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In arguing for the cometary character of Venus, Velikovsky cited Aztec records suggesting that the planet Venus shared the same title given a comet.
The early traditions of the peoples of Mexico, written down in pre-Columbian days, relate that Venus smoked. "The star that smoked, la estrella que humeava, was Sitlal Choloha, which the Spaniards called Venus."
"Now, I ask," says Alexander Humboldt, "what optical illusion could give Venus the appearance of a star throwing out smoke?"
Sahagun, the sixteenth century Spanish authority on Mexico, wrote that the Mexicans called a comet "a star that smoked." It may thus be concluded that since the Mexicans called Venus "a star that smoked," they considered it a comet.
In Bob Forrest's mind, the Aztec references could have nothing to do with "what may or may not have happened back in the mid second millennium BC"--because the references to Venus "smoking" come from the sixteenth century A.D.
In a number of instances Aztec records say that the earth shook and the star sitlal choloha (Venus) smoked. To account for the curiosity Forrest simply accepts the guess of Alexander von Humboldt, "who suggested that the 'smoke' related to the volcano Orizaba, situated to the east of the city Cholula, and whose glow, when seen in the distance, resembled or was symbolically related to the rising Morning Star."
Forrest was apparently satisfied with the first guess he uncovered. "All we have are some sixteenth century records which say, every so often, that the star smoked, but since the smoking seems frequently to be intertwined with earthquake activity, Humboldt's assumption seems reasonable." With that stated, Forrest moved on, never returning to the issue of the Aztec "smoking star."
A quite different approach would have been to explore the possibility of a broader Venus-comet association to see where the available evidence leads. Guided by this intent, Forrest would have quickly found, for example, that Aztec association of "earthquake activity" with "smoking stars" belonged to the general mythology of the comet among the Aztecs. Thus, with respect to the comets portrayed in the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, the respected authority on Mexican astronomy, Anthony Aveni, writes:
Comets (citlalimpopoca, or the stars that smoke) are represented frequently by the surviving historical documents, usually by a stellar image on a blue background with emanating streams of smoke. These usually signify that a person of nobility will die; for example [one picture] tells of the death of the ruler of Tenochtitlan following the apparition of a comet; later another comet occurs, then an earthquake, all of nature's events being connected in the Aztec cosmic view.
As I hope to demonstrate fully in this series of articles, the connectedness of these images derives from a universal substratum of myth. Appearance of a comet, death of a great ruler, quaking earth--not in Mexico alone, but in one ancient culture after another, the skywatchers repeatedly placed these unusual themes in juxtaposition, despite this crucial fact: no comet observed by science has ever justified the symbolic connection. But Forrest seems unaware that the language employed in astrological texts and omens is drawn from ancient mythical images. Following his methodological groundrules, therefore, no records of "portents" in the sky recorded in the last three millennia would be of any relevance to Velikovsky's argument, even when repeatedly attaching explicit cometary images to Venus!
With respect to the image of the planet Venus as the "smoking star" in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Aveni offers his own attempt at an explanation: "Perhaps a cometary object appeared near the planet." Of course, Forrest could just as easily have cited this guess, then dropped the whole issue. But is there something more worth investigating here?
Throughout the Americas, including Mexico, natives called a comet the "star with hair," or a "long-haired star," or a "maned star," an appellation that fits comfortably with the global language of the comet. In fact, the "long-haired star" is the single most common phrase for the comet around the world, and our own word for comet comes from the Greek kometes, the "long-haired star" . Yucatec Maya dictionaries give as a gloss for "smoke star" the "maned comet". But curiously, the Aztecs used this very language for Venus. As noted by Velikovsky, they called the planet Tzonte-Mocque, meaning the "mane"-star, or "long-haired" star. And not the Aztecs alone: for one finds among the Maya the same enigmatic association of the planet Venus with long flowing hair. A commonly observed Maya hieroglyph is the Caban-curl, a flowing tassel or lock of hair repeatedly attached to acknowledged Venus symbols, including the glyph-name of Venus itself.
To encounter the long flowing locks of Venus, one need only consult available sources. Turn to the Incan language of Venus, for example. I can remember, in the first few days of investigating images of Venus, looking through a standard summary of Incan mythology and encountering the name of Venus as Chasca, translated as the "long-haired star"--the precise phrase for the comet in the global lexicon. It was instances such as this that continued to fuel my own interests in learning more.
According to William Prescott, Venus was "known to the Peruvians by the name of Chasca, or the 'youth with the long and curling locks.'" Burr Cartwright Brundage tells us that among the Inca, Venus was "the Radiant Star with the Flowing Hair." "The morning star, Chasca (The Disheveled One), dispensed stores of freshness and loveliness upon flowers, princesses, and virgins below. She was the deity of the rosy cloud rack of morning, and when she shook out her long hair she scattered the dew upon the earth."
The point here is that Forrest's "explanation" of the Aztec Venus/smoking star association fails to acknowledge converging lines of evidence: Aztec comet as smoking star, Aztec Venus as smoking star, Aztec and Mayan long-haired star as comet; Aztec Venus as long-haired star, Mayan Venus with or as flowing lock or tassel, Incan Venus as long- haired star. Hence, the methodological issue is placed in sharp relief.
