Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Greeting The Dusk

The Starry Night Sky

The Starry Night Sky

“Yohualtecuhtli, the Lord of the Night, Yacahuitzli, has arrived! How will his labor go? How will the night pass and the dawn come?”

Following up on my earlier article on how the priests greeted the dawn, above is my rendition of the traditional prayer saluting the dusk. It is a modernized composite of the two variants recorded by Sahagun and Tezozomoc. (To read Dr. Seler’s translation of the Tezozomoc version, click HERE and search within the book for youaltecutli. The only hit is on page 357, containing the prayer in question.)

This prayer was traditionally offered around sundown, as a particular constellation called mamalhuaztli, the Fire Drill, rose from the east into the darkening sky. It was accompanied by the offering of incense, being another one of the nine times a day the priests would offer copal to the Teteo.

You may be wondering exactly what constellation mamalhuaztli is, as its rise was the traditional signal to perform this rite. The bad news is. . . we’re not sure. Partially because the records suck, partially because the constellations have drifted in the sky over the past millennium or so. We have enough information to know that this constellation was in the vicinity of the Pleiades, and apparently some scholars think the Fire Drill was three stars that are part of them. However, the stars in Orion’s belt are another popular theory, and at least one guy seems to consider the Northern Cross a candidate, though his credentials are suspect at best. The link above to the original language of the prayer includes some of Seler’s deductions regarding the identity of this constellation, though sadly the whole thing isn’t available. Go HERE for a very brief discussion on the Aztlan mailing list hosted by FAMSI regarding the Orion vs. Northern Cross debate if you’re curious.

Due to this uncertainty, I’d advise taking the obvious route of observing this prayer either at sunset or right at full dark. It’s not perfect, but it should be in the ballpark I’d think, and archaeoastronomy isn’t my strength. So, good enough for me, and it seems a reasonable alternative for modern practice in the face of a gap in our knowledge. However, if anyone does have a good background in this branch of astronomy and can help out, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say about the identity of the Fire Drill constellation.

UPDATE 10/2/08:

Well, my dear friend Shock answered my plea for archaeoastronomy help on this issue! This subject is one that’s close to her heart, and she’s studied the scholarship on this area extensively. This is what she had to say regarding the identity of the Fire Drill:

“Anyway… About the fire drill constellation. It’s Orion’s Belt, clear as day if you look at the evidence. The Pleiades couldn’t possibly be it. It’s a seven/six star cluster within Taurus and used as a reference point for the Fire Drill in the primary source material. Taurus itself couldn’t be it for these same reasons and the fact that its other noticeable stars aren’t in a straight line. The Cygnus idea makes little to no sense considering that Sahagun clearly states in book 7 of the Florentine that the constellation is near the Pleiades. Cygnus is NOWHERE near the Pleiades in the night’s sky. In book 7, look up two parts. First, the fire drill part in Nahuatl and then Sahagun’s commentary in Spanish under Castor and Pollux. Several things are clear; the Fire Drill needs to be by Gemnini and it needs to be by Taurus. It also has to be a straight line of three bright stars. The straightness is reiterated in the Nahuatl text numerous times. And what’s right by both of these, with three bright stars? Orion’s belt. And then you have the comparative ethnography stuff from FAMSI, plus there’s more stuff similar to that which is closer to Mesoamerica.”

So, it does look like the best candidate for the Fire Drill constellation is the stars of Orion’s Belt!

Also, I’ve been informed that the guy who favors the Northern Cross as the Fire Drill is a third-rate “scholar” connected to the godawful “Mayalords” site, so I’d recommend ignoring him beyond the value of knowing what the crap arguments are out there.

Thanks Shock!

If you’re particularly interested in this subject, I recommend watching the Comments on this post for more.

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10 responses

  1. Shock

    Geeze, I wish this thing would tell me when people respond to my posts, or when you post new stuff. I feel like I’ve been neglecting your blog. Sheesh!

    Oh goodie! I get to take apart a FAMSI argument!!!

    Anyway… About the fire drill constellation. It’s Orion’s Belt, clear as day if you look at the evidence. The Pleiades couldn’t possibly be it. It’s a seven/six star cluster within Taurus and used as a reference point for the Fire Drill in the primary source material. Taurus itself couldn’t be it for these same reasons and the fact that it’s other noticeable stars aren’t in a straight line. The Cygnus idea makes little to no sense considering that Sahagun clearly states in book 7 of the Florentine that the constellation is near the Pleiades. Cygnus is NOWHERE near the Pleiades in the night’s sky. In book 7, look up two parts. First, the fire drill part in Nahuatl and then Sahagun’s commentary in Spanish under Castor and Pollux. Several things are clear; the Fire Drill needs to be by Gemnini and it needs to be by Taurus. It also has to be a straight line of three bright stars. The straightness is reiterated in the Nahuatl text numerous times. And what’s right by both of these, with three bright stars? Orion’s belt. And then you have the comparative ethnography stuff from FAMSI, plus there’s more stuff similar to that which is closer to Mesoamerica.

