli was made of flour seeds with the blood of the children in a hardened paste; Fray Durán, on the other hand, said it was made of wood. What is certain is that the priests devoted to its cult injured their tongues, arms and thighs with straws tainted with their own blood as an offering. Even the common Mexica injured himself far more than my cousin Sabina used to do. [This is recounted in an unpublished section, “Follow the mothers”] He offered bleedings with maguey thorns by piercing his lips, ears and tongue. Men pierced their penis and the thorns stained with blood were placed in a shrine. The common Mexicas “decorated their doors with bulrushes containing their ears’ blood.” The priests, called papas by Díaz, had their ear lobes totally smashed as a result of these bleedings. In addition to tearing out the heart from the captives in the day 4-Earthquake, the common Mexica made these piercing penitences.
I mention all of this to throw light on the long Colin Ross quotation [cf. previous chapter]. The self-harmer women of Dallas pierced themselves because they believed in their wickedness and they needed an escape valve to discharge some of the pressure from the volcano of rage against their parents they carried inside. At the expense of their mental health and due to the locus of control shift, the evil of their parents had been transfused to their mentality since their childhood, making the perpetrator good and safe to attach to. Let us remember that this shift helps to solve the basic and fundamental dilemma of the human race: the affective attachment to our parents due to our long dependency. Ross does not comment on the ancient Mexicans, but according to Lloyd deMause this sort of self-injuring alleviated the Amerindians from the anxiety of the internalized image of a parent, now sublimated, that would castigate them because of a prosperity perceived as sinful (we shall see where this gets us when analyzing the West of the twenty-first century). In other words, self-harming and harming others are two sides of the same coin. We displace our contained rage on others and on ourselves because of the absolute dissociation of the resulting emotions from the treatment we received in the past. If the pre-Columbian people displaced more than us it was simply due to a more primitive form of childrearing than ours. For Claude-François Baudez of the National Center of Scientific Research in Paris, the Mesoamerican sacrifice of others only replaced self-sacrifice “on the condition that the alter is equivalent to the ego.” Human sacrifice was, ultimately, the sacrifice of the ego “as it is shown in the first place by the primeval myths that precede self-sacrifice.”
Again, this is very important, as we will see when psychoanalyzing the self-harming West.
Baudez illustrates his point with the Mesoamerican custom of eating the enemy or dressing up in his skin: a practice that occupied a place of first order of magnitude among the ancient dwellers of the continent. In spite of the fact that the socializing mode of education in our times is also abusive, the pre-Hispanic modes were infinitely worse. I cannot avoid thinking of the studies by two Mexican anthropologists that show that some sacrificed bodies underwent processes of flaying, removing the flesh from the body, dismembering, decapitation and even the showing off of the corporal parts as decoration, as can be read in the bone register (in our own times, only certain serial killers do this sort of thing). The psyche of the surviving siblings, cousins, relatives, close and not-so-close acquaintances of the sacrificed infants interiorized a greater homicidal impulse than ours: a good example to help us understand the difference among very distant psychoclasses.
Page 34 of the cited issue of Arqueología Mexicana recounts an alarming study. In Xochimilco, at the south of Mexico City, the remains of a three- or four-year-old child were discovered, whose bones presented an orange or translucent yellow coloration, terse or glassy textures, and the compacting of the spongy tissue, besides the shattering of the skull. Since in the mortuary treatment the Mexicas decapitated some bodies and sometimes boiled the heads for later esthetic exposition, the archeologists concluded that the head of the sacrificed boy had been boiled and that the skull was shattered due to the ebullition of the encephalic mass. The photograph of the skull has been published.
Moreover, at the beginning of 2005 a newspaper note was published about a discovery in the north of Mexico City, in Ecatepec: an archaeological site with skeletal remains of eight sacrificed minors. According to the note republished by Discovery Channel: “The sacrifice involved burning or partially burning victims. We found a burial pit with the skeletal remains of four children who were partially burned, and the remains of four other children that were completely carbonized.” However rustic the Spanish soldiers were, when they saw for the first time in their lives this sort of behavior it blew their minds. The first texts about the New World ever published in Europe were the Cartas de Relación by Hernán Cortés. In one of these letters, published in 1523, the conqueror wrote:
They have a most horrid and abominable custom which truly ought to be punished and which until now we have seen in no other places, and this is that, whenever they wish to ask something from the idols, in order that their plea may find more acceptance, they take many girls and boys and even adults, and in the presence of these idols they open their chests while they are still alive and take out their hearts and entrails and burn them before the idols, offering the smoke as the sacrifice. Some of us have seen this, and they say it is the most terrible and frightful thing they have ever witnessed.
In other occasion Cortés recounted that his soldiers had captured an Indian who had been roasting the body a baby to eat it. Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl, a mestizo who wrote the codex that has his name, writes that one out of five children were sacrificed each year. The figure looks like an exaggeration: it is not known with certainty how many children were sacrificed in Mesoamerica. The most conservative contemporary studies say that in the Mexica world at least dozens of children were sacrificed each year.
One of the sources that the Mexican indigenistas hold in high esteem is the work of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, who set off to the New World in 1529, only a few years after the fall of Tenochtitlan. Scholars regard him as the first anthropologist. Even a passionate indigenista like Diego Rivera painted Sahagún with a young and clever face. Writing about the holidays of the so-called Aztec Calendar, Sahagún tells us of the rituals of the first month, called Atlcahualo or Quauitleoa by the Mexicas:
In this month they killed many children, sacrificing them in many places at the top of the mounts, taking out their hearts in honor to the gods of the water, so that they gave them water or rains.
What the Mexicas did on the second month of their calendar will be explained in the next section. In the third month, writes Sahagún: “In this holiday they killed many children in the mounts, they offered them in sacrifice to this god.” He also adds a general comment about the first months of the year:
According to the testimony of some [Indians], the children that they killed were collected the first month, buying them from their mothers, and they went on to kill them on all of the following holidays until the rainy season did indeed start; and thus they killed some children in the first month, called Quauitleoa [from February 2 to February 21]; and others in the second month, called Tlacaxipehualiztli [February 22 to March 13]; and others in the third month called Tozoztontli [March 14 to April 2]; and others in the fourth month, called Uey tozoztli [April 3 to April 22], so that until the rainwater season began copiously, in all holidays they crucified [sacrificed] children.
Those of us who live in the region formerly known as Tenochtitlan know that the Spring is dry here, which means that the natives felt an unrestrainable drive to murder the little ones. It is far-fetched that those who had the genius to construct at the center of the plaza a temple to Quetzalcóatl where the sunray of the dawn could be seen between the two shrines of the Great Pyramid, at the same time could not foresee the rainy season that contemporary Mexicans know perfectly. It is elemental that something more than soliciting the rains impregnated the psyche of the descendents of the tenochcas. In the second book of the Florentine Codex Sahagún comments about the first month: “For this holiday they looked for suckling toddlers, buying them from their mothers.” And he adds: “For the killing they carried these children to the high mounts, where they had made an offering vow; from some of them they took their hearts out on those mounts, and from others, in some places on the lake of Mexico.” Both in discussions with me and in a heading of his orchestral homage to Bartolomé de Las Casas, my father has talked much about the “profound race”: the ancient Mexicans. I wonder how “profound” it was that the towns under Mexica rule offered, as a tribute, their little ones to be sacrificed. [This sarcasm against my father’s nationalism is understandable in the context of my previous book in Hojas Susurrantes.] About Pantitlán, Sahagún writes:
They killed a great quantity of children each year in these places and after they were dead they cooked them and ate them.
When I read that sentence I could not help but think about Mexico City’s subway station called Pantitlán. I ignored the fact that it was at the bottom of the lake. (In the times of the lacustrine city, the neighborhood where I write this book was also under the water.) In the same second tome of his encyclopedic twelve-book work about the traditions and customs of the ancient Mexicans, Sahagún recounts the details:
The places where they killed children are the following: the first one was called Quauhtépetl, it is a mountain range near Tlatelolco. The second mount where they killed children they called Ioaltécatl. The third mount on which they killed children they called Tepetzinco, it is that little mount that is inside the bordering lake of Tlatelolco, they killed a girl there. The fourth mount on which they killed children they called Poyauhtla. The fifth mount where they killed children was an eddy or basin of the lake of Mexico, that they called Pantitlán. The sixth place or mount on which they killed children they called Cócotl. The seventh place where they killed children was a mount that they called Yiauhqueme.
These poor children, before they were carried to the killing, were decorated with precious stones, with rich feathers and carried with blankets taking them on a litter, and they listened the playing of flutes and trumpets that they used. They had them all the night holding a wake and chanting to them songs of the idol’s priests, so that they did not sleep. And when they took the children to the places where they would be killed, if they were crying with very abundant tears, those who watched them crying were glad because they said it was a signal that rain was very imminent.
The most valuable phrase of the Sahagún opus is his exclamation that, in the most popular Mexican edition—the one by the Porrúa publishing house (2007 paperback edition)—appears on page 97:
I do not believe that there is a heart so hard that when listening to such an inhuman cruelty, and more than bestial and devilish such as the one described above, does not get touched and moved by the tears and horror and is appalled; and certainly it is lamentable and horrible to see that our human nature has come to such baseness and opprobrium that parents kill and eat their children, without thinking they were doing anything wrong.
Mel Gibson errs by quoting historian Will Durant at the beginning of his film. Human sacrifice in Mesoamerica was not a political aberration as presented in the film: it was a widespread social phenomenon. Gibson falsified history by putting as pacific a community of hunting tribesmen in contrast to the decadent city. The reality seems to be that the Amerindians who populated the small towns, and especially the naked natives that were exterminated in the Caribbean islands, were even more psychologically dissociated that the inhabitants of the refined double-city of Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco. The variety of Indians who did not live in the big cities varied from the Caribbean cannibal to the Otomi people of the caves; from the fierce Guarani to the cannibalesque Chiriguano. In contrast to the villager of Apocalypto, the Tarahumara, the fearful Chichimeca, the Xixime and the Guarijio practiced the “dance of the head.” A virgin was shut away. A decapitated head was taken for her to “speak” to it, something that the woman had to do with fluctuating feelings of love and hate. Contrary to Gibson’s bucolic village in the middle of the Maya forest, this is what the tribesmen actually did in real history.
That the sacrifice was a popular and social phenomenon rather than a political one is shown in the fact that, after the elimination of the indigenous governments and the introduction of Christianity in colonial times, the natives adopted the cross as the form of child sacrifice. For a psychoclass that I labeled infanticidal in the previous chapter, the Spanish assimilation had incredible moments. The Indians went as far as nailing children by the hands and feet to a cross with their feet tied up before taking their hearts out. Still crucified sometimes they even threw them over a cenote, as can be read on page 81 of the second volume of the Archivo General de las Indias complied by France Scholes and Eleanor Adams in 1938. The Indian priest used to say: “Let these boys die on the cross like Jesucristo died, whom they say was our lord, but we do not know if he was.”
The Bernaldine pages
La Santa Furia by César Tort Sr., my father, is an oratory in honor to Bartolomé de las Casas for soprano, three tenors, baritone, mixed chorus and orchestra, which at the moment of my writing still has to be premiered. Las Casas, whom my father greatly admires, wrote:
Into these meek sheep herd [the Amerindians], and of the aforesaid qualities by their Maker and Creator thus endoweth, there came the Spaniards who soon after behaved like cruel wolves, tigers and lions that had been starved for many days.
