I’ve made a couple references now to appropriation, i.e. in this context, the taking of someone else’s or some other religion’s narrative/symbols/etc. and interpreting/applying these toward one’s own ends.
Sooner or later I’ll have an entry on how this collides with contemporary politics, and was thus one element contributing to that spiritual crisis I was trapped in last year - but this is not that entry.
This entry does, however, cover the content of my own practice where I figure the supposed appropriation issue is perhaps most relevant.
One component of LaVeyan ritual practice is the invocation of dark names that the individual finds best flesh out one’s own take on the values and/or spiritual realities of Satanism, these being either names of fallen angels, or names of dark gods from other cultures, or etc.
One of the names I have long invoked in this context is that of Tezcatlipoca, who is an Aztec god of strife, sorcery and the night.
I have no connection with the Aztec culture in any material way, nor pretenses toward representing any kind of “authentic” tradition here. However, somewhere in the late high school / early undergrad era of my life, I ran across a book called “The Fifth Sun” by Burr Cartwright Brundage, which contains quite detailed info about Aztec mythology, religion and ritual practice, and something about the stories and folklore surrounding Tezcatlipoca (which I then went on to read more about via other sources) was definitely striking to me.
The seed thus planted did not really sprout or bear fruit until recent years. But as my practice has gradually become more “dark pagan,” it’s increasingly struck me as a resource worth returning to and reflecting upon more.
Here then are a few points about Tezcatlipoca that are of interest to me as a Satanist, organized along similar lines to the key points of Satanism that I referred to previously in this entry:
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One of Tezcatlipoca’s titles is “Enemy of Both Sides.” He is a god of war who wants constant conflict for its own sake and/or because such is the method by which the gods obtain sufficient nourishment via blood sacrifice; toward this end, he stirs up ambition, turns people against one another and otherwise creates conditions conducive toward going to war; this is bad for everyone except the gods themselves.
Inasmuch as I do not identify as a nihilistic Satanist, I can’t get behind all of this, but the image of the sorcerer who is out only for himself and his own interests, and thereby situates himself beyond the petty dualisms otherwise operative in his society, certainly is one that speaks to me. Tezcatlipoca is also sometimes simply called “the Enemy,” which seems reminiscent of Satan being “the Adversary.”
As a god of sorcery, Tezcatlipoca is associated particularly with divination. The name means “smoking mirror,” referring to the scrying device he makes use of. Through the use of this power, he is said to be all-seeing, all-knowing, etc.
There are stories in which Tezcatlipoca uses the mirror to show people things that lead them to their destruction. Conventionally this is interpreted in terms of him deceiving via illusion, but I myself tend to read the story in question (mentioned below) in terms of the mirror in fact showing reality and the individual it was shown to not being able to accept/handle it. Thus, one finds here the same ambivalence as with Satan re: the mainstream tradition says he’s a deceiver, but the walker of the sinister path associates him with hidden truths.
This is best illustrated via the story about Tezcatlipoca getting the better of Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl can here be thought of as the priestly ideal (i.e. order, chastity, moderation) and Tezcatlipoca as representing the part of the spiritual order that does not conform to that ideal (i.e. chaos, passion, excess).
Quetzalcoatl’s reign is remarkably peaceful by Aztec standards, and Tezcatlipoca doesn’t like this (see above), so he proceeds to mess it all up, first gaining power by seducing his way into a royal marriage, then staging various spectacles that lead the viewers/participants to their own destruction (Nyarlathotep much???) and finally tempting Quetzalcoatl himself. He shows Quetzalcoatl his reflection in the mirror, and upon seeing that he is ugly/old (which to me sounds like it needn’t require illusion/delusion – old age, sickness and death being the true human condition), Quetzalcoatl gets upset enough to then be persuaded into a bout of drunken incest, after which shame drives him into exile.
Again, inasmuch as I do not identify as a nihilistic Satanist, I can’t get behind all of this, but the story of a chaste priest being undone by the carnal temptations presented by a wily sorcerer certainly strikes me as very ‘on brand’ for Satanism.
This is the weakest thematic tie-in inasmuch as Aztec society as a whole didn’t seem to have much use for autonomy, having instead a very strong emphasis on fate. They believed, for example, that every day was ruled by a certain number-plus-symbol combination (e.g. 1 Reed, 2 Lizard or etc.) which then would dictate the conditions of one’s life, and that not even gods could escape from the fate that this calendar dictated.
