Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Anthropomorphic Trees

Mesoamerican iconography shows the curious idea that trees or other large plants can grow in or from humans. Here is one example from page 34 of the post-classic Codex Fejervary-Mayer thought to have originated in Veracruz.
Aztec God of Rain, Tlaloc, Tending a Human Maize Plant 
And here is another example from page 33 of the same Codex Fejervary-Mayer.
Aztec Goddess of Water & Childbirth, Chalchiuhtlicue,
Tending a Human Maize Plant
This example is from the post-classic Codex Borgia thought to have originated in Puebla.
Tree Growing from Skeletal Figure Codex Borgia 53
This is of interest, of course, because the Book of Mormon refers to anthropomorphic trees. Alma 32:28 talks about planting a seed in one's heart that grows into a tree Alma 32:41. Alma may have been alluding to an existing Mesoamerican cultural idea, painting a mental image that his Zoramite hearers in Antionum would have undersood. This, for example, is page 3 of the Dresden Codex which dates to ca. AD 1100 and comes from Chichen Itza, Yucatan. It depicts the tree of life growing out of the sacrificed body of the maize god.
Anthropomorphic Tree from Dresden Codex 3
Scholars think the Dresden is a copy of an older codex originally painted ca. AD 800. This makes it the oldest pre-Columbian book currently known to science after the Book of Mormon.

The same idea is portrayed on Piedras Negras Stela 11 where a seedling grows from the heart of a sacrificial victim.
Piedras Negras Stela 11 Drawing by Linda Schele
The famous sarcophagus in Palenque's Temple of the Inscriptions (tomb of K'inich Janaab' Pakal) depicts ancestors sprouting as fruit trees.
Male Ancestor of Pakal as Fruit Tree
Drawing by Merle Greene Robertson
Here is a similar depiction of a tree with bar and dot numerals sprouting from a god's armpit.
The Left-hand Figure has a Tree Growing under His Arm
Drawing by Michael P. Closs
This scene is figure 6 from the article "Mathematics of the Maya" by Michael P. Closs in the book Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures, edited by Helain Selin, (New York: Springer-Science+Business Media, B.V., 1997), p. 650. The figure on the right is a monkey scribe holding a codex with his right hand. The figure on the left has his left hand on the scribe's back and is holding a conch shell ink pot in his right hand.

See the article "Light from LA" point #38 for another depiction of an anthropomorphic tree from Yucatan.

More examples of anthropomorphic trees/plants are discussed and illustrated in the articles "Maya Place Names," "Palenque," and "Cacaxtla."

Bilbao Monument 21 shows many human heads growing as fruit on a vine.
Bilbao Monument 21, Drawing by Oswaldo Chinchilla

The site of Sak Tz'i' (Plan de Ayutla is one possible correlation. Lacanjá Tzeltal is more likely) had a series of rulers with the te' (tree) element in their names: Kab' Kan Te' (AD 628), K'ab' Chan Te' (AD 636), K'ab' Chan Te' (AD 722), Yete' K'inich (AD 787) and a final K'ab' Chan Te' (AD 864). Andrew K. Scherer, lecture and workshop given to the Maya Society of Minnesota at Hamline University, St. Paul, September 20, 21, 2019. See the blog article "Light from St Paul."

Plants stay put. Curiously, Ch'orti' employs a similar root for "person," pak'ab', perhaps because of pervasive beliefs about the vegetal, maize-like nature of humans (Hull 2016:322). The use of human anatomy to describe plants is common in languages such as Tzotzil. Humans and plants may be described by similar expressions, such as hair equated to corn silk. "Maya Animalia, or Why do Dogs Dress Up?" Maya Decipherment July 7, 2020. The reference to Hull 2016 is Kerry Hull, A Dictionary of Ch'orti' Mayan-Spanish-English (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016).

Article by Kirk Magleby who volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, world's premiere source of reliable Book of Mormon contextual material in English, Spanish, and now, Portuguese. Article updated July 6, 2020.