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The Aztec myth of the unlikeliest sun god

The Aztec myth of the unlikeliest sun god by Kay Almere. Nanahuatl, weakest of the Aztec gods, sickly and covered in pimples, had been chosen to form a new world. There had already been four worlds, each set in motion by its own “Lord Sun,” and each, in turn, destroyed: the first by jaguars, the next by winds, the next by rains of fire, and the fourth by floods.

To establish the Fifth Sun, Lord Quetzalcoatl, the “Feathered Serpent,” had gone to the underworld and returned with the bones of earlier people, nourishing them with his own blood to create new life. But for them to have a world to live in, another god had to leap into the great bonfire and become the fifth sun.

The Lord of Sustenance and the Lord of Fire had chosen Nanahuatl for this task, while the Lord of Rain and the Lord of the Four Quarters had picked their own offering: the proud, rich Tecciztecatl.

The Lord of Sustenance and the Lord of Fire
The Lord of Sustenance and the Lord of Fire

First, the chosen ones had to complete a four-day fasting and bloodletting ritual. Nanahuatl had nothing but cactus thorns with which to bleed himself, and fir branches to paint with his red offering, but he resolved to try his best.

Meanwhile, Tecciztecatl flaunted his riches, using magnificent jade spines and branches adorned with iridescent quetzal feathers for his own blood offering. When four days had passed, the fire was roaring high. Four times proud Tecciztecatl approached the flames, and four times he pulled back in fear. Humble Nanahuatl stepped forward.

The other gods painted him chalky white and glued feathers to him. Without hesitation, he threw himself into the flames. A fire-blackened eagle swooped over the fire, grabbed Nanahuatl and carried him into the sky. There, Lord and Lady Sustenance bathed him, sat him on a feathered throne, and wrapped a red band around his head. Inspired by Nanahuatl, Tecciztecatl threw himself into what was left of the fire: cooled ashes.

A jaguar jumped over the fire pit, but couldn’t carry Tecciztecatl into the sky. When Tecciztecatl reached the horizon, a band of goddesses dressed him in rags. Still, he shined just as brightly as Nanahuatl. But since he had shown far less bravery and much more pride, one of the gods picked up a rabbit and tossed it in his face, dimming his light.

But the fifth world still wasn’t truly established. Nanahuatl, Lord Sun, shined for four days straight without moving through the sky like all the previous suns had moved. Back in their home, Teotihuacan, the gods began to worry.

They sent Obsidian Hawk up to ask what was wrong. Nanahuatl replied that just as he had sacrificed himself to become Lord Sun, he now needed the nourishing blood of the other gods in order to move through the sky. Enraged at this suggestion, Lord Dawn stepped up and shot an arrow at Lord Sun.

Lord Sun shot back, and his quetzal-feathered arrows struck Lord Dawn in the face, turning him to frost. Before anyone else could act rashly, the other gods turned to each other to discuss what to do. Of course, no one wanted to sacrifice themselves, but nor did anyone want to act like Lord Dawn.

Besides, Nanahuatl had held up his end of the bargain to nourish the earth— how could they refuse to nourish him in return? They remembered how even the wimpy Tecciztecatl had eventually managed to emulate Nanahuatl’s bravery. At long last, five other gods agreed to sacrifice themselves.

The Aztec myth of the unlikeliest sun god
The Aztec myth of the unlikeliest sun god

One by one, Lord Death stabbed them in the heart with an obsidian knife, offering their bodies to their new Lord Sun. As the last god made the sacrifice, Lord Quetzalcoatl blew the embers of the great fire back to life, and the sun began to move through the sky at last, ushering in the fifth age. Thanks to a pimply weakling whose fortitude inspired all the other gods, the sun moves along its daily path, the rabbit-faced moon following in its wake.

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