Posts Tagged ‘offering’
I don’t know about you, but the wall in front of my desk is a veritable collage of notes, images, and articles I’ve pulled out of magazines and printed offline. They’re up there as visual reminders to inspire me during the daily grind and to direct my research. The current center of that web is a picture I pulled out of National Geographic last year of an Aztec offering found buried deep beneath Mexico City’s Zócalo Plaza (pictured at right). Despite excavation, the positioning of the shells, animal bones, and pottery within their stone tomb remains virtually the same as when they were placed in the stone box centuries ago. And what’s more: the unique positioning of the box within the stratigraphy of offerings buried in the Plaza is indicative of a wider sacred emphasis on the use of space and placement within ancient ritual magick and mythology. I can’t recall exactly where I put the Aztec Offering picture on my wall at first, but over the intervening months it has slowly migrated, becoming the central focus of my paperwork montage. With this particular picture suddenly as my desk focal point it seems fitting to address the power of placement and the art of magickal spatial management.
In cultures throughout the ancient and modern world the arrangement of objects on altars, in rooms, and throughout their personal and public space has held power. Be it the arrangement of the candles on altars or the positioning of furniture in line with the tenets of feng shui, the idea of symbolic alignments is an active one with ancient (and potentially psychological) depths. In arranging objects in a way which is pleasing to the eye and therefore to the mind, there is the assumptive potential that they will also be pleasing to the divine or on a divine plane; thus balancing out or enhancing the divine and mortal energies flowing through the world. Or so follows some of the premises behind much of modern anthropological and psychological enquiry into the contemporary use of aesthetics. While the philosophies behind the ancient use of spatiality (sometimes called phenomenology when applied to sensory perceptions of the spatial use of ancient landscapes) are not as clearly known as those which remain into modern times like feng shui, what can be understood from ancient patterns of placement typically relates to the placement of objects and sometimes buildings in ritual contexts, mythic tales and divine cosmologies.
The Aztec Offering from Mexico City is an example of these latter instances. Once, hundreds of years ago, Zócalo Plaza was where the Temple Mayor stood as a visible reminder of the sacred mountain Coatepec (a sort of darker Aztec Olympus) where one of the greatest mythological soap opera’s occurred. For it was on Coatepec that Huitzilopochtli the sun god killed his sister the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui and threw her body off of the mountain. Portions of the dark Aztec sacrificial rituals of the 14th to 16th centuries AD were intended to be representations of this event, which for various reasons was central to their mythos. And in lieu of being able to access the sacred mountain of Coatepec, men built pyramids in Mesoamerica to stand in their stead. In front of the Temple Mayor was a series of ritual statements symbolic of other aspects of Aztec mythology: like the pink stone monolith of andesite (now broken) representative of the earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli squatting to give birth before the pyramid. And beneath them, representing the various levels of the Aztec Underworld were a series of symbolic ritual offerings: a level of sacrificial knives representing the razor sharp teeth of the earth monster opening his maw to accept incoming souls to the afterlife. Beneath which was a leaf-wrapped cache of incense, beads, and jaguar bones: potential gifts paid for entrance or a magickal bundle to ensure correct passageway to the best part of the Underworld. And below that was the stone box that started this train of thought. A box filled with seashells, snails, crustaceans, and corals hailing from the three nearest seas (the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific); along with a series of sacrificial knives each inscribed with the attributes of deities associated with the setting sun. And in its center, was placed the remains of a wolf or dog, bejeweled with a jade collar, gold anklet bells, and turquoise ear plugs: a testament to man’s best friend, who would lead the way and protect his master’s soul even unto death and its Underworld.
Funerary contexts are often where the spatial patterning of artefacts is most clearly detected by archaeologists. The Egyptian pyramids, like their Mesoamerican counterparts, are complex tapestries representative of the ancient mythologies: inside and out. From their placement within the landscape, to the elaborate burials they contained, placement was of the utmost importance. For instance, the pyramids at Giza (pictured at the start of the articles) were built in alignment with the ancient sky, just as many standing stones were throughout the ancient northern European world. And everything about an Egyptian burial or entombment was ordained by ritual: from the placement of grave goods in certain areas of the tombs to the placement of scarabs and papyrus spells around and within the body and its wrappings. The shape of the Egyptian pyramid itself was dictated by local mythology and was often ascribed as a symbolic representation of the sacred mound which rose out of the primordial waters of the world and formed the foundation of all life.
And while these ancient uses of space and arrangement might seem really distant from the modern world of sky scrapers, motorways, and electrical appliances: consider how often you do ‘arrange’ things without even noticing. You arrange flowers. You set the table for dinner (forks on the left, knife and spoons on the right!). You display your furniture, family pictures, and artwork. You organize your desk and in my case, the mess of inspirational papers you have tacked above it. And whether you’re following a set of traditional rules or just setting things up to be as pretty or as practical as possible: there is a method to that madness and a symbolism behind your movements. Be it an offering to the gods, the spacing of your living room set, or the arrangement of the herbs in your gardens, there is an unconscious art involved. There is a visual language ripe with meaning, some of which only you can decipher. And perhaps, the more you are conscious of the art of space and the art of offerings, the closer to something greater you might just be.
For Further Reading check out the National Geographic article that inspired this train of thought:
UnBurying the Aztec by Robert Draper from the November 2010 issue.
And to investigate the most prevalent trend in aesthetic spatiality in the modern world, check out the Sacred Mist’s collection of Feng Shui texts!