General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Sep 2017/9 Jaguar
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Dr. John F. Schwaller

Question for September 2011

Did the Aztecs say a prayer before eating? Asked by Beulah Junior School. Chosen and answered by Dr. John F. Schwaller.

A Mexica family at bedtime, illustration by Felipe Dávalos
A Mexica family at bedtime, illustration by Felipe Dávalos (Click on image to enlarge)

Yes indeed. In fact they had prayers for many, many things. We are fortunate that many people were interested in the prayers of the Aztecs and they were copied down in the hundred years or so after the conquest. Unfortunately, while we know that they did have prayers before meals, we do not have any examples of them. We do have several examples of prayers before bedtime, the Nahuatl equivalent of “Now I lay me down to sleep...” In these prayers they call their sleeping mat a jaguar, possibly because the woven texture of the mat looked like a jaguar’s spots. The jaguar/mat protected the sleeper from all evil and would devour anyone or anything which came to harm the sleeper. When the person woke up after sleeping, there was another prayer to say good-bye to the sleeping mat and thank the jaguar/mat for having protected the person through the night.

‘Feasting after a year’s service to the god’, Florentine  Codex Book III
‘Feasting after a year’s service to the god’, Florentine Codex Book III (Click on image to enlarge)

There were also prayers before planting corn, which can give us an idea of what a prayer before meals might have sounded like. Here is a small part of it:-
“It is I, the person. Pay attention, sister seed, who is sustenance. Pay attention, princess Earth, for now I entrust into your hands my sister, the one who gives us, or the one who is, our sustenance.” The Aztecs also had prayers for cultivating the fields, prayers for the harvest. Every occupation also had prayers for its particular activity. There were also scores of prayers for healing when people got sick.

Image sources:-
• Illustration by and courtesy of Felipe Dávalos
• Image from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994

Aztec Prayers For Protection From Evil While Sleeping - Tlacatecco website

Dr. John F. Schwaller has answered 7 questions altogether:

Why did the Aztecs only use wheels for toys and not for transport?

Do we only get food words or are there other English words derived from the Aztec language?

How many words were there in the Aztec language?

Why didn’t the Aztecs ask their gods to save them?

Is Náhuatl taught in Mexican schools today?

Why is the emperor called Montezuma [in England] and not Moctezuma?

Did the Aztecs say a prayer before eating?

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