Xochipilli and Homosexuality : Part 1

**Revised and Updated**

This has become a larger project than I initially imagined it might be. There is more than enough information available for this exploration to become the basis for a thesis. To make it easier to write (and read) I’ll break this chapter into two parts. In Part 2 I will delve into the relationship between Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal.

I expect this will be a more controversial Post than most of what I do. The conversation around gender identity is more active than ever I have seen it. This is a good thing but as we also exist in an identity labelling obsessed cancel culture of online trolls seeking to be offended so they can cowardly attack, with righteous self-serving indignation from the cyber shadows, the conversation can stray somewhat.

What starts as a genuine search for knowledge for spiritual growth and evolution soon gets lost and you become entombed in validation oppression. This occurs when you may not support anothers belief system (1) and then not only are you accused of being intolerant but you are condemned for actively oppressing that person (or group). This is counterproductive. History is fluid. We have perhaps only a true understanding of the last 100 years or so as there are still people alive who lived through and remember such times. Everything before this is accessible only through books, only through the writings of others. This can be problematic as now we need to rely upon the altruism of the author involved. History can be skewed and distorted (and this is before even taking into account differences in language, culture and time). My study of one particular Mesoamerican identity indicates that another distortion is occurring now.

  1. belief systems differ not only from country to country and culture to culture but also from person to person (even within the same family). Who is to say which belief system is more (or less) valid than another. Hatred however (in my opinion) is not considered valid.

Xochipilli drew my attention over 30 years ago when I happened upon a book called “Plants of the Gods”.

As a herbalist walking the path of the leaf I was immediately drawn to this figure and as a result even deeper into the shamanic medicine of the Americas. The research in this book as put forward by Hofman and Schultes depicts Xochipilli as the god of “intoxicating” (or inebriating) plants (1) and refers back to a work of Wasson as published in 1973, “The role of “Flowers” in Nahuatl Culture: A Suggested Interpretation” (Authors emphasis in bold) The key word here is “suggested”. It is a theory. Perhaps valid, perhaps not. I have several issues with the interpretations suggested, not the least of which is the total lack of reference to yauhtli or Tagetes lucida (2). This plant played an important ritual role in Aztec ceremony and one variety of it was considered a manifestation of Xochipilli (and Tlaloc). As it was not considered “hallucinogenic” it did not make the cut (3).

  1. See Posts Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers. and Xochipilli : New Floral Identifications
  2. also called pericón, yerba anis (yerbaniz) or Mexican tarragon. (See Post Pericón. Tagetes lucida for further information)
  3. a matter of adjusting the facts to fit the theory?

Recently (1) a new phenomena regarding this particular deity has arisen. It has been suggested that Xochipilli is not only a (more or less) benevolent (2) vegetation deity but the patron or god of homosexual activity. Most of the claims I have come across refer back to a book (Greenberg 1990) called “The Construction of Homosexuality”. This book has in it a chapter on Mayans, Incas and Aztecs and it plainly states that “One of the Aztec gods, Xochipilli, was the patron of male homosexuality and male prostitution; he may have been taken over from the earlier Toltec civilisation” (3). That is pretty much it. No source material or evidence is offered for this claim aside from disparagement from the Mayans and Aztecs who both claimed that the Toltecs had a reputation for sodomy (4). Conner (etal 1998) regurgitates this “fact” in Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit. Much of what Greenberg writes regarding homosexuality in Mesoamerica is vague and/or contradictory (5). He writes of where homosexuality “could have” occurred amongst the Maya and of pre-hispanic religious “cults” that “possibly involved” homosexuality. Seems like a lot of guesswork and not a lot of fact. He also goes on about pornographic pottery that depicts homosexual acts, both male and female, that have been found in cultures from the Mochica and Chimu (6) to the lands of the Aztec and contends that these statuettes are evidence that homosexuality was both “profuse” (7) and “acceptable”. He then more or less contradicts this later in the text by describing the strictness of the laws regarding homosexuality and the heinous torture inflicted upon the participants of such acts (8)(9). Most of the evidence he relies upon is that provided by the Spanish chroniclers which he elaborates upon by saying “There is no particular reason to be concerned about the reliability of sources about homosexuality” as it “figured in the polemics (10) and debates about Spanish colonial policy”. So why this text is used to justify the claim about Xochipilli being the god of homosexuality (a “widely accepted practice”) is beyond me. Greenberg also makes the ridiculous claim that “the Aztecs had no shamans” (11) but a few lines later asks us to recall that in many Mesoamerican cultures shamans were “frequently male to female transvestites who engaged in sexual relations with other men”. This work actually seems to follow that of a dominant culture seeking to denigrate that of the culture it seeks to dominate. This text cannot be relied upon as accurate source material. We must take great care with what we proclaim and accept as fact. I suppose if we say something to enough people over a long enough period of time these same “facts” begin to be accepted as truth. After a while they become the truth because there are none who remember the truth and none brave enough to seek it (12) or speak it. This is how colonisation occurs. The same author (Greenberg) that flatly declares Xochipilli to be the god of homosexuality also allies this very same deity with institutionalised paedophilia. Now we begin to tread dangerous ground.

