Ceremony, an Aztec myth, By Fray Juan de Torquemada and Translated by David Johnson

How the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca created a fiesta of music.

Tezcatlipoca from the Codex Borgia

They say that after the birth of the Fifth Sun, when the Gods had sacrificed themselves to get the Sun moving in its daily course, that their disciples walked about sadly and remorsefully, wrapped in the shawls left to them by The Gods in remembrance. They were searching for some glimpse of their Gods, wondering if They might appear.

They say that a disciple of Tezcatlipoca, carrying out his devotion, came to the seacoast where the God ap­peared to him in three different figures, called to him and said: “Hey you so and so, come here! Since you’re a special friend of mine, I want you to go to the House of the Sun, and bring me singers and instruments for my fiesta. For your journey call to the Whale, the Siren, and the Turtle, who will help you build a bridge.”

The bridge was built and Tezcatlipoca gave his disci­ple a song for the road. The Sun, however, overheard it, and understanding the consequences, warned his follow­ers to pay no attention to it; for whoever listened would have to return to earth. But it so happened that some of them thought the song flowed with sweetness, and they listened to those who played the huehuetl drum and the teponaztli drum.

It is said that returning to earth they began to make fiestas and dances for their Gods. And the songs which were sung in those ceremonies were like prayers, chanted in unison to the same tune and steps, without getting off key or missing a beat. This was carried out with devotion and seriousness. And this same ceremony is still per­formed today. ♦

From Parabola Volume 5, No. 2, “Music Sound Silence,” Summer 1980. This issue is available to purchase here. If you have enjoyed this piece, consider subscribing

By Fray Juan de Torquemada

Juan de Torquemada (c. 1562 – 1624) was a Franciscan friar, active as missionary in Spanish colonial Mexico and considered the "leading Franciscan chronicler of his generation."