But what is then interesting is that the one god who was thought to have the power to ‘save’ one from ill fate was Tezcatlipoca… but the problem is that nothing in his nature made him particularly willing to do this – he might do it on a whim, but he also might not, because he thinks your suffering is hilarious or etc. It’s thus worth noting that in a spiritual system in which there is a very limited amount of freedom for anyone, Tezcatlipoca nonetheless seems to be the freest agent in operation within that system. (This is also indicated comparatively via one of Tezcatlipoca’s titles being “He Whose Slaves We Are” – i.e. everyone is his thrall vs. he is their master.)
Brundage makes an interesting point about the Aztec worldview: against those who would describe it as dualistic (e.g. Tezcatlipoca vs. Quetzalcoatl), Brundage argues that it is not a conventional dualism in which light and darkness struggle, but rather there is an underlying conviction that darkness is most definitely stronger than light and will win in the end, seeing as how really, it is the fundamental reality even already. One is then presented with a rather bleak view of existence, in which one can prolong the conditions of life for a time, but only via bloody sacrifice, and even then, the dark still eventually wins.
My favorite illustration of “darkness always wins” is in Aztec mythology’s account of four worlds that existed before our previous one. In each case, one of the gods had to be sacrificed to become the sun:
- The first sun was Tezcatlipoca, a night god. Since he was a night god, this sun was only a very dim one. Everything in this world was crudely made, e.g. people were uncouth giants. Eventually Quetzalcoatl knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky, which pissed him off, so he took it out on the people living in that first world by getting all his jaguars to eat them.
- The second sun was Quetzalcoatl, a wind god. Things went ok in this world until people gradually became uncivilized and ceased giving proper honor to the gods, at which point Tezcatlipoca turned them all into monkeys (i.e. made them physically what they had already made of themselves psychologically). This upset Quetzalcoatl, so he blew all the monkeys away in a hurricane and then stepped down as the sun.
- The third sun was Tlaloc, a rain god. Things went ok in this world until Tezcatlipoca seduced Tlaloc’s wife, at which point the rain god just moped around feeling lonely and inadequate, and drought seized the world. People asked him over and over for rain, until he finally had a passive-aggressive tantrum and sent them rain… of fire. Only a few people escaped the conflagration by becoming birds.
- The fourth sun was Chalchiuhtlicue, a water goddess. Things went ok in this world until one day Tezcatlipoca accused the goddess of not really loving the people (Note: some accounts of this I’ve read remind me of that time the Norse gods are feasting and Loki shows up and starts trash-talking everyone). This hurt her feelings so much that she cried and cried until the world was flooded. People either drowned or turned into fish.
Funny aside: I once told this story to someone, mentioning that Tezcatlipoca was associated with jaguars, and the responding comment was “typical fucking cat, thinks breaking everything is awesome.” ;)
Anyway though, the points worth noting are: i) in every case, Tezcatlipoca plays a key role in bringing about the end of the world; ii) in every case, human beings wind up being victims of spiritual powers whose interests are alien to their own.
Combine all that with the association with the color black, the staging of destructive spectacles, nocturnal wandering with creepy flute-playing, etc., and as I already alluded to above, I am getting more than a little bit of a Nyarlathotep vibe going on here. And this is relevant to Satanism in my particular interpretation because both in Lovecraft and among the Aztecs, one thus finds an extreme formulation of the idea that the true reality behind the world most definitely is not ‘love,’ and is instead some kind of dark ‘other.’
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In closing summary, then, I think on reflection that there is no dark deity I’ve encountered, aside obviously from the Devil himself, that is more all-encompassing than Tezcatlipoca for covering all of these key Satanic themes.
This character is also a fundamental reason why, when it comes to terms for magical practitioners, I tend to prefer sorcerer over all others as specifically indicative of a walker of the sinister path, as while many a dark deity is conceptualized as being served by sinister folk, Tezcatlipoca is the main one I am familiar with in which a key part of the mythology is he himself going about as a sorcerer – a powerful image inasmuch as the sinister path fundamentally is about internally becoming one’s own god.
I would say lastly, though, that it is above all the title of “Enemy of Both Sides” that speaks to me these days. Explaining why is likely to lead into political matters deserving of their own entry though, so I’ll just leave that hanging for now.