  1. within the last decade or so.
  2. apart from doling out sexually transmitted diseases if you get on his wrong side.
  3. One author (Prower) expands on this a little “Because of him being the ruling deity during the Toltec era, the hyper-aggressive Mexica (Aztec) conquerors of the Toltecs viewed him as the embodiment of the weak, peace-loving virtues of the Toltec people that lead to their downfall. This especially included their tolerance and celebration of homosexuality. Thusly, to the Mexica, Xochipilli was the quintessential deity of male weakness as exemplified by his queerness“. I am quite curious as to the source materials used for this assertion. He does rely upon the work of Greenberg (1990) though and this presents the problem of an incorrect assertion being used to reference an incorrect assertion which, after enough time has passed, is now taken as a statement of fact.
  4. again no evidence is proffered other than the slanderous accusations of an enemy culture. This is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church liked to do. Accuse your enemies of being sodomites (amongst other things) and use that as a justification for their destruction.
  5. I will not speak of the other cultures mentioned in the text as I am not as familiar with them.
  6. Peruvian cultures that predate the Inca.
  7. very plentiful; abundant
  8. the Aztec people were also very strict on drunkenness. Punishments could involve death if you were caught publicly drunk on more than one occasion. Adultery also carried a death penalty.
  9. Both of those being punished were covered in ashes, one participant (the receptive) had their entrails removed through their anus whilst the other participant was tied to a log and left exposed to the elements until they died. Sigal (2007) notes however that “there is no primary evidence for significant penalties against homosexual behaviours. If we are referring to Mesoamerican codices then he is quite correct. There is no primary evidence as the Spanish essentially destroyed all but a paltry few of all the written works of Mesoamerica. So in this sense there is no primary evidence as there are no primary textual sources to rely upon. I can only hope that at least some of these works were hidden from the Spanish (and still remain so) and are hidden away somewhere kept safe by knowledge keepers. If we are referring to works such as the Florentine Codex which sought to chronicle the life of the Aztecs we must remember that its creation was a fundamentally political act and it was created with the primary reason of being able to dismantle Mesoamerican culture more effectively. We must take into account that Mesoamerican peoples related “sexual behaviours and desires to state formation, the gods, human sacrifice and warfare” (Sigal 2007) and that the Spanish were attempting to degrade their “enemies” by calling them “faggots” or “sodomites”. They are not the only culture and this was not the only time that this was done. Sodomy was a typical accusation (usually levelled at the victim by the Church and its adherents) when they sought to destroy any particular group (i.e the Cathars, the Bogomils, the Knights Templars). Jews, Christians and Muslims all have “laws” against sodomy. Sodomy in its entirety can mean the act of anal sex with either men, women or even animals but it is typically taken as the act of penetrative anal sex between men.
  10. a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something
  11. which I guess is technically true as the word “shaman” refers specifically to Evenki of Siberia. What the word tends to denote however is a person who has access to and is able to interact with the spirit world. This may involve altered states of consciousness triggered by various forms of trance (or drug use).
  12. “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.” ― Voltaire

A selection of Peruvian ceramics depicting sexual acts.

Depictions of male (images above) and female (image below) homosexuality in Chimu pottery

Not all of it is same sex however. Other sexual acts were frequently depicted.

Apparently they liked doing it “doggie” style……

……….even after death it seems…..or perhaps this next picture is an indictment of those things that cannot be avoided in life. You know, death and taxes.

