The Natural History of the Soul in Ancient Mexico 9780300194937

This fascinating, richly illustrated book explores basic Precolumbian beliefs about the soul among ancient Mesoamerican

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Table of contents :
1. The Evolving Soul
2. The Mexica and Their Souls
3. The Yolia and the Soul
4. The Yolia as a Bird
5. The Winged Soul, Universality and Natural History
6. The Yolia as Breath
7. The Yolia as Shadowy Double
8. The Yolia as Stone
9. The Tonalli and Fire Drilling
10. The Tonalli as Sumptuary Art
11. The Tonalli as Name and Astrological Sign
12. The Tonalli and Physical Resemblance
13. The Tonalli, Body Temperature and Neonates
14. The Tonalli and Advice at Puberty
15. Soul Loss and Aging
16. The Tonalli and the Cold Body
17. The Tonalli as Body Part
18. Blood, Shock and Sacrifice
19. The Spirit, the Air and the Winds
20. The Aires as Spirits, Gods and the Returning Dead
21. The Glowing Ihiyotl, the Winds and the Aires
22. The Ignis Fatuus and the Ihiyotl
23. The Foul-Smelling Ihiyotl
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The Natural History of the Soul in Ancient Mexico

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Yale University Press New Haven and London

In order to keep this title in print, this edition was produced using digital printing technology in a relatively short print run. This would not have been attainable using traditional printing methods. Although the reproduction of this copy may not appear the same as in the original edition, the text remains the same and all materials and methods used still conform to the highest bookmaking standards.

Copyright © 1995 by Yale University. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. Printed in the U.S.A. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data McKeever Fürst, Jill Leslie, 1944The natural history of the soul in ancient Mexico /Jill Leslie McKeever Fürst. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 978-0-300-07260-0 1. Aztecs—Religion. 2. Indians of Mexico—Religion. 3. Soul. I. Title. F1219.76.R45M4 1995 128M'0972-dc20 95-16961 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.


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Acknowledgments/ix l The Evolving Soul/l 2 The Mexica and Their Souls/10 3 The Yolia and the Soul/17 4TheYoliaasaBird/23 5 The Winged Soul, Universality and Natural History/33 6 The Yolia as Breath/42 7 The Yolia as Shadowy Double/48 8 The Yolia as Stone/54 9 The Tonalli and Fire Drilling/63 VII


10 The Tonalli as Sumptuary Art/71 11 The Tonalli as Name and Astrological Sign/76 12 The Tonalli and Physical Resemblance/88 13 The Tonalli, Body Temperature and Neonates/96 14 The Tonalli and Advice at Puberty/103 15 Soul Loss and Aging/109 16 The Tonalli and the Cold Body/118 17 The Tonalli as Body Part/125 18 Blood, Shock and Sacrifice/131 19 The Spirit, the Air and the Winds/138 20 The Aires as Spirits, Gods and the Returning Dead/143 21 The Glowing Ihiyotl, the Winds and the Aires/153 22 The Ignis Fatuus and the Ihiyotl/160 23 The Foul-Smelling Ihiyotl/167 Postscript/173 Notes/185 List of Abbreviations/191 Bibliography/193 Index/224



This book is a child of previous works by Alfred López Austin and Bernard Ortiz de Montellano. López Austin's seminal work, The Human Body and Ideology, has shaped our basic understanding of how the ancient Central Mexicans thought about the body and soul. Like most brilliant works, it raises more questions than it answers. Ortiz de Montellano's Aztec Medicine, Health, and Nutrition is already a classic, and it is a superb example of the interrelationship between the natural and the social sciences. Without these works, and the encouragement of both authors, this project would probably not have come to fruition. Many people have provided encouragement, support, and helpful advice. Alan Sandstrom took this project seriously, listened to my ideas, offered his always cogent comments, and was extremely generous with his time. Tim Knab provided valuable supporting information about the beliefs of modern Nahuas that often helped keep me on track when the evidence seemed to be taking odd turns into the chemical composition IX


of flatulence or the symptoms of shock. Patient, attentive, and helpful listeners include Elizabeth Baquedano, Elizabeth Boone, Johanna Broda, Cecilia Klein, Pamela EfFrein Sandstrom, and Barbara and Dennis Tedlock. I will return the favor at their convenience. Special thanks goes to Johannes Wilbert, who has heard me out on this subject for years, even though the bloodthirsty Mexica are far afield from his interests. I am grateful, too, for the kind attention of the late Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff. I wish his shade well; he is missed already. Colleagues at Moore College and the University of Pennsylvania Museum have been consistently supportive. Judith Befman, Elin Danien, Janet Kaplan, Maureen Pelta, and Dan Sipe all encouraged me when my enthusiasm flagged. Jean Adelman and Anita Fahringer have been unfailing helpful and funny; good librarians are treasures and should be adopted rather than lost. I would also like to thank Moore College of Art and Design for providing me with a grant that allowed me to complete research in Mexico. I appreciate Clara Mascaro's enthusiastically repeating "You can do it, Mom," every time I needed to hear it, and I thank Peter T. Fürst for supporting my work generally and for reading drafts of this book. Finally a special thank you to Ed Tripp, who liked the first draft of the manuscript and encouraged me to keep writing until I found out what the real subject of the book was.




out the world today believe, that the soul is the ultimate essence of the person. Eastern philosophies often consider the soul to be a spirit trapped in flesh or an entity the wise person wishes to extinguish or merge with the Godhead. In the West, orthodoxy says it is an eternal spirit that will live in a renewed and perfected body after the Last Trumpet has sounded. However it is delineated, the soul is the person more than self or body,1 and questions about its nature touch on the ultimate meaning of existence. What we are vis-ä-vis the universe? What is our nature? Are we mortal or immortal, universal or trapped in time, infinite or limited beyond hope? The ancient Americans had their own ideas about the soul, and some excellent documentation exists for the beliefs of the people who lived in central Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest of the New World. Usually called the Aztecs, a more accurate name for them is the Mexica, for whom Mexico is named. The Mexica are not generally known for theological 1


speculation; instead they are notorious for their enthusiastic prosecution of wars, their subjugation of conquered people, and for their grisly rituals that included human sacrifice, dismemberment, and cannibalism. Nevertheless, despite their bellicose culture and expansionist state, they had well developed ideas about the ultimate nature of the human being, how the body was animated and why, and what happened to identity at and after death. This book describes the Mexicans beliefs surrounding the soul and discusses why this late Postclassic (c. 1200-1519 A.D.) people defined the soul as they did. It also examines the general ideological patterns they shared with other Mexican peoples who spoke different languages (fig. 1). Even more important are the ideas the Mexica held in common with their northern linguistic cousins, the Uto-Aztecan speakers, and which the related modern Mexican peoples (collectively called Nahuas because they continue to speak variations of the Náhuatl language) still espouse today (fig. 2).2 But mostly I am concerned with how one Native American group turned,

1. General locations of peoples of Mexico. Nahuatl-speaking areas are stippled, and consist of central, northern, eastern and western variants in pronunciation. (Redrawn by G. Grentzenberg from Beals 1969:318; D'Azevedo 1986:ix; Grimes and Hinton 1969:794; Laughlin 1969:299; W. Madsen 1969:603; Manrique C. 1969:684; Vogt 1969:22.) 2


2. General locations of the Uto-Aztecan peoples of North America and Mexico. (Redrawn by G. Grentzenberg from D'Azevedo 1986:ix; Heizer 1978:ix; W. Miller 1986:99; Spicer 1969:781.)

not to theological pronouncements and speculations to verify their ideas, but to experience—to what can be seen, touched, heard, and in some cases, even smelled. A Brief Definition of the Soul in the West

In Christian belief, the soul is the insubstantial part of a human being. Although European and indigenous traditions do not overlap completely, people in both hemispheres long believed that some entity or life force conveyed human identity and was at the same time more than the body.3 Both native and Westerner would attribute three features to the soul. 3


First, a soul is a center, entity, or force that either makes a person alive and capable of action or overlaps with the living state. People offer different explanations about how the soul vivifies the flesh, but usually animation is simply one of its properties or functions, or its presence is what defines a live being. It is with the body when a person is alive, and when it leaves, a man or woman is dead or dying. In this sense, the soul is the entity that abandons the body at the time of death (Janson 1987:92). Second, a soul differentiates one person from another, and it may retain its specific character even after death. Many European and Mesoamerican peoples tell stories of still living heroes or shamans visiting the spirit world in trances or dreams, during illnesses, or even in their flesh, and encountering shades of deceased relatives whom they recognized by sight. The most famous is the Greek Orpheus who went in search of his beloved Eurydice in Hades and identified her among the dead, but similar tales occur throughout the Americas as well (for example, Cipolletti 1984; Hultkranz 1957). The soul frequently maintains its specific identity after death by assuming a spectral form of its discarded mortal body. In other words, it becomes a recognizable ghost. Finally, a soul is often a medium through which the spirits contact the living. Because it is insubstantial, it hears the whispered messages of beings beyond the natural world, although who or what speaks to the soul varies from culture to culture. Sometimes the ancestors convey messages to the living in a trance, or the deceased saints speak to a devoted petitioner, but people on both sides of the Atlantic agree that the soul's consciousness extends from the mundane world into another dimension occupied by spirit and the spirits. Defining the Western Soul

The soul in Mesoamerica and the West fulfills at least one of these functions. With due apologies to the shades of the ancients and the church fathers, both Latin and Greek, whose works I either omit or simplify shamelessly, a word or two is in order about European attitudes and beliefs at the time of the Conquest. The ancient, pagan Greeks believed centers of animation lodged in different parts of the body, including the lungs with the life-giving breath and 4


the heart with its emotive states. The head contained the psyche responsible for thought, will, and discernment, but which lived a dull future existence as a shadowy double in Hades (see, for example, Glaus 1981; Eliade 1983). Over time, some philosophers divided the functions of one or another animating force, often the psyche, into three parts. In the Republic, for example, Plato spoke of rational, spirited, and appetitive segments of the soul, but Aristotle's variations of these ideas were most influential among medieval thinkers (see, for example, Hartman 1977; Solmsen 1984,1985). The basic function of the soul, according to Aristotle in De Anima, or Of the Soul) was a vegetative power responsible for keeping an organism alive and for the continuation of its kind. In other words, it enabled a living thing to process nutrients and to reproduce. It was intrinsic to living matter, and plants, animals, and people all contained this animating principle (Wijsenbeek-Wijler 1978:70-71; for an English translation of Aristotle's three functions, see Hamlyn 1974:11-44). The second vivifying function, the "sensitive" part of the soul, was present in men and animals, but not in most plants. It operated through bodily organs, but was above them. Beings with sensitive souls had feelings and emotions, perceived through special sense organs, and could communicate needs, in addition to eating and reproducing (Wijsenbeek-Wijler 1978:71-83). Finally, at the pinnacle was the rational function of the soul given to mankind alone. It was capable of belief, opinion, and conviction, and hence, of reason. Through this faculty, mankind might come to know higher aesthetic, philosophical, or spiritual truths (Wijsenbeek-Wijler 1978:83-96). Many Greek philosophers also believed that the souls of supernatural spirits and disembodied human souls had divine bodies made of "subtle" matter not directly discernible by the senses (see Steel 1978). For Plato, all souls had bodies made of spiritual fire, while his student Aristotle said that the soul was composed of undetectable ether that gave form to the body. The body was matter, but the soul imposed the proper shape on it (Wijsenbeek-Wijler 1978:50-51). Thus, for many classical thinkers, the soul was not separable from physicality but instead provided both outward configuration and inner powers to take nourishment, reproduce, feel emotions, have thoughts and will, and hold opinions, beliefs, and convictions. 5


Clearly, this is far from the definition of the soul familiar to Westerners today. Many early church fathers agreed with their pagan predecessors that human beings possessed multiple souls, or they postulated a division of the soul into parts or functions, some of which were identical with the body and died with it or which could even be stolen or lost. Clement of Alexandria (active c. 200-216 A.D.) may hold the Western record for defining the number of human souls known through the physical operations of the body. The five senses were divisions of the soul, he said, as were the powers to speak, reproduce, think, and regulate physical processes. Finally, he added to these a part of the Holy Spirit given to people who had accepted the Faith (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967:XIII, 452; see also Macmillen 1981,1984). By the end of the fourth century, Christian theologians began to separate the soul, or its higher functions, from physical operations. Although it animated and sustained the body, it was not in the organs nor in physical processes, as the Greeks had thought. The formidable Latin father of the church, Saint Augustine (354-430), asserted that the soul was indivisible, rational, completely immaterial and similar to, but not identical with, the substance of God (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967:XIII, 454). Over the next thousand years, the church reduced the number of souls from many to one and increasingly described the soul as one, unfragmentable entity without multiple parts. The great thirteenth-century scholastic Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) firmly enunciated the soul's complete separation from the body. In his view, the soul did not require matter to function (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967:XIII, 461). In fact, he completely reversed the classical conception of the soul's dependency on the body for its existence and life (Ibid., 473). Instead, he said, the soul animated the body, overlapped with it during lifetime, but was not identical with it and could live outside it. One clear sign of death was the absence of the spiritual soul from the flesh. The body was left behind as the generator and originator of the soul, and the soul ceased to need the flesh to live and to make its operations manifest. Instead, the body depended on the soul for its existence and well-being (for discussions of medieval conceptions of the soul, see two classic works, Gilson 1936; Pegis 1934; see also Echevarría 1941 and Teichman 1974). 6


The arguments about the nature of the soul did not end here, and several issues were hotly debated in the centuries before the Conquest. One was the question of whether or not the soul inhabited more than one body and, hence, could return to earth many times. The Church finally declared the soul to be newly minted with the conception or birth of each individual and rejected any idea that it was recycled, as many of the Oriental religions taught (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967 :XIII, 456, 465-66). The second question—individual survival after death—was answered affirmatively. The Old Testament offered no particular precedent for insisting on the soul's individuality in the afterlife. The Scriptures referred in many places to the dead joining their generic "fathers" (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967:XIII, 464-70), and in fact, the same lack of emphasis on specific fate in life or death informs much of Old Testament thinking. People were often "smote" because of their ethnic membership rather than any particular merit or lack of it. A corporate postmortem identity does not allow much reward for virtue or much punishment for vice. If unsaved souls died, the sinful pagans of antiquity (and the contemporary pagans in the expanding non-Christian world) might not attain paradise, but they also escaped any punishment for the absence of faith or for their sins. The soul's personal immortality became the orthodox position of Christianity during the Fifth Lateran Council of 1513 (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967:XIII, 456-57), and after that, no one, pagan or Christian, could avoid punishment by evaporating like the dew. Although orthodoxy affirmed one soul, many sixteenth-century Christians were acquainted with the translated works of Aristotle, either directly or secondhand, and the multiple functions of the soul continued to appear commonly in medical texts based on the work of ancient Greek philosophers and doctors. Reading Aristotle had been de rigueur since the thirteenth century (Knowles 1988:157), but the Catholic West gave him a Christian spin. Aristotle had said, and medieval and Renaissance scholars believed, that each human soul had a vegetative and a sensitive function that operated in the body's physical processes. Christians easily identified the pagan Greek rational soul capable of higher judgments with the eternal Christian soul that enabled men and women to choose the good and to know and return 7


God's love. Because its activities transcended the physical self, it was also the seat or author of thought, will, and discernment of good and evil (see the New Catholic Encyclopedia 1967:XIII, 449, for a brief discussion of these souls). Because only human beings (and maybe certain magical plants and animals) had rational souls, the natural world was excluded from this category and, hence, from the need for faith. If salvation was not open to slugs, ferns, or dollops of mercury, neither were these substances punished for not understanding the word of God. The belief in a tripartite soul came to the New World in medical and natural history texts, and it remained a principle for discussing mankind's relationships to the natural world and to God well into the eighteenth, and even the nineteenth, centuries. Fray Juan de Torquemada, the early seventeenth-century Franciscan author of Monarquía Indiana, for example, wrote that when animals die, their lives truly end because they had only vegetative and sensitive, but not rational, souls or functions. The rational soul, on the other hand, "lasts, and passes from one state to another, namely, from a mortal state, and ending, to an unending state, and immortal" (1969 [1615 ]:II, 501; "dura, y pasa de un estado á otro, conviene a saber, de estado mortal, y pasible, á estado impasible, é immortal"). When any chronicler wrote of the soul, he might be referring only to the animating roles of its vegetative and sensitive parts rather than to its higher functions. Often, clerics specified the rational soul when they discussed spiritual matters. At the time of the Conquest, the debate over whether or not the native peoples had souls was really an argument about the third and highest faculty that enabled them to hold beliefs, opinions, and convictions, and so to be capable of the reasoning necessary for receiving the gift of faith. The dispute about their full humanity reflected recent European arguments over the nature of the rational soul and its concomitant fate. Soon enough, the Spanish decided that the New World's inhabitants were indeed gente de razón or "people of reason" and could be judged and held accountable on that basis. While ever alert for pagan ideas, the sixteenth-century clerics also looked for cognates in other beliefs, in part, because they believed that God had left in the old religions some modicum of the ultimate truth— often called a vestige of the truth or a footprint of God—however distorted 8


or misunderstood. Beliefs in multiple souls, or a soul with multiple functions, some or all of which were lodged in the body, was good evidence that the New World peoples were roughly on a level with the classical peoples or the Israelites of the Old Testament. If those Old World peoples could hope for God's mercy, so might the New World natives. The Mexica generally volunteered more terms for soul than the European friars were able to muster in Spanish. Most often, these words are descriptive terms for functions of the European soul, but a few turn out to be discrete native categories that share one or two characteristics with their Old World counterparts, while being otherwise quite different. Europeans, in fact, did not systematically record Mexica beliefs about the soul. In the century after the Conquest, the great ethnographer-priests quizzed their native informants and wrote their accounts to help other clerics combat indigenous religion. The search for Mexica ideas begins, not with native theological tracts (a genre that probably did not exist as such in prehispanic times anyway), but with European dictionaries, travel accounts, and descriptions of native life, habits, and beliefs that disappeared, wholly and in part, after the arrival of the Spanish.




tory. By the time Mexico was conquered in 1521, the printing press was fostering an information explosion in the Old World by creating multiple copies of texts and encouraging the spread of literacy beyond an educational elite. Some peoples in the Americas also kept records in pictorial form accompanied by long oral narratives, but most of our stories about the Precolumbian past were written down by the Spanish. From early colonial documents, we can establish the general outlines of where the Mexica originated and how their civilization functioned at the time of the Conquest. A Brief History of the Mexica

In 1519, the Mexica occupied the magnificent capital of Tenochtitlan, a city built on shallow islands in a huge, three-lobed lake that covered much 10


of the Central Valley. Modern Mexico City sits atop the old city and a good part of the drained lake bed. The Mexica spoke the Náhuatl language and claimed to have originated in a place in the north called Aztlán, whose name means "Place of the Cranes" or "White Place." Legends say the ancestral Aztecs, or "People of Aztlán," came from seven caves in seven hills, and their numerous progeny included not only the people of central Mexico and other Náhuatl speakers, but neighbors who did not share the same language, customs, or traditions. Indeed, some people descended from the ancestors of Aztlán, like the Nahuatl-speaking Tlaxcalans or Otomanguean-speaking Otomi (see fig. 1), were the Mexica's bitter enemies at the time of the Conquest. Thus, the term "Aztec" subsumes many people of different cultures and mother tongues and cannot be reserved for the inhabitants of the capital and the surrounding Central Valley. The Mexica also identified themselves as a Chichimec, or barbarian, group whose ancestors wandered for a long time in the northern deserts after emerging from their place of origin.1 Early colonial chronicles tell of long travels but do not agree about where or when the peregrination began, what occurred along the route, or who participated in an event or why. No single authoritative version of their migration story exists. Mexica origins may have been far to the north or just a short distance from the Central Valley, and their sojourn may have only seemed to take a long time because of the many fabulous and magical, as well as historical occurrences along the way. The Mexica looked back on the ancestral journey and said their forebears suffered many hardships as hunters and gatherers. The later chronicles generally tell little about their early social organization, the details of their lives, or their beliefs, but they may lived in family groups or clans with a patrilineal bias, although female figures are often powerful in the early years of the migration. In their travels, the Mexica followed the advice and dictates of a tribal god known as Huitzilopochtli, meaning "Lefthanded Hummingbird" or "Hummingbird on the Left," whose remains they carried in a woven basket and who spoke to them through the trances of their priests. We do not know the original character of this spirit, but by the decades immediately before the Conquest, he had evolved into a fierce god who tolerated no opposition. The Mexica's ancestors reached the Central Valley at the beginning of 11


the thirteenth century, but they found the fertile littoral lands already occupied. Without a home of their own, the Mexica moved from place to place, working for the great established cities, trying at the same time to emulate the more elegant ways and esoteric religious practices of the settled people. Most often, the unpolished newcomers misunderstood what they saw, and the sophisticated inheritors of millennia of cultural developments drove the Mexica away, calling them hopeless barbarians. More than a century later, the Mexica retreated to a few small islands in a brackish part of the lake. They accepted this unpromising terrain because it conformed to the memory of the lake at Aztlán. They eked out a poor and miserable existence gathering vegetable products and aquatic animals and even eating the lizards and snakes they caught. They also began building artificial islands to extend their meager land holdings, and within decades, their city, though small, was nearly impregnable and its people tough and hardy. A king was needed to rule over this settled people, so the Mexica begged a proper ruler from the great city of Culhuacan. Acampichtli, "Handful of Reeds," came and begat a royal lineage. As the Mexica prospered, their monarchs acquired the trappings, and instituted the elaborate etiquette, of a noble court. By the mid-fifteenth century, their kings exerted considerable powers over their own people and began earnestly directing their imperial ambitions toward their neighbors. At the time of the Conquest, the great capital of Tenochtitlan sat as nobly as Venice in the center of an inland sea, and the Mexica themselves had become cultured and thoroughly urbanized. They were organized into calpullis, groups in which the men were related and which collectively owned particular sections of the city. The calpulli assigned land to its members on the basis of family size and need. Thus, lineage and neighborhood, or barrio, overlapped.2 At the same time, an aggressive expansionist state required scribes, importers, merchants, craftsmen, and priests, and very likely some calpullis specialized in certain trades or crafts. The population divided into commoners and nobles, with an imperial family at the top and slaves of no status at the bottom. Perhaps even within a calpulli some members had greater prestige than their cousins. Over the centuries, the Mexica had also acquired a complex religion 12


from Mesoamerican peoples. It included a ritual calendar of 260 named days that was used for divining the future. Especially schooled priests read prognoses of ritual counts of 13 days (called trecenas in Spanish), determined the luck conveyed by the gods who guarded 20-day divinatory periods, and predicted how nine repeating deities gave each passing night a different dispensation. They also marked and celebrated an annual 365-day agricultural cycle dedicated to the plant, nature, and weather spirits, many of whom they borrowed from the sedentary peoples they conquered. To venerate their divinities, the Mexica constructed pyramidal bases, built temples on top, and placed in them statues of the gods, often dressed in magnificent costumes and adorned with precious gemstones and rich, iridescent feathers. By the Conquest, full-time and permanent priesthoods served the most important deities, directed their rituals, and collected their required gifts and tribute from the Mexica. By 1500, the Mexica were bellicose and expansionist toward their neighbors. They attacked enemies, conquered, and sometimes reconquered them, and then provoked them to rebellion and conquered them once more. Warfare offered social mobility in an increasingly hardened and stratified social system, and a brave man who risked his life and brought back slaves for sale or sacrifice, or both, received honors and the visible rewards of higher status, including valuable jade jewelry, green feathered costumes, and land. The Mexica took not just captives but commodities from their vassals, and from the emperor's palace in Tenochtitlan, literate nobles managed a complex system of tribute extorted from defeated enemies. They distributed the spoils to the deserving few who served the state, the emperor, and his allies. To keep track of who owed what, how much, and when, the Mexica adopted the recording system based on pictorial symbols from earlier and neighboring peoples. Huitzilopochtli and the gods demanded human sacrifice. In the First Times, the legends said, the spirits had sacrificed themselves to make the sun and to keep his warmth strong and sustaining. They gave their own blood, and in return, men and women had to provide them with human blood and hearts. Thus war was endemic in Mexica cosmology, and the seizing of captives provided not only social mobility but the means to sustain the universe. Insofar as the gods had made their self-sacrifice on behalf 13


of all human beings, men had to repay the debt perpetually, whether or not they had agreed to the bargain. To cease human sacrifice spelled the end of the world. The Mexica's culture was unique in Mesoamerica by the time of the Conquest. At its base lay Uto-Aztecan ideology, custom, and ritual retained from their earlier wanderings in the desert. At the same time, they had adopted Mesoamerican calendrical and divination practices, along with the sophisticated southern religion geared toward planting and promoting the fertility of their fields. They were both northern and Mesoamerican. In 1519, Cortés and a handful of men marched into Tenochtitlan, and shortly afterwards, the Spaniards put the last Mexica emperor under house arrest. But the battle was not equal from the start. Without knowing it, the Europeans were joined by millions of small microbes, viruses, and bacteria to which the Mexica had no immunity. The months after contact witnessed a disastrous and precipitous decline in population, especially in the crowded urban setting of Tenochtitlan. The Mexica could find no cures for the mysterious plagues, and their healing gods deserted them. To the demoralization caused by wholesale death, add the genuine hatred the Mexica inspired among their conquered Mesoamerican neighbors, all of whom could well imagine using the Spanish against them and then discarding the strangers, and the Mexica did not stand a chance against the land- and gold-hungry Spaniards. Within a few years, the Spanish established their civil and religious authority and began to convert the Mexica to Christianity.3 To eradicate native beliefs, the preachers had to first understand them. Thus, the Europeans began making inquiries into traditional beliefs, including those about the soul. Mexica Definitions of the Soul The greatest concentration of Náhuatl terms for soul appear in Fray Francisco de Molina's dictionary, entitled Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana and first published in 1555 and 1571 (1970). Molina presents indigenous words for soul under two different Spanish entries, both of which were commonly and interchangeably used: alma and ánima. Under the first, Molina lists the Náhuatl teanima, teyolitia, and 14


teyolia (Ibid., 8 v.). The entry under ánima yields three additional designations: tetonal, totonal, and toyolia (Ibid., 10 v.). This considerable number of words reduces to Four roots with two modifying prefixes: (te-) anima (te-) yolitia (te-or to-) yolia (te- or to-) tonal The first is a combination of the Spanish and indigenous elements: te-, a Náhuatl prefix denoting a non-specific, human object (Karttunen 1983: 215), and ánima, the Spanish word for soul. Conversely, in the Náhuatl to Spanish section of Molina's Vocabulario, teanima is glossed as "someone's soul" (1970:91 r.). The compound does not offer any further meanings, because it establishes a tautology: the soul is the soul. The second, teyolitia (Molina 1970:95 r.), yields a slightly different meaning. It consists of te-, indicating a human object, and yolitia, meaning "to give life to another" (Ibid., 40 r.). The related teyolia and toyolia signify te- (a human) or to- (our), and yolia, a word that does not occur alone in Molina's dictionary but that apparently refers to the heart (1970:39 v., 41 r.). Thus, the soul apparently is, or resides in, that organ. Molina confirms the identity of the toyolia and teyolia as soul, either as alma or ánima in the Náhuatl to Spanish half of the dictionary (Ibid., 148 v. and 95 r.). The fourth term is composed of te- or to- and tonal, which also does not occur alone, but which combines with other words and refers to heat, the summer, and the dry season (Molina 1970:149 v. and r.). In the reversed Náhuatl to Spanish sequence, the two terms are significantly different. Totonal is defined as "the sign, under which one is born, or the soul and spirit" (Ibid., 150 v.), whereas tetonal is explained as a "portion of someone, or a thing given by another" (Ibid., 110 v.). At first glance, neither is an exact equivalent of the soul, nor do they seem to be related to each other. The very fact that the Mexica used several words for the soul indicates the potential for a wide variety of meanings and only partial overlap with Christian classifications. Teanima means soul, and teyolitia, as a life-giving entity, adequately describes the effect of the soul in the body in Christian and presumably in native thought. Although these two words describe the 15


soul's innate animating function, the Mexica apparently used them only rarely. Instead, they commonly employed yolia and tonal (or tonalli), terms that associate animating forces with the physical heart, the equivalent of one's astrological sign, or something given to another. These two concepts have proven remarkably persistent over time. Let us begin with the yolia and its function in the world and in the future life.




of the yolia fulfilled, at least superficially, the primary functions of the European soul. It animated the body, and it also conferred a special and highly individual character consisting of personality, aptitudes, abilities, and desires. Native peoples also said the yolia survived after death and traveled to a postmortem existence. As we shall see, however, the yolia overlaps only in part with these three European criteria. The Yolia as Animating Force

In the Náhuatl to Spanish section of Fray Francisco de Molina's dictionary, one term related to yolia was yollotl, a word that offers a clue to the way the soul animated the flesh. Broken into its constituent roots, y-ollotl may mean "its movement, or the reason for its movement," which, in 17


3. Postclassic symbol for earth motion, or olin. Postclassic Central Mexico or Puebla. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Borgia 1963:5.)

turn, may derive ultimately from olin> or motion (León-Portilla 1959:396; for a discussion of motion and entropy in Mexica thought, see Duverger 1979). In Postclassic symbolism throughout Mexico, motion—particularly in a spiraling trajectory—forms a distinct category. Motion appears as two twisted bands and was sufficiently important to be incorporated into the calendar as the day sign olin (fig. 3). Two twisted threads or strands store energy. Let loose, they untwist with a vigorous motion, so that even inanimate things, once twined, appear to be alive. Twirling imparts movement and makes something otherwise inanimate move. Many words with the same root as yolia refer to the physical heart and its animating quality. The related nounyoli indicates something alive; as a verb, yoli means to live, revive, enliven, or to hatch an egg (Molina 1970: 39 v.; "bibir, abivar, o empollarse el huevo"). Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, the mid- to late-sixteenth-century Franciscan chronicler of the indigenous world view who worked among the descendants of the Mexica nobility, enumerates words and phrases associated with the heart in his encyclopedic Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España. In addition to describing it as round and hot, he identifies it as "life" and "that by which there is existence." The Mexica said of the heart "it makes one live," "it sustains one," and "it lives." Perceptually, "it beats" or "it beats rhythmically," and "it jumps" (1950-1982 :BL X, 130-31). Today many modern Nahuatl-speaking village people in Mexico have retained traditional credences and practices, despite the shocks and dislocations of the Conquest and colonialism. Their conceptions often reflect preconquest thought about the ability of the heart to make something alive, even if the heart-soul is not identified by that name, or even when the object is inanimate by Western standards. The Nahua villagers of Amatlán, Veracruz, for example, describe a generalized life force called the nyolo\ Every object or being in creation has 18


its own share of this vital power, and a particular yolotl, or heart, is nothing more than a fragment of this impersonal and universal vivifying force (Sandstrom 1991:258-59). In the Nahuatl-speaking village of Huitzilan de Serdán in the Sierra de Puebla, people tell stories of a life force in the heart capable of resurrecting a man or woman. In one tale, the devil carried off a promiscuous and sexually overactive Nahua woman and the wife of a local, but unnamed, man. The demon made passionate love to her, and at the same time, literally consumed her flesh. All that remained was her heart, but the organ continued to beat. From it, the woman regenerated, and each day, the devil devoured her alive while he forced his attentions on her (Taggart 1977:282-84). The story reflects Christian descriptions of the punishments of the damned in hell, who were condemned to suffer eternal torture without ever dying permanently to escape their pain. Native peoples generally did not believe in a place of perpetual misery, and the Nahuas may not have understood how the soul could continue to live if it were treated so cruelly. They may have used the yolia to explain the process as a repeated renewal, a concept that would be much more in line with indigenous thinking. On the other hand, this story also carries echoes of Prometheus, the classical hero whose liver regenerated every day only to be eaten repeatedly by a gigantic eagle as punishment for having given the gift of fire to mankind. Perhaps an indigenous thinker transposed the torment from the pagan myth (which had become common in written and verbal allusions and in illustrations during the Renaissance) and used it as the explanation for eternal punishment at the end of time. Whatever the explanation, the yolia contained the power to regenerate the salacious woman's flesh forever. If the yolia kept the world and the individual alive, just as the Christian soul did, it also carried a specific character. Indeed, the Mexica held the yolia responsible for many attributes the West ascribed to personal identity. The Yolia, Human Identity, and Character

