"Mexico" Lessons





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The Heart of Copil, and the Eagle of Tenochtitlan

When the Aztecs traveled towards the south from their homeland of Aztlan, unsure where they would build their city, a woman traveled among them called Malinalxochitl, ("mall-een-all-show-cheat-l"). She was beautiful but wise in the magical arts. She could kill a person just by looking at them, or eat a person's heart without that person even realizing it. Or with just a glance she could eat the muscle in a person's leg and they wouldn't even feel pain. Or sometimes she would twist someonešs vision so that person thought they were seeing a huge beast or some horrible monster.

Sometimes at night when people were asleep, she would take a man outside the camp, and throw him in front of a poisonous snake. In her evil acts she also used scorpions, centipedes and spiders. Because she was a witch she could transform herself into any bird or animal she wished. With all these dangerous powers, she wanted to be treated like a goddess, and nothing less would do.

The Aztecs allowed her to live among them because Malinalxochitl was the sister of the God of War, Huitzilopochtli ("wheat-seal-o-poached-lee"). But finally the priests complained in their prayers to Huitzilopochtli, who, as was his custom, responded through their dreams.

"My sister is a grave threat to you. You should end all relationships with her and her witchcraft. Tomorrow night, when sleep first comes to her, you should move quickly and silently, leaving herbehind. My destiny is to govern not by witchcraft but by the strength of the arrow and the shield, of the chest and shoulders.

"My commands will be obeyed in all the lands and I will guard over you and protect the people so they live well, so the Mexican nation flowers its name rising to the heavens. Our conquest will bring to us jade, gold and feathers of all colors which will be used to decorate my temple. It will also bring us corn and chocolate of different types, and cotton of different colors. I will have everything."

The following night the entire Aztec people left in complete silence, moving on towards the south, leaving Malinalxochitl in the forest alone with a few of her servants. When morning arrived, she awoke, looked around herself, and cried out, "My brother has tricked us! He has gone without a trace with all of his awful people! What is he thinking? Where can they ever find peace? This land is full of people who do not know us and that have strong armies. They will be destroyed."

She and her servants went to a city nearby and begged the inhabitants to be allowed to camp outside the town on a hill known today as Malinalco, and to this day the people there are famous for being witches.

Meanwhile the Aztecs continued on their way, resting along the way to plant and harvest some corn, but continuing always their march, looking for a place to found their city. They arrived finally at the hill of Chapultepec, on the edge of the great lake later known as Lake Mexico. However, there more than anywhere else they were surrounded by strange people nations that watched them and only awaited the moment when they could attack them.

Over the years Malinalxochitl gave birth to a baby which she named Copil. Over the years she taught Copil her arts of witchcraft and she constantly told him of how her brother Huitzilopochtli had turned against her and how the Aztecs had abandoned her in the forest while she slept. Moved by the tears of his mother, Copil swore he would avenge his mother using the evil arts she had taught him.

When he discovered that the Aztecs were camped in Chapultepec he went to the cities near there to warn the people about their new neighbors. "Beware the Aztecs," he said. They are here to conquer you and when they turn you into their slaves then you will learn of their horrible customs which I have seen with my own eyes. In just a short time, the nations of Azcapotzalco, Tiacopan, Coyohuacan, Xochimilco, Chalco and Colhuacan formed an alliance and marched against Chapultepec. Copil climbed a nearby hill to watch with delight the destruction of the Aztecs.

But before the attack could begin, Huitzilopochtli, who knows everything, warned his Aztec priests and guided them to where Copil was hiding. They tied Copil up and immediately cut out his heart as Copil instructed. When they had done this they presented the heart to Huitzilopochtli who ordered them to take it to the lake and throw it as far as possible. Without delay one of the priests entered the waters of the lake and with all his might hurled the heart far into the water. He saw it land on an island. It is from Copilšs heart that a nopal cactus plant grew that would later mark the center of the great Aztec capital.

When they slept that night Huitzilopochtli told them how they could sneak away from their enemies. He told them they would wander a long time in search of the place to build their city. He told them what to look for and told them not to lose despair.

