On The Origins of Pre-Modern Fleshspeaking Rituals

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One cannot consider Sarkicism without the Six Ordeals of Ion. In the earlier years of Sarkic anthropology there were large debates over the veracity of these Ordeals. While contemporary scholars largely consider the matter settled and the Ordeals to be metaphorical rather than literal, there are still noted adherents to the literal interpretation. While no reasonable Sarkic scholar would imply that the Sarkics are not capable of extraordinary acts, the inconsistency between mythologies of different Sarkic sects precludes a unified cosmology. Contemporary understanding of the Sarkic religion renders these Ordeals as apocryphal and likely exist as a communal means of understanding Sarkic history and ideals.

It is within this context that we discuss the legendary "Seventh Ordeal" among the Fleshspeaker1-Sarkics of pre-Colombian Meso-America. The Fleshspeaker-Sarkics were a small sect of Ur-Sarkics that came to prominence around approximately 1100 CE in what are today the Michoacán and Guanajuato states of Mexico. Like much of the rise of what we may more broadly call the Mesoamerican Sarkic Ceremonial Complex (MASCC) following the collapse of the Classical period in the 10th century CE, the origins of the Fleshspeakers are poorly understood. Compounding this lack of understanding is the issue that Fleshspeaker rituals are rarely attested to in contemporary inscriptions or writings, finding significant purchase only in areas that relied solely on oral transmission of histories and beliefs.

Unlike other MASCC and Sarkic-inflected Meso-American practices, the central figure of the Fleshspealer-Sarkics was not Ion, but one "Yalekatta"2, a figure that bears no small resemblance to the MASCC figure Yatheppataotl, itself believed to be similar to the Proto-Sarkic Yaldabaoth. The turn from the canonisation of Ion to Yalekatta appears to be related to this mythical Seventh Ordeal, unique to the Fleshspeakers.

In this Seventh Ordeal, Ion confronts the Archons3 and is taken to their charge. The Fleshweaver-Sarkic sect believed that Ion was cast down and consumed by Yalekatta, a sharp contrast to contemporary MASCC beliefs that Ion was largely victorious4. Oral traditions describing the beliefs of the Fleshspeakers indicated that they emphasized how "first, Yalekatta [devoured and] destroyed the knowledge and understanding of Ion, making him know great fear."

The most infamous depiction of this Seventh Ordeal, to the extent that it is often used as a shorthand or symbol for the Fleshspeakers, is certainly the itlacoani, or heretic's glyph, a symbol which, despite its prevalence, does not correspond with any known Sarkic symbolic complex. The itlacoani, like many Sarkic artworks, is rendered in living flesh and commemorates Yalekatta devouring Ion whole, representing the former as an eyeless skull. For reasons that are not yet fully understood, the itlacoani was transmitted across oceans and begin to appear in Eurasia around the 14th century CE, particularly in areas of devastation around large cities.

While conflicting mythologies is not an uncommon occurrence among differing historical Sarkic sects, the existence of Yalekatta is an unusual innovation, to say the least. There are few depictions of Yalektatta, with only one unambiguous likeness surviving to modern times. Oral traditions collected by Tormes include references to him, calling him only tlacol xipe te nacapalaxtli5, while others describe him as a shapeshifter, capable of taking new forms when not directly observed.


A depiction of Yalekatta circa early 13th century.

By all accounts, the nature of the Fleshspeaker-Sarkic worship of Yalekatta was not of veneration, but appeasement. Historical accounts indicate that the Fleshspeaker-Sarkics performed rituals to placate Yalekatta and entice it to remain in the heavens, such that it did not come down and consume humanity as it did Ion. One practice passed down from various accounts, paints a picture of intense mourning for Ion, representing here the prospect of human achievement. When Saturn ascended to the House of the Planets in retrograde, a single individual from the Fleshspeaker community was selected and flensed, undergoing seven weeks of physical torture, representing the seven Ordeals, being kept alive through obviously extra-normal means, before being executed in a fashion that does not bear repeating. Even by the standards of the region, in which human sacrifice was a not-uncommon occurrence, this ritual, which is given no name by the spoken or written records, was seen as ghastly and inhuman.

