The Scabby One Lights the Sky
This thousand-year-old myth comes from Central rather than North America, but it is included here as a touching counterpoint to the tales of sun worship from noth of the Rio Grande. Nanutzin, a Toltec Prometheus, offers his own life to bring light into the world, underscoring the tradition of sacrifice, especially self-sacrifice and self-torture, which figures in the worship of the sun in some Indian cultures even in North America.
Five worlds and five suns were created one after the other. There were the suns of earth, fire, air, water and rock. The first world was destroyed because it’s people acted wrongfully;:they were devoured by ocelots, and their sun also died. The second sun, the pure orb, saw his human beings changed into monkeys for the lack of wisdom. Next came the sun of fire, whose world was destroyed by flames, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions because the people living in it were impious and did not sacrifice to the gods. The fourth world perished in a great flood which also drowned it’s sun. Before the dawn of the fifth, our present world, all the gods assembled in darkness to decide who should have the honor–and a dangerous honor it turned out to be–to light up the fifth world, and with it the fifth sun. One god named Tecciztecatl volunteered, thinking to get much praise from the other gods. After days of purification, the gods built a huge fire on the top of a pyramid and told Tecciztecatl: “Light up the world!”
“How?” asked Tecciztecatl, dressed in iridescent hummingbird feathers and jewels of gold and turquoise.
“By jumping into the fire, O Tecciztecatl,” said the gods. But Tecciztecatl was afraid, he didn’t want to be burned up. Four times he tried to immolate himself, and four times the heat, the flames and his fear drove him back.
Then the lowliest of all gods, Nanautzin, dressed in humble garments of woven reeds, misshapen, ugly, and covered with scabs, offered to renew the world and light up the sun by jumping into the fire. None of the gods had paid him the slightest attention before, but now they all cried with one voice:
“O, Scabby One, be thou he who brings back the Sun!”
Without a moment’s hesitation Nanautzin hurled himself into the flames, burning up with a great crackling sound, his blazing garments of reeds lighting up the sky. And ashamed of his cowardice, Tecciztecatl followed his example and was cremated also. At once the sun rose to light up the new fifth world, and it was the despised Scabby One, brave Nanautzin, who by his death had given life to the sun.
–Based on Nahua versions of a lost Toltec legend