Words in Molina's dictionary with the root yoli- appear often in phrases for affective and emotional states. To beyolizima is to be extremely creative or prudent, while the man or women who isyollopihic is generous and noble. Alone, yollo refers to the person "able and sharp in talents" (Molina 19


1970:40 r. and v.). So associated was the heart with inclination and aptitude that in his Vocabulario, the friar provides nearly three full pages of nouns, verbs, and adjectives associated with depth of knowledge, ability, emotions, and inherent character, all containing some form of yoli, yollo, and yol. For the Mexica, the heart was not only the seat of the soul, but also the locus of human identity, talent, and endeavor. Fray Bernardino de Sahagun's Nahua informants agreed and said that a man or woman expressed emotive states by saying "I know in my heart," and "I feel in my heart." Equally, he or she might assert "I am troubled [in my heart]" or "my heart is delighted." When a person fainted, he or she said the heart died (1950-1982 :Bk. X, 130-31; for a discussion of these properties, see López Austin 1984:1, 253-54; 1988a:I, 230). To their versions of the yolia, people today also attribute the ability to confer preferences and discernment. In Amatlán, Veracruz, modern Nahuas regard the nyolo' as a life force permitting the enjoyment of earthly tastes, smells, and activities (Sandstrom 1991:258). According to the Nahuas of Cuetzalan in the Sierra de Puebla, the nyotto is both heart and body (Knab 1992:37), and much like the yolia in the prehispanic period, it animates and is linked to emotive and affective states and to ability in work or craft (Ibid., 59). The Náhuatl speakers of Santiago Yancuictlalpan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla say that the creator places the yolo in the body in utero as both physical heart and life force and recalls it after death. During life, the yolo provides emotional equilibrium, rationality, conscience, and deeply felt thoughts. If strong passions disturb the heart's equilibrium, the person may lose his or her reason and become insane, faint, or fall in an epileptic attack (Signorini and Lupo 1989:52). According to the Mexica, the yolia lodged in a specific spot in the body and conferred abilities. Sixteenth-century Christians also assigned virtues to various parts of their collective flesh and spoke of the emotive quality of body parts. The heart was and still is associated with a rich store of metaphors. Richard was "lion-hearted," while a coward was faint-hearted, a generous person big-hearted, and a miser hard-hearted. Yet, while Europeans pinpointed the heart as the seat or author of comportment and character, they would not have said the rational soul lived there, nor in any other tissue for that matter. Only the vegetative and sensitive faculties operated in and through the body. 20


The Survival of the Yolia after Death

The Spanish expected the soul to live after death, and the yolia also led a postmortem existence, according to the Crónica Mexicayotl, an early seventeenth-century document probably written by either the aristocratic Alvarado Tezozomoc or the humble Chimalpahin. Encompassing the Mexica's history from ancient migrations from the mythical northern homeland of Aztlán to events in the year 1579 (Gibson 1975:326-27, 330, 346), it speaks of many matters, including the soul. The Crónica Mexicayotl says the yolia persisted after death and was often carried off to the Christian hell to be punished. The Mexica remained dedicated to their fierce tribal god Huitzilopochtli even after the Conquest, and the document laments that many souls [teyollia] were lost and led away to the underworld. At the present time, the author avers, if the European clergy work diligently to convert their native charges, they "will save their souls [inyolia]"; otherwise, the devil "will take to the underworld an infinite number of souls [teyollia] of those Mexicans" (1949:12-13; se llevará al infierno un infinito número de almas de ellos los mexicanos"). Modern peoples still ascribe a postmortem existence to their variants of the yolia. The villagers of Amatlan, Veracruz, say the noyolo* goes to the underworld after death, particularly when a person has died violently (Sandstrom 1983:248, 269). Most often, it stays in the grave with the body's physical remains, but if the man or woman dies prematurely at an early age, or was experiencing anger at the time of death, the yolotl may attempt to return to the living and accidentally kill one of its relatives. To avert the catastrophe, funeral ceremonies attempt to satisfy the heart-soul with food and gifts. After four years, the yolotl is reabsorbed into the earth (Sandstrom 1991:258-60), but it also has a posthumous existence. Usually it travels to the underworld, mictlan, but if the person was struck by lightning or died by drowning, the yolotl makes its way to apan, the paradise of water and rain. And if the deceased was filled with some great emotion at the time of death, either violence or anger, the heart-soul will not be reabsorbed into the earth but instead wanders throughout the world as a restless wind spirit (Ibid., 321). According to the Nahuas of Santiago Yancuictlalpan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, if a person dies prematurely, the yolo may wander on earth until the person's appointed time for death, or it may try to enter the body of a 21


newborn child. Usually, the yolo travels to the realm of the dead, where it becomes one of the antepasados (ones who have gone before). From there, it goes to a final destination in mictlan, a combination of Precolumbian underworld and hell, or to a heavenly paradise. The dead souls return annually from the underworld as winged beings, and particularly as butterflies or as shadowy doubles on the Day of the Dead (Signorini and Lupo 1989:52-53). The people of San Francisco Tecospa in the Central Valley believe in three souls, of which the most important, the espíritu resembles the yolia. It separates from the body at death and goes to be punished in heaven or hell (W. Madsen 1960:167). As it leaves the body, it takes the form of a white dove, but when it reaches the heavens, it reverts to human form to be judged and to continue to a good or bad postmortem life. It maintains a close tie to the physical remains because any mistreatment of the body also makes the celestial soul suffer (Ibid., 211-13). The villagers of San Francisco Tecospa may have added the dimension of reward and punishment under the influence of Christianity, because native New World peoples do not often make the soul's ultimate fate depend upon behavior in this life. The soul's suffering as a result of the body being mistreated sounds very much like a misunderstanding of the perfected resurrected Christian body that is rewarded or punished after the Last Judgment. On the other hand, among the modern Nahuas of San Miguel Tzinacapan in the Sierra de Puebla, underworld spirits seek people who have not led a harmonious life and who are not of good heart to punish them, if not in the next world, then certainly in this one (Knab 1991b:4647). Perhaps the prehispanic Mexica also thought the unharmonious disembodied spirit received its just rewards for its behavior somewhere in this or the next realm (see also Knab 1991a). Like the Christian soul, the yolia animates the body, partially provides character, and survives after death. The yolia is also the locus of capabilities. Despite these similarities, the yolia is actually quite different from the Catholic concept. However often the friars, chroniclers, or lexicographers substituted yolia for alma or ánima, the yolia differed substantially from the Christian soul. The Mexica said that it also took the form of the breath, a shadowy double of the body, and a precious gemstone. Released from the flesh, the yolia was even embodied as a bird. 22



or yollo, became a winged creature after death. His discussion of its postmortem nature occurs, not in a theological context, but in Book XI of his Historia General in which he describes the earth and the living things on it, including the birds. The liberated human heart, the friar writes, was called theyollotototl, a term derived from yollotl (corazón, heart) and tototl (pájaro, bird) (Molina 1970:40 v. and 151 r., respectively). The "Bfnltf the Heart» The "bird of the heart" was a small bird that lived near the ocean in a southern province of Teotlixco, and the people of that region believed the hearts of the dead transformed into these winged creatures (Sahagun 1950-1982: Bk. XI, 25). The cleric described the "bird of the heart" as no larger than a quail, with a yellowish-ashen body and wings with black and 1*


4. Bananaquit, or Coereba flaveoia,

the "bird of the heart" into which the yolia transformed after death. (Redrawn by the author from Terres 1980:538.)

white feathers and white tips. He found its song to be "pleading," consoling, and uplifting. This bird was apparently also edible (1950-1982 :Bk. XI, 25;1969:Bk.XI,239). "Bird of the heart" is clearly a popular term, but the detailed description allows an educated guess about its scientific identity. The yollotototl may be one of the so-called honeycreepers, or in Western scientific nomenclature, a member of the family Emberizidae and subfamily Coerebidae (see Martin del Campo 1941, for an identification of the yollotototl). The exact composition of the honeycreeper group is still a matter of debate. Many of its members have no common evolutionary connection, but are instead classified together because they occupy the same ecological niches and are brush-tongued nectar eaters (Shortt 1977:238). Some ornithologists restrict the family to specialized fruit- and nectar-eating tanagers whose males have brilliant coloring and whose females tend to have dull greenish plumage (Campbell and Lack 1985:286-87). Others classify tanagers, wood warblers, and finches together (Terres 1980:538), while some experts add sparrows, grosbeaks, and cardinals (Long 1981: 462). The family Emberizidae may encompass as many as 554 species in 133 genera, making it as enormous as it is amorphous (Long 1981:462). At least one bird from this group is an excellent candidate for the yollotototl. The humble, common bananaquit, Coereba flaveola, is the correct size and color, occupies the proper range, and has an unusual song (fig. 4). The bananaquit eats fruit or nectar and lives in pairs, making capshaped nests (Campbell and Lack 1985:287). Its territory stretches from the West Indies through Mexico south to Argentina. The bananaquit is nonmigratory and adapts readily to human presence, often taking up resi24


dence in houses, gardens, and plantations (Shortt 1977:238-239). In fact, it is virtually ubiquitous in warm lowland areas in Latin America. The bananaquit is small, no more than four to five inches in length. A horizontal white strip arches over its eyes, and it has a black back, white underparts, and a yellow rump and breast band. When it flies, its wing and tail feathers flash white. The color thus conforms to the ashen and yellowish body of the yollotototl, with white on tail feathers and wing tips. Ornithologists uncharitably describe the song that so touched the friar's heart as "lisping and wheezy" (Terres 1980:539) or consisting of "poorly developed, unmusical vocalizations" (Campbell and Lack 1985:287). Some yolias transformed specifically into "birds of the heart," but others took the physical form of other winged creatures. In the Florentine Codex, Sahagun says that, four years after death, the dead became hummingbirds, other birds with precious feathers, or a wide variety of butterflies that drank the nectar of flowers, as did the hummingbirds (1950-1982 :Bk. Ill, Appen., 47-48; 1969:Bk. Ill, Appen., 298). Sahagun does not say on what basis a man or woman might hope for another life as bird or butterfly, nor why one avian fate was reserved for one person but not for another. Perhaps in prehispanic times, the Mexica believed the yolias of some adults took the form of winged creatures, but the souls of virtually all dead children became birds or butterflies, even if these were not specifically the "bird of the heart." Departed Children's Souls as Birds

According to Sahagun, dead infants and young children did not journey to the underworld to join their deceased relatives, but instead went to the sky to join Tonacatecutli, the deity who gave life to each person. There, these infants lived in a garden or fertile place, where they drank nectar from flowers, particularly those that grew on a tree (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 115; 1969:Bk. VI, 144). The friar does not say what form these children took, but they fed on the plants as if they were nectar-eating creatures like hummingbirds or butterflies. A more complete account of the children and the tree occurs on page 4 of Codex Ríos (1964:111,16-17), a late sixteenth-century colonial document and concerned with the origins, migrations, and history of the Mexica 25


5. The souls of dead infants suckling at the "Place of the Nursemaid Tree." Italian copy of an early colonial Central Mexican document. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Ríos 1964:111,16-17.)

(fig. 5; Glass and Robertson 1975:186-87). According to this document, the tree at the "Place of the Nursemaid Tree" (Chichihualcuauhco) was the destination of the souls of dead children who had not reached the age of reason. Milk dripped from its leaves, nourished them, and kept their life force alive. These deceased infants were extremely important to the fate of the human universe, because, in the future, when the current great world age came to an end and the cities, villages, and natural world were destroyed for the third time (two cosmic destructions already having passed in this tradition), their spirits would leave the tree and return to repopulate the earth. In figure 5, the dead children nurse at the breasts of a great tree, awaiting the new bodies that will allow them to be recycled back into the human family at the beginning of a new world age. Although they appear 26


in human form, they feed at the tree much as honeycreepers, hummingbirds, and butterflies suck nectar from blossoms and flowers. The idea of the soul-as-bird is common today throughout Mexico. The villagers of Atla in the northern Sierra de Puebla, for instance, have added a few Christian touches to the concept. They inter the bodies of their unbaptized children in a special place in the cemetery because their tender souls go to a realm with the Catholic name of limbo where they find a large, very non-Catholic tree with foliage resembling a huge cloud. Each leaf drips with milk and the children sit around it, heads bent back, to drink the drops through all eternity. Despite five hundred years of evangelization, the early colonial image and the modern description are a nearly perfect match (Montoya Briones 1964:166). Many other peoples in Mexico and North America also describe the souls of unborn children as birds. The Chatinos, a modern people living in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico and speaking an Otomanguean language (see fig. 1), tell of a young girl whose parents warned against playing with a pretty, colorful bird. She ignored them and placed the creature under her clothing between her breasts. After a time, she conceived and bore two children who became the sun and the moon (DeCicco and Horcasitas 1962). As late as the 1930s, the Paiutes, the linguistic relatives of the Mexica living in western North America (see fig. 2), advised a barren woman to find a small dead bird. If she placed it under her blouse and slept with it pressed to her chest for some nights, she could expect to become pregnant afterwards (Whiting 1950:102). The prehispanic clay trees from Nayarit, identified as world axes (P.T. Fürst 1975:52), are probably also intended to be trees where, in the form of small birds, the souls of children await their turn to enter, or to return to, the human family (fig. 6). At one of the suburbs of Teotihuacan (see fig. 1), a wall painting from the Classic period shows the dead sporting in a fertile landscape, perhaps Tlalocan, the paradise of the rain spirits, where some of the birds and butterflies speak or sing (fig. 7). If this is an early version of Tlalocan, the souls of departed relatives or of future offspring may appear in both human and winged shapes rejoicing in the rainy season. At the early Postclassic site of Tula northeast of the Central Valley, the giant atlantids standing atop the main pyramid wear pectorals in the form of highly stylized birds or butterflies over their chests (fig 8; Acosta 1961: 27


6. Tree with birds, perhaps representing the world axis with the souls of unborn lineage members in its branches and the community of dead ancestors or living villagers below. Nayarit, 100 B.C. to 200 A.D. (Redrawn by the author from P. T. Fürst 1975:51.)

223-24). These shapes may even embody the warriors' souls, if there is any continuity in language or ideology between the early Postclassic site of Tula and the later Mexica empire. On the Stone of Tizoc, the emperor himself wears one (fig. 9; for studies of butterflies, see Berlo 1983; Beutelspacher 1988; Boos 1964; Fewkes 1910; Franco C. 1961). The Soul as Winged Creature among Modern Náhuatl Speakers

The heart as a bird or butterfly seems a fanciful description of the fugitive and fragile life force sustaining a human being. Certainly, the fluttering of heart palpitations and the organ's pounding during exertion are like 18

7. People frolicking with butterflies, perhaps representing the souls of the dead or unborn in the realm of the rain deities. Tlalocan Mural at Tepantitla, Teotihuacán. Classic period. (Redrawn by the author from Matos Moctezuma 1990:fig. 29).

8. Atlantid in the form of a warrior, wearing an alate-shaped pectoral, suggesting that he retains his vital force. Temple of the Morning Star at Tula. Early Postclassic north-central Mexico. (Redrawn by the author from Easby and Scott 1970: fig. 34.) 29


9. The Mexica ruler Tízoc, wearing a pectoral in the form of an álate and taking a prisoner by grasping his enemy's forelock. Stone of Tizoc. Postclassic Central Mexico. (Redrawn by the author from D. Carrasco and Matos Moctezuma 1992:154).

the agitated gyrations of birds, although the phenomena are not so similar as to make the metaphor inevitable. Nevertheless, the soul is often described as a winged being in Nahuatl-speaking areas. Among the modern Náhuatl speakers in Mexico, the soul, whether identified specifically as the yolia or not, is often embodied as a bird in stories and legends. Under the influence of Christianity, it most often takes the visible form of a dove. According to the community of San Francisco Tecospa near Milpa Alta, for example, God created Adam after the Flood, but the poor first father was mute and immobile until he received a soul in the form of a little dove (W. Madsen 1960:126). This soul transformed him from animal to human by conferring the power of speech. After a death, the mourners sing "Good Day, White Dove" to greet the deceased's soul that continues to be lodged in the body during the wake. Immediately before the burial, the soul-dove flies away (Ibid., 210). The Nahuas of Xalacapan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla describe an ailment called "soul loss" that entails the escape of the shadow soul (also an aspect of the prehispanic yolia) in the form of a bird. They identify this soul as the tonalli rather than the yolia, and indeed, people do not always firmly 30


divide the two concepts, or differentiate between them. After the soul has been away a week or two, the person grows tired, wishes to sleep, and feels slightly warm, as soul loss also causes a disturbance in the balance between hot and cold in the body. If the soul is not retrieved, the person will wither and eventually die. To avert this fate, the eurer asks where the fright occurred and goes to the spot to call the soul. He uses flowers, a candle, some fragrant copal incense, and cigarettes to attract it. If the man or woman is able, he or she accompanies the eurer to retrieve the soul. After ritually disposing of the paraphernalia, the eurer calls upon Saints John and Matthew for their aid. Doctor and patient return home, and as the eurer continues to pray, the soul as a dove rises from the brush and seeks out the sick person. When the bird stops over the man or woman, it reenters the body, and the patient returns to health (Robinson 1961:349-53). Belief in the yolia as a bird may have facilitated the adoption of European winged beings—angels and cherubs—into indigenous iconography. In Tepoztlan, Morelos, a Nahuatl-speaking community some sixty miles to the south of Mexico City, the soul animates the body and is punished after death, but a different entity, the spirit, is a guardian in the intangible form of a dove or pigeon that attempts to protect both soul and the body from misfortune and bad decisions (Lewis 1960:278). Children become angels immediately after death, and their biers are decorated with flowers, suggesting a continuing association between departed infants, avian souls, and blooms. No flowers are used for adults (Redfield 1930:142-43). In San Francisco Tecospan in the Valley of Mexico, and throughout much of Mexico, the souls of dead children are believed to transform into angels, or "angelitos," complete with wings (W. Madsen 1960:217). The villagers of Hueyapan, Morelos, describe a soul, called by the Spanish term for spirit, espíritu, that can be embodied as a dove, but which is also a wind in the heart, an entity distributed throughout the body, and the animating force enabling human beings to speak and move. Should the spirit abandon the body, the man or woman dies (Alvarez Heydenreich 1987:99-100). In Santiago Yancuictlalpan in the Sierra de Puebla, the dead return to earth as butterflies and other winged creatures. They fly west to the sea to bathe. As a precaution, the people do not kill migratory falcons, nor do they collect butterflies, lest they be punished in the future life (Signorini 31


and Lupo 1989:53). The Nahuas of Pajapan, Veracruz, believe that the soul is entrapped in the body of a grasshopper. When the shadow soul detaches from the body and wanders in the countryside, a eurer ritually recovers it and replaces it. The very instant the shadow reenters the patient's body, a grasshopper dies in front of the group (García de León 1969:290). The soul as bird or winged creature reverberates in the modern legends and beliefs of Náhuatl speakers, but it also appears in the linguistic relatives of the Mexica, the Uto-Aztecan speakers in Mesoamerica and North America. Moreover, it is a nearly universal belief, suggesting that people throughout the world see and report the same phenomena.







family, a large language family speaking related but generally mutually unintelligible tongues (see fig. 2). This widespread family stretches from Oregon to Nicaragua and encompasses at least eight, and perhaps nine, subfamilies. It includes the Utes and other northern groups, the Aztec or Náhuatl speakers in Central Mexico, the Pipil of Guatemala, and the Nicaraos in Nicaragua, and in between, such diverse people as the various Paiutes, the Shoshone, Cahuilla, Luiseño, Hopi, Comanche, Pima, Papago, Tarahumara, Huichols, and Cora (Steele 1979:450-51). At one time, the language mosaic on the western slopes of Mexico and into the American Southwest, California, and Oregon was more complete than it is today. Some four dozen tongues have disappeared or have only a few remaining speakers (Campbell 1979:909-13). B3


The Soul as Bird or Álate among Uto-Aztecan Peoples

Many of the Uto-Aztecan peoples believed that dead souls transmuted into winged beings. The Northern and Gosiute Shoshone described the detached soul as a small red fly. Some deceased spirits, or ghosts, remained in this world and tried to capture the souls of the living or to enter the body of living men and women. When this occurred, the shaman (a native curing doctor skilled in dealing with the supernaturals) sucked the small red fly, or dead soul, from the flesh and cured the person of ghost sickness (Steward 1945:284). According to the Nevada Shoshone, a person became a witch after dreaming that he had killed birds. Then his evil soul itself could transform into a bird to escape detection and harm. The animating force of a normal person rested in the heart until death, when it left the flesh as an owl. The Shoshone said the bird was "an Indian's heart talking" (Steward 1941:261, 270). The Uto-Aztecan Papago living on the southern border of Arizona also believed dead souls became owls with whom a skilled shaman could communicate (Underbill 1969:264). A symptom of owl sickness inflicted by contact with the dead included "heart shaking" (Ibid., 293), suggesting that the transformed soul had power over the heart and, indeed, may have been lodged in the organ in life. The Temeculas, Uto-Aztecan speakers who lived between the Cahuilla and Cupeño in south-central California, described the departing soul of an ancient hero as taking the form of a huge firefly and emerging from his stomach at death (Parker 1965:8). His abandoned body turned into a large boulder, the Takwish Rock located in the San Jacinto Mountains (True and Meighan 1987:189). The Southern Paiutes of southern Nevada also associated a bird with the soul. This animating force lived in the heart, but it left the body as a whirlwind (Stewart 1942:319). The twister was a more violent and powerful form of breath. To catch a ghost, they put the wings of a flicker into a bag and then, at dawn, repeatedly collapsed the bag to kill the entrapped soul (I. T Kelly 1932:166). Although the soul was insubstantial breath and the wind, it was also a winged creature, in which form it could be attacked and killed. According to the Cahuilla of the borderlands in southern California, after death the soul set out to the next life, and, if the person had been evil, 34


the soul would be caught between two hills clashing together. So captured, the soul would be transformed into a bat or butterfly, or perhaps even into rocks or trees. If a person died but was revived and discussed what he or she saw in the afterlife for a three-year period, he or she would be trapped between the rocks after death and changed into a winged creature. In life, if the soul accidentally became separated from the body, the medicine man searched for it and retrieved it in the form of a grasshopper (Hooper 1920 : 340-42). The Hopi of Arizona also identified the soul as an insect. In one account, Don Talayesva described hearing the spirit of his dead child chkping like a cricket on quiet evenings. He and his wife took this as a sign that the infant wanted to be reborn, and when their next child also died, they once again heard the soul as a small grasshopper (Talayesva 1967:270). The Hopi believe that a dead soul might transform into a variety of insects, depending upon the character of the person in life. Talayesva (1967: 126) recounted a vision of the next life in which a spirit revealed that witches, or "two-hearts," were fated to end as black beetles. They always remained in this form, except for brief visits to the town of Oraibi, where they attempted to do mischief on overcast days. The Soul as Bird or Álate Elsewhere

Birds or alates are nearly worldwide symbols of the soul. In highland Peru in the sixteenth century, the soul appeared as a fly that left the body at or after death and flew away with a whistling sound (Taylor 1987:411). The modern Cubeo of the northwest Amazon basin believe the soul is transformed into a bird if a man or woman violates certain taboos. They say a person's antisocial elements become an animal, unless he or she commits incest or eats a specific type of prohibited fish. In that case, the man or woman changes into a bird (Goldman 1979:259-60). According to the Inuit of the far north, a lost soul could be replaced by the spirit of a sea bird, the guillemot (Thalbitzer 1930:88-89). On the other side of the Bering Strait, traditional Siberian people also frequently described the soul as a small bird or winged insect. The Nanai, for example, believed the shadow soul to be a miniature bird that sat on the clan tree awaiting birth into its own lineage. When the tiny avian flew 35


to its future mother, she conceived, but the creature was easily frightened and often fled, explaining why the Nanai suffered such a high infant mortality rate. Various Ob-Ugrian peoples thought that one of the four or five souls they possessed was a shadowy double that often took the form of a cuckoo, while other souls eventually became beetles, ladybugs, or water insects (Chernetsov 1963:12-17; for another description of a clan tree and unborn souls as birds or alates, see Anisimov 1963:96). In the West, many peoples have described the soul as a winged being. By the New Kingdom, the ancient Egyptians had postulated three souls, of which one, the ba, was a bird with a human head (fig. 10). It left the grave, scouted the countryside to view the activities of its living relatives, and reported back to the kay another soul that remained lodged in a statue in the tomb (Eliade 1987 :XIII, 43). Winged figures were common in classical art and represented the spirits of the dead, victory figures, spirits of place, and personifications of abstract virtues and ideas (fig. 11). In the classical world, Psyche, the anthropomorphized human soul or spirit, appeared as a female with butterfly wings, while the psychopomp Mercury, in charge of leading the dead to the River Styx or ascending to the heights of Mount Olympus, wore a winged helmet and sandals (see Janson 1987:92, for a discussion of winged figures in the classical world, and Eliade 1987:XIII, 434-36; 1983, for a discussion of the nature and development of the psyche). Christians did not consistently represent the individual soul as a bird. Instead, theologians and artists often pictured it as the transfigured, perfected, but nude body that would be resurrected at the end of time. At death, however, the soul was likened to an infant, following a metaphor in

10. Ancient Egyptian animating force, the human-headed ba, that flew outside the tomb to survey the activities of the living. Book of the Dead, Dynasty XXI (1080-946 B.C. (Redrawn by the author from Peck 1978: fig. 5.) 36


11. Roman winged victory figure carrying trophies. Arch of Constantine, Rome, c. 300 A.D. (Redrawn by the author from UOrange 1985:fig. 86.)

Matthew 18:1-5, where Jesus says eloquently that no one is able to come to God unless he or she approaches as a small, trusting child. The Christian visual arts before and at the time of the Conquest frequently depicted the human soul as a swaddled infant presented to God. The one exception was the Third Person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit often took the form of a dove. Belief in the embodiment of the soul-as-bird was and is sufficiently widespread to suggest that it is not simply a poetic description that spread from one group to another. Instead, it may be verified experientially. What might such a wide variety of people be seeing that would suggest that a soul detached from the body and assumed a winged shape? Death, the Heart, and Its Winged Form

Winged things, or at least insects, are logically connected to death and the dead. A deteriorating body attracts bugs that people may interpret as evidence of a winged soul. The ancient Peruvians said one soul even escaped from the corpse as a fly (Taylor 1987:411; for a Siberian example, see Chernetsov 1963:17). In addition, the burial of a corpse disturbs the 37


soil, and insects are often more abundant where the earth is more loosely packed. The belief in the soul as a winged shape may evolve from the observation of insects crawling from graves. They are perfect symbols of souls attempting to escape from a dull or dangerous underworld into the light and air. The association of the soul and an insect is logical, but many people believe the spirit becomes a bird. In fact, the structure of a human heart vaguely suggests the shape of a bird or butterfly. The heart is asymmetrically placed, slightly left of the center of the chest, between the lungs and above the liver (fig. 12; Davis 1984:19). Generally as large as a fist, the heart weighs between eleven ounces and a pound (Ibid,, 32). The top two chambers, the atria, are somewhat smaller than the two lower ventricles (fig. 13). In cross-section, the heart's bilaterally symmetrical outline parallels a generalized form of a butterfly or a frontally positioned bird with outstretched wings. Alternately, the heart can be seen as a four-lobed structure, with two of the four lobes slightly but not inordinately larger. In this form, it may provide one model for the more schematic tetralobed shape of the Mesoamerican center of the world. The Mexica carried out human sacrifice on a grand scale, even bragging to their Spanish conquerors about the number of hearts they pulled

12. The heart in the chest. The heart sits between the two lungs and above the horizontally positioned liver. (Redrawn by the author from Davis 1984:45 and Nourseetal.l964:53.) 38


13. The heart in cross-section, showing its four lobed structure of right and left atria (above) and right and left ventricles (below). (Redrawn by the author from Davis 1984:52; Dixon 1986:150; Zaret et al. 1992 :fig. 3A-B.)

from the bodies of their vanquished or purchased victims. We do not know whether they dissected human hearts, but the priests who dispatched a multitude of victims could easily have known about the organ's inner structure. Untidy cuts made in removing the heart could easily have exposed its inner configuration. Further, the human heart does not differ greatly from many mammalian hearts, which often have the same general shape, number of lobes, and arterial and venal attachments. Any hunter of game knows the overall structure of an animal's heart, particularly if the heart is consumed. Although the internal shape of the heart itself resembles a butterfly or frontally positioned bird, the organ remains fixed within the chest unless someone removes it. Nevertheless, mostMesoamerican peoples could have seen the departure of a winged creature from the body. Its disappearance is marked on the back after death. The Postmortem-Fleeing Soul

A hundred years ago, most people had some direct experience of preparing a body for burial. Today, laws mandating postmortem procedures and leak-proof coffins ensure that the handling of the corpse is left to specialists. By the time relatives see the dead, if they even agree to an open coffin, the appearance of the deceased has been radically altered by makeup, 39


a smart coiffure, and well-pressed clothing, all of which serve to deny the reality of the final event. Most Westerners no longer observe what the Mexica saw on a regular basis. In most cultures, the corpse is placed face up while it is washed and dressed for the funeral. Later, the body may be flexed or extended, burned or buried, but during its preparation, it is probably laid out on its back. After death, gravity causes fluid to settle into the lower parts of the body. Deprived of blood flow, the upper sections lose color and acquire the pale, greasy appearance quite accurately duplicated in the wax figures of the Dead Christ found in churches throughout Catholic Europe and Latin America. At the same time, the lower sections of the body turn a darker color as blood settles into them. This staining is called lividity or hypostasis (Gordon and Shapiro 1982:80-81; Poison et al. 1985:13-14). In a corpse lying on its back, the back of the head, neck, torso, arms and legs are appreciably darker than the front of the body, except where the body touches the surface on which it rests. There, the settled blood is pushed from the tissues by the pressure and weight of the corpse itself. These areas are flattened by contact and are visibly lighter than the rest of the flesh (Gordon and Shapiro 1982:80-81; Poison et al. 1985:13-15). The appearance of these patterns of light and dark areas is a certain sign of death. The contact pattern appears rapidly, forming between half an hour to two hours after death, but if the person has been bedridden or the circulation slow, it may even begin before death. After six to twelve hours, it is complete. It is particularly obvious as a postmortem feature of people who die of cholera, typhus, or uraemia, or in cases of lingering death where the patient spends a prolonged period lying on his or her back. Anemia, on the other hand, retards it appearance (Poison et al, 1985:13-14). The contact pattern occurs in all corpses to a varying degree, but in some bodies it is not noticeable unless an observer is looking for it. Once the contact pattern appears, however, even shifting the body later may not completely erase it. Mystery buffs know this is one way Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple determine when a body has been moved after death. In any case, after the blood has leaked from capillaries into the surrounding tissues, it stains the lower body, sometimes permanently (Poison et al. 1985:14). Where the body of an adult of normal proportions rests, lividity produces a light patch on the backs of the elbows, across the buttocks, and most 40


14. Lividity, the pattern formed by the settling of blood into the tissues after death. (Redrawn by the author from Simpson and Knight 1985:fig. 2.2.)

significantly, across the shoulder blades (fig. 14). The lighter pattern on the upper torso roughly resembles a winged creature. Indeed, the pressure pattern on the back can be read as a butterfly or a frontally positioned bird. Observationally, for the Mexica, as life ends, the breath (also the yolia) ceases and the heart (once again the yolia) stops beating. Soon after, as the corpse is prepared for burial, the absence of the yolia (as the winged being in the heart) is marked on the back of the chest. The color is gone, as if the entity has left a vacant, unpigmented, and unoccupied spot in its stead. Appearing as a butterfly-shaped spot on the back of the corpse, the metaphor of the bird in the heart describes how a human being dies. The modern pathology textbook says that lividity is evident when the heart ceases and the blood settles into the lower sections of the body. The Náhuatl speaker says that the bird of the heart has flown. In their own ways, both are quite accurate. Postmortem lividity would be well known to people who handled their dead on a regular basis, and its peculiar pattern of staining probably explains the widespread nature of the belief that the soul is a bird or insect, even among people and cultures that have no direct contact with one another. The heart-soul as bird or álate is a natural symbol whose formation and disappearance can be observed by anyone who prepares the corpse for its final journey.









