Diapason (ricercares) wrote,

On the Existence of Priapic Bat Gods

A post in memoriam of Kenneth Grant, written as an accompaniment to the piece on The Cult of the Ku in Strange Attractor Journal:

On the Existence of Priapic Bat Gods:
Notes on the Secret Organisation of the Zotzil

In Hecate’s Fountain Kenneth Grant tells us that his New Isis Lodge not only participated in rites with a Cult of the Ku, but also had an association with a group known as The Secret Society of the Zotzil. Alleged to be ‘devotees of the Bat god, Camazotz’, the group invited Grant and associates to a derelict Welsh chapel for one of Grant’s most memorable rituals, culminating as it did with a priestess dressed as a butterfly giving oral sex to the priapic manifestation of a Mayan bat god... and whatever you may think about Grant’s work, that’s a pretty striking image.

So: a secret society with a hokey mystical sounding name? A Mayan bat god? The story itself seems absurd enough to be a complete fiction, but as with the Cult of the Ku, the Secret Society of the Zotzil is not entirely the fabrication of Grant’s kala-steeped imagination.

As is the case with Grant’s treatment of ku, we are dealing with an idiosyncratic interpretation of the practices of another minority group, in this instance the Tzotzil people of southern Mexico. The word Tzotzil itself means ‘people of the bat’: the Conquistadors record the destruction of a stone bat that was worshipped as an idol. The Tzotzil had a diverse pantheon, among them the terrestrial Akaj (the bee) and Chimalcan (the serpent) along the celestial Cakix (the macaw) and, most importantly, Tzotz (the bat) from whom they traced their lineage.[1] Already the seemingly random inclusion of material about a Mayan bat god seems less of a shockingly surreal aberration.

The Tzotzil possess a complex and seemingly ancient cosmology, which modern anthropologists have studied as a possible basis for interpreting prehistoric Mayan beliefs.[2] The suggestion here seems to be that, akin to the ku collectors, the Tzotzil possess some fragments of an ancient, if debased, knowledge. Grant mentions the idea of a migrant population practicing ku in England and the same idea may explain why a group of Tzotzil people turned up in Wales: the movement of people is also the movement of ideas, in this case magical ones.

A connection between the Tzotzil people and Camazotz (as opposed to plain old Tzotz) is more difficult to make. Camazotz, the ‘death bat’, is a figure that appears in the K’iche’ epic Popol Vuh during the underworld trial of Hunahpu and Xbalanque and was incorporated into a number of the pantheons of the Mayan peoples and enjoyed a significant cult following.

Of course, Grant’s description of the ritual of Camazotz is inevitably influenced by his own aesthetic of tantric horror, with its bat-like, tentacled, mauve ichor dripping apparition, but in the light of Mayan iconography this imagery explains itself as something more than an absurd Lovecraftian pastiche.

Mayan sculptures of Camazotz show the god as a either a bat, a human with a bat head or various mixed proportions of the two. A number of representations, among them sculptures from the complex at Copan and examples in the Mexican Museum of Anthropology also depict the god with an erect phallus. It is interesting that Grant alludes to the Fisherman’s God of the Cook Island, whose parallels they evoke. Within the solar-phallic mythos of Crowleyean magick it is also intriguing to note that the K’iche’ also identified Camazotz with Zotzilaha Chamalcan, the god of fire.
The Copan statue (Elias Gardner, Flickr)

The tentacled face is a typically Grantian motif. Sex and tentacles are natural compliments for Grant, as evidenced by high priestess Li’s eightfold orgasm in the embrace of a cephalopod during the ku ritual. However, it is worth noting that depictions of Camazotz in Mayan codices and ceramics depict the god with ‘tentacles’ of smoke or fire appearing to sprout from his face.

For Grant’s likely inspiration we need look no further than his bibliography and the work of Raphael Girard entitled The Esotericism of the Popol Vuh. The sections regarding the underworld journey of Hunahpu and Xbalanque frequently refer to Camazotz as a ‘celestial vampire’, undoubtedly a phrase that would be irresistible to Grant. The reproduction of an image from the Dresden Codex is stylised enough to suggest not only a monstrous phallus but a tentacled face. Girard discusses the relation of the beheading of Hunahpu to the mythos of the maize plant and also explicitly deals with sex in a manner that has obvious sex-magical applications. Girard’s discussion of death therein alongside a consideration of death in Tzotzil culture as the ultimate destiny of all men, should be given some consideration when speculating on Grant’s own ‘morbid’ obsessions with Trees of Death, qliphoth and other elements that appear counterproductive to the 'rational' observer.

The instance of the Society of the Zotzil again indicates that Grant usually knows more than he lets on. It is apparent that he has explored a number of diverse areas surrounding the notion of vampirism, going so far as to ruminate on the qabalistic significance of Bela Lugosi and titling a portrait of himself ‘Desmodus’. Both this title and Grant’s decision to look toward south American culture may have been inspired by Sax Rohmer’s voodoo novel Batwing in which it is stated that the “real emblem of their unclean religion is the bat, especially the Vampire Bat of South America”. The Desmodus in question could reference either to the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) or the prehistoric vampire bat Desmodus draculae once resident in South America and, cryptozoologists hypothesise, possibly responsible for a spate of giant bat sightings and mutilations in the country during the 1970s. [3] Rohmer’s work may also explain the presence of the Society of Zotzil in Wales: perhaps Grant was giving a nod toward Rohmer’s assertion that “the presence of a living vampire bat in Surrey is not to be anticipated.”[4] ... nor is it to be anticipated in Wales.

[1] Idols and Idolatry in Highland Guatemala. Sandra L. Orellana. Ethnohistory, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Spring, 1981), pp. 157-177.
[2] See Contemporary Tzotzil Cosmological Concepts as a Basis for Interpreting Prehistoric Maya Civilization. William R. Holland. American Antiquity, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Jan., 1964), pp. 301-306 and Ancient Maya and Contemporary Tzotzil Cosmology: A Comment on Some Methodological Problems. Evon Z. Vogt. American Antiquity, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Oct., 1964), pp. 192-195.
[3] Anon. Two Possible Cryptids from Precolumbian Mesoamerica. Available at: http://www.fortunecity.com/roswell/siren/552/art_mesoamerica.html
[4] Sax Rohmer. Batwing. 

Tags: camazotz, grant, kenneth grant, ku, tzotzi, zotzil

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