Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Most Precious Flower

We got a request to talk about Xochiquetzal for our Wednesday blog this week, and while she isn't from one of the pantheons currently in play for the core HJ supplement, she's still pretty much totally awesome. So let's talk about her!

Xochiquetzal (whose name means "flower feather") is the goddess of love, sexuality and the arts among the Mexica, the ruling Mexican civilization most commonly known to later European-descended people as the Aztecs (although this name was given to them by their conquerors and was never what they called themselves, and also ignores the fact that the so-called Aztec Empire included more than just the Mexica among its ethnic groups). Where for the goddesses we have been discussing so far there are epics, sagas, fables and scriptures about their deeds, for Xochiquetzal (and the rest of her pantheon, for that matter), there's far less material; when the invading Spanish conquistadors conquered the Mexica, they intentionally destroyed as much of their religion as possible in order to encourage the locals to convert, so we have precious few of their stories remaining, and usually have to interpret them through artwork and the recordings of later Spanish writers in the area rather than in their own words.

But even all that couldn't keep the Mexica gods down, so it shouldn't deter us, either. Xochiquetzal is the goddess of love and sex; she is often shown nude in Mexican art to emphasize this, or covered in the feathers and flowers that are her hallmarks, representations of her great beauty and connection to all pleasing things. She was worshiped for fertility of both humans and fields, as her ability to encourage new life in a woman's womb was considered to extend outward to doing so for the plants of the world as well, and celebrated with weaving, music, dance and other forms of art, of which she was the special patron.

Because we have spottier sources for Mexica mythology than some others, we know that Xochiquetzal is related closely to several other gods, but aren't always entirely certain in what way. For example, she is often paired with Xochipilli ("flower prince"), a god of fertility, art forms and sacred ecstasy, but while some older scholars assume that she is his wife, often because consorts are shown together in Mexica art, still others call her his sister with whom he shares many cosmological functions, or even claim that the two of them must be male and female aspects of the same deity.

Also closely connected to Xochiquetzal is Tlazolteotl ("filth deity"), a goddess who is likewise connected with sex but who personifies it in a negative and dangerous way, punishing those who have sex outside the boundaries of marriage or with inappropriate partners, and inflicting sexually-transmitted diseases upon those she decides deserve them. While some scholars consider them separate deities with distinct functions in the Mexica pantheon, and furthermore point to the fact that Tlazolteotl may have been originally imported from another nearby culture anyway, others prefer the theory that both goddesses of sexuality are a single deity that simply manifests as either positive or negative depending upon the situation.

Regardless of which deities you syncretize her with or what her original connection to them might have been, however, Xochiquetzal remains one of the most important of Mexica goddesses and a lone lighthouse of positive sexual energy in a culture that often stigmatized sexuality that occurred outside its (pretty strict) criteria for normalcy.

Xochiquetzal is most famous for being the first wife of Tlaloc, the goggle-eyed rain god and lord of storms among the Mexica; although she was his lawful wife, she was in some way "taken from him" by Tezcatlipoca, the jaguar god of nobility, darkness and sorcery (and, not at all incidentally, male virility). Various sources disagree as to whether Tezcatlipoca kidnapped her, she left Tlaloc of her own accord, or even that she initiated the affair with the other god, tired of her husband's stoic demeanor and less-than-pleasing appearance. Her loss caused Tlaloc, who was acting as the sun of the Third World of Mexica cosmology, to become so distraught that he caused a devastating rain of fire instead of water, obliterating the world below and forcing the gods to start over with the Fourth World.

For the most part, it is assumed that Tlaloc was made unquenchable by the loss of his incredibly beautiful and awesome wife, although we're sure he was also just generally pretty pissed off about the situation. He remarries later, to the water goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, but like all other goddesses she cannot match Xochiquetzal in beauty.

