Ways of the Sacred Marriage:
Before contemplating bring back the ancient genetic mother, we should all stop to consider what it is we do want to bring back, lest we make the same mistake made in ancient times and confuse the blood of male sacrifice with the essential fertility principal necessary for our own survival. Lets us bring back the Eve of the eternal germ-line and the synchronistic goddess Leucothea of the sub-conscious mind as a shekhinah of visionary reflection, without the primitive gore of self-mutilation. These passages thus stand as a shrine to the spilled blood of the past and as a warning to those who would seek to bring back the goddess without due caution.
EVE the "Mother of all Living" has many faces spread through diverse cultures. Barbara Walker notes that "She is Adita Eve - the very beginning. Babylonians referred to her as the Divine Lady of Eden or Goddess of the Tree of Life. ... She is Kali-ma as Jaganmata the Creatress of all manifested forms. ... The original Eve had no spouse except the serpent, a living phallus she created for her own sexual pleasure." She is thus also the fearsome Toltec Lady of the Serpent Skirts. Since the old neolithic Goddess fertilized herself with the blood of men and bulls, the sacrificial aspect of her relations with men, in addition to her coquetish lack of regard for paternity, can be singled out as a causative influence on rise of the paternalistic views of the Old Testament.
First Face Europe: Ancient Crete and Cybele Mother of All Living
The Goddess of Crete: One of the more creative archetypes of EVE is the Snake Goddess of Crete. Although she is doubtless the coquettish Goddess of love who worships sexuality, freely walks among her attendant lovers, and never allows her kings to grow old, she has given life to a peaceful, abundant and long-lived society.
"Minoan arts crafts and poetry were unparalleled in the ancient world for their beauty and refinement. ... The artistic tradition of Crete was unique in the Mediterranean world, expressing a sensitivity and delight in all that was alive. ... Hessiod, the eight century Greek poet, sang of Crete, the golden land where 'the earth poured forth its fruits unbidden in boundless plenty" In peaceful ease they kept their lands with good abundance, rich in flocks and ... did not worship the gods of war.' ... Protected by the sea from invasion, the islanders were able to seek trade, rather than make war to hold on to their wealth."
It was first settled around 7000 BC from a culture commensurate with the of Catal Huyuk. The Minoan culture circa 3500 BC emerged from further interaction with populations from Anatolia and Libya, and peaking around 2500 BC, continued until the Mycenians invaded around 1500 BC.
"The Cretans saw the supreme divine power in terms of the feminine principle, and incarnate in a woman they portrayed as exactly like one of themselves ... comfortable with her beauty and her power." "This dedication to a goddess involved also a glorification of the meaning of sex. Fertility and abundance were the purpose and desire, sex was the instrument. ... Women were the central subjects, and those portrayed most frequently were shown in the public sphere. ... A number of scholars are convinced that Crete was a matriarchy, a theocracy ruled by a queen priestess. No single representation of a king or dominant male god has yet been found. ... In miniature scenes not only is the goddess always the central figure, she is sometimes sitting on a throne. ... For rituals, men and women often dressed alike, implying that their roles [may have been] interchangeable" (Gadon 87).
Women alone figure as priestesses. "There are numerous representations of men in Minoan art, but they are al engaged in subordinate occupations: cup bearers, pages, musicians, harvesters, soldiers and sailors. Not once odes it depict a king, prince or hero, or show a man in a position of domination. The female figures on the other hand invariably exhibit an attitude of self-possessed independence" (Gadon 90).
"The mother's brother occupies an important position and is responsible for bringing up the children." Women had ritual sexual licence. This of course meant that few men knew who their own children were, nor had anything to do with fostering their well-being, as was the case in Athens until the time of Eumenides. (Briffault v1 251).
Despite its cultural maturity, Crete appears to have followed the Mesopotamian tradition of ritual sacrifice of kings. Barbara Walker comments "Myths suggest a similar seven year period for each king of Crete. Cretan king were never allowed to grow old; they always died in the full bloom of youth." The Labrys, or double headed axe, cannot conceal its sacrificial implications.
Riane Eisler, despite extolling Crete as a founding 'partnership society "In Crete for the last time in recorded history, a spirit of harmony between woman and men as joyful and equal participants in life appears to pervade" and quoting Reynold Higgins "Religion for Cretans was a happy affair ... closely bound up with their recreation.", nevertheless concedes "it is important to stress that Crete was not an ideal society , or utopia, but a real human society, complete with problems and imperfections ... we know for instance that Cretans hasd weapons." (Eisler 1987 29-36)
The Legend of the Minotaur is a tangled tale seen through the lenses of cultural conflict. Bulls were sacrificed to the lunar goddess in Crete from a very early date. In a reversal of destiny, Europa the Full Moon Goddess of the Continent, rather than sacrificing the bull, is taken by Zeus as a bull and raped. Because of the greed of her son King Minos, his wife Passiphae became infatuated with a bull, producing the Minotaur as offspring. A tribute of seven youths and seven maidens every ninth year was demanded from Athens. Although King Minos represents a Crete already transformed by Mycenian invasion, the voyage of Theseus follower of Apollo, his defeat of the Minotaur, and the abdication of Ariadne spelt the mythological death blow for the way of the Cretan Moon Goddess. Klidemos, by contrast said that Ariadne negotiated a peace treaty with Athens. She also becomes the mythical consort of Dionysus.
