Demonic Forces in History
Let’s pretend. Let’s make believe. That’s what you do when you write fiction, even though, in the process, you may set the foundations of your fantasy in the solid ground of reality.
That’s what I did when I began work on War God , my historical novel about the Spanish conquest of Mexico. I knew from my research that Hernan Cortes, the Spanish leader, and Moctezuma the emperor of the Mexica (the people better known as the ‘Aztecs’) were both deeply ‘spiritual’ men. I knew that Moctezuma frequently entered trance states to communicate with Huitzilopochtli, the War God of the Mexica, and that this entity was very real to him. I knew that Cortes had been convinced since his childhood that he was mystically protected by Saint Peter. And I knew, as the apocalyptic events of the conquest unfolded between 1519 and 1521, that both men felt inspired, and allowed their policies and decisions to be guided, by these beings (who we might prefer to construe as figments of superstition but who were undoubtedly very real to them). This guidance from the ‘ War God ’ and the ‘saint’ made everything much, much worse, made both men much crueler, much more fanatical, much more violent – much more wicked – than they might have been if left to their own devices.
Since I was writing a novel, since I was pretending, since I was making believe, I felt free to wonder and what I wondered was this – What if the being that Cortes saw as Peter was not a saint? What if the being that Moctezuma saw as Huitzilopochtli was not a god? What if, instead, they were really one and the same demonic entity who – like all demons everywhere through all the myths and legends of mankind – was in the business of adding to and multiplying the pain and suffering and misery of the world, corrupting all that is good and pure and true in the human spirit, and tempting us to venture ever further along the path of wickedness and evil?
Such a possibility could not be considered in any work of non-fiction but it is one of the many freedoms of the novelist’s craft, while remaining solidly grounded in the facts, to be able to explore extraordinary ideas of this sort and, in the process, perhaps even to reveal hidden dimensions of history.
Thus it is undoubtedly the case, guided as he was by the ‘ War God ’ Huitzilopochtli, that Moctezuma presided over a society with a psychopathic lust for human sacrifice in which depraved rituals – such as flaying victims and wearing their skins – were celebrated. Likewise it is undoubtedly the case that life for those subject peoples whose miserable lot it was to supply the Mexica with the majority of their victims was precarious and filled with terror and suffering. Yet it is also true that things became even worse, even more terrible, even more ‘demonic’ after the Spanish conquest – guided by the influence of ‘Saint Peter’ on Cortes – was complete and that within fifty years the indigenous population of Mexico had been reduced through genocidal war, famine and introduced diseases from an estimated thirty million to just one million.
Yes, I found myself thinking as I wrote the novel, it really does feel like a demon was at work in Mexico at that time, a tempter and a manipulator who deliberately stoked the flames of the conflict and who ultimately backed the Spaniards because he knew they would unleash the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
It is interesting to wonder what the world we live in today would have been like if the Spanish conquest of Mexico had never taken place, or been guided to unfold in a different way. For the pattern of genocide that Cortes set in that benighted land was followed slavishly little more than a decade later by Pizarro in Peru and ultimately became the model for the dealings of all the European powers with all the indigenous peoples they were to encounter the world over in the centuries of darkness that followed…
More information about War God here.