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IC: Lady With the Snake Headdress

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  • Richard Haly
    ... Jim: You should have prefaced this with a Do not try this at home. What a mess! I think there is a strong equation being made between the initiant and
    Message 1 of 9 , Oct 1, 1999
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      >From: jim gomez <gomezjim@...>

      > Summary elements from two folklore stories (Porter, ECM 1988):
      >
      > 1. . The initiant goes [or is taken by the H-men] to a great ant
      > hill.
      > 2. . He takes off all his clothes and knocks on the nest three
      > times.
      > 3. . The mother of the ants [great serpent] emerges from the nest.
      > 4. . The dragon licks him all over and swallows him whole.
      > 5. . The bi-cephalic dragon [or serpent] then ejects him from the
      > rear.
      > 6. . The ceremony is completed after a period of thirteen days.

      Jim:

      You should have prefaced this with a "Do not try this at home."
      What a mess!

      I think there is a strong equation being made between the initiant
      and maize as the standard account of the origin of maize is
      reversed here as a human enters the ant hill. There is already a
      similarity established in the account of ants bring maize out from
      the hill as they are thus "bearing burdens" something in common
      parlance among Mesoamericans. The rebirth (of humans/maize) makes
      lots of Mesoamerican sense as Quetzalcoatl not only brings bones
      back from the lowerworld, he also revives his father. I recorded
      an account of the "Origin of Maize" (in Nahuatl) in the Sierra
      Norte de Puebla in which the narrator tells how the original maize
      was without joints until a great wind broke them and thus maize
      today has "joints" in it. This is a direct analogue to the account
      of the creation of humans in "Leyenda de los Soles" in which
      Quetzalcoatl breaks the bones which is why humans are smaller than
      previously. Note Quetzalcoatl can easily double (he's very good at
      doubling) for the wind in the maize account. Also in the Sierra
      Norte de Puebla there is a saying "ce taol ce tacat" which is "One
      grain of maize, one person." This is not to argue that maize=humans
      is anything new, it's just to point out the value of asking
      questions about humans that one also asks about maize.

      Under what circumstances does an initiant perform this. How do
      people know whether the process has been successful? Who goes in
      debt to whom to undertake such a thing? What benefits accrue to
      each of the parties involved? What time of year is/was this done?

      Re. the "Great Serpent" perhaps it's the Milky Way which is
      connected with the maize calendar...but that's another (longer)
      story.

      Best,

      Richard Haly
    • Martin Peach
      This would imply that the substrate of the landscape is understood to be the anus of the cosmic serpent, or that we live on and are part of a vast dungheap,
      Message 2 of 9 , Oct 1, 1999
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        This would imply that the substrate of the landscape is
        understood to be the anus of the cosmic serpent, or that we live
        on and are part of a vast dungheap, the locus of the rebirth of
        souls.

        Is/was a child born thirteen days after the departure of 'ik',
        the breath of life (compare egyptian 'ankh' for life principle or
        similar) considered to be the reincarnation of the dead person in
        the culture under consideration?

        If the body of the serpent is our galaxy, the part of the sky
        away from the main path of the milky way might correspond to the
        black jaguar whose spots are the individual stars and planets.
        The jaguar is closer to us, so we are looking into the maw of
        the jaguar/serpent when we look up at the sky.

        The serpent is eating its own excrement. I wonder if this was a
        process that was considered to be occurring everywhere or just in
        some places at some times, say in the craters of active volcanos
        or during tornados and lightning storms, or only inside temples
        atop pyramids or shrines in caves. That is, what is the
        terrestrial manifestation of the jaguar/serpent's mouth
        in this system?

        Is there a connection between Chan Balam (serpent jaguar) and
        Jambalaya (Louisiana creole)? This is not a joke...

        Is the skeletal 'god' depicted in the Dresden Codex actually a
        doctor or surgeon or spirit healer? He certainly looks different
        from the bringer of malfortune whose head is black and white and
        beaked like a turtle.

        \/\/\/*= Martin
      • jim gomez
        Hello Richard, Sorry for any misunderstanding. I meant to be brief with notes referencing what I expected would be understood as a metaphorical process of
        Message 3 of 9 , Oct 1, 1999
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          Hello Richard,

          Sorry for any misunderstanding. I meant to be brief with notes
          referencing what I expected would be understood as a metaphorical
          process of rebirth into the vocation of the H-men as he imagines
          himself passing through the body of the serpent. I was not
          directly concerned with the making of the H-men. In any case,
          your objections are valid since I didn't make the point explicit.
          I should have also added the following note:

          In section IX of the Chumayel, Roys relates a belief of the Maya
          of northern Yucatan of former times, that during an eclipse, ants
          called �xulab' were believed to eat the sun or moon. Apparently,
          ants serve as metaphors for digestion and the dissolution process.

          Since the context is the Yucatec Maya and the folk story refers to
          the making of an H-men, I believe this accounts for the in a more
          relevant way than the explanation you offer below:

          "I think there is a strong equation being made between the
          initiant and maize as the standard account of the origin of maize
          is reversed here as a human enters the ant hill. There is already
          a similarity established in the account of ants bring maize out
          from the hill as they are "bearing burdens" something in common
          parlance among Mesoamericans."

