I was reading through the ninth volume of the Florentine Codex recently, and came across an interesting tidbit giving more information on some of the flowers offered to Huitzilopochtli. Even better, Sahagun points out these flowers were offered during Panquetzaliztli!
What flowers am I talking about? Well, it’s a particular kind of flower called a chimalxochitl, or “shield flower.” It’s a very large flower that was carried both by celebrants and by bathed slaves who were to be sacrificed to Huitzilopochtli. As one might guess by the name, it represented a warrior’s shield. This is particularly fitting, as the bathed slaves who were offered to Huitzilopochtli during Panquetzaliztli were the vaguard merchants’ equivalent of captured warriors. Instead of capturing them phyiscally on the battlefield, the vaguard merchants, who fulfilled military purposes as well as commercial, captured them with their wealth, which was likened to the spoils of war. I’ve discovered that these merchants were almost a paramilitary order during the Aztec Empire, something quite fascinating which I will get around to writing about one of these days.
Anyway, back to the flowers. These shield flowers were carried by worshippers, they were carried by sacrificial victims. They were strung into garlands which would decorate the temples of Huitzilopochtli, they were placed on the altar, and ornamented the idol sometimes. They were everywhere during this Teotl’s festivals.
But what were they exactly? Well, I’ll give you a couple of hints. They’re huge, bright yellow, and their English and scientific names even reference a certain celestial body associated with Huitzilopochtli…
Yes, sunflowers. Helianthus annuus to be specific. At least, the sunflower is the species that’s the top choice for the chimalxochitl among scholars. Dibble and Anderson identify the flower in footnote 7 on page 34 of their English translation of Book 9: The Merchants, of the Florentine Codex. It pays to read footnotes!
You might be wondering why Huitzilopochtli’s so fond of flowers. Well, quite a few reasons. Flowers in general were symbolic of blood and warriors who died in battle. In Aztec poetry, one frequently encounters descriptions of rains of flowers on the battlefield, indicating the warriors in their bright regalia dashing about like blossoms swaying in the wind, eventually falling like cut plants and watering the earth with their blood. The dead soldiers would then live forever in Huitzilopochtli’s paradise, the House of the Sun, where they would enjoy the scent and color of beautiful flowers. Eventually they would be reborn as birds and butterflies, living leisurely lives flitting from flower to flower.
“Flower and song” was a phrase meaning sung poetry, a common pastime of warriors both alive and dead. The “flowery death” was death on the sacrificial stone, and the “Flower Wars” were ritual battles to capture men for sacrifice. Finally, the first flowers of the year were reserved for Huitzilopochtli’s mother, Coatlicue, and none might pick or smell them until She had been given some.
Anyway, I thought I would share my discovery and Panquetzaliztli-oriented thoughts on it, in the spirit of the season.
Photo taken by Wajid Uddaim and generously put into the public domain. Thanks Wajid!
November 26, 2008 | Categories: Culture, Religion, Things | Tags: adorar, antes de la conquista, Arthur J.O. Anderson, Aztec, Aztec religion, Azteca, ética, bathed slave, belief, ceremony, Charles E. Dibble, chimalxochitl, Coatlicue, Codex, codices, costumbre, creencia, cultura, culture, deity, devotion, dios, dioses, divine, divinity, ethics, faith, fe, festival, filosofía, Florentine Codex, flower, flower and song, Flower War, flowery death, god, goddess, gods, Helianthus annuus, House of the Sun, Huitzilopochtli, human sacrifice, idea, indígena, Indian, indigenous, indio, la religión de los aztecas, merchant, Mesoamerica, Mexica, Mexicayotl, Mexico, moral, morality, Nahua, Nahuatl, offering, Panquetzaliztli, philosophy, photo, piety, praise, prayer, pre-Columbian, pre-Conquest, Pre-Hispanic, Precolumbian, preconquest, Prehispanic, Raising of the Banners, reflexión, religion, ritual, sacrifice, Sahagún, seeds, shield flower, slave, Sun, sunflower, Tenochca, teología, Teotl, theology, thought, tradicional, traditional, vanguard merchant, veintana, Wajid Uddaim, Wikipedia, worship, xochi, xochitl | 3 Comments
Well, my numerous, intractable, and incredibly frustrating network/Internet connectivity problems resolve just in time for Panquetzaliztli! A lovely coincidence.
Why am I so excited? Panquetzaliztli is Huitzilopochtli’s main festival month, that’s why! I’ve been particularly waiting for this veintana to roll around, as it’s the perfect opportunity for me ramble on about this very special Teotl. I’ve been hoarding research relating to Him just for this month, and will be doing my damndest to pour it out as much as I can, come hell, high water, third-rate cable companies, or exceptionally crappy workweeks. Books have been accumulating tabs like feathers just for this special event…
So… get ready!
To whet your appetite and kick things off on the right (or left?) foot, I would like to draw your attention to the material I have already accumulated on this blog that relates to Huitzilopochtli.
My static page introducing the reader to the god.
A quick intro, a bit about His nature, and a codex image.
Mexicolore’s downloadable feature on Huitzilopochtli.
Includes many artifact photos, pictures from codices, etc. Also includes other interesting tidbits on the god, such as His birthday (1 Flint Knife), his festivals, his sacred animals (the hummingbird and the eagle), and much more. They place Panquetzaliztli a bit later in the year than most calendar correlations I’ve seen, but that’s a minor quirk.
Incarnations of the Aztec Supernatural: The Image of Huitzilopochtli in Mexico and Europe
Elizabeth Hill Boone’s excellent monograph on Huitzilopochtli. The only full-length English study of this particular god available at this time. Full text available to read via Google Books.
The Battle of Coatepec: Huitzilopochtli Defeats the Moon and Stars (As told by Cehualli)
This is my retelling of the important myth about Huitzilopochtli’s birth and how He protected His mother, Coatlicue, from Coyolxauhqui and the Centzon Huitznahua at Coatepec.
Grace Lobanov’s English translation from her Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico. The book is still under copyright and so you can’t read the whole thing, but fortunately this particular hymn in its entirety can be reached via Google’s Limited Preview. This link will take you to the “About This Book” page. Look for the “Search This Book” box, type in “Huitzilopochtli hymn,” and click on the link to page 65 that it will turn up. That’s the song for the Portentous One.
November 20, 2008 | Categories: Culture, Literature, Media, Photo, Religion | Tags: adorar, antes de la conquista, Aztec, Aztec religion, Azteca, ética, belief, Centzon Huitznahua, ceremony, Coatepec, Coatlicue, Codex, codices, costumbre, Coyolxauhqui, creencia, cultura, culture, deity, devotion, dios, dioses, divine, divinity, Elizabeth Hill Boone, ethics, faith, fe, festival, filosofía, god, goddess, gods, Grace Lobanov, Huitzilopochtli, hymn, idea, indígena, Indian, indigenous, indio, la religión de los aztecas, Mesoamerica, Mexica, Mexicayotl, Mexico, moral, morality, myth, Nahua, Nahuatl, offering, Panquetzaliztli, philosophy, piety, praise, prayer, pre-Columbian, Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico, pre-Conquest, Pre-Hispanic, Precolumbian, preconquest, Prehispanic, Raising of the Banners, reflexión, religion, ritual, sacred text, sacrifice, song, Tenochca, teología, Teotl, theology, thought, tradicional, traditional, veintana, worship | Leave a comment