the heart with a transient bird, but the Mexica and their linguistic relatives also said that the yolia was the breath, a vital sign clearly present in the living and absent in the dead. Once again, observations of the human body lie behind connecting the heart to respiration. The Yolia as Breath among the Nicarao The seasoned sixteenth-century traveler and chronicler of the New World, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, described the departure of the yolia, oryulio, by contrasting the state of the body before and after death. In his Historia general y natural de las Indias, Islas y Tierra Firme del Mar Océano, part of which was first published in 1535, he transcribed the responses of Central American Nicarao informants (see fig. 2) to a priest's questions about what the cleric must have hoped were their former, rather 42


than their current, religious beliefs, including queries about the nature and fate of the soul. The Central American Nicaraos were linguistic cousins of the Nahuatl-speaking Central Mexicans, and the two groups shared the term yolia and presumably the concept (for other sources on the Nicaraos, see Alvear Acevedo 1959-1960; Dávalos Bolaños 1960; Fowler 1989; LeónPortilla 1972). According to Oviedo y Valdés, one indigenous Christian cagique, or local ruler, baptized under the name of Don Francisco said that when a person died, "something resembling a person, which is called yulio, comes out of the mouth and goes there [to the next life]." It travels to another realm, but "it is like a person and it does not die there, and the body remains here" (1855 :IV, 42; "sale por la boca como una persona que se diqtyulio, é va allá donde está aquel hombre é mujer, allá está como una persona é no muere allá, y el cuerpo se queda acá"). A second Nicarao informant, this time an old man, gave a slightly different answer to the same question about the destiny of the soul. The elder replied that "only the heart goes" to the next world ("No va más el coragon"). When pressed on how this occurred if they removed the organ in sacrifice, the aged man answered that "the heart does not go, but only that which makes them be alive, and [when] that is gone, the dead body remains" (Oviedo y Valdés 1855:1V, 43; "No va el coraron, mas va aquello que les hage á ellos estar vivos, é ydo aquello, se queda el cuerpo muerto"). A third Nacarao speaker, an ancient of some eighty years, said that after death people "go below the earth, and those that died in war went above, like the gods" so that the "body rots in the earth, [while] the heart goes above" ("Van debaxo de la tierra, é los que mueren en la guerra, van arriba, como los teotes" and "El cuerpo se pudre en la tierra, el coraron va arriba"). He also corrected the priest's misconception by adding that the heart was not the physical organ, but a life force within it. If the heart was taken in sacrifice, he insisted, they still "do not remove it; that heart that goes is that which makes them alive, and if it leaves, they die" (Oviedo y Valdés 1855 :IV, 44; "No se lo sacan; que aquel coraron que va es el que los tiene vivos, é salido aquello, se mueran"). The response of a fourth man, who was younger and who claimed to be a Christian, specifically identified the heart with the yolia and with the breath but added the dimension of reward or punishment to its fate, per43


haps echoing the ideas of his new faith or wanting to please the Catholic clergyman who questioned him. The Christian Nicarao asserted that the "yulio (which is the soul) of the good man goes above with the gods, and that the bad goes below the earth" ("yulio [ques el ánima] del bueno va arriba con los dioses, é la del malo va debaxo de la tierra"). Asked what happened to the individual if the heart was removed in sacrifice, this man responded that "the heart does not go, but that which here makes them alive and the air that comes from their mouth, that they callyulia" (Oviedo y Valdés 1855:1V, 45; "No se va el coraron, sino aquello que acá los tenia vivos y el ayre que les sale por la boca, que llamanyulia"). One last group of native Nicaraos did not ascribe any postmortem existence to the yolia. Asked if the souls or hearts of those sacrificed went to some other realm, they said that human hearts "did not go to any place, that there they remained with the body" (Oviedo y Valdés 1855:1 V, 46; "No van á parte alguna, que allí se quedan el cuerpo"). This assertion conflicts with the statements of virtually every other native informant, and indeed, the men contradicted themselves somewhat later in the interview. In response to the question "Do the body, heart, yulio, and soul die?" the group decided that if a man "has lived well the yulio goes above with our gods, and if he has lived badly Jiere, he dies and perishes with the body and there is no more memory of him" (Ibid. 49; "Si ha vivido bien va el yulio arriba con nuestros dioses, é si ha vivido mal allí muere é peresge con el cuerpo é no hay más memoria del"). According to the Nicaraos, priests removed the hearts and their vital forces from the chests of sacrificial victims and offered them to the gods. After the Spanish interfered with human sacrifice, only good men's hearts achieved a place in the upper world as a reward, while the wicked or unworthy went below. The Precolumbian Mexica believed warriors who died in battle or on the sacrificial stone or women who perished in first childbirth went to the sky world, while the mass of mankind trudged along a common path to a dull future life in the underworld (Sahagún 1950-1982 : Bk.111,47). The yolia's somatic nature permits reward or punishment after death, but postmortem physicality is also characteristic of the Christian soul when it is rejoined to indestructible flesh to be rewarded or punished. The chroniclers probably seized upon this shared quality to equate the yolia 44


15. Deer with a life line leading from its mouth to the heart or stomach. Seed jar. Zuñí Pueblo, c. 1900. (Redrawn by the author from Brody 1991:

fig. 32.) to the Western concept, even though the rest of the fit is inexact at best. Spanish writers do not describe how the yolia reached the sky, but certainly if it took a more substantial form, it flew as a bird or butterfly to the celestial realm. Equally, as breath, it could rise like smoke or mist into the upper world. The Heart and the Breath

In the Americas, many native American peoples connected the heart with the breath. One particularly graphic example occurs on a vessel made by a Zuñi potter in the southwestern United States (fig. 15). On a typical olla, or seed jar, the artist drew a deer, with its air passage surrounded on either side by a white line identified as an "entrance trail" from mouth to heart. That organ is the source of the animal's breath and its vital power (Gushing 1886:514-15). Contemporary Hopi artists make the same association and often represent the "breath of life" by a similar line from mouth to heart (see, for example, Broder 1978:56, 59). All native peoples hunt and have a relatively good idea of mammalian, and by extension, human anatomy. The Zuñi and Hopi know, and the Mexica knew, that a swallowed object usually ends in the stomach, or less pleasantly in the lungs, and never in the heart. Drawing the heart as the destination of the breath represents, not a literal description of the body's interior, or even a schematic diagram. Instead, it reflects an experiential connection: the breath and the heart feel linked in moments of stress or disease. On the simplest perceptual level, the heart sits in the center of the chest, between the lungs (see fig. 12), and the organs clearly function as a unit. During exercise, the heart pounds as the athlete gasps for breath, but when the breath is caught, the throbbing also subsides. When one is activated, so 45


is the other. As one sensation ceases to be noticeable, the other disappears from thought or control. When the heartbeat stops, the breath escapes the body, and the person dies. When the chest area is suffused with pain, the breathing is also affected. The heart is quite unlike other muscular tissues. Sprain an ankle and it sends out a symphony of excruciating sensations, from a running, aching bass to the staccato of little jabbing pains. The sufferer can mentally outline the location and intensity of the injury. On the other hand, the heart is not discernible in a sensate mental map of the body's interior. In other words, while its pounding can be felt, it usually cannot be perceived directly. Like the liver or kidneys, it offers no "felt image." Even if it is tremendously diseased or damaged, its abnormal state usually cannot be detected as pain specifically in the heart. Instead, people feel its distress as "referred pain" (J. Miller 1978:22). In this peculiar phenomenon, the person identifies pain, not in the organ itself, but by proxy, in other areas which relay information about the extent of damage and the degree of agony. The heart refers its injury to a broad area across the chest, into the shoulders, down the arms (and particularly the left arm), into the neck, jaw, and teeth. The area over the heart and the heart itself do not vibrate with any greater misery (J. Miller 1978:22). Referred pain is not a subjective sensation but is built into the body. Nerves governing the neck, arms, and heart are connected during fetal development, but eventually the heart descends to a lower position in the body, through the neck and thorax and into its place in the chest to rest on the diaphragm, which also derives its sensations from the same nerve endings. The relationship remains throughout life, so that signals from the heart activate nerves in the neck, arms, and diaphragm (J. Miller 1978: 23, 25). During a heart attack, severe chest pains over the heart radiate into the arms, neck, and teeth, so that despite a lack of sensation in the organ itself, the physical agony is centered around it. At the same time, the victim experiences breathlessness, sweating, nausea, and dizziness. Respiration grows labored because, as its beat becomes irregular, the heart is unable to drain the lungs. A clot may interrupt the normal blood flow, preventing the lungs from receiving sufficient oxygen, or narrowed coronary arteries may be unable to carry an adequate blood supply. When the heart cannot 46


meet demands for oxygen placed on it by even mild or moderate exercise, chest pain known as angina and described as "crushing," is combined with terrifying breathlessness (Dixon 1986:161). While the heart cannot be specifically identified as the source because it refers its pain, the victim feels its frantic pounding and the chest area is the locus of the anguish. When the pain reaches its crescendo and the person can no longer continue breathing, the yolia, the life force in the heart, leaves. Its separation from the body is signaled by intense pain across the entire upper back, where the large butterfly or frontal-bird shape marks the departure of the "bird of the heart." Just as the heart rate and the respiratory rate increase together during healthy exercise, chest and breath are distressed and stop concurrently during a terminal heart attack and the flight of the yolia. The Mexica probably experienced fewer heart attacks because they occupied an unusual environment that minimized their risks. People living in hot climates and drinking hard water enjoy a lower incidence of heart disease (Dixon 1986:166), and indeed, heart attacks and cardiovascular disease cause the largest number of deaths in the colder winter months in the northern hemisphere (Rose 1988:143). Still, this disease occurs among all peoples at some time, and the experienced and highly skilled Mexica physicians would easily have recognized the standard symptoms of heart attack and angina. According to the Mexica, the yolia also left the body as a shadowy double of the living person. People see their breath in cold weather, and this suggests that the body is occupied by an insubstantial substance not always so readily apparent. Breath is one key element in assigning to the body an ephemeral duplicate, and in fact, people see vaporous body-doubles in both the sunlight and the cold.







obvious fact hardly warrants mention. Western scientific thought assigns the responsibility for the shadow's creation to the sun, but Native Americans sometimes interpret the visual effect differently. For the Mexica, an insubstantial duplicate was not just an optical phenomenon, but was instead evidence of the person's inner life force made manifest in the sunlight. The sun rendered the double visible. This double may even be seen at other times. In cold weather, people who observe the body closely may also see a shadow enclosed within the warm flesh, even on cloudy days. Here, we must look for a moment at climate and at representations and rituals suggesting that the Mexica recognized the effects of low temperatures. Cold, in fact, temporarily permits the insubstantial body to be detected. 48


The Yolia and Central Mexican Cold

In Central Mexico, the capital city of Tenochtitlan sat more than seven thousand feet above sea level. Nearby peaks reach elevations of up to ten thousand feet and receive snow during part of the year. The average mean temperature of Central Mexico is a pleasant 60 degrees Fahrenheit, but January and February can become quite cool, with the mercury falling to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The lowest temperature recorded in the last half century is an amazingly chilly 24 degrees—a temperature cold enough to leave a thin slick of ice on standing water (Bair 1992:374; World Weather Records 1965:176). Snowfalls, while uncommon, occurred in the highlands. Codex Telleriano-RemensiSy which chronicles events year by year for more than a century prior to the Conquest, says 1447 brought such heavy snows that people died (1964:1, 272-73). In 1503, the town of Tlaxiaco in the southern highlands of Oaxaca was hit by a similar storm (1964:1, 304-5); eight years later, Central Mexico was again blanketed by snow (1964:1, 310-11). The temperature and rare snows alone do not tell the whole story. Bone chilling fogs occur even in the summer months, due less to low mercury (which hovers in the mid-50s) than to the high humidity accompanying the summer rains. At night, too, a damp atmosphere feels substantially colder. Despite the usually mild climate, the Mexica feared the withering power of unseasonable or severe frost, and they knew its damaging effects well enough to try to forestall them. The ancient scribes mention cold in divinatory books, and the Mexica annually undertook rituals against it. Codex Borgia, a preconquest screenfold manuscript that may or may not be from Central Mexico, presents divinatory information about marriages, travel, health, and inclement weather. On page 28, rain gods of the four directions and the center preside over different types of precipitation expected on specific days of specific years. In the upper right, one of these deities, or Tlalocs, wears the red and white stripes conventionally indicative of white body paint (fig. 16). His color is appropriate because he drops small white round bones, probably sleet or hail, onto the maize plants and cuts them to pieces. According to Codex Borgia, farmers must be especially careful of the cold weather in the first of the Mexica's 52-year cycle.



16. Rain deity bringing hail, pictured as small hard white bone pellets that cut the young maize plants. Postclassic Central Mexico or Puebla. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Borgia 1963:28.)

A similar verbal description warning about the destructive power of cold weather also occurs in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas, an early colonial manuscript from about 1535 that presents mythological history from the creation of the worlds, Mexica migration, and dynastic lore (Gibson 1975:345). According to the Historia, the abode of the Tlalocs has four rooms surrounding a large patio. In this plaza were four large basins of water, each of which contained a different type of precipitation. One tub contained the cold and chilling water that fell during rain and hail (1985:26). The Mexica annually dealt with cold in the ritual of Ochpaniztli, dedicated to the mother goddess Togi and occupying the eleventh of the eighteen 20-day months of the Mexica annual agricultural calendar. Its events began in the second or third week of September (Sahagun 1950-1982: Bk. II, 19-20; 1969:Bk. II, 122; Kirchhoff 1970:213-14), which initiated 50


the time of potential cold in the Central Valley. The Mexica believed they could expect 120 days of frost during the upcoming winter until their planting could begin again (Sahagun 1950-1982:Bk. VI, 19; 1969:Bk. VI, 265; see also Brown 1984; Ganger 1980; Gonzalez Torres 1975; Margain Araujo 1945; Sullivan 1975,1982; Vie 1979). In Tbf i's rites, a mature woman dressed in the deity's clothing and accouterments to impersonate the goddess. She was seized, decapitated, and flayed, and a priest put on her skin to transform himself into the living supernatural. A second priest took the skin covering her thigh, made a mask of it and assumed the role of her son, Cinteotl (Sahagun 1950-1982: Bk. II, 112-14; 1969:Bk. II, 192-94). In Mexica mythology, Cinteotl is often identified as the personified maize cob, but he is much more than this (see, for example, Codex Ríos 1964: III, 76-77; Sullivan 1975:13). A legend in the Histoyre du Mechiqm (1985: 110), a manuscript of about 1543 (Gibson 1975:340), ascribed the origin of the useful plants to this god. According, to the Histoyre^ various parts of Cinteotl's buried body were the sources of cotton, chía, camotes, and maize. As the personification of the Mexica's collective larder, he had to be protected from unseasonable cold. At one point in To?i's rituals, Cinteotl transformed into the god of frost, Itztlacoliuhqui, by means of a curved headdress (fig. 17). Later, Frost ascended the mountain Iztac tepetl, where he deposited his mask, and with it, his role as the damaging cold (Sahagun 1950-1982:Bk. II, 113-14; 1969:Bk. II, 193-94; see Sullivan 1972:187; also 1975). In this ceremony, the Mexica returned the personified frost to its proper place on the snowcapped mountain, so that it would not harm the maturing harvest. Clearly, the climate itself can become surprisingly cold, and in folk be-

17. Itztlacoliuhqui, the personification of cold, wearing his face mask and curved headdress. Postclassic Central Mexico or Puebla. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Vaticanus B 1972:60.) 51


lief and sophisticated ritual, Mexica farmers and urban dwellers attempted to avert its damaging effects. Moreover, they had ample opportunity to see the body during times of cold and to observe the shadowy double visible in chilly, damp air. When the weather is cold, the breath appears as a whitish vapor that emerges from the mouth and quickly dissipates into the air. The climate of Central Mexico was sufficiently cold for the Mexica to see the visible breath on chilly mornings. Thus, the yolia-as-breath was usually invisible but it could acquire a detectable form. During bouts of cold, human breath also appears to be evenly spread throughout the body. Northerners are not apt to see this phenomenon because they are prepared for low temperatures and dress accordingly. In the humid cold of Central Mexico, on the other hand, when a person wearing lighter clothing works, exercises, and sweats, the temperature differential between flesh and air surround the body with a vapor having the same filmy, fleeting texture and whitish color as the breath. The entire body seems to breathe. The yolia can logically be construed as both breath and as an otherwise invisible shadowy double. While sunlight creates a shadow and the cold a hazy duplicate, the body may appear to emit a vapor even in warm and sunny weather. This impressive and strange optical phenomenon is due, not to light or temperature variations, but to unequal electrical charges. The Yolia and Static Electricity

The buildup of static electricity occasionally produces an aura surrounding people and objects. The phenomenon is called corona discharge, and it occurs when ions in the air become highly charged, often before a thunderstorm. As the atoms ionize and take on an electrical charge, the electrons ripped away are attracted to a physical object. During this process, the air around the thing, or even the person, is heated and glows for a short time. Corona discharge is somewhat like a natural fluorescent bulb (Trefil 1987:193). The best-known example is the so-called St. Elmo's fire, named for an early Christian bishop who was martyred in Diocletian's reign and who became the patron of sailors, especially those in danger. The good clergyman 51


has traditionally been connected to electrical displays at sea. Apparently, static electricity in the air discharges on ships' masts and spars, but because it is cool, it dops not set anything on fire. Early sailors took this phenomenon as a sign of the saint's protection, particularly because the harmless but impressive performance frequently took place before and during storms, when the less benign lightning might set a ship afire and send it below (Trefil 1987:192). In the absence of spars and masts, St. Elmo's fire can also discharge on anything that arises above the water's surface, including human beings. People crossing the lake surrounding Tenochtitlan probably found themselves surrounded by these crackling but harmless electrical displays. Further, St. Elmo's fire can also occur on dry land, particularly at high altitudes. In the mountains, climbers sometimes see halos around their climbing equipment, and Swiss villagers who return to mountain pastures for the summer say that their cows occasionally have cold flames around their horns. These glowing auras are probably static electrical discharges similar to St. Elmos' fire (Trefil 1987:192-93). I have seen this phenomenon once, in the city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, as I sat watching a gardener tend his plants before a storm. He and the objects around him gleamed with a shining green light that was most easily seen indirectly. It was bright, extended several inches around all outlines in the garden and moved as the man moved and with shaking of the foliage. After this experience, neither the Greek belief in ether as insubstantial matter giving form to grosser forms nor the Mesoamerican idea of a body double seems fanciful to me. These concepts are adequate nonscientific explanations for this truly beautiful but puzzling and elusive glow. If the Mexica saw halos enveloping the body, they probably took them as evidence of a vapor in the body, analogous to breath and appearing in warm as well as cold weather. The shadow in sunlight, body heat in the cold, and an aura before storms suggest the body contains a second, ephemeral being. The yolia was a complex entity. A shadowy double that detached from the body and went to another realm after death, the yolia also transformed into a thing as fragile as a butterfly or small bird. At the same time, it also became the most substantial material of all—stone.








Fray Bernardino de Sahagún wrote of placing into the corpse's mouth a piece of stone that became the dead person's yolia or heart (see López Austinl984:I, 240-41; 1988a:I,219-20). Of course, if a living person were to swallow a stone, it would go to the stomach rather than into the chest cavity. From the mouth, the stone's route downward was like the so-called life lines on southwestern pottery where a passage beginning in an animal's mouth leads to its heart (see fig. 15). In death, the yolia's substitute was a rock, and it stayed with the bones, the remaining hard, indestructible parts of a dead human being. The Stone in the Corpse

According to Sahagún, in the Precolumbian era, several old priests had the duty of adding a stone to the body before it was cremated. The rock 54


became the heart (iniollo), and its quality and value depended upon the person's status in life. Important people received precious green gems, while the common folk could only hope for greenish-colored stone or a chunk of obsidian. Priests gathered the body's cremated remains, added the stone heart, and placed them in a small bowl. They buried the vessel under the family home or the local temple, and at this spot, the dead received offerings and petitions from the living members of the lineage (Sahagún 19501982 :Bk. Ill, Appen., 43; 1969:Bk. Ill, Appen., 296; see also Torquemada 1969[1723]:II,522). While not mentioning the yolia specifically, the sixteenth-century chronicler Fray Gerónimo de Mendieta confirmed in his Historia Eclesiástica Indiana a similar idea among the Tlaxcalans, the Nahuatl-speaking enemies of the Mexica who lived to the northwest of the Central Valley (see fig. 1). According to Mendieta, these people thought that the souls of dead nobles transformed into birds with precious feathers, mists, clouds, and fine gemstones. The souls of lesser men and women became animals and insects that sprayed or smelled of urine or beasts with the habit of stealing (1971 [1596] :97). Despite the obvious bias against the common man, the list closely parallels the transformations of the yolia into breath or mist, birds, and stones. As strange as the idea may be to Westerners, the Mexica were not alone in believing that hard stony substances were interchangeable with body tissues. Many New World peoples thought their life forces became solid substances with animating powers, particularly after death. Magical Stones in the Body

The Cahuilla of southern California described a special substance in the body of a shaman responsible for linking him to his guardian spirit. When this spirit assumed a physical shape, it could appear as an animal, a rock, or a feather (Bean 1972:168). The Huichols of western Mexico say that after five years, the souls of their dead transform into rock crystals (P.T. Fürst 1970:392-98). According to the Papago, crystals grew inside the shaman's body. Usually a shaman had four of them in his or her heart, because in the ancient First Times, when the culture hero Fitoi spat on the shaman's head, 55


his saliva transformed into stones that sank into the shaman's heart (Underbill 1969:271). One young girl, who had been selected to become a shaman, a profession usually open to men rather than women, recounted how her family called in a diviner to determine why she was not thriving. The wise man thought she could well become a healer because she had crystals growing inside her body. The shaman sucked the stones from her heart and showed them to her. They were white moving objects a little less than an inch long, which she said resembled worms as much as stones (Ibid., 226). The Nevada Shoshone said the soul appeared as a hard substance about the size and color of a hailstone. During curing rituals, an experienced shaman could remove and inspect it. If it were white, the patient's prognosis was good. If the stone were black, the patient would die unless the eurer cleaned it before returning it to the chest. Equally, a disease sent by an enemy also took the form of a white stone elsewhere in the body. To cure ailments due to lack or shortness of breath—a classification of illness among the Nevada Shoshone—the shaman took a white stone and rubbed the person's chest. Thus was the breath restored (Steward 1941:261). Uto-Aztecan people worked stones into the form of hearts or collected magically charged rocks naturally eroded into heart shapes. Among the Papago, the contents of one medicine bundle from Quitovaca included a stone reputed to be the preserved heart of a monster killed at that site in the mythic First Times by their culture hero, usually called Elder Brother. In the remote primordial age, Elder Brother was physically present and came to the defense of his people; they had retained the defeated creature's organ and its spirit power ever since. The Papago kept the solidified heart and other magical and powerful things in a basket (just as the Mexica kept their relics from the earliest times), and they brought this medicine bundle to the village for special ritual occasions. Otherwise, they hid it in a secret place in the mountains. If the village experienced ill fortune of some kind, the Papago believed that the basket had been shifted or molested in some way, and its guardians went out to the hills to be sure it had not been destroyed (Underbill 1969:71-72). The Mexica also sculpted hearts in red stone (fig. 18). Several of these have turned up outside archeological contexts, and their use, provenance, and date of origin remain unknown. The lack of concrete information makes it difficult to say with absolute certainty that they are Mexica, or 56


18. Red stone heart, perhaps embodying the yolia. Postclassic Central Mexico (?). (Redrawn by the author from a photo by Peter T. Fürst.)

even late Postclassic, or from Central Mexico. Considering the Mexica interest in human sacrifice, however, they may well be of their manufacture. In any event, the stones are easily identifiable as human hearts: they are correct to scale and size and are often delicately marbled with white inclusions. Physical Stones in the Body The idea that tissues transform into stones is not entirely fanciful, because the human body does, in fact, produce small, hard accretions similar to pebbles in various organs. The most common are so-called kidney stones occurring in the kidneys and urinary tract. The appear as tiny rounded lumps resembling beads, in elongated forms, and most impressively, as branching "staghorn" stones (fig. 19). They often accompany urinary disease and are caused when some of the many minerals usually expelled by the kidneys precipitate out of the liquid as solid concentrations. They can cause considerable difficulties, and larger stones may completely obstruct the urine stream, causing death. Frequently, however, the larger stones will dissolve if the person drinks ample amounts of water, and the smaller stones can be ejected, though sometimes causing extreme discomfort (Dixon 1986:139-40). Stones also accumulate in the gall bladder. Fully one-fifth of the world's population suffers from gallstones. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Unlike their urinary tract parallels, gallstones have a very complex physical composition and are more difficult to cure. In the West, cholesterol is often a major factor, while in other cultures, their main components are usually bile pigments and calcium ions (Dixon 1986:140). 57


19. Various forms of kidney stones, including a branching "staghorn" variety. (Redrawn by the author from Dixon 1986:139.)

Another type of hard object occurs in the digestive tracts of animals, particularly bison and deer. These so-called bezoar stones were not actually made of stone, but were instead accretion of calcareous substances and salts around a center of hair, nails, small stones, bullets, or undigested food particles. At the time of the Conquest, Europeans believed bezoars had fabulous and life-giving properties. Bezoar stones were introduced into Europe from Asia, and during the Middle Ages became an important part of medical practice. The word itself comes from Persian, with an Arabic root, and means antidote to poison. The first writer to recommend bezoars was a twelfth-century Arab physician, Avenzoar, and for three hundred years, they were considered efficacious against poison, snakebite, and the bites of mad dogs (Rogers 1971:unpaginated). By the sixteenth century, the efficacy of bezoar stones was coming into question, however. Charles X of France tested one of the stones by giving a condemned prisoner a dose of bichloride of mercury. A bezoar was then applied to the poor wretch, who died an agonizing death anyway. Charles then ordered the worthless stone to be burned. By the eighteenth century, bezoar stones were no longer part of general medical practice, although they continued to be used into the beginning of the twentieth century. Bezoars were also known in the New World. Many people believed these "madstones" had great powers to heal wounds, cure snakebite, and counteract the bite of rabid animals (Rogers 1971 :unpaginated). Finally, the human body may temporarily retain small objects that it does not grow, produce, or precipitate. Usually, the flesh cannot be penetrated without serious injury or death, but occasionally, it picks up small objects, including stones, without any awareness of intrusion or ill effects. I have known of two cases in which people have carried around foreign ob58


jects for years. In one instance, the man had been an athlete in his youth, but had not played sports or hiked for many years. One day, he felt a small, hard object in the back of his leg. It grew larger over time and eventually emerged as a thorn. Evidently, he had borne the thorn for some years, if not decades. In a second instance, a woman became aware of a small black dot on her arm that looked like a tattoo. It, too, gradually increased in size. When she had it removed, it turned out to be the end of a needle that had probably broken off some five or six years earlier during a battery of shots. While such examples are not common, if a thorn or metal fragment can be imbedded in the body for several years, certainly stones might also become healed inside a wound, only to reappear years later. If a native healer thinks of the yolia as a stone, and one emerges, it might be construed to be part of the person's animating force. Although many solid substances occur in the human body, none seems to offer a natural model for the vivifying yolia taking the form of a stone. Kidney and gallstones are usually extremely small, even microscopic. When a person feels their effects, he or she may never see the source of the pain and illness. Old World scientists attributed magical powers to bezoars, but we have almost no evidence about what the native peoples of the New World thought of these odd accretions. These internal pebbles might have had little, if any, significance among the Mexica. Moreover, the tiny fragments retained for years by the body might not have been interpreted as life-giving objects but as magical sickness-causing projectiles. People throughout the Americas believe that hostile shamans fire small objects (and particularly stones) into their enemies to cause disease, misfortune, and even death. Perhaps the association of yolia with stone comes from other natural history observations. The Vital Force in Bones

When the Mexica added a stone to the body's cremated ashes and buried the charred remains, they probably believed that the stone functioned as the funerary bundle's heart (see Chapter 10). The stone heart attracted the insubstantial breath that left the body at death to the inert ash and bone fragments. Attached to the remains in the grave, the yolia would not wander to disturb the living. Instead, this permanent stone heart lent its ani59


mating power to dead matter. The Mexica could see evidence that the heart in the grave did indeed provide fructifying force. In arid areas, grasses grow thicker and taller wherever a mammal has died. While both blood and bones contribute to the increased fertility of the soil, bones remain a clear sign of death. A good crop of grass sprouts from an animal's carcass, and its place of death is visually marked in the landscape by more luxuriant plant growth. Vegetation grows more abundantly over graves, in part, because remains were not confined in water-tight coffins and thus provided a natural fertilizer. The Mexica cremated most of their dead, burying only those who died by water or lightning and were sacred to the rain deities, but even the bodies that were cremated released nutrients. Those dedicated to the rain gods, the tlalocSy did indeed appear to confer the benefits of increased plant growth and fertility. The earth over graves is less dense for a second reason: it has been disturbed. Many types of wild vegetation prefer loose soil. The hallucinogenic Datura of the western United States, for example, clings to spots where the surface has been broken. On the untouched prairie, each plant grows widely spaced from its neighbors to take advantage of soil nutrients and water, but its frequency increases where the ground has been cut or plowed. It multiples beside roads and along trails, where hikers often misidentify it as the "wild squash" for its superficial similarity to the domesticated food plant. Tobacco, perhaps the most ritually significant plant in the New World, also seeds itself and grows thicker and larger where the soil has been turned (see Wilbert 1989:150-51, for a discussion of tobacco and disturbed soil in South American mythology). In addition, most domesticated plants have seeds adapted to growth in plowed or turned earth. Frequently, useful "volunteer" plants appear where the soil's surface has been broken, and when they have not been sown, they appear on graves precisely because the ground has been dug and turned. Two important staples, beans and squash, take root in any loose material, including leaves, mulch, and wood chips. Many a gardener has discovered an exuberant volunteer squash meandering out of the compost heap as a gift of last year's discarded rinds and refuse. By contrast, scattered corn kernels must be literally buried in prepared furrows or holes to germinate successfully. 60


The native peoples observed that the remains of the dead—and the green stone yolia buried with them—helped produce useful plants that benefited their living relatives. Adding a stone reactivates the defunct heart's animating and fertilizing power, so that the earth itself sprouts above the ashes, bones, and stone yolia. The stone's living breath transforms into vital power in the grave, and although the dead cannot live again on this earth, they were not entirely beyond the reach of the living. Instead, their animating force was made available to their families and to future generations. If they were not interred in the fields, they were buried under their houses, where they lent their generative power more directly to their lineages. The dead helped their descendants multiply as surely in death as in life, if they received a renewed green stone yolia. The Experiential Nature of the Yolia

The concept of the yolia exemplifies the Mexicas' careful and close observations of nature. Although the yolia is also poetic and metaphorical, at its core is a collection of related medical vital signs. Breath and heartbeat correspond at times of ease, stress, and death, and a pattern on the back, in the form of a bird or butterfly, signals the yolia-as-breath's escape from the flesh. In the cold season, the yolia-as-breath appears to spread throughout the body as a ghostly double, and static electricity generates a glowing aura at other times of year. Where the yolia-as-heart is buried, its vital force is manifested in thicker, heavier vegetation. The Mexica yolia has its origins in physiological phenomena common to all human beings. The yolia is verifiable in one's own body, in the bodies of the dead, and in the growth of plants. At the time of the Conquest, the Spanish who solicited information about the soul were familiar with an ancient Old World medical tradition in which animating forces were categorized under the rubric of "soul," which did not necessarily carry a spiritual dimension unless the term was specifically used in a theological context. The rational soul that God does or does not save, as the case may be, is quite distinct from the somatic vegetative and sensate souls that explain why things live, move, or reproduce. The yolia does not conform specifically to any of these functions, but it keeps a human being alive, much as the vegetative soul that sustains life. Like the sensate soul, the yolia permits 61


movement, and its name may even be derived from motion as an intrinsic property. It is firmly located in the flesh, and it confers feelings, abilities, and emotional states. At the end of life, it continues to live elsewhere, as does the rational soul. The yolia seems to be made of disparate, disconnected parts, but because it is relatively consistent across a wide area and over time, it has a coherent core of meaning. The yolia is not an invention or abstract postulation about the nature of the human being. It is instead based on observations of the body and is as closely tied to natural history as it is to ideology. So, indeed, is the second soul, the tonalli.





