Karl W. Luckert, Portland, OR

published by www.triplehood.com -- May, 2000 
This video program is dedicated to our colleagues and hosts,
of the
 17th International Congress of History of Religions
and the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, August 1995

The International Congress of History of Religions

They have come from all around the globe and gathered in Mexico City for their 17th International Congress of History of Religions. They are scholars who are interested in every kind of religion. It is the month of August, and the year is 1995. We are invited to a grand reception at the National Museum of Anthropology. Our Mexican colleagues and hosts generously have facilitated access to prehistoric artifacts and sites -- for us to search among the remains of bygone religious activity. (1)

While a Christian mass is quietly being celebrated in the earthquake-impaired cathedral nearby, drums of an earlier epoch are droning back to life over here. Former temple sites are being excavated, and ancient altars are dusted off and seen once again in the light of day.

In the Context of Evolution

From the time of discovery by Europeans, the primary deity of Middle America has consistently been underestimated. Had Chinese explorers come to the New World, instead of Europeans, one wonders whether they would have recognized more quickly the primacy of the dragon over jaguar and eagle. In any case, this video documentary approaches the Middle American fascination for serpents and dragons in a broad evolutionary context.

A little over ten thousand years ago all our human ancestors were still gatherers and hunters. The human species had come to be divided along the gender boundary, between foragers and predators. Women were mostly gatherers and foragers, while the human males hunted as artificial predators. They hunted under the tutelage of what appeared to be greater-than-human predators -- such as Lion, Tiger, Wolf, Eagle -- and occasionally even by imitating a Serpent. (2) Hunters improved their weapons, became more effective, and as a result animals were made scarce.

In tropical forests, the hunters who depleted animal populations were forced to return to primitive methods of scavenging and gathering, or to adapt to planting. (3) While in former days the men would be out hunting, the women back home, at the campsites, claimed the general realm of life and nurture. Their gathering activities evolved into planting and gardening. In the end the men were left with owning the depleted realm of hunting, killing, and death. The gender gap continued to widen even more, because the domains of life and death had to be balanced and kept distinct ceremonially.

When animals became scarce, the status of the male hunters was threatened. In secret societies they evolved defensive sacrificial rituals that would make fewer animal victims count for more. They devised heroic initiation rites that would give them status even though they no longer could become respectable hunters who brought home much meat. In order to substitute for the lost excitement and camaraderie of former hunting days, some obsolescent hunters progressed to warfare, head hunting, and cannibalism. (4)

In China a dragon cult inspired imperialism. (5) Chinese emperors literally wrapped themselves into dragon-hood -- that is, into the Cloud-and-Rain deity who blessed the people's agriculture. A typical Chinese sovereign wore a dragon robe. He lived in a dragon palace and he sat upon a dragon throne. He presented sacrifices under the canopy of a celestial dragon.

The simplest extant dragon cult that I have seen still functioning, and which in all likelihood derives from Middle America, is maintained by the Hopi Indian society of Snake priests, in northern Arizona. Rivers, serpents, clouds, lightning and rain, together are classified as a kind of dragon species. Hopi Snake Men have explained that their dancing with serpents is a kind of harmonious marriage ritual, performed to invite the serpentine rain. (6)

Nevertheless, actions speak louder than words, and we must consider a few ceremonial facts. On nights prior to their public performance, Snake Men in the kiva have been dipping their serpents into jars of water and throwing them, with great force, unto four cloud serpents depicted on a sand painting. (7)

While such an act obviously sends a strong message to the cloud serpents on high, it is not exactly courtship or marriage behavior. In a community where maternal clans own the fields, the seeds, the houses, as well as the children, not much is left for the men to claim. When hunting ceased to provide a basis for making a respectable living, all that remained for the men were: field labor on territory held by their women, religious ceremonials, and authority to influence the weather.

In Middle America humiliated hunters have discovered how a ceremonial alliance with fearsome phallic serpents could help retrieve some of the respect they had lost with the decline of hunting -- and at the same time give them a measure of masculine claim to agriculture. (8) They began building their Serpent clubhouses of stone, and thereby developed huge quasi-military religious centers.