    Now, not to sound like a know-it-all, but I need to correct a common misconception. The stars don’t drift in any significant way except in a fixed manner due to the procession of the equinoxes. Where the stars are doesn’t change, just the constellation in which the sun rises on the equinox. It’s where that whole “age of Aquarius” thing comes from. First was the age of Gemnini, the Taurus, and so on. But it takes a hell of a long time. Now, as a side note, did the Aztecs recognize procession? I’d reckon that yes, they did. How? Well, look at the Five Suns myth. Notice the order the ages come in. Castor and Pollux, a.k.a. Gemnini, is associated with Tezcatlipoca not only by Sahagun but by other sources. Meanwhile, the Pleiades is associated with Quetzalcoatl throughout Mesoamerica, including special rites having been preformed when they came into conjunction with Venus. Remember what order the ages came in? See what I’m getting at here? Considering that everything else in the myths is an astronomical division of time, why not this, as well?

    October 1, 2008 at 5:41 PM

  2. Shock

    Oh, and, for the record, the FAMSI guy who proposed the northern cross bit is somehow connected to the abomination which is the Mayalords website. Read that site if you feel like puking at ultrapoor scholarship that a entry level grad student wouldn’t make in a million years. the site has actually made it to a little bit of side humor on our private blogs that Yehe and I call “The Mesoamerican Hall of Shame”. I’m just saying consider the source.

    I’ve been deeply considering making the Hall of Shame a public affair, because people need to know when they’re being bamboozled.

    October 1, 2008 at 6:04 PM

  3. cehualli

    Hi Shock,

    Ha, I *knew* an article that touched on archaeoastronomy would draw you out! You’re exactly the person I was hoping would see this and give me a shout. You’ll notice I’ve now updated this article and featured your comments as a follow-up post. 🙂

    Thanks VERY much for the helpful info on this subject. Like I said, this isn’t my area of expertise. Weird pattern recognition, myth and rhetoric analysis nerdery, sure. Odd intuitive leaps, yeah… disturbingly so sometimes. But astronomy? Nope. I leave that to you.

    And no worries, you made me realize that yeah, WordPress doesn’t have a “track replies to my comments” function like some blog services do. Wonder if they’ll add that someday. I’m just glad some of the recent stuff I read jolted that killer case of writer’s block loose so I could let loose this storm of updates — I felt like I’d been neglecting my blog too…

    I notice my readership has been spiking lately, and the spikes are timing with my posts. I’m wondering if some people out there now have me on an RSS feed so they always know when I update. I think Firefox allows you to set up feeds these days, if you want an automated way to know when I update.

    October 2, 2008 at 3:07 AM

  4. cehualli

    And “Mesoamerican Hall of Shame”… that sounds like a good idea, frankly. I’ve seen so much pure shite out there, and so many New Agey plastic shaman frauds I want to kick puppies. Thanks for giving me a heads up that the Northern Cross guy is a total twit, I hadn’t seen that clusterfuck of a site before.

    October 2, 2008 at 3:09 AM

  5. Xuchilpaba

    I’ve given up on looking for Mesoamerican shiite that’s New Agey. All i see it as is comic relief. I just take Ed’s stance on the whole fluffy brigade. I’ve really gotten to the point that sometimes i do not care what some people choose to believe.

    Isn’t Yohualtecuhtli a epithet of Tezcatlipoca’s? He has so many!

    October 2, 2008 at 2:42 PM

  6. cehualli

    Hey Xuchil!

    Sadly, I have yet to master that level of laid-back. Probably due to the intense level of religious bullshit I have to deal with from my family makes my Spiritual Stupidity Nerve pretty raw.

    Yohualtecuhtli another title of Tezcatlipoca’s? Off the top of my head, I don’t think it is, but I’d have to flip through some of the prayers in FC book 6 to check. You may be thinking of the phrase “Yohualli, Ehecatl” — “The night, the wind” that’s so often applied to Him. I’ll have to take a look.

    October 3, 2008 at 1:11 AM

  7. Xuchilpaba

    He as another aspect too. Of judgment and it’s connected to the night sky. I’m thinking of Itztlacoliuhqui-Ixquimilli. Sometimes this god is regarded as a aspect of Quetzalcoatl because of it’s association with Venus, sometimes said to be Tezcatlipoca. But after I saw the codex Borgia, it’s apparent to me that it’s Tezcatlipoca. The Borgia makes it obvious in iconographic depictions.

    October 3, 2008 at 12:33 PM

  8. cehualli

    Itztlacoliuhqui-Ixquimilli, I recall Him. Lord of the Frost, the Curved Obsidian Point, and the face of the morning star that told Tonatiuh to shove His demands for blood and got whacked for it, in one version of the Birth of the Fifth Sun myth. I’ve heard the justice/judgment angle as well. I think the majority is with you in reading Him as another identity of Tezcatlipoca. I’m pretty fuzzy on this specific Teotl though, I’d be interested in hearing about what you saw in the Borgia that helped you to deduce this.

    October 4, 2008 at 1:15 AM

  9. Xuchilpaba

    Oh and my family is over religious too. I feel you. They are very hypocritical to boot.

    The only reason I became more tolerant is because i have Neopagan friends. Some of them are a bit delusional in their beliefs and I have no problem providing them with my opinion or some fact blah blah blah. But I respect their decisions. There’s really no point in arguing religion. Even with reconstruction.

    October 4, 2008 at 1:16 AM

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