Lois Spangler Returns to Native Lands

Lois SpanglerI was stoked when I was offered the chance to contribute to Native Lands. Despite currently living in Australia, I’m an ex-pat Mexican-American and my immediate instinct was to write a story somehow involving the Mesoamerican pantheon.

And then one thing struck me: there was all this talk about the Mayan calendar marking the end of one world and the beginning of the next, but it was the Aztec (Mexica, the pedant in me demands I call them) gods that were getting all the glory. And that got me thinking.

Archeologically speaking, and this is a very, very loose comparison dependent on theories that are constantly changing and are not necessarily consensus, the Mayans are to the Mexica what the Greeks are to the Romans. Some of the Mexica gods existed long before them and the Mayans (going back to the Toltecs, who can more or less be equated to the Etruscans, sort of). So, would all the Mayan gods exist separately from the Mexica gods? Or only some of them? Or would it be the same gods wearing different team colors, as it were?

I didn’t tackle that directly, because that’s an enormous idea to take on, but I did push it around and make hints and intimations. Another reason I didn’t deal directly with gods to any great degree was because I liked the notion of seeing how regular people were coping with a very new world order.

And that’s the other thing I’m really pleased about. It was so nice to play in a sandbox where the tables have turned — the lands under Mexica control are now more than a match for the fragmented lands that are still, sort of, the US and Canada. It was a really beautiful thing, for me, to give these partly remembered figures and histories and traditions a new life on the page. It was a glorious game of what-if.

And because these things are a part of my history and background, I take them seriously. I’ve been to Mérida, and I’ve been to Uxmal and Chichén Itzá — I’ve seen a cenote in person and I have no difficulty understanding how people might think it was an otherworldly place. I did quite a bit of research for this story, trying to get the right words, use pre-Columbian geographical references, invoke traditions and ideas that were squelched once the Spanish arrived. I did my best to stick to the spirit of history, because hard fact is thin on the ground. I wince when authors take the easy route with Mesoamerican gods and beliefs, playing the warmongering and blood thirst for all its sensationalism. Yes, human sacrifice was central to many Mesomaerican belief systems. But that’s because human beings owed their very existence to the gods offering their own blood to give people the spark of life and autonomous thought. It only made sense that the gods might need some of it back from time to time to keep the world moving.

It’s also very easy to look at Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca as opposing forces of good and evil, but the Nahua, the Mexica, didn’t ascribe evil to death and good to life; these processes simply were. They were oppositional, certainly, but in interacting, they conveyed a cyclical balance. I’m not sure if I managed to convey that in the story, but it was definitely something bubbling in the back of my head when I considered just what the jaguar knight was doing, and why.

At any rate, I enjoyed the heck out of writing this story, as much as I agonized over it, and I’m still delighted and honored to be a part of Native Lands. I hope you enjoy the story even a fraction as much.

ReDeus: Native Lands will be available in print and digital editions in August.

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