have already identified the "center" as the fifth direction, the dwelling
place of Ometeotl, the dual god. Indeed, concentrated at this point is
the vertical energy that descends and ascends between the two poles of
an axis. This same ascending/descending polarity of energies will be repeated
in the horizontal plane, shaping the quadrangle's actual limits, balancing
it-or along the arms of the cross, giving rise to that figure's harmonious
tensions. In the cross, the ascending/descending energy divides into opposite
pairs, maintaining the center as locus of repose, as point of conjunction
of the contradictions, and place of axial communication with other planes
or worlds: the heavens or superior levels, and the lower stages, the infernus,
the underground country. Residing at this immovable axis as well is Xiuhtecuhtli,
as god of fire in the sense that he represents the central energy and constitutes
the original symbolical principle that generates-through its division into
pairs and its internal oppositions-the regular circulation of the elements,
the constant strife of the cosmic vibrations and formations.
This same god is patron of the year or the century, which
is represented by the new fire, or by the birth of time, which constantly
regenerates itself, ever changing but inalterable in its essence. Here
is the old god, as old as the temporal creation, which he himself signs
and originates by his activity, shaping the horizontal plane on which life
is manifested. For the Nahuatls, to be born on earth is to descend from
one's original celestial dwelling to live an illusory existence whose true
meaning will be actually effected, will be true, when it culminates as
an ascent to the heavens-both operations (that of the descent and that
of the ascent) being realized along the same central axis, which is represented
by the god of primordial fire and of time. Here is the incarnation of an
original dual energy present in all things (everything that creeps and
everything that flies, heaven and earth), whose ever-renewed synthesis
succeeds in generating the plane of creation by the opposition and conjunction
of its activity and its repose. In other words, thanks to the alternating,
dual rhythm of the universal inhalation and exhalation, which expands to
the four directions of the world (like arrows shot by warriors), the ever
renewed synthesis of the primordial duality shapes and limits the world.
Thus, the divine dualities embrace the totality, and unfold in the evident sacredness of the manifestation they seal with the names of heavens, planets and stars, storms, rains and atmospheric phenomena, energies of the earth and of nature, and present in the fauna and flora. Everywhere this energies rule the mysteries of life and the sanctification of man as great protagonist of the cosmic drama. The scale descends from the most subtle to the most dense, from universal principles to particular applications, from the aerial to the solid, in an uninterrupted spectrum of transformations that nevertheless possess identical structures. Accordingly, the deities of the earth (and of the underworld), by analogy, always have the same prototypal characteristics as the heavenly, for which reason they may be regarded as duplicates of the latter, or even those latter themselves on another level of consideration or reading.
Here, in nearly all of the traditions, the relationship is exemplified by that of filial kinship: father/mother/offspring, grandfather/grandmother/grandchild, or old god/young god. This is the case with the Precolumbian numina generally, in which, as in those of "heathendom," the passive and active aspects of determinate divine attributes thereby stood out-at times joined in a single personage. In almost all traditional forms, these attributes extend to the heavenly bodies and to numbers, as to their equivalent geometrical projections-genuinely prototypal, universal codes that enable us to derive their idea of the cosmogony and to understand their thought.
This conception is also unanimously explicit in the ancient American cultures, through the universal, mythical, and symbolical presence of twins.2 Twins, although they are two, have had their origin in one and the same egg, and thus symbolize the dual manifestation of a single principle. The twins are at times presented as brother enemies, typically at war in their representation of opposed energies-one active, the other passive, one gleaming and brilliant, the other opaque and dark-or else sharing amicable adventures. Here we have the mutual rejection and sympathy, the attraction and repulsion, of that which, while being of a common nature, must live divided into two kinds-as in the case of the human couple-dramatically opposed and assimilated.