The Olmec -- Earliest Stratum of Middle American Civilization

In the tropical forests along the southern shores of the Gulf of Mexico a serpent cult has provided the earliest stirrings of Middle American civilization. The Olmec are best known for their grandiose basalt sculptures. But more amazing than these gigantic heads of basalt was a pair of enormous "mosaic" sculptures, made of green serpentine rock, and buried in the La Venta ceremonial ridge.

The first archaeologist who, in 1943, stood face to face with the greenish portrait of an Olmec earth-dragon, looked at its mysterious face upside down. He failed to see the deity's telltale serpentine clefts on the forehead, and he named its face a "tigre mask." He also misread the diamond pattern subscript. Beyond this, he ignored the naturalistic coloring and texture of the green serpentine stone slabs that were used. (9) Both mosaic faces were laid out on large cubic foundations of imported serpentine rock -- each measuring approximately eleven hundred cubic meters.

The mistake in identification, made by the first archaeologists, was perpetuated by other scholars. In due time they certified the Jaguar as having been Middle America's primary deity. But, should we not give these ancient Olmec founders of Middle American civilization the benefit of doubt that they were intelligent people? Would they have carried these many tons of green stones a hundred kilometers, all the way from the other side of the isthmus, only to portray a brown jaguar?

In 1972 I have positively identified these La Venta "mosaic masks" together with their "underlayments" as "mosaic sculptures" - namely, as three-dimensional representations of a greenish rattlesnake. (10) Meanwhile, in the La Venta Museum Park, at Villa Hermosa, the central Olmec iconography still is being displayed upside down. All the while, the living relatives of these Olmec dragons continue to slither about right side up -- as Crotalus durissus durissus.

The face on the natural specimen is already squared. Only the central portion of the face invites additional cosmetic squaring. The abstract nose-and-chin plate, as rendered by the artists, seems to ignore the serpent's mouth. But there is nothing to worry on account of such artistic license. A generation earlier these Olmec dragon priests have assembled a prototype on which the mouth is clearly visible. Moreover, we can tell that these earlier artists began by first laying out the mouth, using the largest slabs that they had available. Also, please do not forget to observe the clefts on the forehead, the matching green serpentine color, and the mosaic technique that is suggested by the serpent's scaly appearance. The diamond pattern subscript is a bonus, added for the benefit of those who never have looked an Olmec dragon straight in the face.

Olmec dragon priests, at La Venta, knew how to function authoritatively from within the embrace of a fearsome rattlesnake. (11) In due time they became stationed as sacrosanct mediators in the Earth Serpent's mouth. (12) Their positioning anticipates the sacrificial scenarios that subsequently were enacted in many gaping serpentine mouths, atop Middle American pyramids. (13) On this Olmec altar, at each of its sides, we are given a two-frame sequence that comes to a point up front. (14) Priests exercised authority over fathers whom they obliged to deliver their offspring. And by presenting their offspring as sacrificial victims, fathers gained authority over mothers who were more deeply attached to their children than they were.

According to the law of the jungle, a man can only subdue and kill what is weaker. And according to the law of human culture, a man can kill with justification only what he owns. Hunters used to own primarily what they made or killed -- that is, the weapons that they made and the meat that they butchered. By applying a little circular reasoning, they could with sacrificial butchering and pious thanksgiving buy living plants and animals from the gods who were their previous owners. Human sacrifice, head hunting, cannibalism, slavery, warfare, and castration, all these are extensions of tricks practiced already by hunters and ordinary tamers of animals. In some form their methods were applied in archaic civilizations also for establishing de facto ownership and authority over humankind. (15)

The Round Pyramid at Cuicuilco

Most pyramids in Middle America are squared in order to accommodate ceremonials that are oriented in four directions. But there are a few notable exceptions where builders preferred the more naturalistic round shape of serpent coils. The Cuicuilco pyramid is such an instance. As it is the case with squared pyramids, the front apron of this structure is a ramp upon which devotees would approach. The Serpent lay there waiting for them, to devour them in accordance with the logic of a true Earth mysticism. The Serpent's devotees "lived and moved in Him. Therein they had their being." Unfortunately, the archaeologists who came here knew not that this was a serpent coil. They dug unsuspectingly, here in the upper neck area. Therefore, we do not know whether this curved entry path was the Serpent's throat or, per chance, whether human devotees used this passage simply to crawl alongside the god's neck -- to huddle up within the coil, externally and fraternally.