Here is another way of looking at the issue logically: Around the world there are only a small number of pre-astronomical hieroglyphs for the "comet." You could, in fact, count the primary glyphs on the fingers of one hand:
heart-soul of a deceased god-king or great leader rising in the sky.
long-haired star (star with flowing locks, mane, tresses, disheveled hair, beard, hairy tail);
torch-star (ember, flame, smoke, smoking star, train of fire, spark, or train of sparks);
celestial feather (winged star, soul-bird, bright feathers, feathered headdress, shining bird's tail);
cosmic serpent, dragon, or similar monster.
The remaining general hieroglyphs for the comet could be counted on the fingers of your second hand! They include: a sword, a bundle of grass or straw (whisk, broom), or a spiraling rope (cord, tie, or knot). At what point, then, does a "coincidence" or seemingly irrational use of language (comet-words or glyphs attached to Venus) become an anomaly worth pursuing? Forrest not only sidesteps the implications of parallel cometary images of Venus in other lands, he ignores the convergence of such images in Mexico. As a methodology, the approach is disastrous, because there is much, much more.
In the popular Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl, the Venus-comet anomaly grows by leaps and bounds. And in this case, the completeness of the cometary motifs leaves no room for ad hoc explanations.
Whether remembered by the Aztecs as a former great king and founder of the golden age, or a former sun god ruling a primordial epoch, Quetzalcoatl was a cultural hero without equal in the Aztec pantheon, his countenance adorning temple walls and the stucco bases of pyramids, painted on countless frescoes and codices, and engraved on sarcophagi and monoliths strewn across Mexico.
The climactic event in the Quetzalcoatl myth is the god's catastrophic death and transformation in an overwhelming disaster--an event endlessly repeated in sacrificial rites and supplying the cornerstone of Aztec calendar rituals and astronomical symbolism. In a pervasive version of the myth, at the death of Quetzalcoatl the god's heart or soul rose in the sky as a great spark or ember, trailing smoke and fire- a "star" whose fiery train the Aztecs portrayed as the streaming tail of a quetzal-bird. Was this flaming star a "comet"? One notes that the Quiché Maya called a comet uje ch'umil, "tail of the star," and Aztec artists often drew comets as stars with quetzal tails, the bright and luminous plumes of the quetzal providing a particularly well-suited hieroglyph for a comet.
The symbolism accords well with that of other peoples. The Pawnee gave to the comet the name u: pirikis kuhka, "feathered headdress" (an appellation that proves telling; see later discussion of the plumed headdress in our next installment). In Africa, the streaming comet's tail was identified as the feathers of the nightjar, and the natives say of a comet, "it is wearing streaming feathers." Astronomer Carl Sagan, in his review of worldwide comet motifs, notes that comets are called "tail stars" and "stars with long feathers." Germanic races called a comet the peacock's tail, while in China a comet was seen as both a peacock's tail and a pheasant's tail.
That Quetzalcoatl's "flaming" or "plumed" heart-soul meant a comet-like star is substantiated by converging lines of evidence. Its cometary character, for example, would agree with a general tradition among the Aztecs that comets were the ascending souls of great chiefs. That Quetzalcoatl was the model of the good king gives perfect sense to the symbolic motif. But Quetzalcoatl was also the prototype of the Aztec shaman (that is, he was the celestial figure whose biography provided the general myth and symbolism of the shaman). It is thus worth noting that in South American lore, the soul of a shaman was believed to depart in the form of a comet. Noteworthy as well is the fact that a comet appearing some time prior to the conquest of the Aztecs by Cortez was "reckoned as a positive sign that Quetzalcoatl would eventually return to Mexico."
To suggest that the heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl rose as a comet is simply to place the Aztec symbolism alongside a universal tradition: cultures around the world proclaim the comet to be the soul of a dying king. Thus, we have listed this significant theme as number one in our short list of comet symbols above. (See discussion to follow.)
But there is a problem here. While several variations on the story of Quetzalcoatl's death have been preserved, one of the central elements is the identification of the heart- soul as the planet Venus. Burr Cartwright Brundage gives this summary: "The god's heart, like a great spark, flies up to become a new and splendid divinity, the Morning Star." Thus a native source declares, "Then the heart of Quetzalcoatl rose into heaven and according to the elders, was transformed into the Morning Star, and Quetzalcoatl was called the Lord of Dawn."
We shall have more to say about this transformation. The fact at hand is that in their myths and rites the Aztecs say the separated heart-soul of Quetzalcoatl, following a period of darkened sky and cosmic upheaval, rose as the planet Venus. If the story has roots in any celestial occurrence (as explicitly claimed in the myths), the "death" of Quetzalcoatl must have involved a cosmic disaster of unprecedented scale, for no mythical-historical event left a deeper impression on Aztec thought and culture. Upon this traumatic episode, the Aztecs evolved their collective sense of cyclical time, including a calendar of world ages: the death of Quetzalcoatl, the onset of celestial confusion, and the transformation of his heart-soul into the planet Venus meant nothing less than the end of one world age and the beginning of another.