Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Springtime for Xipe Totec (and Germany)

Spring is here at last.
Spring, as the frenzily copulating neighbors that you can see across the street will tell you, is a time for reproduction, rebirth and regeneration. But Nature, scrupulous accountant that he-she is, demands competition, carnage and sacrifice in return for all that blooming Qi.
As Darwin put it in The Origin:
"We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year."
And while, as Darwin notes, we may personally do our best to ignore the harsh realities of the season, our religious traditions do their darnedest to remind us. Some one billion or so practicing Catholics will be fasting on Good Friday, ostensibly to mark the date a dude was "nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change" (in the words of Douglas Adams). Jews will be celebrating their own spring holiday, Passover, remembering a spate of plagues, the decimation of a reproductive cohort, and a hasty flight into a forbidding desert and all that.
The Mesoamericans had their own grisly spring rites, centered around this guy:
Xipe Totec, "Our Lord the Flayed One"…Sort of an Aztec cross between Demeter, Leatherface and punk rock Jesus.
In Aztec mythology and religion, Xipe Totec ("our lord the flayed one") was a life-death-rebirth deity, god of agriculture, vegetation, the east, disease, spring, goldsmiths, silversmiths and the seasons.
Xipe Totec flayed himself to give food to humanity, symbolic of the way maize seeds lose their outer layer before germination and of snakes shedding their skin. Without his skin, he was depicted as a golden god.
Xipe Totec was believed by the Aztecs to be the god that invented war.
He had a temple called Yopico within the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan.
The worshippers of Xipe Totec emerging from the rotting, flayed skin after twenty days symbolised rebirth and the renewal of the seasons, the casting off of the old and the growth of new vegetation.
The living god lay concealed underneath the superficial veneer of death, ready to burst forth like a germinating seed.
The deity also had a malevolent side and Xipe Totec was said to afflict mortals with rashes, abscesses and skin and eye infections.
The flayed skins were believed to have curative properties when touched and mothers took their children to touch such skins in order to relieve their ailments.
People wishing to be cured made offerings to him at Yopico.
The annual festival of Xipe Totec was celebrated on the spring equinox before the onset of the rainy season, it was known as Tlacaxipehualiztli ("flaying of men in honour of Xipe") and fell in March at the time of the Conquest.
Annually, slaves or captives were selected as sacrifices to Xipe Totec. After having the heart cut out, the body was carefully flayed to produce a nearly whole skin which was then worn by the priests for twenty days during the fertility rituals that followed the sacrifice.
The skins were often adorned with bright feathers and gold jewellery when worn.
The Tlacaxipehualiztli festival both began and culminated with a "gladiator sacrifice" ritual.
During the festival, victorious warrior wearing flayed skins carried out mock skirmishes throughout Tenochtitlan, they passed through the city begging alms and blessed whoever gave them food or other offerings.
When the twenty day festival was over, the flayed skins were removed and stored in special containers with tight-fitting lids designed to stop the stench of putrefaction from escaping. These containers were then stored in a chamber beneath the temple.

Some accounts indicate that a thigh bone from the sacrifice was defleshed and used by the priest to touch spectators in a fertility blessing. Paintings and several clay figures have been found which illustrate the flaying method and the appearance of priests wearing flayed skins.
Various methods of human sacrifice were used to honour this god. The flayed skins were often taken from sacrificial victims who had their hearts cut out, and some representations of Xipe Totec show a stitched-up wound in the chest.
"Gladiator sacrifice" is the name given to the form of sacrifice in which an especially courageous war captive was given mock weapons, tied to a large circular stone and forced to fight against a fully armed Aztec warrior. As a weapon he was given a macuahuitl (a wooden sword with blades formed from obsidian) with the obsidian blades replaced with feathers.
A white cord was tied either around his waist or his ankle, binding him to the sacred temalacatl stone.
At the end of the Tlacaxipehualiztli festival, gladiator sacrifice (known as tlauauaniliztli) was carried out by five Aztec warriors; two jaguar warriors, two eagle warriors and a fifth, left-handed warrior.
"Arrow sacrifice" was another method used by the worshippers of Xipe Totec. The sacrificial victim was bound spread-eagled to a wooden frame, he was then shot with many arrows so that his blood spilled onto the ground.
Other forms of sacrifice were sometimes used; at times the victim was cast into a firepit and burned, others had their throats cut.
See? And you thought doing your taxes this time of year was a sacrifice.

So much for "Ladies Cultural Awareness Day", if you need me, I will be sacrificing my hard earned cash at Sak's.
Death in the Springtime
1 oz absinthe herbal liqueur
3 grenadine syrup
1.5 oz London dry gin
Maraschino cherries
Pour the Absinthe into a chilled Champagne flute. Add the Grenadine and then the Gin. Now pour the chilled Champagne into the Flute glass making sure to pour down the side of the glass so the drink mixes itself. Be sure to fill the glass with only just enough room left for the cherry which you should now add. Feel free to adjust the ingredients slightly as they suit your taste.

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