THE LEGEND OF THE VOLCANOS
An Ancient Mexica Tale
Retold by Gina Ruiz to her granddaughter Jasmine as it was told to her by her abuelito (Papa, Salvador Medina Camarillo)
Once upon a time in the land of the Mexica, lived a beautiful young princess named Iztacihuatl. This gentle princess, Izta as everyone called her, was good, kind and giving. All the little animals loved her as well. Izta had a pet deer that she loved very much. It followed her everywhere. Everyday Izta and her deer would go for long walks picking flowers along the mountainside. One day as they were walking, the deer led Izta to a small hidden grove where they were nice flat rocks to sit upon, a lovely mountain spring and the most beautiful, sweet smelling flowers. Izta thought to herself, “the gods must live here because it is so beautiful. It is the most beautiful place in all of Mexico. From that day on, Izta and the deer would go the mountain hidden grove and play in the spring and pick flowers. Izta always left a small offering to Tonantzin (Mother Earth) and one for Chalichilquitlue (the female spirit of the calm waters). She also made sure to leave fruit and flowers to all the protectors of the hidden grove. Unknown to Izta these spirits watched over her with approval. They loved her too.
One warm spring day when the flowers perfume was heaviest in the secret valley, Izta and Mazatl her deer were surprised to walk into their valley and see a warrior. He was tall, brown and handsome and to Izta, he looked like a god. His name was Popocatepetl (The Smoking Mountain) but everyone called him Popo. He seemed just as startled to see Izta. “So you are the one who leaves the offerings”, he said.
“Yes”, stammered Izta who had fallen in love the handsome warrior in that instant.
“I have been coming to this valley for many years and have wondered who it was. It is a wonder that we have never met before.” Her beauty and her obvious goodness dazzled Popo. He had fallen in love with her too.
“Deer and I found this place when I was a small child. We thought it was just our secret place and that no one knew of it.”
“I too, have been coming here since I was a small child. I followed a bird and it led me here. I will leave if you like but I would like it if we shared this special place.”
“Yes I would like that too”.
Over the days and months to come Izta and Popo fell more in love. They made plans to marry and one day Popo went to Izta’s father to ask for her hand in marriage. Izta’s father wanted the best for her and Popo was just a poor warrior. He told Popo that if he could become an Eagle Warrior the highest honor for a warrior the mexica had to offer, that he could marry Izta. Popo agreed knowing that it was a long, arduous process and that many warriors died trying to become the coveted Eagle Warrior.
Izta and Popo met one last time in their secret valley. Izta begged Popo to run away with her, not to begin the dangerous process of becoming an Eagle Warrior. Popo was disagreed. Izta, we cannot run away in shame! No! I will triumph and return to you my love and we will live openly as man and wife with much honor. I will not allow ourselves to live in shame away from our families and friends.” Izta saw that he was right and sadly agreed. She promised to come to their secret valley every day and pray for his safe return.
Unknown to Izta and Popo there was an evil man close to Iztas father who had wanted Izta for his own, not for love of her but for the desire to possess something beautiful and for the power her father held. It had been he who had counseled Izta’s father to make the demand that Popo become an Eagle Warrior. He, because he was a coward, had thought that Popo would refuse and go away in shame, leaving Izta to him. He had no concept of what a strong honest heart full of love could be capable of. He had no concept of courage and honor. He sent out spies to track Popo’s actions and if possible, to deter him from his mission.
During the long months that Popo was away, this evil man who remains nameless thorough all time would whisper to Izta that it had been so long, that Popo would not return, that he was probably dead. To all his whispers and lies, Izta turned a deaf ear. She kept her promise and went every day to the secret valley and she and Popo shared. Everyday she left offerings and prayed for his safety. She sat for many hours among the flowers, listening to the birds and the gurgle of the spring thinking of Popo and keeping a strong heart. The spirits of the valley watched over her with love.
One evening, as the evil man sat at dinner, one of his spies hurried in. The spy told the evil man that Popo had triumphed, that he had become an Eagle Warrior with many honors and was even now on his way home in triumph. The evil man was furious and killed the spy so that there would be no one to tell Izta. He cut a long lock of the spy’s hair, which looked so much like Popo’s and dipped it in the blood left on the floor. The he ran to Izta’s father with the news that Popo had died. Izta’s father was distressed because he had seen over time, how much Izta did love Popo and he had been impressed with the young man’s honor and courage. He knew it would break Izta’s heart. Still, with a heavy heart, he knew that he needed to tell her. He took the lock of hair and went into her room just as the dawn was breaking. He gently woke her and his look told her everything. With a cry she sprang out of bed and ran with the deer following after. She ran and she ran crying not even knowing where she was going. Her feet led her to the secret valley where she and Popo had shared so many wonderful days. She sat on the rock with the deer at her feet and cried till her heart burst and she died. The deer reused to believe she had died and it kept nudging her to try and wake her. But Izta lay silent and still.
Meanwhile, as Izta’s father stood on his balcony wondering and worrying for his daughter and waiting for the search party to return with her, he heard the conch shells blowing. He saw a tired procession of warriors and as they got closer he saw that Popo led them tall and proud, wearing the coveted eagle helmet and regalia. The old man was in shock as Popo came and knelt at his feet for his blessing. He shook himself and told Popo what had happened, how he had been lied to and showed Popo the lock of hair. He told Popo that even now a search party was looking for Izta. Popo jumped to his feet shouting that he knew where she was and that he would return with her and they would be married and that the evil man should pay for his lies. Popo ran to the mountain valley as fast as he could go with his warriors trailing far behind.
As he came into the valley, he saw her asleep on the rock with the deer in her arms. He knelt at her side and kissed her but she would not wake. He cried and pleaded but she would not wake. Then Popo knew she had died of a broken heart and he raged. He raged to the spirits of the mountain, he raged to the sun, he shot arrows at the sky demanded that the gods bring his Izta back to life. He shouted, he screamed, he raged and the Earth began to tremble under his anger. The spirits of the mountain loved Izta but they knew they could not bring her back to life. They turned her into a beautiful white mountain to watch over the Mexica people and bring joy to their sight with her beauty. Popo in his rage they turned into a smoking volcano that stands over the White Mountain and watches over her forever. It is said that every once in awhile he remembers the treachery of the evil man and his anger bubbles and the whole of Mexico trembles under his anger. Smoke rises from his mountaintop and sometimes, his anger is so deep that Popo erupts.
And the evil man? Izta’s father had him tried for his crimes and he died a terrible death.
And Popo and Izta live today still. Their mountain selves still stand. They have been immortalized by the great Mexican artist Jesus Helguera. You can see them together forever in the beautiful land of the Mexica.