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Great Flood in Aztec Mythology

Ignatius Loyola Donnelly was a Congressman, populist writer, and amateur scientist. He is known primarily today for his theories concerning Atlantis and the role of Catastrophism.  His book, Atlantis The Antediluvian World, popularized the idea of the lost continent of Atlantis as a real place that perished through a cataclysm as Plato suggested in Critias.  The foundation of his thinking in part relied on the Great Flood legends that exist throughout the world, of which those from the Aztec were one.

After reviewing the Aztec version, Ignatius Loyola Donnelly explores the source civilization, the Toltecs, and their version of the Great Flood event.

The suggestion of pattern and similarity to the Sumerian genesis cannot be easily dismissed, and his exploration of the Aztec tradition is intriguing and insightful. Orly

“It is a very remarkable fact,” says Alfred Maury, “that we find in America traditions of the Deluge coming infinitely nearer to that of the Bible and the Chaldean religion than among any people of the Old World. It is difficult to suppose that the emigration that certainly took place from Asia into North America by the Kourile and Aleutian Islands, and still does so in our day, should have brought in these memories, since no trace is found of them among those Mongol or Siberian populations which were fused with the natives of the New World…. The attempts that have been made to trace the origin of Mexican civilization to Asia have not as yet led to any sufficiently conclusive facts. Besides, had Buddhism, which we doubt, made its way into America, it could not have introduced a myth not found in its own scriptures. The cause of these similarities between the diluvian traditions of the nations of the New World and that of the Bible remains therefore unexplained.”

The cause of these similarities can be easily explained: the legends of the Flood did not pass into America by way of the Aleutian Islands, or through the Buddhists of Asia, but were derived from an actual knowledge of Atlantis possessed by the people of America.

Atlantis and the western continent had from an immemorial age held intercourse with each other: the great nations of America were simply colonies from Atlantis, sharing in its civilization, language, religion, and blood. From Mexico to the peninsula of Yucatan, from the shores of Brazil to the heights of Bolivia and Peru, from the Gulf of Mexico to the head-waters of the Mississippi River, the colonies of Atlantis extended; and therefore it is not strange to find, as Alfred Maury says, American traditions of the Deluge coming nearer to that of the Bible and the Chaldean record than those of any people of the Old World.

“The most important among the American traditions are the Mexican, for they appear to have been definitively fixed by symbolic and mnemonic paintings before any contact with Europeans. According to these documents, the Noah of the Mexican cataclysm was Coxcox, called by certain peoples Teocipactli or Tezpi. He had saved himself, together with his wife Xochiquetzal, in a bark, or, according to other traditions, on a raft made of cypress-wood (Cupressus disticha). Paintings retracing the deluge of Coxcox have been discovered among the Aztecs, Miztecs, Zapotecs, Tlascaltecs, and Mechoacaneses. The tradition of the latter is still more strikingly in conformity with the story as we have it in Genesis, and in Chaldean sources. It tells how Tezpi embarked in a spacious vessel with his wife, his children, and several animals, and grain, whose preservation was essential to the subsistence of the human race. When the great god Tezcatlipoca decreed that the waters should retire, Tezpi sent a vulture from the bark. The bird, feeding on the carcasses with which the earth was laden, did not return. Tezpi sent out other birds, of which the humming-bird only came back with a leafy branch in its beak. Then Tezpi, seeing that the country began to vegetate, left his bark on the mountain of Colhuacan.

“The document, however, that gives the most valuable information,” says Lenormant, “as to the cosmogony of the Mexicans is one known as ‘Codex Vaticanus,’ from the library where it is preserved. It consists of four symbolic pictures, representing the four ages of the world preceding the actual one. They were copied at Chobula from a manuscript anterior to the conquest, and accompanied by the explanatory commentary of Pedro de los Rios, a Dominican monk, who, in 1566, less than fifty years after the arrival of Cortez, devoted himself to the research of indigenous traditions as being necessary to his missionary work.”

There were, according to this document, four ages of the world. The first was an age of giants (the great mammalia?) who were destroyed by famine; the second age ended in a conflagration; the third age was an age of monkeys.

“Then comes the fourth age, Atonatiuh, ‘Sun of Water,’ whose number is 10 X 400 + 8, or 4008. It ends by a great inundation, a veritable deluge. All mankind are changed into fish, with the exception of one man and his wife, who save themselves in a bark made of the trunk of a cypress-tree. The picture represents Matlalcueye, goddess of waters, and consort of Tlaloc, god of rain, as darting down toward earth. Coxcox and Xochiquetzal, the two human beings preserved, are seen seated on a tree-trunk and floating in the midst of the waters. This flood is represented as the last cataclysm that devastates the earth.”

The learned Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg translates from the Aztec language of the “Codex Chimalpopoca” the following Flood legend:

“This is the sun called Nahui-atl, ‘4 water.’ Now the water was tranquil for forty years, plus twelve, and men lived for the third and fourth times. When the sun Nahui-atl came there had passed away four hundred years, plus two ages, plus seventy-six years. Then all mankind was lost and drowned, and found themselves changed into fish. The sky came nearer the water. In a single day all was lost, and the day Nahui-xochitl, ‘4 flower,’ destroyed all our flesh.

“And that year was that of cé-calli, ‘1 house,’ and the day Nahui-atl all was lost. Even the mountains sunk into the water, and the water remained tranquil for fifty-two springs.

“Now at the end of the year the god Titlacahuan had warned Nata and his spouse Nena, saying, ‘Make no more wine of Agave, but begin to hollow out a great cypress, and you will enter into it when in the month Tozontli the water approaches the sky.’

“Then they entered in, and when the god had closed the door, he said,
‘Thou shalt eat but one ear of maize, and thy wife one also.’