At the Ceremonial Center Teotihuacan

In comparison with later Toltec and Aztec excesses, and perhaps also as the result of scant evidence, it appears as though the Dragon might have acted less hungry at Teotihuacan.

The so-called "Temple of Quetzalcoatl" provides at best an ambiguous hint regarding the broader cosmo-vision. What could it be that has one tail with a rattle and two reptilian heads? (16) It is a rattlesnake with two types of heads. One of the heads looks like a typical rain-and-earth monster; the other has a collar that may have avian and solar/botanical associations. It may not be accidental that the solar-botanical head is located farthest away from the earthbound tail rattle.

The distance between lower-world and upper-world was diminished, at Teotihuacan, with the presence of symbolic feathers on the body of an earthbound rattlesnake. Nevertheless, at the famous mural of Teotihuacan, the upper-world deity maintains its traditional identity, complete with beak and feathers -- even though it is surrounded by cloud-dragons. For reasons not quite apparent, scholars have named this scene "the Raingod's Paradise." No, this is not a paradise. This is a cross-section of our entire bloody serpent-blessed and serpent-ridden world.

There is an Earth Serpent from the volcanic head and crater-mouth of which emerge some humanoid personages. These spirit people come forth after the manner in which Hopi kachina divinities are known to emerge from their sacred mountain-tops, in Arizona. At the other side on the mural, in the damaged portion, are traces of a counterpoint to the volcanic serpentine head of Earth. There are indications of pyramid steps, thus of a ceremonial center. And across a small courtyard there is what could have been the tip of another temple structure. Suggestions of ceremonial and sacrificial practices can be found at various places in the mural. Speech and chant curls abound.

The realm of the living is underlined by an Earth Serpent upon the body of which the planters live and raise their crops. Upper horizons are marked by encircling cloud serpents who bulge atop into a cumulus-cloud apparition of the avian Rain-god, complete with beak and feathers. The deity appears at both sides of the mural. The double mural therefore depicts two cross-sections of the world, framed by serpents. Each cross-section features the upper and the lower world -- the natural macrocosm on the right side, and the cultic microcosm on the left.

In the Rainforest of Palenque

Long ago, when human gatherers and hunters first arrived in the Palenque area, a variety of predator totems fascinated the men. Nevertheless, it is likely that the cult of an Earth Dragon has developed later among hunters who to some degree had become involved with planting.

Several murals at Palenque do feature a tree of life. Two rulers face this tree. They appear to be father and son. The roots of the tree present themselves as the face of an underworld monster whose body extends upward as tree of life. The tree links the underworld with the serpents that abound in the surface realm. The face along the stem of this tree of life is reminiscent of an earlier Olmec phallic figurine. Then, beneath the phallic head on the tree of life, from the smaller portrait of a female, it seems, grow forth branches with the head-fruits of the mythic twins, Hun Hunapu and Vucub Hunapu. (17) All the while, this serpentine tree of life is not yet a complete cosmic tree or a universal entity. The sky dimension is still represented by a separate Bird of Heaven.

The ruler Pacal was laid to rest in this pyramid in the year 683, in a sarcophagus at ground level. The stone coffin was covered with a five-ton lid. Upon it a beautifully updated version of the tree of life is engraved. A chamber was constructed and the pyramid built over it. During burial in the vault, five or six attendants were sacrificed; their profiles were pre-inscribed along the top and bottom edges of the cover stone. After their sacrifice the long stairway to the top was filled and the platform sealed. This much about the event can be reconstructed from obvious archaeology.

