Death, Rebirth, a Flower Prince, and the Aztecs

Xochipilli was the patron saint of homosexuals in Aztec culture
Xochipilli was the patron saint of homosexuals in Aztec culture

We recently visited the Aztecs exhibition in Melbourne Museum. There were a few things that really drew my attention, such as the Aztecs’ treatment of animals. I’m struggling to find examples about it online, but according to the exhibition they’d invite fish into their nets to be eaten, and believed a man’s pet dog (specifically a Xolo dog, which has a striking resemblance to the Peruvian Hairless Dog) would guide him through the underworld after death.

Aztec Mask of Death and Rebirth
Mask of Death and Rebirth

I loved the Mask of Death and Rebirth, I just thought it was a great concept and it is also fitting for me because I have just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 and one of the ideas referred to in the book is that of experiencing time all at once as opposed to our (humans’) linear experience. This, of course is due to the Tralfamadorians’ ability to experience four dimensions and as such ‘travel’ through time. Similarly you get various glimpses through time in the Mask of Death and Rebirth.

The Aztecs had many Gods. One such God, Xochipilli (which means ‘Flower Prince’) was, among other things, the patron god of homosexual men. It was warming to learn that gay men had their own patron god, and that they might feel protected by him during their lifetimes.

I had no idea that the centre of the Mexican flag depicted an eagle holding a snake whilst standing on a cactus, which is also the Mexican coat of arms. This was part of an Aztec legend that a city should be built in the spot where an eagle/snake/cactus trio is seen. The city of Tenochtitlan was built as a result, and is now known as Mexico City. The coat of arms was introduced after Mexico’s independence from Spain. I love this nod to the Aztec culture embedded in Mexico’s coat of arms and flag.

Quipu – by Claus Ableiter via Wikimedia Commons

As with my visit to the Gold and the Incas exhibition in Canberra earlier this year, there is a great sadness associated with the part the Spanish played in the fate of these and many other cultures. I am glad that they did not destroy everything, and that we are able to still look back and experience and learn about some of the amazing things these cultures accomplished. In Gold and the Incas, I learned about how the Incas had an abacus-type device called a quipu which they used for stock-take and as a census, among other things. I loved reading about how they used the decimal system to count and record things using these quipus.


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