What distinguishes this nameless ritual, beyond its obvious barbarity, is the fact that only certain members of Fleshspeaker polities were allowed to be sacrificed. Rather than using captured warriors or even heads of state, it appears that the Fleshspeakers only allowed elite members of society to be sacrificed in this manner, with participation apparently being voluntary and indeed, highly honored. The fact that the astronomical signs only allowed such a ritual to take place once every 23 years gives some credence to Aykol's contention that a single lineage was selected for sacrifice, with the duty passed from father to son. Her other notions, that the nobles of the Fleshspeakers were the same as those identified as the otherwise-unidentified teocuitla chocaliztli6 of the Borges Codex, is far more contentious.

There are two leading theories regarding the extinction of the Fleshspeakers in Mesoamerica. The first, proposed by Wade Ingris, claims that predominantly external factors drove the decline in prominence.

Falson showed that the mainline MASCC cults gained a lasting, if precarious, foothold in area of Central Mexico. Frequently integrating their rites and festivals with that of the larger regional religious complex7, the Fleshspeaker cult was marginal, even at its peak. Ingris claims that the expansion of Mexica (and later Aztec) sovereignty in the 14th and 15th centuries resulted in a mass exodus specifically of cities associated with the rites of the Fleshspeakers, with warriors and rulers being unceremoniously executed.8

This time period is known colloquially as "the Era of the Warring Sarkics". The Era of the Warring Sarkics was characterized by no less than 10 Fleshspeaker polities vying for dominance of the highlands of south-central Mexico, both against MASCC cults and non-anomalous Mesoamerican city-states. For the vast majority of these Fleshspeaker cults, we only have names; the list itself is cobbled together from disparate sources from across Mesoamerica. Only two cults, Teocuitlapilcac and Teociplanca9, have any attestations or words or deeds, detailed in chapter 11. Of the remainder, only Huiztlitlama, Tlacentelchihualiztli, and Ocelopetlcallotl appear in more than one source. The remainder - Huitzacatzin, Ichinoatlama, Teimacaxiliztica, Ichinoatepoz, and Ahamaxehui are unknown besides their names, each attributed in a single source.

To bolster her claim that external factors lead in the decline of Fleshspeaker-Sarkics, Ingris points to oral traditions that about the "scouring of Teocuitlapilcac and Teociplanca." However, this evidence is not without controversy. Wei (2013) has shown that the term "scouring" xacualoa is inexact, and may be better reflected in English as "cleansing" or "ritualistic purification," reflecting typical practices following the re-dedication of a city's altar. Further adding to the controversy is the consistent declaration that the elites of the Fleshspeaker city-states were conquered and found to be "without words or writing," a curious phrase to include in what would otherwise be a straightforward account of subjugation.

While Ingris is phenomologically supported by historical evidence, the theory is notably lacking in predictive power - the precipitous decline in prominence of the Fleshspeaker sect far outpaces Mexica or Aztec expansion. The peak time period of Fleshspeaker power - manifested in records of other city-states which paid tribute to them10 - was roughly 1200, roughly corresponding with the reintroduction of the Mixtec writing system in South-Central Mexico. While Aztec expansion into Fleshspeaker areas was rapid, historical records indicate that the Fleshspeaker-Sarkic sect was largely defunct by the 1250's, nearly a century prior to Aztec incrusions. Ingris simply notes this discrepancy as an historical oddity.

