In my first article in a series on Mesoamerican rock art themes in the Ancient Southwest, I will cover the importance of the Mesoamerican Rain God Tlaloc in the rock art of the Southwest. There are many Mesoamerican motifs found in Southwest rock art, among them, the rain god, the plumed serpent, the outlined cross, the thunderbird, the Hero Twins. Rock art associated with this iconography appears in all of the cultures of the Southwest; The Ancestral Puebloan people, Salado, Hohokam, Mogollon, Mimbres cultures among them.

Most of this Mesoamerican related rock art was created between 600-1200 CE. A time period in the Southwest where long distance trade routes were being developed and expanded deep into Mesoamerica to the south. Long distance scarlet macaw trade into the Southwest, stretched 1000 miles into Mesoamerica all the way to the Gulf Coast jungles.

There are two forms of rock art found in the Southwest, Pictograph Art is art that has been painted on a flat rock surface, Using hematite or ocher for red, kaolin or gypsum for white, charcoal for black – with a base of plant and animal oils, created colored pigments. The paint was then applied with brushes made out of animal hair or yucca leaf fibers, or smeared on with fingers. Petroglyphs are rock carvings made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone. When the desert varnish (or patina) on the surface of the rock was chipped off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph.

In Mesoamerica, Tlaloc is the god of rain and thunder, fertility, caves, springs and mountains. He is depicted with goggle eyes and fangs. If angered, he inflicted destructive storms, hurled thunderous lightning bolts, and imposed disastrous drought.

In Mesoamerica, mountains were containers of water and were the home of Tlaloc. They generated clouds and underground water. Pyramids were symbolic mountains. The Hohokam culture platform mounds are associated with rain priests, similar to the rain priests in Mesoamerica.

The Tlaloc images on rock art typically depict an anthropomorph with large eyes, presumed to represent the goggles worn by the Storm God in Mesoamerican examples, and these are typically associated with a trapezoidal or rectangular body. The relation of “Tlaloc” imagery in the Southwest to storms and rain is found in associated symbols such as lightning and the stepped fret (terrace), which is considered to represent clouds 

Tlaloc was characterized by goggle eyes and a blunt, rectilinear body with no arms or legs. The Tlaloc figure fused with the trapezoidal spearpoint-shaped body of Archaic hunter art, a natural fusion because both concepts were associated with masculine forces (hunting and the destructive part of rain). Along with examples of Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc at Hueco Tanks, there are many symbols associated with water, crucial to planting corn in the desert.

The most common of these are the “step-fret” or “step wedge” designs representing flowing water, energy and lightning.

The gallery of rock art Hueco Tanks were drawn by settled agriculturists of the Jornada Mogollon Tradition. Their religion centered around the desire for and control of rain essential to the growth of crops. One can see water symbolism in many paintings, such as the rain altar, which consist of two lightning symbols coming together and the step-fret designs on the Tlaloc figures. Representations of this deity show the dualism of celestial abundance, represented by water from the sky, and terrestrial abundance, represented by water stored underground.

At Hueco Tanks, Mesoamerican gods, many of whom manifested different aspects of the same elements, combined with the earlier animistic concepts of the desert Archaic peoples to create a new religious force, manifesting itself in a religion of masked spirit beings that evolved into the Kachina cult in later centuries and rituals that are part of this cult continue today among the Southwest Native Americans

The Rain God in the Southwest

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