But from the point of view of Maya rulers, what was it that really happened here in the Maya realm? This event has been anticipated because the death of a ruler is something that happens periodically. It happens after a cosmic schema and always in the same manner.

The Earth Serpent is shown as having followed once again its natural urge to eat. The dead Pacal, reclining comfortably upon a cushion of flowers, is being lowered between two sets of serpentine fangs -- into the mouth of Earth. From underneath this newcomer stares forth the serpentine face of the World Tree. Its square head is anchored in the underworld. Mayan nobles were quite capable of showing some humor in the face of death. The ruler who is being buried here happens to be someone of considerable importance and weight. The head of the serpentine Lord, of the underworld, is therefore slightly tilted by this rearrangement of terrestrial weights, overhead. Behind the figure of Pacal the monster's body stretches upward into the surface world as a serpentine tree, and this tree reflects both life and death.

In the surface realm the body of the world tree is undergoing a transformation -- evidently as a result of being "fed." In contrast to the inauguration mural shown earlier, this funeral scene appears markedly more serpentine. The branches of the tree have become dragons. Beyond coverlets of artistic convenience -- that is, knots of transition where tree limbs abruptly become serpentine -- protrude the tails of rattlesnakes. Even the very tip of the tree of life is becoming a tail rattle for the occasion. But then, high above these changing phenomena, transcending the entire process of serpentine rejuvenation, perches practically unaffected the bird of the upper world. From this transcendent authority, as depicted on the inauguration mural, the next ruler obtains his mandate.

The Ceremonial Center at Chichen Itza

Far to the east, in Yucatan, lies the spectacular ceremonial center Chichen Itza, a center established by Mayans and made greater still by Toltec warriors who wrested away control from an indigenous priesthood. A serpent cult flourished here before the Toltec arrived. Dragon mouths already do define this older Mayan structure.

In the northwest corner of the larger site lies a well-preserved Toltec ball court. A pair of rattlesnake pillars can be seen descending onto the grand stand. They identify the deity to whose mystery this institution has been dedicated. Some players, possibly the captain of a team, had their heads cut off according to the outcome of the contest. The playing field is contoured and marked with "feathered serpents" -- with elongated scales. And feathers on reptilian bodies do suggest that the wearers are hoping to transcend the limitations of ordinary scaly snakes. While feathers suggest the skyward dimension, rattles at the tails of these dragons vouch for their earth-born origin.

This embossed plate of gold was found in the sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza. (18) It was pierced and thrown into the Earth Serpent's soggy mouth to join the approximately eight hundred human victims that had been assembled there over time. The Sky Dragon, depicted here, still displays the telltale rattles of an ordinary earthbound serpent. But in its mouth it harbors the Sun deity, to whom a freshly extracted human heart is being fed from below. Toltec Eagle and Jaguar warriors added the appetites of eagles and jaguars to the already pre-existent hunger of the Serpent.

Notwithstanding the presence of a blood-red jaguar altar in an inside chamber, the exterior of the large pyramid at is unabashedly serpentine. Toward evening of the spring equinox, every March 21st, an architecturally clever sunlight-serpent-body can be seen descending along the western balustrade of the northern staircase. Its dark reptilian head, at the bottom, is established permanently in stone.

Malinalco -- Jaguar and Eagles in the Serpent's Mouth

The Malinalco "rain temple," furnished as it is with jaguar and eagle thrones, is in reality a temple for Earth. The totemic thrones upon which warrior-priests used to sit, do not constitute the central symbolism of this site. The front wall and floor designs at the entrance of the temple are not merely decorative. Facial features are indicated at the front wall, and whoever enters here walks upon a great Serpent's forked tongue. The superior being that was being honored here was the greater Earth, manifest as an Earth Serpent. But, as a deity who accepted food offerings from human retainers, it quickly became dependent on them for its maintenance and cult.

