By Kirby Vickery on the July 2020 Edition
Almost every culture, both modern and ancient, has had affairs in their folklore with both animals and the night sky. To me, early humankind’s populations demanded reason behind the thousands the pin pricks of light poking through the vail of darkness when their particular sun god dipped below the horizon. As animation was important to each creation story, the locals tossed in all their favorite animals that were here before humankind.
Universally, they were given intelligence and communication abilities in these stories. Even Australia’s native races have some really interesting tales concerning the stars and that continent’s unique animals. We know that the Mayan people were the ones that put a rabbit on the moon and, as soon as I can figure out how to condense a wonderful story of about 5,000 words down into about 1,000, I’ll put it in the Manzanillo Sun.
My personal interests in the night sky started while I was working in Tijuana and visiting Phoenix every weekend on my motorcycle to see my then fiancée. I would leave her on Sunday evenings to take my shortcut back to the San Diego area. This took me through some back roads which were perfect city light blockers and I could pull over and lie back on the bike and view the desert sky’s armada of stars. I even had an Arizona Highway Patrol officer stop and view me from time to time.
Later, when I married and moved to Tempe, Arizona, my first classes at Arizona State University were history because of my love of the subject and astronomy. I wanted to know about all those little pin pricks I had been looking at almost every Sunday night for a year. Moreover, like the Mayans and the Aztecs,
I fell in love with the Pleiades. This star group also figures heavily in Mesoamerican storytelling and is featured in their story of the rabbit in the Moon.
The Aztecs took a somewhat different view of their rodent-gods. They had 400 drunken Rabbit Gods that were the children of Mayahuel (Goddess of Alcohol) and Petecatl (God of Medicine). These 400 thirsty bunnies stood for the different ways Aztecs could intoxicate themselves.
It’s interesting to note that 400 was also the Aztec number which represented ‘infinity’. Therefore, when someone got absolutely smashed, people would say he was ‘drunk as 400 rabbits’. Some of these rabbits also had names with background stories.
The traditional drink of the Aztecs was called pulque, which is a milk-colored, somewhat viscous liquid that produces a light foam. It is made by fermenting the sap of certain types of agave plants. In contrast, mezcal is made from the cooked heart of those plants, and tequila, a variety of mezcal, is made all or mostly from the blue agave.
The drink wasn’t for just anyone to drink. Only old people could taste from this sacred potion. Youngsters who got caught drinking were severely punished, with a penalty of ´death by strangling´. The reason that young Aztecs couldn’t drink pulque originated in a myth. In this story, the Goddess of Flowers (including the maguey and its sap), Xochitl gave some pulque to the King of Tula, who got drunk and attacked her. The Aztecs made sure that drinking became a sole activity of old and experienced men who could control themselves. [I wonder how that belief would go over in today’s world. Ed.]
After the attack incident, Mayahuel became the new Goddess of Pulque. The ‘infinite’ amount of children she had with her husband, Petecatl, who was believed to be responsible for fer-mentation, were pictured as rabbits, which she nursed with this alcoholic beverage. The Aztec name for this nest of bunnies was Centzon Tōtōchtin, which literally means 400 rabbits, also known as the Gods of Drunkenness.
According to the legend, they would gather on a regular basis to test their livers. Here are some of the main characters from this chapter of Aztec mythology. Keep in mind that the Aztecs sometimes used numbers as first names:
Tepoztecatl (Ome Tochtli) – ‘Two Rabbit’: (The Toltecs had a “One Rabbit.” It was the first of their 52-year cycle and the Aztecs revered the Toltecs as the Mesoamerican people that came before them.) Ome Tochtli or Tepoztecatl, as he was actually named, was considered king of the Drunken Rabbits and God of Pulque. Where his mother is also connected to nourishment, Ome Tochtli is all about fertility and drunkenness, which makes one suspect that, like today, many babies in those days were conceived after the libido was raised by alcohol.
Macuiltochtli – ‘Five Rabbit’: Macuiltochtli was the official God of Alcoholic Beverages but he also stood for excess with alco-hol and the consequences for that behavior. Basically, the Rabbit God of Getting Smashed and Hangovers.
Tequechmecauiani – God of Hanging: Apparently, it wasn’t un-common for people in the Aztec Empire to accidently hang themselves when they were drunk. People who feared they would end up in a lethal noose would make an offering to this Rabbit God. Possibly, this example refers to the cruel death penalty by strangling for youngsters who secretly got drunk.
Colhuatzincatl – The Winged One: A fourth rodent with a taste for pulque. Actually, very little is known about this member of the Centzon Tōtōchtin, just that he was often referred to as ‘The Winged One’. Very experienced drinkers will tell you that this was probably the God of one of the earlier stages of intox-ication.
Toltecatl – God of Early Civilization: When Toltecatl was not getting smashed with his divine brothers, he was simply the God of the older Toltec Culture, which the Aztecs respected and saw as their cultural and intellectual predecessors. From what they knew, basically, the start of civilization.
Techalotl – God of Dance: ‘Squirrel’, and he was also one of the Gods of Dance. It should not be too hard to understand why Techalotl was one of the Centzon Tōtōchtin. He symbolized that maniac on the dancefloor stepping on everyone’s toes.
The fable of the 400 does not have a happy ending, however. One day they made the mistake of killing the mother of Huitzi-lopochtli, the Aztec God of War and the Sun. He chased them all down and decapitated some bunnies, ripped out some hearts, stabbed them or simply threw them off a temple, till all the Centzon Tōtōchtin were dead.
Some say this fable gives credence to the Aztec fondness for human sacrifice. I say that these fables gave the individual Aztec a guide in the description of degree of inebriation one sees or achieves at the local pub, which can be viewed with a smile or a frown.
Kirby was born in a little burg just south of El Paso, Texas called Fabens. As he understand it, they we were passing through. His history reads like a road atlas. By the time he started school, he had lived in five places in two states. By the time he started high school, that list went to five states, four countries on three continents. Then he joined the Air Force after high school and one year of college and spent 23 years stationed in eleven or twelve places and traveled all over the place doing administrative, security, and electronic things. His final stay was being in charge of Air Force Recruiting in San Diego, Imperial, and Yuma counties. Upon retirement he went back to New England as a Quality Assurance Manager in electronics manufacturing before he was moved to Production Manager for the company’s Mexico operations. He moved to the Phoenix area and finally got his education and ended up teaching. He parted with the university and moved to Whidbey Island, Washington where he was introduced to Manzanillo, Mexico. It was there that he started to publish his monthly article for the Manzanillo Sun. He currently reside in Coupeville, WA, Edmonton, AB, and Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico, depending on whose having what medical problems and the time of year. His time is spent dieting, writing his second book, various articles and short stories, and sightseeing Canada, although that seems to be limited in the winter up there.