by Karl Young


The god presented in the first image is Huehuecoyotl, the Old, Old Coyote. His Aztec manifestation differs little from those of his cousins throughout the Americas: he is the trickster, the god who pulls pranks on people, on other gods, and, as often as not, unwittingly on himself. He is the patron of uninhibited sexuality - his partners can be female or male of any species. He is the god of merriment, often depicted laughing. In this image, a song comes from his mouth, and he shakes a rattle and a flower, icons of song and beauty. An assistant sings and plays a drum. The significance of this may go beyond the music of festivals into another reading to his name, which can also be parsed as "Ancient Drum." The detail of the large scallop shape above the drum and by the flower above the scallop indicates the intricacy of the music. As a member of the Tezcatlipoca family of gods, Huehuecoyotl takes part of the numen of Tezcatlipoca, but is not a disguise of the larger god. Like Tezcatlipoca, he is a frequent shape-shifter, capable of transforming himself into another animal or human at whim and unpredictably. The human hands and feet shown here allow him to express his nature as manipulator and dancer, but do not represent an anthropomorphic dimension of his character. The undeified coyotes the Aztecs came in contact with were promiscuous, wily, playful, and capable of dissembling. The Aztecs listened carefully to their arias, heard most frequently and meaningfully at night. They suggested festivals at which participants engaged in polyphonic chorales or gleefully and exuberantly tried to outdo each other. The singing of the coyote makes him an appropriate patron of song, dance, alcohol consumption, and festivity. His voice, unlike that of Tepeyolotli, is high spirited. Although it can be mournful, even this at times suggests sentimentality or self-parody. In some North American myths, it was Coyote who taught humans the arts of story telling and popular song. To the Aztecs, he was not the sole donor of these arts, but some songs, dances, and stories were learned from him. We must not let his jocularity fool us into thinking that it defines his whole personality. He remains the trickster, capable of reversals and pranks, often cruel ones. This image contains icons of war and penance and in the corresponding details of other calenders of this sort, subordinate figures do penance and weep. Huehuecoyotl can sponsor elaborate parties, but he can also start wars simply for his own amusement. Associated with the Chichimecs, he mitigated some of the severity of Aztec belief, and sought renewal through contact with the barbarous peoples outside civilization.


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Copyright © 1983 & 2000 by Karl Young