Specifics about the ceremony that was enacted inside this temple are not difficult to surmise. With warrior-priests seated in the round along the wall, inside the Earth Serpent's mouth, and with an eagle-shaped altar positioned right in front of the monster's throat opening, it is rather obvious how here the Earth Serpent was fed. And in the general context of Middle American sacrificial cults, the odds are high that the victims slaughtered here were of the human variety.

Tenochtitlan -- Center of the Aztec Empire

The great temple pyramid at Tenochtitlan was known as "Coatepec," Serpent Mountain. (19) Indeed, its foundations and railings were consistently defined by serpent heads and bodies. I suspect that the name "Coatepec" refers here not so much to a "mountain of many serpents," as to a mountain which itself happens to be a serpent.

Upon Coatepec stood two shrines, one on the left dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain, and the one on the right to Huitzilopochtli, the god of sun and war. Immediately after he was born, the masculine Huitzilopochtli cut up his female sibling with admirable geometric precision. His deed seemed justified, because she stood accused of having plotted to kill him. She also has challenged the male prerogative for waging war. Of course, such sculpting and storytelling are warrior burlesque, pure and simple. This fact was underscored by the sacrificial act itself. After the hearts of sacrificial victims had been extracted on the pyramid, their bodies were tossed over the edge to splash down below onto this perfect caricature of a divine female.

This sacrificial altar of the war god is round, after the manner in which serpent coils and sacrificers lined up for pious slaughter. During one of the last great sacrifices, in 1487, between fifty to eighty thousand victims were compelled to give up their hearts to the hungry Serpent overhead. (20) True! The victims were rewarded with "deification."

Such food mysticism is a "truism" of the first order -- after the manner in which a chicken becomes "humanized" as soon as you or I have it for dinner. Thus, in spite of well-intentioned apologetic rationalizations, such as "cosmo-vision," "world centering" and "world renewal," not all was well with the consciences of Aztec Jaguar and Eagle warriors. (21)

While priestly warriors piously served the great Dragon, the sacred flint knives that they wielded were not fully acknowledged to be theirs. The Aztec solar monster of cosmos and time itself has displayed a tongue that is shaped like these knives. It served as a token for their legitimization. In addition, the knives themselves were personified and given jeweled faces. Therewith they could to some degree be given personal credit, as well as be blamed for messy results -- or for the bites of conscience that accumulated on human souls.

The dual crest on the first Aztec pyramid has been retained throughout subsequent enlargements. I suspect that, originally, it was designed to show the dual cleft on a serpentine forehead. (22) In any case, the two structures have outlined a gap that became astronomically significant.

The shrines of Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, on the main pyramid, were realigned according to Moctezuma's own design. Consequently, at sunrise, on March 21st, the rays of the sun that pierced through the gap between the shrines of Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, did shine directly into the temple of Quetzalcoatl, below. (23)

Herein lies the astronomical basis for the Quetzalcoatl myth -- of the god who would come from the east. Annually, at the spring equinox, the Feathered Serpent deity has in fact been touching his sanctuary in Tenochtitlan with an advance feather of sunlight.

Nonetheless, those whom Moctezuma has suspected, off and on, to be Quetzalcoatl's messengers from the east, who conquered this Middle American civilization of hunter-planters and warrior-priests, merely had been another variety of maladjusted hunter offspring. The ancestors of these warriors, in Eurasia and Africa, were domesticators of animals, and they learned how to ride on horses. They came well prepared to obliterate Middle American divine serpents. They were inspired by the mythology of herders, about heroes who killed dragons. (24)

The Ceremonial Center Cacaxtla, in Tlaxcala

I cannot possibly end this essay without recognizing the warriors and priests of Tlaxcala. Prior to their desperate alliance with the new men from Europe, Tlaxcalan warriors were caught up in the same kind of warfare, the same general mythology and ethos of the Middle American sacrificial religion. It looks as though in this Cacaxtla Mural, Jaguar warriors are sacrificing captive Eagle warriors. A doorway close by is adorned with a Jaguar totem on the left, and a Serpent totem on the right. A Jaguar warrior is shown controlling his Jaguar totem, and an Eagle warrior is shown subduing the Serpent.