Las Casas is considered the champion of the indigenous cause before the Spanish crown. Those who condemn the Conquest take note of the investigation conducted against Antonio de Mendoza, the first viceroy of New Spain, accused of having lined up several Indians during the Mixtón War and smashing them with cannon fire. As a child, an illustration picked my interest in a Mexican comic, about some Indians attacked by the fearful dogs that the Spaniards had brought (there were no large dogs in pre-Columbian America). Motolinía reported that innumerable Indians entered healthy to the mines only to come out as wrecked bodies. The slave work in the mines, the Franciscan tells us in Historia de los Indios de Nueva España, killed so many that the birds that fed from the human carrion “darkened the skies,” and let us not talk about the slavery in the Caribbean islands with which, originally, Las Casas had so intimate contact. In La Española (Santo Domingo), Cuba and other islands the native population was virtually exterminated, especially due to the epidemics the conquerors had brought. These and many other facts appalled Las Casas, and in his vast literary corpus the tireless friar always tried to expose the excesses of the Spanish and Portuguese conquests.
English- and Spanish-speaking liberals are fond of quoting Las Casas. But was he right? In contrast to another friar, Diego de Landa, Las Casas always omitted talking about the cruelties that the Indians committed against themselves. In fact, Las Casas is often accused for having originated the Black Legend. For example, his quotation cited above is a lie: the Mesoamericans were everything except “meek sheep.” While the conquest was a calamity for many Indians, it benefited many others. Only thanks to it the children would not receive anymore the schizogenic shock of learning that their folk had sacrificed, and sometimes eaten in a glamorous party, one of their little siblings. Las Casas biased his polemical sermon A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, as well as his more scholarly texts, to force Carlos V [Charles V] in his role of spiritual adviser to take the necessary measures in favor of the natives. His goal was to protect them before the trendy scholastic doctrine that they were born slaves.
In the 1930s and ’40s Harvard historian Lewis Hanke found as fascinating the figure of Las Casas as my father would do in more recent times. After reading a magnificent book by Hanke, that my father himself lent me from his library, I could not avoid comparing Las Casas to the anthropologists who have kept secret the cruelty of the aboriginals in their eagerness to protect them. A single example will illustrate it. Las Casas went so far as defending the indigenous cannibalism with the pretext that it was a religious custom, which Las Casas compared to the Christian communion. It seems strange to tell it, but the first seeds of cultural relativism, an ideology that would cover the West since the last decades of the twentieth century, had been sown in the sixteenth century.
The Mexicas had only been the last Mesoamericans providers of an immense teoatl: a divine sea, an ocean of poured-out blood for the gods. Just as the pre-Hispanic aboriginals of the Canary Islands, the Olmecs made sacrifices with a fatal whack on the head. Of the Mayans, so idealized when I was a boy, it is known much more. They were the ones who initiated the practice of caging the condemned before sacrificing them and, after the killing, throwing the bodies down from the pyramids. In 1696, with the eighteenth century coming up, the Mayans sacrificed some unwary missionaries who dared to incursion into a still unconquered region. When I visited the ruins of Palenque I went up its pyramid and down through the internal steps surrounded by a warm and humid weather, to the tomb of the famous sarcophagus of stone. I felt such place gloomy and inconceivable. I now remember an archaeologist in television talking about a drawing in a Maya enclosure: a hanged prisoner maintained alive in state of torment. The Mayans treated more sadistically the prisoners than the Mexicas. Diego de Landa recounts that they went as far as torturing the captive kings by gouging their eyes out, chopping off their ears and noses and eating up their fingers. They maintained the poor captive alive for years before killing him, and the classic The Blood of the Kings tells us that the Mayans tore the jaw out from some prisoners still alive. Once more, not even Mel Gibson dared to film these atrocities, although he mentioned them during an interview when defending his film before the criticism of politically-correct reporters and academics. Unlike them, I agree with Gibson that the disappearance of such culture should not sadden us but rather revalue the Christian culture. And I would add that, when I see in a well-known television program a native English speaker rationalizing the Maya sacrifices, it is clear to me that political correctness in our times exemplifies what in psychology is known as “identification with the perpetrator.”
Both the Teotihuacans and the Tolteca-Chichimecas were bloodthirsty. The Tenochcas, who greatly admired them, killed and flayed a princess in the year 1300: an outrage that the indigenistas sweep under the rug since this and similar murders are related to the stories of the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Like their ancestors, the Mexicas established wars which only purpose was to facilitate captives for the killing.
Let us tell the truth guilelessly: Mesoamerica was the place of a culture of serial killers. In the raids launched into foreign territory, like the one seen in Apocalypto, the principal activity was oriented toward the sacrifice. In fact, it was impossible to obtain political power in that society without passing first through the business of the sacrifice. To prevent adolescents from cutting their nape hair-lock unless they captured a victim for sacrifice conveyed a message: If you don’t collaborate with the serial killing you won’t climb up the social hierarchy.
An explosive catharsis and real furor was freed in the outbreak of war inasmuch the Amerindians sheltered something recondite that had to be discharged at all costs. In 1585 Diego Muñoz Camargo wrote in History of Tlaxcala that, accompanied by the immense shouting when rushing into combat, the warriors played “drums and caracoles [percussion sticks] and trumpets that made a strange noise and roar, and more than a little dreadfulness in fragile hearts.” The Anonymous Conqueror adds that during the fighting they vociferated the eeriest shrieks and whistling, and that after winning the war only the young women were spared. To contribute with live bodies for the thirsty gods, not the killing in situ, was the objective. Behind there came the specialized warriors who tied up the captives and transferred them to the stone altars.
With a stabbing which purpose was not to kill the victim, the sacrificer, usually the high priest of one of the innumerable temples, opened the victim’s abdomen: a dull blow at the diaphragm level. The sacrificer then stuck the hand into the viscera poking until finding the heart. Grabbed and still beating, he tore it out with a strong pull. This eventration and ablation of the heart is the form in which the sacrifice was practiced, in identical mode, thousands upon thousands of times in Mesoamerica. The last thing that the victim saw in the instant before losing consciousness were his executioners. By tearing out the heart in such a way the body poured out virtually all of its blood, from five to six liters: the strongest hemorrhage of all conceivable forms.
Fresco by José Clemente Orozco
Diego Durán was startled that, according to his estimates, in the pre-Hispanic world more people died in the sacrifices than from natural death. In contrast to how the Second World War is taught to us, academics are reluctant to point out that the sacrificial institution in Mesoamerica was a true Holocaust. The year 1487 signaled the climax of the sacrificial thirst. In four consecutive days the ancient Mexicans indulged themselves in an orgy of blood. The warriors had taken men from entire tribes to be sacrificed during the festivities of the re-consecration of the last layer of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan. Through four days the priests, their assistants and the common citizens uninterruptedly tore out hearts on fourteen pyramids. The poured-out blood stained of red the plaza and the stone ramps that were constructed to throw the bodies down. The exact figure is unknown but the Codex Telleriano-Remensis tells that the old people spoke of 4000 sacrificed humans. It is probable that the propaganda of Mexica terror inflated the official figure to 84,400 sacrificed victims to frighten their rivals.
The 1487 re-consecration aside, we should not forget the perpetuity of the sacrificial Mexican holyday, except the feared five days at the end of the year. The blood of the victims was spilled like holy water (something of this can be seen beside Gibson’s vertical tzompantli). The reverberation of such a butchery reached the unconscious of the youth I was centuries after it. I will never forget a dream I had many years ago in which I saw myself transported to the gloomiest moment of a night in the center of the old Tenochtitlan. I remember the atmosphere of the dream: something told me, in that dense night, that there was an odor and a deposit of bodies that made my flesh creep for the inconceivable amount of human remains: a very close place where my soul wandered around. The horror of the culture was captured in the oneiric taste that is impossible to describe in words. The filthy stench of the place was something I knew existed, though I do not remember having smelled anything during the dream.
The second month of the Mexica calendar was called Tlacaxipehualiztli, literally “the flaying of the men,” during which only in Tenochtitlan at least seventy people were killed. Sometimes the condemned to be sacrificed were led naked covered with white chalk. The victims of Xippe Tótec, an imported god from the Yopi region of Guerrero-Oaxaca, had been presented to the public the previous month of the sacrifice. In Mesoamerican statuary Our Lord the Flayed One is always represented covered with the skin of a sacrificed victim, whose features can be guessed on Xippe’s skin. In that holiday, writes Duverger, the beggars were allowed to dress with the skins “still greasy with the victim’s blood” and they begged at the homes of Tenochtitlan “with that terrifying tunic.” According to the Florentine Codex, those who had captured the victims also wore the skins. After several days of using them “the stench was so terrible that everybody turned their heads; it was repulsive: people that encountered them covered their noses, and the skins already dry became crumbly.”
These offering acts were the opposite to the Hollywood images of a secret cult that, clandestinely, sacrifices a young woman. Mesoamerica was the theatre of the most public of the cruelties. In contrast to the Christian cathedrals which spirituality lies in a sensation of privacy and inwardness, the Mesoamerican temple showed off the sacrifice at the universal sight of the sun, and the average people participated in a communal event. In the holiday called Panquetzaliztli the dancers “ran at the top of their speed, jumped and shook until left breathless and the old people of the neighborhoods played music and sang for them.” The exhausting marathon was a hallucinating spectacle and the ritual murders marked the height of the Mexican party. In another of their celebrations, Xócotl huetzi, the celebration of the fire god, the victims were thrown over an immense brazier while the crowd contemplated speechless. Sahagún informs us that the Mexicans took them out of the brazier with their fleshes burnt and swollen, and that after their hearts were torn out “the people dispersed and everybody went to their homes to celebrate, since it was a day of great rejoicing.”
All sacrifice was surrounded by popular parties. Personally, what shocks me the most is the second month of the Mexica calendar, the month that I most relate to my dream, because in real life those who would be killed and skinned fainted, and in this panic-stricken state they were dragged by the hair to the sacrificial stone.
A warrior and his captive,
grabbed by the hair and crying
(note the tears on the face).
The priests also dressed themselves with the yellow-painted skins of the victims; the skin’s exterior turned inwards like a sock. Our Lord the Flayed One was invoked with these words: “Oh my god, why do you play too hard to get it? Put your golden vestments on, put them on!” The body of the flayed victim was cooked and shared out for its consumption. The Florentine Codex has illustrations of these forms of sacrifice, including an illustration of five Indians skinning a dead body. The xixipeme were the men who dressed themselves with the skin of the victims personifying the deity.
