An Offering to Tlaloc in the Burned-Over Forest


Last week M. and I climbed over the ridge to “Camera Trap Spring” (our personal name for it) to leave an offering to Tlaloc.

Thing have changed a little bit since a year ago. The ground is black with ash. Stones have cracked from the heat of a forest fire.

That ground-up bark on the ground is mulch dropped from a helicopter in mid-April. Mixed with grass seed, it is supposed to help the grass grow to hold the slope against erosion. For more about that re-seeding and our visit, see the other blog.

The tiny spring is in the upper right quadrant of the photo. The little jar holds a liquid offering, while the turkey feathers are offered in lieu of a real turkey, which if I had been an old-time Nahuatl-speaker, might have been offered in lieu of a human child.

Obviously, things change.

In my personal practice, I care less about questions of authenticity, ethnicity, book-knowledge, or “the lore” than I do about the land. I think that I live at the fringe of the area in which Tlaloc (or Someone like him) was anciently honored; therefore, for the past two years, I have been trying myself to do so.

This little seasonal spring is like a miniature version of the whole hydrological cycle. Rain and snow fall on the rocky ridge above it — the entire collection area is probably smaller than a football field. Then the spring flows, in direct proportion to the winter snows, until the water is all gone.Through evaporation, through the urine of bears and elk — however it goes — the water flows back into the cycle.

Talking about Tlaloc, 5

I think it is time to rebuild the shrine to Tlaloc under the bridge — the one that was mysteriously augmented last summer.  I had taken it down before the spring run-off, which is just a memory now.

Once the heat abates a little, I need to hike back over the ridge and leave an offering at Camera Trap Spring. The rattlesnake that has been there on my last two trips is its “guardian,” I have decided. What should I bring it, a bouquet of mice?

Actually, I owe that snake a favor, since it did not bite one of the dogs when it had all the opportunity and provocation.

Got to see if the bears have attacked the current camera, too. If they have, I may cede the territory to them for a couple of months. But I will leave an offering too

Meanwhile, the fires. As a former resident of Manitou Springs, I was sweating this Waldo Canyon Fire. As a volunteer firefighter, I can say here in my area we have had an easier time so far than last year — so far — with only one little piece of excitement on Tuesday. That, and we’ll be out patrolling this weekend, looking for illegal campfires.

Talking about Tlaloc, 4

Last June, as our creek began to dry up, I blogged about building a little shrine to Tlaloc, “god of the hydrological cycle” as Craig Childs described him, in a big culvert under our county road.

It snowed, nearly a foot on October 26. The combination of trees pulling up less ground water after freezing weather came, plus the melting snow, started the creek running again. On Halloween night, M. and I were walking the dogs before bed, and we heard a gurgle in the creek bed. Slowly, rock by rock, tiny pool by tiny pool, it was coming back.

By yesterday, the flow had increased. While everything in the shrine was natural (rocks) or biodegradable (turkey feathers, etc.), I thought that I should retrieve the glass jar for the votive candles, before it washed away, broke, and became litter. So I pulled on a pair of rubber boots-of-many-names and waded into the flow.

There was the little shrine, still dry. But what’s this? Here was a bundle of herbs, tied with a string. And here was a bunch of dried-out marigolds. Marigolds, hmmmm. Very traditional, but we had not grown any this year.

I took the jar and left the rest. At night, as we set out on dog walk, I remembered to ask M. if she had left those offerings.

Blank look. No, she had not.

So who did? Not the bears and raccoons. One of the neighbors—and there are not very many of them—has joined in on the cultic activity. But which?

Talking about Tlaloc, 3

Reproduction Aztec sacrificial "Tlaloc" knife offered on eBay. Click to embiggen.

As I wrote about earlier, I have been maintaining a small shrine to the rain god Tlaloc under a nearby county-road bridge. Our creek—currently dry except for a couple of beaver ponds upstream—goes through a culvert there, one big enough for me to walk through standing straight.

When my shrine washes away, I will be happy to rebuild it in a different place!

The culvert is as near as I can come to the classic site:

Tlaloc did not only dwell in temples and on mountain tops. He lived in moist, fertile, and secluded caves too.

But the reason you will not find me going too far in any kind of neo-Aztec direction is that I am a little squeamish about sacrificing kids. Just candles and turkey feathers so far.

Yep, children were (are?) Tlaloc’s favorite—or so the Aztecs thought. Some were kids from enemy tribes, captured during raids or the flower wars. (As a euphemism, doesn’t “flower war” beat  Obama’s “kinetic military action” completely?) Or sometimes not. You had to be tough to be Aztec nobility.

The children were beautifully adorned, dressed in the style of Tlaloc and the Tlaloque. On litters strewn with flowers and feathers; surrounded by dancers, they were transported to a shrine and their hearts would be pulled out by priests.

If, on the way to the shrine, these children cried their tears were viewed as signs of imminent and abundant rains. Children who did not weep could have their fingernails torn off in order to achieve this effect. Every Atlcahualo festival, seven children were sacrificed in and around Lake Tetzcoco in the Aztec capital. They were either slaves or the second born children of nobles. . . According to the chronicler Durán, Tlaloc had the additional name of ‘Path Under the Earth’ or ‘Long Cave’.