Cybele: One of the most exotic deities introduced into Rome was the Great Mother (Magna Mater), borrowed from Asia Minor (modern Turkey) in 204BC.
The following passages marked in quotes come from Frazer (1890 v4/1 263). "Her divine consort is Attis. He was to Phrygia what Adonis was to Syria. Like Adonis, he appears to have been a god of vegetation, and his death and resurrection were annually mourned and rejoiced over at a festival in spring.' The legends and rites of the two gods were so much alike that the ancients themselves sometimes identified them. Attis was said to have been a fair young shepherd or herdsman beloved by Cybele, the Mother of the Gods, a great Asiatic goddess of fertility, who had her chief home in Phrygia.' Some held that Attis was her son.' His birth, like that of many other heroes, is said to have been miraculous. His mother, Nana, was a virgin, who conceived by putting a ripe almond or a pomegranate in her bosom. Indeed in the Phrygian cosmogony an almond figured as the father of all things, perhaps because its delicate lilac blossom is one of the first heralds of the spring, appearing on the bare boughs before the leaves have opened. Such tales of virgin mothers are relics of an age of when men had not yet recognized the intercourse of the sexes as the true cause of offspring."
"Even in later times, when people are better acquainted with the laws of nature, they sometimes imagined that these laws may be subject to exceptions, and that miraculous beings may be born in miraculous ways by women who have never known a man. In Palestine to this day it is believed that a woman may conceive by a jinn or by the spirit of her dead husband."
"Two different accounts death of the death of Attis were current. According to the one he was killed by a boar, like Adonis. According to the other he unmanned himself under a pine - tree, and bled to death on the spot. The legend of which the story forms a part is stamped with a character of rudeness and savagery that speaks strongly for its antiquity. In like manner the worshippers of Adonis abstained from pork, because a boar had killed their god.' After his death Attis is said to have been changed into a pine-tree."
"On the twenty-second day of March, a pine-tree was cut in the woods and brought into the sanctuary of Cybele, where it was treated as a great divinity. The duty of carrying the sacred tree was entrusted to a guild of Tree-bearers. The trunk was swathed like a corpse with woollen bands and decked with wreaths of violets, for violets were said to have sprung from the blood of Attis, as roses and anemones from the blood of Adonis and the effigy of a young man, doubtless Attis himself, was tied to the middle of the stem. The second day was marked by a blast of trumpets."
"The third day, the twenty-fourth of March, was known as the Day of Blood: the Archigallus or high-priest drew blood from his arms and presented it as an offering.' Nor was he alone in making this bloody sacrifice. Stirred by the wild barbaric music of clashing cymbals, rumbling drums, droning horns, and screaming flutes, the inferior clergy whirled about in the dance with waggling heads and streaming hair, until, rapt into a frenzy of excitement and insensible to pain, they gashed their bodies with potsherds or slashed them with knives in order to bespatter the altar and the sacred tree with their flowing blood.' The ghastly rite probably formed part of the mourning for Attis and may have been intended to strengthen him for the resurrection. Wrought up to the highest pitch of religious excitement they dashed the severed portions of themselves against the image of the cruel goddess."
"These broken instruments of fertility were afterwards reverently wrapped up and buried in the earth or in subterranean chambers sacred to Cybele, where, like the offering of blood, they may have been deemed instrumental in recalling Attis to life and hastening the general resurrection of nature, which was then bursting into leaf and blossom in the vernal sunshine. Some confirmation of this conjecture ,is furnished by the savage story that the mother of Attis conceived by putting in her bosom a pomegranate sprung from the severed genitals of a man-monster named Agdestis, a sort of double of Attis."
"Other Asiatic goddesses of fertility were served in like manner by eunuch priests. These feminine deities required to receive from their male ministers, who personated the divine lovers, the means of discharging their beneficent functions: they had themselves to be impregnated by the life-giving energy before they could transmit it to the world. Goddesses thus ministered to by eunuch priests were the great Artemis of Ephesus and the great Syrian Astarte of Hierapolis. The unsexed priests of this Syrian goddess resembled those of Cybele so closely that some people took them to be the same."
