Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 2).djvu/82

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As to the mythical habits of the Aztec Olympians in general, Sahagun observes that "they were friends of disguise, and changed themselves often into birds or savage beasts." Hence he, or his informants, infer that the gods have originally been necromancers or medicine-men, now worshipped after death; a natural inference, as magical feats of shape-shifting are commonly ascribed everywhere to witches and warlocks. As a matter of fact, the Aztec gods, though bedizened with the attributes of mortal conjurors, and with the fur and feathers of totems, are, for the most part, the departmental deities of polytheism, each ruling over some province of nature or of human activity. Combined with these are deities who, in their origin, were probably ideal culture-heroes, like Yehl, or Qat, or Prometheus. The long and tedious myths of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca appear to contain memories of a struggle between the gods or culture-heroes of rival races. Such struggles were natural, and necessary, perhaps, before a kind of syncretism and a general tolerance could unite in peace the deities of a realm composed of many tribes originally hostile. "A laughable matter it is," says Bernal Diaz, "that in each province the Indians have their gods, and the gods of one province or town are of no profit to the people of another. Thus have they an infinite number of idols, to each of which they sacrifice."[1] He might have described, in the same words, the local gods of the Egyptian nomes, for a similar state of things preceded, and to some extent survived, the syncretic efforts of

  1. Bernal Diaz, chap. xcii.