IF THE LEFT DON’T GET YA, THEN THE RIGHT ONE WILL. Or…maybe they both grab you up at once!
Before I knew the words duality, dichotomy, or mestizaje, I was at home there. Right here in the nowhere. In the there of the everywhere in the bothlands on the borderline in the neitherworld at the same time. Thus the inbetween, the transition. It is my truth, nothing fancy. I don’t know, when I think about it, how we ever became convinced otherwise. Ideas about self, time and the ethereal land on which we meet. Trying to summon impressions of stone under our feet.
That is the illusion, isn’t it? Always? That we bang into? The one that hurts, the one that only lives to die, that only arises to be broken. Over and over and over. I can’t count how many times I’ve felt I had arrived. In one way or another. Remembering that even when I do arrive it is only a plateau in relation to where I had just been standing is a personal challenge and imperative. Which is why, of course, I always come back to that truth. Remembering that the bestowing of symbols upon events and times is purposeful and important. Ritual and recognition and reverence and reification. Important. But again, the conversation about Symbol and Essence.
I love how the Aztec and Mayan calendars are round. Symbols change. Essence repeats. Beginning meets the end in the middle. Time passing as a line marching left is both a tired tradition and modern riddle.
In all the ways I can forget this, there is an abundance of shame and pain and foolishness to be had. And the pain arises, again, from clinging to that illusion of a frozen moment, to the mask, to the rotted husk. To cramp within the seed and not to split the husk in two is to die into that feeling of security, stinking, small, cemented and with a dullness that will spread through the flesh and the veins and the fingernails and the teeth until nothing stirs but flake and ash.
Change is pain.
I was born on the sixth of March, which is the day that begins the Aztec month of Tlacaxipeualiztli. Tlacaxipeualiztli is a Náhuatl word that some sources claim describe the act of wearing skins, others as the act of flaying men. Tlacaxipeualiztli was a 20 day period of festivities and rituals and sacrifice that were meant to see the change of seasons throuvgh, from dry to rainy. It was believed that the old season—the dry, spent season—had to be peeled away like a husk, like a dead skin, to reveal the new.
Xipe Totec was the patron god of Tlacaxipeualiztli and an “enforcer” of the agricultural change. (Xipe Totec is the creator god Tezcatlipoca’s Red Aspect, the god of transition and Spring and suffering.) And as you can see in my rendition above and in all renderings (that I’ve found, from sculpture to temple wall to codex though I’ve not see all codices, nor the entirety of the codices I’ve seen in part) Xipe Totec wears the skin of another over his. Depictions of the old gods will vary from codex to codex in style, and depending on which aspect is shown, in form. Sometimes you will see them in finery, and sometimes (as here) in scales of the skin of others. Sometimes in two dimensions and at times in three. Here, as a icon-like figure, there in a humanesque form. Xipe Totec also has different names to different tribes, but one of them is The Flayed God.
There were many rituals that took place during Tlacaxipeualiztli, and much of them involved wearing the skin of another person. Of course, the removal of a living heart was also a part of the early festivities. Sacrifices were made where men were skinned alive and other men wore their skins dancing, in a symbolic act of a seed bursting from its hull. Games were played by younger men where all wore skins and fought to imprison one another.
During the 20 days of Tlacaxipeualiztli, the human skins began to decay, of course. And sometimes they were allowed to rot for as long as 40 days before being cast off into caves or holes prepared for the purpose, again in a symbol of Spring and the casting away of the old growth.
This would see the people through to the coming of the rainy season, where crops might begin to flourish and grow in abundance. Before, of course, being harvested and withering into the soil again.
Xipe Totec may have been a god of suffering, but was also a god of change.
The US-acculturated mind says, perhaps, “Oh, the barbarity. Oh, how cruel. Oh, how gruesome and primitive.” I understand that.
Yet what cruelties do we provoke in the name of nothing at all? What blood do we shed today not as a sacrifice to a force we truly believe needs the ritual to continue blessing us, but simply because we hate?
The city and the people were engaged fully in the rites of Tlacaxipeualiztli. Young men paraded through all of Tenochtitlán’s streets and visited homes where they were let in to ask for alms given in exchange for Xipe Totec’s blessing. It lasted not a month, and then it was done.
But how long our own bloody transition? And without a goal. And rife with lies. And the priests do not join with the people do not join with the warriors today. We are all at odds, enjoined by lies. And blood flows in many lands at the hands of our warriors—who know not even why or for what they fight. And we hide their rituals from the people. And replace them with lies.
O, but we do usher change. Of that I am sure. As sure as I am of the day of my birth. And we do suffer. But that is what Springtime is for.
What shall bloom from so many seeds still underground? What transition does our sacrifice celebrate? We bathe in ignorance and hide our heads in the sand and look to the past and call them primitive. We wall off and destroy the descendants of those very same people and count ourselves safer.
Yet as always, I live here and there. On both sides. And neither. Always breathing the sharp, acrid, flower-soaked winds of Spring.