The Mesoamerican Rabbit Moon

It’s storytime again, now relayed by Bernard R. Ortiz de Montellano and Thelma Ortiz de Montellano, who translated Alfredo López Austin, who got it from the 16th century Friar Bernardino de Sahagún, who got it from the Mexica people (also known as the Aztecs).

Long ago, the gods gathered in Teotihuacan, an ancient city about 30 miles northwest of Mexico City, in the dark to figure out how to light up the world so that their grass could stay alive. This responsibility was taken up by Techuciztecatl (or “Ted”), the “Dweller of the Place of the Marine Snail”, who was also very rich. The gods wanted a sidekick as well, so they eventually forced Nanahuatzin (or “Nat”), the “Pimply One” (that was not a joke), to do it, too. In preparation, both of them went to the pyramids of the Sun and Moon (though they presumably didn’t have names for the pyramids yet) and made offerings. Ted came ready with precious stones and burned aromatic resin. Nat, however, had to burn the scabs from his own pimples (again, not joking).

After the penance, Ted and Nat had to sacrifice themselves. Ted, having gotten the message, came ready in his finest vest. Nat, however, was hiding in the outhouse and therefore came covered only with the newspaper he was reading at the time. At that point, the gods presumably got in a circle with some chanting, telling Ted to throw himself into the fire. He tried once, then backed off. He tried again, and couldn’t do it. Third time wasn’t a charm, and he didn’t jump in. Already out of the medals, he couldn’t muster the will do it the fourth time, and the other gods were done with it. Next, Nat gave it a try and in one shot, he did it. Ted, at this point, was ashamed and had nothing else to live for other than to sacrifice himself as he was told to do, so in he went.

At that point, it was late, and the gods wanted to get some sleep, so they waited for dawn (in presumably the darkness they had always been in) to see what would happen. The sky turned red, and then they looked to the east and saw Nat as the brilliant sun, and Ted come shortly after as the moon, just as bright.

This, however, bothered the gods a lot. What sort of world has 2 astral bodies of the same brightness? Well, at that point, none, but having not been around long enough to see Tatooine’s 2 suns, they decided to make one of them slightly dimmer. Somewhat disappointed with Ted’s actions, a god hit him in the face with a rabbit, and since then, the moon has had a bad rabbit scar (or as Ted likes to tell it, a sick tattoo) and is slightly darker.

If you heard the same childhood stories as me, you might know of the man in the moon, but apparently the rabbit in the moon is another common myth, particularly in Mesoamerican and East Asian cultures. As another example, the Chinatec from Oaxaca tell the story that the sun and moon are the right golden eye and left silver eye of an eagle, respectively. And the Tzotzil of Pinola say that the sun and moon are a son and mother, lifted into the sky on a ferris wheel, where the mother was struck in the eye by jealous attendees also waiting in line. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Egyptians saw the sun and moon as the functional and damaged eyes of Horus.

When I think of myths, I see them as the (presumably not entirely factual) story of how the world has come to be, and the storytellers as some oracle who saw into the beginning. What these cross-cultural connection says to me is that the myths we tell aren’t creation stories per se, but explanations for what we see in the world. In the previous post on Egyptian mythology, I noted that much of their belief was understanding the world in terms of what they knew. Creation myths are the same, just projected backwards in time to provide a story for the things we can’t understand.

On that note, I clearly haven’t spent nearly enough time looking at the moon as I have never seen the rabbit. Wikipedia has a nice illustration of where you might see the rabbit, so I’m hoping that works out. It also hopefully won’t be a “can’t unsee” moment as I’m readying myself for many other interpretations.

Bibliography

López, Austin Alfredo. The Rabbit on the Face of the Moon: Mythology in the Mesoamerican Tradition. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1996. Print.

Wikipedia

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