"The greatest festival of the year at Hierapolis fell at the beginning of spring, when multitudes thronged to the sanctuary from Syria and the regions round about. While the flutes played, the drums beat, and the eunuch priests slashed themselves with knives, the religious excitement gradually spread like a wave among the crowd of onlookers, and many a one did that which he little thought to do when he came as a holiday spectator to the festival. For man after man, his veins throbbing with the music, his eyes fascinated by the sight of the streaming blood, flung his garments from him, leaped forth with a shout, and seizing one of the swords which stood ready for the purpose, castrated himself on the spot."
"Then he ran through the city holding the bloody pieces in his hand, till he threw them into one of the houses which he passed in his mad career. The household thus honoured had to furnish him with a suit of female attire and female ornaments which he wore for the rest of his life. When the tumult of emotion had subsided, and the man had come to himself again, the irrevocable sacrifice must often have been followed by passionate sorrow and lifelong regret."
"The parallel of these Syrian devotees confirms the view that in the similar ' worship of Cybele the sacrifice of virility virility took place on the Day of Blood at the vernal rites of the goddess, when the violets, supposed to spring from the red drops of her wounded lover, were in bloom among the pines. Indeed the story that Attis unmanned himself under a pine- tree was clearly devised to explain why his priests did the same beside the sacred violet-wreathed tree at his festival."
"At all events, we can hardly doubt that the Day of Blood witnessed the mourning for Attis over an effigy of him which was afterwards buried.' Throughout the period of mourning the worshippers fasted from bread, nominally because Cybele had done so in her grief for the death of Attis,' but really perhaps for the same reason which induced the women of Harran to abstain from eating anything ground in a mill while they wept for Tammuz. To partake of bread or flour at such a season might have been deemed a wanton profanation of the bruised and broken body of the god. Or the fast may possibly have been a preparation for a sacramental meal."
"But when night had fallen, the sorrow of the worshippers was turned to joy. For suddenly a light shone in the darkness: the tomb was opened: the Lord had risen from the dead; and as the priest touched the lips of the weeping mourners with balm, he softly whispered in their cars the glad tidings of salvation. The resurrection of the god was hailed by his disciples as a promise that they too would issue triumphant from the corruption of the grave."
"On the morrow, the twenty-fifth day of March, which was reckoned the vernal equinox, the divine resurrection was celebrated with a wild outburst of glee. At Rome, and probably elsewhere, the celebration took the form of a carnival. It was the Festival of joy (Hilaria). A universal licence prevailed. Every man might say and do what he pleased. People went about the streets in disguise. No dignity was too high or too sacred for the humblest citizen to assume with impunity."
"The next day, the twenty-sixth of March, was given to repose, which must have been much needed after the varied excitements and fatigues of the preceding days.' Finally, the Roman festival closed on the twenty-seventh of March with a procession to the brook Almo. The silver image of the goddess, with its face of jagged black stone, sat in a wagon drawn by oxen. Preceded by the nobles walking barefoot, it moved slowly, to the loud music of pipes and tambourines, out by the Porta Capena, and so down to the banks of the Almo, which flows into the Tiber just below the walls of Rome. There the high-priest, robed in purple, washed the wagon, the image, and the other sacred objects in the water of the stream. On returning from their bath, the wain and the oxen were strewn with fresh spring flowers. All was mirth and gaiety. No one thought of the blood that had flowed so lately" (Frazer 1890 v4/1 263).
Many Roman writers described Cybele's arrival in Rome and the fantastic events that surrounded it. The following account is drawn largely from the poet Ovid, writing in the 1 st century BC (Willis 171). Hoping for victory in their war against the Carthaginians under Hannibal, the Romans consulted a local oracle, which gave a strange response: "The mother is absent: seek the mother. When she comes, she must be received by chaste hands." Puzzled, they applied to the Greek oracle at Delphi for a second opinion, and the oracle advised that they should "fetch the Mother of the Gods, who is to be found on Mount Ida". So they sent an embassy to King Attalus, in whose territory Mount Ida stood, and asked if they might remove the cult image of the Great Mother to Rome. Attalus refused permission, but then the goddess herself miraculously spoke, saying that it was her own wish to go. Awed by these words, the king gave his consent and a boat was then built to carry the precious cargo. The long voyage across the Mediterranean ended at Ostia, Rome's port at the mouth of the Tiber, where all the citizens came to meet the goddess. Men tried to pull the boat to shore, but it was grounded on a mudbank and could not be shifted. The Romans were afraid they would not be able to fulfil the terms of the oracle. But then Claudia Quinta came forward - a noblewoman who was wrongly accused of being unchaste, on the grounds that dressed too elegantly and had too ready tongue in arguments with men. Knowing herself to be innocent she stepped into the river mouth and held up her hands in prayer to the Great Mother. "If I am innocent of all charges," she exclaimed, "yield, goddess, to my chaste hands." She then drew in the boat effortlessly, and the cult image was escorted to its new temple.