The evidence in both the codexes and on the mural paintings, steles, graffiti and pots are witness of the gamut of the human sacrifices. Even zealous indigenistas like Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and Leonardo López Luján have stated publicly that there is iconographic evidence of the sacrifices in Teotihuacan, Bonampak, Tikal, Piedras Negras and on the codexes Borgia, Selden and Magliabechiano, as well as irrefutable physical evidence in the form of blood particles extracted from the sacrificial daggers. In addition to the extraction of the heart, in the last incarnation of this culture of serial killers the victims were locked up in a cave where they would die of thirst and starvation; or were decapitated, drowned, riddled with arrows, thrown from the precipices, beaten to death, hanged, stoned or burned alive. In the ritual called mitote, the still alive victims were bled while a group of dancers bit their bodies. The mitote culminated with the cooking and communal consumption of the victims in a stew similar to the pozole. In the sacrifice performed by the Matlazinca the victim was seized in a net and the bones slowly crushed by means of twisting the net. The ballgame, performed from the gulf’s coast and that aroused enormous passions among the spectators, culminated in the dragging of the decapitated body so that its blood stained the sand with a frieze of skulls “watching” the sport. There is no point in making a scholarly, Sahagunesque encyclopedia list, about the names of the gods or the months of the calendar that corresponded to each kind of these sacrifices. Suffice it to say that at the top of the pyramids the idols were of the size of a man and even larger, composed by a paste of floured seeds mixed with the blood of the sacrifices. The figures were sitting on chairs with a sword on one hand and a shield on the other. What I said of the great Huichilobos above I could tell once more: how I would like to contemplate the figures of the so-called Aztec Pantheon. Sacrifices were performed to gods whose names are familiar for us who attended the Mexican schools: from the agrarian, war, water and vegetation deities to the gods of the death, fire and lust. Most of the time the sacrifices were performed on the temples, but they could be done in the imperial palace too. We already saw that children were sacrificed on mounts and in the lake. Now I must say something about the sacrifices of women. According to the Florentine Codex, during the rituals of the months Huey tecuíhuitl (from June 22 to July 11) and Ochpaniztli (from August 21 to September 9) women were deceived with these words:
Be merry my daughter, very soon you will share the bed of emperor Motecuhzoma. He will sleep with you, oh blessed one!
The Indian girl voluntarily walked up the temple’s steps but when she arrived she was decapitated by surprise. In similar sacrifices at the arranged time and date according to the calendar’s holiday, women were decapitated, flayed and their skins used like a trophy. Besides men, women, children and occasionally old people, the Mexicas sacrificed dogs, coyotes, deer, eagles and jaguars. The Florentine codex informs us that sometimes they went up the pyramid with the human victim tied up by the four extremities, “meaning they were like the deer.”
The writer who best transports us into this unheard-of world and who most reaches my dream of “machines to see the past” is Bernal Díaz del Castillo and his The Truthful History of the Conquest of New Spain. The spontaneous testimony of the infantry soldier differs from the dry reports by Cortés. It also differs, as a memorialist work, from the treatise that Hugh Thomas wrote half a millennium later, considered a standard reference about the conquest. It tells a lot about our primitive era to focus on the literary form of the Quixote, which is fiction, instead of the real facts that Bernal recounts: extraordinary experiences where he often was very close of losing his life. (The attitude of the people of letters reminds me precisely a passage of Cervantes’ novel: the hidalgo only lost his nerve when he run into the only real adventure he encountered, in contrast to his windmills.) The discovery of the Bernal chronicle impressed me considerably. His work was an eye-opener about the charlatanry in the Mexican schools with all of its silences, blindness and taboos about cannibalism and the cruelty and magnitude of the pre-Columbian sacrificial institution. It seemed inconceivable that I had to wait so long to discover an author that speaks like no other about the distant past of Mexico, someone whose writing I should have met in my adolescence. I am increasingly convinced that the true university are the books; and the voice of one’s own conscience, more than the voice of the academics, the lighthouse that guides us in the seas of the world.
Humboldt said that the joy experienced by the adventurer facing the newly discovered world was better transmitted by the chronicler than by the poets. In 1545 Bernal moved to the Old Guatemala, where he lived the rest of his life, although he would not write down his memories until he was close seventy. The Guatemalan poet Luis Cardoza y Aragón said that Bernal’s chronicle is the most important work about the conquest. He considers it superior to the chronicles of the military campaigns in Peru or the campaigns against Turkey, Flanders or Italy. Those who in more recent times have read Bernal in translations tell similar things. In an internet book-review it can be read: “In every page of this book lies the plots and the characters for [every] single Spielberg movie. But no movie, no adventure, no science fiction, and no Goth novel can even come close to Bernal Diaz’s first-hand account of the initial defeat [of the Spaniards] and final conquest of New Spain.” And Christopher Bonn Jonnes, author of Wake up Dead, wrote: “This story might have been rejected as too far-fetched if it were offered as fiction, but it is history.”
Unlike the soporific scholarly treatises, in the Bernaldine pages one really feels how pre-Hispanic Mexico was. The narrative about the shock that the Europeans felt when running for the very first time in history with the sacrificial institution is very illustrative. It happened in an island near Veracruz. Due to the novelty that the ritual represented for Bernal and his comrades they baptized it Island of the Sacrifice.
And we found a worship house with a large and very ugly idol, called Tezcatepuca [Tezcatlipoca], with four Indians with very large dark cassocks as its companions, with capes like the ones of the Dominicans or the cannons. And they were the priests of that idol, commonly called in New Spain [the Aztec empire] papas, as I have already mentioned. And that day they had sacrificed two boys with their opened chest, and their hearts and blood offered to that cursed idol. And we did not consent they gave us that odorous [offering] smoke; instead we felt great pity to see those two boys dead, and such a gigantic cruelty. And the general asked the Indian Francisco, already mentioned by me, whom we brought to the Banderas River and who seemed to know something, why they did it, and only by means of gestures, since by then we didn’t have any translator, as again I have said.
Those were the times before the Cortés expedition. In the Grijalva expedition, Bernal and his comrades had been the first Europeans to notice that beyond Cuba and La Española there were no more islands but immense lands. In the expedition after Gijalva’s, now way inland into the continent in what today is the state of Veracruz, Bernal tells us:
Pedro de Alvarado said they had found every dead body without arms and legs, and other Indians said that [the arms and legs] had been taken as food, about which our soldiers were amazed at such great cruelties. And let us stop talking of so many sacrifices, since from that town on we did not find anything else.
Let us also take a leap forward on the Bernaldine route to Tenochtitlan where they did not find anything else, Tlaxcala included. When they reached Cholula, a religious city of pilgrimage with a hundred of temples and the highest pyramid of the empire, dedicated to Quetzalcóatl, the Cholulans told Cortés:
“Look, Malinche [Marina’s master], this city is in bad mood. We know that this night they have sacrificed to their idol, which is the war idol, seven people and five of them were children, so that they give victory against you.”
For the ancient Mesoamericans everything was resolved through the killing of children and adults. Once the Spaniards reached the great capital of the empire, and after Moctezuma and his retinue conducted them in grand tour through the beautiful Tenochtitlan and having seen the impressive Huichilobos at the pyramid’s top, Bernal tells us:
A little way apart from the great Cue [pyramid] there was another small tower which was also an idol house or a true hell, for it had at the opening of one gate a most terrible mouth such as they depict, saying that such there are in hell. The mouth was open with great fangs to devour souls, and here too were some shapes of devils and bodies of serpents close to the door, and a little way off was a place of sacrifice all blood-stained and black with smoke, and encrusted with blood, and there were many great ollas and pitchers and large earthenware jars of water, for it was here that they cooked the flesh of the unfortunate Indians who were sacrificed, which was eaten by the papas. There were also near the place of sacrifice many large knives and chopping blocks, such as those on which they cut up meat in the slaughterhouses. […] I always called that place the house of hell.
Sahagún and Durán corroborate Bernal’s testimony about cannibalism. As we already saw, not even Bartolomé de Las Casas denied it. In History of Tlaxcala Diego Muñoz wrote:
Thus there were public butcher’s shops of human flesh, as if it were of cow or sheep like the ones we have today.
And in the chapter XXIV authored by the Anonymous Conqueror it can be read that throughout Mesoamerica the natives ate human flesh that, the chronicler adds, they liked more than any other food. It is noteworthy that in this occasion the Mexicans did not use chili peppers, only salt: which according to the scholars suggest that they had it as precious delicatessen. Human flesh, which tasted like pig, was not roasted but served as pozole. In Tenochtitlan the bodies were taken to the neighborhoods for consumption. (Likewise, there were human flesh remnants in the markets of Batak in Sumatra before the Dutch conquest.) The one who made the capture during the war was the owner of the body when it reached the bottom steps of the pyramid. The priest’s assistants gave the owner a pumpkin full of warm blood of the victim. With the blood the owner made offerings to the diverse statues. The house of the capturer was the eating-place, but according to the etiquette he could not join the banquet.
A scene of communal cannibalism
The American practices of sacrifice and cannibalism had initiated in 5000 B.C., with the first Asian settlers in the continent that wrought the practice since the transit through the Bering Strait. I have mentioned the festivities of the month Panquetzaliztli but did not said that, according to Sahagún, in that festivity the Mexicas bought slaves, “washed them up and gave them as gifts to be fed upon, so that their flesh was tasty when they were killed and eaten.” Even the contemporary writers who admire the Mexica world agree with Sahagún. For Duverger, cannibalism should not be disguised as a symbolic part of an ancient ritual: “No! Cannibalism forms part of the Aztec reality and its practice was much more widespread and was considerably more natural than what it is sometimes presented.” He adds: “Let us open the codexes: arms and legs emerge from a pitcher placed on fire with curled up Indians who devour, by hand, the arms and legs of a sacrificed victim.” When the Tlaxcallans took the dead Tepeacas to the Tlaxcala butcher’s shops after the flight from Tenochtitlan, it is clear that the objective was not ritual cannibalism but the most pragmatic antropophagy (this shows that Las Casas’s claim mentioned above that antropophagy was a religious custom is simply untrue). Miguel Botella from the University of Granada explains that Mesoamerican cannibalism had been “like today’s bull fighting, where everything follows a ritual, but once the animal dies it is meat.” Botella points out that the chroniclers’ descriptions have been corroborated by examining more than twenty thousand bone-remains throughout the continent, some of them with unequivocal signs of culinary manipulation. Among the very diverse recipes of the ancient Mexicans, the one that I found most disgusting to imagine was an immense tamale they did with a dead Indian by grinding the remains… after a year of his death and burial!
After the massacre of Cholula the Spaniards liberated the captives from the wooden, cage-like jails that included children fed for consumption. Not even Hugh Thomas denies this. But the politically correct establishment always depicts the massacre of Cholula as one of the meanest acts by the Spaniards. They never mention the cages though, or how the captives were liberated thanks to the conquerors, instead of being eaten by the Cholulans.
However hard the nationalist Mexicans may try to palm this matter off from the school textbooks, and however hard it may seem to imagine it for those of us who were educated to idealize that culture, the ineludible fact is that only thirteen or fourteen generations ago the Mexicans consumed human flesh as part of their food chain.
“The Best Education of the World”
In each Maya city there were two wells: one for drinking water and the other as an oracle to throw the girls almost twenty meters below. When brought out at noon, if they had not died in the cold water they were asked: “What did the gods say to you?” The Mayan girls got back at their babies by tying their feet and hands up. And they did something else. Artificial cranial deformation had been practiced since prehistory, with Greek physicians mentioning the practice in some towns. The Mayans placed boards at the sides of the newborn’s cranium to mold it, when it is still plastic, to form the egg-shaped heads that the archeologists have found. Furthermore, the parents also placed objects between their baby’s eyes to make them cross-eyed. Just as the elongated heads, this was a sign of beauty. (When Hernández de Córdova ventured in the Yucatán coast in 1517 he took with himself two cross-eyed Indians he thought could be useful as interpreters.) Once grown, the children had to sacrifice their own blood: the boys had to bleed their penes and the girls their tongues. Some Mayans even sacrificed their children by delivering them alive to the jaguars.
