Intent is a powerful word. It signifies purpose and determination. Intent is fueled by passion and persistence, enabling people to achieve what they desire to do in life. Native Mexican tribes honored this notion of intent in their beliefs about Huitzilopochtli, the blue hummingbird, and its relationship to the movement of the Sun from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere.
Huitzilopochtli represents the intent Native Mexican people had not only when they left their homeland to find a new one, as the mythical story of Aztlán informs us, but also when they set out to build a city where no one else would dare. The Mexika-Technoca, the so-called Aztecs, demonstrated their willpower by following the figure of Huitzilopochtli and establishing one of the most beautiful, productive, and well-organized agricultural cities in the world, Tenochtitlán, in the 14th and 15th centuries (of the Gregorian calendar). They created the chinampas, floating agricultural fields; organized complex economic and political systems; and adopted calendrical systems that created an intimate relationship between the world and the cosmos.
Conventional scholarship, based on colonial and Western anthropological texts, informs us that “Huitzilopochtli…was one of the most important of the Aztec gods, the god of the Sun, warfare, military conquest and sacrifice, who according to tradition, led the Mexica people from Aztlán, their mythical homeland, into Central Mexico” (ThoughtCo.). Everything that we usually hear about this “god” is that it is vicious and combative; we hear that the Aztecs sacrificed captives to offer human hearts to the Sun, a sign of their never-ending lust for fighting and conquering other tribes. The depiction of the Aztecs in academic texts—whether in history, social sciences, religion, or other categories—always starts with their inscribed savage personality.
I know what you are thinking: What does intent have to do with Huitzilopochtli anyway?
My concern is that the conventional interpretations we typically hear about Aztecs cloud our understanding of them. These interpretations first emerged as colonial and post-colonial writings and impressions, which were then passed down through a process of citation and replication from colonial texts to current texts. These texts depict the Aztecs as people whose sole purpose was to sacrifice humans to “help the Sun” in its journey. What we read about our ancestral culture, for the most part, are recycled “truths” that ignore the purpose and the meaning of these archetypes as they were understood by people in their own social, ecological, and cosmological contexts.
Let me be clear that I am not insinuating that the Aztecs never made sacrifices or that they were a peace-loving society. No; they were not. They were a fierce society that accomplished many feats in the arts, astrology, psychology, engineering, medicine, economics, politics, formal education, and many other areas of human knowledge that in my view are ignored when we focus on depicting them as savages.
My point, ultimately, is that these civilizations possessed a profound understanding of time and space. They used advanced, complex calendrical systems to knit together the cosmos and life on earth. The archetypes they used, like Huitzilopochtli, which were not gods but rather representations of energetic forces, served as reference points so that human conditions could be understood through the movement of the Earth with respect to the Moon, Venus, and the Sun.
So I pose the question again, what does intent have to do with Huitzilopochtli?
The Aztecs celebrated the figure of Huitzilopochtli during the winter solstice. We should ask ourselves, why at the winter solstice? The Aztecs, like most people around the world, celebrated the winter solstice because it marked the position of the Sun at its southernmost point as perceived from the Earth. The Aztecs associated this position of the Sun with a hummingbird not only because they considered the hummingbird a powerful little creature, but also because they believed it exemplified the cosmic willpower that the Sun needed to have to move back to its highest point. Once in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun was considered an eagle, big and powerful, and thus the fulfillment of a vision made possible by Huitzilopochtli’s intent. So the hummingbird and the journey of the Sun to the Northern Hemisphere, in Aztec cosmology, represented the intent to fulfill a vision.
Why does this matter? Understanding what these myths, stories, and archetypes mean is important because they have a story to tell us, a teaching about our own human condition and human capabilities, as well as our relationship to the Earth and cosmos. Indeed, intent is a very powerful word, not only for what it means, but for what it entails. If we can recover and use these cultural understandings about our human condition, then we can use these archetypes to teach us purpose, determination, and a collective will to find balance with the cosmos—the balance required to forge a society that preserves our natural resources for future generations to enjoy. I am sure that our ancestors thought about this as well.