General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 14 Dec 2017/3 Rain
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Image from the Codex Laud, info from ‘The Aztecs: People of the Sun’ by Alfonso Caso

Sacred Agave

The Mexica (Aztecs) valued and worshipped the agave (century plant). There were, as a result, strict rules on who could, and when to, get drunk on fermented agave juice: too close a contact with the sacred could be dangerous... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Women drinking pulque, Codex Tudela p.70
Women drinking pulque, Codex Tudela p.70 (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The maguey (agave) plant was of great importance in the life of the Aztecs, not only for the pulque (octli in Nahuatl - the alcoholic drink made from the fermented ‘honeywater’ juice sucked from the centre of the plant) which they extracted from it, but also for the many industrial products from the leaves and spines of the plant. It was made sacred under the name of Mayahuel. She was a goddess, who, like Venus of Ephesus, had 400 breasts to nurse her 400 children...’ (Top image from the Codex Laud - original in the Bodleian LIbrary, Oxford, info from ‘The Aztecs: People of the Sun’ by Alfonso Caso)
You can see the pulque on the top left of the main image (click to enlarge) - the dotted lines showed the drink’s power to intoxicate (make you tipsy...) Sadly, pulque production is rapidly becoming extinct in Mexico. Follow the links below to find out more/see a slide show of pulque making today.

Elderly woman swigging pulque (Codex Mendoza - original in the Bodleian Libary, Oxford)
Elderly woman swigging pulque (Codex Mendoza - original in the Bodleian Libary, Oxford) (Click on image to enlarge)

Old people were recommended - and allowed - in Aztec times to drink pulque: as a ‘cold’ drink it ‘moderated the heat that had accumulated in their bodies with the passage of time’ (Alfredo López Austin). This is a reference to the age-old tradition in Mesoamerica - strikingly similar to the Old World belief in the influence of bodily ‘humours’ - of balancing opposite influences in food, medicine, plants (and the world in general) in order to maintain harmony in life.

Maguey agave growing near Xochimilco today
Maguey agave growing near Xochimilco today (Click on image to enlarge)

The Mexica placed firm limits on drunkenness, for fear of getting too close to the sacred. According to Professor Davíd Carrasco, ‘The gods gave, in mythic time, alcoholic drinks to humans to bring them happiness. Humans were required to consume this happiness in moderation because drunkenness meant one was possessed by the gods of the pulque; he who drinks pulque imbibes [swallows] the god into the body, of which the god then takes possession. To take too much of the god into one’s body was a dangerous offense to the gods...’

‘Pulque: Mexico’s unique and vanishing drink’
‘Mexico’s ancient drink under threat’ (BBC report, May 2007)
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