The Fundamental Principles of Old and New World Civilizations Part 2

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Figure 10.

The night of the winter solstice, the longest of the year, yielded alone a symmetrical figure. It resembled the well-known triskelion, the companion-symbol of the swastika (figs. 10 and 11). Just as this had proved to be the most natural of year symbols, so the triskelion revealed itself as a natural sign of the winter solstice, the period recognized and celebrated by most inhabitants of the northern hemisphere as the turning-point of the year. In a climate like that of Mexico and Central America, however, where the year divided itself naturally into a dry and a rainy season, it is evident that the winter solstice would be less observed and that the ardently-desired recurrence of the rainy season, after a long and trying period of drought, should be regarded as the annual event of utmost importance. Indeed, if carefully looked into, the entire religious cult of these people seems to express but one great struggling cry to the G.o.d of Nature for life-giving rain, and a hymn of thanksgiving for the annual, precious, but uncertain gift of water.


Figure 11.

To these supplicants the winter solstice betokened little or nothing and it is not surprising to find no proofs of the employment of the triskelion as a sacred symbol in ancient Mexico. On the other hand, it has been traced by Mr. Willoughby on pottery from Arkansas, and in Scandinavia, where the circ.u.mpolar constellations have doubtlessly been observed from remote times, and the winter solstice has ever been hailed as the herald of coming spring, the triskelion is often found a.s.sociated with the swastika.


Figure 12.

I am indebted to Prof. Thomas Wilson's work already cited for the two following ill.u.s.trations of objects exhibiting this a.s.sociation. The first is a spearhead found in Brandenburg, Germany (fig. 12). The second is a bronze brooch from Scandinavia, to which I shall presently revert (fig.

13). It exhibits, besides the triskelion, swastika and circle, the S-shaped figure which was, as I shall show further on, the sign actually employed by the ancient Mexicans and Mayas as the image of the constellation Ursa Minor, whose outline it indeed effectually reproduces.

Before referring to the Mexican and Maya representations of the star-group, I would next demonstrate that the sacred numbers of Mexico, and of other countries situated in the northern hemisphere, coincide exactly with the number of stars in the circ.u.mpolar constellations themselves and in simple combinations of the same.

Ursa Major and Ursa Minor each contains seven stars, and the number seven is the most widely-spread sacred number. Ancient traditions record that the race inhabiting Mexico consisted of seven tribes who traced their separate origins to seven caves, situated in the north. In memory of these, at the time of the Conquest, there were seven places of sacrifice in the city of Mexico. I shall recur to the number seven further on, in discussing the native social organization, and now direct attention to the five stars of Ca.s.siopeia and to the fact that the combination of the stars in this constellation with Polaris and Ursa Major yields the number thirteen. This result is specially interesting since the entire Calendar-system of Mexico and Yucatan is based on the combination of the numerals 13+7=20, the latter again being 45.


Figure 13.

On the other hand the same number, 13, is also obtained by the combination of the Ursae star-groups with Polaris. The number 5 is constantly yielded by Ca.s.siopeia and the four-fold repet.i.tions of the groups supply the suggestion of the number 4. The combination of Ursa Minor and Ca.s.siopeia yields 12. The accompanying figure exhibits swastikas composed of Ursa Minor accompanied by Ursa Major and Ca.s.siopeia separated and combined (fig. 14). I next direct attention to the peculiar difference in the numerical values of the Ursae swastikas.

In the first, the central star, surrounded by four repet.i.tions of the seven-star constellation, yielded a total of twenty-nine stars-4x5+9.

Further combinations will be seen by a glance at the Ursa Major swastika (fig. 4). The a.n.a.lysis of the Ursa Minor swastika is not so simple and occasions a certain perplexity.