The Romans always had mixed feelings about the Great Mother. On the one hand, her ecstatic cult, with its self-castrated Priests, wild music and dancing, seemed foreign in character. On the other hand, because her homeland near Troy was the ultimate origin of th Roman race (according to the Aeneas I end), she was seen as a "native" deity.
Second Face India: Kali the Dark Mother of Time
An illustration of the full force of the sacrificial cycle of EVE surviving unchanged to modern times is seen in Kali the black mother, and the meriahs of modern tribal sacrificial cults of the great mother. The Indus Valley civilizations which preceded the Aryan conquests and the introduction of the Rig Veda and it's brahmanic warrior cultures from the north demonstrate the same themes we have seen in Sumeria. We see the counterpoint between the sacrificial goddess of the "bodhi" tree, and the King of the Beasts, who already displays the yogic posture, so central to Eastern mysticism.
The complementation of female and male becomes the central Tantric theme of creation, as it is in many earth mother - sky father myths, except here the eternal unity of the cosmos in embracing sexual union retreats so that the female objective reality separates from the male subjective, and in her dance of illusion, her womb generates the divided world of objects in space and time.
Kali, along with Kan, Durge "difficult of approach" the terrible one of many names, is a manifestation of the dark mother of the Deccan, whose stomach is a void which can never be filled and gorges blood and death and from whose womb life ever springs anew demonstrates the full force of destruction possessed by the ancient mother. "A river of blood has been pouring continuously for millennia, from beheaded offerings, through channels carved to return it, still living, to its divine source." Not content with destroying the demons which threaten the cosmic order, she becomes so drunk with blood on the battlefield that she begins to destroy the world. She holds the severed head of Shiva, from whose neck run the waters of new life. She is pictured copulating with him as the corpse, or standing on his prostrate body (Campbell 1962 171, Mookerjee61).
" It is she alone who is known as Maha-Kali (Mighty Time), Nitya-Kali (Endless Time), Shmashana-Kali (Kali of the Buming-ground), Raksha-Kali (Guardian Kali), and Shyama- Kali (the Black One). ... When there were neither the creation, nor the sun, the moon, the planets, and the earth, and when darkness was enveloped in darkness, then the Mother, the Formless One, Maha-Kali, the Great Power, was one with Maha-Kala, the Absolute. Shyama-Kali has a somewhat tender aspect. ... the Dispenser of boons and the Dispeller of fear. People worship Raksha-Kali, the Protectress, in times of epidemic, famine, earthquake, drought, and flood. Shmashana-Kali is the embodiment of the power of destruction. She resides in the cremation ground, surrounded by corpses, jackals, and terrible female spirits. From her mouth flows a stream of blood, from her neck hangs a garland of human heads, and around her waist is a girdle made of human hands. After the destruction of the universe, at the end of the great cycle, the Divine Mother garners the seeds for the next creation." In her disciple, Ramakrishna's words "Oh she plays in different ways. ... Bondage and liberation are both of her making. ... She is called the Saviour, and the Remover of the bondage that binds one to the world. ... She is self-willed and must always have her own way. She is full of bliss." It is no irony that Ramakrishna entered into his three-day maha-samadhi while contemplating destroying himself with her sword, because the cosmic mother is a perfectly powerful agent for death realization (Campbell 1962 165).
"To this day seven or eight hundred goats are slaughtered in three days in the Kalighat, the principal temple of the goddess in Calcutta, during her autumn festival, the Durga Puja. The heads are piled before the image, and the bodies go to the devotees, to be consumed in contemplative communion. Before the prohibition of human sacrifice in 1835, she received from every part of the land even richer fare. In the towering Shiva temple of Tanjore a male child was beheaded before the altar of the goddess every Friday at the holy hour of twilight. In the year 1830, a petty monarch of Bastar, desiring her grace, offered on one occasion twenty-five men at her altar in Dantesh-vari and in the-sixteenth century a king of Cooch Behar immolated a hundred and fifty in that place" (Campbell 1962 5).
"In Assam it was the custom of a certain royal house to offer one human victim at the Durga Puja every year. After having bathed and purified himself, the sacrifice was dressed in new attire, daubed with red sandalwood and vermilion, arrayed with garlands, and, thus bedecked, installed upon a raised dais before the image, where he spent some time in meditation, repeating sacred sounds, and, when ready, made a sign with his finger. The executioner, likewise pronouncing sacred syllables, ... struck off the man's head, which was immediately presented to the Goddess on a golden plate. The lungs, being cooked, were consumed by yogis, and the royal family partook of a small quantity of rice steeped in the sacrificial blood." (Campbell 1962 5)
"A vivid typical lesson is supplied, for example, by the Khonds ... who had victims known as meriah, set apart and often kept for years, who were offered to the Earth Goddess, Tara, to ensure good crops and immunity from disease. To be acceptable, such a figure had to have been either purchased or else born as the child of a meriah. The Khonds, according to report, occasionally sold their own children for this sacrifice, supposing that in death their souls would be singularly blessed. ... They were regarded as consecrated beings and treated with extreme affection and respect, and were available for sacrifice either on extraordinary occasions or at the periodic feasts, before the sowing; so that each family in the village might procure at least once a year a shred of flesh to plant in its field for the boosting of its crop" (Campbell 1962 160).
