Like a perverse Prometheus, Tohil gave man the gift of fire, but the price was steep. In an attempt to appease the ancient god and to repay the debt, early man offered up gifts of precious metals. The haughty god refused such paltry offerings, only flesh and blood would satisfy this god’s insatiable hunger:
“It remains for you to give thanks, since you have yet to take care of bleeding your ears and passing a cord through your elbows. you must worship. This is your way of giving thanks before your god…” An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya (144).
Auto sacrifice wasn’t all Tohil demanded, according to the same source, Tohil ” insists upon the right to drink not milk from the breast, but blood: to be suckled by Tohil is to have one’s heart ripped out” (170).
This insatiable god would prove a false god, setting into place the sacrifice tradition ; which would cause much enmity between the ruling Aztecs and their tributary neighbors. Ultimately causing the collapse of this great empire.
“T” is for Tohil:
“T” is for Tohil
watercolor on paper
11 by 18 inches
In my studio,and in my life I face many false and demanding gods , as ruthless as Tohil. These gods, the ideals I hold myself to may in fact be a death wish.
What I strive for, what I value and cherish may be my undoing. What inspires me may in fact hinder my progress in life and in authentic expression. What seems so rich often leaves me feeling impoverished when I am unable to reach such lofty goals :physical beauty in the face of my own crumbling shell; envy triggered by the seemingly golden charmed life of others; the greatness achieved by past masters that make a mockery of my own weak daubs.
My own country seems intent upon adhering to an Ideal that is no longer suitable (or possible) ; formerly represented by the ruling WASP class, certain angry factions now bristle at an “uppity” black president , an”ungrateful , greedy” immigrant class, “unholy” gays demanding full inclusion , fair social programs for the “takers” and woman seeking full autonomy. Isn’t this archaic ideal a false idol ?, won’t clinging to it surely be the death knell of this nation? This stubborn resistance to progress seems a death wish.
I understand this resistance I just experience it in different ways.
What drove the Aztecs to cling to their false gods, gods that were in the end, their downfall. It is easy to blame the Spaniards but history is revealing a more complex narrative, how disgruntled neighbors of the Aztecs, notably the Tlaxcalans, facilitated the destruction of this great empire (that and smallpox) . Neighboring Indians, weary of offering human tribute to the insatiable gods of the Aztecs, realized the wisdom of aligning themselves to the enemy of their enemy. What would have happened if the Aztecs had looked beyond the shiny facade of their gods with their impossible demands . Was there no point when the divine demands became too much to bear, too bloody, too insane. Did anyone think there must be another solution or were they at that time just too entrenched .
I for one do not want to become too entrenched in my own damaging practices, I hope to break free and reject my false gods and push against my own death wish .
With that, good night, take care and be well,
I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic.
New work ,first link.
The second link is an on-line portfolio.
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10 thoughts on ““T” is for Tohil; False Idols and the Death Wish”
Oh my sweet boy, you’re having a bad day!
Do try to stop putting yourself up against other artists and finding yourself wanting. There’s evidence aplenty here of your own unique creativity. Moreover you’re building quite a following of folk who admire what you do and leave messages of encouragement here. I understand the trap you find yourself falling into… it’s one I had to find ways to circumnavigate because I stumbled into it too often for comfort… and in time I think you’ll find your way through all of this. Don’t lose heart Leonard. This is just a bad patch. You have a light shining within you, and sometimes it glimmers and sometimes blazes. Learn to fan the flame. Painting fans it, as do all varieties of creativity. Start afresh tomorrow. You are an artist. Plain and simple. Now go make art.
I can understand how my post could give the impression I was depressed. I actually feel my perspective is becoming more clear, that in fact what I had thought as aspirational is of less importance than my own vision. Staying focused upon that can be difficult when in the throes of painting. Painting is undeniably difficult work, when the work is “off’, it is easy to lose a bit of faith. But the point of this post was to actually articulate my developing beliefs.
I am in fact in a bit of a fever with a new painting, excited about that. Thank you as always for your thoughtfulness and sage advice, and thanks for calling me an artist.
Well you ARE an artist. It’s what you do, as dedicated to your craft as anyone I know.
Glad to read that you’re getting a clearer view of what you’re doing. There is a real consistency of vision in your painting these days. Hold on to that. Your own vision will always be the best one for you, the voice that is truthful.
I am dedicated, I feel as if I am becoming an artist;for 20 years , as a decorative artist I very easily called myself an artist. Now that i am earnestly looking for sincere expression I hesitate a bit. I feel it has been a good thing to be so humbled.
I appreciate your noticing the consistency of vision, I am becoming aware of it myself and it is encouraging.
Take care my friend,
Your parallels between false Aztec gods and the various modern problems that you mentioned shines so much light on your choice of imagery. I know you have more than hinted at this in some of your other posts when explaining your work, but still this was actually pretty illuminating for me. Good on you for thrashing this all out into your painting!
And I hope that whatever way you work things, somehow, at the end of the day, you always feel rich. Sincerely.
What a thoughtful response. I feared I appeared morose, which wasn’t the case at all . Thank you for recognizing my intentions.
I do thrash about ;
sometimes I even feel richly rewarded as well!
such a serious work, and so much depth to the meaning of a false idol–but there is always still humor in your work, i think (i’m looking at the “t” right now, for example :D). fantastically appealing musculature, as always, and i *love* the hinged jaw–excellent to have his head angled that way, and the symbolism of the skull peeking out is fantastic.
I can always count on dear Zoe to notice my perverse details , yeah! Happy you liked the hinged head , I thought it creepy and odd and rather true, the darkness behind the facade.
You certainly gave me alot to think about. Actually you’ve put into words much of what I’ve been feeling for quite some time, and for that I thank you. The University near where I live has a library with the quote “Look to the past and it shall teach you” carved into its stone work, which is something I try to live by.
I’m pleased your library has that inscription, at times I fear my love of the past is woefully out of fashion. My interest has never been to emulate the past directly but to draw inspiration from its richness .I am happy you are a kindred spirit.