La Sangre. It’s hard to imagine a life and death symbol more potent than blood.
Pumping hot through the confines of our bodies, it signifies passion and fecundity—it is the fluid of life—and, yet, spilling out in a dark red pool around us until our pallor turns pale and our skin grows cold, it can only mean one thing: the coming of death.
The Moche people of Ancient Peru were well aware of the symbolic duality of blood, procuring its power through ritual combat, human sacrifice, and, ultimately, cannibalistic consumption.
A few days ago, on our way back from Chicama, we went to the El Brujo Archaeological complex, just north of Trujillo. It includes three Huacas, or sacred temples, dating as far back as two thousand years. On this trip, we explored the Huaca Cao Viejo, famous for its polychrome reliefs, colorful murals, and the discovery of the Senora de Cao–a fifteen hundred year-old, mummified, high priestess of Peru.
Although many cultures throughout the ages have occupied El Brujo, the Senora de Cao was from the Moche civilization, which flourished between 100AD and 800AD. Many scholars contend that the Moche were not politically organized under single rule, but rather were a group of autonomous bodies that shared a common elite culture, i.e. they were badass anarchists and artists. Stretching across several valleys on the northern pacific coast of Peru, Moche society was agriculturally based, with an impressively constructed network of irrigation canals used for the diversion of river water to supply their crops, which they traded amongst each other freely.
The Moche culture was highly sophisticated, as evidenced by its rich iconography, monumental architecture, painted murals, advanced metal work, hand-woven textiles, and extremely detailed pottery. Their artifacts express their lives, with lifelike scenes of hunting, fishing, fighting, sacrifice, sexual encounters and elaborate ceremonies. In fact, it is thought that the realistic detail, particularly in their ceramics, may have served as didactic models to pass down vital information to younger generations.
The water jug below, for example, “could teach about procreation, sexual pleasure, cultural and social norms, immortality, the transfer of life and souls, ancestral transformation, and the relationship between the two cyclical views of nature and life”—or, at least, that mouthful is what the archaeologists say.
Where I come from, we simply call this a “blowjob.”
The most feared and adored god of the Moche was Ai Apaec, nicknamed the ‘decapitator’ by scholars for the good reason that he is often holding a head in one hand and a knife in the other. In Moche artwork, his anthropomorphized image has the eyes of an owl, the fangs of a feline, sea wave hair, a spider body, and is usually surrounded by snakes and/or condors.
It is thought that after natural disasters such as earthquakes or heavy El Nino rains, the Moche would hold extensive ceremonies that involved ritual combat, human sacrifice, and blood consumption, as an offering to Ai Apaec, in an appeal for stable weather, ancestral renewal, and agricultural fertility.
During the ceremony, each Moche family put forth a warrior that represented it, and the warriors would fight each other, one-on-one, until one of the warrior’s headdresses was knocked off. After the battles, all the hatless loser warriors were made prisoner, stripped of their clothing, and taken to the sacred temple.
Yoked together, the naked prisoners walked up the temple path until they reached the priest’s altar, located about half way up, where they then imbibed a special tea made of San Pedro cactus, an anti-coagulent and a mix of aphrodisiacs. The idea was to get them in the right frame of mind for the ceremony.
Apparently, hallucinating with a stiffy was the mood of choice when being sacrificed.
The prisoners then continued up the temple path until they reached the top, where our Lady of Cao was waiting for them. Mercifully, their throats were cut with a sharp hatchet, and a few drops of their blood were drained into a goblet. When all the sacrifices were done, the Lady of Cao drank the blood as an offering to Ai Apaec.
The Lady of Cao was discovered in 2006, buried in a tomb in the Huaca Cao Viejo along side her female assistant. She was wrapped in seven layers of fabric, each layer laden with pounds of beautiful gold jewelry, and surrounded by numerous dart throwers, spearheads, and war clubs—all signs that she was someone very important. It was the first time that a female mummy was found of such high nobility in Peru. Another clue to her high priestess prominence is the intricate tattoo of spiders and snakes still visible on her well-preserved arm, which indicate that she was a powerful energy healer, able to take away pain with the mere touch of her hands.
I can’t entirely explain why, but I have a very strong affinity for the Moche. I really, really like them. So far they are my favorite ancient peoples. Is it the blood lust, the elaborate rituals, the tattooed high priestess, the porn pots, the special tea, or the high cultured anarchy? I don’t know. I think it’s all of the above. -STEVIE