By observing the suggestive, and not less beautiful, images of goddesses represented in the prehispanic codexes, it seems legitimate to suppose that the femininity in Mesoamerica should have had a preponderant role. That is why it is necessary to inquire about the women who used to venerated these goddesses and about the manner these superhuman forces influenced and modeled their essence, their life and their death. In this sense, the reflections and analysis are located, in first instance, in the woman study in relation with the divinity, and then to examine them as the mirror of their goddesses.
There are not many analysis about the woman study murierlogía, and according to the available information these have only been carried out based on ethnic and historical sources of the XVI Century. The positions come diametric opposed; one side situates the woman as a beloved and respected entity(1), the other, as someone subjected, subordinated, oppressed and usable(2)
We think the last opinion did not considerate that the information was manipulated by the chronicler in a European and Christian partial way. We should remember that for the Christianity woman occupies a secondary range as vicarious creation.
We thought, however, that although the diverse focuses used to talk about woman in the prehispanic era, the analysis about the feminine has not been exposed inside its historical context, but more like an isolated fact. In front of it, we expounded the necessity of investigating it from the own woman religious perspective, since we know, the religion was the predominant ideology in the Old Mexico.
Therefore, we planed this study in function to understand the feminine behave, not based in first instance, on the ethnic and historical information posterior the conquest, but directly of the one obtained through the iconography study of the divinities in the prehispanic codexes, in order to discover their older and consequently their purer conceptions.
The investigation is presented as the iconography analysis of the Codex Borgia`s eight goddesses, from which were obtained the archetypes or models contained in the deity mythology that influenced the personality and conduct of women.
Finally, we hope the results presented in this investigation will be useful in the reconsideration of who we have been. And if this is so, then rejoice us like Mexican women with a rich past with its own and original feminine mythology.
In such context, it is important to point out that the woman's birth happened first to the man's birth in the Codex Vindobonensis (fig. 1) (6)The Mixteca oral tradition says that they were born in a cocoon form between the white ceiba tree leaves. In their origin five gods were present: the black wind, the god of the wisdom, the sun, the ray and of the rain, and each one of them granted to man and woman power for equal parts(7).
In some meaning, it could be said that religion as a personal experience doesn't establish any distinction between men and women. Both sexes have the same opportunities in the sacred life, in the sacred world.
And, therefore, if the woman was made to the image and likeness of the divinity, this sacred aspect had a lot to do with her behavior because of the feminine ideal, and the principles that concerned to her were molded in her deities conception. The women had their own goddesses or protectors that presided over their feminine life. The venerated goddesses shaped the woman mental attitude and determined the way in which each one should behave herself in all her life acts.
In fact, all the organs, physiologic experiences and gestures of woman had a wide religious significance; since all the human behaviors were established by the gods in the beginning of the time. They founded the diverse works, ways of feeding, of making love, of expressing themselves(8), among another activities..
In this sense, it is not possible to become a truly woman -or man- except for imitating the gods, and living on agreement with the extrahuman models(9) or Theo-types. Because of the Mesoamerican man modeled, even his entire social life, to the image of the religious world conception, with the same fundamental principles so much for the real world as for the only thinking(10).
The Erin Panofsky's iconography method is the one that we used in order to make the lecture of attires and the númenes, deities symbolically related in the Borgia Codex .
We understand for iconography the description or interpretation of the art works content(20). As for the iconography method proposed by Panofsky is applicable to the study of the content or meaning of a art work, it is necessary to clarify certain concepts around the aesthetics of the called Plastic Testimonies of Indigenous Tradition (Testimonios Plásticos de Tradición Indígena). We assumed that these are primary sources or testimonies which we considerate as truthful art works; although we know they were not created with any aesthetic purpose, they responded to religious and magic expression necessities. In fact this doesn't imply that they could not have an aesthetic significance for their creators..
We understand for art work the entity from which emerges connections with the beliefs, the ideas and the situation of men that created them. In sum as a history product(21).
The iconography would be the entrusted to interpret this art works content, as for something different to its form. Its ambit is located inside the images, histories and allegories in an strict meaning. In this context the content would be then the intrinsic meaning, the one that includes symbolic values, that what an art work exhibits but not reveals and it could be the basic attitude of a nation, of a period, of a class, of a religious or philosophical conception, everything condensed in an art work(22). In a last instance the iconography tries to read correctly the representation itself and provides its appropriate explanation.
Now then, the Panofsky iconography method has the following steps:
It is referred to the form embodied in material. The pure forms world, recognized as carriers of primary or natural meanings, the artistic motives world of the objects and actions represented by lines, colors and volumes: human beings, animals, plants, instruments.
