Wednesday, October 09, 2019
Tláloc, the long subterranean pathway, rain-holder, lightning-wielder, landscape-shaper, time-lord, the conjunction of masculine and feminine: from the arcana of the millenarian Teotihuacán culture in central Mexico, to the present, this deity pervades.
Two researchers from UNAM’s Institute for Aesthetic Research, María Elena Ruiz-Gallut and Isabel Mercado-Archila, visited UNAM-UK after doing research at the British Museum. They offered a wonderful talk about their findings in the Tláloc Project, initiated twelve years ago to collect multifarious representations of the mysterious god. There is no consensus about the etymology of the name Tláloc, which is sometimes defined as a “long underground path” or as “the rain source”. He is identified with the rain and water in general, but also with the earth, harvests, mountains, the landscape, lightning and time itself. His complexity is immeasurable, and his worship extends throughout a territory that goes way beyond Mexico.
The earliest extant representations of Tláloc can be found in Teotihuacán, and date from the second century of our era. The greatest quantity of them is to be found in the mural painting of the palaces and dwelling compounds of this archaeological site, but he can also be found in stone sculpture, vessels and many other kinds of artefacts and architectural ornaments. Tláloc has a masculine aspect, but also a feminine one, Chalchiuhticlue, the one with the jade skirt, related to oceans and rivers. Tláloc’s attributes are easily recognizable: large, round goggles are the most salient and constant of these. Additionally, he has large, feline tusks, teeth, a nondescript feature between nose and mouth, sometimes described as a moustache. He wields a ray of lightning on his right hand, sometimes an ear of corn; his huge open mouth is the source of a beautiful waterlily. He wears square ear ornaments and undulated shapes spring from his head in the manner of hair. He is often depicted carrying a small pot adorned with a small Tláloc identical to the large one. Some of these attributes changed with time and from one region to another, but the truth is that Tláloc worship extended from Teotihuacán to various Mesoamerican cultures, including the Maya, even to the southern regions of Ecuador and Perú.
It is a revelation to describe that the visual identity of this god crystalizes in a series of concepts which travelled throughout the American Continent, cohabiting with the local gods of various cultures, and sometimes replacing them. There are Teotihuacán influences in the Maya territory, as well as Maya vestiges in Teotihuacán. This fact speaks of an exchange and integration which was much larger than is commonly thought.
The symbolic richness of Tláloc suggests it springs from a society which was deeply in tune with the natural world, with a fine perception of its manifestations, and a transcendent, even cosmic connection with its power. Analogous to the Chinese dragon and to thundering Jupiter, the deity of the enormous eyes invites us to rethink the climate crisis from the perspective of this ancient wisdom.