28 April 2013
Give me the power
Flay his skin including his face’s, extract his bones, and create a mask out of them. It was indeed believed by the Aztecs, who existed mainly during the 15th century, that one’s powers were embedded into one’s skin and bones, and could therefore be transferred to the new owner by creating a mask. Better not be an enemy of the Aztecs in that case…
As you can imagine, masks made of human skin did not survive the passing of time, but I got to admire the masks found over the past thirty years right in the heart of Mexico City which was built on top of the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan... a capital which name engraved itself in my mind ever since the days of Sid Meier’s Civilization game (I’m talking about the 1991 version :-).
For the power they were thought to convey, masks were particularly valued by the Aztecs, worn by their rulers and priests, used as ornaments and gifts to the gods, or placed on a human skull as a death mask. They would generally represent one of the numerous gods this civilisation venerated – and the rarest the material of the mask, the more powerful it was thought to be, turquoise topping the list.
A mask was even thought to be able to animate a lifeless object. Sitting quietly, the masks and other representations of gods of the Great Temple, or Templo Mayor in Spanish, seemed quite harmless, even funny at times with their naive or crude expressions and shapes. But when I encountered the life-size ceramic statues of the god of death and of the eagle warrior, I quickly removed the smile on my face: the liver of the former was hanging under its thorax (eww)... and blood used to be offered to this effigy (double eww).