General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Apr 2021/4 Wind
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‘Figura huésped’ figurine from Teotihacan

‘Host’ figurines

These unusual figures from the great ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacán - revered by the Aztecs/Mexica and called by them the ‘City of Gods’ - present something of a mystery: what exactly did they signify? They appear to have puzzled scholars since the first one, from Metepec, was found by George Vaillant in 1933 (it’s now in the American Museum of Natural History)...

‘Host figurine’ from Teotihuacán
‘Host figurine’ from Teotihuacán (Click on image to enlarge)

Dubbed figura huésped or ‘host figurine’ in Spanish - as they ‘host’ varying numbers of smaller, solid figurines inside them - these two-part, relatively naked clay figures, found in burials and offerings as far away from Teotihuacán as Guatemala, Michoacán and the Yucatán, have prompted experts to suggest a number of possible meanings:-
Fertility, nurturing and growth (Note though that host figurines are just as often male as female!)
• The concept of the nahual - our inner self, companion spirit, double
• An earth deity receiving and protecting the souls of dead warriors
• The multi-ethnic make-up of a city like Teotihuacán: there were many outlying neighbourhoods composed largely of groups of migrant workers from far-away Oaxaca and Michoacán, drawn to the city by its great size and wealth (by 250 CE its population had reached 100,000, spread over some 25 square kilometers). Did these figurines show that, while on the surface the city’s inhabitants looked much the same, inside they guarded closely their own local beliefs and customs that they were reluctant to turn their backs on?

What do you think? Let us have your ideas...

Photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
Info from Teotihuacán: Art from the City of the Gods, edited by Kathleen Berrin and Esther Pasztory, Thames & Hudson, New York, 1993, and from Professor Karl Taube and Dr. Leonardo López Luján (personal communications).

Learn more about the nahual...

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Good point, Alejandro! As far as we can make out, none of the images of ‘host figurines’ - at least those images published in the exhibition catalogues/books that we’ve seen - contain animal/bird figures.