This reality is described, with profound intuition, by Alfredo López Austin,3 who tells us, with reference to the concept of the axis of the world among the ancient Nahuatls:
J. Eric S. Thompson (who, incidentally, believes he finds this numen, accompanied by his spouse and positioned at the center of the world, in the Madrid Codex,) writes, in his paper on the creating pair:
The various names of Itzam Na relate to this duality. Thus Itzam Na, Itzam Tzab, and probably Yaxcocahmut refer to the celestial aspect of Itzam Na; Itzam Cab or Itzam Cab Ain, "Iguana Earth" or " Iguana Earth Caiman," are names of Itzam Na as an earth deity, the floor of Itzam Na.5
Of special interest is the son of the creating pair, creator in his own turn-or better, re-creator through his activity of regenerating time. Educator, salvific hero with human and divine characteristics, he has been made to the image and likeness of his parents and grandparents, and is therefore endowed with their attributes, now to be expressed specifically on the level of creation. Now these attributes can be understood and emulated by such men as gain access to his revelatory teachings. This personage is the heart of the earth, the image of the heart of heaven, and is known within man, and his sacrifice and regeneration by fire-a symbol with which the heart, too, is identified-is the central point of all Precolumbian cultures.7
But besides these identities and equivalencies, it will also be of interest at this point to remark certain concepts having to do with the deities, pantheons, and theogonies with which we are accustomed to approach, in a profane manner, what we suppose to be the ancient religions. These false ideas have the same origin as other errors, of course. But as they bear directly on pantheons and numina, they are intimately bound up with a loss of the concept of the sacred, and a loss of the symbolical mentality. They are conditioned by rationalism, the mechanicity of formal logic, the literal acceptation of scientific lucubrations, and the prevailing philosophical systems, all of which presupposes a perfectly imaginary criterion of reality with which we should like to classify all things, deities included. An "exact," mechanical classification of the numina-that is, of the attributes of the deity-is impossible. Equally vacuous is the "official" definition of the sacred, which, like the symbol, is indefinable of its very nature. These scientistic pretensions would reduce the religious phenomenon to an administrative schema, on the basis of an initial inventory a balance sheet could be drawn up-a business, in which, like any other, books could be kept. With these preliminaries, the information could now be entered on file cards, in order that, by way of a program established by the caprice of human beings, the deities might speak to us by the intermediary of the machine of the mind.
This procedure does not really seem to us to be adequate. It is simplistic. But this is what we contemporary persons do, with our criterion of insanely stubborn classification, claiming that exactitude is all that foolishness. We gather minutiae, and invest them with a name, a label, and we are at peace, We practice self-deception, and we suppose that, in this fashion, we now know. We manipulate a huge archive of superfluities, and, worst of all, believe in it: we consider it to be the way the thing actually is. This is absurd, but we credit this confusion more than ourselves: as archivists we can be wrong, but we regard the archive as sacred. We are dealing with an "entity," to which characteristics of truth and infallibility are attributed, as occurs in certain forms of idolatry and superstition. This "deity," of human contrivance, we call science, and progress, which constitutes an intrinsic guarantee of absolute certainty. What is more, the sheer enunciation of these words justifies any hypothesis. But what is truly regrettable is what occurs deep within us. This phantasmagoric and fantasized "entity" has ended by dominating what had been left of our thought. It has imposed upon us its arbitrary character, and its "philosophies," with which, according to its criterion, we must judge anything at all, including the pantheons of the "primitive" societies. We then adjudge these pantheons to be confused, animistic ideas, and attribute to the peoples in question only certain "magical" cognitions of the deity, a deity which they had not so much as conceived in religious fashion, owing precisely to the backwardness in which they languished.8 Thus, their numina seem contradictory, unstable, puerile, ineffective, impure, and worthy only of savages. To boot, they are incapable of being adapted to our scientistic asepsis-any more than the mythologies of any people, from the Greeks and the Romans onward, or even the living traditions of today, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. And yet our scientistic asepsis is only a rationalistic invention, and contemporary superstition, with which, in our ignorance, we seek to plot out and catalogue all things, in order, in this simple-minded manner, to establish their truth. In other words, the method by which we attempt to fix and classify the deity and its attributes is, logically speaking, as flawed as the knowledge we have of the object of our "study": God, the numina, the sacred, and the symbols in which the deity manifests itself. These become automatically "false" for modern man when he cannot box them into his rigid schemata, and this creates in him an authentic impossibility to understand them.
It is impossible to bring the numen into focus when one approaches it with the intention of drawing up a list of its names and its attributes, which unfailingly escape such an attempt. This cultural deficiency, with which we persons of today have been born, can be corrected precisely by the study of and meditation on the symbols, culture, and thought of man of antiquity. This understanding will serve as support for a knowledge of the reality to which all peoples of all times have referred, and which they regarded as their most wonderful inheritance and precious legacy, their own raison d'être and that of the manifestation, their Knowledge of another world and another life, in which this existence finds itself included-like a cell in the torrent of blood coursing through the veins-and of which this existence constitutes but a stage and a symbol of passage. But previously, in order to realize this intent, we must take account of the fact that the way in which our mind and ourselves are prepared for understanding-our vision of the world-is not adequate, and that it actually becomes the worst enemy of Knowledge (just as do our affects that are rooted in this description and in what is related to it), from the moment we regard it as our identity. In other words, the first part of our endeavor would be an un-schooling-a breach with old structures and "beliefs," which would be destroyed, little by little, with the apprehension of other, new ones. Now our structures and beliefs would be bound up with the appearance of a new man in the metaphysical sense of the expression, and not simply in the sense of new norms of conduct or superficial changes.
