These Jades I Scatter

Edgar Martin del Campo

It feels good to have "Scattered Jades" , Since this column is appearing to a lot of new readers, an explanation of this title is in order.

For over three thousand years of Mesoamerican civilization, jade has been a very valuable substance. Since the time of the Olmecs, one of Mexico's earliest civilizations, jade symbolized wealth and power. Prized even higher than gold, it was the most precious substance on earth, and perhaps in part because it is, as geologists say, the "toughest" mineral known. I would think that jade was also revered for its sheer beauty, like the soothing, flowing green of a tropical river. One of the oldest goddesses in Mesoamerican history, the goddess of life-giving waters, was later named by the Aztecs as Chalchiuitlicue, "She with the Jade Skirt". Jade was a powerful and spiritual mineral. Jade was sacred.

So when the Aztecs described the expounding of wisdom as a "scattering of jades," they suggested that the wisdom itself was something truly precious to share, its spoken words as sacred as the stones. The uttered word had a power in itself. In the Maya creation myth from the Popol Vuh, the creator gods simply spoke the word "earth" above the waters to create land. The force of the Word invokes the force of creation: "All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being" (John 1:3). It is the Word that YHWH spoke, which caused the world to be (Ps 33:9). In Hindu schools of sphota cosmology, the whole universe comes into existence through the vibrations of sound. It is only fitting that the Word, as the essence of creation, is likened to the most sacred substance within creation.

Those who possessed the sacred words, the elders who scattered the jades, were highly respected for the ancient wisdom they carried in their words. The tlatoani, the Aztec emperor, was literally the "one who brings the word forth." Because my articles often touch on the ancestral thought from Mexico, I thought it appropriate to use a title which showed the respect I have for that wisdom and how highly I value it myself.

This is not to say that my own articles carry the impact of the ancient sayings -- how could they? -- but that I hope they can at least stand firmly from within the tradition. Call it the raison d'etre for this column, but I do believe that even the ancestral sayings have some valid truth and a significance for modern times. It may take years for me to scourge all the sources, read all the codices, and meditate on the principles, but I like to think that writing this column serves at least as a primer, a prolegomenon if you will, for the kind of theology I would like to continue. And who knows? Maybe in a few more generations, the elders will have freshly cut and finely polished jades to scatter into the next millennium.