…..and it appears that oral sex was also enjoyed.

Taking this pottery and using it as definitive reasoning for any one particular sexual behaviour is the equivalent of visiting the Pornhub website and assuming that it depicts the “norms” of any given society. These are all Peruvian works of artistry (as are the majority of images that you will find if you search for this type of erotic ceramics). This culture was very different to that of the peoples of Mesoamerica and even though there may have been contact between the two neither one can be taken as representative of the other.

Aztec erotic ceramics showing homosexuality have been harder to come by. The following images are taken from various auction sites that labelled them “Aztec” although (without being any kind of expert in prehispanic ceramics) I feel that these have probably been mislabelled. There is no doubt that Tenochtitlan, like any metropolitan capital city, would have attracted artisans from far afield who would have travelled to the big city to find fame and fortune (or have been captured or been some part of a tributary offering) and these artworks may be representative of this cultural interchange.

This appears to be a ménage à trois between two men and a woman.

This was listed as an Aztec artwork depicting lesbian behaviour but it was noted that some of the womens “parts” were “in the wrong places”. Closer examination shows that the figure at the bottom right of the image has both breasts and penis. It may be indicative of an intersex person (as I doubt that they had access to gender reassignment surgery).

This image is often depicted as being Aztec but it came from Costa Rica (circa 1000AD-1500AD). Costa Rica is part of Mesoamerica though so it is no large stretch to say it might have been inspired by the Azteca. It should be noted though that the Aztec empire started around 1345 so there are minor time discrepancies.

Some of the commentary regarding Xochipilli that I have recently (as of October 2020) encountered is outlined below.

El Tonalamatl Ollin (on Facebook). An artist whose ongoing project, “The Tonalamatl Ollin,” is a reinterpretation of an ancient Mexican book of divination and prophecy and whose vibrant artwork is ripe with pre-hispanic and queer symbolism has had this to say of Xochipilli.

The Temple of Xochipilli

Xochipilli, the Prince of the Flowers, is the lord of joy, art, dance, and song. Ecstasy is seen as a form of contact with the divine, therefore Xochipilli helps us to build a bridge to the presence of Ometeótl. He appears as a young man of exquisite beauty, His body and face painted yellow, a colour of women, corn, and light (1). He paints a butterfly on His mouth, as a symbol of sacrifice and reincarnation (2). He and his sister Xochiquetzal (3) are the patron deities of creativity, art and love. They are manifestations of one another; He holds her within Himself, and is one in Her. Therefore, because He is male and female at once, He is the lord and protector of queer and two-spirit people. He is enthroned in His temple, dressed in jewels. He is shown surrounded by flowers, symbols of poetry, art, sexuality, and the brevity of life, and He bears a fan made of chalchihuitl, green stone or jade, a symbol of preciousness, abundance and life. The temple can be understood as a metaphor of the body; He dwells within, filling us with joy, inspiring us in life. Beautifully put but this can equally express the feminine and masculine aspects in any single person. This is a poetic stretching and interpretation being artfully used to co-opt.

  1. as was that of the flayed God Xipe Totec
  2. butterflies were also symbolic of renewal, transformation, fire, war, death and the souls of the dead. I will explore tis further in a future Post Xochipilli and the Butterfly
  3. Xochipilli is also sometimes called Macuilxochitl (Five Flower). Macuilxochitl (one of the Ahuiteteo : See Post Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers.) and Ixtlilton (a deity of medicine and healing) are also said to be Xochiplli’s brothers.

Revista Todes (on YouTube) has noted that during the rule of the Mexica that, although homosexuality was punishable by death, Xochipilli would protect homosexual couples so long as one of them assumed a female social role. One commenter claims however that this is an invented fact. An interesting side note is that in all of this talk of homosexuality there is very little mention of female homosexuality. Xochipilli is purported to be the patron of homosexuals but apparently only if they are male gendered and even though Xochiquetzal is linked to Xochipilli she does not seem to have the same role for female gendered homosexuality as Xochipilli does for males (1).

  1. She is the patroness of the ahuianime. See Post Malinche

Two terms have been denoted as being used for people who did not follow the social norms generally assigned to traditional gender roles. These were “xōchihuah” (1) and “patlacheh” (2). Patlachtli has been said (Bowles) to be a metaphor for the penis or for masculinity in general (3). So a patlacheh can either be (crudely) a woman who has a dick or perhaps more accurately a woman who possesses masculine qualities or assumes a non-typical gender role in a female/female relationship (or any relationship for that matter).