"Ten or twelve days before the offering, the victim was dedicated, shorn of his hair, and anointed with oil, butter, and turmeric. A season of wild revelry and debauchery followed, at the end of which the meriah was conducted with music and dancing to the meriah grove, a little way from the village, a stand of mighty trees untouched by the axe. Tied there to a post and once more anointed with oil, butter, and turmeric, the victim was garlanded with flowers, while the crowd danced around him, chanting, to the earth: 'O Goddess, we offer to thee this sacrifice; give to us good seasons, crops, and health'; and to the victim: 'We bought thee ,with a price, we did not seize thee, and now, according to custom, we sacrifice thee: no sin rests upon us.' A great struggle to secure magical relics from the decorations of his person flowers or turmeric-or a drop of his spittle, ensued, and the orgy continued until about noon the following day, when the time came, at last, for the consummation of the rite" (Campbell 1962 160).
"The victim was again anointed with oil ... and each person touched the anointed part, and wiped the oil on his own head. In some places they took the victim in procession round the village, from door to door, where some plucked hair from his head, and others begged for a drop of his spittle, with which they anointed their heads. As the victim might not be bound nor make any show of resistance, the bones of his arms and, if necessary, his legs were broken; but often this precaution was rendered unnecessary by stupefying him with opium. The mode of putting him to death varied in different places. One of the commonest modes seems to have been strangulation, or squeezing to death. The branch of a green tree was cleft several feet down the middle; the victim's neck (in other places, his chest) was inserted in the cleft, which the priest, aided by his assistants, strove with all his force to close. Then he wounded the victim slightly with his ax, whereupon the crowd rushed at the wretch and hewed the flesh from the bones, leaving the head and bowels untouched. Sometimes he was cut up alive. In Chinna Kimedy he was dragged along the fields, surrounded by the crowd, who, avoiding his head and intestines, hacked the flesh from his body with their knives till he died" (Campbell 1962 160).
Another very common mode of sacrifice in the same district was to fasten the victim to the proboscis of a wooden elephant, which revolved on a stout post, and, as it whirled round, the crowd cut the flesh from the victim while life remained. ... In one district the victim was put to death slowly by fire. A low stage was formed sloping on either side like a roof; upon it they laid the victim, his limbs wound round with cords to confine his struggles. Fires were then lighted and hot brands applied, to make him roll up and down the slopes of the stage as long as possible; for the more tears he shed the more abundant would be the supply of ram. Next day the body was cut to pieces. ... Each head of a house rolled his shred of flesh in leaves, and buried it in his favourite field, placing it in the earth behind his back without looking (Campbell 1962 160).
Indian police say a couple sacrificed a neighbour's six- year-old daughter to the goddess Kali in the hope it would give them a child of their own. A village witch who told them it was the only way for them to have children was also arrested.
Third Face Pre-Columbian America: The Lady of the Serpent Skirts
The warrior Aztecs likewise are supported ultimately by the destructive forces of the great mother. The lust for human sacrifice was again based on the cosmic cycle, indeed was necessary for the cosmos to continue in its course. "As Earth and as Woman her appearances and her effects were excessively concrete and simple. She did not invite thought or tease the creative fancy. She was the epitome of both terror and bounty and her worshippers experienced her as a whole being, one basically beyond definition. It is true that, because she included so many aspects of the divine, she could and did evolve a multitude of epithetical variations and trans-figurations. But she easily resumed her unique identity and was always all-inclusive. She was Tlalteuctli, Earth Lady, the palpable rock and soil and slime upon which men moved and into which they were lowered at death. But her impact on the Aztecs was a religious seizure and terror ... she was depicted as a gargantuan toad slavering blood with clashing jaws at every joint. She represented chaos. The nurse and nourishing goddesses as well as flower feather, the virgin goddess of spring and sex were of a lighter more fond nature" (Brundage 166).
