Note from Cesar Torres
Today marks the celebration of Independence Day in Mexico, when the Mexican people liberated themselves from colonial Spanish rule in 1810. It’s an auspicious date, because it also marks the beginning of the new mini-series Caught Up In The Coil here on my site. The series amplifies the concepts of how Aztec thought and religion impacted not just the people of Mexico, but the fictional sci-fi universe I have generated with the two first volumes of my Coil series. My connections to Mexico run deep as roots inside me, and it's a perfect day today to kick things off.
This summer, I launched an apprenticeship program, and young author Michael Evans worked with me for several weeks to learn journalism and writing skills. He dove deep into my Coil book series and he explored many of its mysteries. As a result, he has written several new posts that take a fresh perspective on the novels. Michael is part of generation Z, and he’s also a self-published prodigy. He has not even entered university yet (he’s taking a gap year), but he’s already published Control Freakz, a series of paperback sci fi thrillers that have made a huge impact on readers of young adult fiction. I will be publishing a new post from Michael week by week, and I think you will be astounded at the way in which he approached the characters, stories and themes of my book series. Enjoy. —Cesar Torres, Chicago
How A Sci-fi Novel Introduced Me to a Bloodthirsty Aztec God
By Michael Evans
Before reading 9 Lords of Night by Cesar Torres I wouldn’t have known the difference between Xipe Totec, who is an Aztec deity, and almost any other Aztec god or goddess. Cesar Torres’ novel 9 Lords of Night immediately grabbed me into the story with its exciting thriller-like pace, sci-fi world building, and most of all, the mysterious murder of Marlene Grue that is suspected to be in connection with the movie 9 Lords of Night (this is a fictional movie but should really be a real thing) in which I was introduced into the Mexica or Aztec culture and religion.
Being an author of science fiction novels, and someone who naturally tends to read about nanobots, brain computer interfaces, and the perils of climate change, ancient Aztec mythology and traditions were a totally foreign land to me. If I’m honest, in many ways they still are. The more I learn about this beautiful culture, the more I understand how wonderfully complex it is, and how simple my understanding of it is. Nevertheless, although the science fiction and thriller elements of 9 Lords of Night drew me into the book (I’m always a sucker for that combination) it was the elements of Aztec mythology, specifically that of Xipe Totec, that kept me reading and wanting to explore deeper into the world of Aztec culture upon finishing.
If the word Aztec rings a bell from a middle school or high school world history class, you are definitely thinking about the right civilization. In the case of the Aztecs, they were the great civilization of Central America with Tenochitlan, a floating island city of 200,000 people (bigger than any city in Europe at the time), as the capital of their empire. Upon the conquest of the Spanish, specifically Hernan Cortes, the Aztec empire fell, and the Spaniards killed the majority of the Aztec people. Many others died of disease. Despite this genocide, 1.5 million people speak the Aztec language of Nahuatl in Central Mexico today and through thousands of drawings, archaeological artifacts and temples, Aztec mythology, culture, and history lives on.
Aztec religion differs in some crucial and insightful areas from the more traditional religious ideologies that most of us are exposed to in the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. Aztec mythology is composed of at least 200 gods (similar to Greek mythology) of which Xipe Totec or the “Flayed One” is the god of spring, agricultural renewal, fertility, is the patron god of goldsmiths and gemstone workers, and was said to cure many diseases, specifically eye illnesses. Xipe Totec is one of the four children of Ometeotl, the first Aztec god which created itself and is both male and female so it can reproduce on its own. The four children of Ometeotl all represent different directions with the Aztec empire at the center of the universe and Xipe Totec symbolizing the direction north. The four children also happen to be major forces present in Cesar Torres’ first novel in the Coil, 13 Secret Cities, which I happened to read before 9 Lords of Night and also highly recommend as well.
