Political-Ritual Space: The Symbolic Locations of the 52-year Calendar Ritual of 1507 AD (Ome Acatl)

Three symbolic sites are connected with the 52-year calendar ritual of 1507 AD (Ome Acatl):

  • 1. Teotihuacan, where the creation of the sun and moon was undertaken by the deities according to official state religion.
  • 2. Huixachtitlan, the hill where the drilling of the new fire was executed.
  • 3. The Templo Mayor (Hueyteocalli) in the city Tenochtitlan where the first new fire was lighted after being brought down from Huixachtitlan.

The Aztecs had not always performed the New Fire Ceremony on Huixachtitlan. The alteration of the New Fire Ceremony was not simply temporal (by the above mentioned calendar reform) but also spatial. As noted, Tena has given a survey of when—from 1090 AD to 1507 AD—and where—Teo- colhuacan, Coatepec (Tollan), Huitzcol Apazco, Tecpayocan, Chapultepec, Tenochtitlan and Huixachtitlan—52-year calendar rituals were performed in the history of the postclassic Aztecs (Tena 1987: 98, Cuadro 1)[1]. Only four of these ceremonies could have taken place in Tenochtitlan because this city was founded 1325 AD (Ce Calli, 1 House) (Hassig 2001: 45).

In the years 1351 AD and 1403 AD the New Fire Ceremony was observed in the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. Then the New Fire Ceremony was moved to the hill Huixachtitlan, in 1455 AD, but there was probably no religious structure there at the time according to Chimalpahin (Chimalpahin

1965: 100; 201; Hassig 2001: 96-97). Hassig claims that the New Fire Ceremony was only celebrated on the hill of Huixachtitlan at the most in two ceremonies but most likely only in one ceremony (e.g. the New Fire Ceremony of 1507 ad). Motecuzoma [I] ordered that a temple should be erected on Huixachtitlan according to Torquemada and Codex Telleriano- Remensis (Hassig 2001: 45-47, note 81, 177).[2] Hassig thus find it likely that 1507 AD was the first year the ceremony was celebrated on Huixachtitlan and that this corresponded with the calendar reform of the New Fire Ceremony from Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) to Ome Acatl (2 Reed). The ritual the year before was performed at the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, due to the “Aztecs’ geopolitical situation but also by the expansion of that structure dated in the New Fire year of 1454” (Hassig 2001: 47).

Huixachtitlan is a hill located east of Colhuacan and south of Itztapal- lapan in the southern Basin of Mexico. Why, asks Hassig, was the ceremony moved from the Templo Mayor—the most important religious structure in Tenochtitlan—to a smaller temple on a hill far away from the centre of the empire? As mentioned earlier, the zenith passage of the Pleiades at midnight of Ome Acatl (2 Reed) could be observed from both the Templo Mayor and from the hill of Huixachtitlan (Hassig 2001: 85-86). Therefore the spatial and temporal move of the New Fire Ceremony did not affect the essential symbolic role and status the Pleiades had in the 52-year calendar ritual. Hassig argues that the change of location of the New Fire Ceremony was caused by the fact that the newly ignited fire became more visible in the Valley of Mexico from Huixachtitlan, since it could be viewed from all the major cities there. But this was also because, although not so significant, the Pleiades were easier to observe at this higher level (Sahagun 1953, VII: 28; 1957, IV: 143-144; Tena 1987: 97; Hassig 2001: 86-87).

The Templo Mayor (Hueyteocalli), which symbolic status and role in the New Fire Ceremony must not be underestimated, was not simply the ritual-symbolic but in addition the political, economic, social and religious centre of the Aztec empire. The structure of Templo Mayor consisted of the twin temple dedicated to the two deities Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli. Tlaloc represented rain, water and agriculture and Huitzilopochtli war, conquest and tribute. Both deities therefore symbolised the economic base of Tenochtitlan (Matos Moctezuma, Broda and Carrasco 1987). Tlaloc does not appear to play a role in the 52-year calendar ritual like the Aztec national (patron) deity Huitzilopochtli (“Hummingbird from the south/left”). We recollect that the ritual of 1507 AD (Ome Acatl, 2 Reed) presumable was celebrated in the veintena of Panquetzaliztli, the festival of the 365-day calendar dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. The Aztec state deity Huitzilopocht- li is central in the 52-year calendar ritual, since he had temples on both Huixachtitlan[3] [4] and in Tenochtitlan (the Templo Mayor). Aztec official religion had therefore a major impact on this ritual, which involved Aztec allies and the subjugated natives and cities of the empire, at least by 1507 AD (Ome Acatl, 2 Reed).