nous terms for the soul, at least some of his native informants answered tetonal and totonal. The root tonal does not have a separate listing in the lexicographer's Vocabulario en Lengua castellana y mexicana; it can only modify or be combined with other words. Surprisingly, most of these Náhuatl compounds do not refer to the soul, but to the dry, hot summer season, with tonal as the adjective (for a discussion of the meanings of the words associated with tonalli and of the concept itself, see López Austin 1984:1, 223-52; 1988a:1,204-29). Terms include, for example, tonal centli, which is the "dry corn of summer, or corn that must be irrigated" ("mayz seco del estío, o de regadío'5)' The "time of summer" and the "time when it does not rain" is called the tonalco ("estío parte del año" and "tiempo que no llueve"), while the "hot wind" is the tonal ehecatl (Molina 1970:149 r. and 149 v.; "viento solano o caliente"). Ultimately, tonal, or tonalli as a noun, may be based upon tona, to "make warmth or sun" (Ibid., 28 r.; "hazer calor o sol"). 63


In contexts where tonalli denotes the soul, one of two possessive prefixes precede it. The first, tetonal, should mean no more than "someone's tonalli," or "human soul," but in the Náhuatl to Spanish entry, Molina defines it as a "portion of each person, or a thing assigned by another" (1970: 110 v.; "ración de cada uno, o cosa diputada para otra"). The anonymous sixteenth-century Códice Carolina confirms tetonal as a "portion of each person" (1967:51). The second word, totonal, should signify only "our tonalli," or "our soul," but instead it designates "the sign under which one is born, or the soul or spirit" (Molina 1970:150 v.; "el signo, en que alguno se nasce, o el alma y el espiritu"). Many scholars have written extensively about this animating force from prehispanic to modern times,1 but the tonalli is so complex it could easily warrant an entire volume dedicated to its permutations throughout Mexico, the Uto-Aztecan-speaking area, and indeed, all the Americas. The next nine chapters have a more modest goal: examining the basis of the tonalli in human physiology and bodily sensation. The tonalli's connection to heat and its origin outside the human body are crucial to understanding its role as day sign, appellation, likeness, heat, and body part. The Origin of the Tonalli

In the words of Molina's sixteenth-century Vocabulario^ the tetonal is the "portion of each person, or a thing assigned by another." A pair of aged deities called Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, the "Lord and Lady of Duality," probably sent this portion to a child still in útero (Sahagún 19501982 :Bk. VI, 206). It entered the body when the infant dropped in the womb (Sahagún's Códice Maitrenses as translated by López Austin 1984:1, 226; 1988a:I, 208). The midwife reminded the newborn of its origin when bathing it, saying "Thou wert cast [otipitzalco], thou wert bored \otimamalioac] in their home" (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 202). In Sahagún's Spanish text, the child is only told that he or she was created above (1969: Bk. VI, 210; "fue criada en lo alto"). The Náhuatl word for the first method of implantation is otipitzaloc, frompitz(a), probably signifying to breathe rather than to cast. The root also carries connotations of red flushes to the skin and may also mean "to become red or to be hot from anger," or "pararse vermejo o encenderse de 64


20. Drilling with a stick on an upright base to make smoke and fire. Postclassic Mixtee, Oaxaca. (Redrawn by the author

from Codex Vindobonensis 1974:16b.) enojo" (Karttunen 1983:197; Molina 1970:82 v.). The second verb is otimamalioaC) from mamali, "to drill, or to drill through something," or "taladrar, o barrenar algo" (Karttunen 1983:135; Molina 1970:52 r.). More precisely the midwife informed the infant, "you were breathed into, you were drilled into your house, in Omeyocan, on the nine levels" (López Austin 1984:1, 226;1988a:I,208). The old deities simultaneously breathed the tonalli into the child and ignited a fire in its chest in an action analogous to making fire with a drill This implement consists of an upright wooden piece twirled rapidly on a fiat base (fig. 20). It produces heat through friction, although this seemingly simple instrument requires considerable skill to make anything but smoke. As a fire maker blows on an ignited spark to fan it into a vigorous flame while whirling the upright, both breath and friction in the chest animate an infant. The drill's phallic symbolism is almost too obvious to mention, and if the sexual act makes the body, the deities' metaphorical reenactment of coitus implants the tonalli. The act requires both drilling and blowing air, just as the Mexica midwife informed the newborn. European friars undoubtedly heard echoes of their own faith in the conception of tonalli as breath, and its infusion into the body recalls the beginning of Genesis, where God the Father breathes life into Adam. During the Renaissance, educated Europeans came to believe that God left traces of Christian truth in the philosophy and religion of the pagans of classi65


cal antiquity, like ideological bread crumbs that could lead a thoughtful heathen away from total damnation. In the New World, the Spanish evangelizers expected to find vestiges of truth in indigenous concepts, and the tonalli's role as animating breath of celestial origin made it the vital power most often equated with the Christian soul. Old and New World categories cease to overlap, however, when native thinkers also described the acquisition of the life force as the result of fire drilling. The Mexica believed the old gods placed the tonalli into the body before birth, but flesh and spirit did not come into being at the same time. After months of life in utero, the tonalli entered only when the infant dropped visibly (Sahagún's Códice Maitrenses as translated by López Austin 1984:1, 226; 1988a:I, 208). The descent, also called lightening or engagement, is the visible sinking of the child's position in the womb, as if it had indeed been pushed downward. The normal lowered fetal placement causes various physical sensations that may or may not be marked, including increased ease of eating and breathing, but more frequent urination and difficulty in mobility. The time when the child drops, if it happens appreciably earlier than labor, has no effect on the ease of delivery. In first pregnancies, the child usually falls two weeks before birth, although this may happen as early as one month before that event. In most subsequent conceptions, lightening occurs at the actual time of birth, when it may not be apparent as a stage separate from the delivery (Eisenberg et al. 1991:260; Rose 1988:103). The ancient Mexica interpreted this natural phenomenon as the appearance of the tonalli, and in most instances, this animating force occupied the body only in the very last hours before the infant came into the world. The usual correspondence between the tonalli's creation and birth is particularly significant because a newborn received a name for his or her birthday in the 260-day ritual calendar—"the sign under which one is born"—and with it, the character and fate the day carried and conveyed. In most cases, the old gods gave the neonate its animating force (or tonalli) at the time of birth, but the date of birth also imparted its fate or destiny (also the tonalli). Only a few children dropped in utero days or weeks earlier, and these exceptions may have suggested to the Mexica the possibility that the implantation of the animating force and its subsequent fate might be different from the birthday (see Chapter 11). 66


21. The skyband with the fifth heaven, "where the whirling is," identified by round discs and arrows, suggesting the twirling motion of a fire drill. Italian copy of an early colonial Central Mexican document. (Redrawn by the author from CodtorAw 1964:1, 8-9.) Fire drilling was, in fact, a crucial analogy or metaphor in many contexts. Its whirling motion carried important symbolic meanings for the ancient people and represented one way in which the gods conveyed their wishes to people below. The Shape of Fire Drilling For the Mexica, the gods manifested their power in circling motions, and perhaps the supernatural added spiraling movement in the Ihuicatl mamalhualcoco, the fifth of thirteen layered heavens "where the whirling is" (López Austin 1984:1, 229-30; 1988a:I, 209-10). The multilayered sky appears on the first page of the postconquest Mexica-based Codex Ríos, a sixteenth-century Italian copy of a Mexican manuscript incorporating many European visual elements and interpretations into its presentation of indigenous material. There, the fifth heaven is an elongated rectangular band containing four circles surmounted by four downward pointing arrows (fig. 21). The quality of whirling may be graphically illustrated by the arrows and circles, which approximate a drill used to shape a precious gemstone, conventionally shown as a disc with a smaller circle inside. For most Native American people, ceremonial actions occur in circling or spiraling motions. The fire drill danced in a reversing motion, first in the ordinary clockwise manner and then in a counterclockwise circuit most native peoples associated with ceremonial actions. The implement cannot 67


move in any other way, and it was probably impossible to make a nonritual, secular fire using the drill. By nature, fire was sacred, whether ignited metaphorically in the chest before birth or in other ritual and practical contexts. The Mexica often drilled fire between the completion of one phase of a cycle or activity and the beginning of another, when the character of the future time or event was in doubt. The ease or difficulty of its ignition predicted the positive or negative character of the future. Fire drilling also marked the transition from one state to another in ritual cycles regulating human lives. The Mexica literally ignited fire in the chest of a human being at the end of the 52-year cycle to avert the calamity of the end of the world. At birth, the old gods used the drill to impart life, but it also played a role in each man's death. The supernaturals probably used the implement to complete the human body in the First Times. The Body and Fire Drilling

The Mexica man who hoped to gain entry into a continued postmortem existence wore the sign of the fire drill on his wrist. It signaled to the subterranean gods and powers his right to be admitted to the underworld, Mictlan. Therefore, Sahagun's informants said, every man had the pattern of the constellation of the fire drill (perhaps containing Castor and Pollux in our configuration of Gemini) burned on to the inside and outside of both wrists (1950-1982 :Bk. VII, 11; 1969-.BL VII, 263). An unmarked man could expect to be burned on the wrist when he reached the underworld (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VII, 61). This rather puzzling custom may be explained, at least in part, if the Mexica believed that the soul carried in the next life any abnormalities in the body's condition at death. Like many native Americans, the Mexica mutilated the corpses of criminals, transgressors of public morality (including thieves, drunkards, and adulterers), and enemies, and left their corpses to rot in the public plazas, at least for a time. Presumably their shades would be scarred and leprous in Mictlan. And if a man bore the mark of the fire drill, Mexica tonallis in the underworld also carried the identifying mark into their future existence. Placement of the fire drill on the wrist may reflect the idea that the 68


tonalli concentrates in certain parts of the body, and particularly around joints where pulsing blood can be felt. The modern Nahuas of Hueyapan, Morelos, for example, assign particular importance to both sides of the wrists, where the shadow soul is strongest. The villagers monitor these two points during illnesses, gauge the strength or weakness of the pulse, and recognize its progressive withdrawal from the wrist to elbow and to the shoulder as the end approaches. When the soul shrinks to the heart, the person is dead (Alvarez Heydenreich 1987:103). Perhaps the prehispanic Mexica man had the fire drill tattooed on his wrist to reignite and fortify his vital force that traveled to the underworld and continued to work, eat, and dance with his ancestors. If he were not so marked, the lords of Mictlan would resuscitate him with fire on the places where his tonalli was particularly strong and localized—at one of his joints. The Central Mexicans probably also believed the gods added the finishing touches to the human body in the primordial First Times by drilling into its nether end. In Book X of the Florentine Codex, Sahagun gives a long list of the Náhuatl words for body parts. Under the entry for "Anus," he provides additional terms associated with it, including "bored" (coionqui), "it is bored" (coioni), "smoky" (pochectic andpocheoac), and "to smoke" (pocheoa) (1950-1982 :BL X, 122), In the parallel Spanish text, the good friar delicately offers, not a similar inventory, but a theological discourse that he says is more appropriate and edifying (1969 :Bk. X, 157). Associating the anus with drilling and smoke seems an adequate, if poetic, description of flatulence, but it may also reflect a common story describing how in the First Times, a supernatural (often a culture giver in North American tales) bored holes into the rectums of a primordial male and female human pair. Such tales still exist throughout North America and Mexico among many peoples, including Náhuatl speakers (see also Bourke 1885, López Austin 1988b, and C. Klein 1993 for scatological themes in Mexico and the Southwest). The Nahuas of the town of Matlapa, in the northern state of San Luis Potosí, for example, tell a version in which the original men and women ate atole, or maize gruel, but were unable to defecate. The maize god, the source of their food, poked anuses in their bodies so they could eliminate (Croft 1957:328-30). Indelicate though the tale is (and bawdy though these stories often are), 69


the creation of an anus represents the completion of the body. The piercing stands between the unfinished bodies of ancient men and women and the physically finished people in the current age. Sahagun and other friars did not record a colonial version reflecting an early postconquest story, but the Mexica clearly associated drilling with the rectum in Sahagún's Náhuatl texts, suggesting that they shared this common Native American tradition. Drilling completed the human body in the First Times, and everyone carries the evidence of this action. The Mexica believed the fire drill's spiraling motion propelled influences from heaven to earth, and the ancient gods implanted the tonalli into the body when they ignited the heat with the implement, fanned it into a blaze with their breath, and hence, gave the spark of life to the fetus. The dropping of the child in the uterus signaled the reception of the tonalli, generally at the time of birth. Its implantation is a natural phenomena verifiable in nearly every pregnancy and birth, and the deities may have finished the human body in the First Times by drilling its anus. Further, the technical process of making the new tonalli provides a clue to the association of this animating force with stones.




way ancient craftsmen worked precious blue or green stones, using a drill with an upright stick. When twirled rapidly, this implement could grind, perforate, and polish stone, creating heat by friction as well as making fire. Thus, literally and metaphorically, the implement made the ceremonial and hearth fire, the human tonalli, and a precious blue or green stone (Sahagun 1950-1982:Bk. XI, 224; 1969:Bk. XI, 334). In Central Mexican belief, stones functioned as the visible tonallis of gods, nobles, rulers, and the self-made men who achieved status in the Mexica empire through trade, service to the state, and prowess in battle. Stones, like gods and people, were arranged in a hierarchical order, and some were the physical embodiments of more august tonallis.



The Tonalli as Stone

In a list of stones and their properties in Book XI of the Florentine Codex, Sahagun writes that the Teuxihuitl, or fine turquoise, derives its name from ten, or god, and xihuitl, turquoise, which "means that [this stone] is his property, the tonalli of the god [itonal in teutl}" (1950-1982: Bk. XI; 224). The Spanish text gives a slightly different version by stating that no one could use this stone, because it had to be dedicated to the gods (Sahagun 1969:Bk. XI, 334; "la cual a ninguno le era lícito tenerla ni usarla, sino que había de estar ofrenda o aplicada a los dioses"; for a study of precious stones, seeThouvenot 1982). Differences between Spanish and Náhuatl passages are quite common, particularly where the friars believed the Náhuatl text would embarrass the overly fastidious Spanish audience or compromise the indigenous people by making them appear too barbaric or blasphemous. Perhaps Sahagun wished to shield his informants from criticism. Whatever the reason, the Náhuatl text also identifies other minerals as the deities' tonallis. Shiny black jet, for example, was "precious, rare, like the special attribute of a god" (1950-1982 :Bk. XI, 228; "tienen un negro muy fino, sin mezcla de ningún otro color, el cual negro y su fineza y su pureza no se halla en ninguna otra piedra"; 1969:Bk. XI, 337). The Tlaxcalans, the Mexica's archenemies, shared not only their language but their belief in stones as repositories of the soul, although whether as yolia or tonalli is not clear. Fray Gerónimo de Mendieta in his Historia Eclesiástica Indiana writes that the Tlaxcalans thought their lords' and nobles' souls became gemstones as well as mists, clouds, and birds of precious plumage (1971:97). Fray Diego Duran, a sixteenth-century Dominican friar who worked in Central Mexico, writes that the Mexica had "a law prohibiting the wearing of featherwork without the permission of the sovereigns, for [the featherwork] was the Shadow of the Lords and Kings and was called by this name" (1971:200; "había pragmática que la pluma no usase sino a quien los reyes diesen licencia, por ser 'la sombra de los señores' y reyes"; 1967 :Bk. 1,116). He adds that the common man was permitted to wear clothing made of animal skins. Gemstones, feathers, and rich costumes symbolized rank and provided 72


22. Warrior who has taken four captives in battle, wearing a feathered jaguar suit. Early colonial Central Mexico. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Mendoza 1992:65 r.)

direct evidence of the auspicious destinies, or tonallis, or rulers, nobles, and officials. Men of lower estate projected their less august tonallis into humbler materials. Nevertheless, individuals who excelled through their abilities, bravery, and intelligence (and who thus had positive fates despite low status at birth) were given permission to wear expensive clothing, including the full body suits made of feathers called the tlahuitl (Anawalt 1988:119). Codex Mendoza (1992:65 r.) says that capturing four enemies in battle entitled a Mexica soldier to wear a spotted jaguar costume, complete with a helmet that encased his head (fig. 22; Berdan and Anawalt 1992: III, 135; for works on costumes, see Anawalt 1980,1981; León-Portilla 1958) Costumes representing animals or supernaturals were extremely important items in the Mexica's economy, and ironically, conquered communities supplied the clothing that validated the bravery and exalted positions of their conquerors. As tribute, the Central Mexicans demanded large numbers of uniforms from vanquished people and then added insult to injury by wearing these colorful but terrifying second skins when they returned to attack and resubjugate the unfortunate tribute payers. The Mexica also asked for, and received, strands of tonalli-laden green stones from their vassals.



The Tonatti and the Yolia

Belief in the physicality of the soul is widespread in the Americas, and the embodiment of the tonalli or yolia in stones represents the Mexicans adaptation of this common idea. At the same time, in Sahagun's brief texts about the origin of the tonalli, some of its characteristics overlap with some of the attributes of the yolia. In fact, among modern Nahua peoples, the same lack of distinction between the heart-soul and the tonalli also exists. To the Mexica, the yolia was the human heart. The yolia was responsible for affective states, emotions, abilities, and human identity. It was perceived in life-giving respiration, and when it separated from the body with the last exhalation, the yolia's absence was revealed on the dead person's back when it left the body at death to live as a bird or álate. When the heart was pulled from the chest of a sacrificial victim or offered from the battlefield, its life force went to the sky with the gods, where it obtained a postmortem existence, perhaps as a reward for correct or valiant behavior. The yolias of humbler people remained anchored to the grave. Both tonalli and yolia were detectable in the breath. The old gods breathed the tonalli into the body even as they drilled in its heat, but the breath-as-yolia corresponds to sensations of the heartbeat at rest, in exertion, and during the great stress of a heart attack, when the chest is in agony and the person is gasping for air or has ceased breathing. The breath-asyolia is warm, and so partakes of the tonalli's inner heat. That breath may be attributed to both souls does not indicate confusion in Mexica medical practices or classifications of animating forces, but rather reflects the origin of the yolia and tonalli in experiential rather than mutually exclusive, theologically defined categories dedicated to systematizing observations. In addition, Náhuatl speakers probably differed about the characteristics of the two vital forces, just as today yolia and tonalli continue to overlap and manifest variation from community to community and from person to person. For the prehispanic peoples, the tonalli and yolia were both identified as shadowy doubles of the human being. The halo of white vapor surrounding the body during exertion, haloes around objects before storms, and the shadow cast by the body in sunlight would all seem to indicate that the body has a duplicate. 74


The yolia was the physical heart, and a substitute green stone added to cremated human remains sustained vitality in the funerary bundle. Perhaps, too, the precious gem gave the detached life force a place to return, anchoring the spirit in the grave and keeping it from haunting the living. Where a body or ashes were buried, the yolia manifests its animating power in thicker, heavier vegetation. The tonalli was created in the same way as precious gems were in ancient Mexico, and it could be projected into rocks. Both tonalli and yolia took the form of a stone and seem to be almost interchangeable. Once the old gods ignited a child's inner fire, the infant was born. It usually descended on the day of its birth, and the birthdate was crucial because, as we shall see in the next chapter, it determined a child's character and fate throughout its life and even into the next world. Each flame fanned into being burned with its own intensity and duration.



A C C O R D I N G TO M O L I N A ' S



"our soul," but it is also the sign under which a person is born. The West also had a long history of using astrological signs to determine or reveal the natures and futures of men and women. Christianity tolerated the practice because God's design manifested itself in the ordered physical world, and hence, in the predictable movements of the heavens and the influence they exerted on human lives. The stars represented God's will secondhand. European astrological signs and the tonalli are indeed similar, and a skilled diviner in either tradition purported to read a person's fate, to establish a person's nature and inclinations, and to avert catastrophes. Because the ancient Mexica system is unfamiliar to most people, a few words about it are in order before proceeding to the tonalli's relationship to fortune, character, and name. 76


The Tonalli^ the Day, and the Name In the Mexica divinatory system, as in Western astrology, people's signs depended upon their birthdays. In ancient Mexico, a person's birthday was one of 260 named days in a special calendar used solely for divination and celebrating rituals in the deities' honor. It consisted of twenty pictorial signs combined with thirteen numbers to provide 260 separate day signs (see fig. 23 for the twenty day signs). For planting and harvesting, the ancient Mexica used a 365-day solar year. Each day in the 260-day ritual calendar transmitted a character and fate to both men and women born on that date. For most Postclassic peoples, the day sign also served as a name or designation; hence, scholars call the birthday in the divinatory count the calendrical name. Each day's dispensation could be good, bad, or some blend of the two, but everyone born on one date had the same calendrical name, and the same or a similar intrinsic nature and a comparable fate. One Crocodile, for example, the beginning of the 260-day divinatory cycle, imparted so positive a character that a man born on that date achieved great authority, wealth, and fame, even if he had humble origins. Equally, the lucky woman born on that day also prospered, acquired riches, and most important, had sufficient food and drink to offer hospitality to guests and to aid the less fortunate—an ideal for the Mexica and most other native peoples in the Americas (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. IV, 2; 1969 :Bk. IV, 318). The fortunate person still had to guard an auspicious fate, or tonalli, by following the path demanded by the day sign and the Mexica's rigorous collective code of conduct. The lucky 1 Crocodile might still come to nothing if he did not accept the advice and reprimands of the aged as well as the punishments and penances given to him (Sahagún 19501982:Bk. IV, 2; 1969:Bk. IV, 318). In other words, he had to be diligent in the pursuit of his excellent destiny, to fulfill the rules of life, and to be humble when corrected. Other day signs had chilling auguries. The man born on the day 1 Jaguar was more than unfortunate, because by nature, he was evil and without a good name. A woman born on that day was just as miserable (Sahagún 1950-1982:Bk. IV, 5; 1969:Bk. IV, 320). Still other days conferred ambiguous fates, depending on individual initiative and the support of the 77

23. Figure with the twenty day signs of the ancient Mexica attached to parts of the body in place of the astrological signs assigned to them in Europe. Italian copy of an early colonial Central Mexican document. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Ríos 1964:III, 167.)



supernatural powers. A man born on the day 4 Motion would either capture prisoners in war or be captured himself (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. IV, 6; 1969 :Bk. IV, 320). If he were victorious, his community would honor and respect him, but if he were taken prisoner by one of his nation's many enemies, he would meet his end on the sacrificial stone with his heart ceremonially excised from his chest and his life force transferred to his enemies. Whether good, bad, or ambivalent, the divinatory prognoses often reveal incisive knowledge of human character. The man born on day 1 Rabbit, for instance, became wealthy, but only if he did not slack in his efforts. His hard word would be rewarded, but every rumor or situation frightened him. He was afraid of sickness, although he was never ill. In Sahagún's words, he "provided for himself, and provided for and benefitted his children and grandchildren; who lived in wealth" (1950-1982 :Bk. IV, 127-28; 1 Rabbit people "son grandes atesoradores para sus hijos y con circunspectos en guardar su honra y hacienda . . . y con estos trabajos y diligencias se enriquecía"; 1969:Bk. IV, 366). The description easily fits a compulsive prehispanic type A personality. So deeply ingrained was the belief in the ritual calendar that many modern Náhuatl speakers continue to believe in its influence on fate or character, even though the fine details of divination disappeared with the Conquest (for a still functioning system among the Maya, see B. Tedlock 1982). The inhabitants of San Francisco Tecospa near Mexico City, for example, say that Tuesdays and Fridays are days of evil prognosis (W. Madsen 1960: 79). These two days were also considered inauspicious by the Spanish, so the persistent belief undoubtedly reveals a confluence of Old and New World folk traditions. Among the Nahuas of Tatahuicapan, Veracruz, one's date of birth still imparts a good or bad sign and a positive or negative character. Some people must become shamans and deal with the supernatural realm because of their birthdays (Munch Galindo 1983:125). The villagers of Santiago Yancuictlalpan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla agree that the time of birth is crucial, determines a person's nature and fate, and is responsible for a making a man become a sorcerer (Signorini and Lupo 1989:60-61). Precolumbian scribes recorded a full 260-day divinatory count in a sacred book called the tonalpouhualli, and after a birth, Mexica parents called a diviner to read the future conveyed by the baby's day sign (Sahagun 79


1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 197). Several prehispanic screenfold manuscripts containing pictorial forms of this sacred calendar survived the Conquest, albeit without the secret verbal lore that accompanied them. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún recorded descriptions for all 260 days in Book VI of his Historia de las Cosas de Nwva España, but he did not attach the information to a specific screenfold manuscript. Fray Diego Duran, a Dominican and a contemporary of Sahagún who also worked in Central Mexico, gave a more abbreviated version of a similar system. Thus, today we have pictures without the oral lore, and texts without images. A knowledgeable priest could ameliorate a terrible day sign by selecting a more auspicious time for the baby's first bath. The event welcomed the infant into the human community and affirmed its name and destiny. Because this bathing ceremony was likened to a second birth, the midwife said to the newborn, "Thou art a baby cast down to earth; go, move! Now the baby liveth again; he is born again" (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 202; in the Spanish text, the child is commended to the care of the water goddess, Chalchiutlicue; 1969:Bk. VI, 202). The choice of a better birthday was subject to one important restriction, however: both the birthday and the ritual bathing had to fall in the same trecena, or 13-day division. Each trecena in the 260-day calendar began with the number one, finished with the number thirteen, and included thirteen different day signs. According to Sahagun's descriptions, the ends of most trecenas were auspicious, and choosing a later day almost inevitably yielded a better time and destiny. Perhaps the Mexica allowed this flexibility because the gods themselves permitted some variation between the implantation of the tonalli and birth. A baby often dropped in the womb and received a life force several weeks before its emergence into the world. Significantly, the maximum time permitted for the selection of a better fate (twelve days between a bad birthday on the first day of a trecena and a better name day on the thirteenth day), nearly overlaps with the two-week period between lightening and birth common in first pregnancies. Having observed the difference the old gods allowed between the tonalli's implantation and parturition, the Mexica evidently accepted nearly the same interval between the child's appearance and the final assigning of a name and fate. The Central Mexicans believed in destiny, but they were not fatalists. They hedged their bets in the choice of a lifelong fate. 80


In carved or painted representations, the Mexica did not record their calendrical names, suggesting that they were used for divining rather than for identification. They seem to have kept their full calendrical names, and hence their destinies and characters, secret. Sahagun notes that a person born on the day 1 Crocodile might be called "Cipac," or "Crocodile," without the numerical coefficient enabling someone else to know his exact fate. Each day containing "Crocodile" had a different prognosis from the others, depending on its accompanying numerical coefficient (1950-1982: Bk.IV,3;1969:BLIV,318). Names corresponded so completely to a man or woman's inner wellbeing that adding to its power enhanced external prestige, health, and vigor. In the Florentine Codex, Sahagun writes of the Mexica ruler who received renewed life force through sacrificial victims. Through them, "his fate [motonachicaoaial] was strengthened; by them he was exalted." Their deaths rejuvenated him and added years to his life. The ruler "became famous [motleiotia], achieved honor, and became brave, thereby making himself terrifying" (1950-1982 :Bk. IV, 42; the comparable text in Spanish does not mention this idea). Because the life force (or tonalli) was conveyed by or in a name, the unfortunate victims sacrificed by the Mexica ruler fortified his animating power (tonalli). Sahagun's work, in particular, often suggests that vitality, particularly as conveyed by a name, was synonymous with honor and reputation. Perhaps the friar equated the name and its connotations with the Renaissance idea of name as fame and immortality. On the other hand, maybe the Mexica monarch took his enemies' appellations from them, stripping them of their titles and ranks, and kept these for himself. The taking of names and the supernatural power or vitality contained in them was well known far to the north, all the way to the northwest coast of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska, where the name itself embodied success, prestige, and generative force. The Mexica may well have believed some similar idea. The Sharing of Names and Family Vitality

In addition to a calendrical name, the Mexica also gave themselves a second designation, the so-called personal name. This was a descriptive 81


24. The Mexica emperor Ahuitzotl attending the re-dedication of the Templo Mayor in 1487, accompanied by his personal name of "Water Dog" or "Otter," but without a calendrical name. Early colonial Central Mexico. (Redrawn by the author from plate 29 of Codex TellerianoRemensis 1964:296- 297.)

epithet drawn from the natural or manmade world, and a person might be named for a bird ("Descending Eagle," for example), an animal, or a manmade object. In prehispanic or early colonial manuscripts, these appellations appear in a person's immediate vicinity as symbols that are attached to the figure by a line. Or the person may hold or wear his or her personal name (figs. 24 and 25; for an interesting parallel in South America, see Valiente 1984). We do not know exactly how the Mexica selected a personal name, or if it bore any relationship to the person's date of birth, but a man might receive a descriptive epithet belonging to one of the gods if he were born or bathed on a deity's birthday or on another day sacred to a supernatural being. The Mexica ruler Ahuitzotl, for example, was called "Otter," for the nutria or river otter, which is the animal form sometimes assumed by the rain god 81


Tlaloc (see fig. 24; see Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. XI, 68-70; Bk. XI, 264-66, for a discussion of the otter). In the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Ahuitzotl sits with an image of the small brown animal swimming in the water above his head (1965: pt 4, lam. XIX). This suggests that Ahuitzotl shared a birthday with the rain god, but because we do not know the calendrical name of a single Mexica ruler, we can only speculate (Mary Elizabeth Smith: personal communication). The Mexica identified only the gods by their birthdates in the 260day calendar. The day 4 Motion was the birthday of the sun, and because it carried the supernatural's destiny and nature, it was called "the tonalli of the sun tonatiuh" ("itonal in tonatiuh"). On this day, the Mexica ruler venerated the sun with offerings and ritual sacrifices (Sahagun 1950-1982: Bk. IV, 6; 1969:Bk. IV, 320). The day sign of Quetzalcóatl, the culture hero and personified wind god, was 1 Reed (Sahagun 1950-1982 :BL IV, 29; 1969: Bk. IV, 330). Apparently the epithet by which he was usually known— Quetzalcóatl, meaning either "Plumed Serpent" or "Precious Twin"—was his personal name. Frequently they called the corn goddess Chicomecóatl, "7 Serpent," from chicóme, seven, and coatí, serpent (see Textos Nawas 1976: 50-64, for modern songs to the maize goddess called Seven Flower). Like the calendrical name, the personal name also conveyed or conferred some portion of the vivifying tonalli. The Mexica sometimes chose designations from a store of family names, so that a forebear's appellation was given at a newborn's first bathing. During the ritual, the midwife kept a torch burning (the tonalli was also warmth), and the family "gave him a name, they there gave him his earthly name. Perhaps they would give him the name of his grandfather; it would enhance his lot [quijtonaleoaz]"

25. The Mixtee cagica, or female ruler, 11 Water wearing a mirror over her chest and her name of "Crested Bird-Necklace" as a helmet, and carrying the crested bird to confirm her identification. Postclassic Mixtee, Oaxaca. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Nuttatt 1976:26a-b.) 83


(Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 203-4). In the Spanish version of Sahagun's text, the comparable passage says that "they gave the name to the child of some of his ancestors, so that he bears the fortune and luck of that one whose name they gave him" (1969:Bk. VI, 208; "ponen nombre al niño, de alguno de sus antepasados, para que levante la fortuna y suerte de aquel cuyo nombre le dan"). The "earthly name" seems to be the personal name that takes the grandparent's fortune or luck and adds it to the child's fate, quijtonaleoaz (tonalli). If one's calendrical and personal name together fortify tonalli, then the Mexica divinatory system was probably even more complex and arcane than we realized. How it worked or how the two names forecast a child's destiny and luck is not known: there is simply no more information about prehispanic Central Mexico. Modern Náhuatl and Uto-Aztecan speakers believe that a life force carried in a name is responsible for linking members of a family across generations, and characteristics can even be transmitted through a shared appellation. The modern people of Cuetzalan in the Sierra de Puebla, for example, still name their children for people outside the family to confirm extrafamilial ties and to transfer the good fortune of unrelated men or women to their infants. In a nuclear family, all the siblings sometimes bear different last names. Some forty years ago, many were named after a mestizo who lived in the town, sold coffee, and was particularly helpful to his Nahua neighbors, and a visiting anthropologist recorded meeting dozens of young boys named José María Flores. Equally, the townsfolk also honored the parish priest with many namesakes "because it is considered good manners whenever possible, to answer the question as to the child's name with fithe same as yours, Padre.'" Nearly every family in town had a child who shared both Christian and surnames with the priest (Ross 1950: 99-100). The inhabitants of Santiago Yancuictlalpan believe that a child must be named for the patron saint of his or her birthday, and that once this is done, the person will be in direct contact with that saint through the medium of the shared name and have access to the support and help of that Holy Personage. If all or part of the ecahuil, the shadow that mediates between the person and the outside world, is lost, it will not return unless the man or woman's name is pronounced by the eurer, and some part of the ecahuil 84


can be passed down to one's descendants through a name (Signorini and Lupo 1989:61-62). Names among Uto-Aztecans and Some Maya People