“But as soon as they had finished they went out, and the water remained calm, for the wood no longer moved, and, on opening it, they began to see fish.

“Then they lit a fire, by rubbing together pieces of wood, and they roasted fish.

“The gods Citlallinicué and Citlalatonac, instantly looking down said: ‘Divine Lord, what is that fire that is making there? Why do they thus smoke the sky?’ At once Titlacahuan-Tezcatlipoca descended. He began to chide, saying, ‘Who has made this fire here?’ And, seizing hold of the fish, he shaped their loins and heads, and they were transformed into dogs (chichime).”

Here we note a remarkable approximation to Plato’s account of the destruction of Atlantis. “In one day and one fatal night,” says Plato, “there came mighty earthquakes and inundations that ingulfed that warlike people.” “In a single day all was lost,” says the Aztec legend. And, instead of a rainfall of forty days and forty nights, as represented in the Bible, here we see “in a single day … even the mountains sunk into the water;” not only the land on which the people dwelt who were turned into fish, but the very mountains of that land sunk into the water. Does not this describe the fate of Atlantis? In the Chaldean legend “the great goddess Ishtar wailed like a child,” saying, “I am the mother who gave birth to men, and, like to the race of fishes, they are filling the sea.”

In the account in Genesis, Noah “builded an altar unto the Lord, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake.'” In the Chaldean legend we are told that Khasisatra also offered a sacrifice, a burnt offering, “and the gods assembled like flies above the master of the sacrifice.” But Bel came in a high state of indignation, just as the Aztec god did, and was about to finish the work of the Deluge, when the great god Ea took pity in his heart and interfered to save the remnant of mankind.

These resemblances cannot be accidental; neither can they be the interpolations of Christian missionaries, for it will be observed the Aztec legends differ from the Bible in points where they resemble on the one hand Plato’s record, and on the other the Chaldean legend.

Professor Valentini (“Maya Archæol.,” p. 23) describes an Aztec picture in the work of Gemelli (“Il giro del mondo,” vol. vi.) of the migration of the Aztecs from Aztlan:

“Out of a sheet of water there projects the peak of a mountain; on it stands a tree, and on the tree a bird spreads its wings. At the foot of the mountain-peak there comes out of the water the heads of a man and a woman. The one wears on his head the symbol of his name, Coxcox, a pheasant. The other head bears that of a hand with a bouquet (xochitl, a flower, and quetzal, shining in green gold). In the foreground is a boat, out of which a naked man stretches out his hand imploringly to heaven. Now turn to the sculpture in the Flood tablet (on the great Calendar stone). There you will find represented the Flood, and with great emphasis, by the accumulation of all those symbols with which the ancient Mexicans conveyed the idea of water: a tub of standing water, drops springing out—not two, as heretofore in the symbol for Atl, water—but four drops; the picture for moisture, a snail; above, a crocodile, the king of the rivers. In the midst of these symbols you notice the profile of a man with a fillet, and a smaller one of a woman. There can be no doubt these are the Mexican Noah, Coxcox, and his wife, Xochiquetzal; and at the same time it is evident (the Calendar stone, we know, was made in A.D., 1478) that the story of them, and the pictures representing the story, have not been invented by the Catholic clergy, but really existed among these nations long before the Conquest.”

The native Mexican historian, Ixtlilxochitl, gave this as the Toltec legend of the Flood:

It is found in the histories of the Toltecs that this age and first world, as they call it, lasted 1716 years; that men were destroyed by tremendous rains and lightning from the sky, and even all the land, without the exception of anything, and the highest mountains, were covered up and submerged in water fifteen cubits (caxtolmolatli); and here they added other fables of how men came to multiply from the few who escaped from this destruction in a “toptlipetlocali;” that this word nearly signifies a close chest; and how, after men had multiplied, they erected a very high “zacuali,” which is to-day a tower of great height, in order to take refuge in it should the second world (age) be destroyed. Presently their languages were confused, and, not being able to understand each other, they went to different parts of the earth.

“The Toltecs, consisting of seven friends, with their wives, who understood the same language, came to these parts, having first passed great land and seas, having lived in caves, and having endured great hardships in order to reach this land; … they wandered 104 years through different parts of the world before they reached Hue Hue Tlapalan, which was in Ce Tecpatl, 520 years after the Flood.” (“Ixtlilxochitl Relaciones,” in Kingsborough’s “Mex. Ant.,” vol. ix., pp. 321, 322.)

It will of course be said that this account, in those particulars where it agrees with the Bible, was derived from the teachings of the Spanish priests; but it must be remembered that Ixtlilxochitl was an Indian, a native of Tezeuco, a son of the queen, and that his “Relaciones” were drawn from the archives of his family and the ancient writings of his nation: he had no motive to falsify documents that were probably in the hands of hundreds at that time.

Here we see that the depth of the water over the earth, “fifteen cubits,” given in the Toltec legend, is precisely the same as that named in the Bible: “fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail.” (Gen., chap. vii., 20.)

In the two curious picture-histories of the Aztecs preserved in the Boturini collection, and published by Gamelli Careri and others, there is a record of their migrations from their original location through various parts of the North American continent until their arrival in Mexico. In both cases their starting-point is an island, from which they pass in a boat; and the island contains in one case a mountain, and in the other a high temple in the midst thereof. These things seem to be reminiscences of their origin in Atlantis.

In each case we see the crooked mountain of the Aztec legends, the
Calhuacan, looking not unlike the bent mountain of the monk, Cosmos.





Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882)

Ignatius Loyola Donnelly

Categories: Aztec Aztec History Aztec Religion Aztec Society

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The Orly

As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.