Numerous Aztec creation myths revolve around the creation of the Earth. One of these tales involves the historic 24-ton Stone of the Five Suns, which was found near the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlán, the capital city of the Aztec Empire. The symbols depicted on this stone split the cosmic age into five eras, each of which was governed by a sun god: the Jaguar Sun, Wind Sun, Rain Sun, Water Sun and – our current world – the Earthquake Sun.
WRITING AND CULTURE
The Aztecs used ‘codices’ to record their artistic pictorial manuscripts, which children were taught at an early age in school. All children were allowed to go to school in the Aztec Empire, regardless of their status. The codices were preserved in libraries and documented historical events, calendar dates, information about tributes and ancestries as well as the Earth’s creation myth. This information was chronicled in the form of recurring colourful pictographs made by the People of the Sun.
BEGINNING OF CREATION
According to the Aztec creation myth, since the beginning of time there were four worlds, and therefore four suns, before the world and sun we have today. They were all created and destroyed by divine power. In the beginning, Ōmeteōtl (OME), known as the ‘mother and father of the gods’, created the first four deities, Xipe Totec (XIP), Tezcatlipoca (TEZ), Quetzalcōātl (QUE) and Huītzilōpōchtli (HUI), from the void of the universe. Each one of them was expected to rule over a point on the compass. In the myth, Tezcatlipoca (TEZ) and Quetzalcōātl (QUE) join forces to kill the crocodile earth monster Cipactli (CIP). Heaven, Earth and the Underworld ultimately emerged from this deed. Quetzalcōātl (QUE) and Huītzilōpōchtli (HUI) were destined to rule this new world.
VOLCANIC AND GLASSY
Dark, glassy and smooth – obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass created when lava cools rapidly. The grip of the Pen of the Year 2022 is made of this cool, matt stone. Aztec commoners made swords, spearheads and arrowheads out of this sharp-edged matter. In addition to commoners, Aztec society consisted of nobility, slaves and travelling merchants. However, they were all treated the same in the eyes of the courts. Despite their special privileges, the nobility often had harsher punishments for the same offences as the other classes. In mythology, Tezcatlipoca (TEZ), the god of the north, wears jaguar garments and carries an obsidian mirror and a tecpatl knife made of black obsidian.
Human giants populated this first world in the era of the Jaguar Sun, which was personified by Tezcatlipoca (TEZ). These human giants could tear out trees with their bare hands. New gods were created, including the water gods Tlaloc (TLA), the god of rain and earthly fertility, and Chalchiuhtlicue (CHA), the goddess of lakes, rivers and oceans. However, a fight erupted between Quetzalcōātl (QUE) and Tezcatlipoca (TEZ), during which Quetzalcōātl (QUE) knocked Tezcatlipoca (TEZ) out of the sky and into the sea. In his fury, Tezcatlipoca (TEZ) transformed into a mighty jaguar and commanded his pack of raging jaguars to devour all human giants, thus ending the world of the Jaguar Sun.
TURQUOISE AND FEATHERS
Mictlāntēcutli (MIC) – the god of the dead – adorns the end piece of the Pen of the Year 2022. According to myth, when the world was created, the gods divided it into the heavens, the Earth and the underworld. Depictions of Mictlāntēcutli (MIC) portray him as a skull wearing a headdress adorned with owl feathers. Aztecs considered skeletons to be symbols of fertility, health and excess. Decorated skulls still play a key role in Mexican culture today, particularly on the Day of the Dead. Feathers, especially from owls, hummingbirds and parrots, were more highly valued than gold in Aztec culture. The engraved turquoise set into the end piece represents this god of the dead and the power and look associated with him.
In the second sun cycle, ruled over by Quetzalcōātl (QUE), the Earth was populated by people who were not very civilised. They even stopped worshipping their gods. In response, the god Tezcatlipoca (TEZ) transformed these animalistic beings into monkeys. However, his former adversary Quetzalcōātl (QUE) – also known as the feathered serpent – had truly adored the flawed people. So much so that, in a fit of rage, he unleashed a mighty whirlwind that blew all the monkeys away, thus ending the world of the Wind Sun.
