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Annual Aztec festival of Etzalcualiztli from Diego Duran

The Mexica blessed their work tools every year

Not only did the Mexica ‘re-boot’ their entire lives every 52 years in the giant ‘New Fire Ceremony’, literally throwing out their household items lock, stock and barrel, and then starting afresh; they also gave thanks to, blessed and prayed to their work tools once a year, during the festival of Etzalcuatliztli (dedicated to the rain god Tlaloc). Talk about not taking things for granted! Perhaps we could learn from them here, and show our appreciation every year of the things that keep our lives on track - from car and clothes to furniture and ‘phone... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

‘Spade with which the earth is dug’
‘Spade with which the earth is dug’ (Click on image to enlarge)

For the Mexica, important foods - from maguey cactus to maize, and from squash to sweet potato - deserved special chants and spells to encourage them to fertility and bountifulness. Once a year, during the festival of Etzalcualiztli (‘Day of Eating Cooked Corn and Beans’), the tools associated with planting, harvesting and transporting important crops were blessed. Fray Diego Durán provides an excellent description of this, writing in the 16th century:-
All the native farmers and common people performed a ceremony with their agricultural implements: hoes, sharp sticks for sowing; spades with which the earth is dug; tumplines with which they carried things; cacaxtles, consisting of some small crossed boards placed within a wooden framework where the load is tied; the cord with which the load is carried; and the basket within which the load is placed.

‘Tumpline with which they carried things’
‘Tumpline with which they carried things’ (Click on image to enlarge)

On the day of the feast all these things were placed by the Indians upon a small platform in their homes. and the objects were revered and thanked for their help in the fields and on the road. Food and pulque [fermented cactus juice] were offered to them, together with the dish eaten on this day... Incense was offered before them and a thousand salaams, salutations and speeches.
The Catholic priest Hernando Ruíz de Alarcón y Mendoza recorded some of the food ritual prayers and blessings of the Nahua (descendants of the Aztecs) in the 17th century, including this ‘spell’ for the planting of maize:-
’Well now, come forth, my enchanted mirror whose shadowy face gives off smoke [the earth], for soon I shall set down on you the precious prince 7-Serpent [calendrical name for maize], for here in this good place he will be refreshed...’

Sacred Consumption by Elizabeth Morán, University of Texas Press, 2016
Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calendar by Fray Diego Durán, translated and edited by Fernando Horcasitas and Doris Heyden, University of Oklahoma Press, 1971
Aztec Sorcerers in Seventeenth Century Mexico: The Treatise on Superstitions by Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón, edited by Michael Coe and Gordon Whittaker, Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, State University of New York, 1982.

Image sources:-
• Main pic: image from Durán (The Ancient Calendar - the sixth month) - public domain
• Illustrations by and © Felipe Dávalos/Mexicolore.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Mar 17th 2019

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