  1. discussed in greater detail in the next Post : Xochipilli : Chapter 3 : Xochipilli and Homosexuality : Part 2
  2. In Nahuatl, the -eh or -huah suffixes can be added to stems to create a word that means “owner, possessor, sovereign, haver” of that stem, with the “stem” in this case being patlachtli.
  3. in La Huasteca a large tamale (tlapatlaxtli) is derived from patlachtli ‘long and big’ and in the Classic Nahuatl Dictionary “patlachtli” denotes a “long, wide” thing.

A patlacheh as depicted in the Florentine Codex

The crossover of gender roles/terms reached into the highest levels of Aztec government. The second most powerful position in government was that of the Cihuacoatl (cihuatl – woman and coatl – serpent). The position of Cihuacoatl was always held by a man from the ranks of the nobility. The Cihuacoatl was in charge of running the government on a daily basis. He also served as the supreme judge for the court system, appointed all the lower judges and handled the financial affairs. He had thousands of officials and civil servants that worked under him and helped keep the government and the empire running smoothly. He represented the internal affairs of the civilisation such as civil custom and religion. Although the Cihuacoatl is very powerful, he is not allowed to make any decisions without consulting the Huey Tlatoani first. If the Tlatoani disagrees, then that decision is not allowed to be made.

In the image below Xochipilli shares the space with Juanga (Juan Gabriel 07/01/1950 – 28/08/2016) a famous Mexican singer, songwriter and actor. Juanga was a flamboyant Liberace like performer and whose homosexuality was an openly known secret.

Translation (Roughly) You know Xochipilli the Prince of flowers and psychedelic plants. Did you know that he is also the representative of poetry and homosexuality. Perhaps you did not know it and it is because homosexuality in pre-Hispanic cultures was highly censored in the lost colonial era and although it is one of many defamations made by the colonizers, to ancient Mexico and that despite the cultural backwardness that the conquest meant Even today we have deeply rooted our respect and admiration for people with sexual diversity, even today there are indigenous communities where the so-called muxes before, xochihua (the one who carries the flower), homosexual or transsexual people are accepted, loved and respected in apparently a more advanced society.

The comments made above regarding sexual diversity are particularly relevant. We live in a time where all the facets of sexual diversity are openly spoken about. Society is becoming more educated regarding these facets and as a result more accepting of the differences. Tolerance is key. This is how the world will need to be if we seek progress without violence and war.

We also live in a time of instant access to information and opinion. Sometimes the two are not differentiated and opinion is proffered as fact. We also live in a cancel culture of online trolling. If you do not agree with the opinions (and we’re not talking about actual facts here) then you run the very real risk of exposing yourself to the hatred and bigotry of the very people who just want to be accepted, and rightly so, as a normal part of society. The oppressed become the oppressors? The bullied become the bullies?

So far I have heard very few voices resist the impulse (and the pressure) to jump on this particular bandwagon.

Resistencia Tenochtitlan (on Facebook via Tlatoani Moquíhuix an Archaeological and Historical dissemination project directed by a student in Archaeology)

In the last days a video circulates that the Xochipilli deity is associated with homosexuality among the Mexicans, we need to clarify that here in Resistencia Tenochtitlán we have nothing against homosexuality, but if it is our responsibility to deny such hypothesis. It is known even that this kind of practice for Mexicans was not well seen and even punished with death. We cannot understand the concept of Xochipilli if we see and judge the past with the eyes of the present. (Authors emphasis)

Modern translations assert particular concepts of identity politics, oversimplifying complex issues related to the ways the Nahua conceived of sexual behaviours and desires (Sigal 2007). Nahua metaphors and myth show that indigenous understandings of sexuality were different from those of the Spanish colonisers and that these concepts will probably remain at least partially unknowable to us.

Tlatollotl, an archaeological researcher also notes that Book 1 of the Florentine Codex makes no mention of Xochipillis homosexuality (1).

  1. https://tlatollotl.tumblr.com/post/155087204891/book-1-the-gods-fourteenth-chapter

Stay tuned for Part 2.


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