Without specifically referring to Mesoamerican childrearing, deMause has talked about what he calls “projective care”. During the fearful nemotemi, the five nefarious days for the Mexicans, parents did not allow their children sleep “so that they would not turn into rats.” Let us remember the psychodrama of the self-harmer girl in Ross’ paradigm and take one step forward. Let us imagine that, once married, she projected on her own child the self-hatred. Such “care” of not letting the children to sleep was, actually, a case of dissociation with the adult projecting onto the child the part of her self that she was taught to self-hate. Another example: In the world of the Mexica the first uttered words addressing the newborn told him that he was a captive. Just like the shrieks that made the chroniclers shudder, the midwife shouted since it was believed that childbirth was a combat and, by being born, the child a seized warrior. The newborn was swaddled and kindly told: “My son, so loved, you shall know and comprehend that your home is not here. Your office is to give the sun to drink the blood of the enemies.” The creature has barely come to the world and it already has enemies. The newborn is not born with rights but with duties: he is not told that he will be cared for, but that he is destined to feed the great heavenly body. (DeMause has written about this inversion of the parental-filial roles in his studies about western babies in more recent centuries.) In the Mexica admonition the shadow of infanticide by negligence is also cast. “We do not know if you will live much,” the newborn was told in another exhortation.
Tlazolteotl, goddess of infancy,
grabbing a child by the hair
In the above illustration it can be noted the similarity of Tlazolteotl with the image of the warrior and his captive. Just like that image, the goddess grabs the hair as a symbol of dominion. One of the few true things that Elsié Méndez told me, a woman so much criticized in my previous book, were certain words she pronounced that I remember verbatim: “La mamá lo pepena” [“The mom grabs him”] referring to those mothers of our times that choose one of their children to control him to the point of psychic strangulation.
In May of 1998 I listened in television to Miguel León Portilla, the best-known indigenista scholar in México, saying that the Mexica education was “the best education of the world.” Almost a decade later I purchased a copy of the Huehuetlatolli that León-Portilla commented, which includes one page in Nahuatl. The Huehuetlatolli were the moralizing homilies in the first years of the children. These advices were ubiquitous in Nahua pedagogy. They were not taught in the temples but from the parents to their children, even among the most humble workers, within the privacy of the home. In the words of León-Portilla: “Fathers and mothers, male teachers and female teachers, to educate their children and pupils they transmitted these messages of wisdom.” The exordiums were done in an elegant and educated language, the model of expression that would be used at school. A passage from the Huehuetlatolli of a father to his son that Fray Andrés de Olmos transcribed to Spanish says:
We are still here—we, your parents—who have put you here to suffer, because with this the world is preserved.
This absolute gem depicts in two lines the Mexica education. Paying no attention to these kind of words, on the next page León-Portilla comments: “Words speak now very high of its [the Mexica’s] moral and intellectual level.” Later, in the splendid edition of the Huehuetlatolli that I possess, commented by the indigenista, the sermon says: “Do not make of your heart your father, your mother.”
This advice is the perfect antithesis to Pindar’s “Become what you are!” which summarizes the infinitely more advanced Greek culture of two thousand years before. While León-Portilla describes the Nahua exordiums as highly wise and moral, they actually represent a typical case of poisonous pedagogy. If there is something clear after reading the Huehuetlatolli is that that education produced no individuals whatsoever: other people lived the lives of the children, adolescents and youths who are exhorted interminably. What is worse: while León-Portilla praised the education of the ancient Mexicans on national television, at the same time the program displayed images of codex drawings with pubescent children tied up on their wrists and ankles, with thorns sank into their bodies and tears on their faces. The indigenista had omitted to say that “the punishments rain over the child,” as Jacques Soustelle wrote in Daily Life of the Aztecs. The Mexica parents scratched their children with maguey thorns. They also burn red chili peppers and placed their child over the acrid smoke.
Codex Mendoza, folio 60:
Punishes to children ages 11 to 14.
Note the tears of the child and the sign
of admonition near the father’s mouth.
Another punishment mentioned in the codex was the beating of the child with sticks. Motolinía, Fray Juan de Torquemada, Durán and Sahagún corroborated that the education was fairly severe. It is important to remember that the mode of childrearing that deMause calls intrusion, the striking with objects, is considered more prejudicial for the self-image of the child than the spanking of the psychoclass denominated as socializing. It is also important to note that the parents were the ones who physically abused the children. It is true that the language of the Huehuetlatolli is very sweet: “Oh my little daughter of mine, little dove! These words I have spoken so that you may make efforts to…” But in Carta a mamá Medusa I demonstrated the short circuit that produces in a boy’s mentality this sort of “Jekyll-Hyde” alternation in the parental dynamics with their child.
The Mexicas copied from the Mayans the custom of selling their children. The sold out children had to work hard or they would be punished. A poor family could sell their child as a slave to get out from a financial problem. This still happened in the times when the Spaniards arrived. The noble that stole his father could be punished with death, and it is worth saying that the great draughts of 1450-1454 were dealt with the massive sacrifice of children to the water deities.
Which was the attitude that the child had to had toward such parents? In Nahuatl the suffix -tzin was aggregated to the persons that would be honored. Totatzin is our respected father. In previous pages I noted that the frenetic dances discharged the affects contained in the Mexica psyche. Taking into account that before such education the child was not allowed to live his or her feelings, as it is clearly inferred from the texts cited by León-Portilla not only from the Huehuetlatolli but from education in general, the silhouette of what had to be discharged starts to be outlined.
In Izcalli, the last month of the Mexica calendar, the children were punctured on the ears and the blood was thrown to the fire. As I said, at ten the boy’s hair was cut leaving a lock that would not be cut until, already grown, he would take a prisoner. In one way or the other every Mexica male had to participate in the seizure of victims for the serial killing. Those who could not make prisoners had to renounce the military theocracy and resign themselves with being macehuallis, or workers: plebeians attached to their fields who, under the penalty of death, were forbidden to usurp the honorific symbols of feathers, boarded dresses and jewels. The macehuallis formed the bulk of the society. On the other hand, he who captured four prisoners arrived with a single jump at the upper layer of society. To excel in the seizure of men for the serial killing was so relevant that “he who was born noble could die slave.”
Both on national television and in his writings, León-Portilla is filled with pride that the ancient Mexicans were the only peoples in the world that counted with obligatory schooling in the 16th century. The indigenista belongs to the generation of my father, when children’s rights were unheard as a subject, let alone parental abuse. The form in which the Nahuas treated their children, that presently would be considered abusive, was continued at school. The school education to harden the soul of the elite, the Calmécac (“house of tears”), consisted of penances and self-harming with maguey thorns. Another case of the father’s projective care was the advice to his son about the ultra-Spartan education he would be exposed in the boarding school:
Look, son: you have to be humble and looked down on and downhearted […], you shall take out blood from your body with the maguey thorn, and take night baths even though it is too cold […]. Don’t take it as a burden, grin and bear it the fasting and the penance.
“Don’t take it as a burden” means do not feel your feelings. According to Motolinía, this most beloved practice of homiletic admonitions was even longer for the girls. In the boarding school the boy had to abandon the bed to take a bath in the cold water of the lake or a fountain. As young as seven-year-olds were encouraged to break from the affective attachment at home: “And don’t think, son, inside of you ‘my mother and my father live’. Don’t remember any of these things.”
Because the child was consecrated for war since birth, the education at schools was basically military. The strictly hierarchical system promised the striving young to escalate to the level of tequiuaque and even higher if possible. If the boy of upper classes did not want to become a warrior he had another option: priesthood. About his twentieth year he had to make an election: a military life or a celibate and austere life, starting with playing the drum or helping the priest with the sacrifices. Severity was extreme: one of Netzahualcoyotl’s laws punished by death the drunk or lusty priest. No society, not even the Islamic, has been so severe with adultery and alcoholism: crimes where the capital punishment was applied both for the male and the female. The macehuallis who got drunk were killed in front of the adolescents. (The equivalent today would be that American schoolchildren were required to witness the executions of the pot addicts in the electric chair, as a warning.) The Calmécac were both schools and monasteries ruled by priests in black clothes. In the Florentine Codex an image can be seen of adolescents wearing dresses made of fresh human skins. We can imagine the emotional after-effects that such practice, fostered by the adult world, caused in the boys.
In the Nahua world it was frowned upon that the youth expressed his grudges and it was considered acceptable that he restrained and controlled himself. No insolent individual, Soustelle tells us, “no one who talked what came to his mouth was placed in the real throne,” and the elite were the first ones to submit to the phlegmatic code. And it was not a matter of concealing the grudges when, say, a boy or a girl learnt that their own parents had offered a little sister as sacrificial payment. The parents advised them in the ubiquitous sermons: “Look that your humility not be feigned, because then it will be told of you titoloxochton, which means hypocrite.” In the Nahua world the child was manipulated through the combination of sweet and kind expressions with the most heinous adultism. The parents continued to sermon all of them, even “the experienced, the fully grown youth.”
An unquenchable sun
Tell me how are your gods and I will tell you who you are. The myth of the earth-goddess Tlaltecuhtli, who cried because she wanted to eat human hearts, cannot be more symbolic. Just as the father-sun would not move without sacrifices, the mother-earth would not give fruits if she was not irrigated with blood. Coatlicue was also the goddess of the great destruction that devours everything living.
Sacrifices were performed in front of her; vicious rumors circulated around about “juicy babies” for the insatiable devourer. In the houses the common people always had an altar with the figurines of a deity, generally the Coatlicue. (In our western mind one would expect to find the male god of the ancient Mexicans, Huitzilopochtli.) The terrible goddess demanded:
And the payment of your chests and your hearts would be that you will be conquering, you will be attacking and devastating all macehuallis, the villagers that are over there, in all places through which you pass. And to your war prisoners, which you will make captives, you will open their chest on a sacrificial stone, with the flint of an obsidian knife. And you will do offerings of their hearts and will eat their flesh without salt; only very little of it in the pot where the corn is cooked.
Of the Mexica I only have a few culinary roots, such as eating tortillas. Culturally speaking, the educated middle and high classes in Latin America are basically European, of the type of Spain or Portugal. If we compare the above passage with our authentic roots, say, the exordiums of Numbers or Leviticus against cannibalism and other practices, the difference cannot be greater. Likewise, the Mexica mythology cannot contrast more with the superior psychoclass of Greece: where Zeus opens the belly of his father, Cronus, who had swallowed his siblings establishing thus a new order in the cosmos.