The second theory, proposed by James Daven, and owing a great deal to Aykol, suggests that the title of Fleshspeaker is, in fact, a title analogous to the contemporary Karcist rank, rather than a strict space of political control. This claim is bolstered by both titles holding a position of spiritual leader and increased proficiency in anomalous abilities. On the other hand, the duties of Karcists are notably lacking the distinguishing features of the Fleshspeaker position - the 'chain' motif, mythological repository, and, of course, appreciable aversion to written text. Daven suggests that these duties naturally disappeared during the evolution of MASCC across the next several centuries; however, this approach disregards the sudden, if brief, resurgence of Fleshspeaker-Sarkicism in the 16th century11 as well as its just-as-sudden disappearance. Daven similarly handwaves away the relationship between the Fleshspeakers and the Yalekatta, arguing that it is insubstantial to Sarkic history.

While my colleagues have undoubtedly made great strides in advancing the field of Sarkic studies, the scope of their proposed theories are undoubtedly too small to fully encompass the evolution of this unique religion. Daven and Ingris operated in a period of anthropological history where we as scholars had not conceded the impossibility of recording events as writ. We have largely excised the idea of historical objectivity in the field of Sarkic anthropology, following instead the position of Hayden White, in that we, as historian anthropologists, must employ historical events as pieces of a larger narrative.

To this end, I believe that a more holistic approach to the Fleshspeaker-Sarkic sect is needed. Daven and Ingris both independently came close to a unified theory, but were constrained by their time period. Here I propose a synthesis of their theories that I believe to be a complete explanation of the decline of the Fleshspeaker-Sarkic cults.

In their seminal work, Daven does reference the greater sociological implications of the MASCC, but fixates on the question of how this cultural complex came to spread, if not dominate, in a region literally half a world removed from the known manifestations of Proto-Sarkicism in the Old World. In this context, they view Fleshspeaker Sarkicism as a possible survival of earlier unrecorded Ur-Sarkic rites and beliefs, transmitted in whatever germ allowed the MASCC to flourish during the 10th-16th centuries. Its gradual disappearance, they argue, is a reflection of the same processes that lead to its disappearance in the Old World as well. While not unreasonable, this theory presupposes a level of creative sterility on the part of the people of Mesoamerica, an undesirable and blatantly incorrect supposition.

The death of a small denomination of profoundly illiterate Sarkicists in the mountains of Southern Mexico is not in and of itself notable, and would in most cases be of interest only to specialists in the study of the MASCC cults. Indeed, until 1921, that was precisely the case. However, it was in that year that a young philologist and aspiring semotician in Berlin named Hayk Esmerian released his monograph "Die kosmologischen Rituale der ungeschriebenen Fleischanbeterkulte," linking multiple Sarkic traditions, of which the Fleshspeakers were only the first. This tradition included also the Inaswian tradition of Anatolia and Azerbaijan, the Yetesek’elewi Teketayochi of Abyssinia, and the Hmov Qab millinerian movement of the Hmong people in the mid-17th century12. It is to the first group to which we now turn.

The Inaswian Sarkic tradition derives its name from a Greek corruption of the Arabic
"En nahar al aswa'd," meaning "black river," itself derived from an anecdote, likely apocryphal, of the Inaswian cult recorded by abu Malik abdul-Rahman. It is said that during the 1258 sacking of Baghdad by the Mongol forces of Hulagu, so many books of the city's illustrious libraries were thrown into the Tigris River that its waters ran black with ink. abu Malik claims that "those despised worshipers of flesh and cancers scooped their hands into the water and drank gleefully, embracing the ruin of the city and its learning." As Vempati has pointed out, this account, itself highly dubious, is more likely directed at the Sarkic cults as a whole, rather than at a specific sect that would have likely numbered in the low hundreds. Whatever the historical veracity of the claim, the name stuck.

While the circumstances of the name are up for debate, the specifics are not - in the mid-13th century, we see multiple attestations from credible witnesses of the presence of a "hated sign of mottled flesh, resembling a noose more goulish than the Christians' cross." What is more, these Inaswian groups are attested in the small number of Sarkic accounts, primarily detailing disgust at their religious ritual of leaving dead bodies in caves rather than retaining them for veneration and consumption. Faced with hatred both from within and without the Sarkic community of Baghdad, the Inaswians appear to have fled into the inhospitable mountains of Iran and Anatolia, for it is there that the next accounts of them are given, beginning in the early 14th century.

