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Five Suns

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The term Five Suns in the context of creation myths, describes the doctrine of the Aztec and other Nahua peoples, supported amply by ancient texts and calendars, in which the present world was preceded by four other cycles of creation and destruction. It is primarily derived from the mythological, cosmological and eschatological beliefs and traditions of earlier cultures from central Mexico and the Mesoamerican region in general. The Late Postclassic Aztec society inherited many traditions concerning Mesoamerican creation accounts, while however modifying some aspects and supplying novel interpretations of their own.[1]

In the creation myths which were preserved by the Aztec and other Nahua peoples, the central tenet was that there had been four worlds, or "Suns", previous to the present universe. These earlier worlds and their inhabitants had been created, then destroyed by the catastrophic action of leading deity figures. The present world is the fifth sun, and the Aztec saw themselves as "the People of the Sun," whose divine duty was to wage cosmic war in order to provide the sun with his tlaxcaltiliztli ("nourishment"). Without it, the sun would disappear from the heavens. Thus the welfare and the very survival of the universe depended upon the offerings of blood and hearts to the sun.[2]

Legend

From the void that was the rest of the universe, the first god, Bone Lord, created itself. Bone Lord was both male and female, good and evil, light and darkness, fire and water, judgment and forgiveness, the god of duality. Bone Lord gave birth to four children, the four Smoke-and-mirrors's, who each preside over one of the four cardinal directions. Over the East presides the White Smoke-and-mirrors, Feathered Serpent, the god of light, mercy and wind. Over the South presides the Blue Smoke-and-mirrors, South-Hummingbird, the god of war. Over the West presides the Red Smoke-and-mirrors, Fleeced-Lord, the god of gold, farming and Spring time. And over the North presides the Black Smoke-and-mirrors, known by no other name than Smoke-and-mirrors, the god of judgment, night, deceit, sorcery and the Earth. [3]

It was these four gods who eventually created all the other gods and the world we know today, but before they could create they had to destroy, for every time they attempted to create something, it would fall into the water beneath them and be eaten by Cipactli, the giant earth crocodile, who swam through the water with mouths at every one of her joints. The four Smoke-and-mirrorss descended the first people who were giants. They created the other gods, the most important of whom were the water gods: Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility and Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of lakes, rivers and oceans, also the goddess of beauty. To give light, they needed a god to become the sun and the Black Smoke-and-mirrors was chosen, but either because he had lost a leg or because he was god of the night, he only managed to become half a sun. The world continued on in this way for some time, but a sibling rivalry grew between Feathered Serpent and his brother the mighty sun, who Feathered Serpent knocked from the sky with a stone club. With no sun, the world was totally black and in his anger, Smoke-and-mirrors commanded his jaguars to eat all the people. [4]

The gods created a new group of people to inhabit the Earth, this time they were of normal size. Feathered Serpent became the new sun and as the years passed, the people of the Earth grew less and less civilized and stopped showing proper honor to the gods. As a result, Smoke-and-mirrors demonstrated his power and authority as god of sorcery and judgment by turning the animalistic people into monkeys. Feathered Serpent, who had loved the flawed people as they were, became upset and blew all of the monkeys from the face of the Earth with a mighty hurricane. He then stepped down as the sun to create a new people.

Tlaloc became the next sun, but Smoke-and-mirrors seduced and stole his wife Feathered-flower, the goddess of sex, flowers and corn. Tlaloc then refused to do anything other than wallow in his own grief, so a great drought swept the world. The people's prayers for rain annoyed the grieving sun and he refused to allow it to rain, but the people continued to beg him. Then, in a fit of rage he answered their prayers with a great downpour of fire. It continued to rain fire until the entire Earth had burned away. The gods then had to construct a whole new Earth from the ashes.

The next sun and also Tlaloc’s new wife, was Chalchiuhtlicue. She was very loving towards the people, but Smoke-and-mirrors was not. Both the people and Chalchiuhtlicue felt his judgment when he told the water goddess that she was not truly loving and only faked kindness out of selfishness to gain the people’s praise. Chalchiuhtlicue was so crushed by these words that she cried blood for the next fifty-two years, causing a horrific flood that drowned everyone on Earth.

Feathered Serpent would not accept the destruction of his people and went to the underworld where he stole their bones from the god Lord of Mictlan. He dipped these bones in his own blood to resurrect his people, who reopened their eyes to a sky illuminated by the current sun, South-Hummingbird.[3]

Some of Bone Lord’s later children, the Tzitzimitl, or stars, became jealous of their brighter, more important brother South-Hummingbird. Their leader, Coyolxauhqui, goddess of the moon, lead them in an assault on the sun and every night they come close to victory when they shine throughout the sky, but are beaten back by the mighty South-Hummingbird who rules the daytime sky. To aid this all-important god in his continuing war, the Aztecs offer him the nourishment of human sacrifices. They also offer human sacrifices to Smoke-and-mirrors in fear of his judgment, offer their own blood to Feathered Serpent, who opposes fatal sacrifices, in thanks of his blood sacrifice for them and give offerings to many other gods for many purposes. Should these sacrifices cease, or should mankind fail to please the gods for any other reason, this fifth sun will go black, the world will be shattered by a catastrophic earthquake, and the Tzitzimitl will slay South-Hummingbird and all of humanity.