Unfortunately, this is a task not taught in today's universities, although it ought to be the object of their existence (just as it is their de facto raison d'être and origin). Nevertheless, and by contrast with the generalized ignorance maintained in official institutions throughout the world today, we wish to indicate the exception constituted by various American and European houses of study when it comes to Precolumbian man and his cultures. Indeed this matter is worthy of special interest from the viewpoint of the Traditional and the Symbolical, seeing that university research of every type connected with the Precolumbian, like the tasks discharged by certain institutions and museums, is of the highest value, and is practically indispensable for the reconstruction of these societies. Here we are dealing with authentic scientific work, without rigidity or ideological prejudices, with breadth of vision and an open, and especially, practical, concrete mentality. We shall mention no names, owing to the nature and brevity of our pages, but it is in these authors and houses of study that one must seek the great wealth of information that we are so fortunate to possess. And let us make it clear that we refer to those institutions that fulfill the task for which they have been created-to the exclusion, therefore, of any demagogic and proselytizing position, or political aims, of whatever hue.
We wish likewise to warn our readers of the case of certain personages which we will call "occultists", of a theosophical or spiritistic persuasion, who pretend to be in possession of certain "occult" cognitions representing only mystification and the densest ignorance concealed in the banality of secret for secret's sake, and the most shameless egolatry. These obscure personages are capable of forcing any situation in order to make it fit into their schemata. They lack all traditional data, and have not the vaguest idea of what Cosmogony is, although they seek to win the admiration of those around them by their pretended secrets. At times they utilize certain parallels and certain legitimate comparisons in order to effect genuine confusion and create inventions as improbable as those of the "scientists"-upon whom they frequently base themselves-without, however, having so much as the indispensable minimum in terms of an intellectual formation. The latter, even if it is distorted, contains within itself the germs, the potential, of a re-organization, of a con-version (in the original sense of the word), that might render effective, and succeed in revitalizing, the thought and symbols of antiquity, and inaugurate the ways of Knowledge within us.
|1||Xiuhtecuhtli, also known as Huehueteotl, Lord of the Four Eras, was the only god not to have died in the four previous restructurings of the world, as he was unchangeable. For this reason his festival was celebrated with great pomp every four years, to show his rejuvenation, and in most solemn form every fifty-two years-the new fire, or fastening of the years, the Nahuatl century-when the Pleiades stopped as they reached the zenith of the firmament at midnight.|
|2||"Twins" frequently appear in the traditions of the Old World. The Dioscuri were twins, as were the Asvin of the Rig Veda, Sjenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, (Momoros and Adepomaros, etc.).|
|3||Alfredo López Austin, Algunas ideas acerca del tiempo mítico entre los antiguos nahuas (Mexico City: XII Mesa Redonda de la Sociedad Mexicana de Antropología, 1975).|
|4||Let us recall that, for the Nahuatl, the earth, as a synthetic representation of the cosmos, was the back of a lizard, the cipactli, or iguana, or caiman. It is occasionally mentioned that, at the center of this mud-covered plane, a milpa, or stalk of maize, grew. The Iroquois "peace tree" grows at the center of the world, symbolized by a tortoise shell, which is assimilated to the "great island," the earth.|
|5||J. Eric S. Thompson, Maya History and Religion (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman 1972).|
|6||As for the natives of Baja California-no longer existing today-the chroniclers tell us that they had a creation myth in which there appeared a pair of twin brothers who eventually became good and evil.|
|7||According to Rémi Simeón's dictionary, the word yollotl means, in Nahuatl, "heart," "interior," the "pith" of dried fruit, or the meat of a seed. He adds a very enlightening series of related or derived words: yollo, skillful, ingenious, intelligent, having a good memory; yollocalli, interior, inside, innards; uei yollocayotl, courage, daring, magnanimity. Yollotl, then, indicates one's essence and center from the standpoint of knowledge, prudence, intelligence, valor, certainty, and wisdom, which are properties of the heart, never of the brain (which receives the blood with which it functions thanks to the heart) as rationalism and scientism believe. In traditional societies, when the mind is spoken of, it is actually the heart that is meant. The former is subordinated to the latter, and it is by and in the heart that intelligence and life are produced. For the Mayas of Yucatan, right intention is called ol, a word that, according to the Diccionario de Motul, also means "heart." It is the same for the peoples of the mountains and plateaus, especially the Cakchiqueles, for whom the term represents the breath of all that lives, the principle of understanding. Let us add that the Nahuatl word yollotl contains the same root as ollin, "motion," a basic concept in pre-Cortesian thought.|
|8||As we already know, these "ideas" do not waft above reality, but modify society and man who lives therein, thus shaping the latter through customs, usages, fashions, "beliefs," etc., with which he identifies and which actually becomes all that his is, and he feels very confident, supremely proud, of this. As a result, he would be capable of eliminating, by one means or another, anyone that would contradict his convictions, however relative or false these might be.|