When I had first combined the four positions of this constellation, I had, naturally, and without further thought, figured Polaris but once, as the fixed centre, whereas I had repeated the other stars of the compact group four times. It was not until I began to count the stars in the swastika that I realized how I had, unconsciously, made one central star stand for four, and thus deprived the composite group of the numerical value of three stars. On the other hand, if I repeated the entire constellation four times, I obtained a swastika with four repet.i.tions of Polaris in the middle. In this way, however, Polaris became displaced, and the idea of a fixed centre was entirely lost. A third possible method of composing the swastika was to allow one central star for each cross-arm. But this gave two central stars, each of which would represent two stars. Unless enclosed in a circle and considered as a central group by themselves, the four and the two repet.i.tions of Polaris could not convey the idea of a pivot or fixed centre. The three respective numerical values obtained from these experimental combinations were 46+1=25, 47=28, and finally 213 or 46+2=26. In each swastika the central star forcibly stood for and represented two or four (fig. 15).


Figure 14.

In the triskelions the same perplexity arose: if Polaris was repeated, the idea of a fixed centre was lost (fig. 15); if figured singly, it nevertheless necessarily and inevitably stood as an embodiment of three stars. Reasoning from my own experience, I could but perceive, in the foregoing facts, a fruitful and constant source of mental suggestions, the natural outcome of which would be the a.s.sociation of the central star with an enhanced numerical value, and a familiarity with the idea of one star being an embodiment of two, three or four.


Figure 15.

As the evolution of religious thought and symbolism progressed, this idea would obviously lead to the conception of a single being uniting several natures in his person. In this connection it is certainly extremely interesting to find the serpent a.s.sociated with the Calendar in Mexico and Yucatan, its Nahuatl name being h.o.m.onymous for twin, _i. e._ two, and the Maya for serpent, _can_ or _cam_, being h.o.m.onymous for the number four.

The serpent was, therefore, in both countries the most suggestive and appropriate symbol which could possibly have been employed in pictography, to convey the idea of dual or quadruple natures embodied in a single figure.(3) Added to this the circ.u.mstance that, to the native mind, the serpent, upon merely shedding its skin, lived again, we can understand why the ancient Mexicans not only employed it as a symbol of an eternal renewal or continuation of time and of life, but also combined it with the idea of fecundity and reproductiveness. In Yucatan where the Maya for serpent, _can_, is almost h.o.m.onymous with _caan_=sky or heaven and the adjective _caanlil_=celestial, divine, the idea of a divine or celestial serpent would naturally suggest itself. It is therefore not surprising to find, in both countries, the name of _serpent_ bestowed as a t.i.tle upon a supreme, celestial embodiment of the forces of nature and its image employed to express this a.s.sociation in objective form. In Yucatan one of the surnames of Itzamna, the supreme divinity, was Canil, a name clearly related to _caanlil_=divine and _can_=serpent.

In Mexico the duality and generative force implied by the word "coatl" are clearly recognizable in the native invocations addressed to "Our lord Quetzalcoatl the Creator and Maker or Former, who dwells in heaven and is the lord of the earth [Tlaltecuhtli]; who is our celestial father and mother, great lord and great lady, whose t.i.tle is Ome-Tecuhtli [literally, two-lord=twin lord] and Ome-Cihuatl [literally, two-lady=twin lady"]

(Sahagun, book VI, chaps. 25, 32 and 34).

The following data will suffice to render it quite clear that the Mexicans and Mayas employed the serpent as an expressive symbol merely, signifying the generative force of the Creator to whom alone they rendered homage. It is no less an authority than Friar Bartholomew de las Casas who maintained that "in many parts of the [American] Continent, the natives had a particular knowledge of the true G.o.d; they believed that He created the Universe and was its Lord and governed it. And it was to Him they addressed their sacrifices, their cult and homage, in their necessities..." (Historia Apologetica, chap. 121).