An Eagle defeating a Serpent! What in human culture does this conflict mean? Will the Eagle have to grow scales or will the Serpent grow feathers? This was the question that occupied the Aztec who sacrificed to the Earth Serpent farther north, in Tenochtitlan.

But in the everyday lives of Tlaxcala farmers, down south, which of the two totemic divinities, Serpent or Jaguar, has been primary? Clearly, the shape of the serpent has determined the shape of the jaguar – here -- more than jaguar morphology has affected the figure of the dragon. It is the Jaguar totem that has been emaciated here to fit the general cult of the Middle American Serpent.

The backdrop blanket, of an eagle killing a snake, was woven by an Aztec offspring. By contrast, the attire that I am wearing I have bought from a weaver in Tlaxcala. It depicts horses. More than any other peoples in Middle America, the angry Tlaxcalan warriors have aligned themselves with Spanish horsemen, and together with them they have overthrown the empire of their obnoxious Aztec sacrificers. By doing so they have not only escaped the claws of Aztec Eagle and Jaguar priests. Nay, they succeeded in obscuring the very mouth of the greater Earth Serpent itself.

In the Context of History

Notwithstanding the present emblem of the Republic of Mexico, an eagle that captures a snake has not been Middle America's primary deity. Rather, Eagle and Jaguar warriors have been feeding and "domesticating" the Earth Serpent. By controlling its (appetite and) cult they have usurped its authority.

According to Jeffersonian confession, to which I subscribe, all men -- all humankind -- are created equal. But religions, cults, and ideologies created by humankind, these are not equal. And the gods, the greater-than-human realities and ideals that inspire humankind, these also are not created equal. They were not even created. They were discovered in moments of human weakness -- they were conceived in states of awe and fascination.

The Feathered Serpent was at best a dubious savior of humankind. Feathers upon his body did not diminish his appetite for human victims. The compromise theology offered by Feathered Serpent symbolism was not enough to humanize the entire legacy of obsolescent hunter traditions.

And so it came to pass that another variety of hunter warriors, mounted on horses, took over the land. They pretended to conquer in the name of a Son of God who himself had fallen victim to an institution of civilization -- judicial human sacrifice.

Fortunately, this Son of God had a mother who back in her Mediterranean homelands was highly esteemed. While the demons of militarism and decadent hunter traditions continue to roam the world, here in Mexico the divine Mother has stepped to the fore -- enigmatically American. At churches throughout the land, delegations of mothers and daughters bring her flowers -- most obviously here at the home shrine of the Lady Guadalupe.

Here and there a contrite son atones -- for ancient sins of hunter maladjustment and serpent-inspired aggression.



(1) Throughout my years of teaching history of religions courses at university level, I have been dissatisfied with the Middle American audio-visual materials that I had available for illustration. Upon retirement I resolved to produce something that I could have used. Filming in Mexico was done with a hi-8 video camera, of the type used by average tourists. No tripod was used. This limited pilot program is being released to teachers and researchers, in the hope that an agency with better facilities and greater resources will be inspired to present the immensity of Mexican religious history at a more appropriate scale. An earlier portion of this pilot program was presented at the XVII International Congress of History of Religions, in Mexico City, 1995. Significant re-filming for the present edition was done during the week of that congress. It was accomplished in the company of fellow historians of religions and with the help and advocacy of our Mexican hosts. While I do not know the names of all the individuals who have been helpful, I trust that a copy of this video tape will somehow end up in their hands.

(2) Hunters have identified with divine predators not merely to be effective, but also to have access to divine sponsors who would assume responsibility for their killing and would alleviate their guilt. For example, the Navajo Indians had a "Wolfway" hunting ritual for tracking and butchering deer, and a "Big Snake" method that implied striking from ambush "like a snake." See Karl W. Luckert, The Navajo Hunter Tradition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1975, pp. 105n, 173.

