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Decapitated Lunar Goddesses in Aztec Art, Myth, and Ritual

  • Susan Milbrath (a1)

Abstract

Aztec images of decapitated goddesses link the symbolism of astronomy with politics and the seasonal cycle. Rituals reenacting decapitation may refer to lunar events in the context of a solar calendar, providing evidence of a luni-solar calendar. Decapitation imagery also involves metaphors expressing the rivalry between the cults of the sun and the moon. Huitzilopochtli's decapitation of Coyolxauhqui can be interpreted as a symbol of political conquest linked to the triumph of the sun over the moon. Analysis of Coyolxauhqui's imagery and mythology indicates that she represents the full moon eclipsed by the sun. Details of the decapitation myth indicate specific links with seasonal transition and events taking place at dawn and at midnight. Other decapitated goddesses, often referred to as earth goddesses with “lunar connections,” belong to a complex of lunar deities representing the moon within the earth (the new moon). Cihuacoatl, a goddess of the new moon, takes on threatening quality when she assumes the form of a tzitzimime attacking the sun during a solar eclipse. The demonic new moon was greatly feared, for it could cause an eternal solar eclipse bringing the Aztec world to an end.

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Decapitated Lunar Goddesses in Aztec Art, Myth, and Ritual

  • Susan Milbrath (a1)

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