It consists in identify certain visible forms with certain objects known in the practical experience which emanates through the familiarity with objects and daily actions. In other words, is the identification of the visible forms with known objects in a first view(23). This step helps to break down each one of the images elements in the codexes, for their ulterior iconography analysis.
It is concentrated on the images, histories and allegories, instead of motives. It presupposes the correct identification, in this case of the images and its diagnoses attires, by using the knowledge of certain topics and specific concepts, handled by the specialist(24).
In this step we use the original sources in order to read the images: pictographic testimonies, ethnographic texts of the XVI Century: Sahagún, Durán, Motolinia, Torquemada, Mendieta. Indigenous chroniclers: Ixtlixochitl, Pomar, Tezozomoc, Muñoz Camargo. Nahuatl-Spanish vocabularies, Molina. The clergymen works such as manuals and treaties about prehispanic religion associated with the practices carried out by curanderos-shamanes, magicians and herbmen: Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón, Jacinto de la Serna. Anonymous works in indigenous language like the Leyenda de los Soles, Anales de Cuauhtitlan, Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca,others like the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas and the oral history or oral tradition; all of these completed with some studies that have been carried out about this topic by several researchers from the beginning of the XX Century and contemporary..
It concerns the intrinsic meaning or content, the iconography interpretation in its deeper meaning. It is refereed to the symbolic values. That of an image reveals, but it doesn't exhibit or show.
This step tries to read correctly the representation itself and to propose an appropriate explanation. The iconology presupposes a deeper reading according with the circumstances of place and time, in line with beliefs, assumptions and the mentioned contexts inside a religion, ideology, age and culture(25).
The iconology phase is understood as the most complex, so it is necessary to use a theoretical frame that let us put in context the data obtained as a product of a historical process of a determined society. It includes the use of some concepts about religions history used by authors like Mircea Eliade, Jansen, René Girard, Van Der Leeuw, among others. Some judgments about Mesoamerican religion expressed by doctor Alfredo López Austin were also taken. The use of ethnographic sources and mainly of the oral tradition compiled by the indígenas, Indians that still conserve religious concepts not included in the documentary sources.
As we have mentioned, one of our objectives was to obtain information directly from the prehispanic testimonies that would locate us to the oldest and purest divinity conceptions. For this reason we have selected the Codex Borgia, for being the most representative of the religious codexes.
The Borgia codex or amoxtli -that in Nahuatl means book made in a screen way- is one of the most beautiful and transcendent pictographic documents from the prehispanic time, because of its aesthetic quality and of its rich information that reveals something about the Mesoamerican religion.
It is formed for 14 tanned animal skin ribbons, probably of deer skin, with 27 cm of wide and different lengths. They are united in a single ribbon of 10 m of length, pleated in screen or accordion way, they form 39 leaves, each one with 26.5 cm of length, from these 38 are colored for both sides. The codex presents a fine layer of white stucco lime or plaster, planed and polished like a coating in order to correct the irregularities of the material, where the images were drawn a with fine rabbit hair paintbrushes and illuminated with vegetal and mineral colors dissolved in water.
As it happens with many other Mexican prehispanic and colonial codexes, the Borgia Codex is not preserved in Mexico. At the moment it is located at the Apostolic Vatican Library, in the Vatican City, Italy.
Together with the Fejérváry Mayer, Laud, Cospi, Vatican B, and the Painting No. 20 of the Goupil Aubin Collection and the religion section of the codex Tututepetongo, form the denominated Borgia Codexes Group, it is named like the Borgia Codex for being the most representative. This group is integrated because of the characteristics that the they share.
Indeed, they were elaborated before the conquest, approximately in the Late Postclasic between 1200 and 1300 d.C.; they come from an area not located with exactness between the valleys of Puebla and Tlaxcala in the north, and Oaxaca in the south, they might belong to the Nahuatl culture and had a Mixteca influence. They were made in animal skin of similar style to the denominated Mixteca-Puebla, what was an international iconography style prevailed in a vast part of Mesoamerica during the Postclasic. They have as the most important characteristics: the almost geometric precision in the images delineation, uniformed and conventional symbols, several and brilliant colors which express fundamental ideas with a religious sense.
The religious matters contained in the Borgia Codex are closely linked with the myth, the rite, the astronomy and the augural-divination calendar.
It also contains a wide and complex intermediate section -the only in this codex- with elaborated rituals scenes related with magic and religious practices, made in their majority, in diverse sacred enclosures. As well as some mythical images.
Now then, a great part of its information was used with divination purposes, in order to predict the future, and augur purposes, in order to know favorable or unfavorable aspects of the human destination, for that reason it was named tonalamatl, the destinations book or divination calendar with a ritual nature.
