Possibly a charismatic leader had a vision of another way of living.
Whatever happened, Teotihuacan, which is about 30 miles NE of Mexico City, was one of the most peaceful civilizations the planet has known, a vast civilization that stretched from modern day Arizona to Honduras, and lasted for almost a thousand years.
Due to the pyramids, which were constructed from about 1 AD to 350 AD, it became a sacred site and a ceremonial center that people from all over Mesoamerica visited, until the population grew to 200,000.
Theotihuacan was a thriving metropolis with a diverse culture that was known for its harmonious co-existence, a civilization that glorified peace, and not war.
“Yes, there sacrifices, yes, there were wars,” says Columbia University Archeologist and Art Historian Esther Pasztory, “but that was not the heart of its ideology.”
Archeologists have yet to uncover any representation of an earthly king or royal tomb. Dr. Pasztory suggests in her book, Experiment in Living, that the people of Teotihuacan didn’t need a king because of the way they elevated the Goddess, who unified the diverse culture.
“Though I imagine that the leaders, those who thought up the combined ritual and political attraction of what was to be Teotihuacan, were definitely powerful humans, I see them as having integrated their ideas not by setting up one of themselves as a divine king but by elevating the Goddess to colossal proportions,” she writes.
The image of the Water Goddess (the prototype for the Aztec Water Goddess, Chalchiuhtlicue) was dominant at the Temple, and both the Pyramid of the Sun, which included underground caves, and the Pyramid of the Moon were her domain.
At the Pyramid of the Moon, on the third day of our Flourish retreat, we scattered ancient seeds that Indians in San Miguel Allende gave to one of our retreat leaders, Val Jon Farris, reenacting a planting ritual that the Teotihuacans engaged in every year when the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades) appeared over the cosmically–aligned Pyramid of the Moon.
We walked up the narrow steps of the pyramid, zig-zag, the way our ancestors had walked.
And stood at the top, looking out over the vast landscape that stretched for miles in all directions.
There were green ponds, where the tiny frogs we’d seen along the trail had been born; bursts of yellow flowers that grew everywhere under the sun; and a ribbon of rosy red that moved through the landscape like the tail of a kite in the wind.
What happened to Teotihuacan, no one knows. The civilization may have been destroyed by foreign invaders, but archeologists think it’s more likely that its destruction was due to an internal uprising. The pyramids may have become too popular, and crowded conditions in a place where there was no way to purify the water, caused health to decline.
Possibly, due to the wood-burning in the Temple, there was deforestation that caused a failure of crops, and this led to the destruction of the temple.
The collapse of Teotihuacan in 750 AD is a mystery, but it’s also a mystery that the civilization lasted for as long as it did (Dr. Pasztory notes in Experiment in Living that the United States is only 200 years old, and already people are talking of its decline).
After centuries of the oppression and denigration of women, witch burning, and efforts to make women second class citizens, it was humbling and empowering to be in a place where women once had power – not power over, but power to — the power to encourage, to plant, to give gifts of water, minerals, and wealth — the power to inspire a whole civilization to flourish.
Listening to the voices of the people of Teotihuacan, I hear them saying the same thing that the indigenous people at Standing Rock are saying — that water is life; some things, and places, and moments are sacred; and there is a different way of living.
All photographs, with the exception of the Goddess photograph, were taken by Beate Walden.