Beyond the borders of Mexico, Uto-Aztecan speakers also thought names had the power to confer qualities across generations. The traditional Uto-Aztecan Gabrieleños of California believed a name transferred an ancestor's soul to a living member of his lineage. Appellations of the dead were not spoken between cremations and the communal celebrations in honor of the dead, because during the interim, the designation was still not connected to a living being. In the annual communal funerary ritual, children born during the previous year received an available name from the vacant store owned by the father's lineage. After it was attached to a live person, it could be pronounced again (Johnston 1962:49, 52). The prohibition may reflect the power of the name to compel the person to answer to it, and speaking a free-floating name might call back the deceased from the land of the dead, perhaps as an evil ghost. Only after the name was ritually implanted into the flesh of a child could it be uttered safely. The Western Mono of Central California gave names from the father's lineage, so that these were shared with a living grandfather or a father's brothers and sisters. When a namesake died, the child's name could not be spoken until the annual period of mourning had passed. In the meantime, the child received another appellation (Gayton 1948:273). In many areas of the Americas, sharing essence across generations may be reflected in the common indigenous custom of calling old people by terms for young children, and vice versa. Nor is it unusual to use the same kinship terms for people of the same sex in the generations above and below a man or woman, so that the grandson is addressed as grandfather, or a nephew as uncle. These terms may establish a joking relationship while echoing the idea, however attenuated, that a soul can be shared by two people generations apart. An emphasis on naming children for grandparents occurs all the way into South America and carries a sense of urgency about the fertility of the group. The Pará-Paraná, a Barasana group, believe that names must be drawn from a store of patrilineal clan names, and ideally the infant must be 85


called after a grandparent, a great-uncle or great-aunt. One man graphically stated the importance of this custom by saying "if we did not take on our grandfathers' names we would die out like a rotting corpse" (HughJones 1977:188-89). Finally, the Tzutujil Maya of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, identify a soul that is not specifically carried in a name but passed from grandparent to grandchild and that makes a family viable.1 The "fertility" power is called thejaloj-k'exoj. The name comes horn jal, "to change on an individual basis," and k'ex, which refers to the process of generational changes by creating many out of one (Martin Prechtel: personal communication) and to "making the new out of the old" (Carlsen and Prechtel 1991:26). The jalox-k'exoj causes things to multiply and grow, and in the ideal pattern of Tzutujil life, a grandparent will have many grandchildren. The term defines the process of creating a family, and the geometric progression in the numbers of people testify to the vitality of both ancestors and living members (Martin Prechtel: personal communication). The encouragement of abundance is of great concern to the Tzutujil, and indeed to most agricultural people in the Americas. The jalox-k'exoj passes from grandparent to grandchild and, ideally, from male to female and vice versa, although this may not always happen. Everyone has this soul, but it is never passed from parent to child. Each person must receive it from a grandparent and donate it to a grandchild (Martin Prechtel: personal communication). The animating power is intimately connected to a Maya metaphor for the human body as a tree and to the ideal of what constitutes the completion of the adult role and the achievement of maturity (see Carlsen and PrechtePs 1991 article for a more complete discussion of this concept). The human body is analogous to a plant that is rooted in the earth and grows upward, producing fruit, or offspring, from its branches. The seeds fall, and the new plants spring up beneath the old tree. In Tzutujil terms, the grandparent-tree makes children (the branches) who, in turn, are the source of grandchildren, the fruits or flowers (see J. L. Fürst 1977, for a discussion of the birth of the ancient Mixtees of southern Mexico from a maternal tree). Within the organic metaphor, the jalox-k'exoj is the bark of the tree (Martin Prechtel: personal communication). Because individuals inherit their jalox-k'exoj from their grandparents, they must pass it along to their grandchildren. These progeny represent 86


the completion of the adult role and the attainment of full maturity. With their arrival, the man or woman gives to the succeeding generations what he or she has received from the ancestors. The Tzutujil Maya do not consider a man or woman fully grown until he or she has grandchildren. A relatively young person of no more than thirty-five, but with grandchildren, will have greater respect in the community and will find a more willing audience for his or her opinions, than a far older man or woman who has no grandchild to receive his or her jalox-k'ekoj (Martin Prechtel: personal communication). The transference of life force moves the man or woman toward completion because he or she has made the world a fuller, more fertile place, and at the same time, the person has progressed toward a place among the ancestral dead. Further, as grandparent and grandchild share one jalox-k'exoj, people speak of them as equivalent to one another and designate them by the same term. Often, an old person will ask, "Where is my grandchild, my replacement?" (Martin Prechtel: personal communication). Other modern Maya peoples also express beliefs similar to the jaloxk'exoj, but they say the connection between generations is carried through a name. Mondloch (1980:9) describes the Quiche Maya custom of calling a grandchild for a grandparent and defines it as a "social mechanism for replacing the ancestors." It also ensures the continuing earthly existence of some part of the person. Among the Cakquiquel Maya, grandsons are frequently named after grandfathers, and through the shared name, the two are made into one person (Warren 1989:57). Among the ancient Mexica, the tonalli was thus carried in a name, and this life force enhanced children's fates, their energy, and their future. Destiny depended upon the infant's birthdate in the 260-day ritual calendar, but a name donated by a stronger adult, usually a family member, could increase a child's vital powers. The belief in strength shared across generations is maintained by many modern native peoples, and it is usually, though not always, contained in a name. The idea of a common nature and destiny based on a birthday is more than an imaginary association. It evolves from observations of human life. In some cases, people born at the same time actually do share a similar nature. Some twins, who have identical birthdates—and hence, the same name—often have common characters and fates.






C H I L D , A C C O R D I N G TO

Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón, the chronicler of the beliefs of Náhuatl speakers in Guerrero, the female eurer lifted it up over a vessel of water and looked at its reflection (1982:217; 1987:162). Seen in the water's surface was the child's fate or destiny (his or her tonalli), apparently made visible through his or her physical likeness, which was also the tonalli. Tonalli was shared not only in family names but in family resemblance. Children often share features with their parents or siblings, and twins are the clearest examples of people with the same birthdays and likeness. All twins are not alike, however, and according to New World peoples, they share or divide vital power depending upon their origin in the womb. Twins and Twinning

Twins are of two types. Diovular or fraternal twins develop from two different eggs. They are usually different in appearance and may even be of 88


different sexes. Other twins begin from a single ovum, share the same genetic material, and are mirror images of one another. They are described as uniovular or identical. Twins are always more fragile than singletons. Each child is smaller than the average newborn, but together they weigh more and occupy more space in their mother's womb. Because they stretch the mother's uterine muscle and cause it to contract prematurely, twins (whether identical or fraternal) are usually born some two and a half weeks earlier than single infants (Rose 1988:154). Because of their early birth, twins have more health problems than other children. Diovular twins tend to run in families, and these babies have a greater chance of being born with subnormal mental capacities and cerebral palsy. One is often larger and more intelligent than the other, and the smaller twin may die at or soon after birth (A. Smith 1986:197). Uniovular twins, on the other hand, are totally unexpected. They can be born to mothers of any age, either from first or subsequent pregnancies (A. Smith 1986:197), and they share a similar biology, including resistance and susceptibility to disease and to chemical and genetic imbalances. Identical twins' later life experiences are often similar, particularly when they are reared together, and this may also have been the case in ancient Mexico. Sadly, identical twins frequently die within a short time of one another (Rose 1988:154,191), sometimes after birth because of low birthweight and sometimes rather inexplicably in later life. In Western cultures, and perhaps in prehispanic Central Mexico, too, they often do not marry at all (A. Smith 1986:197). Observationally, twins seem to share a life force, and the Mexica said that they divided a tonalli between them. Because each twin lacked a full share of heat, they disturbed the natural world and human activities by drawing off warmth. If they came near a steambath, it would not heat properly, nor would food cook completely in their presence. Even red dye— the color of flushed hot skin (and evidence of the tonalli-as-heat)—would not take correctly. To return the heat they had taken, twins were given the tasks of adding wood to a fire or tossing water on the steambath to release billowing clouds of hot steam. They were charged with putting tamales in the cooking pot and being sure red dye set evenly (López Austin 1969:9395; Códice Carolina 1967:46, 48). Many Uto-Aztecan speakers believed twins possessed superhuman power, and they often attributed twins' similarities to a life force divided 89


between them. The Papago of the borderlands in southern Arizona and northern Mexico, said twins were naturally shamans by birth and had the power to predict the future and to inflict ailments. They had this ability until puberty, when it dissipated unless the twins dreamed that they were to continue as shamans, which many indeed did. The Papago believed that they shared one essence and that when one died, the other was sure to follow (Underbill 1969:158). The Tübatulabal of California agreed, and because twins' deaths caused bad luck for their families, they were treated with greater care than other children (Vogelin 1938:45). Among the Wind River Shoshone, twins were bringers of ill luck, and their families sometimes killed them. The two were so closely linked that they were given the same name, and because they shared one nature, the death of one entailed the death of the other. Worse, one might prosper at the expense of the other (Shimkin 1947:300-301). These beliefs applied to both identical and fraternal twins. Mexica Twins

Stories about diovular siblings occur frequently throughout Native America and all the way into Siberia. In these tales, the younger child is often less important, capable, or virtuous than the elder sibling or is in some way dependent on the older one. In the Popol Vuh (D. Tedlock 1985), the great origin myth of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala, for example, the major protagonists are Hunahpu and Xbalanche, the latter being either the sister or younger twin who functions in a subordinate capacity. The name of the Central Mexican culture hero who brought the ideas and objects necessary for civilized life in the First Times was Quetzalcóatl. The name is a pun in Náhuatl, so that it may mean either "Plumed (or Precious) Serpent" or "Precious Twin." Showing Quetzalcóatl as a plumed serpent may be no more than a convenient, pictorial way of conveying his identity as the "Precious Twin"—an idea which would be otherwise difficult to express. The evangelizing Spanish priests often emphasized the prehispanic QuetzalcóatPs benign aspects and transformed him into a wise, totally pure Christ-like figure as evidence that God had left traces of truth even among the benighted New World pagans. What peeps through these prettied-up descriptions of Quetzalcóatl is that in many contexts, he had a companion with whom he shared his tonalli. Most often Quetzalcóatl was 90


26. The wind god Ehecati, wearing his characteristic truncated peaked cap, buccal mask, fang in the corner of the mouth, black body paint, and shell jewelry. Postclassic Central Mexico or Puebla. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Borgia 1963:19.)

represented with the pointed buccal mask and peaked cap of the wind god (figs. 26 and 27), and in this guise, his most powerful association was with the dreaded Tezcatlipoca, the "Smoking Mirror" (fig. 28). Tezcatlipoca functioned on many levels in Mexica belief. He was something of a trickster, who introduced random and unexpected occurrences into the universe (for the classic study of tricksters, see Radin 1956). Random occurrences may be relatively minor and humorous, like the lemon pie a pompous snob sits in before receiving an award, or they may be catastrophic, like the cancer that sometimes follows the completion of an important project. Sometimes Tezcatlipoca's tricks were amusing, and sometimes they were not so funny. He may also have been the reverse, or "black," sorcerer whose magic caused and sent major and minor misfortunes. On page 35 of the prehispanic Codex Borgia, a manuscript of unknown provenance but that has the appearance of a Central Mexican manuscript, Quetzalcóatl travels with Tezcatlipoca, who also dons the wind god's buccal mask and shell pectoral (fig. 29). Quetzalcóatl was one of the guises adopted by the wind god, but Tezcatlipoca was the reverse "night wind," which suggests that the two share clothing and behave as if they are paired 91

27. 9 Wind breathing the hot winds that wither the plants before the rains come. Postclassic Mixtee, Oaxaca. (Redrawn by the author from Codex VindobonensisW4:21\>.)

28. The spirit of the night wind and trickster Tezcadipoca, "Smoking Mirror," wearing a smoking mirror in his headdress and another in place of his left foot. Postclassic Central Mexico or Puebla. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Borgia 1963:21.)



29. Quetzalcóatl and Tezcatlipoca traveling together, with Tezcatlipoca wearing Quetzalcóatl's attributes, including his cap and buccal mask. Postclassic Central Mexico or Puebla. (Redrawn by the author from Borgia 1963:35).

siblings. Unfortunately, we do not have great legends or folklore detailing the exploits of these two, but in the context of wider Mesoamerican narrative patterns, they may be diovular twins, with the "Precious Twin" the elder brother who grants benefits to humankind and the "Smoking Mirror" the less virtuous younger brother who makes mistakes, plays tricks, causes problems, and makes things happen in the universe. The Tonalli in the Mirror Uniovular twins look alike, but a second image of anyone can be made artificially with a reflection. Mesoamerican native female curers used the calm surface of water in a vessel to create reflections, but a mirror was 93


another, more prestigious device for producing a double of the face and body. The Mexica made mirrors from a variety of shiny materials to focus the rays of the sun, raise smoke, and, at least at lower altitudes, ignite fires (for an excellent discussion of mirrors and bibliography, see Saunders 1988, 1989,1990). Although most Precolumbian mirrors are opaque, and a man or woman can easily see a shadowy reflection in them, these objects also had more important uses than simply encouraging vanity. In fact, people looked into them, not so much to see themselves, as to see what information was hidden within the mirror. Priests employed mirrors for divination, and they believed they could foretell the future by analyzing the patches and shifting colors and shapes they saw. The terrified Motecuhzoma gazed into a similar round disk on the head of the purple gallinule. Some fisherman brought the water bird to him from the coast (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. XIII, 3; 1969:Bk. XIII, 24), and the black patch on the bird's head was identified as a black mirror typically used to foretell death and destruction. Looking into it, the emperor saw the stars go out as strange men arrived on the backs of deer (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. XI, 32-33; 1969:Bk. XI, 244). Thus did the great ruler of the Mexica come to know beforehand that his empire was in grave danger and would fall. At elevations lower than Tenochtitlan, mirrors can be used to cause heat and start fires, and thus, they are able to produce warmth, which is also a property of the tonalli. Their surfaces also reflect the image or face of a person, and the external appearance also embodies tonalli, in the sense of the resemblance passed from one generation to another. Mirrors capture, not the physical entity, but the double of a person, which may be the tonalli as an insubstantial shadow soul (for a discussion of this aspect of the tonalli, see López Austin 1984:1, 236-37; 1988a:I, 216-17). If prehispanic Mesoamerican art is accurate, rulers, noblemen, and priests often wore mirrors in the form of shiny discs on their chests as pectorals (see fig. 25). Anyone to whom they spoke was in danger of having his or her tonalli seized and perhaps even retained or injured during the interview. How could a petitioner lie, or a supplicant exaggerate when faced with the possibility of having his life force seized, manipulated, or even killed? 94


Certainly, too, the possession of such powerful objects divided one class of Mexica from another. Common people had no mirrors, but their lords, rulers, and nobles wore them on their chests. Perhaps the strong vital powers—the tonallis—of the upper-class people gave them the strength to control such supernaturally charged implements. The emperor, his family, and his retainers were indeed made of a different and far more powerful substance than the material that formed the common class of men and women: if it pleased them, they could hold the soul hostage. The tonalli represents the doubling of the person, and sometimes this double is detached as the ephemeral shadow, appears as a fleeting reflection, or exists in the permanent, physical pairing of twins. As the "sign under which one is born," it gives a common fate to people with same birthday, and this shared life is verifiable in the lives and death of uniovular twins. But if the tonalli is a duplicate, the graphic image may also be an example of this vital force. The images of gods and nobles on stone monuments and in screenfold manuscripts present shadowy, insubstantial doubles of deities or ancestors. The dead are identified by calendrical or personal names, which carry and convey the tonalli. Supernaturals, on the other hand, are rarely named; instead they wear specific clothing and accouterments. Their clothes, jewelry, and face and body paint probably also embody their tonallis. In fixing the image of the gods or ancestors, the Mexica may have held and kept available for their own use the spirits' vitalizing power and animating force. The tonalli is birthday, calendrical and personal name, image, and reflection. Shared across generations, the Mexica version may have been analogous to ancestral names that convey and preserve this vital force. Because a name can be passed down through the generations, the tonalli is apparently a recyclable family designation recalling some animating power of deceased ancestors from death and perhaps making it available for the good of the lineage. The Mexica monitored the tonalli by checking on the somatic temperature. They observed its fluctuations and attempted to fortify it to ensure a long and good life. Tonalli is given on birth or bathing day, but the Mexica knew it must be balanced and regulated during one's lifetime. As we shall see in the next chapter, natural history observation and notions of the soul once again intersect. 95




1969, a young woman who had taken an overdose of barbiturates was found on a beach near Liverpool. The local doctor certified her death because the body gave no sign of life for fifteen minutes, even though she was still warm. Later, as the autopsy was about to begin, someone noticed that the woman's eyelid fluttered and a tear appeared. Sophisticated medical equipment revealed that she was still alive, and she eventually recovered (Poison et al. 1985:3-5). Until the corpse has actually cooled, the man or woman may still live, even when no vital signs are apparent to the unaided eye and hand. Clearly, body heat is a better index of life and death than heartbeat or breath. At the beginning of life, the Mexica said, the gods ignited each man or woman's internal warmth. This is a direct and unequivocal identification of the tonalli with body temperature, and the Mexica charted subtle, but perceptible, alterations in inner heat and incorporated their knowledge into 96


beliefs and rituals to increase or stabilize this volatile soul. In particular, they were acutely aware of the need to strengthen body heat at the beginning of life and during adolescence. Human Body Temperature

Even in today's technologically advanced world, countries cannot agree on a single figure for normal adult temperature. In the United States, it is usually given as 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, while the English place the small red arrows on thermometers at 98.4. Continental Europe sets it at 37 degrees Centigrade, just slightly closer to the United States figure (A. Smith 1985:365-66). Despite these variations—and they are only minor, after all—the fragile human body tolerates only extremely small variations for any length of time. Temperature can stray only about 3 degrees from the mid-98 degree area, and if it falls below 90 or rises above 105, it must be raised or lowered quickly, or the person dies (Ibid., 371-72). Body heat varies during one's lifetime, but it also fluctuates during the course of the day. A healthy adult's temperature is often a full degree lower in the morning (A. Smith 1985:366), but its nadir occurs between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. when the sleeper neither requires nor produces energy. At that time, it may fall as low as 97 degrees Fahrenheit (Rose 1988:86). After rising, the temperature elevates during the morning hours as the metabolism increases, but around noon, its rate of increase slows and begins to even off (Weston 1979:31). Temperature is highest sometime around 5:00 to 6:00 P.M., when it may reach 99 degrees Fahrenheit (Rose 1988:86). By 10:00 P.M. it starts to fall, and it continues to decline until the early morning hours (Weston 1979:31). All parts of the body do not have a uniform temperature. If the mouth and groin are normal, the armpit is about 1 degree Fahrenheit cooler, and the anus is a full degree warmer. If the Mexica said the tonalli was drilled into the body and was hot, they were quite correct. Daily exercise also raises temperature, sometimes radically, and it alters the distribution of hot and cold areas. A man who just ran three miles can have a rectal temperature as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but his extremities will be cool because of sweating (A. Smith 1985:366-68). Temperature also fluctuates markedly over a lifetime. At birth, an in97


fant generally has a difficult time regulating its physical functions. Expelled from the warm, secure uterine environment, its temperature plummets some 3 degrees Fahrenheit within an hour after birth, even in the overheated delivery or hospital rooms, where the temperature may reach as high as 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Three hours after parturition, the newhorn's skin feels perceptibly colder, and its temperature may drop as low as 94 degrees, 4.5 degrees below normal (Rose 1988:100; A. Smith 1985:365; Sollars 1990:729). Soon after birth, the mother herself may experience uncontrollable chills and shivering (Kay and Yoder 1987:353). For an infant, recovering a higher temperature takes time and is not particularly easy. Unlike adults, infants cannot shiver or move about to raise their temperatures, and neonates have a high ratio of body surface to weight. They have a more difficult time retaining heat and have few body reserves of fat that can be converted to inner warmth. Without external heat, infants may look healthy and have good color but remain lethargic and refuse to nurse. They may feel cold and fluid may build up in their faces and extremities. The postpartum drop in temperature is so rapid and extreme that it seems as if the neonate will surely die, and in some rare cases, infants do perish from hypothermia. Their one defense is to cry vigorously. This insistent, distressing, and otherwise inexplicable activity helps to stimulate the infant's metabolism (Rose 1988:100; A. Smith 1985: 365; Sollars 1990:729). Most children are born when their mother's temperatures are lowest. Labor often begins soon after midnight, and most babies arrive in the small hours of the morning, usually around four, when an adult's temperature is at its lowest point. These newborns are usually healthier and live in greater percentages. Conversely, the fewest infants appear in the late afternoon, when adult temperatures reach their peak, and they die or are stillborn in greater numbers (Rose 1988:100). The lowest mortality rate occurs among babies born around midnight (Weston 1979:40-41), as maternal temperatures are falling toward the lowest point. The postpartum temperature decline turns around quickly, and during the first year of life, an infant's temperature climbs to a range between 99.4 and 99*7 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly warmer than its parents. By five, it drops once again and a child's normal temperature remains below adult normal during the next ten years or so. By thirteen, young adolescents may 98


register as low as 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Girl's temperatures are first to stabilize, usually at about fourteen; boys achieve and maintain adult ranges later, at about eighteen (A. Smith 1985:368). During adulthood, from twenty to seventy-five, the temperature drops about 1.5 to 2 degrees (Dixon 1986:208; A. Smith 1986:316-17). Both the old and the young have temperatures that are below adult normal. Old people often complain of feeling cold, and indeed, they are physically cooler and have greater difficulty maintaining the higher temperature associated with the prime of life. Their inner heat may even fall below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, if the surrounding air is near or below the freezing point (A. Smith 1986:369). The Tonalli and Ceremonies of Birth

Beliefs about the tonalli reflect natural cycles of heat and mortality in childbirth. More children die when their mothers' temperatures are highest, fewest when lowest. The onset of labor most often coincides with low maternal body temperature in the early morning; the mother appears to contribute more of her heat to the neonate, increasing its chances of survival. When she contains the greatest tonalli, sometime during the late afternoon, her infant has a weaker life force and is more apt to die, as if she keeps the heat for herself or draws it from the baby. Contrary to the popular folklore that sap rises in the spring among people as well as plants, human sexual appetites are actually lowest in the spring. Perhaps responding to some ancient cycle, people have more frequent intercourse late in the summer months and more children are born in the summer and early fall, when food supplies would have been most abundant. In the northern hemisphere, premature births and stillbirths are common in April and May (Weston 1979:41-42). More children arrive in late summer or early fall, when the heat of the sun is the strongest. The sun supplies warmth (or tonalli), and more of these summer and fall infants do actually live than those born in the spring, when the sun has returned but before the sun's warmth has heated the air and the earth and added to the woman or baby's inner fire. Lowered body temperatures of newborns apparently also motivated many Mexica neonatal customs. Early colonial records concerning post99


partum practices are more complete than those for other stages of life, perhaps because the rituals themselves were more elaborate as people attempted to reduce substantial neonate mortality rates. Or perhaps the Franciscan and Dominican friars recorded these rites because they were looking for ceremonies competing with, or parallel to, baptism. Whatever the reason, the evangelizing priests documented the rituals to ensure the newborn's health. Soon after the birth, the midwife placed the baby near a fire, and kept a torch burning for four days. This flame could not be used for any practical purpose, and people were prohibited from lighting any substance from it. To do so would be to "take renown from the child who had been born" (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. IV, 111). In Sahagun's Spanish text, the taboo prevents the loss of the infant's good fortune (1969 :Bk. IV, 361; "la buena ventura"). After four days, the midwife bathed the newborn. Sahagún writes almost reverently of this ritual, and clearly, its similarity to the Christian rite appealed to him. Not only did the Catholic Church use water to anoint the infant, but frequently, the godparents lit, held, and kept burning a large candle during the rite. Any Spanish Christian could easily visualize the Mexica ceremony as a vestige of truth left by God—one of his footprints—in the ideology of the New World pagans. Nevertheless, Central Mexican bathing of newborns had a very different meaning from its Old World counterpart. On a practical level, the torch increased the neonate's tonalli, which indeed dropped startlingly—almost 5 degrees within a few hours after birth. The custom of placing the baby near a fire is poetic, but it is also based upon solid observation of normal, clearly perceptible fluctuations of body temperature. The bathing ceremony also added and exchanged elements that carried and strengthened the tonalli. During the ritual, the fire augmented or maintained the tonalli-as-temperature at a high level, but the infant also received and was fortified by a calendrical name, either for its date of birth, or if that were too dismal,for the more favorable date of the bathing. Once the name was given to the child, the fire could be extinguished because the child carried the additional tonalli of his or her name, and with it, a character and destiny. Although many prehispanic medical practices no longer exist, human physiology has not changed and a number of indigenous people continue too


to raise the body temperatures of new mothers and neonates in the sweatbath, or temascal. Modern Nahua and Uto-Aztecan people also find the infant's rapidly disappearing body heat as distressing as did their ancestors. Body Heat among Náhuatl and Uto-Aztecan Speakers

The Tecospans, Nahua villagers who live near Milpa Alta, say adults normally have temperate bodies between the extremes of hot and cold. When a woman becomes pregnant, however, she becomes very cold because the fetus draws her heat into it. To keep her warm, the midwife massages her with special oil believed to have the power to raise her internal heat (W. Madsen 1960:165-66). The Tecsopans also postulate a complex relationship between a soul and external heat, although the story has been heavily overlaid with Christian symbolism and rationalization. They ignite a fire in the birthing room and describe a battle between God and the Devil that takes place in those flames. During labor, the two forces fight for the infant's soul, or shadow, an entity cognate to the tonalli even if it is not so named. If God wins, the child will have a good shadow, a "sombra buena," to ensure success in this life and in the next one because a second soul, the spirit or "espíritu," will win a place in heaven. Should the Devil be victorious, the newborn will have a heavy shadow, a "sombra pesada," and will fail in earthly endeavors and be condemned to hell (W. Madsen 1960:78-79). Here, the fire remains in the room with the child, although its use in augmenting the internal heat is forgotten in favor of a more Christianized interpretation. Other Náhuatl speakers associate flames more specifically with the tonalli, however. The Nahuas of Tepoztlan, Morelos, some sixty miles south of Mexico City, also massage the expectant woman before birth, but they say that it is to warm the child in utero rather than the mother. After birth, the newborn is taken briefly into the temascal to increase its internal heat, but the midwife and mother must be careful because the baby still has a weak tonalli, or shadow, and too much external heat may do it harm. During the forty-day recovery from childbirth, the mother increases her tonalli by making frequent visits to the sweat lodge, and for a full three months, she warms the child's clothes by the hearth fire before putting them on the child (Lewis 1960:70-71), presumably to be sure the infant's heat is prop101


erly maintained. The mother bathes the infant at midday, when the sun's rays are strongest, and wraps the baby in blankets. Sometimes she rubs its body with alcohol to heat it (Redfield 1930:139). In the town of Aria in the Sierra de Puebla, a midwife is called into the pregnancy relatively late, but one of her main roles is overseeing the heating of mother and child in the temascal after birth. Every third day for fifteen days, she accompanies the mother into the sweatbath. The two women also take the newborn with them, but for a shorter time because of its fragile nature (Montoya Briones 1964:103). The Uto-Aztecan speaking Luiseño of southern California set the neonate next to a fire soon after birth (Sparkman 1908:214), while the Northern and Gosiute Shoshone warmed the ground for delivery and used hot stones to heat the mother at this time (Steward 1945:340). Among the Paiutes, the postpartum ritual control of heat extended to the father as well as to the mother. The mother was placed in a heated pit (Stewart 1942:304), and the mother and child lay down on a bed made over heated rocks, while the father had to take a cold bath the next day (Holt 1992:17), so as not to draw off the heat from his family. The Rarámuri (Tarahumara) of southern Chihuahua selected the sun to warm a newborn. They exposed infants three or four days old to the sun for an hour during the time their mothers first went to bathe after delivery. The child was left in the sun so that "he [the sun] may recognize his newly-born son," and the local shaman, or eurer, then carried the baby three times over the smoke of a fire made from corn cobs and branches to ensure the ability and success of future agricultural pursuits. He also presented the neonate to each of the four directions. Finally, the eurer grasped a torch while he signed three crosses on the child's forehead if a boy and four if a girl (Lumholtz 1894:298). The Mexica and many other indigenous New World people observed changes in body heat soon after birth, and probably knew from experience or hearsay of instances in which a child remained cold, failed to thrive, and died. To avert the catastrophe, they placed the baby on, in, near, or next to a source of heat—warmed stones, a fire, the sun, or a sweat lodge. This is a sensible, logical response to a universal biological event. Indeed, in our own culture, babies are dressed and bundled at all times, even in the middle of summer, to be sure their body heat remains high enough to keep them warm. North Americans, too, watch out for their children's tonallis. 102




for the entire life and consistently tried to stoke the inner fire when it was low. Diminished heat is associated, not just with the immediate postnatal period, but with most of childhood, and especially with the time just before puberty. The Spanish chroniclers describe no lengthy puberty rites for young women, a rather surprising omission, given the elaborate rituals consistently celebrated among the northern Uto-Aztecan speakers. Many peoples in northern Mexico and the western United States marked first menstruation by heating the young woman, or conversely, by ensuring that she avoided warmth so as not to disturb her delicate internal balance. The Southern Utes (Gifford 1941:83) and Paiutes (Stewart 1941:442) warmed her at this time, while among the Nevada Shoshones and most California Uto-Aztecans, the teenager lay on heated ground (Steward 1941:255) or in a specially excavated pit with hot rocks for the rite (Driver 1942:34103


35; DuBois 1908:94-96). The Hopi of the town of Walpi placed warmed stones on a girl's abdomen at first menstruation (Gifford 1941:83). Youth and Sexual Abstinence

Indirect evidence of Mexica puberty rites exists in the formal, public, and highly ritualized instruction given to the young people about their current and forthcoming adult responsibilities. If these rhetorical occasions were part of puberty celebrations, the Spanish friars have not clearly said so. Young boys, as much as girls, were the focus of these formal events but then, the European clerics might have been uncomfortable discussing coming-of-age ceremonies associated with first menstruations, if, indeed, the Mexica marked the event. Nor might the priests have been particularly interested in rites without a close parallel in European liturgical practices. Indeed, the women themselves might have been hesitant to discuss intimate physical details with the foreign men. Mexica women's reproductive issues seem to have been primarily handled by midwives, even after the Conquest (which undoubtedly made their ritual aspects difficult to eradicate). Further, to spare the Spanish audience a disquieting hint of impending sexuality, the friars might well have focussed these rites less on specific biological signs of adulthood than on the elegant rhetorical style of the speeches delivered to the maturing young. Apparently as the Mexica boy grew older, the family instructed him in proper behavior and comportment, particularly in regard to curbing his sexual appetite. This advice reflects ideas about the tonalli, temperature, life force, and health in addition to reflecting Spanish prudery and approval of sexual restraint (for discussions of the life cycle and sexuality, see López Austin 1984:1, 243-44; 1988a:I, 222). According to Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, the adolescent was told not to begin sexual intercourse too early or outside marriage. In a vivid image, the youth was urged "not to ruin thyself impetuously; thou art not to devour, to gulp down carnal life as if thou wert a dog" (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 116; "no te arrojes a la mujer como el perro se arroja a lo que de comer, no te hagas a manera de perro en comer y tragar lo que le dan, dándote a las mujeres antes de tiempo"; 1969:Bk. VI, 145). More than his female counterpart who stayed at home and was more carefully watched, the 104


young Mexica male was warned that it would disrupt and stunt his proper growth. Early intercourse carried a physical penalty apparent to everyone, because at the very least, early sex wasted his animating force and made him short and slight. This explanation undoubtedly made life difficult for people who were genetically of small or delicate stature. Most boys and young men are, in fact, thin. If premature intercourse expended the youth's vital force, it was evidently impossible at this stage of life to restore vital powers by standing in or near a heat source. Even worse, the tonalli remaining in the body was so debilitated that it was unable to sustain his life for its normal span. Early sexual activity was detectable, the lad was told, because his tongue turned white, his mouth swelled, and his nose dripped pale mucus. His color drained and he coughed. Then he lost too much weight, grew weak, and wrinkled as if old. The Mexica warned that he would only become "a tuft of hair," before dying soon after (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 117; 1969 :Bk. VI, 145). These harrowing consequences sound very much like the results of venereal disease contracted during unsanctioned intercourse, and the description was clearly aimed at terrifying the young man out of beginning an early or promiscuous sex life. The stunted life force is not specifically identified as tonalli, but several features of the dire prediction suggest that this is the entity damaged by early sexuality. First, the maltreatment of the life force caused changes in the quality of the breath, and the poor young man began to cough. The tonalli is the breath, and abuse of the tonalli could be manifest in breathing abnormalities. The yolia can also be respiration, but the youth's debility was also associated with rapid aging, a state more likely caused by loss of the fluctuating tonalli rather than of the yolia (see Chapters 15 and 16). In addition, all that would remain of him was a "tuft of hair," but since the tonalli is carried in the hair, the phrase may indicate that the adolescent's animating power would become a small, insignificant fragment usually kept by the family after death (see Chapter 17). Finally, both modern Náhuatl speakers, as well as other people in Mesoamerica, often say that the tonalli, or some equivalent, escapes during sexual intercourse, suggesting a continuity in belief from ancient times to the present. Any sexual intercourse depleted the tonalli, but the life force was especially consumed by intercourse with prostitutes, particularly if the young 105


man took or was given aphrodisiacs to increase his performance. These potions were often derived from snakes, the ultimate phallic symbols, but although they were considered pleasurable, they depleted blood and color. Because the tonalli was also carried in the blood and could be seen in the flushing of the face as the result of increased heat, illicit sexuality damaged it (see Chapter 17). Aphrodisiacs also expended the tonalli quickly because a man desired several women and had multiple orgasms. Rather than being beneficial, it diminished his life force and caused premature death (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 125-26; 1969:Bk. VI, 151). Stages of Life and the Tonalli

