The Apocalypse of the Fifth and Present World Age (Sun): Nahui Ollin

There existed another eschatological idea, conflicting with the notion of an end of the world on Ome Acatl (2 Reed), within the religious system of the postclassic Aztecs. That the world could be terminated on the date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) does not fit the apocalyptical expectation of the conclusion of the fifth sun according the postclassic Aztec religious system. A massive cataclysmic earthquake was prophesised to finish off the present fifth world (Nahui Ollin) according to postclassic Aztec eschatology. As noted the postclassic Aztecs conceived that there have been four world period or ages (Suns) and that humanity are now living in the fifth world age. Every world age had been ended by a calamity and its inhabitants were either destroyed or transformed into another life form (Moreno de los Arcos 1967; Elzey 1976: 117-118). The majority of the sources bestow each world age the names Nahui Ocelotl (4 Jaguar), Nahui Ehecatl (4 Wind), Nahui Quiahuitl (4 Rain), Nahui Atl (4 Water) and Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) after stations of the 260-day calendar. The names of the world ages indicate the character of the age, presumably the date of when it would be terminated, and in what manner the world and its inhabitants are exterminated. The contemporary (fifth) world age will then meet its inevitable completion on the date Nahui Ollin (4 Movement). The word ollin or “movement” (Nahuatl) is associated with a catastrophic world-ending earthquake. Earthquakes were and are not an uncommon natural feature in Central Mexico. Annals of Cuauhtitlan relates of the future destruction of the world:

4 Movement is the day sign of the fifth sun, called Movement Sun, because it moves along and follows its course. And from that what the old people say, there will be earthquakes in its time, and famine, and because of this we will be destroyed (Bierhorst 1992: 26).

The fifth world age would accordingly be terminated by an earthquake followed by famine and darkness (Moreno de los Arcos 1967; Elzey 1976:


The eschatological philosophy of an annihilation of the world of Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) suggests that this date was a time of apocalyptical horror in postclassic Aztec society. This future catastrophic cosmic earthquake might very well take place not just on the day but in addition in the year Nahui Ollin. We know of a ritual of the date Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) of the 260-day calendar from brief outlines by Sahagun and Duran. The ritual of Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) of the 260-day calendar, Tonalpohual- li, was dedicated to the sun. Duran portrays the Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) ritual as a nobility ritual associated with war. It was performed by the tla- toani and the warrior aristocracy. In Duran’s The History of the Indies of New Spain there is a description of a sacrificial ceremony of the stone called cuauhxicalli (“eagle vessel”), which symbolised the image of the sun (Duran 1964: 119-124). A more detailed account of the Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) ritual is given by Duran in Book of the Gods and Rites and The Ancient Calendar (Duran 1971: 186-193). Duran comments that the feast was held every 260-day and twice in the 365-day year (Duran 1971: 186-187). Sahagun provides a short version of the ritual of the date Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) of the 260-day calendar in volumes II and VII of The Florentine Codex. He writes in volume II, where he treats the ceremonies of the 260-day calendar (Sahagun 1951: 35-41), that: “The first moveable feast was celebrated in honor of the sun, in the sign which is named ce ocelotl, in the fourth house, which is named naui ollin” (Sahagun 1951: 35). Sahagun’s description of this ritual is repeated and expanded in the first chapter of volume VII “which telleth of the sun”, itechpa tlatoa: in tonatiuh (Sahagun 1953: VII; 34-38). It is interesting that the New Fire Ceremony of the 52-year calendar is outlined under the same heading. These two ceremonies are catalogued by

Sahagun under astrological phenomena and do not appear in Volume II which consider the ceremonies. The feast of the Sun God, Tonatiuh, was held every two hundred and sixty days. It was observed on his day sign, Nahui Ollin (4 Movement). Everybody fasted four days before the vigil of the feast (the liminal period) of the day Nahui (4) Ollin (4 Movement). When the sun appeared on the day of Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) incense was offered and burned. Sacrifices of blood from the ears were conducted by the people. This happened four times during the day: at dawn, at noon, at past midday, and when the sun had set (Sahagun 1953, VII: 34-35). The ritual of Nahui Ollin (4 Movement) of the 260-day calendar was thus not, according to the accounts of Duran and Sahagun, executed to avoid a prophesised annihilation of the world.

It appears then that postclassic Aztec eschatology was complex since it embodied an apocalyptical belief, which constitutes two independent future eschatological events. However, as noted above, the eschatological concert of the 52-year calendar ritual could have been a projection of Catholic theology by the ethnographer missionaries (and by their converted assistants and informants) upon the postclassic Aztec religious system.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >