Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quotes from _The Flower and the Scorpion_ #17

"In the Borgia Codex we find an image (figure 3) in which Tlazolteotl gives birth to a glyph of a flower, symbolizing Tlazolteotl as the mother of fertility and sexual excess. Several other elements of this image are noteworthy. First, and most immediately apparent, Tlazolteotl is naked except for her headgear and her necklace, her nakedness signifying sexual excess, since this is what the nudity of women in preconquest manuscripts scripts always appears to have signified. Second, Tlazolteotl's headdress and earrings are made of a spindle and unspun cotton, signifying her as the goddess of spinning cotton. Third, her right foot sits on a flint knife, an implement used in blood sacrifice. Fourth, her legs are tied, either with rope or with two snakes whose heads do not appear; the act of tying Tlazolteotl presents her as a deity linked with the earth. Finally, Tlazolteotl has no navel, perhaps suggesting divine birth.
The image is part of a set of images of divination, so we should note here that the elements connected to Tlazolteotl's body, such as the flower and the flint knife, are day signs within the Nahua calendar. Tlazolteotl in this image is the patroness of these particular day signs, so she modifies the days in some way, leading to prognostications. In other words, one might suggest that somebody born on the particular day that Tlazolteotl controls would engage in sexually excessive activities.
In another preconquest image (figure 4), from the Codex Laud, we find Tlazolteotl handing a child to a female death figure. Tlazolteotl was a goddess closely linked with childbirth, and this image represents the dangers involved in the birth process. We also see that Tlazolteotl wears a snake as a belt. Nahua lore envisioned the snake as signifying sexual excess and as a phallic symbol; Nahuas also linked it with the tlazolli complex, as they envisioned the snake as one of the key powerful and dangerous animals emanating from the dirt of the earth. In this image, Tlazolteotl is topless, but she wears two bottom garments: the loincloth of a man and the skirt of a woman. A third preconquest image (figure 5), from the Codex Fejevary Mayer, shows Tlazolteotl holding two brooms, signifying her role as the goddess in charge of cleaning trash. In this image, Tlazolteotl, again topless, wears two snakes, both wrapped around her, one with a head emanating from her mouth, the other with a head coming out from beneath her skirt. The phallic implications seem clear.
These three preconquest images, taken together, signify three elements of Tlazolteotl's preconquest identity that are important for my methodological discussion: her gender, her sexual role, and her ritual purpose. In two of these illustrations, Tlazolteotl's image signifies gender ambiguity in a traditional Nahua frame. In all preconquest Nahua iconography, men are identified by the presence of a loincloth, a phallic image designed to allude symbolically to the presence of the penis.  But in figure 4 Tlazolteotl wears a loincloth and a skirt, which, as we shall see, is not an uncommon occurrence for a powerful goddess; in figure 5 the snake emanating from beneath Tlazolteotl's skirt suggests the presence of a phallus. Further, the name Tlazolteotl, literally translated as "deity of trash;' has an ambiguous gender, and both boys and girls could be named Tlazolteotl. Could Tlazolteotl have been a deity who signified both male and female? If so, how can we deem her a goddess? How can we even use gendered pronouns to describe Tlazolteotl?"

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