Sahagun does not specify the age at which these lectures were delivered to the maturing offspring, but perhaps the Mexica identified a specific time of life as a buffer in which the tonalli could be strengthened before its lifelong depletion in procreation. Sahagun lists life's stages as infancy and early childhood, childhood, boyhood and girlhood, youth, maturity, and old age (1950-1982 :Bk. X, 11-14). Although the friar does not give much information about each level, he says that the youth and the maiden were both chaste and that the maiden was particularly careful of her virtue. This sounds much like the age before marriage, toward the end of adolescence, when body temperature is in the process of climbing to the adult high, and hence, when the young should be lectured and their tonallis guarded (for an excellent analysis of ancient stages of life, see López Austin 1984:1,31855; 1988a:I, 283-312). Modern Nahuas still consider early adolescence as a time of stirring sexual interest before sexual activity can properly begin. Like the ancient Mexica, the villagers of Atla in the Sierra de Puebla say that a normal life cyle consists of six stages: infant, or cunetl, from birth to 2 or 3 childhood, orpiltontli, up to 12 or 13 youngster, or telpochtontli, from 13 or 14 to 16 or 17 youth, or telpochtli, from 17 or 18 to 22 or 23 adult, or tläcatl, from 23 or 24 to 50 or 60, and old age, or tectli, older than 50 or 60 At the second stage, children begin to learn what they will need to know 106


about work, but only at the next level does the young person become sexually aroused. A few marry at this extremely young age, but some young men begin to have intercourse with older married women or widows. More typically, in the next stage, young men and women marry and begin to assume adult responsibilities (Montoya Briones 1964:104- 107). In Atla, the stage called youngster overlaps with the period when body temperature is lowest. The ancient Mexica delivered their warnings about the dangers of sexual intercourse to young people during their middle teenage years. Since most teenagers are still a few years away from being able to marry, the fear of not attaining sufficient tonalli-as-temperature to carry them into and through adulthood is quite logical. Because intercourse expended warmth, people with little heat should defer the sex act until they achieved the higher level of internal warmth that would sustain them as they aged. The Mexica prohibition against premarital sex was certainly not exclusively a response to a low body temperature, and many other factors entered into Mexica insistence on deferral of intercourse to a more appropriate time. Nevertheless, the Central Mexicans seem to have been clearly aware of alterations of body heat, and wherever possible, guarded against its further loss, especially when a lower range was a normal, observable phenomenon associated with the end of childhood. Early sexuality reduced the tonalli and shortened lifespan, but even during his mature years, a boy was advised to be moderate. Too frequent intercourse could also sap a man's strength and kill him (Sahagun 1950-1982: Bk. VI, 117-18; 1969:Bk. VI, 146). The Mexica explained the common loss of sexual appetite associated with age as the premature expenditure of this life force. If a man began his sexual life too early, he would reach old age with few desires, while women, who generally waited until marriage for intercourse, continued to experience sexual passion longer than their mates. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún recounts a brief story about aged women seeking out younger partners. According to this account, during the reign of Nezhualcoyotzin, two old women were arrested and imprisoned for adultery. Their partners were young priests. Eventually, they were brought before the monarch who asked them if they were not finally finished with sexuality at their advanced ages. They told him that men, and not women, 107


deplete their sexual energy (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 118-19). Their response in the Spanish text is more specific. The old ladies say that "You men cease, being old, to wish carnal pleasure, for having had it frequently in youth, because it ends potency and human seed" ("Vosotros los hombres cesáis de viejos de querer la deleitación carnal, por haber frecuentándola en la juventud, porque se acaba la potencia y la simiente humana"; 1969 :Bk. VI, 146). Perhaps, the Mexica also believed that women kept their tonallis stronger for a longer time because aging females often feel the heat in their bodies revive at menopause in the form of so-called hot flashes. As her body temperature declines, a woman frequently becomes acutely aware of her inner fire. In any case, the Mexica were acute observers of human physiology, and their medical ideas reveal their knowledge of natural fluctuations in temperature. They attempted to insure that the infant, whose heat has dropped suddenly and without apparent cause, had sufficient warmth to live. They fortified its small body with a warm room and exposure to a fire or the sun. When girls and boys reached the end of childhood, they experienced another point of low temperatures. The Mexica apparently identified the cause of this depletion as premature youthful intercourse. The sexual act certainly requires exertion, particularly among the young, and the Mexica considered the body heat it generated an unnecessary expenditure of the life force. Moreover, acts which made the flesh sweat also chill the body afterwards, so that not only was the tonalli wasted, the person later felt a temperature drop, suggesting that a good part of the tonalli had indeed been lost. But if a youth were to guard his life force, he could look forward to a long sexual life and strong vital power. Old age is, in fact, the last time when body temperature declines, and it is the only time that the loss of heat cannot ultimately be reversed. However well a man or woman cares for the body, eventually warmth and life disappear. The Mexica probably observed the natural diminution of heat as well and attributed great significance to it as the final loss of the soul.





the Mexica believed the tonalli was only loosely attached to the body and could easily become detached at times of stress and disease. For the Central Mexicans, body and soul were not permanently connected even in life, and they ascribed some mental and physical states to the loss of this vital power. Soul loss is, in fact, not simply an abstract explanation for illness and debility; instead it represents the grouping of real physical ailments with similar symptoms, all using as their paradigm the disappearance of body warmth toward the end of life. Once again, natural history and ideology intersect and are one and the same. First, we must explore how soul loss manifests itself in ancient and modern ailments and then examine the physical processes of aging and dying. 1O9


Soul Loss among the Mexica

In the Florentine Codex, Sahagun recounts a story in which the legendary Toltec ruler Quetzalcóatl was tempted to drink pulque, a mildly intoxicating alcoholic beverage fermented from the sap of the maguey, or century plant. A sinister old man wished to ruin the mighty king by making him drunk, so that Quetzalcóatl would disgrace himself. The Mexica, it should be added, had strong prohibitions against drunkenness in men of military service age and in women of childbearing age, and in this tale, they ascribed the same abhorrence to their Tbltec ancestors. In any case, when Quetzalcóatl refused to indulge, the old man urged him to "only put a little on your forehead. Your tonalli will be in need of it. Please try a little (López Austin 1984:1, 235; 1988a:I, 215).1 Here, the tonalli is the ruler's life force and perhaps his mind, volition, or judgment, which he is induced to set aside despite the social prohibition against imbibing. In life, the desire for food, sleep, or sex often appears to operate independently of, and sometimes even in opposition to, expected behavior or social norm, and some modern Nahua people hold the tonalli responsible for willful or antisocial behavior. The passage also suggests the tonalli is lodged, or perceived, in the head. Sahagun confirms this location in a Náhuatl adage that began "I protect thy hair, thy head." The person who quoted this saying reminded his or her companion that "[I do this] in order thus to admonish thee, to take care of thy honor so that nothing may defame it, so that no affliction may befall thee" (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 241). The Náhuatl adage itself contains no specific mention of the head, but the accompanying explanatory text in Spanish says the individual being warned should "take care that no one stops over your head, being asleep. This metaphor is to say: zeal, and defending your honor so that no affliction may befall thee" ("Defiendo que nadie pase por sobre tu cabeza, estando durmiendo. Por metáfora quiere decir: celo, y defiendo tu honra para que nadie la perjudique"). Thus, the tonalli was contained in the head and was associated with the name or reputation. It was also particularly vulnerable during sleep. Among the Mexicans colonial descendants, the word cochitlehualiztli ("en sueño," or sleeping) actually signifies soul loss while asleep (López Austin 1984:1, 246; 1988a: I, 224; "el levantamiento cuando se está dormido"). The Mexica also said that people were especially vulnerable during 110


intercourse. If a man and woman began their lovemaking and were frightened in the act, even a married couple entitled to sex, their animating forces could be driven from the body. The man began coughing, and his body discolored and turned black. He wrinkled, aged, and died within four years, unless a plant cure was applied (Sahagún 1950-1982 :Bk. XI, 183; 1969 :Bk. XI, 321-22). Because the adult tonalli was retrievable and could be strengthened, the proper medicine could remedy this loss of soul (see Ortiz de Montellano 1990:217-18, for a discussion of curing problems of the tonalli with plants). Soul Loss among Modern Náhuatl Speakers

For the ancient Mexica, loss of the tonalli occurred in normal, if not always ideal, activities like drunkenness, fright, and sexual intercourse. Modern people often agree that the tonalli has a will of its own and escapes the body before death. The Nahuas of Xacalapan, Puebla, say the tonalli follows its desires whatever they may be, and a person who is behaving in socially unacceptable ways may not be entirely responsible for his or her behavior. Of illicit desires, one indigenous man adds that "when a man will go into (live with) his cousin or his comadre or his aunt or his niece, in that case they will say 'There goes his tonal (apparition)/ He can change, whenever he wishes" (McKinley 1963:165). Some people also believe the tonalli is a conscious, logically thinking entity that travels during sleep and may be lost at that time. In Atla in the northern Sierra de Puebla, a human being consists of a body and a soul, or tonalli. During sleep, the tonalli leaves its flesh and may journey to the Otherworld. If it is not the person's time to die, the tonalli comes back and reenters the body, and the man or woman becomes conscious again (Montoya Briones 1964:165). In Amatlán in northern Veracruz, the adventures of the wandering tonalli account for dreams (Sandstrom 1991:258). According to the villagers of Pajapan, the tonalli withdraws from its locations in the joints and travels during dreams when it may be captured and held prisoner by the earth (Reyes Garcia 1976:132). The tonalli's absence may also be apparent when a person losses consciousness or coherence. The people of Ada say that when it inhabits the body, the person is conscious and when it leaves, he or she is not (Montoya 111


Briones 1964:165). The tonalli may also be lost due to extraordinary circumstances, most often because of a surprising or fearful occurrence. In Xacalapan, Puebla, people still say the soul, or tonalli, flees the body after a fright. If it does not return within a week or two, the person becomes tired, wishes to sleep, and feels slightly warm because the balance of his heat has been disturbed (Robinson 1961:349-353). The Nahuas of Amatlán, Veracruz, also ascribe heat to the tonalli and say that it comes indirectly from the sun through the corn they eat. At night, it wanders during sleep and its journeys are dreams. In this village, the tonalli is not a single entity but is instead segmented into seven parts scattered throughout the body that act in concert. Together, they make a man or woman healthy and vigorous and provide his or her personality and consciousness. A person's vital energy may fall to a low point due to a variety of causes, including an episode in which he or she is frightened (like stumbling and falling), a neighbor's cruel gossip, a failed obligation to a spirit, or sorcery. Then, evil wind spirits, the aires, enter the body and inflict illness (see Chapters 19 through 23). If the tonalli's life force is too low, it departs forever, and the dead body grows cold (Sandstrom 1991: 258-59,302). In San Francisco Tecospa, people say that miniature rain spirits can snatch the soul from the body, causing the person to lose consciousness and fall. In that community, the dwarves may kidnap a man's soul and conduct it to the underworld and back to the body. Then he becomes a shaman. Afterwards, the spirits may chasten him with fainting or unconscious spells. Ghosts of the dead may also terrify the living sufficiently to cause the soul to leave the body; people who are inebriated seem particularly susceptible to these malignant wandering spirits (W. Madsen 1960:181-89). Retained in the body, the tonalli provides consciousness and personality, and it has a will of its own. It escapes the flesh in a dream, fright, or through the malevolent actions of men or spirits. Soul loss, whether ancient or modern, is known by states in which the person suffers slowed, impaired, or complete loss of consciousness, usually from extreme emotions, fear, or drunkenness. Often anti-social acts, staggering, and falling accompany the loss of awareness. If a eurer cannot recover and re-implant the errant life force, the person declines and eventually dies. The tonalli's absence is felt 112


as fluctuations in internal temperature. The decline of heat, as well as these other symptoms, are naturally part of the aging and death of the body. Aging in the Life Cycle

According to the sixteenth-century chronicler of the Conquest, Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, in his Crónica de Nueva España (1914:1, 59), the Mexica believed advancing age could bring a stronger and increased tonalli, particularly in people who completed one full cycle of fifty-two years. Their longevity was clear evidence of their vital force, and for people leading the hard life of farmers who were exposed to the harsh weather, disease, and famines, reaching fifty-two years was an achievement. Moreover, that age corresponded to the completion of a cosmic era. The Mexica measured years in cycles or "bundles" of fifty-two years and at the end of that time, they extinguished and relit their fires, began the year count at the Year 2 Reed once again, and performed ceremonies to revitalize the physical world. Perhaps on a smaller level, living to the age of fifty-two and then beyond suggested that the person had similarly been reheated with an interior fire, or tonalli, and was thus renewed, in harmony with the greater rhythms of the universe. Like many native American societies, the Central Mexicans respected age. Sahagun writes that the good old man was an experienced worker who offered advice, counsel, and reprimands. He related ancient stories and their wisdom, and he lived an exemplary life. His female counterpart remained in the house and saw to the household's proper functioning (19501982 :Bk. X, 11; 1969 :Bk. X, 106). Of course, the old were also sometimes wicked, contemptible, and thoroughly disreputable, but these were the exceptions. In many modern villages, people continue to honor and admire their elders. In the Nahuatl-speaking town of Atla, for example, ancient men and women settle domestic and public disputes and give advice. They call aged men who have passed through the cargo system (the elaborate graded and ranked offices through which public and ecclesiastical work is done) the "pasados" or "the ones who have passed," a term that almost sounds as if these community servants have gone beyond normal roles and are nearly 113


"antepasados" or ancestors. The "pasados" make the major decisions on behalf of their town (Montoya Briones 1964:106-7). On the other hand, many other indigenous peoples, particularly in North America, fear unusually aged people, especially if they are curers and have trafficked with spirits for decades. Even if their acquired knowledge is not specifically evil, it is dangerous simply because concentrations of supernaturally acquired force are inherently perilous and may harm people of lesser strength without the eurer even willing that to happen. The Náhuatl speakers of Veracruz, for example, reflect something of this belief when they say a man becomes more powerful as he grows older and can harm children if they are near them (García de León 1969:284). Perhaps theMexica also held similar ideas about the extremely aged. Cervantes de Salazar (1914:1, 59) wrote that a person who completed a second cycle, and lived to the more than ripe, and probably downright gamy age of 104 years, passed beyond human character and became a creature of another order. Such a person was essentially a wild beast and was greatly feared.2 In other words, the very old may have transformed from human shapes into the forms of their animal alter egos, called nahuallis^ and they were no longer bound by the rules of human society. Instead, they were dangerous. Of course, most people never reached this advanced age, but died earlier as their tonallis lost vitality. Aging, Natural Death, and Soul Loss

For most normal human beings, body temperature drops noticeably in later years, sometimes by as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit at age seventy (Dixon 1986:208; A. Smith 1986:316-17). Often the old complain of feeling cold, even in extreme heat. Many elderly people experience confusion, withdrawal and motor problems, and these are sometimes due, not specifically to aging or to disease, but to hypothermia, in which the body's core is dangerous chilled (Sollars 1990:728-29). As the person's temperature drops, he or she may become disoriented, behave in unsociable ways, or fall. Other common physical problems associated with advancing years include difficulties with breathing, sleep disturbances, dizziness and loss of consciousness, confusion, disorientation, and inappropriate social behavior. 114


The elderly often have difficulty breathing. The normally flexible chest wall grows more rigid with age and may prevent deep and relaxed breathing, and the stooped posture of old age further compresses the lungs. The elderly also have increased incidence of heart disease, which may cause shortness of breath and painful or labored breathing (Thompson 1986:97). Even after a lifetime of regular hours and deep sleep, the aged often suffer from insomnia. After seventy, a person may require about twentyfive minutes to fall asleep, and the actual periods of repose are shorter and more disturbed. The elderly may wake during the night, even if they have exercised during the day and even if they are tired. They may not sleep fewer hours but may instead alter their times of rest, dozing or napping in short stretches during the day. Sometimes painful chronic conditions interrupt sleep, causing chronic fatigue and making it difficult for the person to be alert during the day (Thompson 1986:32-34). Nearly half of the aged experience bouts of dizziness and falling. These symptoms frequently have roots in inner ear disturbances or circulatory difficulties that either restrict the flow of blood to the brain or that cause sudden alterations in heartbeat or blood pressure (Thompson 1986:3839). Many become dizzy or lose consciousness when rising from a lying or seated position when the amount of blood reaching the brain is lowered (Ibid, 75). Some elderly people suffer confusion and disorientation. At the very least, the aged often find sorting out sights and sounds more difficult, particularly at dusk or at night. Above the age of eighty, 20 percent suffer from some dementia characterized by memory lapses, failure to recognize family and friends, difficulties with speech, including repetitions of words or phrases, and inappropriate behavior such as striking out at people, nocturnal disturbances, and odd actions. Some of these symptoms are due not to organic causes but to depression. This clinical condition may cause the elder to have difficulty remembering or concentrating, to lose interest in hobbies, to sleep intermittently, especially in the early morning hours, to become restless and agitated, and to express feelings of emptiness and hopelessness (Ibid, 93-97). No matter how vigorous an elderly person may appear, the life force eventually declines and escapes the body. There is no such thing as a standard death, any more than there is an immutable progress to the grave, 115


and people die in disparate ways and with varying degrees of comfort and acceptance. Despite significant individual differences, some common signs frequently precede a person's death, particularly if that individual has been ill for a considerable time. The elderly who have experienced a failure of brain and central nervous activity may have become confused and lethargic. A strong stimulus may be needed to gain their attention, and their awareness may consist of only reflexive, purposeless or defensive motions in response. In a semicoma, pain may induce a response, while in a complete coma, the person may not react at all. People approaching the final stages of life often withdraw from most human contacts and become very quiet, sleeping a great deal and declining in vitality and energy. At some point, the person may stop eating. Most people die while in a coma, and the passing is often a gentle transition in sleep (Carroll 1985:110-12). When the person finally dies, and often sometime before, the heat of the body—one of the clearest vital signs—disappears. The normal diminishing temperature and other effects of growing older are the attributes of soul loss described by ancient and modern Náhuatl speakers. Perhaps the normal slow decline in health during aging was taken as evidence of the draining or weakening of the vital force, or tonalli. With advancing age, the breath, also a manifestation of the tonalli or the yolia, is experienced with more difficulty, discomfort, and pain, until it falters and leaves the body entirely. Because the tonalli manifests itself in dreams, disturbances in sleep may be taken as evidence of a troublesome, wandering, or declining soul. The confusion, lack of concentration, fainting, and antisocial behavior of the old are also symptoms of soul loss. In observational terms, as the tonalli-as-heat diminishes, the tonalli-as-vital force also drops. A death from old age is less an event than the final phase of this process. The Mexica and many modern Nahuas have identified the tonalli's departure as the cause of illnesses with the same general and observable symptoms as death and dying, even when the ailments afflict younger people and have different organic causes. Aging and natural death form the paradigm for the pathology of soul loss. The symptoms of natural decline are also the signs that accompany any external lowering of body temperature. Indeed, the incoherence, dizzi116


ness, and fatigue of old age are often due to hypothermia in which the body's core reaches dangerously low temperatures. The same lowering of temperature can occur in the high and remote places around the Central Valley, where the wind blows cold and a soul in its prime of life is most likely to be kidnapped and held by hostile powers and spirits.





to detach from the body. While thus detached, it may be kidnapped by the dreaded aires, or winds, identified in Náhuatl as the ¿became (singular ehecatl or ejecatl). Once captured, the soul may never be returned, and the person may waste away and die. Modern ethnography tells us this happens most frequently in high, remote country. Soul Loss at High Altitudes The modern Nahuas of Atla in the Sierra de Puebla believe the roving tonalli can be attacked and injured while one is traveling. The villagers of Maxela, Guerrero, on the road to Acapulco between Iguala and Mezcala, assert that after a fright, a eurer must to go to the remote place where the soul escaped and ask the feared aires to release it (Weitlaner 1961:73). The Náhuatl speakers of Tlamacazapa, Guerrero, just south of the silver118


working city of Taxco, think the soul is most likely to be frightened by seeing serpents, drunks, and spirits of the dead in the countryside or hills (Ibid., 85). In Tlamacazapa and other Guerrero towns, curers pray for the lost soul to be returned to the spirits of peaks, mountaintops, and caves providing entrance into the earth, called the "seres del cerro," "seres de la peña" or the "Espíritu del cerro, de esta cueva" (Ibid., 86, 312). In the mountains, a traveler was most likely to experience hypothermia, or the chilling of the core of the body and the depression of its temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or below. A mild case of hypothermia (a temperature of about 92 degrees) is characterized by shivering, confusion, and lethargy combined with combative behavior. The person may attempt to undress because the body's perception of its temperature is skewed and he or she may feel hot rather than cold. At this stage, the heart may manifest minor, temporary irregularities in rate and rhythm (Sollars 1990:731-32). Around 90 degrees, the person becomes disoriented and giddy, has impaired vision, and staggers as if inebriated (A. Smith 1985:369). Temperatures in the range from 90 to 87 degrees indicate serious hypothermia. The sufferer is in danger of dying, and even the simplest inept intervention, such as moving the victim, may result in death. The person becomes rigid, enters and remains in a coma, has an irregular heartbeat that may no longer be strong enough to be felt at the pulse points. Below 87 degrees, the person seems to be dead and shows no vital signs. As the body cools, its metabolic processes also slow, and a man or woman who appears to be dead may sometimes be revived and recover (Sollars 1990:727-32). The Mexica did not live in a cold northern climate, but the usually mild weather of Central Mexico can and does turn extremely chilly on occasion. The area sometimes experiences hard frosts, but more important, the capital city of Tenochtitlan floated in the center of a vast lake. In the winter, humidity can make a damp area feel extremely cold. Water is twenty-six times more efficient in cooling the body than is the air (Sollars 1990:722), and any accident that includes falling into the water may well lead to some degree of hypothermia (Hirvonen 1977:758), even in much warmer temperatures. The Mexica conducted much of their business on the lake, and people were swamped by fierce storms, or whirlpools suddenly opened up to overturn boats (in an earthquake zone, the ground is unstable). If they drank too much, they might also grow careless, capsize, and fall overboard. 119


Under these conditions, the very young or old, the helpless or ill suffered from exposure in Central Mexico, and exposure mimics the symptoms of soul loss. Hypothermia is not confined to subzero temperatures, and some people suffer from it because too much physical exertion has depleted their bodies' reserves (Sollars 1990:729). Travel to and from the capital was arduous. Tenochtitlan was surrounded by high peaks, including the snowcapped Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, where temperatures dropped to freezing and below. To the south, Orizaba wore a perpetual coating of frost. The Central Valley is precisely that—a valley—and most directions from Tenochtitlan begin as up. Anyone who traveled too high, too far, too long, or with too great a load in the remote areas around the capital city might find that he or she experienced disorientation, dizziness, and the desire to sleep. The entries into Tenochtitlan are doubly perilous because they are at high altitudes, where the physically unfit or exhausted person might sufferfrom hypoxia, or air pressure deprivation, as well as from hypothermia. The symptoms of hypoxia resemble the loss of tonalli during aging, death, and hypothermia. Altitude sickness is an extremely disconcerting affliction, usually because its onset is so unexpected. The reduction of air pressure at high altitudes disturbs the normal workings of many internal systems in the human body, causing some disturbing effects (Rose 1988:111). At altitudes above 10,000 feet, a severe headache may warn a victim of hypoxia's sudden onset; the headaches may be followed by dizziness and nausea. The victim feels faint and may lose consciousness and fall. The heart pounds, and the pulse can be heard as an intense throbbing in the ears. The person may stumble and find it difficult to move or walk. The body reacts by gasping for air, but the person may still feel that he or she cannot breathe. Adaptation to higher altitudes is not rapid and may, in fact, take about two to three months (Rose 1988:110). In some cases, traveling to high altitudes may also bring on changes in character, aggressive behavior, depression, dizziness, temperature disturbances (including sweating and blushing), loss of consciousness, coma and pains similar to those of angina (Arias-Stella 1977:1308; see also 1309-14 for a discussion of "soroche" in South America).



The Tonalli and Soul Loss

Soul loss was normal for ancient and modern Nahuas. It took place nearly every night in sleep as the tonalli abandoned the body to travel and have adventures in dreams. But the tonalli often slipped from the flesh accidentally. Although its inadvertent loss could occur nearly anywhere and anytime, it was most likely to happen in remote places where the aires or winds took the detached spirit and kept it until the body was deprived of the last of its life force. The Mexica were well aware of alterations in normal body temperatures over a lifetime. To fortify the tender infant's tonalli-as-temperature, they warmed the baby by a fire, and before extinguishing the heat-supporting torch or fire, they strengthened the child with tonalli-as-name. As the child grew, its temperature dropped slowly and steadily. Between late childhood and early adolescence, the temperature began to rise until it stabilized at the adult norm. During these perilous years, families advised youths not to engage in premature intercourse that would squander the vitality they would need to carry them to the end of healthy, potent lives. Symptoms of the diminution or disappearance of the tonalli are most consistently part of natural aging and dying. If a person lived into the seventh decade, marked physical changes indicated a diminishing life force. As the tonalli-as-temperature declined, people would experience bouts of dizziness, disorientation, antisocial behavior, sleep disturbances, and loss of vitality and energy. Finally, they would fade into unconsciousness and death. Dying meant the ultimate, final, and irreversible loss of the soul. Symptoms of an abnormally cold or oxygen-deprived body are essentially those of an accelerated natural death, which are ascribed to soul loss.

The Tonalli and the Hot and Cold Dichotomy

Lately, scholars have begun to propose a physical basis for soul loss, which was most often believed to be caused by a fright and is usually called susto in Spanish. Bolton (1981) has suggested that it was an indigenous description of hypoglycemia, a condition with the striking symptoms of anxiety, shaking, debility, and, at the worst, fainting and loss of consciousness. Indeed, soul loss does fit into this pattern. Crandon (1983) has 121


persuasively argued that the focus has been on the psychological and religious aspects of soul loss rather than on its somatic origin in chronic illness and poor diet. This, too, is correct. I believe that susto generally has a physiological rather than a psychological, religious, or spiritual origin. Indigenous equivalents for the soul are primarily animating forces responsible for the health of the body and are usually described as being part of physical being. The West, rather than Native America, has withdrawn the soul from the flesh and has invested it with purely nonmaterial functions. Furthermore, susto is probably not a single condition with a solitary cause. It may be the result of low blood sugar, a chronic ailment, poor diet, or many other afflictions that show up as loss of consciousness, a general feeling of weakness, antisocial behavior, and death. Mesoamerican people seem to have grouped together ailments with different origins but with similar somatic symptoms. In addition, the Mexica interest in maintaining the balance between hot and cold during the course of a lifetime has implications for the longstanding debate about whether the Spanish introduced the hot-cold dichotomy ubiquitous throughout native Mexico (for overviews, see Colson and Armellada 1987; Manderson 1987; and Worsiey 1982; for discussions specifically about Nahuas, see C. Madsen 1965; W. Madsen 1955; Ortiz de Montellano 1986, 1989b, 1990). This complex system classifies foods, medicinal plants, animals, actions, people's personalities, rituals and their paraphernalia, as well as celestial phenomena and manmade objects as either hot or cold (see E. N. Anderson 1987 on why the system is so widespread). Health requires balancing the two forces in the body. Some years ago, the formidable scholar of Mexican culture, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran (1947) challenged the idea that we could ever know much about many indigenous beliefs because the Spanish friars recast their information into Western terms and obscured native categories. Foster (1953), on the other hand, has long espoused the idea that the hot-cold opposition was European and was based on ancient humoric medicine (1951,1953, 1988). Still other scholars disagree with Foster's position and believe that hot-cold is an indigenous idea that precedes the Spanish Conquest. Lately, the latter view seems to be gaining ground (see, for example, J. Klein 1978). McCullough (1973), for example, points out that the classifications of foods and activities, rather than being arbitrary, actually represent a senm


sible adaptation to living and working in the hot climate of Yucatán (see also Villa Rojas 1980). Weller (1983) notes that among rural and urban ladinas^ that is, racially mixed women who are affiliated with the Spanish culture in Guatemala, treatment of ailments is relatively free of any developed hot and cold system, while Colson and Armellada (1987) describe a complex system in Guyana among indigenous people little acquainted with Old World thought. This would suggest a native rather than European origin and orientation for the concept (see Kay 1977, for a rare instance in which a European origin for a medical concept can be documented). Kay, both alone (1987) and with Yoder (1987), has persuasively proposed a biological basis for these categories, in part because they are so widespread as to preclude introduction by the Spanish only a few hundred years ago. The hot-cold opposition simply occurs among too many people, many of whom are not especially acculturated even at the present time. Kay and Yoder also believe the system is instead based on observations of the body's reactions to external temperatures and to physical processes (see also Queiroz 1984). They also note, for example, that sexual intercourse does, in fact, generate considerable amounts of heat, and that women are sensitive to changes in warmth, particularly in relation to childbirth. Molony (1974) and Mathews (1983) add that, with a few exceptions, the system of classifying foods into hot and cold is remarkably consistent from China to the New World, even when specifics may vary. Many of the categories are not arbitrary but are based on knowledge of how substances react on and in the body (conversely, for emphasis on the variations and flexibility of the system, see Logan 1977; B. Tedlock 1987). López Austin (1984:1, 306-7; 1988a:I, 272-73) perceptively suggests that the large number of phenomena classified as hot or cold goes far beyond any similar humoric divisions in Europe, indicating that people in the Americas were much more comfortable with such distinctions and were interested in extending them because the dichotomy was basically their own rather than introduced by the Spaniards. Messer (1987) believes that, for many Mesoamerican peoples, hot and cold are gradations rather than absolutes and that the important issue is to maintain the balance of the body between extremes (also Kaplan and Kaplan 1960; Logan 1977). Barbara Tedlock (1987) agrees and adds that central classifications between the extremes are essential. She also points out that the hot-cold classifica123


tion is not used by everyone in all contexts and that reasoning about what is hot or cold depends not upon the transferral of an abstract humoral classification but upon centuries of experimentation with specific foods, herbs, and procedures native to the New World. The Mexica interest in the tonalli-as-temperature suggests that before the Spanish set foot in the New World indigenous people had already observed—no, felt in their flesh—the effects of changes in, and changing, body warmth and had attempted to balance the internal fire with ceremony and probably with food, ritual actions, and herbal medicines as well. But then, so had the Europeans and Asians. People throughout the world detected alterations in their temperatures and developed complex explanations of their physical sensations. The hotcold division in humoric medicine seems to be the European response to observable bodily phenomena, and at the time of the Conquest in Central Mexico, it could easily have been superimposed upon the more complex indigenous preoccupation with the fluctuations of the tonalli. The Old World categorized not just hot and cold but wet and dry as well. The Mexica and other New World people attempted to regulate hot and cold and thus may have easily accepted the Spanish hot-cold medical and scientific classifications. Nevertheless, wet and dry generally dropped out in the Americas, perhaps because no basis for them existed in indigenous medicine, and they were superfluous to native curing practices. There was no template over which they could be fitted. This may indicate native peoples' selective acceptance of Old World ideology and practices that suited and made sense to them, and their rejection of what carried little or no significance. The normal processes of aging and dying form the paradigm for the loss of the tonalli in life, but classified with these events are diseases whose symptoms mimic them. The Mexica describe the conditions and fates of their tonallis—their body temperatures and vital forces—with vivid and poetic language, but their accounts are nonetheless accurate records of normal human physiology and variations in normal body heat.





