King of Tezcoco, is regarded as one of the heirs of the ancient Toltec
tradition which, beyond a doubt, was in one way or another the matrix of
the majority of the great Mesoamerican civilizations known today. We have
already referred to the pyramid, which he ordered built, of "nine tiers,"
upon which stood Tloque Nahuaque, the unknown god, the lifegiver, the peerless
one. This pyramid was not only for worship, doubtless, according to the
notion we have of this term today, but was also a scale model of the universe-like
all traditional temples-the symbolical manifestation of the cosmogony bequeathed
by the Toltec culture.
We shall return to this theme in the course of this book. For the moment, however, we wish to turn our attention to another subject-that of Nezahualcoyotl's poetry, which is also an expression of the poet-king's image of the cosmos. Referring to the deity, he tells us:
God, our Lord, is everywhere invoked,
and worshiped everywhere as well.
His glory, His fame, are searched on the earth.
He it is who inventeth [all] things.
He it is who inventeth Himself: God.
He is worshiped everywhere as well.
His glory, His fame, are searched on the earth.
dost Thou paint [all] things.
Lifegiver, with songs
dost Thou place them in hue,
dost dye them with colors:
every thing that must live on the earth!
Then is sundered
the Order of Eagles and Tigers:
only in Thy painting
have we lived here on the earth!
beginneth to sing,
breaketh into song,
to the song giveth gladness.
The song resoundeth,
the little bells are heard,
to be answered
by our flowered tambourines.
He scattereth blossoms,
to the song giveth gladness.
Above the blossoms singeth
the lovely pheasant-
unfurleth his song
within the waters.
An answer cometh
from red birds in a flock.
The beautiful red bird
sings a lovely song.
A book of paintings is thy heart,
thou hast come to sing,
maketh thy drums to resound,
thou art the singer.
Within the house of springtime
thou delightest the folk.
we shall be rubbed out,
like a flower
we must dry up
upon the earth.
As trappings of feathers
of the quetzal, of the zacuan,
of the azulejo, we shall eventually perish.
However, this "house" or temple-this theater with its personages and scenes, this setting or stage-this sacred space that is the cosmos, has a shape, a structure, which human constructions imitate. Its base is quadrangular, and it is visualized either as a tiered pyramid of triangular sides, when the point to be made is the presence of various degrees or levels of reality in this universe-nine or thirteen heavens-or else as a simple cone, as with the native nomad tents, or simply as cubes, like the houses of worship of numerous tribes, structures that, in the Mayan myths and codices, are found surrounded by giant iguanas.3 Let us stress that space, for Precolumbians, is not just a static thing, divided into four fixed and absent cardinal points, but is as alive as time, constantly re-creating itself and constituting an active, permanent element of manifestation. The spirits that shape it act in perpetuity as energies bearing on the generative process, in which they join with the deities of time and their numerical figures, as well as with the numina of motion, those ever-present transitory divinities.
Just so, the sun is not a fixed thing, but expresses different kinds of energy, when it is born (in the east), when it is at its apogee (at south-noon), or when it sets (in the west).4 Perennially, this dynamics of reflection or energy builds and destroys the cosmos, as well as balancing it to preserve it, and thereby constitutes the dialectic, the law of universal rhythm, that, in the coordinates of time, space, and movement, resembles a house of mirrors or dreams. Ometeotl, the god one and twofold like the Platonic primordial androgyne, the alchemical hermaphrodite, the Pythagorean ideal sphere, or the two halves of the Egyptian and Hindu egg of the world, remains impassive as long as these two energies are in alternation, although they emanate from his uncreated, immutable body not subject to transformation:
the one who reclines at the navel of the earth,
the one who is inside an enclosure of turquoises,
the one who is closed up in waters the color of blue birds,
the god who is old, the one who dwells in the shadows
of the place of the dead.5
On the other hand, a comparison among the various Precolumbian societies and their symbolico-cultural expressions is as valid as a comparison of these cultures with others that are not autochthonous and continental. Even the Greeks and Romans, who experienced and fertilized traditional thought, and coexisted with peoples and cultures of very different natures from their own-we need only think of the multitude of religious and philosophical forms and influences that characterized the Mediterranean, before and after Christ-regarded it as perfectly normal to make transpositions from the pantheon or the symbols of one civilization to those of another, and from the latter to a third. After all, the devotees of these deities or ideas had proceeded in this same manner. In other words, these assimilations had been produced in spontaneous fashion, acquiring naturally the identities and equivalencies-adapted to a new context, to a rising culture-that were taken as part of the normal development of a society and of the relations produced in that society.
