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The Aztec Universe

THE AZTEC WORLD-PICTURE (Plate XXXIII) is the first sheet of the "Night Side" of the Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, an old Mexican painted book now in the Free Public Museums at Liverpool. The foundation for the series of paintings is a sort of parchment made of deerskin covered on both sides with a thin coating of an extremely adhesive paste on which the paintings were executed in the usual way--the outlines in deep black and the spaces filled in with colours. It consists of twenty-two folded shapes 17½ cm. square. One side Dr. Eduard Seler, its interpreter, calls the "Night Side," the other the "Day Side."

This first sheet is the most interesting and the most famous of the entire manuscript. It represents the Five Regions of the Aztec world and their tutelary deities, spread out like a cross, all their spaces filled with figures of

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trees, gods, birds, rivers, and symbols of the cosmos, both of its objects and its attributes.

In the Middle Place, says Seler, 1 is the Fire deity, Xiuhtecutli, "the Mother, the Father of the gods, who dwells in the navel of the Earth." From his body four streams of blood flow towards the four cardinal points, and are continued beyond the square space enclosing the centre to the outer corners of the picture, where the signs acatl, "Reed," tecpatl, "Flint," calli, "House," and tochtli, "Rabbit," are seen on shields respectively borne by a quetzal bird, an arara, an eagle, and a green parrot. "These are the four signs by which the consecutive years are named with constant reiteration, because they are the signs which fall on the first days of those years, and therefore, since they are exhausted with the number four, have become symbols for the four cardinal points, East, North, West, and South."

The stream of blood pointing to the sign acatl (Reed), that is, to the East (left-hand above), terminates with a hand painted yellow--"the hand (ray) of the Sun god?" The stream pointing to the sign tecpatl (Flint) ends with the stump leg of the god of the North. The stream flowing towards the sign calli (House) or West (right-hand below) ends in a figure of a chest formed by the vertebrae and adjoining ribs of a skeleton. "For the West is the region of the setting (dead) Sun." The stream flowing towards the sign tochtli (Rabbit) or South ends in a head in whose hair is stuck a downy feather ball, which symbolises


PLATE XXXIII. A WORLD-PICTURE OF THE AZTECS<br> <i>First page of the Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, representing the five regions of the world, and their tutelary deities</i>.<br> (From <i>Mythology of All Races</i>, 1927, Vol. XI, Plate VI)
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First page of the Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, representing the five regions of the world, and their tutelary deities.
(From Mythology of All Races, 1927, Vol. XI, Plate VI)


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the "warrior in the South" and at the same time, the "warrior in the North," the dual god of the two quarters.

Above the upper side of the central square is a sort of platform with steps in the centre; that is to say, to the right of the corner which, owing to the shield with the sign acatl, "Reed," we have to regard as the East corner." At the level of the steps, which are painted red, is shown the image of the Sun. "This can obviously be nothing but the House of the Sun, the East."

Above the left side of the central square is a votive dish in which are a rubber ball, an agava-leaf thorn, and a bone dagger. They are the symbols of sacrifice, of blood-letting, of self-torture, voluntarily made in honour of the gods, but, says Scier, they belong to the gods of the South, and bringing them into the Northern quarter of the heavens means a reversion of the order, or an interchange of North and South."

Above the lower side of the central square is seen a monster descending from above, that is, here, from be-low. It would seem to be tolerably certain that this is intended to represent the Tzitzimimê, the demons which symbolise the realm of darkness, the eclipse of the Sun. I shall have more fully to explain farther on that the Tzitzimimê are originally images of the stars, which, merely because at the solar eclipses the stars become visible in broad daylight, have been made demons of darkness, symbols of the devouring gloom. In any case, here the figure denotes the West, the region of the setting Sun, of the light swallowed up by the Earth."

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Above the fourth or right-hand side of the central square is seen "the wide open throat of a monster hieroglyph of the Earth, which in this form is obviously thought of as the taker of life, the mictlampa, the realm of death, i.e., the North."

The flowering tree rising above the picture of the Sun (upper East side) is surmounted by a quetzal bird and guarded by Itztli, the Stone-knife god (on the left), and Tonantiuh, the Sun god, all symbolising the Eastern quarter. This tree, like all in the four quarters, has the form of a cross.

The tree above the left side of the central square is a thorn tree surmounted by an eagle, and is guarded by Tlaloc, the Rain god, and Tepeyollotli, the Heart of the Mountains or the Voice of the Jaguar in the Mountains--symbols of the North.

The tree of the West, growing out of the forehead of the Tzitzimitl, or the dragon of the eclipse, has a stem set with huge upright thorns. Instead of flowers, it bears feather balls at the tips of its branches. "On it is perched doubtless a humming bird," which according to Aztec belief, dies with the dry and revives with the rainy season. The guardian deities are Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of flowing water, and the Earth goddess Tlazolteotl.

Above the South side (right) is a tree growing out of the open jaws of the monster symbolising the Earth; "its stem is set with notches (or fruit pods?) turned downwards, while the branches bear a kind of star-shaped blossom like that of the tree of the North." On it is perched

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a parrot, and it is guarded by Cinteotl, the maize god, and Mictlantecutli, god of death.

The deities depicted about the four arms of the St. Andrew's Cross, that is, in the spaces enclosed by the trapezes above the four sides of the central square, are the eight gods of the four quarters. In the central square stands the Fire god; he belongs to the Centre or the Middle Place because he represents the hearth fire which burns in the middle of the house. These nine are the deities of the Five Regions and "Lords of the Night."

Like the Tibetan and Kalmuck worlds, the four quarters of the Aztec world have their four colours, and they are: East, red; North, yellow; West, blue; and South, green. These are the colours also of the years and of the days. The whole figure symbolises the orientation of the world-powers in Space and Time-years and Earth-realms and Sky-realms.


190:1 Codex Ferjérváry-Mayer, elucidated by Eduard Seler, 1901, pp. 5-24."

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