The papas punctured their limbs as an act of penance for the gods. These gods were a split-off, dissociated or internalized images of the parents. Even the emperor frequently abandoned the bed at midnight to offer his blood and praying. The Anonymous Conqueror was amazed by the fact that, among all of the Earth’s creatures, the Americans were the most devoted to their religion; so much so that the common Indian offered himself or herself by taking out blood from his body to offer it to the statues. The 16th century chronicler tells us that on the roads there were many shrines where the travelers poured their blood. If we remember the scene of the Mexican film El Apando, based on the homonym book by José Revueltas where a convicted offender in the Lecumberri penitentiary bled himself while the other prisoners told him that he was crazy, we can imagine the leap in psychogenesis. What was considered normal in the highest and most refined strata of the Mesoamerican world is abnormal even in the snake pits of modern Mexico. The most terrible form of Mexica self-harming that I have seen in the codexes appears on page 10 of the Codex Borgia: a youth pulling out his eye as symbol of penitence. This was like taking the disturbing Colin Ross paradigm to its ultimate expression.
At the bottom of the Mesoamerican worldview it always appears the notion that the creature owes his life, and everything that exists, to his creators: paradigm of the blackest of pedagogies that we can imagine [Schwarze Pädagogik is a term popularized by Alice Miller]. The Mesoamerican mythology speaks of the transgression of some gods to create life without their parents’ permission, thus making themselves equals with them. In the Maya texts it is said that these children “made themselves haughty” and that what they did was “against the will of the father and the mother.” The transgressors were expelled from heaven and to come back they had to sacrifice themselves. Two of them threw themselves alive into the bonfire and were welcomed by their pleased parents. The resonances of this myth appear in the practice of throwing the captives to the bonfire; and we should not let it out from our sight what Baudez said that the Mesoamerican sacrifice replaces self-sacrifice. It is merely a substitute sacrifice “as it is shown in the first place by the primeval myths that precede self-sacrifice.” This original sin condemned human beings to the sacrificial institution since “they could not recognize their creators.” (When I reached this passage in Arqueología Mexicana I could not but remember my father’s phrase that injured me so badly, as recounted in my previous book, when he referred to the damned “because they didn’t recognize their Creator.”) The sacrificial institution thus understood was a score settling, a vendetta. Moreover, in some versions of the Mesoamerican cosmogony the sun gives weapons to the siblings faithful to their parents to kill the 400 unfaithful children. The faithful execute the bidding and thus feed their demanding parents: once more, the cultural antithesis of the successful rebellion by Zeus, who had rescued their siblings from the tyrannical parent.
The connection of childrearing with the sacrificial institution is so obvious that when the warrior made a captive he had it as his son—which explains why he could not participate in the post-sacrificial feast—and the captive had him as his lord father. Some historians even talk about dialogues. When making a prisoner, the capturer said: “Behold my beloved son,” and the prisoner responded: “Behold my honored father.” In one of the water holydays of the Tota forest, which means “Our Father,” a girl was taken beside the highest tree to be sacrificed. Each time that the priest lifted a heart toward the sky as a sun offering the catastrophe that threatens the universe was, once more, postponed because “without the red and warm elixir of the sacrificed victims the universe was doomed to freeze.” As modern schizophrenics reason, the universe of the common Mesoamerican, just as the bicameral minds of other cultures, was constantly threatened and exposed to a catastrophe. The primordial function of the human race was to feed their parents, intonan intota Tlaltecuhtli Tonatiuh, “to our mother and our father, the earth and the sun.” The elegance of these four Nahua words evokes the compact Latin.
In the Mexica world destiny was pre-determined by the tonalpohualli, “the count of the days” of the calendar where an individual’s birth by astrological sign was his fate. If León-Portilla had in mind the pre-Columbian cultures, he erred in his article “Identidad y crisis” published in July of 2008 in Reforma, by concluding that in antiquity the sun was seen as the “provider of life.” Duverger makes the keen observation that the solar deity, which appears at the center of the calendar, was so distant that it was not even worshipped directly. Instead of providing life the insatiable deity demanded more and more energy, under the penalty of freezing the world (“We are still here—we, your parents—who have put you here to suffer, because with this the world is preserved”). The noonday heavenly body is not a provider of energy: it demands it. The thirsty tongue that appears at the Stone of the Sun looks like a dagger: it represents the knife used during the sacrifices. The solar calendar with Tonatiuh at the center of the cosmos was an absolute destiny: he could not even be implored. It is important to mention the psychohistorical studies about the diverse deities of the most archaic form of infanticidal cultures: they were all too remote to be approached according to deMause.
When I think of the musician that sacrificed himself voluntarily to Tezcatlipoca in the holyday of the month Tóxcatl, which according to Sahagún was a holiday as sacred to the Mexicas as Easter to Christians, I see the culture of the ancient Mexicans under all of its sun. (Pedro de Alvarado would perpetrate the massacre in the main temple when he feared he would be sacrificed after that holiday.) Baudez’s self-sacrificial observation is worth remembering again. Like the martyr of Golgotha who had to drink from the calyx that deep down he wanted to take away from himself, only if the young Indian submitted voluntarily to the horrifying death he earned the inscrutable love of the father. This is identical to the most dissociated families in the Islamist world, as can be gathered from deMause’s article “If I blow myself up and become a martyr, I’ll finally be loved.” But unlike Alvarado and the conquerors’ metaphorical Easter (and even contemporary Islamists), the Mexicas literally killed their beloved one before decapitating him and showing off his head in the tzompantli.
Just as the mentality of the Ancient World’s most primitive cultures, in the Mesoamerican world, where the solar cycle reigned since the Mayans and perhaps before, “the sacrifice was performed to feed the parent with food (hearts) and drinking (blood).” I had said that the priest’s helpers gave the captive’s “father” a pumpkin full of warm blood of his “son.” With this blood he dampened the lips of the statues, the introjected and demanding “shadows” of their own parents, to feed them. The priests smeared their idols with fresh blood and, as Bernal Díaz told us, the principal shrines were soaked with stench scabs, including the pinnacle of the Great Teocalli.
In our times, the ones who belong to this psychoclass are those who show off their acts by smearing the walls with their victims’ blood: people who have suffered a much more regressive mode of childrearing than the average westerner. Richard Rhodes explains in Why they Kill that Lonnie Athens, the Darwin of postmodern criminology, discovered that those who commit violent crimes were horribly subjected to violence as children. One hundred percent of the criminals that Athens interviewed in the Iowa and California prisons had been brutalized in their tender years.* An extreme case at the other side of the Atlantic was that of a serial killer of children, Jürgen Bartsch, analyzed by Alice Miller in For Your Own Good. Bartsch had been martyred at home in a far more horrific way than I was. Miller believes that Bartsch gloated over by seeing the panic-stricken looks in the children’s eyes; the children that he mutilated in order to see the martyred boy that inhabited in Bartsch himself.
* Abby Stein has confirmed these findings recently (Journal of Psychohistory, 36, 4, 320-27). It is worth saying that, due to the foundational taboo of the human mind, when in January of 2008 I edited the Wikipedia article Criminology it surprised me to find, in the section where I added mention to Athens, only the biological theories about the etiology of the criminal mind.
An Encounter of Psychoclasses
Julian Jaynes wrote:
I have endeavored in these two chapters to examine the record of a huge time span to reveal the plausibility that man and his early civilizations had a profoundly different mentality from our own, that in fact men an women were not conscious as we are, were not responsible for their actions, and therefore cannot be given credit or blame for anything that was done over these vast millennia of time.
In his book Jaynes complains that the translators of the texts of the Ancient World color their translations with abstract words absolutely incompressible for the bicameral mentality of other times. Personally, once I realized that psychoclasses exist, the Hollywood movies that retroproject our modern psyche onto epic adventures of the historical past look rather silly, as if man had always been the same.
The indigenistas talk wonders of the Mexica herbalist medicine in spite of the fact that it was impregnated with paleologic thinking. Most of the cures were oriented to expel the evil spirits. If the ailment was “the cold disease,” offerings were performed on the particular mount that aroused special devotion. The diagnosis did not rely on empirical observation, but on divination; and if a god had sent the disease offerings to that deity had to be performed. As Silvano Arieti wrote, his schizophrenic patients interpreted everything that occurred as wished by external agents. Far more disturbing was the propensity of Mesoamericans to perform trepanations to let the evil spirits go. The record of this practice on trepanated skulls is an Indian skull with five large holes.
Most interesting is the first act coming from a frightened Moctezuma before the expedition members: he dispatched a delegation offering fresh human flesh to them. When the Spaniards still were in the Veracruz shore, Moctezuma’s representatives visited Cortés; killed the captives they had brought with them, and began to prepare their bodies for a cannibal feast. The Spanish did not believe what they had before their eyes. “When they saw it, it made them feel sick, they spit out, they rubbed their eyes,” wrote Bernal Díaz. It is true that in a disobedient plot Cortés ordered to cut the feet’s fingers of the pilot Gonzalo de Umbría. The Spanish captain was capable of attacking a village of unarmed Tlaxcallans and committing a massacre, as well as amputating the right hands of the Indian spies. He ordered the killing of defenseless men, women and children during the siege of Tenochtitlan, “one of the most shameful scenes that the life of that man registers,” wrote his biographer Salvador de Madariaga. It is also true that he ordered that Qualpopoca and his sons be burned alive for having killed a rearguard of Spaniards. He even ordered the hanging of two of his own, and in another plot where he feared for his life he hanged Cuauhtémoc himself. But Cortés did not indulge himself in self-harming practices. Nor did he sacrifice children. Compared to the Amerindians, the rustic soldiers belonged to a completely new dimension in the evolution of the human psyche, as distinct from the infanticidal psychoclass as a butterfly from the former worm.
Those who, through history and prehistory, have belonged to the infanticidal psychoclass invariably get schizophrenized: be Indians, Caucasians, Africans or Orientals. A noise coming from Nature or an animal that passes on the way are interpreted as omens. For these people there is no individuation, free will in the broadest sense and much less cognition or Aristotelian thought process. In the case of the Mexicas, destiny was determined by the birth date and escaped the will of the individual. The psychic climate was charged of pessimism and threatened with annihilation. The Amerindians protected themselves by making offerings to their demonic gods. When Mesoamericans felt threatened by something they punctually offered blood and hearts as an attempt to placate what, in fact, were their inner demons. In Cempoala, writes Bernal Díaz, frightened by the bearded teules (a corrupted word from teteuh, gods) that came from the East, “each day they sacrificed in front of us three or four or five Indians.” When Cortés begins his resolute advance to the great Mexican capital Moctezuma fell seized with panic. “And they sacrificed each day two boys so that [the gods] answered what to do with us.” When they arrived to Cholula “we knew that [Moctezuma] was shut away with his devotions and sacrifices for two days, together with ten principal papas [high priests].” A little after that page there appears something unbelievable in Bernal’s story. The response of the high priests was that the emperor should “let us in.”
Take note that, analogously to the magic thinking of pre-Hispanic medicine, the emperor or Huey Tlatoani did not think in Aristotelian logic. It is true that, just as Ahuítzotl, before becoming monarch Moctezuma had been high priest. But he also had been a successful general. Despite of it, in the crucial year of his reign he did not ask advice from his military chiefs but from his priests, and what is worse: he let the Spanish enter knowing that they had just perpetrated the massacre of Cholula; the city being plundered by the Spanish allies, the Tlaxcallans, and the temple of Huitzilopochtli burnt for two days, in addition that Cortés ordered the destruction of all effigies of worship. Tenochtitlan was not Cholula. Located as the only lacustrine city of the continent, it was well protected. The Mexicas could easily have lifted the bridges that led to the empire’s capital. Instead, they let enter not a mere Cortés embassy, but the captain along with all of his army (including the horses, never seen before)!