There are various indications that the symbolic date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) of the 52-year calendar ritual was associated with the eneration of another major deity, Tezcatlipoca (“Smoking Mirror”). Ome Acatl (2 Reed), the date of the New Fire Ceremony, was also the ceremonial day and calendar name of the god Ome Acatl (2 Reed) who was an aspect of Tezcatlipoca.№6 Tezcatlipoca was in addition associated with the calendar date Ce Miquiztli (1 Death). Umberger has observed that the Ome Acatl (2 Reed) date many places contains a rope, symbolising the binding of the years, and jaguar spots referring to Tezcatlipoca. Ome Acatl (2 Reed) is also carved on stone year bundles together with the date signs Ce Miquiztli (1 Death) and Ce Tecpatl (1 Flintknife) and on Xiuhcoatls. Ome Acatl (2 Reed) alludes to the birth of Tezcatlipoca according to an earth monster relief (Umberger 1981a: 274-275). Two fragments of a relief portray an earth monster and Tezcatlipoca, who is naked with a headdress, emerging from a chalchihuitl on the centre of the body of the earth monster. The date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) is carved with the calendar name of Tezcatlipoca. Nicholson claims that the relief portrays the birth of Tezcatlipoca (Umberger 1981a: 133). Ome Acatl (2 Reed) was the year Tezcatlipoca created fire in the mythic past. The Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas relates that Tezcatlipoca made the fire in the year Ome Acatl (2 Reed) at the end of the fourth world age (sun). He did this to make an offering to the gods (Elzey 1974: 111, note 2). Tezcatlicpoca transformed himself into Mixcoatl-Camaxtli in the year Ome Acatl (2 Reed), which was the second year after the deluge, and by twirling the fire sticks creating fire, originated the custom of drawing a fire from the fire drill (Garibay 1965: 33). Leyenda de los soles narrates that since Tezcatli- poca drilled the fire in the year Ome Acatl (2 Reed) the New Fire Ceremony was instituted (Bierhorst 1992: 88; 1992: 144-145). On Ce Miquitztli (1 Death) and Ome Acatl (2 Reed), which were calendar names of Tezcatli- poca, where special rituals celebrated to this deity (Olivier 1997: 51-60). But this ceremony of Ome Acatl (2 Reed) did not, however, have anything to do with the New Fire Ceremony of the 52-year calendar. Other deities, like Xipe Totec and Cihuacoatl, have also been found to be linked with the date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) (Olivier 1997: 57-58) although without being connected with the New Fire Ceremony. Consequently, there are no substantiation that Tezcatlipoca and/or other deities were worshipped in the Aztec postclassic 52-year calendar ritual.[5]

Tezcatlipoca was a significant deity not just in Central Mexico but also in the pantheon of numerous Mesoamerican cultural groups (cf. Olivier 1997). It is quite symptomatic that it is the Aztec tribal, state and patron deity Huitzilopochtli who had become the most prominent god of the 52- year calendar ritual by 1507 AD. It was Huitzilopochtli who led the Aztec tribe on the long migration from their mythical origin place Aztlan to Tenochtitlan. Huitzilopochtli was, as the deity of sun and war, the symbol of the Aztec empire. The Templo Mayor and the Temple of the hill Huixach- titlan were, as noted, both dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. Book VII of The Florentine Codex account that the new fire was first taken to the “idol” of Huitzilopochtli on Ome Acatl (2 Reed). It was brought to the top of the temple-pyramid where it was an image of Huitzilopochtli (Sahagun 1953, VII: 29-30). It is no coincidence that Huitzilopochtli was the protagonist of both the Panquetzaliztli festival of the 365-day calendar and the New Fire Ceremony of the 52-year calendar ritual. The Panquetzaliztli ritual was most likely celebrated at the same time as the 52-year calendar ritual of the year 1507 AD. The weapons of Huitzilpochtli, xiuhcohuatl and mamahuaz- tli, were the names of the instruments lighting the New Fire Ceremony (Tena 1987: 90). Excavated stone year bundles, found buried in skull altars, represent the 52-year calendar cycle associated with Huitzilopochtli according to Caso og Umberger. On the front the Ome Acatl (2 Reed) sign and on the back the signs Ce Miquitztli (1 Death) and Ce Tecpatl (1 Flint) are carved. The same three dates also appear on the structure called

