Xochiquetzal, for whom Itzpapalotl becomes a nahuali, presents renewal in all its effulgence and exuberance. We have seen the "Quetzal" component of her name in the quetzal feathers and in the term "precious." The "Xochi-" or "Xochitl" component can be translated as "Flower." Although associated with the female part of the primordial couple, in this form she always remains youthful, the embodiment of the most vigorous stage of growth. The Aztecs delighted in flowers perhaps more than most other peoples, and flowers hold a particularly important place in their language and iconography. An amusing reinforcement of their love of flowers comes from Durán's perplexity and irritation over their ability to spend hours contemplating flowers. Flowers the world over present the essence of beauty and fertility, closely associated with feminine sexuality and female genitalia, particularly when the blossoms are wet with dew and nectar. The couple under a blanket at the upper right may allude to the primal male and female pair, but more decisively emphasize erotic engagement in the present. As severe as Itzpapalotl's complexities become in composite, Xochiquetzal's aspects can only grow more opulent. Her name suggests as much. If in English a double negative becomes a simple positive, in her case she insists on a double positive, beauty added to beauty. This doubling appears in the pair of quetzal feather bouquets at the top of her head. At the back of her head, she wears an elaborate splay of feathers that break into a train as they descend. All forms of life contribute to her regalia. The feathers include a bird's face, which suggests that hers is a kind of song. "Flower and song" and their icons provided a kenning for art in the Aztec system of thought. Many deities and kings in the Aztec world sit on a jaguar-skin throne. Not content with that symbolism, the goddess's throne includes a complete jaguar. A snake accompanies the jaguar on the throne, and coming out from under the dais we see flowers and the body of a millipede. As a goddess of fertility and water, shells adorn her dress and face, and both are divided between the red and yellow of the earth and the blue of water. In addition to the aquatic significance of the blue area of her face below the line of shells, this color may indicate face paint or tattoos. When the Aztecs went in for makeup, they didn't content themselves with a little rouge or eyeshadow. Women dedicated to Xochiquetzal sometimes committed themselves further to her cult with tattoos. She presides not only over the thirteen day week of this page of the calendar, but also over one of the most lavish and joyous of Aztec festivals, Day 7-Flower, her feast day. As patron of jewelers, weavers, and other artisans, the celebrants dressed lavishly for this day, and put on elaborate pageants. For the festival Xoxiquetzal enlists the aid of an avatar or assistant of Huehuecoyotl, the coyote god of merriment whom we encountered in the first image. Here the party animal helps prepare for the festivities with open hands and dancing feet. On his head he wears the goddess's twin garlands of quetzal feathers, showing that he is not only ready for celebration but that he acts as her assistant. As uninhibited and unabashed as Xochiquetzal may be in this image, it also includes elements of restraint. The "I" shaped figure above the assistant's nose diagrams the ball game court, the field of a sport that was part of her festivities. Although it represents youthful vigor and play, it has its more solemn aspects. With the court divided into day and night halves, the players hit a rubber ball back and forth that represents the sun in its endless struggle, keeping the celestial contest of light and darkness in motion. A death's head rests in the center of the court, and a decapitated figure to its left shows what happens to the losers - the flower and sacrificial dagger issuing from the goddess's mouth say as much, as do auxiliary components such as a sacrificial dagger and a skull. Such images may help contextualize the party, but they do not stop it. In this image, all types of life augment and assist Xochiquetzal, but she remains human in form. Looking at the continuum of life throughout these images, any living thing can provide a point of entrance, including, in this final instance, a perspective that begins with a purely anthropomorphic deity.

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Copyright © 2000 by Karl Young