And before this image hundreds of human hearts were offered up each year.

June 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm (books, hedonism, quotations, the ancient world, the gods)

I am a fishmonger, and the day’s catch calls me early. Most days, I’m shovelling ice and sharpening my knives well before the sun has plotted its ascent. I get them so rarely that when I find myself in possession of a free morning, I toy with it for hours like a housecat who doesn’t know what to do with a mouse. Today is one such morning. I lazed in bed to watch the sky shift and change with the awakening sun.┬áI enjoyed a floral green tea sweetened with a thought of raw honey, and a great quantity of berries with fresh whipped cream left here after last night’s gathering of friends. And I perused my favourite bookshelf for something I’d not yet enjoyed.

What I found today was┬áRichard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels: The Occident, published in 1937. It’s precisely the sort of book a child ought to have: lush, lurid, and inspiring the sort of morbid curiosity about the past and the world that burns in the mind of anyone with whom it might be worth spending an hour’s conversation.

Behold, an excerpt on the Aztec’s sacrificial pyramidal temple:

…Popo, to the Aztecs, was the most sacred and the most commanding, because it smoked and roared. Then, too, it played a grim role in their religious ceremonies. This volcano was directly west of the Cholula teocalli, so that the sun, if one watched it from the great pyramid, sank right into the smoking crater and was gobbled up. And when the last gleam disappeared – that was the signal for the priest to strike.

Popo is still there, still soaring above Cholula, still smoking, still crowned with clouds and snow. The brush-covered teocalli at its base is still there too.

And we are going to Mexico from Fort Jefferson, to see for ourselves this wonderful pyramid and this wonderful Popo.

We get off our bot at Vera Cruz, and travel inland. What glorious scenery – wild mountains and canyons, smothered in hanging moss and ferns and flowers! Arriving at Cholula we easily spot the teocalli because it is 180 feet high. Today, it looks like one more forested hill, but its pyramidal shape has not changed.

In the late afternoon we reach the base and find the steps that zigzag up the face of the teocalli. Up these same steps, five hundred years ago, the Aztec sacrificial procession began its climb. We can imagine what such a procession was like – chanting priests in their barbaric feather headdress and feathered cloaks, escorting the victim and followed by many worshipers.

Higher and higher climb the Aztec multitude. The summit is reached. The sacrificial stone beside the image of the god is ready. There is no time to lose. The sun is all but touching Popo’s snows.

Standing on the summit ourselves, and using our imagination, we see the victim seized, his garments stripped away, his body stretched, chest up, on top of the stone block. We see five priests press down his limbs and head. A sixth is poised, knife in hand, above the waiting breast…

A thousand people hold their breath.

Popo, in respect to the Aztec gods, is pouring forth a shaft of smoke into the high heavens. The sun has dipped into the crater crest… a half remains – a rim – a final gleam.

The knife descends…

Mount Popocatepetl seen from near Amecameca

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