Friar Bartholomew specially adds that this was the case in Mexico according to the authority of Spanish missionaries and no one can doubt that this was the case when they read that in the native invocations, preserved by Sahagun, the supreme divinity is described as "invisible and intangible, like the air, like the darkness of night," or as the "lord who is always present in all places, who is [as impenetrable as] an abyss, who is named the wind [air or breath] and the night." "All things obey him, the order of the universe depends upon his will-he is the creator, sustainer, the omnipotent and omniscient." He is termed "the father and mother of all," "the great G.o.d and the great G.o.ddess," "our lord and protector who is most powerful and most humane,"-"our lord in whose power it is to bestow all contentment, sweetness, happiness, wealth and prosperity, because thou alone art the lord of all things." One prayer concludes thus: "Live and reign forever in all peace and repose thou who art our lord, our shelter, our comfort, who art most kind, most bountiful, invisible and impalpable!" (Sahagun, book VI, on the rhetoric, moral philosophy and theology of the Mexicans, chaps. 1-40). It is related that, in grat.i.tude for the birth of a son, the ruler of Texcoco, Nezahual-coyotl erected a temple to the Unknown G.o.d.... It consisted of nine stories, to symbolize the nine heavens. The exterior of the tenth, which formed the top of the nine other stories, was painted black with stars. Its interior was encrusted with gold, precious stones and feathers and held "the said G.o.d, who was unknown, unseen, shapeless and formless" (Ixtlilxochitl, Historia Chichimeca ed. Chavero, p. 227; see also p. 244). A pa.s.sage in Sahagun (book VI, chap. VII) states that "the invisible and imageless G.o.d of the Chichimecs was named Yoalli-ehecatl [literally, night-air or wind], which means the invisible and impalpable G.o.d ... by whose virtue all live, who directs by merely exerting his wisdom and will." In the Codex Fuenleal (chap. 1) the remarkable t.i.tle of "wheel of the winds=Yahualliehecatl," is recorded as "another name for Quetzalcoatl." This undeniably proves that the Mexicans not only figured the Deity by the image of a serpent but also thought of him as a wheel which obviously symbolized centrical force, rotation, lords.h.i.+p over the four quarters, _i. e._, universal rulers.h.i.+p.


Figure 16.

Returning from these ideas of later development to the primitive source of their suggestion, let us now examine the native picture of Xonecuilli, Ursa Minor, preserved in the unpublished Academia MS. of Sahagun's Historia, in Madrid (fig. 16, no. 1). It is an exact representation of the star-group. The fact that the seven stars are figured of the same size in accurate relation to each other, either proves that the eyesight of the native astronomers was extremely keen and their atmosphere remarkably clear, or that possibly, the minor stars of the group were more brilliant in ancient times, than they are now. Astronomers tell us, for instance, that as late as the seventeenth century the star in the body of Ursa Major nearest to the tail, was as bright as the others, while it is now of the fourth magnitude only.

It must be admitted that the shape of the constellation resembles an S. An SS sign is mentioned by Sahagun (Historia, book VIII, chap. 8) as occurring frequently, as a symbolical design on native textile fabrics. It figures as such, in the black garments of the female consort of Mictlantecuhtli in the Vienna Codex, pp. 23 and 33. He denounces it as suspect and hints that it was intimately connected with the ancient religion.

S-shaped sacred cakes, called Xonecuilli, were made during the feast of Macuilxochitl=five flowers, and are figured (fig. 16, no. 2) in the B. N.

MS. (p. 69) with a four-cornered cross-shaped cake of a peculiar form (fig. 20, III), which is found a.s.sociated with five dots or circles in the Codices and also with the Tecpatl-symbol of the North (fig. 20, I and II).

A recurved staff, which is held in the hand of a deity in the B. N. MS. is designated in the text as a _xonoquitl_ (fig. 16, no. 3). Amongst the insignia of the "G.o.ds," sent as presents by Montezuma to Cortes upon his landing at Vera Cruz, were three such recurved "sceptres," the descriptions of which I have collated and translated in my paper on the Atlatl or Spear-thrower of the Ancient Mexicans (Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 1, no. 3, Cambridge, 1891, p. 22). In this work I presented my reasons for concluding that these recurved sceptres were ceremonial forms of the atlatl. I now perceive that they were endowed with deeper significance and meaning. The Nahuatl text of Sahagun's Laurentian MS. of the Historia de la Conquista (lib. XII, chap. IV) records the name of one of these staffs as "hecaxonecuilli," literally "the curved or bent over, air or wind," and describes it as made of "bent or curved wood, inlaid with stars formed of white jade=chalchihuite." This pa.s.sage authorizes the conclusion that four representations in the B. N. MS. of black recurved sceptres, exhibiting a series of white dots, are also heca-xonoquitl, inlaid with stars, and that all of these are none other but conventional representations of the constellation Xonecuilli, the Ursa Minor. In each case the deity, carrying the star-image, also displays the ecacozcatl the "jewel of the wind," the well-known symbol of the wind-G.o.d. In one of these pictures (p. 50) he not only bears in his hand the star-image, but also exhibits a star-group on his head-dress, consisting of a central-star, on a dark ground, surrounded by a blue ring. Attached to this against a dark ground, six other stars are depicted, making seven in all. In connection with this star-group it is interesting to note that the hieroglyph, designated by Fra Diego de Landa as "the character with which the Mayas began their count of days or calendar and named Hun-Imix,"

