By Michel Serres
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Additional resources for Angels: A Modern Myth
77] In that sense, at least, the ruler is the equivalent of the rain. Both are sent by the gods, both are necessary parts of the framework within which the common man can sustain his life, and thus both are prerequisites for the life of ― 22 ― culture. The Quiché Maya creation myth embodied in the Popol Vuh is both fascinating and instructive in this regard since even though it is a post-Conquest document recording Postclassic beliefs, it clearly relates rain and rulers, sustenance and governance in its delineation of the creation of humanity, which is, of course, essentially a definition of what it means to be human.
At the succeeding levels of complexity, other items are added to the mask. The first of these is a headband with symbolic markings which covers whatever eyebrows the figure might be imagined to have. Perhaps attached to this headband are elaborate wavy ear coverings, which are long and narrow and similar to those often depicted in Aztec art, the design of which might well suggest water. Such a combination of headband and ear coverings is worn by the child held by the Las Limas figure (pl. 3), a primary image of Rain God CJ, as well as by an iconographically equivalent standing figure holding a child now in the Brooklyn Museum and can also be seen on several carved celts from the Olmec heartland.
88] The Olmec altars, then, symbolically link Olmec rulers to the provision of rain from the realm of the spirit, the entrance to which is represented by the niche in the altar symbolizing simultaneously the were-jaguar mouth and the cave. Thus, in an almost literal sense, the altars were "masks" placed on the earth to allow the ritual entrance into the world of the spirit from which the power wielded by the temporal ruler must ultimately flow. That power was legitimized by virtue of its emergence, through the mask, from the world of the spirit.