“Teocalli de la Guerra Sagrada” (see below). Ce Tecpatl (1 Flint) was the date of the birth of Huitzilopochtli and Ce Miquiztli (1 Death) was the day of his death. There are 52 days between Ce Miquiztli (1 Death) and Ce Tecpatl (1 Flint) in the 260-day calendar (Caso 1967: 135; 138; 140; Umberger 1987: 438, note 15), which may have a symbolic relation with the 52-year calendar. Ome Acatl (2 Reed) is one day off in the centre, which presumable symbolised the ceremonial death and rebirth of Huitzilopochtli (Umberger 1981a: 122-124). That the Aztec patron deity, Huitzilopochtli, was intimately connected with the Mesoamerican 52-year calendar and his important status and role in the 52-year calendar ritual of 1507 AD conveys a predominance of Aztec (Tenochtitlan) religion in Central Mexico at that time. We can therefore surmise that at least by 1507 AD the 52-year calendar ritual had turned into a symbolic manifestation of Aztec imperial ideology where the ritual on Huixachtitlan was, from the Aztec religious-political elite, directed towards the people (presumably including other cultural groups) of the Valley of Mexico and the region.

  • [1] The Aztec chroniclers have, according to Hassig, recorded eight New Fire ceremonies:1143 ad, 1195 ad, 1247 ad, 1299 ad, 1307 ad, 1403 ad, 1455 ad and 1507 ad (Hassig 2001: 176,note 73). Other scholars assert, however, that nine 52-year New Fire ceremonies are outlinedin the Aztec written sources (Tena 1987: 98, Cuadro 1; Boone 2000: 166-173, 223-224; Elsonand Smith 2001: 169-170). The first known Aztec New Fire Ceremony took place during theAztec migration from Aztlan in 1091 ad (Tena 1987: 89-92). Only from 1351 ad was the NewFire Ceremony performed in the political centre of Tenochtitlan, which according to Tena,coincided with the calendar reform. The last four New Fire Ceremonies were celebratedunder Aztec imperial control in Tenochtilan and on the hill of Huixachtitlan (Tena 1987:98, Cuadro 1). The earliest recognised New Fire Ceremony in Mesoamerica is probably fromXochicalco, Morelos. The iconographic symbol of the New Fire Ceremony, a fire drill withflames, is accompanied with the calendar signs Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) and Ome Coatl (2Snake) on a stone relief from this site. The stone was presumably carved between 650 adand 900 ad (Saenz 1967: 12; Elson and Smith 2001: 169). Saenz asserts this was a commemoration of the first New Fire Ceremony (Saenz 1967). Umberger has detected that the artistsof the Aztecs imitated the sculptural styles ofXochicalco, Tula and T eotihuacan (Umberger1996: 94; Elson and Smith 2001: 169). A historical transmission of the New Fire Ceremonyfrom Xochicalco to Tenochtitlan is, however, not undisputed. Neither can a Toltec heritagebe validated (Elson and Smith 2001: 169-170).
  • [2] “Chimalpahin (1965: 201, 229) records a New Fire Ceremony on Huixachtitlan in1455 ad and 1507 ad, and appears to say that it was held there a total of four times, whichwould mean in 1403 and 1351. However, his is a Chalca perspective and he was not in thebest position to know” (Hassig 2001: 177, note 80).
  • [3] “... a little hill, on the top of which was the temple of the demon for whom the greatlord of Mexico, Moteuczoma, had a great devotion and reverence” (Motolima 1951: 112; 1971:49; 2001: 31). This ‘demon’ or more correctly deity was conceivably Huitzilopochtli.
  • [4] The day Ome Acatl (2 Reed) was dedicated to Tezcatlipoca according to The Florentine Codex (Sahagun 1957, IV: 56).
  • [5] But we recollect that various, alas obscure to scholars, deities were impersonatedby the religious specialists at the New Fire Ceremony.
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