When the Aztecs escaped from Chapultepec they began to wander among the marches at the center of the lake, where at one point a woman known as Corn Flower gave birth to a baby. This place is today known as El Parto, or "Childbirth."

From there some of the elders went towards the rushes in a place known as Rushes and Canes, looking for the place to build their city. They saw many wonderful things there all of which had been foretold by their god. They saw that the trees were white, and the rushes were white, and the toads and the snakes and the fish were white. And they began to cry. "This must be the place We have seen everything that we were told on that fateful day we would see. Let us return to the camp and let him tell us what we are to so."

That night Huitzilopochtli appeared to the elder who had thrown Copilšs heart into the lake, and he spoke to him. "You have seen all I told you you would see. But listen, there is one thing you have not yet seen and you must go and look for it. It is a nopal cactus. Be happy for it grows from the heart of Copil. You threw that heart deep into the marches when we were in Chapultepec and a cactus grew from it. On top of it you will see an eagle sunning itself and happily eating a snake. That is where we will build our house and fort, where we will receive our enemies with chest and arms, with arrows and shields."

"Your heart is generous said the elder." The next day he went and he told the rest what he had seen and heard. And they went back to Juncos y Canas and when they passed through the rushes they saw before them a nopal cactus. At perched in its nest at the top was an eagle eating a snake very happily, its claws nailed into its prey. When it saw the Aztecs from the distance it turned towards them and bowed its head. In its nest were precious feathers of many birds, including the famous quetzal. Around the nest were bones and claws and skulls of the birds it had killed and eaten.

Their god spoke to them then. "This is the place." And all the Aztecs began to cry. The god sang to them, "This is Mexico! This is Tenochtitlan, where the eagle extends its wings and eats, where the fish fly and the serpents whisper! This is Mexico. This is Tenochtitlan. And many great things will be done here."

The Evil of Tezcatlipoca

Long before the Aztecs founded their city of Tenochtitlan, Quetzalcoatl, the god of learning, and god of the wind, lived in Tollan, also known as Tula, where the people were happy. He had taught them all they needed to know to be happy. They worked the land and they were rewarded with vegetables that grew so well that each person could only carry one ear of corn, the pumpkins were as large as a person, and the cotton grew in all colors. They studied astronomy and made beautiful jewelry. Queztalcoatl had taught them everything except the art of war and where he lived everyone had all they needed to be happy.

But there came a time when Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl's brother who wandered the earth creating evil, descended upon Tollan from the sky from a long black thread of spiderweb. A cold wind blew into the city. The flowers shriveled and died, the bones of the people rattled. Quetzalcoatl spoke to the people.

"My brother has arrived and will drive me from the city. It is best that I go to the Land of the Sun in the west and drink from the fountains there. Thus I can return with my power rejuvenated, young and strong, to become once again the friend and protector of Tollan."

Tezcatlipoca arrived and challenged Quetzalcoatl to play the ball game. They went to the stadium where everyone came to watch. Quetzalcoatl quickly took the ball and directed it towards his ring high upon the wall. As he did so Tezcatlipoca turned into a jaguar and leapt towards Quetzacoatl to kill him. Quetzalocoatl had prepared for this moment and fled his brother. He ran through the streets chased by the jaguar and escaped into the mountains with his servants.

Thus Tezcatlipoca become the master of Tollan.

Tezcatlipoca sent out invitations to all the young people of Tollan to attend a party in the palace. They went and stayed all night. Before the morning Tezcatlipoca began to play the flute, and he headed into the mountains. The youth all followed until they reached the summit of the Mount Texcalapa. When they were all gathered around him Tezcatlipoca suddenly struck a gong very hard that sent chills into everyone and fillled them with fear as the beauty of the music disappeared and the horror of the god before them became clear.

They ran down the mountain but the god flew before them and cut the bridge between the youth and the city. Every one of the young people went flying into the abyss before them and fell to their deaths. At the bottom of the gorge they were all turned into rocks which can still be seen today.

The mountain began to rise up and suddenly the top blew off into the sky and flames and rocks began to rain down upon the city where Quetzalcoatl had taught the people to grow corn, cotton, and other plants. And a layer of burning coals covered the houses and temples where Quetzalcoatl had taught the people to build.