Several sections of the Borgia Codex illustrate the tonalamatl, it includes periods of 260 days divided in 20 groups of 13 days, that gives 20 thirteenth. Also there was a deity associated with every day and the thirteenth was governed by one or two deities. The meaning of the first day of the month determined the favorable, ominous or indifferent character of the thirteenth. The days that were 20, besides of having this kind of manifestations, had their own sign or glyph. The reading of these 260 days was called tonalpohualli, the count of the days or destinies.
It is necessary to mention that because of the religious character of this codex, deities occupied an special role for the religious character of the codex. As we have already said, they presided over days and thirteenths, besides appearing in the wide section related with the ritual. We could observe them in the thirteenths scenes and in the 20 signs-days with the ritual symbolic objects associated with their cult; like attires extremely elaborated and distinctive facial and corporal painting, which permits their identification in most of the cases.
In this way, it is clear why we have taken the Borgia Codex like a starting point in order to elucidate around the divine archetypes. It should be added that the iconography tradition represented in the codex refer us to the XIII Century ca of our Era, -although the represented pantheon is older- but mainly, the fact of belonging to the Nahuatl culture influenced by the Mixteca culture, made the codex an antecedent of the Mexica pantheon, from which we have more documentary information. And certainly, because we could consider the represented goddesses as the oldest images, in their group coming from the Mexico's Center.
Tlazolteotl, Goddess of the garbage or filth, goddess of the human fertility, the great woman in labour (La Gran Parturienta), goddess of the love and ctónica, terrestrial deity associated to the moon. In this deity, more than in any other, converge almost all the characteristic attributes that belongs to the Great Mother-Earth, of such way that in the Borgia Codex, we could examine by using the iconography, images that lead us to very old tellurian conceptions; they are direct antecedents of the Goddesses-Mothers. It implies that Tlazolteotl in the beginning was conceived like Mother-Earth in her infinite and inexhaustible capacity of giving child, like a tellurian layer, a terrestrial depth, from which everything is born. So for example, in the sheet 28 (fig. 2) diverse incarnations of the deity are shown influenced by the forces -personified in Tláloc- helping or affecting the corn plants.
But also Tlazolteotl is the Great Mother, conceived as the great woman who has just given birth. In the Laud Codex, sheet 40 (fig. 3) she is represented pregnant, with the legs opened in labour position mamazouhticac to have the arms extended. It suits to distinguish that usually she is represented after giving birth, this is, having full and heavy breasts with pleats in the belly.
For her childbirth (parir) activity she is rather associated to the mature woman, whom she protects during the pregnancy joined to his child. In this context, the earth fertility and the woman fecundity are lined up with each other: "the earth is a woman and the woman is the earth"(26). Both produce life and contain inside of them the creation mystery. The human mother, in this sense, is the representative of the Great Tellurian Mother, because "the childbirth and the delivery are microcosmic version of an exemplary act executed by the earth. The human mother doesn't make but imitate or repeat this primordial act of appearing the life in the breast of the earth"(27).
Also, the childbirth parir model was established by the gods. When women could not give birth, the midwives spoke to them like this: "beloved daughter of mine, look, you are a strong woman, make an effort and do as a virile woman, do as that goddess does , that gave birth in the first place, that was called Cihuacoatl and Quilaztli"(28). An incarnation of the Mother goddess.
Tlazolteotl, in her incarnation as Teteoinnan Mother of the Gods, was protector of the midwives, doctor women and of those who told the luck with corn grains(29). By the way, medicine and the luck reading through the corn grains practices ,were woman activities, since the beginning of humanity, the gods established it that way.... [the gods] had given to her certain corn grains, so that she would heal with them and used them in divination and sorceress, that is the way they use to do it.(30).
With no doubt, Tlazolteotl had a very important place among the deities represented in the Borgia Codex. Her cult should have had hierarchy in the origin zone of the document. A total of 57 images are distributed in several sections of the codex, alluding to the diverse deity epiphanies. The sign of the jaguar day rules and is protector of the 13th thirteenth of the tonalamatl which begins with the day uno-movimiento, one-movement.
In such context we could identify her by means of her essential attires. In the sheet 12 where she appears as tutor of the ocelotl jaguar sign (fig. 4). She uses cotton bandages without spinning ichcaxochitl "cotton flower", that are a part of the head ornament which is crowned with two golden spindles that have upper needles, from which generally are hanging down woven cotton flakes like spikelets, called tlamamalacaquetzalli "perforayed spindles with precious feathers". This attire alludes directly to one of the main woman occupations: the spinning and weave. Activities also were established by the gods; because when the man and the woman were created, they sent her to spin and to weave(31).
Her ornaments are several, a golden necklace, and another of turquoise mosaic covered with round golden bells. A string of precious beads with golden bells and a pectoral in form of maguey penca -fleshy leaf-, hand-crafted in what could be shell and turquoise mosaic. The bracelet is made of fine feathers with golden pendants. The torso is nude and only a small white and black layer, in the back can be appreciated, that could be made out of paper for its rigidity. The lumbar decoration is a guacamaya head , from which hangs down two ribbons, one worked with feathers and the other one with paper.
