In pre-Columbian Mexico, people were thought to have nahuali's, animal doubles or alter-egos. Human and animal shared parts of the same soul but lived in different bodies, usually never consciously encountering each other but informing each other's lives in a subconscious or mystical way. This invisible link was very strong: the death of one could bring about the death of the other. The Aztecs believed that the date of birth determined the character and the fate of the soul. One of the main functions of a calender like that in Codex Borbonicus was to interpret that fate. The human and animal were born at the same time, and hence shared the same mechanisms of the calender. Gods had nahualis, just like people, and the main figure of image 3 is Xolotl, the dog nahuali of Quetzalcoatl. Among Quetzalcoatl's many functions were: wind god, creator of the earth and of humanity, founder of lineages, patron of education, and lord of fertility. He was the planet Venus in all its offices, the most important of which was to keep the sun moving through its daily cycle. As Morning Star, he brought the sun above the eastern horizon, and, as Evening Star, brought the sun below the western horizon into Death's Kingdom. This latter function could be performed by his nahuali, Xolotl, the dog-god, when Quetzalcoatl engaged in other activities. A dog makes a perfect nahuali for this kind of activity. Dogs bury things, such as bones, which they may later retrieve — an appropriate description of Xolotl's burial of the sun. Dogs can be tough and persistent. They are god trackers and runners, able to follow and bring down prey considerably larger than themselves. In the present cosmic sense, the sun is the quarry. In image 3 we see sunset in the world framed by water. Xolotl, on the right, has shot the sun in the mouth with one of his darts. The sun, at left, wrapped in a funerary bundle, sinks into the jaws of earth. Xolotl is presented here as a dog, without human features, but wearing the emblems of his nahuali. He holds a sacrificial dagger in his paw and another, accompanied by a flower, comes from his mouth, indicating that he sings a sacrificial song for the sun. He wears shell earplugs and necklace, and, most important, the conch-based wind jewel, which appears on his chest.


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Copyright © 1983 & 2000 by Karl Young