Friday, January 13, 2012

TLALOC AS A ROCK ART THEME IN THE SOUTHWEST:

There is a loose category of rock art images in the American southwest that are generically referred to as Tlalocs. They are certainly not kachinas, but they perhaps played a similar role in the society for a period as kachinas later did. These are figures with large eyes which are often outlined with squares, and also sometimes show fangs or pointed teeth.


Tlaloc, Three-Rivers, New Mexico.  Photo:
December 1988, Jack & Esther Faris.

According to Wikipedia “Tlaloc was an important deity in Aztec religion, a god of rain, fertility, and water. He was a beneficent god who gave life and sustenance, but he was also feared for his ability to send hail, thunder and lightning, and for being the lord of the powerful element of water. In Aztec iconography he is normally depicted with goggle eyes and fangs. He was associated with caves, springs and mountains. Archaeological evidence indicates Tlaloc was worshipped in Mesoamerica even before the Aztecs settled there in 13th century AD. He was a prominent god in Teotihuacan at least 800 years before the Aztecs. This has led to Mesoamerican goggle-eyed raingods being referred to generically as "Tlaloc" although in some cases it is unknown what they were called in these cultures, and in other cases we know that he was called by a different name (e.g. the Mayan version was known as Chaac”).


Tlaloc, Three-Rivers, New Mexico. Photo:
December 1988, Jack & Esther Faris.

My illustrations, coming from the amazing Three Rivers petroglyph site, show both of these described traits. One shows the eyes as dots in large rectangular sockets, and the others show the large goggle-eyes with sharp fang teeth. The Three Rivers petroglyphs are the product of the Jornada Mogollon people between about 900 and 1400 AD. Their society possessed a number of imports from the cultures of Mexico pointing to trade with the south. 


Tlaloc, Three-Rivers, New Mexico. Photo:
December 1988, Jack & Esther Faris.

Tlaloc, as a god of rain, fertility, and water, may have come to the American southwest along with traders from the south who supplied exotic trade goods such as macaws, copper bells, and other influences such as ball courts. For a culture that depended upon agriculture for survival a cult figure that might influence rain and fertility would have considerable appeal. The presence of these Tlaloc figures illustrates the result of that appeal and helps give us insight into beliefs of the early peoples of the southwest.


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