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Venus the Great Comet-2
SWEEPING AWAY THE NIGHT
Discerning the relationship of archetype and symbol is particularly crucial when the symbol, in its familiar associations in daily life, cannot convey the extraordinary power of the archetype. By "archetype" we mean the original experience or idea giving meaning to a symbol. Without that relationship in view, the symbol can only appear random and absurd, because there is nothing standing behind it.
A recurring symbol among the Aztecs is that of the broom. In this case the symbol may seem so far removed from our subject as to have no place in this analysis. Yet since this very symbol does recur in ritual contexts of darkness and upheaval, it is only appropriate that we seek out the underlying idea.
The broom plays a part, for example, in the myth of Cihuacoatl, or "Woman Snake," the chief advisor to the Aztec ruler. Cihuacoatl stands in close but enigmatic association with both the horrifying serpentine goddess Coatlicue and the revered mother goddess Toci. But strangely, Cihuacoatl's relationships and symbols suggest two extremes, with no apparent bridge between them. In her most familiar role, she speaks for "domestic" responsibilities (she holds a broom and was remembered in the daily sweeping of the household shrine); but she was equally "at home" in her Terrible Aspect, the man-eating mistress of chaos.
We must remember what Mircea Eliade and other perceptive students of comparative religion have taught us about the motives of myth and ritual. Inherent in the idea of correspondence with the gods was the idea of sacred moments, sacred domains, and sacred gestures, distinguished from the insignificant and "profane" by their connection with the great events and deeds of the gods. The principle applied at all levels of activity, not just the publicly visible centers of collective ritual. Every household had its sacred aspect, as did the kingdom.
"Women had care of the household shrines, and the presentation of the little broom at birth signaled their sacred responsibility to keep the home zone well swept, and so free from potentially dangerous contamination," writes Inga Clendinnen, in her book AZTECS. In this single statement lies the key--the relationship of macrocosm and microcosm. "Dangerous contamination" operates at all levels and the words take their meaning from the myths of gods and heroes. The sacred domestic role of the broom is defined by a "broom's" role in an earlier cosmic drama the modern world has failed to understand.
It may be hard for many of us today to fully appreciate that the morning sweeping of the household shrine was a commemorative occasion, symbolically tied to the sweeping away of DARKNESS. Symbolically, the localized "disorder," the gathered dust and debris, referred back to the vastly greater disorder of the COSMIC night. And this elementary symbolic relationship is the bridge between microcosm and macrocosm--the "domestic" goddess, and the all-devouring, raging hag with disheveled hair, rushing across the sky when the world had fallen into chaos. With "broom" in hand, the raging goddess pursued the chaos hordes, "sweeping" away the celestial debris of the world-ending cataclysm.
Every household was an extension of the sacred order defined in ancestral times. In each household was thus kept the sacred fire, symbol of the animating light of heaven, ritually extinguished at the end of every 52-year world cycle, then re-ignited with the dawn of the new cycle. Every 52 years, the household re-lived a cosmic disaster. Then, on the following morning, as a symbol of the same events, the ritually-ordained sweeping occurred, to the sounds of a beating drum.
This reverberating drumbeat meant nothing other than the voice of Ehecatl, the Dawn Bringer, avatar of Quetzalcoatl. In the words, of Jacques Soustelle, "The morning star shines with the brilliance of a gem and to greet it the wooden gongs beat on the temple-tops and the conchs wail." The dawn was thus an echo of the COSMIC morning when the world was "set in order" after the great cataclysm. Ritual sweeping repeated the ancient event of cosmic renewal, the defeat of the fiends of darkness. For these "fiends" WERE the celestial debris or cometary cloud descending upon the world, symbolized in later rites by the gathered dust in shrines and on pathways.
In ritual symbolism, matters of degree and scale cannot change original meanings. Goddess, broom, sweeping, drumbeat--the clearing of the cosmic night was remembered with each dawn of day. The holder of the household broom, therefore, fills the symbolic role of the goddess. And though broom and celestial conflagration may not seem compatible, the mythical memory does place them side by side. A hymn to the "broom"-goddess celebrates Cihuacoatl:
plumed with eagle feathers, with the crest of eagles,
The hymn makes our point for us. The goddess provides the EXEMPLARY figure to explain the later rites. The symbols of disaster, of war, and of drum beating combine with those of the broom and of protection.
A goddess who "appears when war is waged" has a now-familiar sound. That is precisely the mythical role of the comet, as we have seen, and precisely the role of Venus in Mesoamerican astrology. It seems as if the commentators have failed to notice that a broom or whisk, be it constituted from straw or feathers, is a COMETARY symbol. (See our brief list supplementing the five major comet symbols noted earlier.)
