The original ‘pull-ups’?
(Click the pictures in order to see them in a separate window)
The last of the 18 festivals in the Aztecs’ agricultural calendar (based on the sun, like ours) was called Izcalli, meaning ‘Sprout’ or ‘Growth’...
The Aztecs encouraged not just children but trees and plants to grow more speedily by literally stretching them - by the necks! To make up, it was the one time in the year when children were allowed to drink the fermented cactus juice ‘pulque’ (bit like getting a sweet for going to the dentist??)
The festival was dedicated to Tlaloc (rain god) and Xiuhtecuhtli (fire god - shown here). Worshippers sculpted figures of Xiuhtecuhtli with herb paste, and heated trees (gently!) to make them grow.
Part of the ritual asscociated with feasts at this time of the calendar was the ear-piercing of children using cactus spines: nasty!
Q. What did Aztec children say to their mum and dad when they were given the cactus needle treatment?
A. ‘Ere, cut it out...!
Instant exercise: the original ‘pull-ups’?
Izcalli was the last of 18 ‘veintenas’ (20-day ‘months’) in the Aztecs’ solar calendar, roughly coinciding with our period of January 20th - February 8th. The festival of Izcalli (meaning ‘Sprout’, ‘Growth’ or ‘Rebirth’) was dedicated to Tlaloc (rain god) and Xiuhtecuhtli (fire god). (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)
|Pic 1: Aztec stone sculpture of Xiuhtecuhtli, Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)|
Worshippers sculpted figures of Xiuhtecuhtli with amaranth paste, sacrificed animals and roasted maize (corn), women offered ‘tamales’ (steamed rolled maize pancakes) to family and kin, maguey (century plant) agaves were pruned - and children were pulled by their necks to make them grow as corn grows... (Main pic)
|Pic 2: Folio 253r of the ‘Primeros Memoriales’ manuscript, describing the Izcalli festival (Click on image to enlarge)|
The link between this festival and the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli, with its human plea for divine aid with plant and human growth, is made in several codices/manuscripts, all written after the Spanish Conquest, including the Florentine, Telleriano-Remensis, Magliabechiano, Tovar, Durán and the Primeros Memoriales. According to the latter, not just children but trees and plants were also ‘stretched’ or ‘quickened’ to make them grow more speedily.
|Pic 3: Folio 6v, Codex Telleriano-Remensis (Click on image to enlarge)|
Folio 6v of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, reproduced here (Pic 3), states, in Spanish: ‘Izcalli... the feast of fire, for at that time they heated the trees to make them bloom, feast of rejuvenation... this month, Izcalli means something like vigour or ability. And thus in this month all the mothers took their children by the head, and raising them up said many times "Izcalli, Izcalli", as if saying "quicken, quicken". And thus they depicted only this month with a crown because it was the month to produce or, more properly, to give thanks to nature which causes this abundance.’
|Pic 4: Once a year: children being offered pulque! Florentine Codex, Book II (Click on image to enlarge)|
Finally, in its description of the Izcalli festival (In Spanish and Náhuatl) the Florentine Codex (Book II) describes how ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ (family friends) carried small children to temples, and gave them pulque to drink in small drinking vessels (Pic 4), and goes on: ‘And for this reason was [the time] named Izcalli tlami [The Growing is Achieved]: they took by the neck, they hung high all the small children. Thus was it said: "They take them for growth; they grasp them to grow. so that they will each quickly grow tall; they will develop; they will grow up."
|Pic 5: ear-piercing of children, Florentine Codex Book II (Click on image to enlarge)|
‘And as for the magueys, they divided their cores, they split their cores, they broke up their cores, they exposed their cores. And as for the cacti, they cleaned them, they pruned their branches, because they would develop quickly; they would revive, they would grow.’ Part of the ritual asscociated with feasts at this time of the calendar was the ear-piercing of children using cactus/agave spines (Pic 5).
|Pic 6: close up of agave americana spine (Click on image to enlarge)|
This linked reference to child-stretching and maguey-pruning in the Florentine Codex is one of several reasons why Inga Clendinnen claims that the Aztec ‘persistently identified the maguey with human children, as in the festival of Izcalli, when the maguey was pruned and the children “stretched” in adjacent rituals to guarantee growth.’
BTW, there’s evidence that the superstitious Aztecs rushed to stretch their children by the neck during earthquakes! This almost certainly is associated with their belief that an earthquake represented the great earth monster waking up and stretching...
• Aztecs - Inga Clendinnen, Cambridge University Press, 1991
• Handbook to Life in the Aztec World - Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, Facts On File, Inc., New York, 2006
• Florentine Codex, Book 2 (The Ceremonies) - Arthur J.O. Anderson & Charles E. Dibble (Eds.), School of American Research and University of Utah, Santa Fe, 1981
• Codex Telleriano-Remensis, facsimile edition - Eloise Quiñones Keber, University of Texas Press, 1995
• Codex Telleriano-Remensis (above)
• Florentine Codex, scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994
• Primeros Memoriales, courtesy of Julia Flood
• Xiuhtecuhtli, photo by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore
• Agave, photo by S Sepp, from Wikipedia (Agave americana).
Q. Where did the original stretch limousine come from?
A. From the ‘stretched limb as seen’ in the Aztec Izcalli festival!