Because she is the goddess of flowers, as visions of beauty on the earth that recall her own beauty, Xochiquetzal is also associated with the origin of flowers themselves; in one tale, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent (and sometimes her son), carelessly masturbates upon a stone, whereupon his life-giving powers actually cause his seed to transform into the first bat upon landing. The gods are not entirely sure what to do with the bat, since it's the first of its kind, so they let it go, whereupon it immediately homes in on Xochiquetzal where she is sleeping and bites off a piece of her genitals before she can wake up and stop it. It carries the flesh back to Quetzalcoatl, who attempts to wash it off and see what it is, but washing it causes myriad flowers to emerge, all with terrible smells and bilious colors. Believing that the flesh must be deathly in nature, Quetzalcoatl sends the bat to the lord of the underworld, Mictlantecuhtli, and when Xochiquetzal's life-giving skin is washed there in the underworld, it creates beautiful and sweet-smelling flowers. The myth ends there, but most scholars presume the gods then trade their sets of flowers, since beautiful flowers are the province of the world and ugly, smelly things generally confined to the lands of the dead. Xochiquetzal is the source of all flowers, positive and negative, which come from her sexual organs and most likely represent both the fruitful ability of females to give birth and the positive and negative consequences of sex, depending on how it is performed.

Finally, perhaps Xochiquetzal's most quintessential tale is the one in which she works her feminine wiles on a man named Yappan, who was a famous ascetic who had sworn off all sex, alcohol and other pleasures in order to live a life free from sin. The gods, who had been following his progress, attempted several times to send him temptation, and each time he rejected it, until they were impressed by his fortitude and began to discuss whether or not he might be so holy that he deserved to live among the gods. During this discussion, they mentioned that he was utterly immune to the charms of women, and Xochiquetzal overheard them.

A debate ensues in which Xochiquetzal, more than angry that apparently the gods think that lumping her in with all other sexual temptations is somehow okay, begins to ask them questions while they get more and more embarrassed about the entire situation. She asks if there is anyone in the universe more beautiful than herself, and they say no. She asks if it's even possible for anyone in the universe to become more beautiful than her, and they say no. She asks if any of them would be able to turn her down if she showed up and offered to have sex with them, and with a great deal of hemming and hawing they have to admit that no, they probably would not. And then she asks if the fact that this Yappan person can say no to normal mortals means that he'd be able to say no to her, and the gods see where she's going with this and say no, and presumably try to think of ways to avoid offending her further before she starts getting really upset.

So, in high dudgeon, Xochiquetzal then proceeds to go directly to earth to where Yappan is sitting in the wilderness, and she informs him that the gods are very impressed by him but that she'd like to have a conversation with him about the subject. She claims that she can't climb the pillar of rock he's sitting on because she's too delicate and asks him to come down and carry her up, and once he touches her and feels her hair and smells her fragrance, he completely loses his mind and can't let go of her again for several hours of presumably hot lovemaking.

Unfortunately for him, the gods are thereafter now as unimpressed by his lack of fortitude as they were impressed, and they have him killed by Tlazolteotl, who punishes sexual sins; some scholars claim that Xochiquetzal calls upon Tlazolteotl to come do the deed, while others suggest that Xochiquetzal transforms herself into Tlazolteotl and kills him and still other versions imply that the gods had a watchdog on earth waiting for Yappan to screw up the whole time and his doom was sealed as soon as Xochiquetzal arrived. Regardless, Yappan dies, and the gods transform him into a scorpion that must spend the rest of its life running around with its arms lifted in supplication to ask for forgiveness, and crawl beneath the rocks to hide its shame.

Where some female heroes and gods use their sexuality as a tool to beguile, confuse or distract men, Xochiquetzal uses it as a fully weaponized method of doing whatever she wants; she is not interested in subtly distracting men, but rather in using her sexuality as a blunt instrument, getting what she wants and generally walking away with few consequences thanks to her position as goddess of sexuality (after all, she's supposed to do that). Since the Mexica were very strict about sexual acts and the punishments levied on those who performed them in a way that was socially unacceptable (which included a lot of things, from premarital sex to homosexuality to extramarital affairs and so on), Xochiquetzal's ability to create lust and destroy inhibitions in the blink of an eye makes her incredibly powerful. It might be her sister goddess Tlazolteotl who actually does the smiting of the unchaste, but it's just as often Xochiquetzal whose powers put them in that position in the first place, and therefore she is not only beloved for her gifts of beauty, joy and pleasure, but also respected pretty goddamned hard.

It's worth noting for those heroes now quaking in their boots that Xochiquetzal is almost always a completely benevolent and positive deity with offerings and celebrations of joy and excitement; it's only when she gets upset, which is very seldom, that she becomes a force to be reckoned with. So avoid insulting her, as you would avoid insulting any other deity, and enjoy her gifts!