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The feast for Xilonen

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Leticia Longoria: What items symbolize the Xilonen celebration, Goddess of young corn/maize? Need list of items please. (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Feasting during the Great Feast of the Lords, Florentine Codex Book 2
Feasting during the Great Feast of the Lords, Florentine Codex Book 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

There’s a good description of this, the tenth day in the month known as the ‘Great Feast of the Lords’ (Huey Tecuilhuitl), in Jacques Soustelle’s classic book The Daily Life of the Aztecs on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest (1961, pp.144-5). If you need even more details, you’ll need to read chapter 27 in Book 2 of the Florentine Codex, where there’s the original, much longer, description. Here’s Soustelle’s summary:-

On the tenth day there began the series of sad and cruel ceremonies in which the central role was played by a woman dressed and adorned to represent the goddess of the young maize, Xilonen. Her face was painted yellow and red; she wore a headdress of quetzal plumes, a turquoise necklace with a golden disk hanging from it, embroidered clothes and red sandals. In her hand she carried a shield and a magic rattle, a ‘chicahuaztli’. In the night before the sacrifice “everybody stayed up, nobody slept, and the women sang the hymns of Xilonen. And at dawn the dances began. All the men, indeed, the war-chiefs, the young men, the officers, everybody carried the maize-stalks that they called ‘totopantli’ (‘bird-flags’); and the women danced also, going with Xilonen.”

Drawing of Xilonen by Miguel Covarrubias, based on an image in the Codex Maglabecchiano
Drawing of Xilonen by Miguel Covarrubias, based on an image in the Codex Maglabecchiano (Click on image to enlarge)

Everybody, dancing and singing, advanced in procession through the twilight and the dawn towards the temple of the maize, Cinteopan, while the priestesses beat the two-toned gongs and the priests sounded their horns and conches. The procession surrounded the woman who for a few hours was the incarnation of the goddess, and it carried her forward with it towards her fate: she had scarcely entered the Cinteopan before the officiating priest stepped forward, with his gold-hilted knife in his hand; and the headless Xilonen became a goddess in her death.
”Then, for the first time, they ate the cakes of young maize’; the women and ‘the maidens who had never looked at any man’; danced and each person made maize-cakes and offered them to the gods...”

• Illustration 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
• Drawing by Miguel Covarrubias scanned from ‘The Aztecs: People of the Sun’ by Alfonso Caso (University of Oklahoma 1958).

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Mexicolore replies: Good point. There is general agreement among scholars that sacrificial victims were given drugs and potions to ‘ease’ their impending suffering. This is specifically referred to in the descriptions of the pottery smiling heads from Classic Veracruz on display in the Mexico gallery of the British Museum...