Auilitz was one of the three gods the stories say the Quiche brought back from the magic city of Tulan Zuyua in the east. The gods took the form of stone icons that could speak in the time of "shadows," when the First People had just been created and the sun, moon and stars had not yet shown themselves. The actual icon of Auilitz was hidden in one of the plunging canyons near here.
It's tempting to think of the Mayans as innocents who were living their lives peacefully until they were set upon by European colonists. But at least in the case of the Quiche, that would be a mistake. The Quiche were expansionary and agressive, fierce conquerors who overthrew and colonized numerous other settlements ranging from Lake Atitlan all the way up to the border of the Peten. The captives in these wars were dragged back to Rotten Cane, where they were sacrificed in front of the temples of the Quiches' three main gods: Tohil, Auiliz and Hacauitz.
I have heard that in some Mesoamerican cultures, the victims of human sacrifice were honored guests, treated well right up until their death. That may be, but as the Popul Vuh makes clear, that was not the case for victims of Quiche sacrifice. The PV states that the Quiches earned the right to sacrifice the members of bordering tribes through a horrifying story of trickery, and that they took full advantag of that right.
The time of shadows was, as one would imagine, extremely cold. All the tribes were freezing to death, but only the god of the Quiches, Tohil, was able to generate fire. Naturally all the other tribes begged to get a bit of the Quiches' fire. The Quiches said they would give them fire on the condition that later on they could "suckle at the breasts" of the other tribes. The other tribes agreed, not knowing that what that meant was in fact cutting out their hearts.,/p>
After the sun rose, the icons themselves no longer spoke directly, but instead spoke through spirits of young boys that demanded that the First Men hunt down the men of the other tribes, possibly in were-animal form, and then feed their hearts to the bloodthirsty child spirits of the three gods. When they were done they'd leave the skulls in the road as a message to everyone else. It's nearly impossible to put a positive spin on the First Men here; to a modern reader they essentially appear to be forest-dwelling serial killers. The point of this is not to put down the Quiche or excuse the depradations performed by the colonists upon them, but to point out that the Quiche were, up until their fall, what we would call Bad Mother F**kers.
Now, however, their capital is a haunting forest full of dirt mounds, bird chirping in the trees.
But this would be the ballcourt with which the scribes that wrote down the alphabetic PV were most familiar, the ballcourt where they likely saw games played in their lifetime. The game must have been incredibly difficult; somehow you had to knock a rubber ball through a vertical stone hoop nearly the height of a basketball hoop just using your hips. Contrary to popular belief, the losers (or, as some say, winners) probably did not usually get sacrificed. The game was played only by high-born nobles, and the Spanish colonists wrote that the nobles played for money, cacao and slaves. It seems likely to me that the losers had to give up some of their own slaves to be sacrificed by the winners, maybe as symbolic substitutes for the lives of their defeated masters.
Though the Temple of Tohil is large and impressive next to the other delapidated mounds of Rotten Cane, it would be a pipsqueak compared to the much larger ruins of the Peten and the Yucatan. Neither its size or its condition is what is interesting about it.
The temple of Tohil, Hacauitz and Auilitz are in every way temples in active use. They are active today, and most likely have been active without interruption since the Spanish tried to destroy them and everything they stood for.
Rotten Cane is called a citadel, but it is a mistake to think of it as a city. Like a city, Rotten Cane had palaces, offices, towers and temples. But a city is also a palce where ordinary people work and live, marry and have children, run businesses and make homes.
The people who live in Rotten Cane would have been kings, officials, lords, commanders and priests. These men were most seized by the Spanish when the city fell, to be tortured and hanged or burned, something that was also recorded in the alphabetic PV, which was written after Rotten Cane's fall. But the regular Mayans would have lived in smaller villages on the surrounding hillsides, working milpas, raising families, building houses, keeping animals and hunting.
Five centuries later, the descendants of those people still live there.
But the working people would certainly have climbed to the citadel to make their own offerings to these temples for blessings on their marriages and childbirths, harvests and hunts.
In the 21st century, they still do.
The towering ruins of Chichen Itza and Tikal, impressive though they are, are ancient remnants of stories long forgotten even by the people who still lived in the area. I am told that there are efforts in some places to revive these rituals, but as hard as anyone tries it can only ever be a reenactment.
But the story of Rotten Cane is still being told. Just as they have for the last five centuries, the Christan priests struggle unsuccessfully to get their parishioners to abandon their old faith completely and confine their worship to one jealous diety. And the Mesoamerican Indians still fear the oppression of Ladino overlords, whom some Mayans still call the 'Spaniards.'
The citadel is a ruin, its stone structures are destroyed. But it's not dead. In spite of all attempts to kill it, it is alive as it ever was.