Xochipilli : Is it a Dahlia?

I think we may be overlooking the obvious.

In my continuing quest to understand Xochipilli, both in spirit and in form, I am drawn to the floral imagery portrayed on the idol. I am unconvinced of the current paradigm which would have me believe that all of these plants are intoxicants designated for shamanic usage.

Wasson, to fit a theory, has perhaps projected his own florid interpretation into deciphering the identity of the plant life carved into the statue of Xochipilli. There is no doubt that some of these may in fact be intoxicating plants as their identification has been noted by others as those of Wasson. I would have to study carefully to determine which identification came first. Was it Wassons or was the identification skewed by first having been exposed to Wassons work?

More than one aspect of the statue gnaws at the edges of my curiosity.

Take for instance the base on which Xochipilli sits.

Statue of Xohipilli.
The statue and its base are two separate carvings

The statue of Xochipilli is 79 cm high and carved in stone. The personage of Xochi is perched upon a talud-tablero (1) styled granite base, about 43 cm high and 60 cm per side.

  1. An architectural style used in temples, pyramids and platforms in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Front and centre of the base of Xochipillis statue is carved a floral image. It is this image that I seek clarification of. It is noted as being a floral image (I don’t think this is doubted anywhere) although (until recently)(1) attempts at interpreting this image seem to have stalled on Wassons self-assured identification of it.

  1. See Post Xochipilli : New Floral Identifications?
Close up of “flower” in question

It has been identified by Wasson as being a pattern which is constructed of the profile of a mushroom cap which has been sliced vertically in half.

I have issues with this explanation. One of which is the butterfly feeding from the flower. The Aztecs were accomplished botanists and entomologists (1) and knew full well the differences between flowering plants and fungi and although they operated according to a philosophy and worldview largely unknown to modern “Christian” ways of thinking they would not make the error of butterflies feeding from fungi (2). I think too much emphasis has been placed on shoehorning the identification of the plants into identifications of intoxicating shamanic plants when we need to understand what Xochipilli represents. Xochipilli represents the flowering of life. Not the sprout from the seed (3) but the eruption of the sprout through the earth or the blossom from the bud. The blossoming of flower from bud is deeply entwined with both spiritual and philosophical connotations and is as capable as psychoactive plants as carrying hidden meaning and deep understanding.

  1. or perhaps entomophagists (insectivores) would be more accurate. Mexicans ate (and still eat) a wide variety of insects.
  2. not accidentally anyway. There may be a darker symbolism (perhaps of the “butterflies” of the night ie. the moth) but aside from Xochipillis propensity to dispense sexual disease there is no dark symbology generally associated with Xochipilli. This may need to be revised if Xochipilli is in fact wearing a mask made of human skin (the thigh skin facial paint) and of course there is his identification as the flayed flower god of souls (or perhaps his incarnation as Piltzintecuhtli/Xochipilli. The 3rd Lord of the Night). (See Post Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers). Wasson deftly rationalises this by noting that in some aspects of Mesoamerican mythology the butterfly represents the souls of the returned dead and that the butterfly is “feasting on the flesh of the divine mushroom, the spirit food of the gods, to whose world the mushrooms transport for a brief spell the people of this sad work-a-day world.” and that this “ratifies” (makes officially valid) his identification of the image. This is a somewhat spurious line of reasoning to me.
  3. this (sprout from seed) might be more of Xipe Totecs area of influence. See notes re Xipe Totec in Post Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers.

Various examples of Mexica artwork depicting floral imagery very similar to that as shown on the base upon which Xochipilli sits. Nowhere are these identified as artistic representations of fungi.

Instead of attaching some esoteric or occulted meaning to the images perhaps if we were to examine them from the point of view of a Mexica botanist.

One interpretation is that, from a botanical point of view, several of the images may be interrelated and might depict a single type of flower from bud to full blossoming. This process in itself is integral to flowering plants and carries many layers of philosophical meaning that can easily be attributed to the nature of Xochipillis actions in the world.