manifest in various parts of the body, including the hair, nails, and blood. These body parts were often mentioned together with other tonallibearing substances in Mexica formal rhetoric. In Mexica formal speeches, parallel objects or phenomena were aligned in pairs, with triplets interspersed, to suggest similar natures or qualities. One rhetorical list from Sahagun's Florentine Codex (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 189), for example, begins by addressing the newborn child as the "precious feather, the precious green stone, the bracelet" and then calls it "their [ancestors'] chip, their flake." The second couplet describes the infant as a fragment of its ancestors, much as a small piece of stone is whittled off a larger block. The newborn is also the family's "glory, to make illustrious its forefathers, its great-grandfathers." The gods "made a gift of thy [the child's] image, thy likeness," that, in the comparable Spanish text, makes the glory and fame of the ancestors bloom again by resurrecting the mem125


ory of its progenitors ("ha brotado, ha florecido la fama y gloria que he de resucitar la memoria y la gloria de sus antepasados, abuelos y bisabuelos"; 1969:Bk. VI, 197). Finally, the Central Mexicans often said of their progeny that they "are the possessors of hair, the possessors of fingernails. It is thy blood, thy color, thy reflection" (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 189; "son sus cabellos y sus uñas; y es su sangre, y su imagen"; 1969:Bk. VI, 197). The tonalli that is passed from generation to generation thus appears in the body as hair, fingernails, and the blood. The Tonalli in the Hair and Nails

The Mexica paired the hair and nails in rhetorical descriptions of children, but they especially valued hair for its role in holding, conveying and transferring the life force. Caring for one's hair was tantamount to nurturing a healthy spirit. Among the figures of speech was a saying, "I protect thy hair, thy head," which means, according to Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's Náhuatl text, "[I do this] in order thus to admonish thee, to take care of thy honor so that nothing may defame it, so that no affliction may befall thee" (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 241). The comparable Spanish passage warns the person to "take care that no one steps over your head, being asleep. This metaphor is to say: zeal, and defending your honor so that no affliction may befall thee" ("Defiendo que nadie pase sobre tu cabeza, estando durmiendo. Por metáforo quiere decir: celo, y defiendo tu honra para que nadie la perjudique"). In other words, by protecting the hair one was guarding one's well-being and ensuring a prosperous and positive destiny. Before prisoners were sacrificed, Mexica priests and warriors cut the hair on the tops of their heads, and they kept these topknots as "relics," or objects of holy value, in various ceremonial and family shrines (Sahagun 1969 :Bk. II, 143). According to Sahagun, the Mexica took hair from the crown so that the "captive's valor would not in vain perish; thus he [the sponsor of the sacrificial victim] took from the captive his renown [contleiocujliaia]" (19501982 :Bk. II, 48). The friar substitutes this long term containing tleio, from the Náhuatl word for fire, tleyo, in place of tonalli to indicate name and reputation. By keeping the hair, the Mexica warrior and his nation retained the defeated man's tonalli as reputation, name, and life-giving power. In 116


manuscripts and on stone monuments, conventional Postclassic signs for conquest included a building pierced by an arrow, a structure with its roof toppled and ablaze, or the victorious leader grasping an enemy's forelock (see fig. 9). The Mexica warrior seized the animating force of his prisoner, and hence, his courage, reputation, and vigor (see López Austin 1984:1, 241-43; 1988a:I, 220-21, for an excellent discussion of this aspect of the tonalli). In keeping with the widespread practice among many North American peoples, the Mexica often retained and guarded conquered warriors' sheared hair. Scalping—taking a section of a defeated man's scalp with the attached hair—seems to have been of Precolumbian origin in North America (see Axtell and Sturtevant 1980, for a discussion of this custom). Closer to the Mexica homeland, the Uto-Aztecan Papago of the MexicoArizona border kept scalps as "trophies" and made them into powerful effigies of their enemies. Later, they retained only a lock of hair, or only four meager hairs from each temple, in a basket, but even these reduced bundles could bring rain and good luck if their owners fed them properly with tobacco and eagle down. Papago men spoke to their scalp effigies and consulted them frequently (Underhill 1969:136-37). Both hair and nails possessed tonalli, according to the Central Mexicans, and indeed, both body parts are indices to health. Hair grows one inch every two to three months (Rose 1988:10) and has natural cycles of growth and rest (Dixon 1986:116). Fingernails grow at the rate of 2/100 of an inch per week, about four times as fast as toenails (Rose 1988:9). Contrary to popular opinion, neither hair nor nails continue to grow after death. Instead, the corpse begins to dry and the skin shrinks, making the nails appear longer (Ibid., 179). Hair that thins, is easily pulled out, or appears very dull may indicate a debilitating protein deficiency. If it grows in coiled corkscrews, the person may be suffering from a lack of vitamins A and C (Larson and Ramsey 1989:407). With a vitamin A deficiency, the individual may experience night blindness and permanent damage to the eyes; vitamin C deficiencies are characterized by a general malaise, weakness, refusal to eat, pains in the limbs or joints, bone fractures, and psychological disturbances (Diseases 1993:1191)—all of which might easily be taken for soul loss. A sudden increase in the amount of body hair is often an indication of an 127


ovarian or adrenal tumor, while hair may be rapidly lost during high fevers, when the tonalli-as-heat is disturbed and out of balance. In addition, 2 percent of most populations are afflicted at some time in life with alopecia areata, a distressing condition in which hair is lost very quickly, usually in single or overlapping patches. In 90 percent of these cases, the hair eventually returns, most often within six months to two years, although the unfortunate 10 percent do not experience a complete regrowth of hair. Although there seems to be a genetic predisposition behind this mysterious disease, it also seems to be brought on by stress and by problems with the autoimmune system (Larson 1990:1184-85). Stress, with its accompanying depression, forgetfulness, and greater incidence of minor ailments, could well be taken for soul loss or weakness of the life force, and autoimmune conditions present many of the same symptoms. Nails are frequently the first place where serious ailments appear. As a man or woman becomes ill, the nails, too, may change in shape and texture (Larson 1990:1186). Nails that develop lines or ridges or that become brittle may indicate many problems but are often a sign of protein deficiency. If they grow into spoon-like shapes, the person may be afflicted with a lack of chromium or iron (Larson and Ramsey 1989:409). An insufficiency of zinc manifests itself with thinning hair and soft, misshapen nails (Diseases 1993:1191), while thickening fingers with the nails growing around them (called "clubbing") are frequently a sign of diseases of the lungs (Larson 1990:1186). Women going into surgery are always told to remove any nail polish, so that the monitor can see if they are undergoing respiratory distress. Lack of oxygen shows up quickly as the fingernails change from pink to lavender or blue. Abnormalities of hair and fingernails suggest internal problems, often associated with a general failure to thrive and with debilitating deficiencies that sap strength and vitality (see also Beden 1987; Zaias 1990). Because many pathologies appear first in the nails, and are reflected in the hair, the Mexica curers may have watched carefully the condition of these renewable body parts, just as doctors today examine them for signs of internal disturbances. The Tonalli in the Blood

Sahagún's rhetorical list also includes another body part containing life force: "thy blood, thy color" (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 189). Along with the 128


heart, the ancient Mexica took blood from sacrificed prisoners and offered its fructifying force to the gods. On public and private ritual occasions, people drew blood from their ears, tongues, or calves, splattered it on pieces of native paper, and gave it to the supernaturals who sustained the universe. Then they burned these blood and paper offerings to render them into an intangible form acceptable to the spirits as tokens of thanks for benefits received or as requests for future favors. The gods could be coaxed or rewarded, less by the physical fluid itself than by the life force it carried and transferred to them. Belief in blood's power to restore vitality and to fortify strength is graphically illustrated in the grisly rituals dedicated to the god Xipe Totee, "Our Lord, the Flayed One," in whose honor every year unfortunate captives were killed and their skins removed and worn by priests to effect cures of skin and eye diseases. The sponsor of a prisoner received the singular honor of draining the slain man's blood into a green bowl and going from one shrine and temple to another, anointing the lips of each image of the deities with the blood, ending with an offering of the precious substance to the sun (Sahagun 1950-1982:Bk. II, 52; 1969:Bk. II, 146). Today, native New World peoples no longer sacrifice human beings, nor do they even make small blood donations to the saints. According to the Catholic priests, the blood sacrifice central to Christianity does not require repetition. Still, many modern people continue to hold beliefs about the relationship of the blood to the strength of the tonalli, and hence, to the vitality and health of a man or woman. According to the Nahuas of Pajapan, for example, blood transports the shadow soul, part of which may be lost during a hemorrhage (García de León 1969:288). Náhuatl speakers, and many other Mesoamerican peoples, practice elaborate systems of "pulsing," in which a eurer feels the blood in the pulses and examines muscular tics or the muscle tone of specific places on the body and diagnoses from them the state of the tonalli or its equivalent. In many communities in Morelos, Veracruz, and the Sierra Norte de Puebla, native curers determine the soul's (and the patient's) strength by taking the pulse at the joints. Because enemies often attacked the joints by supernatural means, a weak or irregular pulse is a sign of illness (López Austin 1984:1, 234-35; 1988a:I, 215). The Nahuas of the Sierra in southern Veracruz near the Puebla border believe the tonalli's somatic location to be the joints (Reyes Garcia 1976:132), while the people of Hueyapan, 129


Morelos, a town originally settled by Náhuatl speakers, consider an injury to the joints to be particularly serious because, after damage, the tonalli normally felt in the pulse points will be drawn into the heart. When the process is complete, the person will die (Alvarez Heydenreich 1976:102). The Nahuas of Veracruz study the pulses in the hands, arms, and particularly at the wrists (Munch Galindo 1983:197). In the southern Veracruz community of Mecayapan, people believe the pulses in the palms of the hands and the joints of the arms are the "hearts of the spirit" ("corazones del espíritu," or tomayolojmej) that reveal the health of the internal spirit (Ibid., 201). Curers in another community called Hueyapan, but in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, say pulsing gives the most reliable diagnoses, but they use points on the upper body, including temple, neck, chest, waist, and wrists (Huber 1990b:161). In the village of Tzinacatepec, also in the Sierra Norte, a well-known eurer named Doña Chona Valerio looks at the eyes and the face, checks the patient's breathing, and feels the pulse to determine the nature of the client's illness (Barrios E. 1952). Although we have no descriptions of a similar complete Precolumbian system, in Codex Ríos (1964:111, 167), an illustration clearly derived from Renaissance art shows a man whose body is labeled with the twenty day signs from the Preconquest calendar (see fig. 23). The Italian commentary assures us that the twenty day signs had "dominion" over parts of the body and that the symbols indicated what cure should be used when a body part was ailing (1964:111,166). The document then enumerates the signs and the body parts they govern. Insofar as each day sign carries something of the tonalli, some form of diagnosis of illnesses afflicting specific somatic spots was known among the ancient people of Central Mexico and elsewhere, if not specifically from the pulses. The modern system represents a continuity, perhaps combined with a rather similar European system of body divination (see Andrews and Hassig 1988 for a discussion of these issues). Blood carries the tonalli, and among most modern Náhuatl speakers, the state of the life force may even be determined from the movement of blood in the body, whether this movement is experienced as a tic, a pulse, and a muscular movement. When blood drains from its proper course, the person loses his or her life force. As we shall see, blood loss is essentially soul loss. 130







from 1578 to 1657, was the first to understand how the blood circulates in the body. This basic fact of human biology had not been widely disseminated at the time of the Conquest (Dixon 1986:152; see Cournaud 1982), and indeed, in many places in the world, the role the heart plays in circulating the blood is still not understood. The heart is a remarkable organ. Day in, day out, the heart pumps 1 gallon of blood per minute at rest and up to 5.5 gallons during vigorous exercise. Blood is three times thicker and slightly heavier than water and is composed of half liquid plasma and half corpuscles (A. Smith 1986: 490, 496-97). It is fully one-sixteenth of total body weight (Dixon 1986:152). A grown woman's body has four to five liters of blood, while men average about a liter more. At any given moment, from three to five liters are moving through the veins, one more is in the lungs, while another liter courses through the heart, arteries, and arteriole. Only one-fourth or one131


fifth of a liter is in the capillaries. During exercise, while the heart beats harder and faster, blood is diverted from internal organs, including the kidneys and the digestive system, and routed into the muscles (Dixon 1986: 152; A. Smith 1986:498). As long as the body remains intact, the heart efficiently moves the blood through miles of veins, arteries, and capillaries. Once the system is breached, however, the fluid drains and vitality ends. The effect of blood loss is called shock, and its symptoms are those of soul loss. The Symptoms of Shock

Healthy people can lose as much as one-fourth, or perhaps even onethird, of the blood in their body without any obvious or permanent physiological effects. Blood is lost faster from the arteries because it spurts rapidly, while the darker venous blood oozes more slowly from wounds (Bordicks 1980:170). However it is drained, loss of half the volume of blood is inevitably fatal (A. Smith 1986:498), but before death, the person experiences shock, which is another term for circulatory failure (Bordicks 1980:8). Blood Loss and Shock Shock occurs whenever the heart is unable to pump blood into the vital organs (J. Miller 1978:122). Hypovolemic shock is caused by a drop in the volume of blood in the body because an external wound causes external bleeding or because a fracture, especially of the femur, tibia, pelvis, or spine, produces internal bleeding (Bordicks 1980:137-40). Alternately, the heart itself may fail and be unable to keep the blood pumping through the body (Ibid., 9). Although shock should always be treated, it ranges from mild to lifethreatening. A person may lose up to IS percent of blood volume without manifesting any overt clinical signs of shock. Symptoms begin to become apparent with a loss of around 20 percent, although some people may lose up to 25 percent of their blood before any obvious signs of shock appear. The loss of one-third of the blood, which represents a loss of about 35 percent of the body's liquid, however, brings on moderately severe shock. 132


Severe shock sets in with a loss of half of the blood; if untreated, this loss will be fatal (Bordicks 1980:145-47). In the early stage of shock, the only symptom may be a feeling of apprehension (Bordicks 1980:169), and a person's skin may become dry, cool, and pale. In some cases, pulse and respiration rates accelerate rapidly, but in others, the pulse may be strong, regular, and only slightly elevated with about 80 beats per minute. The respiration rate may rise to about 22 breaths per minute. The person will be awake and alert, unless an injury causes unconsciousness, but the body temperature may already begin to drop (Ibid., 144,146-47). As more blood is lost, the temperature continues to decline. When onefifth of the blood has been lost, the body feels even cooler and looks paler as blood is rerouted from arms and legs to the internal organs. Brown skin may experience a marked change to yellowish brown. The person begins to experience the sensation of cold and may shiver to try to raise the body temperature. The pulse rate is still strong, but it accelerates to 88 beats per minute, and the respiratory rate increases to 24 breaths during that time. Because the brain is receiving less oxygen, the person feels more restless and apprehensive, and alterations in body chemistry produce muscle twitching and cramps, and sometimes nausea and diarrhea. As fluid levels fall, thirst increases (Bordicks 1980:148-49). When one-third of the blood has been lost, the heart has to beat harder to pump the reduced volume through the vital organs. The pulse increases to around 104 beats per minute while becoming weak and irregular. More fluid remains in the lungs at this stage, and breathing sounds like moist rales as the respiratory rate rises to 36 breaths per minute. The person experiences shortness of breath, and after the respiration rate has reached 40 breaths per minute, the respiratory rate is depressed. Because of fluid depletion, the person's lips may be dry and cracked and he or she may be thirsty. The senses become dull, and the pupils dilate. The person may feel dizzy (Bordicks 1980:142-43). Should blood loss continue and reach the level of severe or deep shock with a loss of 45 to 50 percent of blood volume, the pulse rises to 120 weak, irregular beats per minute, but it can barely be felt. Lacking fluid, the veins in the extremities collapse. The person may or may not become unconscious; some people retain a groggy awareness almost until death. 1*3


The body may move in an aimless and restless manner. The skin feels cold and takes on an ashen color, and the lips, mouth, eyes, and fingernails turn blue. In the very last stages, the skin becomes clammy, and the temperature drops to 96 degrees Fahrenheit. The breathing becomes quieter, but with increasing rales. The kidneys fail and the person dies (Bordicks 1980: 142-45,150-54). In the more severe stages, the person experiences hypoxia, the temporary condition often associated with high altitudes. During hypoxia, the brain and vital organs are deprived of oxygen, which leads to impaired judgment and to a lack of motor coordination. The person may weave and stagger as if drunk. If the blood loss is slow, the person may become exhausted, inattentive, and apathetic, with slowed reaction time similar to fatigue. Because the brain is not functioning properly, the person often does not feel pain (Bordicks 1980:162-67). If blood loss is slow and not sufficient to kill a person, the body draws fluids from the tissues and dilutes the blood so that it can be pumped. If a person survives shock and drinks adequate water, the blood volume may reach normal levels within a day (J. Miller 1978:123; see Hamilton and White 1986 for a description of the brain during shock). Shock is characterized by a progressive decline in body heat, dizziness, disorientation, antisocial behavior, loss of vitality and energy, unconsciousness and death. These symptoms parallel the loss of the tonalli. Bloodletting and Shock

The Mexica would have been well aware of what happens to the body during shock. They were an extremely bellicose culture, and in the decades before the Conquest, wars with close neighbors and distant enemies were nearly constant. Adult men who had served in the military would have seen with their own eyes the rapid draining of the blood and life force and have felt the quick, marked cooling of wounded comrades' bodies. Tonalli, blood, and heat leave the flesh at the same time, and then the warrior dies. In ritual ceremonies, the Mexica offered small amounts of their blood to sustain and strengthen the gods. From their experiences on the battlefield and with sacrifices, they certainly knew how much blood a man or woman could offer before the ceremonial act became dangerous. The idea 134


that bloodletting could be used to produce visions or hallucinations is quite incorrect (see, for example, P. T. Fürst 1976; Schele and Miller 1986). The small amounts of blood lost during autosacrifice to the gods are not sufficient to cause any alteration of perception, including even the first of shock's symptoms, apprehension. For brain and body chemistry to be significantly altered, the person must lose between a fifth to a fourth of blood volume. The drops from tongue, ears, or calves splattered on papers and burned are too minute to open the door to the other world, and in any case, more massive decreases in blood volume lead to shock and a dulling of mind and body rather than to a heightened awareness of external phenomena or internal sensations. In fact, blood loss eventually leads to the end of pain and perception rather than to a sharpening of the senses. The places on the body selected for bloodletting are not those with large numbers of blood vessels or pain receptors. The tongue has many nerve endings, but not for pain. Instead, it is sensitive to taste sensations. Because the organ is constantly exposed to the possibility of being crushed by the jaws and teeth, its blood vessels are not easy to perforate, and they constrict immediately on impact. In fact, the tongue can be nearly bitten off without causing excessive blood loss or a great deal of pain. It is almost impossible to bleed to death from a wound to the tongue (Luis Vargas: personal communication). Ear lobes do not bleed profusely, and wounds to the fingertips, through the foreskin, and in the center of the calves are self-limiting and, despite being visually impressive, are not close to many nerve endings. Consistently, then, the Mexica and other Mesoamerican peoples selected places on the body where they could draw blood but which would not continue to bleed or cause undue pain. When they performed selfsacrifice, they were probably not trying to put themselves into trances or to alter their states of consciousness, however much these practices were, and continue to be, part of reaching out to the divine. Instead, the Mexica extracted the life force carried in the blood and offered it to the deities to augment their vital powers, just as the Spanish chroniclers suggested. A Brief Summary of the Tonalli

The tonalli is a complex entity, but first and foremost, it is a life force felt and transmitted as heat. T. J. Knab (personal communication) suggests 135


that what we now classify under the same Náhuatl root, tonal, may originally have been two different words with separate derivations. Tonal, when it stands alone, may refer to day and luck, while in a possessive form, it may encompass a distinct set of meanings associated with the spirit. Over time, perhaps the two disparate terms and the ideas surrounding them have been conflated, probably by the Mexica themselves. The widely divergent characteristics attributed to the tonalli might thus be partially generated by the Náhuatl language. In any case, the close association of tonalli with the day and its heat and with the soul or life force is still logical. In fact, the properties of the tonalli are a series of ideas and metaphors that radiate from the central quality as heat. Just as days vary in strength and warmth—even days that fall next to one another in the calendar—so do people vary. As an unexpectedly warm day occurs in winter, or a chilly day in summer, all consecutive days are not the same in warmth or character. In some instances, the Mexica believed they could add to the tonalli by placing the body next to a fire or by avoiding behavior that unnecessarily or prematurely expended heat. Many Central Mexican ceremonies surrounding life passages fortify the inner warmth, and these rituals almost inevitably correspond to times of life when body temperature is demonstrably low or declining. When Mexica spoke of tonalli as warmth, they were describing a physical phenomenon and its normal fluctuations over a lifetime. The old celestial gods drilled the heat into the body in a spiraling action. After birth, the process of unwinding begins. Just as a twined rope unravels and frays with use, so the life of a man or woman is twirled out of the body. If the gods drilled longer into one person's chest, that person received more stored energy and heat, and hence, a stronger tonalli and a longer and healthier life. The tonalli is also one's fate, destiny, and name. As the day and its variable warmth, in this sense, the tonalli is nothing more or less than the variable length of life and strength of life known through the differing degrees of warmth in living bodies. The destiny, or tonalli, is connected to a specific day and provides the person's birthday and calendrical name. Distinct individuals received a common name, character, and luck through their shared birthdays, and indeed, at least some people born on the same day share the same calendrical name and a similar fate, if they are monozygotic twins. They are also mirror images, and one sign of a shared tonalli is a family resemblance. 136


The gods implanted the tonalli in the body in a process similar to the drilling of gemstones, objects also believed to carry or receive life force. Together with feathers and skins, gems were part of the costumes that publicly presented the fortunate destinies of successful warriors. The Central Mexicans reserved truly fine jewels, skins, and plumes for those born into a high estate or who completed important tasks for the state. To return to quality of heat, the tonalli caused the skin to flush, perhaps because it was also carried in the blood, which pulses, moves, and causes tissues to redden. The Mexica attributed life force to body parts that grew, moved, and communicated in tics or unusual sensations without conscious control. Substantial blood loss provided one physical model for the loss of the tonalli, and its symptoms included lowered temperature, weakness, lack of focus, and confusion. When the Mexica spoke of a soul disappearing for a protracted time, so that the body eventually died, they were describing medical conditions that mimic dying, blood loss, exposure, and altitude sickness. Concentration on fortifying body heat to maintain health suggests that the Mexica were well acquainted with the concept of hot and cold before the Spanish brought their ideas of humoral medicine to the New World. Human sacrifice was closely associated with transferring tonalli from captive to captor. The loser in battle was destined by his time of birth to be conquered; it was his fate, or tonalli. Once seized, he was first deprived of his clothing—his gems, military costume, and feathers—which carried or outwardly manifested his tonalli, or character as a brave or cowardly, a fortunate or unfortunate, warrior. Then his conquerors sheared off his hair, a tonalli-bearing body part, and took it away to a temple, where they kept it alive by placing it near a fire, which fortified the tonalli in it. By the time the Mexica sacrificed a captive, he was almost like a sponge that had been squeezed dry of most tonalli-carrying substances. All that remained was his blood, and the Mexica drained this fluid from his body and gave it to their gods. The specific act of human sacrifice—so sensational to Westerners, and so often sensationalized—was merely the last step in extracting the life force from the vanquished soldier and transfering it to the captors. The life force present in his clothing and distributed throughout his body was a precious resource taken from the conquered and given to the victor for his benefit and for the good of his family, state, and gods. 137






interchangeably with that of soul, even though the terms and concepts are not synonymous. Spirit is the animating power of breath, but the soul is eternal. When asking for Náhuatl responses for the Spanish "espíritu," Fray Alonso de Molina (1970:59 v.) received and recorded four words in his Vocabulario en Lengua castellana y mexicana: yoliliztli, or life, "vida" (Ibid., 40 r.), tlalpitzaliztli, or breath, "soplo" (Ibid., 124 v.), from the Náhuatl tlalpitz(a), to blow or huff (Karttunén 1983:276), yhyotl) or ihiyotl, breath, or gust of wind, "aliento, huelgo, o soplo" (Molina 1970:36 v.), and eecatl, or ebecatl, wind or air, "viento, o ayre" (Ibid., 28 r.). The first merely defines the life-sustaining function of the spirit. The other three are equivalent to breath, but they also describe the external phenomena of wind or air unrelated to the human body. 138


Early colonial chronicles did not generally use yoliliztli or tlalpitzaliztli in place of spirit or soul; instead, they employed ehecatl and ihiyotl. The Spanish to Náhuatl half of Molina's Vocabulario equates ehecatl with spirit, but in the reversed Náhuatl to Spanish section, ehecatl is defined as wind or air without any mention of a supernatural dimension (1970:18 r.). Modern Náhuatl speakers recount many beliefs about the winds as spirits (plural ebecamej), and these are also known by the Spanish word aires> or airs. Today, people identify the winds as disembodied human souls and supernatural beings, usually of a negative or, at the very least, dangerously powerful character. Conversely, in his Vocabulario^ Molina provides many Náhuatl terms containing the root of ihiyotl, or ibi-, and these frequently refer to the lifeengendering functions of a spirit or soul. Yet today Nahua people do not mention this fearsome force. Instead, this concept occurs among the modern Chord Maya of Guatemala, who evidently borrowed both the idea and the word from the Central Mexicans at some time in the past. The Personified Aires of the Ancient Mexica

Among the ancient Mexica, the wind was embodied in a deity appropriately named Ehecatl, the wind. He appears with a beaked buccal mask, a truncated cap made of jaguar fur, shell jewelry, and the black body paint of a priest (see fig. 26). The Mexica inherited Ehecatl, or some version of him, from earlier Mesoamerican peoples. He appears especially early among southern peoples in what is now the state of Oaxaca. A similar wind god appears as a calendar glyph at Monte Alban as early as the fifth century B.C., suggesting that he must have developed far earlier in order to be so fully integrated into the time-keeping system. The wind god surfaces again in Oaxaca as a calendrical glyph in the manuscripts of the Mixtees, contemporaries of the Mexica and producers of luxury goods, including fine screenfold books, gold, crystal, jade, and feathered objects. His appearance is remarkably consistent across several thousand years, and in southern Mexico, at least by the Postclassic era, we have a relatively good idea of his function. In the Mixtee manuscripts, he was appropriately named 9 Wind, and he brought the benefits of civilization to the Mixtee (J. L. Fürst 1978:102-9). According to Codex Vindobonensis Mexicanus /, a Mixtee screenfold book that presents events from the beginning of the world to the start of dynastic 159


history, 9 Wind lifts the waters from the earth, and names and orders the features of the landscape. Then, 9 Wind travels to the heavens to retrieve the objects needed for the Mixtee lords to assert their rulership rights and authority. To sustain life, he establishes rituals for encouraging the growth of life-giving maize and for ingesting the life-sustaining, curative hallucinogenic mushrooms. Just before the beginning of human history, he may even assign supernaturals and ancestors to specific sites in the landscape. Without 9 Wind, the Mixtee physical, religious, and social universe would not exist in ordered, proper form, according to this manuscript. Just once, on page 27b (see fig. 27), he appears as the wind deity, blowing the hot winds that parch the growing maize plants before the rains fall. Among the Mexica, the wind god was also a guise of the culture bringer, named Quetzalcóatl in Central Mexico, whose name means "Plumed Serpent," or "Precious Twin." Sahagun writes that these "people attributed the wind to a god whom they named Quetzalcóatl, something like god of the wind" (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VII, 68; "atribuía el viento a un dios que llamaban Quetzalcóatl^ bien casi como dios de los vientos"; 1969: Bk. II, 134). The Central Mexicans borrowed EhecatTs external form, costume, and accouterments from their Mesoamerican neighbors, and perhaps under the influence of the Mixtees, for whom the wind god was the bringer of culture, the Mexica also added the wind god to the guises of their culture hero, Quetzalcóatl. The Central Mexicans identified this latter figure as an ancient ruler of the Toltec city of Tula, whose reign was characterized by peace and harmony (see, for example, Sahagun 1950-1982: Bk. Ill, 13-16) and who was hoodwinked and disgraced by his malevolent opponent, Tezcatlipoca. Ehecatl also had a counterpart among the Mexica, the trickster Tezcatlipoca, or "Smoking Mirror" (see fig. 28), who was hailed as "O night, o wind" (for example, Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 1-2), or as a being "invisible, and not palpable, just like the night and the air" (Sahagun 1969: Bk. VI, 55; "invisible, y no palpable, bien así como la noche y el aire"). He was responsible for serious illnesses, particularly those of the skin, including leprosy, boils, open sores that would not heal (cancers), itching, hemorrhoids, chilblains, as well as dropsy, a swelling of the extremities (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. Ill, 11). He inflicted these ailments on people who broke their promises to fast and to abstain from sex as penance or as a prelude 140


to sacred ritual. Offerings at Tezcatlipoca's shrines at the crossroads sometimes caused him to relent and allow the person to recover from the punitive illnesses he sent (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. Ill, 11-12). Tezcatlipoca was associated with evil smells, and the Mexica identified the skunk as his animal alter ego, that is, as his nahualli, or animal form, into which he might transform at will. When the animal sprayed, people said "Tezcatlipoca breaketh wind," and they neither opened their mouths nor spat, lest their hair turn white. Instead, they covered their mouths when they smelled the vile odor (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. V, 171). Both Ehecatl and Tezcatlipoca were winds (see fig. 29), and the latter often sent disasters. Among the Central Mexicans, at least some of the winds were thus personified and identified by name, and they were generally considered the source of misfortune. Of unlucky people, the Mexica said "the wind cometh, there it carrieth them off, there it whippeth them about, there it taketh them away. They escape nowhere; indeed, they are in dire need as they go seeking sustenance" (Sahagun 1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 7; "por todas partes entra el aire y el frío"; 1969: Bk. VI, 59). Other Winds or Aires of the Mexica

The Mexica also included emanations from the human body among the aires and ehecamej. Women exuded harmful vapors, and pregnant and menstruating women radiated a particularly dangerous emission, as did women who died in childbirth. Sahagun writes that young men who wished to succeed in battle would disinter the corpse of a woman who had died in childbirth and would cut off her middle finger and her hair (the latter, of course, carrying her tonalli). These talismans "furnished spirit" to the possessors and rooted enemies to the spot (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 161-62; 1969: Bk. VI, 180). No one could prevail against warriors so armed. Another talisman was the woman's left forearm. Thieves used the bones to stupefy the occupants of the house they intended to rob. The forearms sent the householders into deep, insensible faints (see also López Austin 1966,1967). These invisible emanations sometimes occurred as bad odors associated with transgressions of the ritual or social order. Breaking the Mexica code of behavior was likened to dirtying oneself in excrement (Sahagun 19501982 :Bk. VI, 31-32), albeit of a metaphorical rather than a physical nature. 141


Vapors from adulterers were powerful and destructive. If an unfaithful spouse walked among turkey chicks (birds sacrificed and eaten ritually), for example, the Mexica said that he "killeth them through filth" (Sahagun 1950-1982:Bk. V, 191-92; 1969:Bk. V, 36). For the Mexica, the air and winds were spirits, and at least two of the most powerful, Quetzalcóatl and Tezcatlipoca, were given names and attributes and treated as deities capable of dealing out life and death. They were the subjects of legend, and in some tales, they were conflated with historical figures. While the winds were sometimes gods, the human body also exuded vapors capable of affecting the behavior of people and animals, even to the point of death. Today many Náhuatl and Uto-Aztecan speakers retain similar ideas about the winds and their considerable powers. Although we cannot be certain that the ancient Mexica shared every idea or nuance concerning these forces with today's Nahua villagers, modern beliefs are sufficiently consistent throughout Nahuatl-speaking areas to suggest that they are old and time-honored and that they have their roots in prehispanic folk religion. Because modern Nahua conceptions about the aires or winds do not conflict with what we know from the early colonial documents, these beliefs allow us to amplify the category of winds and aires even further.





