Order (Structure) Versus Disorder (.Anti-Structure): A Ritual Structuring of Historical-Political Time
I agree with Elson and Smith who argue that the New Fire Ceremonies were integrated in the historical annals in order to structure the history of the city-states and the Aztec empire (Elson and Smith 2001: 158). Time was for this reason ordered by the 52-year calendar rituals. As a cyclical calendar the Aztec 52-year calendar was a repeating time count. Hassig has, nevertheless, claimed in his rather provocative book Time, History and Belief in Aztec and Colonial Mexico (2001) that the Aztec aristocracy had a linear and not a cyclic notion of time and history expressed in their 52-year calendar. Hassig maintains that the serial enumerations of New Fire ceremonies were employed to measure historical time in a calendar system, which did not have a zero date. The New Fire Ceremony tied the previous 52-year to the next 52-years creating a link between the completion and beginning of the various Calendar Rounds. In this manner, the temporal system served a linear and not a cyclical function (Hassig 2001: 114-122). What Hassig understand by the term “event-focused” contrasted with the term “time-focused” concept of linear time is not made entirely clear. But his theory should not be dismissed.
We have previously seen that Caso proposed that a pair of sculptured serpent heads, detected in Mexico City, recorded eight New Fire Ceremonies since the Aztecs left Aztlan. A bar and three dots, indicating the number eight, are carved under an Ome Acatl (2 Reed) sign on the sculptured serpent heads (Caso 1971: 335). This object may support the hypothesis by Hassig, that the Aztecs conceived time of the 52-year calendars in a fundamental linear fashion, because the eight New Fire ceremonies are numbered in a sequential continuum. Consequently, time was here perceived to be continued as an unbroken historical sequence. If Hassig is right, in his linear theory of the postclassic Aztec historical 52-year calendar, the 52-year calendar ritual created order and structure out of a perceived linear time unfolded in a continuum. Conceivably not terminated, i.e. not eternal repeated cyclical, linear time was to be ritually structured out of anti-structure or chaos by these ritual practices. A ritual-symbolic ordering or structuring of time is—as for the Long Count aclendar, the 260-day calendar and the 365-day calendar—a common theme for the ritual practice of time, although adapted in various ways to how these different calendars actually functioned. But Hassig tends to ignore that the 52-year calendar was also a cyclic temporal unit, even within a supposed although not verified linear principle. The 52-year calendar ritual therefore actually observed a completion and renewal of cyclic time, i.e. a repeating of 52-year calendar cycles. Moreover, the structuring and renewing of historical time of the 52-year calendar, linear or cyclical, had a political aspect. The ritual was displayed to the subjects of the tlatoani and the high aristocracy of the Triple Alliance so that they could witness that he controlled time by the sign—the Pleiades at zenith at midnight on Ome Acatl (2 Reed)—of good will of the deities. Historical time could then continue. We must not forget that the res gestae narrative of the pictorial annals, elaborated above, demonstrates that the ritual practice was stressed and not only the date of the 52-year calendar ritual—the introductory date of the new 52-year calendar cycle—as pure time orientation. This means that the 52-year calendar rituals of the past were commemorated not just to structure time or historiography.
In essence, time of the 52-year calendar was most probably observed to commemorate and honour the deities who had created the sun and the moon of the fifth world age with the purpose of creating fundamental conditions for human existence. The Aztecs and conceivable other cultural groups of Central Mexico (and Mesoamerica) must therefore have assigned a particular religious importance to the 52-year calendar ritual.
Figure 9: Lamina 34, Codex Borbonicus. Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt—Graz (1974). FAMSI: http://www.famsi.org/research/graz/borbonicus/index.html
Figure 10: A sign for a knot of reed or a cord is associated with the year sign Ome Acatl (“2 Reed”) with attached sign representing a fire-drill (Folio 2r, Codex Mendoza). Drawing by John Montgomery (Boone 2000: 41, fig. 13b).
Figure 11: Folio 42R of Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Photograph in Quinones Keber 1995:
Figure 12: Folio 27V of Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Photograph in Quinones Keber 1995:
Figure 13: Folio 32V of Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Photograph in Quinones Keber 1995:
Figure 14: Folio 41V of Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Photograph in Quinones Keber 1995:
Figure 15: The dates Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) and Ome Acatl (2 Reed) carved on the Teocalli (Umberger 1981a: 432, fig. 127a).
Figure 16: Relief on the Acacingo cliff representing a figure from a picture-plaque jade with the dates Ce Tochtli (1 Rabbit) and Ome Acatl (2 Reed) (Umberger 1987b: 95, fig. 43).
Figure 17: Map of the location of Huixachtitlan (Huixach[ti]tecatl) by Miguel Perez Negrete (based on Niederberger 1987, Paleopaysages et archeologie pre-urbane du Bassin de Mexique, CEMCA, Mexico). FAMSI: http://www.famsi.org/reports/01082es/index.html.