The Calendar Reform of the New Fire Ceremony: From Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) to Ome Acatl (2 Reed)

I will now examine the evidence for a supposed calendar reform where the New Fire Ceremony was moved from the date Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) to Ome Acatl (2 Reed). If such a reform took place it would undermine the hypothesis that the 52-year calendar ritual was eschatological.

A range of sources report quite unequivocally that the beginning date of the postclassic Aztec 52-year calendar was Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) and that it ended on Matlactli Omome Calli (13 House).[1] Motolirna for instance asserts that Ce Tochtli introduced the 52-year calendar in his explication of the workings of the Calendar Round (Motolirna 1951: 112, note 3; 1971: 48-49; 2001: 30-31). As noted earlier, paragraph 3 of Primeros Memoriales comprises a year-by-year 52-year cycle, xiuhmolpilli. It is said here, that on Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) the new 52-year calendar cycle begins its round (Sa- hagun 1997: 159-160). Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) was an important Year Bearer date. As the first Year Bearer, it was considered by Sahagun to be the leader of the years of the 52-year calendar cycle. In his account of the 52-year calendar ritual in vol. VII of The Florentine Codex, Sahagun claim that the year began on Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit), but that the New Fire Ceremony was performed on Ome Acatl (2 Reed) (Sahagun 1953: VII, 21-22; 25). Codex Borbonicus (lam. 34) also dates the New Fire Ceremony to Ome Acatl (2 Reed), but this manuscript begin the 52-year calendar cycle, on lamina 21 and 22, with Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) (Umberger 1987: 443). The New Fire Ceremony would then, when conducted on Ome Acatl (2 Reed), be performed on the second day of the second year of the 52-year calendar.[2] This is remarkable because, since that it was a celebration of the end of the last and the beginning of the next 52-year calendar, the New Fire Ceremony had to take place on the evening and the night of the last day and finished on the night and morning of the first day of the first year of the 52-year calendar cycle according to the chroniclers. Only a Year Bearer—Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit), Ce Acatl (1 Reed), Ce Tecpatl (1 Flint Knife) and Ce Calli (1 House)—beginning with the number 1 could introduce a Calendar Round of 52 years. Nonetheless, the Aztecs observed the New Fire Ceremony on Ome Acatl (2 Reed), which could not, logically, be the initial date of the 52-year calendar cycle (Tena 1987: 89-90; Hassig 2001: 38-39, note 47, 175-176). What was the reason for this calendar practice?

Sahagun reports that Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) was considered to be a dangerous year. When Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) was seated everybody became frightened and in awe. The famine called Necetochuiliztli had occurred in this year. As a result, people stored food during this year (Sahagun 1953, VII: 21-24).

And then One Rabbit came to settle itself as the sign of the south. When this occurred and it established itself and began its work, thus to bear a year and set it upon its way, all were much frightened and there was apprehension; all were filled with dread because in this (year) occurred the famine called Necetochuiliztli. All were exceedingly terrified and in awe when (the year) One Rabbit came-when they reached and came to it; though not (when it was) Two or Three (Rabbit) Etc. (Sahagun 1953, Vol. VII: 21-22).

The horror and precaution of the year Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) is elaborated on by Sahagun in vol. VII of The Florentine Codex (Sahagun 1953, Vol. VII: 23-24).[3] After Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) followed the year Ome Acatl (2 Reed), the time of the New Fire Ceremony:

When [the year] One Rabbit had fulfilled its task, when the year had been completed, it delivered its charge to the sign of the east: Two Reed was the one which (then) set in (Sahagun 1953, Vol. VII: 24).

In contrast, Ome Acatl (2 Reed) was a fortunate and good sign. This was the date when the powerful deity Tezcatlipoca was honoured:

And, it was said, he who was then born, they said, would become rich and wealthy. And well would he gain his livelihood. What he might do would not fail. He would find his consolation (Sahagun 1957, IV: 56).

Hassig and Boone assert that, with the exception of Codex Telleriano-Re- mensis (see below), the historical chroniclers of the pictorial documents record Ome Acatl (2 Reed) as the year and day of the New Fire Ceremony (Boone 1992: 36; Hassig 2001: 114). An array of sources, however, convey that the New Fire Ceremony was at one point in the history of the postclassic Aztecs celebrated on the first day of the 52-year calendar, Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit). But when did this critical calendar reform take place? And, for us most importantly, what consequence can such a shift of dates of the New Fire Ceremony represent for the hypothesis of a postclassic Aztec eschatological philosophy of the 52-year calendar ritual?

Five dates for a postclassic calendar reform have been suggested by scholars: 1194 AD - 1195 AD; 1246 AD - 1247 AD; 1350 AD - 1351 AD; 1454 AD - 1455 AD; 1506 AD - 1507 AD.

  • [1] Anales de Cuahutitlan, however, begins the count with Ce (1) Acatl (Reed) andHistoria de los mexicanos por sus pinturas introduces the Calendar Round with Ce (1) T ecpatl(Flint Knife) but states that the earth was created on Ce (1) Tochtli (Rabbit) and fire, lightedby Tezcatliopoca, was initiated on Ce (1) Acatl (Tena 1987: 89-90).
  • [2] But Sahagun is not entirely clear in his explanation on this point. As noted above,paragraph 3 in Primeros Memoriales comprises a year-by-year 52-year calendar cycle(Sahagun 1997: 158-160). Sahagun writes that on Ce Tochtli (One Rabbit) when the new52-year calendar cycle begin its round: “Here is told the count of the years, which commences with (the year) called: One Rabbit. At the time of the year-sign Two Reed there was always the binding of the fifty-yearperiod” (Sahagun 1997: 158). But he assert, confusingly, in the next sentence that the day sign Ome Acatl (Two Reed)completed the 52-year calendar cycle and that Eyi Tecpatl (Three Flint Knife) was the firstday of the new Calendar Round: “Three Flint Knife. This year, 1560, ended the fifty-two years with the sign called TwoReed and the next fifty-two years was inaugurated with the sign called Three Flint Knife”(Sahagun 1997: 158). Moreover, it is rather strange that Sahagun maintains that in the year 1560 ad the old52-year cycle ended and a new 52-year cycle commenced, when the correct date shouldhave been correlated into 1559 ad. This is because the last known New Fire Ceremony wasobserved in 1507 ad.
  • [3] But in volume IV of The Florentine Codex, where Sahagun explains the signs of divination of the 260-day calendar, Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) is considered to be a good (fortunate)sign to be born under (Sahagun IV, 1957: 127-129).
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