Tlakaxipewaliztli – “People are Flayed”
Tlakaxipewaliztli is the first “month” or zempowaltonallapowalli of the year. It begins at sunrise on the day following the observed Spring equinox as measured by the Templo Mayor in Mexiko-Tenochtitlan. Tlakaxipewaliztli marks the transition between the masculine principle of Ometekuhtli, of heat, drought, war, and hunting, which are the primary activities of Tonalko, into the time of the green earth, of rain, crops, and farming, which compose the feminine principle of Omeziwatl. Xipe Totek, the Flayed Lord who wears the skin of a flayed man, is honored with a feast. The dead, golden skin he wears represents the dry golden grass that covers the body of Tlaltekuhtli, Our Mother the Earth, while his living body refers to the living Earth beneath, filled with seeds and ready to turn the earth verdant and green again. His regalia of skin also represents the husk of an ear of maize, and his living body beneath is the ripened corn. The husk must be removed to reveal the corn, and to give sustenance to men. A good metaphor for Tlakaxipewaliztli is that of flaying, by which the body of the Earth is flayed of her dead Winter covering to reveal her living heart beneath, and by which we flay ourselves to reveal the truth and return to the Earth the abundance she has bestowed upon us.
From the Florentine Codex (Book 2, Pages 3-4):
“From the captives whom they were to slay the owners themselves tore off the hair of the crowns of their heads and kept it as a relic. This they did in the Kalpulko before the fire.
When the masters of the captives took their slaves to the temple where they were to slay them, they took them by the hair. And when they took them up the steps of the pyramid, some of the captives swooned, and their masters pulled them up and dragged them by the hair to the sacrificial stone where they were to die.
Having brought them to the sacrificial stone, which was a stone of three hands in height, or a little more, and two in width,’ or almost, they threw them upon it, on their backs, and five priests seized them-two by the legs, two by the arms, and one by the head; and then came the priest who was to kill him. And he struck him with a flint knife, held in both hands and made in the manner of a large lance head, between the breasts. And into the gash which he made, he thrust his hand and tore from the victim his heart; and then he offered it to the sun and cast it into a gourd vessel.
After having torn their hearts from them and poured the blood into a gourd vessel, which the master of the slain man himself received, they started the body rolling down the pyramid steps. It came to rest upon a small square below. There, some old men whom they called Kwakwakwiltin, laid hold of it and carried it to their Kalpulko, where they dismembered it and divided it up to eat it.
Before they dismembered the captives, they flayed them; and others put on the skins, and, wearing them, fought mock fights with other youths, as if it were a war. And those of one band took captive those of the other band.
After what hath been set forth above, they slew other captives, battling with them-these being tied, by the waist, with a rope which passed through the socket of a round stone, as of a mill; and the rope was long enough so that the captive might walk about the complete circumference of the stone. And they gave him arms with which he might do battle; and four warriors came against him with swords and shields, and one by one they exchanged sword blows with him until they vanquished him. Etc.”
Modern Interpretations of Tlakaxipewaliztli (adapted with permission from the work of micorazonmexica):
If possible, participants fast and make offerings overnight before the ceremony. Their prayer in the dark emulates the seed that grows where the light does not reach, but which trusts that it will be born with the dawn. The next day, a person is dressed in white feathers or papers. He stands in the center of the ceremony, where he performs a dance with a person with the regalia of an eagle and another with the regalia of a jaguar. The dance represents war, the combat between life and death from which the corn emerges triumphant. At the end, the person dressed in white peels a corn cob, a symbol of transformation and renewal, and places it on the altar. Then a game is organized in which this person chases and snatches the tilmas or capes which the attendees wear, simulating the stripping of the corn cob. Those who are left without a tilma must offer something at the altar, such as a song. In exchange, they receive tortillas or cookies in the shape of Xipe and distribute them among the attendees, who consume them. In so doing, they become one with Xipe, who is Spring and Maize, and He is transformed into their very flesh.