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The Warrior's Dance

A Moche Vessel Theme

Clifford C. Richey

September 2009
Illustration 1: The Vessel's Form

The Form of the vessel (green) is in the vague shape of a female body -earth-female. The earthen
vessel is the earth. The Handle's Center (blue) is in the Form of the sign for a cave or cavern. The cave
represents the uterus or womb of earth-female. The Handle is the sign For turning. Combined with the
top of the spout is, of course, a hole. From the hole, the sides of the Handle are tubes or tunnels to the
cave. The double lines painted on the vessel's Handle and Spout mean unseen –that which is within the
hole, tunnels, and cavern of the earth. Inside the vessel.
Illustration 2: The Dance of the Warriors
Illustration Credit: Donna McClelland

This scene on a Moche, fine-line, vessel gives the appearance of a combat scene. But it is more likely
that it depicts a metaphorical battle between the spirits of deceased warriors and the hardships to be
endured in the journey of the after-life. Of course the model for the metaphor had to have some basis
and that was probably actual combat. The entire scene will not be translated here due to time and space.
However, those portions of the scene that demonstrate that the scene is not one of actual combat will be
translated. It is likely that this scene provided the basis for a warrior's dance that enacted the difficulties
that the warriors had to endure in the after-life.

On the upper level there are depictions of cacti whose association is one of pain, hardship and
difficulty. This is the reason for the Cactus and Eagle imagery on the Mexican flag. The concept on the
flag was taken from an Aztec glyph. The Eagle, (the daytime sun, has overcome past difficulties and is
now able to devour its enemy, the snake held in its beak. The gesture sign elements: a “V” shape for an
opening, a line for the surface. The “V” is on the side of the surface line. At the top of the first cactus
pad is the sign for a doorway while the other two pads have the Circle signs for locations at their tips.
The Needles of the cacti make up several doorway(s) signs. The pods are darkened to indicate
something that has depth or is in darkness.

Illustration 3: The Cacti - The Difficulties

The Many Hardships

(the 3 pads)
The Openings
The Doorways
to the
(The individual pads are vaginae and the doorway signs are hairs)
Websters: “a canal in a female mammal that leads from the uterus to the external orifice of the genital canal.”
Illustration 4: Taken Downward
on the
(of the earth)
The Locations
of the
The Imagery in Illustration 3 is one of a warrior grabbing the hair( a dark on-the side sign) of another
warrior and pulling him downwards (Stance). The Captive's Shield is the sign for a location-dark and
the signs on the Shield indicate the dark-location of a transformation (“X” for transformation). The
left Arm of the Captive makes the sign for covered-unseen and this is followed by the Triangular,
female-earth and the Rectangular place signs. Thus we are told that the Captive is being pulled down
into an unseen place within the earth. The Hand of the well dressed warrior on the right is holding the
Hair of the Captive. The signs here are, The Arm's, The Hand's (the warriors, the steward's ) locations-
place-dark-side (of the earth). The large Axe is the Associational Imagery for the Sun. Both warriors
legs and feet are toward the right meaning going toward the direction West (sundown, darkness,
death). This Stance of the Legs and feet (blue) is also one indicating arrival, meaning they are arriving
below the earth's surface. The signs on the right hand warrior's legs (white) mean, up and down
movement. The Heel of the left Foot is the sign for turning and is attached to a dark, Triangular,
female-earth sign. This means turning-female, entering the domain of the earth. Note that the toe of the
Foot is the “V” shaped sign for opening-up and the Toe actually penetrates the long surface line that
represents the surface of the earth. So, while this appears to be a battle scene with losers and victors the
message makes little distinction between the two as both, as warriors, are headed toward the under-
world. The Square Shield light blue) is the sign for a house or domain. Its interior is dark (black).
There is a water sign between the two earth-female signs. The meaning here is the house of darkness,
The water between the between the dark sides of the earth-female's house. The water is on a diagonal
(Stance) and the house sign is split into two female signs.
Illustration 5: The Flights of the Spirits

The pertinent part of this scene (Illustration 4) is the plants that appear to be floating or flying in the air
and they are dual imagery. On the left, the earth-female sign (red), followed by Three Birds (black)
(many flights), and a Serpent (a stream of water). This is a paraphrasing of the Feathered Serpent (the
many flights of water to the sky). The Plant's Leaves, its wings, also Form the shape of Birds for flights.
Plants leaves flap in the wind like the wings of a bird and this may have been the basis for calling the
leaves wings. The meaning of the number of Birds (3) is sign language short hand for many. The Plant
seems to be in the budding stage, prior to blossoming.

The Central object is at once both a Dart (yellow) moving downward (a ray of the sun moving
downward toward the earth). It is also a Flower Blossom (yellow) with the Anther, the curved motion
sign arising upward. Plants held the Associations for fertility, and growth as they sprout from seeds and
grow toward the sky, and ultimately then flower or blossom.

Another association may have been one of an Anther (black) was associated with the spirits in the
sense that the pollen was known to initiate the creation of seeds. The Anther terminates at a nude
figure (a spirit) . There is no determination of whether captive or victor. The trunk of the nude figure's
Body (gold) forms a cave or cavern sign and because it is double lined, was considered as, unseen. The
figure's Legs and Feet (blue) are in the Stance for departing as well as meaning long-journeys. The sign
that makes up the rear of the figure is the sign for, taken-upward. The Arms, The Hands meaning the
warriors and stewards of the Sun are in the Stance of depicting above and below. The Black Hair is a
compound of the dark-place and upper-world sign. The Face, means his appearance. And the stance is
one of being, on the side of the cave. The Stance of the Figure is one of Sitting meaning waiting.
Waiting to flower or blossom. The blossoming would have referred to the rebirth of the warrior's spirit
and ascension to the sky. The spirit, the Hand of the Sun, is departing the underworld and arising along
side the cavern. His Arm and Hand (white) is raised upwards. The Lower Hand has an earth female
sign within the palm indicating the earth below. The upper line that forms the figure's Rear is the hook
shaped sign for taken upwards.
Illustration 6: The Owl -The
Messenger from the Dead

Finally we have the Imagery of the Owl whose association is one of a messenger or message from the
dead. As a Bird it also represents flight. The Body of the Owl is made up of place signs both dark and
light (yellow and black). The overall Form of these place signs is that of the sign for a small mountain
or a hill. The bottom place sign (white) has angled sides so many. The Wings of the Owl are on the
hillside and are created from several vertical place signs. (many places of flight). The Eyes of the Owl
are dark location(s) signs that spiral upwards, taken-upwards-in flight as these signs touch the Wings.
The Wings are also in the Form of earth-female signs. The meaning is that the spirits of the deceased
warriors are taken up from places on the hillside and then ascend (the opposite curves attached to the
upward spirals) to the arc of the sky. Finally the top of the Head of the Owl is in the Image of a Tumi
Knife –a ray of the sun, a warrior.

The entire scene appears to be on two levels and may have been played out on the steps of a temple
(whose form is that of the sign for mountain and mountain-side). The scene appears to have been based
on a metaphor of battle in which the spirits of deceased warriors, regardless of whether friend or foe,
underwent the trials of the after-life as they prepared for an existence as spirits in the sky.