Death From Life

A collage illustrating images from various spiritual traditions.

Citalicue stood before the small altar in the courtyard of the calcemac pricking herself with a cactus thorn. One hundred times she would do this. Each finger of each hand, then each toe of each foot. Up each thigh and down each thigh. Up each arm and down each arm. And then in places she did not want to mention. Each time she cut herself blood flowed forth –her life for the life of the world. Her fellow students watched. This time it was no honour. She had been caught talking and giggling with Obsidian Butterfly when she should have been calculating date names. Next time, the teacher said, next time it would be two hundred cuts.

Pain. Pain which gives life.

Citalicue: Star Skirt: bearer of the tecpatl, the obsidian knife blade. She who brings death, and thus life. Without her no blood would be shed; without her the sun would die. Beating hearts fly across the altar like the sun across the sky. Food for the gods. We are all food. We eat the Zapotec and the Tontonac. The gods eat us. And so it continues, each sun weaker than the one before it. This, the last sun, the weakest of all. Time running down –running out. And then what?

She was not permitted to look down or to close her eyes. She had to look at her teachers and at her friends. The pain built, and it became harder to maintain a stoic expression. The pain built, and so did the shame.

Her teachers said that Tezcatlipoca, the smoking mirror, would spring forth from his place deep in the bowels of the earth and devour us and the universe and the gods with us and What-Is would Be-No-More. Tezcatlipoca: One Death. Yaotl: Enemy of Both Sides. Lord of the Lords of the Earth. We are his slaves.

Without her blood. Without those beating hearts: Nothing. Food for the gods.

But Cital wondered. Had not this ending already begun? There were rumors that Quetzalcoatl had returned, just as his prophets promised, that even now he was marching up from the coast from which he had departed so many years ago. Prince Topiltzin: he who had faced down the priests and lost: he who would face down the priests and win. Still the sun rose over the milpas, over the fields of squash and beans. But for how long?

There were rumors of revolt in the subject altepetls, especially those along the road to the eastern sea. The tlanoi had sent out teams to investigate. Armies to repress the rebels would follow if necessary. But for now her people continued the Old Ways. She thought of what that boy from Tula had told her, the one she had flirted with before he was sacrificed. So beautiful, so brave. They brought his right thigh to the calemecac and she and her sisters cooked it with tomatoes and chili. Now he lived in her and she through him. His life for hers. Her life for that of the sun. But for how long?

Cital heard whispers: the women in the market when she was sent to buy herbs. Quetzalcoatl, the women said, has his own priests. They kill their god daily: building a new universe to replace the old?

Each cut hurt more than the one before it. The pain built, and so did the shame. Pain fed her thoughts. It fed her will. It was life.

photo 1 (3)

Published by:

Anthony Mansueto

Humanity is the desire to be God (Sartre, Jean Paul. Being and Nothingness, 1943/1993: 556). Being finite, we are aware of the infinite and seek it without limit. Being contingent, dependent on other beings for our existence, we seek the power of Being as such and seek it absolutely. Human history is fundamentally the history of this seeking, and of the distinct ways of being human to which it has given rise. Precisely because we are finite and contingent, our seeking takes place under definite material (physical, ecological, demographic, built-environmental) conditions which shape the ways which emerge, as well as the social structures through which we pursue them. As something set apart we call this power of Being the sacred but it is, in fact, the warp and woof of the world in which we live, driving secular projects as much as those which understand themselves as religious. My work is centered around an effort to engage the sacred analytically, interpretively, normatively, creatively, and practically. My scholarship is centered around an effort to restore theoria to its original sense as an encounter with the sacred which is empirical, analytic, interpretive and normative, and specifically to understand the diverse ways (including secular ways) in which humanity seeks (to be) God in the context of the material realities out which they emerged and the structures through which they operate while engaging these ways normatively, contributing to the transhistorical deliberation around what it means to be human. As an artist I work first and foremost with narrative, telling stories which, blending elements from magic realism, science fiction, and fantasy, highlight humanity’s engagement with the sacred. But I also create paintings, photo collages, and illuminations and am experimenting with alterealities, games which actually change the world, and which engage all these elements in an interactive context. And I work in the medium of food, creating alchemical cuisine which at once encodes meaning and transforms those who consume it —especially in community. My scholarly and creative work aims at charting a new way of being human, at making the sacred present to people in their day to day lives, and at helping people situate their lives and their decisions, individual and collective, in he context of the ultimate aims of human life. My practical engagements with the sacred cross the boundaries between teaching and mentoring, leading and organizing. As a teacher, it is my aim to cultivate free, creative human beings and engaged citizens with a mature spirituality who have the ability to make rationally autonomous decisions regarding questions of meaning and value, to understand their particular calling and how to realize it, to build and exercise power in service to the common good, to learn the difficult spiritual lessons that come from both success and failure in our lives, and thus to pursue and progress along the way they have chosen. In addition to teaching in formal academic and community based settings, I mentor individuals using a process which integrates deep listening with both traditional spiritual disciplines and secular insights drawn from organizing and business strategy. I cultivate both scholars and practitioners, and challenge my students to cross the boundaries between these two domains. As an academic leader I have worked to promote liberal education for students from working class and ethnic minority communities, to make the institutions I serve into centers for deliberation around questions of meaning, value, and public policy, and to restore (nonconfessional, pluralistic, but still normative) engagement with the sacred to its rightful place in the academy. I see this academic leadership as an extension of my broader work as an institutional organizer helping organizations and institutions find their way, and working to build, conserve, and transform them in service to the Common Good. My work as an organizer has also included significant contributions to interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, from building financial and institutional support for interfaith organizing through catalyzing public deliberation around questions of meaning and value across diverse spiritual and civilizational traditions. I bring to this engagement a substantial record of publications, including nine books and numerous articles in both scholarly journals and journals of public opinion setting forth my vision and strategy, decades of experience teaching the liberal arts to students from working class and ethnic minority communities, a history active civic engagement, primarily in interfaith dialogue, deliberation, and organizing, and a range of institutional leadership roles in the academy including department chair, program director, dean, and campus leader with responsibility for all community college functions for a large rural area. As I continue my formal institutional engagements as an academic administrator over the next several years, I am also looking to build support for my creative work and a consulting practice mentoring individual leaders and organizations across the academic, religious, and civil society sectors. Supporting my work through Patreon is a way to contribute to making this possible while getting a glimpse of my creative process, free or discounted artifacts from my alterealities, and the opportunity to benefit from my mentoring and consulting practice at much reduced rates.

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