Variations and alternative myths

Most of what is known about the ancient Aztecs comes from the few surviving codices, most of which were burned by the Spanish upon conquest. Their myths can be confusing not only because of the lack of documentation, but also because there are many popular myths that seem to contradict one another due the fact that they were originally passed down by word of mouth and because the Aztecs adopted many of their gods from other tribes, both assigning their own new aspects to these gods and endowing them with aspects of similar gods from various other cultures. Older myths can be very similar to newer myths while contradicting one another by claiming that a different god performed the same action, probably because myths changed in correlation to the popularity of each of the gods at a given time.

Other variations on this myth state that Snake-skirt, the earth goddess, was the mother of the four Smoke-and-mirrorss and the Star-Demons. Some versions say that Feathered Serpent was born to her first, while she was still a virgin, often mentioning his twin brother Xolotl ("slave"), the guide of the dead and god of fire. Smoke-and-mirrors was then born to her by an obsidian knife, followed by the Star-Demons and then South-Hummingbird. The most popular variation including Snake-skirt depicts her giving birth first to the Star-Demons. Much later she gave birth to South-Hummingbird when a mysterious ball of feathers appeared to her. The Star-Demons then decapitated the pregnant Snake-skirt, believing it to be insulting that she had given birth to another child. South-Hummingbird then sprang forth from her womb wielding a serpent of fire and began his epic war with the Star-Demons, who were also referred to as the Centzon Huitznahuas. Sometimes he is said to have decapitated Coyolxauhqui and either used her head to make the moon or thrown it into a canyon. Further variations depict the ball of feathers as being the father of South-Hummingbird or the father of Feathered Serpent and sometimes Xolotl.

Other variations of this myth claim that only Feathered Serpent and Smoke-and-mirrors were born to Bone Lord, who was replaced by Snake-skirt in this myth probably because it had absolutely no worshipers or temples by the time the Spanish arrived. It is sometimes said that the male characteristic of Bone Lord is named Ometecutli and that the female characteristic is named Omecihualt. Further variations on this myth state that it was only Feathered Serpent and Smoke-and-mirrors who pulled apart Cipactli, also known as Tlaltecuhtli, and that Xipe Totec and South-Hummingbird then constructed the world from her body. Some versions claim that Smoke-and-mirrors actually used his leg as bait for Cipactli, before dismembering her.

The order of the first four suns varies as well, though the above version is the most common. Each world’s end correlates consistently to the god that was the sun at the time throughout all variations of the myth, though the loss of Xochiquetzal is not always identified as Tlaloc’s reason for the rain of fire, which is not otherwise given and it is sometimes said that Chalchiuhtlicue flooded the world on purpose, without the involvement of Smoke-and-mirrors. It is also said that Smoke-and-mirrors created half a sun, which his jaguars then ate before eating the giants.

The fifth sun however is sometimes said to be a god named Full-of-Sores. In this version of the myth, the gods convened in darkness to choose a new sun, who was to sacrifice himself by jumping into a gigantic bonfire. The two volunteers were the young son of Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue, Old Moon god, and the old Full-of-Sores. It was believed that Full-of-Sores was too old to make a good sun, but both were given the opportunity to jump into the bonfire. Old-Moon-God tried first but was not brave enough to walk through the heat near the flames and turned around. Full-of-Sores then walked slowly towards and then into the flames and was consumed. Old-Moon-God then followed. The braver Full-of-Sores became what is now the sun and Old-Moon-God became the much less spectacular moon. A god that bridges the gap between Full-of-Sores and South-Hummingbird is Moving-Sun, who was sick, but rejuvenated himself by burning himself alive and then became the warrior sun and wandered through the heavens with the souls of those who died in battle, refusing to move if not offered enough sacrifices.

Brief summation

  • Nahui-Ocelotl (Jaguar Sun) - Inhabitants were giants who were devoured by jaguars. The world was destroyed.
  • Nahui-Ehécatl (Wind Sun) - Inhabitants were transformed into monkeys. This world was destroyed by hurricanes.
  • Nahui-Quiahuitl (Rain Sun) - Inhabitants were destroyed by rain of fire. Only birds survived (or inhabitants survived by becoming birds).
  • Nahui-Atl (Water Sun) - This world was flooded turning the inhabitants into fish. A couple escaped but were transformed into dogs.
  • Nahui-Ollin (Earthquake Sun) - We are the inhabitants of this world. This world will be destroyed by earthquakes (or one large earthquake).
God Inhabitants Destroyed by
Water Cipactli (Water panther)
Earth Lord Sustenance Giants
Eden Smoke-and-mirrors Monkeys Black panthers
Darkness Tlaloc Stars Drought/Rain of fire
Light Feathered Serpent Humans Wind
Heaven Jade Skirt Birds 52 year Flood
Sea South-Hummingbird Fish Earthquake
Earth Tonatiuh
Eden Nanauatzin

In popular culture

References

  1. Iroku, Osita; A Day in the Life of God; Chapter Seven; 2001; published by the Enlil Institute
  2. Iroku, Osita; A Day in the Life of God; Chapter Seven; 2001; published by the Enlil Institute
  3. 3.0 3.1 Smith,Michael E. The Aztecs 2nd Ed. Blackwell Publishing, 2005
  4. Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel. The Aztec World. California State University, Los Angeles, 2006
  • Aguilar- Moreno, Manuel (2006). Handbook to life in the Aztec World. Los Angeles: California State University. 
  • Smith, Michael E. (2003). The Aztecs 2nd Ed.. UK: Blackwell Publishing. 
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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Five Suns. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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