It has been suggested that the most likely contender for this particular flower is the Acocoxóchitl (1) or Dahlia (2). The image is being investigated in its totality rather than being a pattern made up of the cross-sections of a mushroom cap as has been previously posited. (Wasson/Schultes/Hoffman)

  1. acocoxochitl from a(tl) “water”, coco(tli) “tube” and xochitl “flower”, meaning ‘flower of hollow stems with water.’
  2. See Post Acocoxochitl. The Dahlia

The acocoxóchitl headed the list of flowers that people went to look for in the fields and cornfields before the start of the festival of the “flower offering”, or Tlaxochimaco. The flowers were woven in long and thick garlands to be offered to Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary god, and to all the gods. It (the dahlia) was considered of great value because of its beauty (1). This flower still occupies a place of importance in Mexico and its emblem represents the national flower of México. Being that it is such an important flower (even today) I find it unusual that this particular flower is not considered in relation to Xochipilli.

  1. it also has medicinal utility and its tubers are an edible vegetable

Various varieties of dahlia flower types.

Dahlia varieties are numerous.

Even the state of “temixcoch” (1) in which Xochipilli is said (2) to gaze into the distance in a state of hallucinatory wonderment is, in my opinion, more than imagined. The statue is said to have “widely dilated pupils” although how one can tell this when there are no eyeballs in the statue is beyond me. Others have theorized that the eye sockets contained some kind of precious stones which have long been removed.

  1. also temicxoch/temixoch. Although I have been unable to find this word (in either of its incarnations) in any of my Nahuatl dictionaries. Piñeiro (2000) refers to temixcoch as a sacred plant (possibly from Veracruz) called “las flores del sueño” (the flowers of the dream) rather than an intoxicated state of being but I think the term could just as easily refer to both meanings and the poet in me sees the flowers of the dream could easily be used to refer to an hallucinatory state. Dreams are also known as “the flowers of sleep” and one writer notes than when Xochipilli is absorbed by the flowers of sleep he is “in a remote world, breaking down the wall of our logical thinking to open it to a more transcendent vision of life.” Sergio Magaña (2014) notes that temixoch is a blossom dream, a lucid dream, controlled at will. He also notes that “We can also attain this state while awake, by altering our state of consciousness, bringing the tonal (waking state) and the nahual (sleep/dream state) together in what we call daydreaming or dreaming while awake. This allows us to see a different reality – energy, ancestors, guides, the underworld and the future – either in the obsidian mirror or on the face of other people or somewhere else.” No hallucinogens necessary.
  2. by Wasson. This term has entered the lexicon of Xochipilli and, like the floral identifications put forward by Wasson, I am unable to determine which came first (or even where Wasson came across the term)

The statues empty hands suggest that they once held something, perhaps rattles or drums, which also may have served some shamanic purpose. We must take into account that Xochipilli was a God and Patron of music so it is entirely possible any musical instrument was held for the purpose of the joy of music rather than any shamanic impetus.

What the statue of Xochipilli actually held in its hands is still somewhat of a mystery. A potential contender for Xochipillis hand held object is the yolotopilli. The yolotopilli (heart-staff/heart-cane) was a small staff upon which was skewered a human heart and may have been considered a symbol of life.

“Xuchipilli” and the yolotopilli.

Research continues.

  • Cuairán Chavarría, María del Pilar., Olmedo Vera, Bertina. & Montúfar López, Aurora (2018) Xochipilli, el Señor de las Flores : Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia Ciudad de México, México. ISBN: 978-607-539-154-0
  • Irving, Jan (2012), R. Gordon Wasson: The Man, the Legend, the Myth. Beginning a New History of Magic Mushrooms, Ethnomycology,and the Psychedelic Revolution. https://logosmedia.com/2012/05/RGordonWasson_The-Man-the-Legend-the-Myth-secret-history-of-magic-mushrooms-by-jan-irvin-144/#R.%20Gordon%20Wasson
  • Magaña, Sergio (2014) The Toltec Secret: Dreaming Practices of the Ancient Mexicans : ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00MQY1ANY
  • Piñeiro, Juan José (2000) EL DESPERTAR DEL HONGO: DIARIO DE UN PSICONAUTA EN MEXICO (The Awakening of the Mushroom : Diary of a Psychonaut in México) : ISBN 10: 9700511987
  • Schultes, Richard Evans, and Albert Hofmann. 1992. Plants of the gods: their sacred, healing, and hallucinogenic powers. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
  • Wasson, R. Gordon (1974). The Role of ‘Flowers’ in Nahuatl Culture: A Suggested Interpretation. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 6(3), 351–360. doi:10.1080/02791072.1974.10471987

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