If this is not suicidal magical thinking coming from bicameral minds, what is it? The Conquest of America is the chapter of history that catches the attention as no other conquest of the history of mankind. Although Carthage suffered a similar fate of Tenochtitlan, the Romans had to fight through three very costly Punic wars throughout 120 years before razing the city. It took Cortés a tiny fraction of that time to do it: he initiated his campaign in 1519 and by 1521 he had taken the double city of Tlatelolco-Tenochtitlan. Jaynes’ observation quoted above about Pizarro, “How could an empire whose armies had triumphed over the civilizations of half a continent be captured by a small band of 150 Spaniards in the early evening of November 16, 1532?” may be said about Cortés too.
“Never did a captain with such a small army perform such a feat, nor achieved so many victories or hold a grip of such a great empire,” commented the chronicler Gómora. If there is something apparent in Bernal’s story is that the captain wanted to bring to an end the practice of sacrifice in each town he passed through en route to Tenochtitlan. A semi-Indian friend of mine who has read the chroniclers commented that the historicity of their stories is way above the excuse that, mantra-like, we have heard a thousand times from other Mexicans: “Winners write history.” What actually happened is that the Tlaxcallans hated the Mexicas, who through a century had been raiding them to obtain captives for the sacrifice. Had the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan been popular in the so-called Aztec Empire the Spanish would have been repelled in Mexico. A pitiful sensation produces in the reader an illustration of the book by Diego Durán with humble Indians carrying, on their bended backs, the backpacks of the newcomers in their advance to Tenochtitlan while a Spaniard appears comfortably on his horse. The same can be said of another illustration of Indians building brigantines that would be decisively used in the battle of the Lake Texcoco. Obviously, the conquest of Mexico was also a civil war.
As implied above, my father feels an excessive admiration for the Indian world. On several occasions he has argued that the fact that the poetry of Nezahualcóyotl, the most typical and refined representative of the Nahua culture, is so humane refutes the vision of the culture of the ancient Mexicans as barbaric.
But poetry is no reliable standard. The basic, fundamental principle in psychohistory has childrearing as the relevant factor, and from this point of view even the refined monarch of Texcoco was a barbarian. In a courtier intrigue Nezahualcóyotl consented using garrote to execute his favorite son, the prince Tetzauhpilzintli. The Nahua characters were seized with fratricide fits. Moctezuma I (not the one who received Cortés) ordered the killing of his brother and something similar did Nezahualcóyotl’s heir, Nezahualpilli: who also used capital punishment with his first born son and heir. Soustelle says that this family tragedy was one of the causes of the fall of the Mexican empire since the blood brothers that rose to the throne flipped to the Spanish side. But Soustelle’s blindness about what he has in front of his nose is amazing. Like León Portilla, for Soustelle “there is no doubt that the Mexicans loved their children very much.”
But that is not love. Nezahualcóyotl’s mourning after letting his son be killed reminds me the “Pietà” of my first book, my mother, who suffered for seeing me in wretched conditions when she did nothing but escalate her abusive behavior against me. More disturbing is that some upper-class Mexicas delivered their little children to the Tláloc priests to be sacrificed (as we already saw, less wealthy people also sold their children to the sacrificers): a piece of data that demonstrates that motivation was more than economic.
From a considerable distance the Spanish soldiers saw how their companions were sacrificed at the top of the pyramid of Tenochtitlan, whose heads would later be found impaled in a tzompantli together with the decapitated heads of the captured horses. When I mentioned for the first time the tzompantlis I omitted to say that they were structures on parallel crossbeams. Through holes on the temples, the stakes supported the enormous files of decapitated human heads, one after another.
Aztec tzompantli sculpted out of stone
in imitation of the real tzompantlis
Only in Tenochtitlan there were seven tzompantlis; the Spaniards had seen a tzompantli in Cempoala, not very far from the Veracruz shore, and some time after in their journey another one in Zautla, which also contained femurs and other parts of human bodies. Bernal Díaz writes: “In that state of affairs, very frightened and wounded, we did not know about Cortés or Sandoval, nor of their armies, if they had been killed and broken down [chopped into pieces], as the Mexicans told us when they threw into our camp the five heads they grasped by the hair and beards.” The demoralized soldiers wanted to flee to Cuba after the battle of La Noche Triste, when most of the Spaniards died: a great defeat for the Spanish arms on Mexican soil.
I the middle of a skirmish the Indians captured Cortés himself, but they did not kill him. When taking him over to be sacrificed their men rescued him. From the military viewpoint, this magical thinking of not killing the fallen captain but attempting to take him to the pyramid was a gross blunder: Cortés would be the man who harangued the Spanish not to flee to Cuba after the catastrophic Noche Triste. Thereafter, with the Tlaxcallan support, the war turned over and that Mexica capital was lost. Cuauhtémoc, the last Huey Tlatoani rejected the peace proposals that, day after day, Cortés offered the Mexicas. (Cuauhtémoc had been the same noble who led the signal to stone Moctezuma after the massacre ordered by Pedro de Alvarado, inspired by the massacre of Cholula ordered by Cortés.)
It is not my intention to vituperate contemporary Mexicans. As I revealed in my previous book [La India Chingada], the memories of Mexico City’s beautiful neighborhoods where I lived in the 1960s, before the city disintegrated, still feed my deepest nostalgias. Nor is it my intention to vituperate the ancient Mexicans. As I have also said, the psychoclass of the Mexicas was far more evolved than the Chichimeca: the Nomads from the north who still ate raw meat because they could not use fire; could not build houses, and lived in the caves. The Amerindian hunter-gatherers were in a more dissociated state of mind than the inhabitants of the big cities, like the refined Nahuas. And taking into account the inconceivable sadism of the Mayans with the prisoners, undistinguishable from that of the cruelest serial killers of today I have not the slightest doubt that, even though the pictographic form of Mexica writing before the syllabic Mayan represents a technical regression, the psychoclass of the ancient Mexicans marks a psychogenic advance compared to their southern neighbors.
Gotten to this point I must confess that it is painful to read almost anything related to Moctezuma. And it is painful in spite of the fact that Bernal Díaz says that the Huey Tlatoani himself shared the cannibalism of his age. “I heard them say that they used to cook for him the flesh of small boys,” and on the same page it can be read that “our captain reprimanded him the sacrifice and the eating of human flesh, and Moctezuma ordered that that delicatessen be not cooked for him anymore.” Despite of his culinary habits, the reading of the Bernaldine pages is painful because we can see a very human Moctezuma. Both Bernal Díaz and Cortés were fond of Moctezuma; and his candid, fearful and superstitious personality moves the reader to sympathize with him too. It is very difficult not to feel a particular affection for Moctezuma. It is true that before Cortés and the Spanish the Huey Tlatoani behaved like a güey (a Mexicanism that when I was a boy meant stupid). Today’s Mexicans are not as güeyes as the Mexicas. But even after almost five hundred years it is a disturbing experience to discover how the historical Moctezuma behaved.
Before the Spanish expedition reached Tenochtitlan, the most powerful man of the empire had clung to his papas of long, tangled and gluey hair with blood scabs. We can imagine the mental state of those who, time after time, stuck their hand in living bodies digging through the vital organ. They had ash-colored faces because they too had to bleed themselves once a day. When Moctezuma fell seized with panic when the alien expedition was en route to the empire’s capital, besides the priests he also consulted fortune-tellers and sorcerers. Once the Spaniards arrived, it is disturbing to learn how these men, who represented a more integrated psychoclass, took over the empire from Moctezuma: like an adult snatching the ice-cream from a little boy, who had been a magnificent host for Cortés and his enormous military escort.
The common people were as psychologically dissociated as their governor. During the long period of time that goes from the Moctezuma kidnapping by Cortés to the massacre perpetrated by Alvarado, with the exception of Cacama and a few nobles the Mexicans did not rebel against the invasion. They did not even react when Cortés ordered that Qualpopoca, his sons and fifteen chiefs were burned alive at the stake, humiliating the emperor who, with chains, had to witness the execution in the plaza of the Great Pyramid. Moctezuma was even taught to learn, in Latin, prayers like Our Father and the Hail Mary.
Cortés left temporarily Tenochtitlan to stop Pánfilo Narváez in Cempoala. Narváez arrived from Cuba with a great army; he wanted to place Cortés under arrest and liberate Moctezuma. Only the massacre of México where the blond Alvarado (nicknamed Totaniuh, the sun) slaughtered the flower of the Mexican aristocracy during the “Aztec Easter” made the Mexicas wake up. Their long lethargy reminds me an eighteenth-century observation by a Jesuit that Amerindians were grownup children, “bambini with beards.”
Unlike the Peruvians, who constantly clean the great statue of Pizarro—who behaved worse with Atahualpa than Cortés with Moctezuma—, in almost half a century of living in the Mexican capital I have not seen a single statue of Cortés, his Indian wife, or Moctezuma. So deep did the trauma of the conquest impregnate the Mexicans’ psyche that its tail can be felt half a millennium later. It is true that, after the Alvarado massacre, what had been a sort of picaresque conquering story turned into an apparent infamy, although Salvador de Madariaga qualifies the Nahua vision of the conquest by pointing out that Alvarado “was right in thinking that there existed a conspiracy” from the Mexica to attack the Spaniards after the holyday. On the other hand, through a sense of black humor even some Indian Mexicans have dared to see the cruelties committed by their own folk. In An Autobiography, the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco wrote:
According to them [the indigenistas] the Conquest ought not to have taken place as it did. Instead of sending cruel and ambitious captains, Spain should have sent a great delegation of ethnologists, anthropologists, archeologists, civil engineers […]. Very tactfully it might have been suggested to great Moctezuma that he should establish democracy for the lower orders, while preserving the privileges of aristocracy, thus pleasing everyone. In this way the three abhorrent centuries of Colonial Period could have been side-stepped, and the Great Teocalli would still be standing, though thoroughly disinfected to keep the blood of sacrifices from going bad, and to enable us to turn it into blood pudding—in a factory standing where, for want of it, the National Pawnshop inadequately serves.
History did not occur that way. The soldiers razed Tenochtitlan and a clergy coming out directly from the Counter-Reformation and the Reconquista took care of the statues and the codexes. A melancholic Mexica poem says: “Our lifestyle, our city, is lost and dead.” The infamous pyramid that enclosed the remains of the boy whose photo I included way above was blown up with 500 barrels of powder.
Conversely, in the sarcastic scenario by Orozco, in the world’s most beautiful city the tourists would utter wonders when escalating the Teocalli to see the great Huichilobos without any knowledge of the sacrificed child and his remains, still enclosed under the rock, dozens of meters below their feet.
After the fall of Tenochtitlan Bernal Díaz tells us that “land, lagoon and bargekennings were full of dead bodies, and it stank so much that there was no man who could endure it.” In contrast to the Manichaeism of the Mexicans, whether hispanophiles or indigenistas, Martin Brown drew some irreverent cartoons published in Terry Deary’s pamphlet The Angry Aztecs. One of them illustrates the stone blocks of the recently destroyed city: colored stones of the temples that would be used for the construction of the Christian buildings. In Brown’s cartoon there is a dialogue between two pubescent Nahuas, a boy and a girl sitting on the great city on ruins:
Boy: The Aztecs killed my mum.