She wears cueitl a "skirt" in black and red colors, with a symbol in form of horseshoe and a flint inside of the symbol, that it is the iconography convention that represents the moon in its increasing phase. Likewise, the border with red band, flints and black points, in blue background, suggesting the night. Therefore the skirt is a selenic allegory, all time that the deity is intimately linked with the moon. We will explain in detail, this relation with the moon later on.
Following with the description of the attires, we find that she wears a feather nape decoration in a fan shape, among which highlight the black ones taken of wild hens or crows. As the attire extension stands out part of the yellow leaves crest, made of the zoyatl palm, called zoyatemalli, that grows from a hank made with quail feathers, that in this case it is hidden for the image in the first plane. The nose ring in a moon form yacameztli is golden, like the earflap wired with a ball of cotton. The facial painting consists in a double black, wide and narrow stripe under the eye; and in a blackened zone with oilskin around the mouth, named motenolcopintica. The yellow corporal painting is characteristic of the goddesses.
In addition, Tlazolteotl is sitting on icpalli "armchair with back and jaguar skin seat", which makes reference to the idea of the hierarchy and power of the ruler, to the authority, to the dignity and the control and, in a figured sense, to the mother, to the protector(32), and in a more extended concept, it also makes reference to the loving mother that gives life and protects her creatures.
We found that one of the powers or forces associated with the deity are the selenics, in this sense, is obvious why her yacameztli and her skirt symbols are completely identified as the moon and darkness. In other images of the codex the relationship Moon-Tlazolteotl is clear(33).
The link , was surely based on the cyclic nature of the moon. The Mexicas recognized the rhythms that made the moon reborn and die "when the moon is born again it looks like a little arch of thin wire, [and] after its rhythms the moon dies"(34). If this is so, then, we could talk about a regeneration in the cosmic plane. The religious valuation of the lunar cycles made possible the first anthropocosmic synthesis of the ancient men, by relating facts as heterogeneous as birth, evolution, death and resurrection, the water, the plants, the woman and fertility(35).
But for the moment our interest about the wide conception of the moon is centered in the aspects that influence from the cycles of the plants to the women physiology. Indeed, it is recognized the recurrent of the feminine nature and since the most remote historical times, the menstrual cycle has been compared with the different moon phases(36); recognizing that the moon governed these periods. So, the woman like the moon are cyclic. In the same way the world of the plants is subjected to the same returns controlled by the lunar rhythms(37).
To the light of this strong association between the moon and the vegetation we could understand why several fertility goddesses are at the same time lunar deities. Therefore, the selenic symbols so abundant in the Tlazolteotl iconography take us to the rhythm idea, so much in the woman physiology as in the vegetation.
In this goddess appears, by the way, properties that make her responsible for the sensuality and the excesses of sexual nature. Her name like goddess of the garbage and filth -in a symbolic sense- has a lot to do with this since these exaggerations contaminated the man with filth. In this context, she is presided over the sign of the one ocelotl day, women born under the force of this day would be adulterous(38). But the force that take man to the lust was Tlazolteotl.
The dust and the garbage
But it implies that, as the final part of the text indicated, Tlazolteotl had the capacity of recovering the force that she penetrated in the man; she was in turn, Tlaelcuani "eater of filth". As López Austin hints, "the gods inspired -they formed inside the man- the positive and negative passions"(40).
Finally, the deity incorporates the woman fighter archetype, although without a doubt, could be thought that its correspondence to the woman is referred to the childbirth, since she was imagined like fighter that struggled to bring to the world to a new child, as the documentary sources said. Even so, we thought that the deity representations in the Borgia 63, Cospi 24 and Laud 20 codexes (fig. 5), where she is shown as warrior woman by wearing chimalli or shield, flag, arrows, lance darts; multicolored band associated with the war, tied up to the waist and Cuauhpilolli "rag of eagle feathers" are referred indeed to the woman war like activity; as we could verify in another historical codex such as the Selden, where she appears belligerent. We will return to this idea later on.
Without a doubt Tlazolteotl was a multiple unfolding deity, which should concern to several Mesoamerican woman archetypes inside the goddess mythology. We have already mentioned that she become assimilated to the mature woman in her fullness of procreating. But there are some later incarnations that are linked to other ages of the woman; such as Toci Our Grandmother, Heart of the Earth, she was identified with the old and wise woman, besides the attributions that she has as Tlazolteotl avatar -protector of the doctor woman or midwives, protector of the newly birth and their children- she is also the inventor of the temazcal bath and was responsible of the earthquakes(41).
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