furnishes a case of an identical though inverted group (Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, ed. B. de Bourbourg, p. 237). Enclosed in a black ring, the glyph displays, above, a large black dot with six smaller ones grouped in a semicircle about it, and below, four perpendicular bars.

Subject to correction, I am inclined to interpret this glyph as a hieratic sign for the constellation Ursa Minor and its four movements, and to consider it as furnis.h.i.+ng a valuable proof of the origin of the Maya Calendar.

The seemingly inappropriate procedure of figuring s.h.i.+ning stars by black dots actually furnishes the strongest proof that a star group is thus represented; for, in the Maya language, "ek" is a h.o.m.onym for star and black, and a black spot was, in consequence, the most expressive sign for a star. This fact affords a valuable explanation of the reason why the ocelot, whose skin is spotted with black, was employed as the figure of the nocturnal sky, and clearly proves that the Mexicans adopted this symbol and its meaning from the Mayas.


Figure 17.

We will now revert to the S-shaped sign. Its a.s.sociation with images of star is further exemplified in Mexican Codices. It occurs on the wall of a temple, in combination with symbols for stars and the North-Mictlan, which consist in this case, of skulls and cross-bones (fig. 17, II).

In the Dresden Codex, of Maya origin, there is an extremely important page on which the S-sign occurs in connection with twin deities, besides rain and cross symbols (fig. 17, I). A careful examination of the group shows that one of the seated figures is accompanied by a downpour of water (painted blue in the original), besides the S-symbol which is also repeated above the head of his companion. Higher up, on the same page, the S occurs again in a group of glyphs alongside of twin-seated figures.

These, as well as the single-seated form beneath them, have an eye or a large black spot surmounted by dots instead of a head (Vocabulaire de l'ecriture hieratique de Yucatan, p. 38). Monsieur Leon de Rosny has identified this figure, which also occurs in the Codex Troano, as the image of the supreme divinity of the Mayas, of whom more anon, one of whose t.i.tles was Kin-ich-ahau, literally Sun-eye lord.

A similar sign consisting of the lower half of a human body seated, with a large eye on its knees is repeated several times in the Borgian Codex.

This form is also figured as seated in a temple, without the eye-star, but three stars are on the roof and the S-sign is on the lower wall of the building (Borgian Codex, p. 16).

The above facts demonstrate that, in both MSS. derived from different sources, the same a.s.sociation of ideas is expressed.(4) The S sign appears in connection with twin- or single-seated forms, surmounted by a symbol for star. It is unnecessary for me to lay further stress upon the obvious facts: that the only celestial body which could possibly have been a.s.sociated with a seated form, suggesting repose, was Polaris. It is, moreover, only by a.s.suming that the sign of the seated star represents the stationary pole-star that its combination in the Codices with the S-sign-Xonecuilli-Ursa Minor, can be understood. I likewise draw attention to the possibility that the S, or single representation of the constellation, may well have been employed as a sign for the summer solstice, since, in some localities, during the shortest night of the year, Ursa Minor may have been visible in one position only. a.s.suming that the triskelion was the sign for the winter solstice we should thus have natural signs for the two nights marking the turning-points of light and darkness in the year.

Reverting to fig. 17, I, from the Codex Dresdenis, I draw attention that it furnishes definite proof that the Mayas a.s.sociated the idea of the immovable seated star with twin deities and that they connected the S-symbol with cross and rain symbols. A striking combination of the latter symbols is represented under the seated figures. It consists of a diagonal cross traversed perpendicularly by a band of blue water.


Figure 18.

Further Maya cross-symbols should be cursorily examined here, viz: fig.

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