At first glance it may seem as if Xipe Totec is a peaceful god who picks flowers during the day time, but this deity, which first originated in the Olmec and Yope peoples (these peoples preceded the rise of the Aztec empire), is also disturbingly dark in his character. He wears the skin of sacrificed humans as clothing over his body, and he’s often depicted with perforated ears, red lips, and elaborate ornamentation.
The Aztec people paid tribute to Xipe Totec, so they would have a good harvest next spring. They did so by staging gladiator battles called Tlahuahuanaliztli. These battles, which took place during the Festival of Tlacaxipehualiztli or Snake Festival, which was a forty-day long festival dedicated to Xipe Totec, had one warrior with no weapons (or a sword of feathers), and the other warrior had a sword of obsidian and yeah you can picture the rest… the one without weapons is killed real fast in a duel to the death.
After these gladiator battles, the reason they call Xipe Totec the Flayed One becomes obvious—it is his desire for human flesh and blood. That’s why after killing the people (often they were war captives or a priest who dressed up in red feathers and golden jewelry for the forty-day festival) the Aztecs skinned the bodies, disgorged the hearts, and then dyed the skin yellow. Then the dried, yellow, dead human skin would be draped over an Aztec priest and worn by them in a ritualistic ceremony called Tozoztontl, or the skin would be put on the backs of young men who were forced to go around begging until the skin rotted.
Although, Xipe Totec was often depicted as a terrifying figure covered in dead human skin all over its body, including its hands, and a creepy, gaping mouth, Xipe Totec doesn’t just desire human flesh because he is some evil mythological god. He desires it because the flaying of the skin off one’s body is akin to the germination of the skin around maize as it matures, the principal crop of all Central American civilizations, and thus this act is meant to symbolize a plentiful harvest and the continued survival of the Aztec civilization.
After discovering all of this about Xipe Totec, I was at first taken aback. For someone who loves to read thriller novels like me, this sacrificial ritual seemed particularly brutal, albeit fascinating to imagine. But I couldn’t help but notice how the sacrificial rituals of the ancient Aztec peoples and Xipe Totec himself have some valuable lessons to draw from. The beautifully deadly nature of Xipe Totec is very similar to the wickedly awesome forces that govern all of humanity—our very own nature. Xipe Totec is a god of contradictions, a being who at the surface longs for human blood, but upon deeper inspection his true purpose is to enrich the Aztecs by providing them with a fertile growing season and plentiful harvest.
Xipe Totec, just like this world is often misunderstood. He is a god literally covered in the flesh of human bodies, but the true story of Xipe Totec is much more beautiful and complex than his seemingly deadly nature.
9 Lords of Night introduced me to the bloodthirsty god Xipe Totec and the fascinating nature of Aztec religion. My whole life I have always been used to hearing stories from the Old Testament or the New Testament (I grew up in a Catholic home) in which good and evil are often separated into two separate forces, like heaven and hell. However, that world view has been thrown upside down in my mind by the thrilling novel 9 Lords of Night and the presence of the skin-wearing, fertile-soil bearing god of Xipe Totec in it. Xipe Totec showed me that nothing is black and white in this world. He showed me that everything deserves a deeper look to be fully understood, and that something that may appear to just be violence and bloodshed on the outside is actually beautiful upon closer inspection.
About contributor Michael Evans
Michael Evans is the author of the Control Freakz Series, a Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic Thriller series set in a near-future United States and the Main Coordinator of YEW Clubs for the Young Eager Writers Association. He is currently taking a gap year from his studies in Charleston, South Carolina, but is originally from Long Island, New York. Some of his hobbies include hiking, running, urban exploring, going to the beach, watching and taking artsy pictures of sunsets (it’s honestly a very enlightening activity to partake in), and walking his ginormous, fluffy golden doodle underneath the stars. He is also fascinated with the environment and neuroscience, and his true passion is learning about how the wonders of the human mind and the environment we live in will change with time. He is currently working on the novel Deadwave, the first book in the Conspiracy Chronicles. To find out more about him or his work you are welcome to visit here: www.mevansinked.com