Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Tlaloc In Zitlala

Came across an interesting photograph recently that’s quite interesting, as it shows an aspect of a Pre-Columbian ceremony still surviving today in Zitlala, Mexico.

Tigre Fighter With Whip & Jaguar Mask. Copyright 2008 by the Associate Press/Eduardo Verdugo.  Used without permission.

Tigre Fighter With Whip & Jaguar Mask. Copyright 2008 by the Associated Press/Eduardo Verdugo. Used without permission.

Link to original photograph source.

Original Caption:

“A man dressed as a tiger carries a small whip made from rope in Zitlala, Guerrero state, Mexico, Monday, May 5, 2008. Every year, inhabitants of this town participate in a violent ceremony to ask for a good harvest and plenty of rain, at the end of the ceremony men battle each other with their whips while wearing tiger masks and costumess. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)” [Cehualli’s note — “tiger” is a common mistranslation of “tigre,” when the context makes it apparent a jaguar or other large cat is meant.]

Now…there’s a lot more going on here that the photographer doesn’t get into in his note.  Specifically, that this is a modern survival of traditional indigenous religious practices.

Why do I think this?  Let me explain.

There’s a certain ancient god of rain in Mesoamerica who has traditionally been associated with jaguars… and that’s Tlaloc.  In the codices, if you look carefully you can see that He’s always depicted with long, fearsome jaguar fangs.  The growl of the jaguar resembles the rolling of distant thunder, and the dangerous power of such an apex predator fits the moody, explosive-tempered Storm Lord quite nicely.  The jaguar as a symbol of Tlaloc is a very ancient tradition that appears across the whole of Central America, whether the god is being called Tlaloc, Cucijo, Dzahui, or Chaac.

The whip-club is another hint.  Flogging has been done as part of rain ceremonies for Tlaloc for centuries (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s symbolic of lightning).  Additionally, though the photographer didn’t mention this, one knows what happens when people strike each other hard with whips like the one the man in the photo is shown carrying — you bleed.  A lot.

In Prehispanic Mexico, one of the important rituals for Xipe Totec, the Flayed Lord, god of spring and new growth, is called “striping.”  Striping involved shooting the sacrificial victim with arrows for the purpose of causing his blood to drip and splash on the dry earth below, symbolizing rain that would bring a good harvest.  Similar rituals specifically devoted to Tlaloc were also done, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the gladiatorial combat done for Xipe Totec had the same basic idea in mind, sprinkling blood over the ground done to call the rain.

The next part is due to my good friend Shock and her impressive knack for research.  While we were discussing this photo, Shock directed me to an excellent article about this phenomenon known as “Tigre Boxing” that still exists all throughout Mexico today.  It even discusses this specific form of battling with whips in Zitlala that this photograph is of.  I highly recommend checking it out, as it’s loaded with more information about the surviving practice of gladiatorial combat for rain, complete with many excellent photos of the jaguar masks, sculptures, and even videos of the combat!

Click HERE to go to the Tigre Boxing article.

10 responses

  1. Shock

    So I scored myself a copy of the Tovar Calendar for Christmas, and another thing relating Xipe to rain is in there. Apparently, once the skin was flayed, if it dripped a bunch of oil or grease it was going to be a good year for rain. If not, no dice.

    The Tovar Calendar is closely tied to Duran’s work, and even references it quite frequently, but the calendar itself is considered to be independent. I’ll have more info as I read more of it.

    January 1, 2009 at 11:06 AM

  2. Xuchilpaba

    Didn’t know Tlaloc had such a jaguar connection. Makes sense he’s also connected to Tezcatlipoca now..

    January 1, 2009 at 9:56 PM

  3. cehualli

    Hi Shock,

    Interesting! Y’know,thinking back to the Earth/Sky discussion on B&R, it seems like Xipe is the Earth to Tlaloc’s Sky in the agricultural cycle, as closely as those two seem to intersect in that context.

    Do keep me posted on anything else intriguing you come across in the Tovar, that’s one I haven’t laid hands on yet.

    January 8, 2009 at 10:39 PM

  4. cehualli

    Hi Xuchil,

    Yup, the jaguar imagery is definitely one spot they overlap. Incidentally, if you take a look at the Borgia (and in the Chimalpopoca), Tlaloc is another deity who has color/directional aspects, just like Tez.

    January 8, 2009 at 10:42 PM

  5. Xuchilpaba

    I heard Tlaloc was the South deity and then later Huitzilopochtli replaced him. But the Borgia has Huitzilopochtli and Coatlicue in absence. 😦 So it would make sense to have Tlaloc there instead. At least that’s what i figured a long time ago.

    January 8, 2009 at 11:30 PM

  6. cehualli

    Yup, Tlaloc is indeed often linked to the South, and the Borgia is a good example. He pops up in other directions as well, though, with Cincalco and Tlalocan. Not something I’ve had a chance to dig into yet though.

    I’ve seen it not so much as replacement as an addition. You have the legends that when the Mexica arrived in Tenochtitlan, they made an offering to Tlaloc at the lake and He formally adopted Huitzilopochtli as His son. They seem to share the direction, and govern different aspects of it.

    January 15, 2009 at 3:26 AM

  7. Xuchilpaba

    I was telling Shock about a year ago that I have my Tezcatlipoca and Tlaloc altars in the North next to each other… Oddly, she told me it used to be like that before Huitzilpochtli, the exact set up! I was shocked. (No pun intended)

    January 20, 2009 at 9:25 PM

  8. cehualli

    At this point in time, I can say that I’m honestly not surprised you had that happen, unknowingly doing something traditionally. I’ve had that happen to me several times over the past year. Granted, just because I half-expect things like that now doesn’t make it any less strange or eerie when it does.

    If you want to see some visual examples of the directional aspects of Tlaloc, I recommend flipping through the Borgia. There are several plates depicting Him in different “modes” based on direction, including acting in the Center axis.

    January 21, 2009 at 8:41 PM

  9. Xuchilpaba

    Isn’t there a lot of directional correspondence with Tezcatlipoca in the Borgia too?

    January 23, 2009 at 9:10 PM

  10. cehualli

    Yup, tons of it. Tlaloc and Tezcatlipoca both make numerous appearances where all 5 directional aspects are charted. They’re by no means the only ones though — Xipe Totec, Xochipilli, Xiuhtecuhtli, Quetzalcoatl, and several others show up this way too. There are even some directional hints for Mictlantecuhtli if I recall. (Posting from work, don’t have it in front of me to check.)

    There are also directional mentions for Centeotl in the Florentine Codex, Book 2.

    January 23, 2009 at 10:25 PM

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