General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Apr 2021/3 Alligator
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Article suitable for older students

The interior of an Aztec house, with baby in basket

The Mexica cosmos - ‘a house writ large’

We love this profound insight into the Aztec world by Louise Burkhart, taken from her chapter ‘Mexica Women on the Home Front’ in Indian Women of Early Mexico (details below).

One could see the Mexica house as a model of the cosmos, writ small, but perhaps it would be better to see the Mexica cosmos as a house writ large. It was in that smoky interior that the Mexica infant developed its orientation in space and time. It learned that space is quadrilateral and has a central point; it learned the pattern of the day’s activities and the calendrical cycles. It learned that order is fragile and temporary: without constant attention and renewal things get old, dirty, and worn out. Lying on its cradleboard by the flickering fire, watching its mother spin and weave, cook and clean, make offerings and pray, the child began to become a Mexica person.

The city of Tenochtitlan
The city of Tenochtitlan (Click on image to enlarge)

When that child was old enough to venture out into the city, she or he saw that the gods lived in houses too, ‘teocalli’, or god houses, arranged around quadrilateral patios in the sacred precincts. And outside of the quadripartite city lay the rest of the quadripartite world that had the Mexicas’ great temple as the central point. All of this order was fragile. Like the house and its furnishings, that whole world had a tendency to become worn out and dirty if not tended carefully. Just as the housewife had to be constantly vigilant to maintain cleanliness and order, so did the priests in their temples. Much Mexica temple ritual functioned as a kind of cosmic housekeeping: the priests guarded the temple fires, made offerings, prayed, and cleaned; female priests and attendants also spun and wove clothing for the deities and cooked their offerings of food.

Indian Women of Early Mexico edited by Susan Schroeder, Stephanie Wood, and Robert Haskett, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1997, pp. 30-32.

Picture sources:-
• Main: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore (graphic by Felipe Dávalos)
• Tenochtitlan: image downloaded from

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Mar 02nd 2021

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