Girl: The Spanish killed mine.
Boy: I wonder who is deader?
But Brown omitted the crux: Moctezuma and his folk ate the kids of that age, something that the Spaniards never did.
What destroys the mind to the point of making an entire continent inhabited by easy-to-conquer güeyes is to carry the burden, in the innermost corner of the soul, that our beloved totatzin sacrificed one of our siblings; or that this happened in the families of friends and acquaintances and that nobody condemned it. Using the language of my previous book, since the sacrifices were part of the social tissue nobody counted with an enlightened witness; let alone a helping witness when the poisonous pedagogy was being inculcated. Let us remember the ethnologic study of the twentieth century about the New Guinea tribes. The children avoided their parents when they ate one of their little siblings. The rates of child suicide among such peoples, a more disturbed society than the Mexica, were very high.
The Spanish destruction may be compared in some way to the destruction by king Josiah in 641 B.C. according to II Chronicles 34: 3-7, about which Jaynes comments that had it not occurred more archaeological evidence of the ancient Hebrews’ speaking idols could have been found. Though objectionable for the standards of our time, such measures of cultural extermination were necessary during the attempts of the superior psychoclass to eliminate the sacrifices: be them sacrifices of children to Baal or children to Tláloc.
And presently we have arrived to the section that gave the title to this book [the fourth book within Hojas Susurrantes is named The Return of Quetzalcoatl].
If westerners of late 19th and early 20th centuries represent the zenith of civilization in the world, New Guineans and the headhunters of Munduruku in Brazil represent the nadir. The psychoclass of the poorest strata of present-day Latin America lies at the middle of both extremes.
In contrast to most nations, Mexico City gave her name to the modern country. It was founded by the Tenochcas when a voice ordered them to establish themselves on the lake that they had arrived, “as the unembodied bicameral voices led Moses zigzagging across the Sinai desert.” It cannot be more symbolic the fact that the Coat of Arms of Mexico, which they so much shoved under my nose at school, is an eagle perched upon a prickly pear cactus devouring a snake in one of the lake islets that the ancient Tenochcas recognized. It was an odd place to found a city, but the punishing voices had to be obeyed. We can deduce from The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind that the buildings erected at the center of a community, such as the temple of Huitzilopochtli on the Texcoco Lake, were located where the guides listened the damned voices. If we now relate not only Jaynes to Arieti but also a passage of my Carta about a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia, the puzzle starts to take shape. I have in mind the woman mentioned in my Carta[Maya Abbott] that, because her parents always tried to think for her, suffered from auditory hallucinations and confessed to Laing: “I don’t think, the voices think.”
Unlike this sort of psychological analyzing—God forbid—, some historians try to make amends for the pre-Columbian Indians. More disturbing is to see a friend taking offence about our compassion. The psychoanalyst Jenny Pavisic once addressed me severely: “And who are you to condemn the sacrifices?” referring to child sacrifices in Mesoamerica.
The Tlatelolcan ceremonial showground and its surrounding neighborhoods have been excavated for archeological purposes. I have seen photographs of bone fragments of 41 sacrificed victims in the excavation of the terraces of the Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl temple, of which 30 were little children. Just as Pavisic, many people are capable of condemning the 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco, but never the child sacrifices perpetrated exactly on the same place. In April of 2007 bones were found of twenty-four sacrificed children to Tláloc in Tula, the capital of the Toltec civilization, dated 950-1150 AD according to a newspaper report that circulated the world. The children had been decapitated. If we remember that the intention was to avert an environmental crisis in that way, it should not surprise us that Mesoamerican civilizations disappeared even before the conquest. The sacrifices represented the distaff that moved the fabric of that culture, and a society as psychologically dissociated that had sacrifices on its basis was condemned to random disappearance. It is as if a civilization was composed of the self-harming women in Ross’ clinic and of male serial killers [cf. previous chapter].
The iconic example of civilization disappearance is the abandonment by the Mesoamericans of their great cities, as is the case of the Mayans of the ninth century AD. From the climatic register, ice analysis in Greenland and mud of the subsoil of a lagoon in Maya areas it can be deduced that they suffered a serious draught. To deal with the draughts, just as their Mexica successors sacrificed the flower of their youth in face of external crises, from the bone register of about thirty sacrificed men, women and children it is deduced that the Mayans tried to appease the gods that had betrayed them. Had they arrived to the level of Aristotelian thought they would not have attempted to solve the problem by killing even more of their folk, and hardly would the draughts had been so apocalyptic for their civilization. Let us not forget that sudden desertion of the cities also occurred in Teohtiuacan and in Tula. Julian Jaynes comments:
I also think that the curious unhospitable sites on which Mayan cities were often built and their sudden appearance and disappearance [my emphasis] can best be explained on the basis that such sites and movements were commanded by hallucinations which in certain periods could be not only irrational but downright punishing.
The why of the periodic collapse of the Mesoamerican civilizations starts to be discerned if we consider that the demographic load of a prosperous Indian city sooner or later enters a critical phase that confronts the bicameral Diktat of the dominant theocracy. It is illustrative that when Egypt suffered a draught around 2100 B.C. absolutely all authority collapsed: the Egyptian people fled the towns and the literary sources of the time remind me the apocalyptic passages of a synoptic gospel. While Egyptologists struggle to explain the “why,” Jaynes compares it with the Maya catastrophe. The Mayans suffered a massive civilizatory regression by going back to the jungle. He also compares it with the collapse of Assyria in 1700 B.C. that lasted two hundred years and that no historian quite understands. Jaynes also argues that the mystery is dissipated if we see it as a psychogenic leap. The bicameral societies are more susceptible of collapsing once the gods refuse to talk; this is to say, once man overcomes his schizophrenic stage, so overwhelmed with auditory hallucinations. The collapse of the bicameral society is but the resulting chaos of the transit to consciousness. In Egypt, Assyria and other cultures of the Ancient World the birth of a schizoid psychoclass out of a schizophrenic one (Laing magnificently describes the difference between schizoid and schizophrenic in The Divided Self) represented a formidable threat for the status quo. “Disorders and social chaos had of course happened before,” writes Jaynes, “but such a premeditated mutiny and parricide of a king is impossible to imagine in the god-obedient hierarchies of the bicameral age.” Similarly, the birth of the “helping mode” man out of the socialized man brings with it such weapons of mass self-destruction for our civilization (I have in mind feminism) that it could be said that today the white people are an endangered species.
The rupture of the bicameral age resulted in the greatest collision of consciousness that a society could endure. But unlike the people in the Old World, those in the New World were incapable of carrying out such intrapsychic metamorphosis. The reading of Jaynes’ book seems to suggest that the Mesoamerican world of the sixteenth-century still was bicameralized in such a way that had already been overcome at the other side of the ocean. In other words, the Mesoamericans suffered from the stagnation that in psychohistory is called psychogenic arrest.
The Amerindians got what they deserved. But presently, who condemns the ancient dwellers of the Americas? In a politically correct world it cannot be said that the infanticidal pre-Hispanics were psychologically dissociated; that the military theocracy was composed of serial killers, or that they were morally inferior to us. But the moralists were not always muzzled. In the colorful Spanish of his time, Bernal wrote a chapter, “How the Indians of all New Spain had many Sacrifices and Clumsiness that We Took Them Away and Imposed on Them the Saintly Things of Good Doctrine.” Bernal’s cheekiness does not cease to fascinate me: and it is pathetic that, half a millennium later, compared to those soldiers the historians, ethnologists and anthropologists of today have psychogenically regressed. I will illustrate it through the other pre-Hispanic empire.
Communication between Mesoamericans and the Andean people was sporadic. Just as the Mayans, the Incas deformed the craniums of the babies; some scholars believe to demarcate different ethnic groups of the Inca empire. The torments on childhood started since the first day. The newborn was washed with cold water, covered and placed in a hole made in the ground that would be used as a simple playpen. At five the child was nationalized by a theocratic state that, like the Mexica, was governed by strict hierarchies. And just as in Mesoamerica, the ritual murder of children was carried out in several Andean societies.
In November of 1999 National Geographic published an article with several photographs of mummies perfectly preserved at 6,700 meters above the sea level: the highest archaeological site of the world. Those were children that had been voluntarily given by their parents to be killed: an eight-year-old boy and two girls. “The Inca,” says the article, “obtained children from throughout the empire [for sacrifice] and rewarded their families with positions or goods.” In some cases the parents themselves accompanied the child in her journey to immolation. In conjunction with other barbaric forms of childrearing, the practice formed the bicameral minds that would be an all-too-easy prey for Pizarro (who in Spain had been a swineherd). The chroniclers wrote about those sacrifices. Nevertheless, with the perennial excuse that “Winners write history” in some Latin American circles the myth was created that the chroniclers’ stories were mythical. The discovery of the mummies at the end of the century confirmed the authenticity of the Spanish chroniclers’ stories that the children were buried alive, or killed by a blow to the head, which is how according to the autopsy they killed one of the girls.
However, just as Bolivian nationalists such as Pavisic angrily ask “And who are you to condemn the sacrifices?,” the National Geographic article is a disgrace. The author, Johan Reinhard, is afraid to judge the parents and the society that produced them. He idealizes them in the most servile way, thus betraying the memory of the children. Reinhard wrote overt falsehoods about the Amerindians, for example, “the Inca were not the brutal conquerors the Spaniards were.” He writes that on the same page in which he asserted that the Inca rewarded the parents who offered their children for sacrifice. Reinhard also wrote, euphemistically, “right after she died” referring to one of the sacrificed girls instead of the natural “right after they killed her.” And when he mentions that the chroniclers reported that others were buried alive, he hastened to add: “The Llullaillaco children, however, have benign expressions” [see a video, here, showing one of these “benign expressions”].
More offensive are the photograph headings at the beginning and at the end of the article: “Go Gently” referring to the pubescent girl that was found in fetal position buried in a hole, and “Eternity Bound” referring to the sacrifice of the three children in general. And the fact that the sacrificial site was found at the top of the mountain makes Reinhard exclaim: “The conditions only increased my respect for what the Inca had accomplished.”
In the next chapter I will approach the subject of the intellectual aberration known as cultural relativism, of which Reinhard and many other academics are distinguished exponents. Suffice it to say that the ethnologists and anthropologists are a lost cause. Our only hope lies in that another generation replaces those who presently occupy academic chairs. How I wish that the younger minds learned something about psychohistory, for example, that they became interested in the greatest adventure of the world by reading the Bernal Díaz story up to the arrival of the Spaniards to Tenochtitlan.
And I must tell how in this town of Tlaxcala we found wooden houses furnished with gratins, full of Indian men and women imprisoned in them, being fed up until they were fat enough to be sacrificed and eaten. The prisons we broke open and destroyed and set free the prisoners who were in them, and these poor Indians did not dare to go to any direction, only to stay there with us and thus escape with their lives. From now on, in all the towns that we entered, the first thing our Captain ordered us was to break open these prisons and set free the prisoners.
These prisons are common throughout the land and when Cortés and all of us saw such great cruelty, he showed that he was very angry with the Caciques of Tlaxcala, and they promised that from that time forth they would not eat and kill any more Indians in that way. I said of what benefit were all those promises, for as soon as we turned our heads they would commit the same cruelties. And let us leave it like that and tell how we were ordered to go to Mexico.