As a creator deity, Quetzalcōātl (QUE) – the feathered serpent – was involved in the creation of humankind. He was known as the Aztec god of the sun and wind, air and learning. His name means ‘serpent with precious feathers’. The ‘feathered serpent’ has been worshipped since the first century BC and was later said to have been the inventor of books and the calendar. In mythology, Quetzalcōātl (QUE) goes to the underworld to create new human beings from the bones of the dead. However, the bones had been broken into different lengths. This was thought to be the reason we humans are different heights.
TEMPLES AND SACRIFICES
The charcoal-grey barrel of the Pen of the Year 2022, which has a diamond-like carbon coating, has a military look to it. The walls found in Templo Mayor, which were made of rows of skulls, are the inspiration behind this design. These human sacrifices came from the flower wars – planned and coordinated battles in which Eagle warriors and Jaguar warriors were the elites. The Aztecs held ceremonies to offer the sacrifices to their gods, especially Tlaloc (TLA) and Huītzilōpōchtli (HUI), who both have shrines in a pyramid at Templo Mayor dedicated to them. To this day, ‘tzompantli’ (skull racks) can be found in many historical buildings throughout Central America.
In the third sun cycle, it was the turn of Tlaloc (TLA), the powerful god of rain, to rule. He decided whether to bestow plentiful harvests or droughts that plagued the land upon Earth. Crestfallen because Tezcatlipoca (TEZ) seduced and stole his wife Xochiquetzal (XOC), Tlaloc sank into deep discontent and anguish. He left plant life to wither, and a huge drought swept across the world. People begged for rain, which stoked Tlaloc’s anger. He sent a fierce rain of fire, which scorched the entire world. Nevertheless, some people shape-shifted into birds and were able to flee. This marked the end of the Rain Sun cycle.
GEMSTONE AND WATER
As one of their most valuable treasures, the Aztecs adored the rare turquoise gemstone. Two turquoise discs are set into the Pen of the Year 2022, one in the cap top and one in the barrel’s end piece. The blue-green stone was highly prized by the Aztecs, who used it to decorate masks, knives and shields as well as for ritual purposes. The Aztecs worshipped the god Xiuhtecuhtli (XIU) as the ‘Turquoise Lord’. He was married to Chalchiuhtlicue (CHA), the goddess of lakes, rivers and oceans. Water was the most valuable commodity for the Aztecs, whose culture was considered highly advanced: They built dams, aqueducts, canal systems and planted artificial islands called ‘chinampas’. This was how they supplied their huge population with food and drinking water.
In the fourth sun cycle, Chalchiuhtlicue (CHA) ruled. She was thought to be the wife of Xiuhtecuhtli (XIU) and Tlaloc (TLA). The water goddess was concerned with the welfare of the Aztecs. However, the treacherous Tezcatlipoca (TEZ) deeply wounded her by alleging she was faking her benevolence for her own personal gain. Crushed, Chalchiuhtlicue (CHA) exacted her revenge by unleashing 52 years of rainfall, which caused a devastating flood in which everyone on Earth either drowned or turned into a fish. This marked the end of the fourth sun cycle.
EAGLE AND CACTUS
The god Huītzilōpōchtli (HUI) decreed that the Aztecs should seek a new home in the place where an eagle sits on a cactus devouring a snake. After 200 years of exploration, they spotted the prophesied image in the marshy Lake Texcoco. The grooved shape of the cap on the Pen of the Year 2022 represents that prickly pear cactus, which was growing on stony ground in the middle of the lake. The eagle is engraved in the turquoise gemstone in the end of the cap. The place where the Aztec people settled in ca. 1320 after following the prophecy is now one of the largest cities in the world: Mexico City.
Quetzalcōātl (QUE) – the feathered serpent – did not accept the annihilation of his people. In the fifth sun cycle, he went to the underworld to create new people. Huītzilōpōchtli’s (HUI) ‘Earthquake Sun’ illuminated the sky. Every day and every night since, Huītzilōpōchtli (HUI) has fought with his sister Coyolxāuhqui (COY), the goddess of the moon and the stars, which shine in the sky at night. To offer the mighty Huītzilōpōchtli (HUI) strength, the Aztecs brought him human sacrifices to eat. According to the myth, if the sacrifices did not happen or the people fell from grace, this fifth sun would turn black, and the world would be destroyed by a major earthquake.