Thus the Greeks and the Romans compared different pantheons, and their symbols, and registered the diverse forms and names that the energies of the sacred, the deity, assumed in conformity with the diversity of places, times, and persons. At the same time, the same mechanisms of thought are associative, and a comparison emerges instantaneously. It forms part of the discourse of the mind. In order to establish any proposition whose truth is not immediately evident, the mind selects by substitution a problem and relates it to another. Then it relates this latter with a third, until it arrives at one it knows-through this prototypal chain process-whose truth has already been established, or now becomes evident. The proposition thus finally arrived at, now sheds light not only on the validity of the original proposition in itself, but on the surrounding whole (here, the context of a traditional society) in which it is enunciated.
If, by way of a comparative methodology, we establish the same prototypal, symbolical identities-even in their secondary manifestations-among the Indo-European civilizations and cultures (including the Iberian and Celtic) and the Precolumbian, not only do we come to discover impressive formal relationships, but we end by altering our conception of the world, and denying the validity of the pseudo-official and pseudo-scientific hypotheses in vogue, its judgments. These judgments begin with a description of reality that their subjects have inherited unawares, and that they regard as their own, and even personal, while they are no more than a package of fantastic theses and opinions generated from the humanist Renaissance onward.
These theses and opinions are accepted as if they were the actual world (that is, they mistake what is thought of the cosmos today with what the cosmos is in itself).6 Now they multiply, without rhyme or reason, while those who hold them ignore the possible validity of a viewpoint distinct from their own, which they condemn as something suspicious and "illegal," thanks to their prejudices and conditionings-even though the viewpoint in question be perfectly documented and accessible to anyone open to and interested in the subject. Such a one, as subject of these concerns, will experience his or her findings as revelations, since they dissipate one's ignorance, and gleam with the light of Knowledge, which, for that matter, is always self-sufficient.
|1||Curiously, Mazdaism gives paradise the name, "Abode of Songs."|
|2||José Luis Martínez, Nezahualcóyotl: Vida y Obra (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1980).|
|3||J. Eric S. Thompson, Maya History and Religion (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1970).|
|4||For the Precolumbians, time is not linear, but cyclical, circular. Here these cultures are in full conformity with all traditional societies, in which the symbol of the Wheel-image of the cycle that returns to its starting point-plays such an outstanding role, just as it does in the myths associated with the "eternal return." We have convincing proof of this in the Mesoamerican calendars, which repeat themselves in a manner that is basically invariable-like the cycle of the planets and the course of certain stars-although never completely identically, since the identity in question is analogical, and based on the abundance of variables, possibilities, and new coordinates continuously available in the huge variety of elements, correlations, and always different factors coming into play in the cosmic drama, and having the effect of always preventing any situation or being from exact duplication, that is, in its same form or individualized manifestation. The identity of these situations and beings is obtained in virtue of their status as projections of an eternal archetype or prototype, to which they correspond, and with which they identify.|
|5||Florentine Codex, translated into Spanish by Angel María Garibay K. See also the translation by Ch. E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson.|
|6||That is, a description of reality is regarded as reality itself. There is a document that clearly demonstrates the level of knowledge that had been attained by the majority of the Precolumbian peoples by the time of the arrival of the Europeans. In this case it is not priests responding to their invaders, as in the episode of the Tlamatinime, recounted in the first chapter of this book, but of a warrior, Nicarao, who responds to the admonitions and judgments of González Dávila, first conquistador of today's Nicaragua, which country, indeed, is named for this cacique. The event is recounted in the first of the ten Décadas of Pedro Mártir de Anglería, the well-known sixteenth-century humanist. There we have a report of a dialogue between the two personages. The conquistador, after having defeated the cacique, began to admonish him, telling him that it would well that the Indians would now leave off making war on one another, that they would cease to dance and become intoxicated, and that they would all immediately put themselves under the obedience of the King of Spain, who was all-powerful, and the Sovereign Pontiff, who was infallible. To which Nicarao responded that they had no intention of leaving war to women, and that their dancing and inebriation harmed no one. Then he began to ask some questions. How came it, he inquired, that the Spaniards' religion forbade them to kill, and yet they killed the Indians? And then some more sybiline questions, and this is what is interesting: Had the Spaniards, after all, heard of the Flood? Would there be another? What would happen at the end of time? Would the world be destroyed? Would the stars fall on it? When would the sun cease its course, and be extinguished, along with the moon and stars? How large were the stars, and who supported them and moved them? Where will the soul go after its separation from the body? Will the King and the Pontiff perhaps not die, the one being all-powerful, and the other infallible? And then too-to speak of other matters-why would so few men want so much gold? Obviously, having lost his battle with the Spaniard not for want of courage, but owing to a technological difference in weaponry, the cacique knew perfectly well the ignorance of the ambitious conquistadors, and had had contemptuously to surrender to the might of persons who knew nothing of the universal cosmogony and theogony. Their ignorance demonstrated an intellectual and spiritual superiority on the part of the vanquished over the victor-the latter, it is obvious, being unable to answer the questions of the former. We cite this text here as an example of the thought of the Precolumbians, as well as of the knowledge they had of the problems of cosmogony and theogony, especially in a small nation where no great civilization could have arisen.|