Not condemning the sacrifices of the past, unlike the first white men who step ashore on the continent did, impedes us to see the sacrifices of the present. In my previous book I had written that nationally and internationally my cousin Gerardo Tort won awards for a film about homeless Mexican kids. If we analyze this affaire closely we will see both Tort’s and the society’s lies better than in any other place. What the people of the Third World need are the most incisive campaigns of birth control and a drastic demographic reduction in the poorest countries. As I recount in La India Chingada, just as many middle-class Mexicans Gerardo responded to my comment about these prolific breeders criticizing me without proposing an alternative scenario of social engineering. The point I am trying to make is very simple. The fact that practically nobody condemns the infanticidal psychoclass in the pre-Hispanic world, and the poverty-stricken mestizo-Americans that presently breed like rabbits thus condemning countless children to poverty, are two faces of the same coin. If the abuses of the past are unseen and uncondemned, it will be very difficult to see and condemn the abuses of the present. As Orwell put it: he who controls the past controls the future.
The indigenistas who control the past are dishonest people. In the book Toltecayotl Miguel León Portilla accepts that their families usually abuse contemporary Indian women. But in that book León Portilla blames, incredibly, the Conquest for the current abuses by the male Indian to the female Indian. [This is analogous to Auster’s First Law.] He then writes that “the situation of the pre-Hispanic Nahua woman highly differed from his condition today,” and to support his claim a few pages later he quotes a passage from those Nahua homiletics that León Portilla is so fond: “The little girl: little creature, little lovebird, oh so little, so tender, so well fed…” But in the same Toltecayotl chapter León Portilla also published an illustration of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis of a Mexica housewife that looks anything but happy. In absolute contrast to León Portilla, the Anonymous Conqueror wrote that there were no people in the world who had women in less esteem than the Mesoamericans. And in his most recent book, The Origins of War in Child Abuse, deMause wrote: “Aztec females were treated even worse than Islamic females.” It is indeed preposterous that the Spanish soldiers of the sixteenth century manifested better empathy for the victims of that culture than the scholars of today. But to understand León Portilla it is pertinent to note that in Apologética Historia, written at the middle of the sixteenth century, Las Casas praised the Indian reprimands of parents to their children by calling them “sane, prudent and rational.” Las Casas even located such poisonous pedagogy above the teachings of Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras and even Aristotle.
The most recent treatise about the encounter between the Spanish and Mexican empires is Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés and the Fall of Old Mexico by Hugh Thomas. It catches the attention that, as a typical bienpensant, in the preface’s first paragraph Thomas candidly talks about the members of the two cultures without realizing that they belong to very distinct psychoclasses. On the next page Thomas writes about “compassion” as one of the virtues of the Mexica in spite of the fact that on the next line he sates that even the babies in arms were made to cry with brutality before sacrificing them! [it is a pity that I only have the Spanish translation of Thomas’ treatise and that therefore can’t quote him verbatim for this blog]. As to the treatment of women Thomas writes, dishonestly, that their position was at lest as comparable to the female Europeans of that age, although we perfectly know that European women were not deceived to be sacrificed, decapitated and skinned punctually according to rituals of the Gregorian calendar. And the women who would not be sacrificed were not allowed to wear sandals, unlike their husbands. In the codexes the Indian females appear generally on their knees while the males are on sitting facilities (This reminds me that when visiting Chiapas in his youth, it shocked my father that Indian women wore obscure clothing: their humblest figures could not contrast more with the very colorful garments of the male Indians.) And we must remember the Indian costume of selling, and even giving as presents, their daughters. The same Malinali, later called equivocally Marina or “La Malinche,” Cortés’ right hand, had been sold by her mother to some traders from Xicallanco, who in turn had sold her to some Mayans who sold her to some Chontales, who gave her as a present to Cortés. Thomas even takes as historical the words of the chronicler in regard to Xicoténcatl II’s embassy when, after Xicoténcatl’s people suffered crushing defeats, he went into the Spanish camp with words that portray the treatment of the Indian woman by their own: “And if you want sacrifices, take these four women that you may sacrifice, and you can eat their flesh and their hearts. Since we don’t know how you do it we have not sacrificed them before you.” The study of Salvador de Madariaga about the conquest, published under the title Hernán Cortés [Macmillan, NY, 1941], precedes half a century Thomas’ study. Without the ominous clouds of cultural relativism that cover the skies of our times, in Madariaga’s study it is valid to advance value judgments.
Fortunately, not all of our contemporaries live under a clouded sky. In 2003 El País Semanal published a translation of an article by Matthias Schulz that described as “demonic” and “brutal” the Mesoamerican practice of human sacrifice. Schulz also called the Mexicas “bloodthirsty.”
The politically correct Mexican indigenistas rendered their garments. In July of that year the farthest leftist of the Mexican newspapers, La Jornada, jointly published a response. Eduardo Matos-Moctezuma blurted out that “mentalities such as Schulz’s are the ones who lend themselves, because of their closed mind, to slaughtering.” But Matos-Moctezuma did not deny the historicity of the slaughtering by the Indians of their own folk. Prof. María Alba Pastor, also quoted in La Jornada, offered an absolutely psychotic and dishonest explanation for the sacrifices: “Perhaps they were a reaction to the Conquest.” For Ripley [again, this is Auster’s First Law in a historical setting]. Talking about cannibalism, Yólotl González, author of a book on Mesoamerican sacrifices, was not left behind: “Thus they gave a practical use to the dead bodies.” Take note that González does not deny the historicity of cannibalism. Her nonsense consists in her interpretation. The historian Guillermo Tovar manifested that Schulz’s text was “a Taliban Occidentalism, deprecating and oblivious of other traditions.” Mónica Villar, the director of Arqueología Mexicana, criticized what she called “disinformation” referring to Schulz’s statement that “no peoples had practiced human sacrifices in such dimensions.” Nevertheless, when the next issue of Arqueología Mexicana came out, the journal’s scholars did not refute Schulz. León Portilla responded with his favorite argument: that the Christianity that the Spaniards brought also had as its basis the sacrifice of a son, Jesus Christ. The veteran indigenista ignored the fact that precisely such theology represented a deflection from the filicide drive to a symbolic sublimation of it; and that the Roman Christian emperors and the Church’s fathers fought to banish the late forms of infanticide in the Early Middle Ages with the same zeal that conservatives fight abortion today. DeMause has profusely written on this transition and it is unnecessary to elaborate his ideas here. This is something so obvious that, in contrast to the sophisticated indigenistas, any child could understand: in Christendom parents did not sacrifice and cannibalized their children, and León Portilla’s argument is gross sophistry.
While Jacques Soustelle’s panegyric of the ancient Mexicans is stunning from the lyrical viewpoint, a closer reading of Daily Life of the Aztecs reveals its trappings. Soustelle wants us to believe that the lowest social strata of the Mexica civilization was represented by the slave, who according to him was highly more privileged than the European slave. The fallacy of his presentation consists in the fact that the Mexica slave could be sold and sacrificed. In the Tlatelolco market, the largest market of the Americas, slaves were sold tied by the neck to big sticks (as in the film Apocalypto). Moreover: the slave was not actually at the bottom of the social strata. Down there were the captives who, whether fatten for consumption or not, awaited their turn on the sacrificial stone. But moralists like Schulz are not alone. In his post-scriptum to The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz, the finest thinker that has produced Mexico, wrote these words about the pre-Columbian world:
Like those torture wheels that appear in Sade’s novels, the Aztec year was a circle of eighteenth months soaked wet with blood; eighteenth ways to die by being killed by arrows or by immersion in water or by cutting the throat or by flaying […]. On which religious and social aberration could a city of the beauty of Mexico-Tenochtitlan be the theater of water, stone and sky for a hallucinating funeral ballet? And for which obfuscation of the spirit nobody among us—I don’t have in mind the outworn nationalists but the scholars, the historians, the artists and the poets—want to see and accept that the Aztec World is one of the aberrations in history? [my translation]
Bernal talks even more directly than Paz, more rosy-cheeked I would dare to say. The sacrifices he simply labels as “wicked things,” “great cruelties,” and the self-harming, “clumsiness.” The original Spanish prose is delicious when Bernal writes, for example, that Mesoamericans “had the habit of sacrificing their foreheads and the ears, tongues and lips, breasts and arms and their fleshy parts, and the legs and even their natural parts,” the genitals. Conversely, when Hugh Thomas mentions the cannibalism he does it cautiously, as if he does not want to cause any offence. On the other hand, the erudite and refined Sahagún, considered by León Portilla the first ethnologist of history, concurs with the soldier, as we saw with his exclamation (there are other exclamations of this sort in his encyclopedic work). Of course, if the pre-Hispanic world was an aberration, as Paz says, that does not demerit their findings in mathematics and astronomy. However, even though the best physics of the 1930s was German, our world does not argue that we should avoid condemning the Holocaust because of the great scientific findings in Germany. If we are to avoid the double standard, we cannot obfuscate our understanding of the Mesoamerican cultures on the basis of their astronomic knowledge.
The feathered serpent
While Quetzalcoatl self-harmed his leg and sprinkled blood out of his penis, he was the most humanitarian of the gods in the pre-Columbian pantheon. He never offered human blood to the gods. According to the legend, Tezcatlipoca counteracted Quetzalcoatl’s influence and regained social control by means of the dark side of the force, thus reestablishing the sacrifices in the great Toltec city. Quetzalcoatl fled away from their folk toward the East, from which the ulterior legend emerged that he would return from the Orient.
Orozco. The Return of Quetzalcoatl
Fresco painted between 1932-1934
In 1978 I went once more to live some months to the house of my grandmother [this is related to my first book]: a very numinous and even happy stage that I would like to recount in another place. I became wrapped in Jung’s Man and his Symbols and some nights I walked to the park called Parque Hundido, which contains exact replicas of pre-Hispanic statuary.
One night, alone and immersed in my thoughts as always during my adolescence, the pair of enormous replicas of feathered serpents at the park’s entrance caught my attention. It stroke me as an extraordinary intuition or divination from the collective unconscious, the fact that long before paleontology pre-Hispanics could have bequeathed us the perfect symbol of the missing link between the reptile and the bird. The two great feathered serpents of stone that I contemplated that fresh night in the park, way taller than me, were the same symbol of the caduceus: two serpents that long for their wings. Quetzal is feather in Nahua, and cóatl serpent, feathered serpent: symbol par excellence of transcendence. However hard I struggled those days to transcend myself it was impossible to arrive to my present psychogenic state, even though the unconscious drive was formidable. That night I did not understand how come the symbol of quetzal-cóatl could be so clairvoyant, so accurate to describe human emergency in such an oneiric and perceptive way. Now, exactly thirty years later, I ask myself: Hadn’t the Europeans existed how long would have taken these people to give up their practices and pass on to a later form of infanticide (say, the exposure in Rome)? Most intriguing is how long would they have taken, on their own, to reach the levels that psychohistorians call socialization.
The legend of Quetzalcoatl, that in its latest incarnation appears as a god of white skin, makes me think that the very first feathers for a psychogenic leap were already present in the New World before the arrival of the white man.
[Index page for this book here]