The Tao of Axolotl

At the end of the last Age, the gods gathered at Teotihuacan to create this Age that we live in now.  It became clear that a great sacrifice would be needed to start the world over, and so they agreed that they would all, without exception, leap in to a giant bonfire so that their deaths could begin this, the Fifth Sun.  And although they all agreed, the god of twins, Xolotl, did not wish to sacrifice himself and so he fled and hid, transforming himself into a two-stalked maguey plant.  But the other gods knew the sacrifice would not work unless they all leaped into the fire, so they chased Xolotl and recognized him as the maguey.  Before they could catch him, though, Xolotl ran away again and hid, transforming himself into a two-stalked corn plant.  Again, the gods chased him and recognized him.  This third time, Xolotl ran and jumped into the water, transforming himself into the axolotl.  Now the other gods caught up with him and took him back to the bonfire, completing the self-sacrifice that made this world possible.

The axolotl is the larval form of the tiger salamander, native to two lakes in the Central Mexican Plateau.  It is famous as one of the highest lifeforms to exhibit the biological trait called neoteny, which refers to the ability of certain species to retain all their juvenile characteristics and reach sexual maturity despite never metamorphosing.  In the case of the axolotl, this means that it never drops it gills to leave the water and live on land like the adult salamander—instead, it lives its whole life in its immature phase, yet displaying the adult characteristic of sexual reproduction.

The word axolotl is a Nahuatl word constructed of two morphemes:  a-xolotl, from atl (water) and xolotl (the god of twins).

From all this we can say that the axolotl is a symbol of great creative power and independent action—a symbol of a being that integrates the positive characteristics of childhood and adulthood by not taking on the negative characteristics of adulthood.  It can produce the next generation without having to transform into the previous generation.  It is the symbol of the Ancient Child.

Its symbolic meaning correlates well with Hexagram 49, Staying Open, of The Toltec I Ching—

49 copy

Image:  An infant beholds the many diverse items in its surroundings, each of which is calling to the child.  The speech glyphs representing each article’s voice are of different colors in order to show that the child’s natural curiosity leads it to be fascinated by a wide array of interests.

Interpretation:  This hexagram depicts the openness of heart and mind and spirit of those who are adapting to the future.  The infant symbolizes the living potential dwelling within every individual.  The diverse objects around the child represent all the possible paths, both external and internal, lying before every individual at every turn.  That the infant’s attention is drawn to each of the interests means that you look at everything as an opportunity to develop yourself further.  Taken together, these symbols mean that you are not adapted to one particular environment but, rather, to any environment.

The Way of Axolotl is the path of the generalist.  It is the path of retaining the child’s sense of wonder and curiosity throughout a lifetime.  It is the tao of the breaking wave, the path of those who keep moving forward with change rather than settling into one particular vocation, lifestyle, or identity.  It is, in this sense, the path of paths:  it does not strive to reach some arbitrary goal but, rather, seeks to explore all the interesting paths it can find.  To the extent that it encourages specialization in us, it is always in the sense of the wayfarer who stops for a while to become intimately familiar with a particularly intriguing area before moving on to the next.

Intent:  The ideal society is just like the ideal family, existing to afford every member the opportunity to develop their full potential:  in times of darkness, on the other hand, authoritarianism restricts the creation of new opportunities and channels people into meaningless activities that benefit only those in authority.  Likewise, societies change just like families, transforming their goals and relationships with the passing of each generation:  whereas those who thrive in times of darkness cannot conceive a time of light, those who thrive in times of light can all too readily envision a return to darkness.  Whether it is the individual, family, society, or humanity as a whole, the cycles of the pendulum’s swings between the closing down and opening up of meaningful opportunities establishes the fundamental circumstances against which all actions take place and all decisions are made.  The best way to contribute to the lives of others is to nurture and encourage their efforts to further develop their own potential.  In this way, you materially assist others and help transform the fundamental circumstances within which all live.

Fortune favors those who are adapted ahead of time.  The Way of Axolotl goes against the current of culture and family, which generally seeks to channel people into pigeonholes where their lives become highly routinized, seeking instead to keep open the individual’s possibilities to realize his or her potential.  Rather than seeking to merely cobble people together in a haphazard way to make society limp along without real meaning, the Way of Axolotl seeks to create a meaningful society by affording individuals the opportunity to create meaningful lives for themselves.  The fact that cultures differ so wildly from one continent to another means that no culture is inevitable or unchangeable.

Summary:  Cultivate as wide a range of interests and relationships as possible.  Avoid the tendency to focus on one specific thing or person at this time.  Cultivate breadth, not depth.  It is a time of exploration, so follow your curiosity.  Do not jump at the first opportunity or commit yourself to a single course of action now.  Keep all your options open while you prepare for future opportunities.

The Tao of Axolotl is based on the symbol of the Ancient Child.  The fact that the axolotl retains its gills and does not leave the water like the adult salamander symbolizes the experience of those who retain the open-hearted and open-minded spirit of childhood, refusing to metamorphose into the unnatural state of critical, cynical, and domesticated adults.  The fact that the axolotl reaches sexual maturity and can produce offspring symbolizes the experience of those who are creatively productive, fashioning new norms and new opportunities for others simply by pursuing their own sense of wonder.


The Toltec I Ching, by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden has just been released by Larson Publications.  It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams.  Its subtitle, 64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.

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3 Responses to The Tao of Axolotl

  1. Pingback: Thetolteciching

  2. under5cents says:

    Humans argue over politics. Meanwhile, the Axolotl are dying out.
    Lake Xochimilco outside of Mexico City, Mexico —   
    The Axolotl is an aquatic salamander that never grows out of the
    tadpole state. It is native to Lake Xochimilco. This animal can not be
    found in the wild anyplace else on Earth. According to scientists,
    there are only about 1200 left. They are becoming extinced in the wild
    because of foreign fish that were introduced to the lake, back in the
    1970’s. Now the local human population is dependent on the fishing
    industry surrounding the lake.
    These critters need to be preserved and transplanted to another lake
    similar to their natural habitat. Meanwhile, we need to figure out how
    they reproduce cut off limbs.

  3. Pingback: Meet The Axolotl | Book of Research

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