(3) By contrast, in semi-arid lands such as northern Africa, the Middle East, and central Eurasia, groups of decadent hunters claimed remnant herds as their property. They retained non-serpentine totemic crests, paid homage to creator- and owner-gods, and thereby became legitimate herdsmen and owners themselves. In a tropical jungle, where it is difficult to control domesticated animals, gardening was a more efficient way to produce extra food. For my delineation of the evolutionary process of religions, see Karl W. Luckert. Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992, chapter 1.

(4) See Karl W. Luckert, "Hainuwele and Headhunting Reconsidered," in From East and West, volume 40, pages 261-279. Rome: IsMEO, 1990. In contrast to tropical hunters, those in semi-arid regions who became herdsmen generally despised and killed serpents. Snakes are enemies of both men and livestock. Dragon-slayer mythology therefore prevailed among peoples who took to herding.

(5) The Chinese faith in dragons remained viable, so much so that the religion of Islam was unable to purge it completely from the minds of the Hui people. In addition, dragon lore among Muslims in China has escaped Confucian editing and censorship. See Shujiang Li and Karl W. Luckert, Mythology and Folklore of the Hui, a Chinese Muslim People, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994, pages 194-200, 102-106. Middle American religion appears to mimic the Chinese fascination for jade and other greenish rocks. As a result of having extended my studies into China, I have come to recognize dragons and serpents as a single class of beings. Dragons are mythical serpents that have "outgrown" herpetology.

(6) Because retainers of this cult do not permit photography, a Hopi Snake ceremonial cannot be shown with real life images. I have recourse to a tableau that I photographed at the Smithsonian Institution and to the journal notes of A. M. Stephen, an anthropologist who was initiated into the Hopi Snake cult. See Hopi Journal, 2 volumes, E. C. Parsons editor, 1936. See also Fewkes, J. W., A. M. Stephen, and J. G. Owens. "The Snake Ceremonies at Walpi." Journal of American Ethnology and Archaeology, vol. 4. Boston, 1894, pp. 84ff.

(7) I also have noticed that Hopi Snake Men, when they dance in the plaza, do occasionally enjoy scaring women and children with their serpentine dance partners. The mysterium tremendum potential of reptiles adds to the status of the cult members. A similar practice of scaring women and children accompanied the Aztec "New Fire Ceremony," which culminated in a human sacrifice and the drawing of new fire. "Women were closed up in granaries to avoid their transformation into fierce beasts who would eat men; pregnant women would put on masks of maguey leaves, and children were punched and nudged awake to avoid being turned into mice while asleep." David Carrasco, Religions of Mesoamerica, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990, pp. 85ff. This tidbit of information goes a long way toward exposing gender conflict in the post-hunting era, as well as showing the ex-hunters' rationalizations about sacrifice. Examples of post-hunting gender roles, in the Moluccas, are given in "Hainuwele and Headhunting Reconsidered" (see note 4, above).

(8) Three and a half millennia ago a cloud, in India, would still have been recognized as a divine rain dragon. But when Aryan herdsmen, serpent slayers, invaded the Indus plain they gave credit to Indra, their own god of war, for having slain Vrtra, the rain dragon of the Indus civilization. In the Rig Veda the god Indra is given credit, for having split the Vala Mountain from which he released the cattle, for having smashed Dasyu cities and driven forth the natives, and for having killed "Vrtra" whom Aryan brahmins conveniently defamed as the "Obstructor" of rain. In this manner a war god of herders has usurped the status and the function of a planters' dragon deity.

(9) A primitive prototype of this "pavement mask," which shows even better the serpent's nose plate and mouth line, was discovered during the same expedition and published in Drucker, P., "La Venta, Tabasco: A Study of Olmec Ceramics and Art," Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 153, pages 49-59. Washington D.C. 1952. A drawing of one of the two larger mosaic faces was published seven years later, upside down. Seen in this manner, the brow was made out to be a jaguar's "mouth with lips and fangs," and the row of diamonds became a "headdress or plumes." P. Drucker, R. F. Heizer, and R. J. Squier. "Excavations at La Venta, Tabasco, 1955."Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 170, pages 78-101. Washington D.C., 1959.