"There is a group of goddesses bound together by their common hideousness and thirst for blood. ... The semicivilized cultures of the northern steppe delineated these goddesses with truly' monumental power. The later Aztecs were to refine upon these attributes but they did not substantially change them. These goddesses are Coatlicue, Serpent Skirt; Cihuacoatl, Snake Woman; and Itzpapalotl, Obsidian Knife Butterfly. Serpent Skirt ... is described as black, dirty, dishevelled, and of shocking ugliness, as befits a creature of the underground. In the myth she is the mountain itself, the Earth Mother who conceives all the celestial beings out of her cavernous womb: Huitzilopochtli, the sun; Coyolxauhqui, the moon; and the Huitznahua, the host of stars. We conclude that in the myth Serpent Skirt is a locus rather than a power, being the dark world from which all beings spring and within whose body the terrible conflict takes place. Serpent Skirt is associated with Tula and in the Annales de Cuauhtitlan is brought into connection with the fateful confrontation there between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca" (Brundage 166).
Snake Woman has some claim to be considered the most feared and effective of all the goddesses. She was there to trigger those wars over which her son, as the god of war, presided. He was the doer and the victory bringer, she the inciter. This goddess is presented to us as a being almost as horrifying as her alter ego, Coatlicue. The lower part of her face is shown as a crude bare jawbone, and the grisly mouth is stretched wide to indicate her hunger for victims. Her hair is long and stringy, and two knives form a kind of diadem on her forehead. She is clothed and painted in chalky white. She was referred to as a horror and a devourer: she brought nothing but misery and toil and death. Sacrificial death, symbolized by the knife, was her issue - not the issue of some god of war, as we might logically have expected. As if to nail this down with finality, when the Aztecs told the story of a once perfect happiness, it was the goddess, not the male god and deceiver Tezcatlipoca, who lost paradise. And in her role as Tlazolteotl she became outright carnality with all its attendant disasters. No male god, not even Tezcatlipoca, stood for the sensual with such an emphasis. This bias in the Aztecs' understanding of the Great Mother was not at variance, however, with their understanding of her as a totality, an integrity. Certainly no peoples have so richly elaborated the culture of death as have the Aztecs and, if death held such an influence over their creative efforts, who else but the Mother should patronize that point of view?
"At Coatepec (the Serpent Hill) near Tula, the sacrificing Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli was magically conceived by Coatlicue, who was impregnated by a ball of down which descended from heaven. Forewarned of an attempt to kill his mother by his sister Coyolxauhqui and his four hundred brothers, Huitzilopochtli sprang from the womb fully formed and painted blue, wielding his flaming fire-serpent, or xiubcoatl. Cutting off Coyolxauhqui, the Moon's head, and hurling her body down the mountainside, Huitzilopochtli, then routed his brothers, the stars, thereby creating the fifth "sun" or world era" (Willis 242). We thus like the Fall from Eden have the ascendant Sun defeating the Moon Goddess. In a sense, Aztec culture, despite the looming figure of Coatlicue, has made the same paternalistic warrior god mistake of subjugating the knowledge of life to the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence, a desperate cycle of continued sacrifice to keep the sun in its orbit, a failing cosmos, is the Aztec's eventual nemesis. The fact that the Aztec's actually slaughtered the Moon Goddess should be borne very carefully in mind.
By contrast, at the ancient founding centre of Teotihuacan, which lasted from around 200 BC to 700 AD and in 600 was the worlds sixth largest city, the sun and moon were celebrated together with two great pyramids in addition to that of Quetzalcoatl, illustrating an original balance between sun and moon. They were believed to have been created by two warriors who sacrificed themselves, thus setting the stage for eternal sacrifice to keep the sun in its course. Quetzalcoatl as the god of the calendar was influential on all the meso-American cultures including the Maya. The founding of the Quetzalcoatl temple was accompanied by an elaborate ritual sacrifice of an apparently calendric nature involving patterns of 9 richly decorated warriors and four plainer maidens totalling in all some 260. Although life was possible more militaristic than the epithet theocratic age would suggest, this pattern of sacrifice is limited to this one founding incident at Teotihuacan (Berrin 141))
Among the Classic Maya, a young beautiful woman was Moon Goddess and she frequently sits on the crescent of the Maya glyph for moon, bearing the "rabbit in the moon" in her arms. However the Maya also describe the idea that the moon is dimmer because it was wounded by the sun.
The Aztecs had a special type of idol which differed radically in that it was animate and incarnate. This was the ixiptla,"image" or "representative," a person who wore the regalia, acted out the part of the god, and then was sacrificed. In the understanding of the Aztecs the gods moved of their own volition among men. In other words their presences were not conjured up by men. Rather the world was a stage common to both men and gods and therefore, once the gods had assumed their masks and had taken concrete forms, they were at home on earth. Men and gods, however disparate in qualities, lived together in territorial symbiosis. The gods could and did inject themselves into static idols in order to maintain a constant presence and a daily cult of service. Among men, however, they moved dynamically as ixiptla, entering homes on ceremonial occasions, ascending and descending the temple stairs, dancing in public, receiving the liberality of their worshippers and blessing them, cohabiting with young women reserved for them, feasting, etc. In every case the chosen humans wore all or a sufficient part of the regalia of the god in question to be able to dispose of his powers. The ixiptla was considered to be the god in person. ... The extra confidence given them by the living presence of the gods was of incalculable support to them in their piety. Every major god or goddess had his or her ixiptla (Valliant 176).