Given as the Fleshspeakers were to appearance in times of great civilizational upheaval, their remeergence in Azerbaijan and Iraq during the outbreak of the Black Death in the 1330's. However, while interesting, this reemergence is both poorly documented and overshadowed by the broader Schism of the time.

The plague was greeted by Sarkics with open arms as the prophesied return of Ion. However, when Ion did not reemerge from his occultation to bend the world to his will, there was no small amount of consternation. Even though the Sarkics would have been relatively unaffected by the ravages of the Bubonic Plague, it would have constituted a noted disruption in their lives and certainly caused some measure of strife. It is in this soil that the roots of fundamentalism grow, and this could explain the reason that Fleshspeaker-Sarkicism peaked in its influence shortly after the Bubonic Plague.

In the intervening years after the Bubonic Plague, during The Schism and the development of what we now know as the Proto and Neo-Sarkic sects, there would have likely been numerous discussions among Sarkic communities on how to press forward. It is here I hypothesise that the Fleshspeaker-Sarkics are the forebears of modern Sarkicism in both its incarnations. I recognise that this is a bold and highly controversial claim.

Having covered their emergence in Mesoamerica and the Near East, we must now turn our attention to the presence of Fleshspeakers in that most Sarkic of areas: Transleithania. The reasons that Sarkicism found such purchase in the lands of St. Stephen are unclear, but many theories have been put forward, from Michaelsohn's spurrious claims of "Magyar perversion" to Nagy's theory of imperial peripheries. What is indisputable is this: the Sarkic heresy of the Fleshspeakers, and their hatred of the written word, was well-established in Hungary by the 10th century. Recently, excavations have uncovered the itlacoani in Pest13 in 1164, as well as its travel throughout Eastern and Western Europe leading up to the Plague are similarly unaddressed, treated instead as another historical oddity in the long saga of the Sarkic faith. I believe that treating these two events separately elides the truth of the matter - that the Fleshspeaker-Sarkics are inextricable from The Schism and the development of both the Neo and Proto-Sarkics.

Consider that local historical reports indicate sightings of the itlacoani coinciding closely with several of the more important Sarkic conferences at the time, notably Kutná Hora and Valašské Meziříčí14. These councils are reported to have had at least a small contingent of Fleshspeaker-Sarkics in attendance.

The theological underpinnings of both of these figures, Yalekatta15 and Yaldabaoth, are remarkably similar. Both are considered to be the progenitor God of their respective sects. The Fleshspeaker-Sarkics worshipped Yalekatta, but as stated previously, frequent sacrifices and harsh initiation rites would indicate that Fleshspeaker-Sarkic rituals were designed to appease Yalekatta rather than venerate. One may naively think that the Fleshspeaker-Sarkics were an insignificant, if not repeating, facet of Sarkicism on the whole, but it does behoove us to consider a less-anomalous religion for comparison: Catholicism.

While the clearly defined centralised hierarchy of Catholicism diverges from Sarkicism,16 the two religions are not dissimilar in their evolution. The early history of both religions were characterised by themes of community in the face of a larger and largely hostile surrounding culture. But as time progressed and civilisation development continued, the Catholic Church began a shift away from the conception of a distant and vengeful God and more towards a compassionate and caring one. It is well documented that this shift was as much a function of prevailing societal mores as it was a deliberate effort of the body of the Church to evolve with the times.

The time of the Schism would have been characterised by a profound theological disappointment in Ion, specifically that he did not return to lead the Sarkics. Theologically similar to the position taken by the Fleshspeakers, this disappointment evolved into two distinct religious philosophies - a more categorical conception of Ion's failure as a weakened figure destined to be replaced, or a more metaphorical icon to strive to. Regardless, the fanatical groundwork laid by Fleshspeaker-Sarkicism did evolve into two distinct religious interpretations, and as we detail in the next chapter, deliberately excised the less palatable aspects of the Fleshspeaker-Sarkic theology.

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