Meanwhile in the mountains Queztalcoatl and his servants wandered weary and cold. His servants began to freeze in the snow and Quetzalcoatl fell upon a rock and cried. His tears were so heavy they opened craters in the earth, and if you go to the place Where Quetzalcoatl sat you can still see these craters and the marks his hands made upon the rocks.

Long after the last of his servants had died, Quetzalcoatl arrived finally to the other side of the mountains, where the sound of waves could be heard in the distance. He made a raft of snakes and set off over the ocean towards where the sun and moon hide. He moved ever on towards the Land of the Sun. There he would drink the waters of immortality and return young and strong to Tollan to make the people happy once again, the people who suffered so greatly under Tezcatlipoca.

The Return of Quetzalcoatl

One day a man from the coast came to speak with the Aztec Emperor, Motecuzoma. He had a strange message that brought great wonder and fear to the leader and all who heard the rumors that spread quickly thoughout the capital and beyond. He said that he had seen something floating on the ocean that looked like a large hill or pyramid. It was like nothing he had ever seen before.

Motecuzoma ordered soldiers to go to the coast to see for themselves what they would. They traveled as fast as they could to speak to speak with the leader of the Aztecs' allies on the coast. The leader confirmed that the man's report was true. The soldiers went to the place where the pyramid had been seen floating on the water and they, too, spied it. They also saw men descend from the pyramid in small boats from which they fished with poles and nets.

The soldiers returned as fast as possible to report to Motecuzoma what they had discovered. Upon hearing their report, Motecuzoma sent for his finest gold workers and artists. He had them create necklaces, rings, statues, and blankets so rich and fine that none could compare, not even his own. He sent these with a group of soldiers to meet with the men who had been seen fishing. The soldiers were filled with fear at the prospect of meeting these men who Motecuzoma and many others suspected had come under the service of the long-departed god, Questzalcoatl. They knew not how Quetzalcoatl would receive them, even with such fine jewelry and blankets.

When they made it to the coast they set out in their own boats towards the pyramids. They were met by men in small boats who descended from the pyramid on the water. These men, who were covered with a thick metal skin, led them back to the pyramid where the Aztecs finally saw what appeared to be the leader of these strange men. The leader resembled a man, but his face was covered with hair and his skin was like the white of the clouds. When he spoke, it sounded to the Aztec soldiers like a barking, yet the servants of this god seemed to understand him.

There was a woman present who appeared to be Aztec who was able to speak the Aztec language of Nahuatl with the soldiers, yet who could also speak in the barks of the god. The Aztec soldiers presented the gifts to the being they believed might be none other than Quetzalcoatl and presented him with a message from Motecuzoma. Motecuzoma was very pleased to hear of the return of Quetzalcoatl, the god of old, yet he hoped the god would allow him to finish his time as emperor.

The pale, hairy god barked back at the woman who informed the soldiers that he would be setting out for the capital very soon to meet with Motecuzoma, that he would not wait.

The journey of the god and his own men was slow because they did not know the fastest way to the capital and had to depend on Aztec guides who were instructed by Motecuzoma to take them by a long, slow route to give him more time to think. When the god finally arrived at the city, Motecuzoma still did not know what to do. He went forth with all his soldiers and met the god as he was entering the city.

The woman saw him approach and asked if he was the emperor, Motecuzoma. Motecuzoma replied that he was and proceeded to greet them. The woman barked the greeting to the god in the strange language he seemed to prefer.

"Oh, Lord, you must be tired and fatigued. You have arrived finally to this great city of Tenochtitlan. You have arrived to this carpet of gold and throne of jewels which are yours and which I have guarded for you for this brief time. Come and gone are other emperors who preceded me, also watching over all that is yours: Itzcoatl, Motecuzoma the Old, Axayacatl, Tizoc, and Ahuizotl. I, your faithful, came last. I cannot believe that this day is true, that it has come at long last, that I am not walking in my sleep. Yet here you are, I see your face. In you I have seen the unseeable, known the unknown. I return to you all that is yours. Welcome to this land. Come, see your palace and rest yourself. You and your servants are welcome here."

"Mexico" Lessons

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