A bundle of straw is an old European symbol of the comet. As we will discover also in our discussion of the world-destroying hag, the famous flying broom of the European witch stands alongside the witch's disheveled, flaming hair and her serpent-dragon apotheosis as a cometary image. In China comets were remembered above all else as "brooms" sweeping away one kingdom (world age) and introducing a new order--the very function of the broom in Mesoamerican ritual.
In fact, the broom plays a symbolically crucial role in more than one Aztec rite. A major celebration of the mother goddess Toci fell on the sixteenth of September, which was also a special day in the calendar of world ages. The name of the feast was Ochpaniztli, which means "Sweeping of the Roads." The chronicler Duran calls it "the Feast of Sweeping." The feast, as reported by Duran, was marked by human sacrifice, terrible commotion and feigned skirmishes in which the goddess Toci herself participated. In the ritual celebration, the goddess was personified by a warrior who, donning the skin of a sacrificed female victim and ARMED WITH A BROOM, pursued a chaotic mob of warriors. At her descent (i.e., the descent of the impersonator), and in response to the moans of Toci, "the earth moved and quaked at that moment." (The images are reminiscent of the moans in the air when Caesar died, his soul to rise as a COMET above the quaking earth.)
Hearing this report Duran was highly incredulous:
I tried to investigate this and attempted to laugh off and mock this absurd belief. But I was assured that this part, this area of the temple, trembled and shook at that moment. Imagination may have served them well in this case, and the devil, always present, undoubtedly aided the imagination.
Such is the power of archetypes. The integrated motifs are: commotion in the sky, moaning heavens, quaking earth, goddess with a "broom" pursuing the hordes of darkness.
In these rites, the sky-darkening armies themselves were personified by warriors "armed" with brooms and appareled with colored streamers and plumed ornaments. "A bloody fray then took place among them.
With sticks and stones countless men came to the combat and fight, something awesome to see..." In such manner was the havoc of the cosmic night re-enacted every year. The harsh sounds, the great din of clashing arms, the comet-like brooms and streamers of the unleashed mobs--themselves a dramatic personification of the swarming chaos powers in the sky--all accented by hurled stones and debris. Could one concoct a more vivid portrait of the cosmic upheaval terminating a former world age? A cometary disaster, involving vast "armies" or clouds and debris in the vicinity of earth, pitted against the PARENT OF COMETS, the dragon-like Venus "sweeping away" the cosmic night, provides us with a Velikovskian scenario par excellence.
Clendinnen has given us an intensely dramatic account of the "sweeping" festival and its key ritual components, noting again and again the role of darkness and terror, and emphasizing the paradox of the "domestic" goddess hurled into a fray with the best warriors of the city. "These men, who scorned to turn their back in battle, fled through the dark streets...as Toci and her followers pursued them with brooms, the' domestic' female symbol par excellence, speaking of the tireless cleansing of the human zone, but now sodden with human blood." It was Toci herself, "in her paper regalia and her great bannered headdress" and her symbolic broom, who inaugurated the ritual slaying of captives. Then she confronted the warrior-mob again, "driving them ahead of her with war cries" and her broom, the hordes scattering as she chased them, until Toci was alone and victorious, having swept away the warriors of darkness--"triumphant as the pitiless mistress of war, insatiable eater of men."
The great sweeping festival, says Clendinnen, was "a brilliantly constructed horror event, in its abrupt changes of pace and its teasing of the imagination through the exploitation of darkness." Here we see "the image of the women's broom dipped into human blood and so become a weapon of terror, before which warriors famed for their courage were driven like leaves." A paradox indeed! The broom wielded as a "weapon of terror."
But let us be clear on this: a broom on its own instills no fear. Only as a mirror of the COMETARY "broom," the terrifying "weapon" hurled against celestial armies of darkness, can the symbol make sense. And then the paradox dissolves before our eyes.
Duran tells us that on the day of the feast to Toci, the people swept their houses and pathways, guided by some ancient belief he is unable to illuminate. Significantly, community roads and highways were also swept on this day, according to Duran, particularly the road passing by the shrine to the goddess Toci. The feast itself, as we have noted, was called "The Sweeping of the Roads," and this too is a key, for it enables us to complete the circle with respect to the sweeping rites.
In Evon Vogt's book ZINACANTAN, the author gives a poetic tale from the Highlands of Chiapas concerning the planet Venus. It seems that the people remember Venus as a GIRL WITH A BROOM, for the folk tale "describes the Morning Star (Venus), who is believed to have been a Chamula girl transformed into a 'Sweeper of the Path' for the Sun."
It is the astronomical association, then--the connection with celestial sweeping, the clearing of the way for the new "sun" or world age--that finds the planet Venus in the very guise we should expect. Even in the wake of vast cultural evolution and fragmentation, the nations of Mesoamerica kept alive the ancient link of the Great Comet to the planet Venus, in the symbolic form of the girl and her broom.