I am currently painting the story of the creation of the first men, in which Xolotl appears prominently, so I thought I would write about him.
Xolotl is the patron of those born on the day-sign Ollin. He is the God of Twins, and patron of the ball-game. His name signifies that he is Our Lord, “The Double Maize Plant,” the stock of corn which grows with two heads. He is thus our sustenance, our body itself, twined, to encompass all men and women. He is the lord of the monstrous and the uncanny. He is the Nahualli of Quetzalcoatl, Lord of Creation, his spirit double, and accompanied him to the underworld to retrieve the bones of our ancestors; it was through his wisdom, trickery, and bravery that the quest proved successful. However, he proved a coward later; after the Our Lord the Sun rose into the sky at his first dawning, he stopped in the center of the heavens and declared he could go nor further; he demanded the blood of the gods as sustenance before he could continue his journey. All the gods submitted, save Xolotl alone, who ran fearfully away. His sorrow was so great he wept his eyes from out of their sockets, and he hid in the maize fields, transforming himself into the Xolotl, the double maize plant, then the Mexolotl, the double agave plant, and finally the Axolotl, a type of large and monstrous salamander, when he was finally caught and sacrificed.
Xolotl is a dog, and represents death and Tlazolli; which is to say, “trash” or disorderliness. This is the principle which governs life, in which beings are born in sex and rot, in which all living things both bloom and decay. Dogs eat rotting meat and excrement, and in so doing transform death into life, a quality which is further emphasized by their sexual promiscuity. These are the qualities of Xolotl, who resides in the Underworld, in the belly of the Earth Mother.
Quetzalcoátl and Xolotl are the doubles of one another; Quetzalcóatl represents birth and Xolotl death. Neither is possible without the other. In the ancient world, twins were considered terrible monstrosities, and in myth, Xolotl is Quetzalcoátl’s twin who was slain upon his birth. One therefore dwells in the world above, in the light of day, while Xolotl, the other, dwells in the underworld among the dead.
Both Teótl are manifestations of Venus. Quetzalcoátl is the Morning Star, the light which rises before the sun and guides him into the daytime sky. Xolotl is the Evening Star, who rises before the setting sun and leads him into death. In the underworld, Xolotl carries the sun on his back and leads him through the dangers of the Underworld, to deliver him to his brother and spirit double Quetzalcoátl and to the rebirth of day. Together they are the principle of Ollin, of endless oscillation and movement, and guide the eternal cycles of the cosmos.
In the top painting, Xolotl as he appears in the Codex Borgia. He wears the costume of Quetzalcoátl, for the two are in fact one, and wears in his headdress a device of macaw and crow plumes which symbolizes the nighttime sun, the dead sun who travels through the underworld. The following two paintings are from my version of the Tonalamatl; in the second he is wrapped in a shroud, as a Teótl of death. At the bottom, the two Teótl appear together, in a detail from my newest painting, bowing before the Lord of Death, and finally, a sculpture of Xolotl discovered in the ruins of Tenochtitlan.
Mexican artist Luz Gamboa’s oil and acrylic paintings on canvas depict the indigenous communities of her home state of Durango, where she has lived and studied the ways of life. Interested in the mores and traditions of these societies, particularly the women, Gamboa’s richly hued paintings depict the everyday realities of the beautiful culture these women have maintained against the grain of modern day society.
Artist Luz Gamboa was born in a distant region of Durango, Mexico and currently lives and works in Mexico City.