Goal of the Lesson
To look at the heavens with the eyes of other cultures. Students will explore the idea that the heavens are a subject for myths and cultural interpretations. Different cultures will look at the heavens in different ways than our own.
Students will be able to describe one of the meanings of the presence of two gods in the Major Temple in Tenochtitlan.
Tenochtitlan was a great city. It was one of the largest and pretties cities in the world in 1519. The Spanish Conquistadores and the Tlaxcaltecas destroyed it after some brutal wars. What we have left of it now is only some archeological remains, some magnificent sculptures, codices and a myriad of stories and myths recorded by the Spanish themselves. Its people are a testimony of its great past.
Of the countless stories and myths that have come to us from the past, there is one that seems to befit our needs in this seminar of Astronomy. It is a story told by the Natives of Tenochtitlan to a Spanish priest, Fr. Bernardino de Sahagun.
It is said that Coatlicue, the mother of all the gods, was one day sweeping the floor of her abode. A ball of gentle and soft feathers fell from the sky, and she picked it up. She kept it close to her and this made her pregnant.
Mother Earth got pregnant. Coyolxauhqui, the Moon, was her daughter and the Centzonhuiznahua were her sons, the stars of the heavens. These sons and the daughter were extremely mad at Coatlicue because she had brought shame to the family with this pregnancy. They got together and planned to kill this shameless mother.
Mother Earth was very sad. She was also frighten to see these children planning to hurt her and her new child. Ah! Just at this moment of pain a voice came out of her womb.
—Mother, mother, don’t cry and don’t despair about these bad people. . . . Whenever they try to do anything to hurt you, I will be there to help you!
Coatlicue was happy to know that she was not alone anymore. This child was Huitzilopochtli, the Sun god. He’ll protect her from all evils.
The day came when the Moon and the stars were ready to execute their plan to kill their mother. They came and tried to attack her. Huitzilopochtli, the Sun, came out of the womb of Coatlicue and stopped them with his might and power. His brothers the stars went away running from his fury and fire. Coyolxauhqui, the Moon, was cut to pieces by his rays. Coatlicue was once again free and alive. Huitzilopochtli had saved her.
Every day in the morning, this battle takes place in the heavens between the Sun, the Moon and the stars. When the Sun comes out, the stars run away from sight and the Moon is seen cut up by the rays of the Sun. In the center of the city of Tenochtitlan, the Major Temple has these gods in constant battle. Hitzilopochtli is on top of the Temple with Coyolxauhqui at the bottom of the Temple, cut to pieces as a remainder of a great battle in the past.
maps of Tenochtitlan
Students will build the center of Tenochtitlan with details of the architectural characteristics depicting the story of the battle of the Sun, the Moon and the stars. Tlaloc, the god of rain and Huizilopochtli, the god of war and blood, have their abodes on top of the highest pyramid in the city. Huitzilopochtli was one of the gods that helped the Aztecs dominate the world. We don’t want him to go away, We offer the Sun the most precious liquid of life so that we could see him again.
Students will write and do research about Mexico and Tenochtitlan. The next step is the decoding of the calendar of Tenochtitlan with its great Serpent of Fire—the Xiuhcoatl. This Xiuhcoatl is the wheel of fire in the heavens. These are the stars where all life begins and ends. In some ways this Mexican vision is akin to the vision of the great telescopes of our times. The stars are the ovens of life. It continues and goes on until the stars die. The Sun is just one little insignificant dust in the middle of all, but it means all to us.