An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 74MEXICAN BEGINNINGS
In the Mexico of the Aztecs the sun was held to be the cause of all material force, and the gods the holders of the fluctuating fortunes of man. The sun, like man himself, was considered dependent upon food and drink; and according to Aztec cosmology several suns had perished through lack of provision, as had older races of men. The original sun had no other nourishment than the water it absorbed from the earth, and was thus nothing but a semi-liquid mass, designated Atonatiuh, the 'Water-Sun.' It was supposed to have absorbed enormous quantities during the course of centuries, and ultimately discharged the whole over the world, causing a complete destruction of animal and vegetable life. The Water-Sun was sometimes identified with Tlaloc, the god of moisture, but this is a comparatively recent addition to the popular account. The general destruction of terrestrial life by elementary physical forces was accompanied in Mexican belief by myths of other great catastrophes wrought by earthquake, wind-storms, or fire, and a tale of the collapse of the vault of heaven itself. These holocausts were traced to some defect in the sun. Other accounts relate that the gods Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Xiuhtecutli each attempted the rôle of the god of day without success. At length it became evident that a special god must be created for the express purpose of fulfilling the functions of the office, so the existing sun was brought into being. However the Mexican myths may vary according to the method by which the creation of the sun was achieved authorities agree on these points of Aztec belief. The luminary was an animal which was originally a man, but, by the action of fire, became transformed, and received the intense vitality necessary for the performance of his functions from the blood of the gods, voluntarily shed for that purpose. The gods met at Teotihuacan in order to make a sun. They kindled a mighty fire, and signified to the worshippers that whosoever should first leap into it should become the new sun personified. One of them sacrificed himself by doing so; and arose as the sun from the midst of the[Pg 172] fire, but was unable to ascend into the sky for lack of strength. In order to give him the necessary motive force the gods resolved to sacrifice themselves in the usual Mexican manner, by having their hearts torn out. This was done by the god Xolotl, who had in this way created man, and now performed the act of sacrifice upon himself. The sun then ascended the sky. According to another tradition, the creation of man was subsequent to that of the sun. Men were only created to be the food of the luminary, and were ordered to fight and slay one another so that the sun might be supplied with food. The Mayas of Yucatan increased the previous number of suns by one. Two solar epochs terminated by devastating plagues known as the 'sudden deaths.' So swift and mortal were the pests engendered by solar failure that vultures dwelt in the houses of the cities, and devoured the bodies of their former owners. The third epoch closed with a hurricane or inundation known as hun yecil, 'the inundation of the trees,' as all the forests were swept away.
The Kiches of Guatemala had a very complete creation story, which may be studied in the Popol Vuh, their sacred book. To begin with, there only existed the vast waste of primeval waters, in which slept "the Old Ones covered with Green Feathers," the father-and mother-deities, Xpiyacoc and Xmucane. Then came Hurakan the mighty, "he who hurls below," a Kiche variant of the Aztec deity Tezcatlipoca. He commanded light to be and the solid earth, by his spoken word. The gods in council created animals. They carved mannikins out of wood, but these were intractable and disobedient, so the gods resolved to destroy them. They sent a deluge upon the world, and the mannikins were drowned. The posterity of the few who were saved are the monkeys. After the catastrophe the earth-god Vukub-Cakix (Macaw) and his progeny gave more trouble to the gods, but were ultimately destroyed. Hurakan latterly created four perfect men from yellow and white maize, and supplied them with wives, after which the sun was created, and the cosmological scheme was complete.
The Incan Peruvians held that all things emanated from Pachacamac, the universal spirit, from whom proceeded the spirits of the animals or plants produced by the earth. The earth itself they designated Pachacamama, or 'Earth-Mother'. Thus we have two distinct conceptions welded together—a general spirit of living things coalesced with the originally totally distinct Creator. The idea of a Great Spirit, a former and shaper, though not necessarily a Creator, is almost universal throughout America, but it must sooner or later occur to the barbarian mind that the making of living beings requires something more than matter: they must receive the breath of life. A true Creator the Peruvians found in Pachacamac, an anthropomorphic deity representing the creative mind. The conception of Pachacamac as a ruler and director of the universe belongs to a later period of Incan rule, when a shrine was built to him in the new aspect by Apu-Ccapac-Inca Pachacutic, at the north angle of Cuzco. The Peruvians declared that all things were made by the word of the spirit, by the mere exercise of will, or thought. In the prayers to the Creator, and in other fragments of aboriginal rite which have survived, we read, for example: "Let a man be: let a woman be," and such expressions as "the creative word." Occasionally the sun acts as a species of demiurge. For example, it is he who creates the city of Cuzco, and sends to earth the three eggs of gold, of silver, and of copper, from which issue the Curacos and their wives and the Mitayocs and their wives. Tiahuanaco was the theatre of the new creation of man which followed upon the Deluge. In that district the Creator made man of clay, and separated him into nations, making one for each nation, and painting the dresses that each was to wear, besides giving national songs, languages, seeds suitable to the soil of each, and food. Then he gave life and soul to each one, and ordered that they should pass under the earth. Thence each national type came up in the place to which he ordered it to go. This myth again is obviously an attempt to harmonize two conflicting creation stories, an original one of genesis from[Pg 174] caves, and the later one of the creation in Tiahuanaco. We also find local creation myths in some of the Peruvian valleys. For example, Pachacamac, in the coast valley of Irma, was not considered the creator of the sun, but a descendant of it. Of the first human pair created by him the man perished of hunger, but the woman maintained herself upon roots. The sun took pity upon her and gave her a son, whom Pachacamac slew and buried, but from his teeth there grew maize, from his ribs the long white roots of the manioc, and from his flesh pumpkins and esculent plants.