          But you do propose interesting alternative explanation; I am not
          totally opposed to it.

          Thanks, your (critical) comments were helpful.

          -Jim Gomez
        • Brant Gardner
          The current discussion on Lady with the snake headdress reminded me of something I wanted to put before the panel of list opinion. While looking through
          Message 4 of 9 , Oct 1, 1999
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            The current discussion on "Lady with the snake headdress"
            reminded me of something I wanted to put before the panel of list
            opinion.

            While looking through representations of the artwork at
            Teotihuacan I was focusing on the feathered serpents. The most
            fascinating thing I saw was a representation of a serpent (I
            believe feathered, I don't remember now) coming out of a mirror.
            The serpent was easy to recognize, and I am assuming "mirror"
            because it was the same exterior portion that other objects had
            that were defined as mirrors.

            This conjunction of symbols leads to some interesting
            possibilities. First, we must remember that mirrors always have
            "mirror-images." Second, I know that in at least one Sahaguntine
            Nahuatl text, the underworld is defined in ways that might be
            termed reversals - where people will eat, but eat the wrong
            things. Wind blows, but blows flints....

            Joining those two concepts together, the mirror is seeing the
            underworld? The mirror might be a connection to the "other" in
            that it displays the images of the reversal of the underworld to
            the surface.

            Now we have a serpent coming *out* of a mirror. Does that
            indicate that one of the symbolic functions of a serpent is to
            create a conduit between the surface and the underworld?
            Obviously the connections with snakes and holes in the ground can
            be fairly obvious. With caves as doorways to the underworld,
            snakes may be animals making regular trips back and forth.

            If the serpent is symbolically a conduit, the two headed serpent
            is the representation of both ends of the conduit - both parts of
            the connection simultaneously open, through which therefore
            spirits may pass.

            Does this make any sense to those who may understand the
            ethnography/iconography better than I?

            ______________________

            Brant Gardner
            Albuquerque, NM
            nahualli@...
            www.highfiber.com\~nahualli
          • D. M. Urquidi
            Brant Gardner The path to the underworld is the Yellow River. . . or the Yellow Road. . . . . Am quite sure that Sahagun and cohorts decided it had to be
            Message 5 of 9 , Oct 1, 1999
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              Brant Gardner

              The path to the underworld is the Yellow River. . . or the
              Yellow Road. . . . . Am quite sure that Sahagun and cohorts
              decided it had to be black for obvious reasons. Some of the
              Mesoamerican myths still hold to the Yellow River concept and
              follows through from Tepoztlan all the way to Peru. Dos Pilas
              Stela 8 has the Yellow River glyph just before a death glyph. I
              had asked Peter Marshall about it in 78 but he did not concur
              until 1996 or 97 or 98 whenever I last heard the introduction to
              Maya Glyphs at UTA.

              The serpent of the underworld is a left over from the time of the
              cave dwellings and was later superceded by the bird imagery when
              the Guerrero carving was done. (The bird masked man with wings
              sitting on top of the cave.) No one was unhappy about the bird
              from the heavens because he had a serpent-like tail. The new
              government of the bird did not want to underestimate that of the
              serpent men of the caves. The caves were esstential to survival
              and no one turns their back on their survival source.

              D. M. Urquidi
            • Richard Haly
              Dear Jim et al. My comments re: Don t try this at home were intended as humorous (being licked, swallowed, and excreted by a serpent) and as an intro to a
              Message 6 of 9 , Oct 4, 1999
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                Dear Jim et al.

                My comments re: "Don't try this at home" were intended as humorous
                (being licked, swallowed, and excreted by a serpent) and as an
                intro to a discussion of what "metaphorical processes" are and
                what "rebirth" might be. That is why I asked those material
                questions, re. who benefits and how. I don't see my interpretation
                of the event as an equation between the initiant and maize as in
                conflict with the "making of an H-men." Rather, it might give us
                something to look at "on the ground" re. maize and what H-men
                have to do with it that is in any way different from what other
                people do with it. i.e. their rights and obligations... Religion
                must make sense in practice for an interpretation to be valid.

                What kind of metaphor are we talking about here? A "literary" one
                or a "conventional" (per Lakoff and Johnson). If the latter, then
                it is important to tie it into human practice or we end up doing
                Maya theology or some other form of metaphysics.

                Best,

                Richard Haly
              • jim gomez
                Listeros familiar with Edmund Leach s discussion of the boundary, or interface layer (i.e., liminal state) which separates binary oppositions held in
                Message 7 of 9 , Oct 4, 1999
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                  Listeros familiar with Edmund Leach's discussion of the "boundary,
                  or interface layer (i.e., liminal state)" which separates binary
                  oppositions held in contrast and in categories which fit into
                  either the (a) formal and (b) masquerade might recognize its
                  application to Brant's inquiry below.