In the Feast of the Flaying of Men, for instance, each ward in the city of Mexico dressed a slave as the ixiptla of the particular deity of that ward. Before the sun had set each one had been sacrificed. On the other hand, the famous ixiptla of Tezcatlipoca acted out his part for an entire year, at the end of which, universally honoured, he was destroyed, just like the tanist substitutes for the Mesopotamian Sacred Kings. Even the god of death on his special feast day was impersonated by an ixiptla who was duly sacrificed.
"The ceremony in honour of the god Tezcatlipoca was strikingly dramatic, tinged with the pathos with which we view the taking of a life. The handsomest and bravest prisoner of war was selected a year before his execution. Priests taught him the manners of a ruler, and as he walked about, playing divine melodies upon his flute, he received the homage due Tezcatlipoca himself. A month before the day of sacrifice four lovely girls, dressed as goddesses, became his companions and attended to his every want. On the day of his death he took leave of his weeping consorts to lead a procession in his honour, marked by jubilation and feasting. Then he bade farewell to the glittering cortege and left for a small temple, accompanied by the eight priests who had attended him throughout the year. The priests preceded him up the steps of the temple, and he followed, breaking at each step a flute which he had played in the happy hours of his incarnation. At the top of the platform the priests turned him over the sacrificial block and wrenched out his heart. In deference to his former godhood his body was carried, not ignominiously flung, down the steps; but his head joined the other skulls spitted on the rack beside the temple" (Valliant 191).
Like the tears of the year King, "the Aztecs performed a hideous ceremony in honour of the Fire God, Huchueteotl. Prisoners of war and their captors took part in a dance in honour of the god, and the next day the captives ascended to the top of a platform, where a powder, yauhtli (Indian hemp), was cast in their faces to anaesthetize them against their ghastly fate. After preparing a great fire, each priest seized a captive and, binding him hand and foot, lifted him on to his back. A macabre dance took place around the burning coals, and one by one they dumped their burdens into the flames. Before death could intervene to put an end to their suffering the priests fished out the captives with large hooks and wrenched the hearts from their blistered bodies" (Valliant 191)
Lest we forget that maidens were also sacrificed, although less often than men, consider the ixiptla of the corn goddess: "At a great festival in September, which was preceded by a strict fast of seven days, they sanctified a young slave girl of twelve or thirteen years, the prettiest they could find, to represent the Maize Goddess Chicomecohuatl. They invested her with the ornaments of the goddess, putting a mitre on her head and maize-cobs round her neck and in her hands, and fastening a green feather upright on the crown of her head to imitate an ear of maize. This they did, we are told, in order to signify that the maize was almost ripe at the time of the festival, but because it was still tender they chose a girl of tender years to play the part of the Maize Goddess" (Campbell 1959 222).
"The whole long day they led the poor child in all her finery, with the green plume nodding on her head, from house to house dancing merrily to cheer people after the dullness and privations of the fast. In the evening all the people assembled at the temple, the courts of which they lit up by a multitude of lanterns and candles. There they passed the night without sleeping, and at midnight, while the trumpets, flutes, and horns discoursed solemn music, a portable framework or palanquin was brought forth, bedecked with festoons of maize-cobs and peppers and rifled with seeds of all sorts. This the bearers set down at the door of the chamber in which the wooden image of the goddess stood. Now the chamber was adorned and wreathed, both outside and inside, with wreaths of maize-cobs, peppers, pumpkins, roses, and seeds of every kind, a wonder to behold; the whole floor was covered deep with these verdant offerings of the pious. When the music ceased, a solemn procession came forth of priests and dignitaries, with flaring lights and smoking censers, leading in their midst the girl who played the part of the goddess." (Campbell 1959 222).
"Then they made her mount the framework, where she stood upright on the maize and peppers and pumpkins with which it was strewed, her hands resting on two banisters to keep her from falling. Then the priests swung the smoking censers round her; the music struck up again, and while it played, a great dignitary of the temple suddenly stepped up to her with a razor in his hand and adroitly shore off the green feather she wore on her head, together with the hair in which it was fastened, snipping the lock off by the root. The feather and the hair he then presented to the wooden image of the goddess with great solemnity and elaborate ceremonies, weeping and giving her thanks for the fruits of the earth and the abundant crops which she had bestowed on the people that year; and as he wept and prayed, all the people, standing in the courts of the temple, wept and prayed with him. When that ceremony was over, the girl descended from the framework and was escorted to the place where she was to spend the rest of the night" (Campbell 1959 222).
