The Fifth Sun
The Aztecs settled in central Mexico sometime around the sixth century ACE. By the 1300’s they founded the city of Tenochtitlan which was actually on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Tenochtitlan became the city of the Aztec Empire after the city-state joined forces with the two other Nahua city-states of Texcoco and Tlacopan. Destroyed by the Spanish three hundred years later, this is now the heart of Mexico City and the basis for the mythical Aztlan, the origin of the word “Aztec”.
Aztec mythology is fascinating to me, mainly because their stories tell of creation gone wrong…several times gone wrong. The supreme or first deity of the Aztecs was a spirit called Ometeotl. Yet, although he was the first and considered their god, their supreme being, Ometeotl was not responsible for creation. He did have four children who were known as the Tezcatlipocas, and each was associated with a compass point.
Creation myth #1 tells of an earth occupied by giants who ate, of all things scary, berries. Yep, you read that correctly. The world was full of giants who ate berries. In this creation version, the son/god of the north battled with his brother, the sun/god of the west. The western deity won the battle but the northern brother was a poor sport and returned to earth as a jaguar, destroying the world and everything in it.
Creation legend #2 has the western deity ruling the heavens after creating human beings with a penchant for nuts. (And yes, you read that correctly…nuts) In this myth, the Black Tezcatlipoca, the northern son/god/brother returns as the wind. His mighty wind destroys most of everything in this tale with a few human beings left to become monkeys.
Creation story #3 has Tlaloc, the god of the rain and most likely the brother associated with the southern compass point since his name translates as ‘earth”, as the ruler supreme or the Third Sun. In this myth, Quetzalcoatl, the western deity, sends rain which floods the earth. A small number of people survive by being transformed in birds which are able to live above the deadly flood waters.
Finally we have Creation myth #4 which features Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of water, being in charge. Her turn also ends with a flood, this time a flood of her own tears of blood. In this legend part of mankind survives by being turned into fish. I should not that these are not the only stories featuring these children of Ometeotl. They are many others and they are indeed all fascinating. Many are connected to the Aztec calendar and all play a role in making Mexico what it is today.
But…back to Creation. Frustrated with the lack of success in creating the world, the four sibling gods (and one goddess) decided to work together. Quetzalcoatl went to the Underworld to recover the crushed bones of all who had died. He mixed some of his own blood with their ashes and resurrected them. Aztec mythology believes this to be the final Creation myth. The differences in mankind are attributed to the varying fragments of bones brought back from the Underworld.
Many of the world’s myths focus on perfect deities that, in spite of their perfection and power, still have problems. This Aztec Creation myth, and yes there are others, not only has imperfect results directly accountable to the gods themselves instead of mankind, it applauds the concept of teamwork. The fifth sun, the one that did work, was the teaming of all four spirits.
Myths that speak of destruction are quite common. Myths such as this Aztec legend that tell of destruction followed by rebirth or recreation are found in other cultures. The Norse myth of Ragnarok or “end Rulers” speaks of an apocalypse (No, not the Zombie Apocalypse!) that will destroy the world and then give birth to a new, fresher one. The Abrahamic religions have the scriptural story of Noah and the Ark. In that tale, the world is destroyed by a great flood and, once the waters recede, life begins anew.
From the Norse mythology of Scandinavia to the earliest beginnings of the three most popular world religions originating in the Middle East to the landscape of Mexico and a city built in the middle of a lake, we have a rather common theme in mythology. Is it coincidence, fate, or the fingerprint of a higher power? We still are looking for answers here in the 21st century. We are still reading the ancient myths while we write new ones. Like a classic novel, the preceding chapters help give context to what is being read/written today and hopefully, what tomorrow will bring.