                  Leach gives the examples of the formality of a wedding which will
                  likely end in masquerade or, its reversal, when a New Year's Eve
                  or Carnival (c.f., Mardi Gras / Lent) which will likely end in
                  formality, and so on. The liminal state is said to lie between
                  the contrasted pair, neither here nor there, when normal time has
                  stopped, and "role reversals" have set in. Victor Turner's
                  preferred terminology for the middle stage is the "cunicular,"
                  being in a tunnel. In this arena certain liminal lords can be
                  said to predominate, which in our particular case, pertain to the
                  double headed serpent motif.

                  I'm not sure if this is what Brant has in mind with when he uses
                  "reversals" below and may want to go further, but in any case, how
                  far Leach's constructs can help explain what he writes (the
                  contrasted pair here is between the other world and world of the
                  living), perhaps another Listero better acquainted with the works
                  of Leach can better determine.

                  Having said this, it is evident that "explaining" symbolic
                  structures is not the same as "understanding" in a direct sense;
                  first hand knowledge is required for that, in addition to perhaps
                  a specific mode of "seeing" for what comes by way of the
                  cunicular. As when Ometeotl (crossed bones? source of life) was
                  said to approach when drinking sacred octli, sweet cactus "wine:"


                  Drink! drink!
                  It is the god of the succulent maguey.
                  He who molds the person (Ometeoltl),
                  And whose head shines like a mirror (Tezcatlanextia).

                  Nicholson notes that the first maguey was said to have grown from
                  the "bones" of a virgin goddess, Mayahuel, rescued, after a
                  series of mythic adventures by Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl (in "The
                  Octli Cult," D. Carrusco ed., 1991 p. 15).

                  In explicating the last line of the poem above (paraphrased from
                  R. Haly HR, 1992 p. 276) Leon-Portillo notes the contrast between
                  the illumination provided by the pulque god Ometeotl-
                  Tezcatlanextia in contrast to the "smoking mirror" which obscures
                  (in Aztec Thought & Culture, p. 86). This mirror is also
                  comparable to peering into clear water in ritual divining by some
                  Mayan groups while intoxicated, using a their own version of the
                  sacred drink. Muddled waters could then be compared to "waters
                  that obscure" or obstacles along the cunicular that keep one from
                  "seeing."

                  Jim Gomez
                • jim gomez
                  R. Haly writes: My comments re: Don t try this at home were intended as humorous (being licked, swallowed, and excreted by a serpent) and as an intro to a
                  Message 8 of 9 , Oct 5, 1999
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                    R. Haly writes:
                    My comments re: "Don't try this at home" were intended as humorous
                    (being licked, swallowed, and excreted by a serpent) and as an
                    intro to a discussion of what "metaphorical processes" are and
                    what "rebirth" might be. That is why I asked those material
                    questions, re. who benefits and how. I don't see my interpretation
                    of the event as an equation between the initiant and maize as in
                    conflict with the "making of an H-men." Rather, it might give us
                    something to look at "on the ground" re. maize and what H-men
                    have to do with it that is in any way different from what other
                    people do with it. i.e. their rights and obligations... Religion
                    must make sense in practice for an interpretation to be valid.

                    JG Reply:
                    Thanks for your added comments clarifying your initial reply. The
                    theme connecting the idol I mentioned and the folk stories
                    regarding the initiation of the H-men was that of rebirth. I
                    initially thought you were questioning the interpretation offered,
                    but since you were instead adding a further comparison from the
                    culture of the Nahuas, and perhaps taking the larger view of
                    things from the standpoint the rebirth of a people, I can see your
                    point.

                    R. Haly writes:
                    What kind of metaphor are we talking about here? A "literary" one
                    or a "conventional" (per Lakoff and Johnson). If the latter, then
                    it is important to tie it into human practice or we end up doing
                    Maya theology or some other form of metaphysics.

                    JG Reply:
                    I agree that the descriptions stated in terms OF metaphor must
                    be tied to human practice for it to have any practical relevance.
                    Theories and definitions of metaphor abound, and I am sure there
                    is useful context for the use of most of them.

                    My use of it here is in terms of metaphor=model, in areas where
                    we have reached the limit of what is discernible in any ordinary
                    common sense way. Entrance into that other region that is seen or
                    experienced, for example by an H-men as he is swallowed by the
                    bi-cephalic dragon, for the rest of us can only be indirect; i.e.
                    in terms of the model or metaphorical use of language that seeks
                    to coherently describe the experience within what the culture
                    permits. Taken literally (i.e., actual), the experience is likely
                    to appear false to an untrained outside observer, who never sees
                    the appearance the bi-cephalic dragon.

                    No commitment as to the ontic status of the dragon is required by
                    the outside observer; thats between all H-men and their
                    experiences. But the description stated in terms of metaphor
                    (model or analogue) may suggest entrance behind the observed
                    facts that would otherwise be inaccessible to us because of its
                    appearance coming across as nonsensical.

                    There is also interesting the use metaphor as it used by gifted
                    Mayas, but where it extends into areas where its use would be
                    expected to have direct practical consequences, as in the Ritual
                    of the Bacabs. In that context, its difficult to say what to call
                    our "meta-language" that further describe a language that has
                    every appearance of being metaphorical, but also has aspects that
                    are expected to understood literally when applied.

                    -Jim Gomez
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