Greg Schofield gschofield at
Thu May 10 10:00:00 MDT 2001

This list certainly turns up some interesting subjects! None more so than
the Aztecs.

The floating gardens referred to by Charles were an excellent innovation
(still in use I believe).

The point I would like to make is about past innovations, of which the
Aztecs are an excellent illustration. It goes again to the issue of
resistance to innovation except under exception circumstances (what I like
to call the law of peripheral development) amongst kin societies.

The first Azetcs to enter the Mexico valley were refugees, from the far
North (from what I remember linguistically related to tribes nearer Canada
than Mexico). They arrived in the valley of Mexico, probably as a small
band, much depleted by their travels.

To get an idea of what this means in a tribal setting the classics have
much to say on the ping-ball trajectory of a group that looses its
territory and literally bounces against one or another neighbour until it
is either extinguished or find some place to force its way in.

The original Aztecs were in no such condition to force their way in, rather
they were forced to take over the worst possible land available, a swamp in
the middle of a large lake.

Charles refers to the eagle atop a cactus eating a snake (or holding one in
its mouth) which still adorns Mexican currency and was for the Aztecs a
symbol of themselves. Correctly he associates the snake with the feathered
serpent Quetzalquatl a God that later became mis-identified with the
bearded Spanish with fatal consequences.

A swamp was not a good place to be, in fact it was a very bad place - the
Aztec barely survived - though latter they would thrive by their innovative
application of agriculture. Which brings us back to the symbol of the Aztec.

There are three ways of understanding this totemic image:
1) An eagle did land their holding an actual snake in its beak and the
people took this as a sign (this is not an unlikely event).
2) It is a symbol of extreme hardship where eagle clan literally consumed a
snake clan (there is some record of cannibalism being resorted to initially
because of the extreme privation).
3)The Aztecs were given the land by powerful neighbours (the eagle) but in
turn were exploited for ritual purposes (they are the snake).

The flowering cactus is a sign of hope being both beautiful and a source of
food, as well as ritual drugs. Very few clans were named after flora, but
that could also be another meaning as well.

Whatever the origin of the symbol the Aztec did thrive and built a
tributary empire that was diverse and rich. That they loved flowers is not
to wondered, because those floating gardens gave them a tremendous edge, a
reminder of another refugee people who settled in a swamp and created Venice.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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