Monday, March 10, 2014

Mythology Monday: Xipe Totec

Thus far, I’ve only really talked about Greek mythology. While I was waiting to have lunch with my youth group, I struck up a conversation with a guy I will call Culprit (for anonymity’s sake), who I previously referenced in A Screaming Story.

Culprit wants to be a forensic anthropologist, and I’m me, so it’s no wonder that we had a good long conversation about death for a while. I brought up the point that in Aztec culture, being sacrificed was an HONOR, and you were proud to do it. I brought up one of the gods we’d talked about in my Spanish class—the infamous Xipe Totec.

It’s Monday, and he was a fun guy. Let’s talk about him.


Flickr Credit: Travis S.
Name: Xipe Totec (“the flayed one”)
Culture: Aztec
Responsibilities: spring, new vegetation, rebirth, fertility, and metalworkers/goldsmiths

Xipe Totec was mostly known for the flaying of his sacrifices, which symbolized the fertility of the earth as the earth grew a “new skin” every year. His priests were proud of being able to flay a person in one piece. However, he also accepted slit throats, burning, etc. as sacrifices.

Xipe Totec was important because he represented the death and rebirth of the world every year. Of course, he also connected war with agriculture, because he invented war for one thing (thanks a lot, Xipe Totec) and also flayed himself to feed all the humans of the world.

(In a way, he was sort of like the goddess Persephone, or the god Dionysus, as they died and were born again with the change of the seasons. It’s also interesting, because I believe in Roman mythology, Mars was not only the god of war but also of agriculture. Weird.)

A very symbolic existence.

Interesting Things I Learned in Spanish Class

Every Aztec god had their own preference for how they liked their sacrifices. Tlaloc liked his children drowned, Huitzilopochtli had beating hearts cut from the chests of prisoners of war, and Xipe Totec enjoyed flaying.

His priests were nasty. Their skin was painted black and they used blood as a sort of hair gel. Needless to say, bathing was not one of their priorities. They were also short, because oftentimes after they flayed a person they had to climb inside and wear it. Charming, I know.

One sacrifice they chose every year. They’d find the hottest gal (or guy, but mostly gal) in town, and take her up to the temple. There they would spend a couple weeks engaging in “fertility rituals” (that’s my nice way of saying it), and then after that the girl would be flayed and the priests would dance around in her skin and voila, Xipe Totec would bless his people. The girl would die of bacterial infection or some other misfortune which comes from having all your skin cut off.

Of course, there were plenty of other sacrifices too, that’s just the one we learned about in Spanish class.

My Take

I’m not going to lie: Aztec gods kind of freak me out. I am more than content to live in a society that does not promote human sacrifice. At the same time, Aztec culture was very advanced, and the city of Tenochtitlan had more people than any city over in Europe. I can respect that.

Xipe Totec was nasty, but in a way an interesting show of sacrifice—and the demand for payment for that sacrifice. As a Christian, I don’t think I could ever be more grateful that when my Savior sacrificed his life for mine so that I could live, the only thing he demanded was my heart.

And not in the same way that Huitzilopochtli did.

Sources: EncyclopediaBritannica, Wikipedia, my Spanish teacher

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