"But all the people kept watch in the courts of the temple by the light of torches till break of day. The morning being come, and the courts of the temple being still crowded by the multitude, who would have deemed it sacrilege to quit the precincts, the priests again brought forth the damsel attired in the costume of the goddess, with the mitre on her head and the cobs of maize about her neck. Again she mounted the portable framework or palanquin and stood on it, supporting herself by her hands on the banisters. Then the elders of the temple lifted it on their shoulders, and while some swung burning censers and others played on instruments or sang, they carried it in procession through the great courtyard to the hall of the god Huitzilopochtli and then back to the chamber, where stood the wooden image of the Maize Goddess, whom the girl personated. There they caused the damsel to descend from the palanquin and to stand on the heaps of corn and vegetables that had been spread in profusion on the floor of the sacred chamber" (Campbell 1959 222).
"While she stood there all the elders and nobles came in a line, one behind the other, carrying saucers full of dry and clotted blood which they had drawn from their ears by way of penance during the seven days' fast. One by one they squatted on their haunches before her, which was the equivalent of falling on their knees with us, and scraping the crust of blood from the saucer cast it down before her as an offering in return for the benefits which she, as the embodiment of the Maize Goddess, had conferred upon them. When the men had thus humbly offered their blood to the human representative of the goddess, the women, forming a long line, did so likewise, each of them dropping on her hams before the girl and scraping her blood from the saucer" (Campbell 1959 222).
"The ceremony lasted a long time, for great and small, young and old, all without exception had to pass before the incarnate deity and make their offering. When it was over, the people returned home with glad hearts to feast on flesh and viands of every sort as merrily, we are told, as good Christians at Easter partake of meat and other carnal mercies after the long abstinence of Lent. And when they had eaten and drunk their fill and rested after the night watch, they returned quite refreshed to the temple to see the end of the festival. And the end of the festival was this" (Campbell 1959 222).
"The multitude being assembled, the priests solemnly incensed the girl who personated the goddess; then they threw her on her back on the heap of corn and seeds, cut off her head, caught the gushing blood in a tub, and sprinkled the blood on the wooden image of the goddess, the wags of the chamber, and the offerings of corn, peppers, pumpkins, seeds, and vegetables which cumbered the floor. After that they flayed the headless trunk, and one of the priests made shift to squeeze himself into the bloody skin. Having done so they clad him in all the robes which the girl had worn; they put the mitre on his head, the necklace of golden maize-cobs about his neck, the maize-cobs of feathers and gold in his hands; and thus arrayed they led him forth in public, all of them dancing to the tuck of drum, while he acted as fugleman, skipping and posturing at the head of the procession as briskly as he could be expected to do, incommoded as he was by the tight and clammy skin of the girl and by her clothes, which must have been much too small for a grown man" (Campbell 1959 222).
The End of Sacrifice
Of course, as time itself, Kali is just the crone we have described. In a sense, every living soul in history has been devoured by her. It is her who is at work when we look in the mirror and see grey hairs appearing overnight. It is also her at work when disease or accident, those manifestations of entropy, strike and sometimes carry us away. But this does not mean that we should slaughter in her name. She will take those who she chooses in her time. It is our duty to placate her as much as possible through harmonious living with nature and through preserving a healing world, not through intentional killing. Neither do we need to offer up our firstborn like many ancient cultures, kill 20,000 people at a time like the Aztecs did to keep the universe in its ordered path, or suffer martyrdom like the Christian and Islamic zealots, to enter directly into heaven.
The limits determined on our part for human sacrifice consist however of the same rites of passage of birth and death, brought more closely into scientific focus: when to allow termination of pregnancy, and when to allow the terminally, or seriously ill, to depart, how to determine which species and which individual organisms to save and protect in a finite, evolving world. These decisions need to be taken carefully by society in full awareness of the circumstances. They cannot be determined by fundamentalistic beliefs and require ethical insight, because in the preservation of the quality of life, all factors need to be accounted with wisdom and foresight.
In the ancient past, sacrifice had many rationales. One was the notion that human beings were merely the servants, surrogates, or even the food of hungry gods. Another deeper one is to maintain fertility and good fortune for the people. It is true that sacrifice, particularly human, can act as a uniquely powerful force to center and align the psychic energy of a people, but there are equally powerful non-destructive ways of doing this. The idea that karma is, or needs to be, driven by destructive acts of sacrifice is false. Good luck is more than equally likely to emerge from healing energy. What is pivotal is the alignment of intent and depth of awareness emerging from the encounter. The most empowering act conceivable is that which celebrates our participation in the Great Becoming - the future golden evolutionary age.