Investigators such as Doris Heyden suggest that the little passages that lead off of the main caves underneath the Sun Pyramid in Teotihuacan could have been used to house the bodies of children that were sacrificed to this god each year. At an excavation elsewhere, the burial chambers of seven infants placed in a circle inside a cave were found. The centre of the cave roof was open and let in rain. There were also storing facilities thought to have once been grain deposits. The archaeologist who worked on this site, Linda Manzanilla, equated the caves, water, childrens’ bodies and grain with the mythical Tlalocan; the Tlaloque who lived there were small, like children, and it was abundant with both water and grain. Out of Tlalocan’s opening came the rain, seeds and new life and into it came the dead and retreating rain clouds

Well, there is a cosmology for you. How far down that road to go?

Was Tlaloc “the same” as the Mayan “Chaac,” or did one god displace the other, as this article (in Spanish) suggests, during a desperate time of drought?

Afterthought: the school bus used to stop almost on top of the shrine. Currently it does not, because there are no kids on our road young enough to ride it—except for two who are apparently homeschooled.  You cannot escape these connections?

Talking about Tlaloc, 2

A turkey feather and a candle for Tlaloc. This culvert carries Hardscrabble Creek under a road—what is left of it.

In her comment on my first Tlaloc post, Hecate Demetersdatter asks,  “What was/is it about Tlaloc that called/calls to you?”

It was my reading and re-reading of Craig Childs’ House of Rain that made me conscious of how important a deity Tlaloc (under various names) had been from antiquity to the present day in the American Southwest and on south into Mesoamerica. (Childs, no avowed polytheist, tends to regard him simply as the personification of the hydrological cycle.)

If we might regard deities as connected with place, then I am in that place and subject to that hydrological cycle—a cycle that seems to have stalled a bit this year.

And as Tlaloc has been addressed in many tongues already, why not add English to them?

Also, looking forward to the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Francisco, I obviously need to eat here.


Talking about Tlaloc

Feather offering for Tlaloc
Bundle of turkey, Steller’s jay, and flicker feathers placed in a dry spring basin.

On Friday morning, April 29, back from a early morning fire call (shed + trash + grasses at the edge of the prairie), I climbed the ridge behind the house and made an offering to Tlaloc, the god of rain.

(I think I need to make a lot more of them, given that it has not rained for a month.)

Later that day the Sand Gulch Fire exploded, forcing us to evacuate our house and spend the night in our pop-up camping trailer parked next to the fire station. But the next day it snowed four inches, helping to bring the fire under control.

The desert ecologist and nature writer Craig Childs got me thinking about Tlaloc a while ago with some evocative passages in his book House of Rain, which I reviewed on the other blog here (also referenced in this post).

At high, prominent springs or caves in Guatemala or the Yucatán,  one is likely to find the head of a decapitated rooster (replacing the turkey, which was commonly used in the past) along with pools of melted wax from votive candles (365).

This post kicks off my discussion about being an American Eclectic Witch reviving the cult of Tlaloc on a household basis—no stepped pyramids here, just real mountains.


Both Aztec depictions of Tlaloc and Mayan depictions of the equivalent deity, Chaac (if you follow a sort of interpretatio azteca), leave me cold aesthetically, for all that they are richly symbolic. But one thing at a time—perhaps I can find one done in the style of pop-Mexican calendar art.

The worship of the gods can change over time—consider this “feast of St. Tlaloc.” We could do that!

More to come.

Get Right with Tlaloc

On a recent trip to look at some Anasazi / Ancestral Puebloan ruins in northeast Arizona, I took Craig Childs’ book House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest as my guide book.

Driving and backpacking from southwest Colorado down into Sonora, Mexico, over a period of years, Childs interviews archaeologists, walks trails, and examines ruins to try to begin to construct a narrative history of what might have happened in the Southwest between the 11th and 15th centuries CE.

A god’s presence lurks throughout the book but is not revealed until the latter parts. That god is Tlaloc (his Aztec name, but he is cross-cultural), the god of rain,  whose cult he calls “the oldest recognizable religious complex in the Americas.” (But might not some hunters’ gods be older?)

In essence Tlaloc is a rain god and has long been the focus of mountaintop and cave offerings and sacrifices …. Both the symbolic and the practical aspects of Tlaloc religion are very similar to those of the Pueblo katsina religion still practiced in the Southwest (459).

This “pan-American rain god” is still acknowledged in the United States. Climbing a mountain in one of the isolated “sky island” ranges of southeastern Arizona, Childs notes, “Caves throughout the Sky Islands are stashed with wooden katsinas and painted offerings. Hanks of human hair are hung in natural subterranean passages, and precious stones are positioned around springs” (364-5).

His is a religion “centered on the mechanics of water,” the spiritual expression of the hydrological cycle.

Here where we track thunderstorm cells on the NOAA radar via the Web, wishing them to veer north or south and pass over our house, where we monitor the creek levels day by day, water is serious business. (In my newspaper days, I referred to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District as “the secret government.”  Who needs the Freemasons, Communists, or Opus Dei?  None of them control the water.)

Tlaloc needs a local shrine, and I know just the place, about thirty minutes’ hike from the back door. It will do for a start.