(10) My conclusions were published under the title Olmec Religion, a Key to Middle America and Beyond. Volume 137 in "The Civilization of the American Indian Series." Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976. See especially pages 96-107. The response was immediate. Most -- though not all -- archaeologists were outraged, and fellow historians of religions fell silent. Since then, the academic jaguar fixation has persisted and has been magnified with fresh fantasies. A tree of life has lately been seen contained in the still inverted La Venta mosaic faces. This contrivance was offered by George E. Stuart, as "New Light on the Olmec," in National Geographic Magazine, November 1993, page 107.

(11) La Venta: Monument 19. See Luckert, Olmec Religion..., p. 17. This is not to say that the Olmec and all subsequent peoples in Middle America had no other gods alongside their great dragon. However, for Middle America I generalize that the Serpent hierophany has furnished the core of the early planters’ cosmo-vision. Single hierophanies, in American Indian sedentary religions, frequently multiplied into foursomes to accommodate four-directional ceremonialism and geography.

(12) La Venta: Altar 4. See Luckert, Olmec Religion..., pp. 62, 74f, 83.

(13) Compare J. E. S. Thompson, Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960, p. 13. What Thompson concedes concerning the Maya I suspect with regard to all prehistoric Middle American cultures, including the Olmec. They sacrificed humankind. I further agree with Thompson's general characterization of Maya gods (p. 12), to the effect that all their deities of the rain and earth had a reptilian origin. I extend this generalization to the Olmec and all subsequent prehistoric Middle American religions. For a pyramid top so identified, see Codex Borgianus (14) by Eduard Seler. (Fondo de Cultura Economica, Mexico, 1963).

(14) La Venta: Altar 5. See Luckert, Olmec Religion..., pp. 74f.

(15) In an earlier publication I have designated this step in human evolution as the phase of "grand domestication" or "over-domestication." See Luckert, Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire..., chapter 1.

(16) Two-headed serpents are in evidence elsewhere in Middle America. J.E.S. Thompson associates the four celestial monsters of the Maya with two-headed alligators, lizards, and serpents. See Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960, p. 11.

(17) See Delia Goetz and Sylvanus G. Morley translators. Popol Vuh, the Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950, pp. 118ff.

(18) See Walter Krickeberg, Altmexikanische Kulturen. Berlin: Safari Verlag, 1975, p. 386.

(19) David Carrasco, Religions of Mesoamerica. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990, p. 70.

(20) Number estimates vary between twenty and eighty thousand. In separate counting, two of Cortes's officers arrived at the figure of 136,000 heads, on the skull rack that stood by the main pyramid. See Walter Krickeberg, Altmexikanische Kulturen. Berlin: Safari Verlag, 1975, p. 238.

(21) David Carrasco's aforementioned work gives an excellent overview on Middle American cosmo-visions, world centering, and world renewals. I find these themes helpful, especially for understanding the legitimization propaganda of obsolescent huntsmen of would-be rulers, aristocrats, warriors, and sacrificing priests. However, I suggest here that the religions of Middle America also beg questions regarding the experiences of common people, of victims, of women and children. A consideration of evolutionary adaptations, mal-adaptations, gender roles, quests for power, experiences of guilt, divine retribution, atonement, justification and legitimization, is equally important for understanding the essence of religions.

(22) For a while, atop the final version of this Aztec pyramid until the Spaniards were temporarily driven out in 1520 the Christian Cross and an image of the Virgin Mary occupied one of the two top structures. Huitzilopochtli's image was retained in the other together with an altar upon which human victims were sacrificed.

(23) See <http://www.egd.igd.fhg.de/~mader/Projekt/Beispiele/VRML/Tenochtitlan/Astronomy.html>

(24) Serpent slayers are mythological heroes of herder-warrior traditions. Herders, in general, dislike serpents. The serpent-slayer mythos that was applied to Jesus Christ, by Christians, was derived from a promise in Genesis 3:15.