describe some aires as if they were gods, insofar as these supernatural figures have specific names and attributes, established agricultural functions, and permanent terrestrial homes. In other cases, the winds take on a more sinister role: they are the returning spirits of the dead, and most UtoAztecans concur. Characteristics of Aires among Modern Náhuatl Speakers The villagers of Atla in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, for example, have a complicated classification system to describe the origin and effect of aires. Winds are animate entities possessing their own lives, thoughts, and independent volition, much like human beings. They are composed of some insubstantial material that ordinary people cannot see or touch, and only a shaman or eurer may perceive their actual forms (Montoya Briones 1964: 158-59; see also 1981). 143


In Atla, people divide the aires according to their character, sex, color, age, place of residence in the local landscape, and position in a hierarchy of spirit power. Black winds are evil, white are good. Most are male. Some very old ones originated at the time of Christ, appear in the Bible as those who "put hands on Christ," and are condemned to live eternally in unpleasant places. They inhabit the hills, caves, ravines, hollows of remote spots, and crossroads in the centers of towns (Montoya Briones 1964:158-59). The inhabitants of Atla also call other aires ivendes (duendes), or guardians of the places where they live, and each spirit's status depends upon the importance local belief attaches to the sites it occupies. Some locations are ritually more significant, and their aires have greater powers to affect events in the surrounding environment and to influence the lives of men and animals. The villagers of Atla even say the aire is in reality the tonalli of the place it occupies. People feel the tonalli as the life- sustaining breath, and if the aire resides in a hill, it is called its tonaltepetl, the soul of the hill, from tonalli and te'petl, hill (Montoya Briones 1964:158-60,162). In Atla, some aires are protectors and benefactors, help to bring the rains, protect the agricultural cycle, and cure ailments. Others cause illnesses, kill animals that pass too close to them, and worst of all, inflict soul loss by surprising an unsuspecting person and seizing his or her tonalli. Then the eurer or shaman must divine where the poor kidnapped soul is being kept and go to that spot to offer a black chicken to the aire in exchange for the lost soul. Or the shaman may ask the most powerful aire, . the lord of Xochitépetl, or "Hill of the Flowers," to force the local, less important "aire" to unchain the captive tonalli (Montoya Briones 1964:163). The guardian spirits of places, and particularly of caves, are also winds that attack the living around Santiago Yancuictlalpan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, albeit less aggressively. Their assaults are provoked, less by their dislike or envy of still-living people, but by human beings straying into areas where they should not be and offending the spirits (Signorini and Lupo 1989:138-45). In the complex taxonomy of San Francisco Tecospa in the Valley of Mexico, the air and winds originate as "cave air," which is the breath of the rain dwarves. These small, powerful beings punish disrespectful or selfish people by sending them a variety of ailments, and they may even steal people's souls and carry them off to their caves (W. Madsen 1960:183). 144


Another type of vapor is "woman-air," or yeyecatlcihuatl in Náhuatl, and "garbage-air," or "aire de basura" in Spanish. It is generated by illicit sexual intercourse, prostitutes, and fornicating couples. Woman-air causes blindness and other eye problems in infants and children (W. Madsen 1960: 28-29, 190-91). Thus, in Tecospa, the winds are the breath (and perhaps the breath-souls) of the rain spirits and the gaseous residue from improper human acts. The Nahuas of Hueyapan, Atórelos, say the aires live in the atmosphere, where they think and act, just as human beings do on earth. They are invisible to all but some powerful curers, who see them as dwarves and as strangely shaped animals including dogs with clipped ears and tails or burros wearing dogs' ears (which sound suspiciously like interpolations of European witchcraft). Ordinary people perceive the aires as puffs and gusts of wind, rain and thunder, and perhaps as springs, lakes, and other bodies of water (where air is cooler and small winds are common). They live primarily in remote places in water, caves, and particularly unpleasant geographical features, but they cannot bide with human beings. They are the owners or guardians, duendes, of the sites they inhabit and are identified as the souls of these places. The spirits are hierarchically categorized and named for their locations and for the phenomena they cause, and they are described for their realms of origin, positive or negative qualities, the colors with which they are associated, and characteristics, including sex. The masculine supernatural are more powerful than their feminine counterparts. Aires are not only attracted by negative emotions, but may cause discord among people. They also enter the body by its orifices and cause a wide variety of illnesses and misfortunes, particularly those associated with the cold, including soul loss. In Hueyapan, people also distinguish between the air that blows through the environment as a natural phenomenon and the aires as supernatural beings. The human spirit partakes of characteristics from each category and is both natural and supernatural (Alvarez Heydenreich 1987:120-30). According to the villagers of Tepoztlan, Atórelos, the aires are spirits in air and rain, but they also occupy places that catch and hold water, including ravines and manmade tanks. They are small in stature, and when they appear in dreams, the man or woman knows that he or she has offended them. They afflict the living with clumsy stumbling and illnesses that dis145


figure the mouth and skin, as well as with palsy, paralysis, and a special ailment calledyehyecahuiliztli, or wind disease. To cure these afflictions, the eurer makes gifts at the place where the original offense occurred, including a doll made of homemade cloth with red cheeks and a chicken that cannot be eaten by any human being, lest he or she die (Redfield 1930:163-65 ). In some Nahua villages in the State of Veracruz, north winds and strong gusts are considered the souls of sorcerers attempting to destroy the fields of their enemies. This "mal aire," or bad air, also causes illnesses. At the same time, winds of apparently more benevolent aspect are great enemies of witches, who always go out wrapped up against them (Munch Galindo 1983:202). In Amatlán, Veracruz, people believe that winds of all origins cause virtually every other misfortune in the world, and are responsible for drought, failure to conceive, and in the worst case, death. They also enter the body and cause diseases. Moreover, these spirits are linked to filth and are attracted by human anger, negative thoughts, and violent actions (Sandstrom and Sandstrom 1986:99; for the curing rituals, or "sweeping," ochpantli, see pp. 100-129). In Amatlán, Veracruz, the Náhuatl speakers catalogue a multitude of aires that ride on the wind, inflicting physical and mental illnesses on hapless human beings, and damaging their property and the natural environment. These evil spirits pervade the world but are attracted to places where people unleash strong, negative emotions. If a man or woman swears, is angry, backbites, lies or cheats, there the winds will be. They especially attack the young and the old whose tonallis are not strong (Sandstrom 1991: 252-53). The people of Amatlán believe only their local curers can deal effectively with the winds by cleansing the afflicted person, cutting their forms from paper, and manipulating them in curing rituals (Sandstrom 1991: 252-53). Shamans originally cut these spirits in bark paper, but now they use commercial colored materials, often making several figures at the same time. The winds frequently appear with the bony bodies, shown by diamond-shapes to indicate ribs, to indicate they are the spirits of the dead, and with wing-like hands because they travel on the winds (Sandstrom 1991:269). One simple figure, for example, is a disease-causing spirit that attacks unsuspecting travelers (fig. 30; Sandstrom 1991:Fig. 17); another is a spirit of a dead person whose arms point downward to indicate its terres146


30. Paper figure of spirit that attacks travelers, with holes in the body representing the spaces between the ribs. Modern Nahua from Veracruz. (Redrawn by the author from Sandstrom 1991: fig. 17.)

31. Paper figure of a spirit of a dead person, with arms pointed to the ground to indicate its origin in human bones. Modern Nahua from Veracruz. (Redrawn by the author from Sandstrom 1991: fig. 20.)

trial origin in human bones (fig. 31; Sandstrom 1991 :Fig. 20; for a particularly vivid account of the malevolent aspect of the winds, see Sandstrom and Sandstrom 1986: 83) The aires have been Christianized in some places. According to the people of Amatlán, the devil is the leader of malevolent underworld powers, the ehecatl (Sandstrom and Sandstrom 1986:79,81-85; see also Knab 1983: 316). In Huitzilan de Serdán in the Sierra de Puebla, the devil bears the 147


name ehecatl (Taggart 1975:58-59). In the supernatural hierarchy of Hueyapan, Morelos, the devil is the most important of the bad "aires" (Alvarez Heydenreich 1987:125). The Spirits of the Dead as Aires The aires are also the souls of the dead, according to many modern Náhuatl speakers. In Santiago Yancuictlalpan, in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, the winds are detached spirits that have not yet left the earth to assume their status as "antepasados," or "those who have gone before" (usually construed as ancestors, although anyone who has died fits into this category, regardless of whether or not he or she has any kinship ties with the living). The departed are especially dangerous three days immediately after death when they may attack and frighten the living. They may appear as shadowy doubles or as animals, or they are squeezed into the body of a man or woman where they assume the form of a small worm, an insect, a hair, or another small foreign object. The ehecame, or winds, may enter through the breath, through unhealed wounds, and through other breaches in the skin. The insertion of a second entity into a single body upsets the person's equilibrium and chills the body and its life forces. The flesh may suffer from diseases brought on by cold, and the tonalli may begin to experience dreams filled with fear and anxiety (Signorini and Lupo 1989: 136-48). The human body is the source of "night-air," or "aire de noche," according to the people of San Francisco Tecospa. Night-air begins as a cold gas in the body contained in the shadow soul (more or less equivalent to the tonalli) and centered over the heart. At death, the night-air leaves the flesh and continues a postmortem existence as a formless apparition that restlessly roams and plagues the living (W. Madsen 1960:167,187). The night-air is essentially a ghost, and Tecospans offer differing explanations for its wandering. Some insist that only a man or woman who died by violence ejects such a vaporous entity, while others add a Christian twist and say that night-air is the residue of souls purging their sins. Ghosts of people who had bad luck or negative fates during their lives appear as animals, while those with a better past and future show themselves as hovering shrouds. In either case, they try to abbreviate their time on 148


earth by scaring good people to death or by causing fatal accidents. Should a ghost succeed in sending the souls of two virtuous men or women to the next life, it can then rest easily in its tomb (W. Madsen 1960:187). In addition, according to the people of Hueyapan, Morelos, one group of aires consists of the spirits of those who died violently or who made a pact with the devil. The air from a corpse is dangerous at any time, particularly to unborn infants. A pregnant woman should not be present at an interment, lest her fetus be born spotted or speckled (Alvarez Heydenreich 1987:126-34; see also López Austin 1972). This latter fear may reflect knowledge of a postmortem phenomenon, in which red splotches appear soon after death as the blood coagulates (Knight 1991:53). These spots resemble prominent birthmarks (or jaguar spots) and may be evidence of the mother's contact with a corpse. The aires, in Amatlán, Veracruz, have a variety of origins. They may come from the heavens, the earth's surface, or the underworld. On the earth, they may come from the places containing water, from geographical features like caves or hills, or from ruins. Others are the wandering dead who perished by violence or whose families have forgotten them. Because the latter are improperly treated, they return to take the living with them (Sandstrom 1991:252-53, 272-73). Winds and aires are composed of two types of figures: supernaturals and emanations from the human body. As supernaturals, they may be spirits with specific characteristics whose actions are known through or in the wind. If a particular wind has enough individuality and importance, he may be described as a leader of other similar entities, and local villagers may equate him with the powerful and dangerous Christian Devil. Or the spirit may simply be the spirit of the most prestigious religious site known to a community. Aires of specific places are also associated with particular diseases and ailments, and despite their power to inflict misery, they sometimes behave in a benevolent manner if propitiated. They may be protectors of order who punish infractions, regardless of a person's intention. A human being may mean no disrespect by passing too close to one of their caves or by not sharing food with the spirits, but intentions are not important. Many people throughout the New World believe in a code of correct and proper behavior. Violations require supernatural retribution, without regard to the character, ignorance, or intent of the transgressor. The way of 149


the world and the supernaturals must simply be obeyed (see, for example, Bahr et al. 1974, on Piman shamanism and taboo violations). The aires are also associated with rain and water and are frequently described as dwarves or of small size, in which case, they are related to the prehispanic tlaloques, who are helpers of the rain deity Tlaloc and his sister Chalchiutlicue. The aires also include emanations from human beings, and they originate from illicit sexual acts, anger, dissension, and lies. They represent a vaporous residue of strong, negative emotions from bodies. Aires leak from the flesh in life when a man or woman experiences powerful feelings, and they are certainly released after death. Sometimes these aires are attached to or located in particular body parts, like the bones, suggesting that at least some Nahua people feared human remains. The belief in the return of the dead as some form of wind, with varying degrees of malevolence, is widespread. The Central Mexicans' northern linguistic cousins frequently describe their departed kin precisely in these terms. The Dead as Wind among Uto-Aztecan Speakers

The Nevada Shoshone, for example, believed a ghost appeared either as a dust devil or the person's double (Steward 1945:348,389), while the Wind River Shoshone said one of their three souls was the breath, air, or mind. It came back in the whirlwind (Hultkranz 1951:29). The Northern Paiute thought the ghost emerged from the body at death as a small twister and returned periodically in this form (Stewart 1941:415, 418). The Ute and Southern Paiute concurred but added that it was possible to send the ghost wind away by simply telling it to leave (Stewart 1942:325). The Tubatulabal identified the animating soul as the breath and double of the body that left the flesh at death and reappeared as a harmless spirit in the whirlwind, dangerous only if it actually touched the living (Vogelin 1938:62). The southern California Luiseño said that the breath was one of their souls, and they sent it to the heavens after death by blowing on it. The dead returned to earth briefly in human shape, but afterward, their spirits reverted to their vaporous nature, and they became small whirlwinds (Sparkman-1908:226, 352). The Cahuilla of southern California believed the soul in the breath de150


tached from the flesh and could be perceived as an unexpected cold breeze or odor (Hooper 1920:339-42, 361; Strong 1929:166). They paid much attention to moving air and identified winds with powerful spirits of supernatural origin. One, called "Firewind," was the whirlwind. It was most active at night, when it captured people's breath souls as these wandered in dreams. Firewind was so potent that it changed the nature of any object it touched by charging the thing with its power to steal human souls. One Cahuilla said that if Firewind tossed drying garments from the clothes' line, a person should not touch them, lest the spirit take his or her soul. Another wind boldly seized unwary human spirits during the day (Bean 1972:166-67). The Navajo of Arizona continue to hold complex beliefs about the wind and a soul in the breath. They are not Uto-Aztecans, but they have been strongly influenced by the sedentary agricultural Pueblo peoples, some of whom did speak languages related to the Central Mexican tongue. According to the Navajo, the soul arrives as a stiff breeze at birth, enters the body of a newborn child, and leaves as a ghost when the person dies (Leighton and Kluckholn 1947:13, 91). Properly treated, the ghost, or chindi, moves on to the underworld, where it loses its personal identity and ceases to bother the living or to threaten them with illness, misfortune, or untimely death (Kluckholn and Leighton 1947:125-28). On the other hand, the Navajo say that sometimes the ghost remains in this world and hovers around the bones and physical possessions a person has touched, worn, or used. They speculate that the basically malevolent chindi is the "residue that man has been unable to bring into universal harmony" that clings to the objects a man or woman has handled (Reichard 1977:48-49). Because the ghost may return for these things, it is wise to destroy them (Sapir and Hoijer 1942:430-33). If the spirit's living relatives have not disposed of a quantity of goods sufficient to supply the deceased's needs in the next life, it may also come back and cause trouble (Kluckholn and Leighton 1947:126; for an analysis of grave goods, see Ward 1980). Contact with objects handled by the dead, or found where he or she used to live, can lead to ghost sickness (Levy, Neutra, and Parker 1987:33). The person who touches a body, even inadvertently, can become polluted, and witchcraft often consists of attacking a man or woman with "corpse pow151


der" made from human flesh or by shooting the victim with a small piece of bone from the dead or even a speck of ash from a hogan, a dwelling place, in which a human being has died (Kluckholn and Leighton 1947:128). Many native American people recognize wind spirits. Most often, solitary breezes like the whirlwind (a common phenomenon in the desert and arid areas) or a sudden gust of unusually hot, cold, or smelly air signal the dead spirit's presence. The spirits are not always dangerous, although some groups consider them to be unredeemably malevolent. If they interfere with the living, people call in a native eurer who knows how to make them return to the underworld. In Mexico, as in the North American West and Southwest, the dead's physical remains may be the source of dangerous vapors, or they may attract the breath soul to the grave. The winds or "aires" of modern Uto-Aztecan peoples seem to expand our more meager descriptions of prehispanic beliefs, and the characteristics of today's winds or aires correspond to some of the attributes of the ihiyotl, as nearly as it can be reconstructed from Molina's dictionary and Maya ethnography.





spirit that is associated with a vaporous substance that left the body in life and at death and that continued to hover around parts of the body afterwards. As López Austin points out, Náhuatl speakers ceased using the word at some time in the past, while the Chorti of Guatemala adopted and substituted it for their term designating these dangerous beings (1984:1, 258; 1988a:I, 233). Chorti beliefs enable us to establish the ihiyotl as a form of the wind, air, or breath, and Molina's dictionary defines another major characteristic—its propensity to glow. The Ihiyotl and the "Ijiyo" of the Chorti Maya

According to the Chortis, ihiyotl (also spelled ijiyo or hijillo) appears as a dirty, nearly invisible vapor (for the Chorti classification of aires, see Wisdom 1940:317-26; see also Redfield and Villa 1964:165-66, for the Yucatec 153


Maya). It radiates from ritually unclean people who are envious, angry, agitated, or exhausted, many of whom can inflict the European curse of the evil eye. Pregnant and menstruating women and brujos (sorcerers) emit this vapor, and worst of all, it is associated with apparitions and the physical remains of the dead (Wisdom 1940:328; López Austin 1984:1, 258-60; 1988a:I, 233-35). The Chorti say that a man or woman in possession of ijiyo has "strong blood," which lends some immunity to sorcery, witchcraft, and ghosts. Ijiyo is a useful protective device, but it also makes its owner emit a force dangerous to weaker or more vulnerable people (see Wisdom 1940:326-32, 374-75, for a discussion of this substance). Ijiyo's connection with strong blood suggests that it may be lodged, or originate, in the liver. Many people believe that the liver is capable of producing strong emotions, particularly anger. Bilis, a common and widespread disease, for example, is defined by many indigenous people as an overflowing of bile brought about by anger (Madsen and Madsen 1969:41). The ancient Mexica attributed anger's origin to the liver, which produced "thick, greenish, blue" bile, so that it is "our anger, it arouses one to anger, it swells one with anger, whence it is said, has my bile not [arisen]" (Sahagún 19501982 :Bk. X, 131). The organ also contained the power to make a child grow and flourish. At the bathing of a new daughter, the midwife bathes the chest over the heart of the child to fortify it and then identifies the agent of growth as both heart and liver (Sahagún 1950-1982:VI, 205-6; "hará crecer tu corazón y tus hígados"; 1969 :Bk. VI, 210; see fig. 12 for the close physical relationship of the two organs). The Ihiyotl as Breath

In the Náhuatl to Spanish section of Molina's Vocabulario, under the root iW-, the friar lists many terms that refer to breath and its animating or sustaining function (1970:36 r. and 36 v.). Ihiomotzaqua, for example, means "to wrap up my breath or to have the soul" ("ataparseme el huelgo, o tener alma"), while ihioana (nitla) means "to attract something toward oneself through breath" ("atraer algo hazia si con el huelgo") and ihiocuitia (nite) "to invigorate or feed another" ("refocilar o dar de comer a otro"). Ihiocaua is "to weaken or to lack breath from much work or from illness" 154


("desfallecer o faltarme el huelgo de mucho trabajo o de enfermedad"), and ihiomictia is "to stop the breath of another" ("atapar el huelgo a otro"). The Mexica attached enormous importance to the breath. Respiration came from the old celestial deities, Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl, "Our Lord and Lady of Sustenance," who breathed it into the child when they drilled the tonalli into the child before birth. The ihiyotl probably came into being at the same time as the tonalli. Similar ideas are reflected in modern Nahua belief. Villagers in San Francisco Tecospa say the aire, or breath, is wrapped in the shadow soul, their equivalent of the tonalli. In life one enfolds the other, and only at death are the two detached and released from the flesh (W. Madsen 1960:167, 213-14). People in Santiago Yancuictlalpan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla believe the tonalli, or the warm life-giving and sustaining force, is interlaced with the shadow soul, or ecahuil. The latter is "like a little air [and] no more, it is like a little lightning flash [and] no more, it is like a little ray [of light]" ("como un airecito nada más, es como un relámpago no más, es como una rayita [de luz]"; Signorini and Lupo 1989:64). Perhaps the Mexica postulated a similar relationship between the tonalli and the ihiyotl, but we cannot be certain. The ethnohistorical texts simply do not provide sufficient information. In any case, among the Mexica, breath was a powerful force, particularly when it left the body during life as speech. Words and breath were nearly the same, and ritualized words had the power to persuade or even compel. Sahagun lists a figure of speech, "His Breath, His Word," suggesting that the two were regarded as one and the same, or as an indissoluble pair carrying the force and will of the speaker. The friar writes that "this saying was said of the words of the rulers. It was said 'The breath, the word of the ruler'; not [just] anyone's word; precisely the word, the breath of our lord" (1950-1982 :Bk. VI, 246; "Su resuello, su espíritu, o su palabra. Se dice por el razonamiento que hace el señor a sus principales, o el predicador a los oyentes"; 1969:Bk. VI, 237). The seventeenth-century Spanish chronicler Fray Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón (1982:103), who worked among the Nahuas of Guerrero and Morelos and spent much of his life as parish priest of Atengo, Guerrero, told of one instance in which words had the power to compel. In his Tratado de las Supersticiones de los Naturales de esta Nueva España of 1629, the friar writes of a man from Iguala who knew special incantations to protect him 155


as he traveled in remote areas. The man was arrested because he had killed several bandits through the powerful protective incantations he knew. The court finally released him, apparently agreeing that magic charms and phrases did not constitute undue force. The Mexica evidently attached such importance to the breath that it was sometimes a property of the yolia, or life force centered in the heart, and of the tonalli, which is felt in the heat of a warm, living body. In fact, breath was characteristic of any life-giving entity, and all animating forces made themselves known in the form of respiration. To live is to breathe. Nevertheless, the ihiyotl was somewhat distinctive. It was also the breath that exited from the nether regions. One last verb in Molina's dictionary adds some surprising physical characteristics to the ihiyotl. The word ibiotia means "to expel air, to break wind, to take strength, or to shine and glow with rich vestments" ("resollar, o peerse, o tomar aliento, o resplandear y luzir con ricas vestiduras"; Molina 1970:36 r.). In one context, then, the ihiyotl may be the breath, but it can also be the breath as it leaves the body in gleaming, reeking flatus. While retained in the body, the ihiyotl was known through its power both to invigorate and to sap energy, but it was also clearly a type of air or wind that smells and shines. As it turns out, other indigenous people's categories of spirits as air or wind also sometimes include the property of luminescence and odor. Spirit as a Gaseous, Glowing Entity Many Náhuatl speakers describe the soul as an entity that either glows itself or carries lights. People in Atla in the Sierra Norte de Puebla see lights in places where the strongest "aires" live. In one spot, Tlatocapa Tlatocapatzintli, many small beacons are frequently cited, and the Nahua villagers interpret them as candles lit and left by the winds, much as human beings ignite tapers in churches and set them before saints in complex, ritually significant patterns. Equally in Atla, they identify the flickers on Soapiltépetl, a hill in the vicinity, as shiny white reflecting mirrors (Montoya Briones 1964:164). The local people also associate lights with the tlahuepoches, or dangerous nocturnal birds that suck blood from adults (but prefer the blood of infants) through long beaks they use as suction tubes. 156


Although the tlahuepoches appear in avian shapes, they are human beings who have the power to transform into these frightening forms by leaving their feet standing upright or jumping over the fire seven times. In Atla, the fearsome tlahuepoches either carry lights or emit a glow themselves. The glowing tlahuepoches and their flares are both the transforming souls of sorcerers, and the gleaming spirits congregate at their special gathering place between Atla and the neighboring Xoxotla (Montoya Briones 1964: 173-74). The Náhuatl speakers of Cuetzalan in the Sierra Norte de Puebla also connect lights with shape-shifting sorcerers. The community's major worry is the witch, or nahualli, a terrifying and malevolent being whose activities are known in catastrophes, misfortune, and illnesses, and whose lanterns dance along trails at night (Ross 1950:100-101). In Santiago Yancuictlalpan, another community in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, the ecahuil, or shadowy double that leaves the body during sleep, is a "soul" or animating force related to the tonalli. Separated from the body, it is likened to a puff of air, a bolt of lightning, or a small ray of light (Signorini and Lupo 1989:63-64). In Mesoamerica, unexplained lights are usually the souls of malevolent but living sorcerers. Further north, Uto-Aztecan speakers also identify glowing things as spirits of the dead, particularly of exceptionally powerful beings or people. According to the Luiseño of southern California, when their hero Nahachish neared death, he asked his people to cut into his belly to release his spirit. This spirit took the form of a giant firefly that flew off to the San Jacinto Mountains, while his body was transformed into a large rock with a central cavity that can still be seen today. The Luiseño added that another landmark, the Takwish Rock, was a monster that kidnapped people in the primordial First Times, pounded their flesh until it was tender and consumed it on the spot. When he was not in human form, he could be seen as a meteor or shooting star. The soul of the neighboring Temeculas's ancient leader, who conducted their ancestors to southern California, also became a giant luminous firefly after his demise (Parker 1965:5-7; Sparkman 1908: 219; True andMeighan 1987:189). According to the Cahuilla of southern California, the telwel, a soul in the breath left during dreaming, wandered from the body before death, 157


and then turned into a shooting star (Hooper 1920:339-41, 361). It reappeared as a thought that crossed the mind, a draft of cold air, or an odor (Bean 1972:168-69). Because it was breath and resembled rushing air after death, the living heard the dead at night, calling in the wind (Hooper 1920: 339-42, 361; Strong 1929:166). The Kawaiisu of the southern Sierra Nevadas said that, in the underworld where the dead lived, their fires looked like lights (Zigimond 1977: 92), but on earth, hot winds that riffled the pages of books or made whistling sounds at night to gain the attention of the living were departed souls. They moved across the landscape as small twisters and entered the mouths of unsuspecting people (Ibid., pp. 64, 66-67). Around the turn of the century, the Papago of the Arizona-Mexico border also saw the soul as a glowing light whose behavior was similar to a flying insect. One man recounted an experience he had when camping out with some companions. During the night he awoke and saw a small light similar to a firefly. It flew into his boot and one of his companions stuffed a cloth into the opening after it. Afterwards, they both went back to sleep. At dawn, everyone else awoke, but they could not arouse him, until another companion removed the rag from his boot and let the small light out. The soul returned, and he awakened (Underbill 1969:141). Ihiyotl seems to be another term for the wind and airs. Like them, ihiyotl is a dangerous vapor given off by people in the grip of strong or negative emotions (whether voluntary or not) and by the dead and their remains. Without pushing the analogy too far, the ihiyotl sounds much like the Navajo chindi, which enters the body at birth as a wind and exits at death, becoming a malevolent spirit that plagues the living if it has not received sufficient goods to be comfortable in the next life. We may never know whether the prehispanic Central Mexicans actually used the term ihiyotl in speaking of disembodied spirits, or whether they preferred ehecatl or some other designation. Perhaps the Mexica also substituted another word for the spirit, much as the Chortí Maya employ the Náhuatl word. The Chortí may have chosen a foreign term for these frightening spirits, negative human emanations and the deceased, so as not to call or attract malevolent forces. Presumably disembodied Maya spirits do not understand the Náhuatl language and are not disturbed or attracted by hearing themselves so named. 158


In the Americas, many people believed the souls of some or all human beings became shining entities perceptible in the air. Natural objects that glow are rare, but they include insects, shooting stars, and unexplained lights that resemble lanterns. The Mexica considered these last entities the shining ihiyotl.






for people who live close to standing or slow-moving water, such lights are a common occurrence. The modern Nahuas' identifications of lights as lanterns provide us with a clue to the nature of what they see and what their ancestors probably saw. At night, a lantern swings, bobs up and down. It appears, disappears, and reappears behind rocks or trees. Throughout the world people have observed glowing entities and spirits behaving in exactly this way. In European folklore, they are called the will-o'-the-wisp, jack-o'-lantern, corpse lights, Indian lights, or the ignis fatuus, meaning foolish (fatuus) fire (ignis), Testimonies about moving lights appear in travel accounts from many places and in descriptions provided by a wide variety of reliable witnesses. William R. Corliss, in his compendium of early eyewitness reports notes that all sightings of these lights take place in marshy areas (1982:167-74) similar to the environment surrounding the Mexica capital of Tenochti16O


dan in the center of a large lake. Differences in time, place, and language suggest that the observers were seeing an objective phenomenon. The Ignis Fatuus in Written Reports

Corpse lights have been reported in France, Germany, England, Wales, Belgium, Italy, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and in many places in the United States, including Maine, New York, Connecticut, Nevada, Colorado, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas. Although sightings of ignis fatuus are most common during rainy periods and in well watered, muddy, and freshly fertilized places, lights have appeared in Nevada above terrain temporarily flooded with no more than an inch or two of water. Only a little water is necessary for them to materialize (Corliss 1982:168-75; Minnaert 1954:352). The lights range in size from an inch to several feet in diameter and vary in color from pink and red to blue, purple, green, or yellow. Most often they tend to pinks, lavenders, and blues. Sometimes the accounts associate the lights with bad odors, particularly that of sulphur (as does the glowing ihiyotl, also associated with a vile odor). Some reports link them to heat and fire, but generally they are cold. They swing like lanterns and move over the countryside in erratic patterns. They stop, change direction, and sometimes seem to wait for the investigator to catch up before moving away. The ghost lights behave as though alive and with a will of their own (Corliss 1982:168-75). While they are most visible at night, they can be seen during the day in rare instances, and some have burned for hours at a time (Minnaert 1954:352). Nineteenth-century accounts of the ignis fatuus are particularly useful because the observers do not phrase their descriptions in scientific or technical language. Instead they present their reports as strange experiences, often not yet understood nor logically explained. What is remarkable is the similarity in sightings from around the world. One reporter near Neumark, Germany, for example, encountered a light near a marsh during the 1830s. He noted that he could see bubbles rising from the spot, almost as if there were a living organism breathing beneath the surface, but at night, blue flames erupted from the water and hovered over the roiling surface (Corliss 1982:168). As he hurried 161


toward the colored lights, they moved away, and so could not be examined. Another time, he stood still, and they came closer to him. The narrator also found them to be so ephemeral that his breathing dissipated them (Ibid., 168). In the spring of 1813, a nocturnal observer near Lincoln, England, was joined on the road by a jack-o'-lantern traveling in the same direction. It moved suddenly from the ground to six feet in the air. He tried to determine what it was, but as he came close, "whether from the noise [he] made, or some other cause, it suddenly rose from its resting-place, about two feet from the ground, cleared a high bank, and pursued its course in a direct line over the adjoining fields." He could not follow it, but he described its retreat in erratic, "almost butterfly motion" until it was lost to his sight (Corliss 1982:169). Finally, an account from the Paraná River in Brazil, published in 1882, said that the light emerged from the damp ground "with the brightness and speed of a rocket," and then fell backwards as quickly, but with a less dramatic effect. The narrator and a companion followed one light through swampy ground until they were less than ten feet from it. Then, he saw it rise to five feet or so above the ground. It turned out to be a blue globe so bright they could not look directly at it. Curiously, he noted, it did not cast shadows or emit rays, presumably meaning that it was not hot. The light moved over hedges and trees and disappeared into the swamp (Corliss 1982:170). Of course, by the nineteenth century, European observers no longer believed that the ignis fatuus were spirits returned to haunt the living, although some village folk continued to interpret shifting nocturnal lights as the dead. Indeed, for a time, people who consulted spiritualists also believed that the insubstantial, luminescent figures manifesting themselves during seances were ectoplasm representing the departed souls of their loved ones. Nevertheless, most nineteenth-century observers of the ignis fatuus seem to have believed that a scientific explanation of the dancing lights was plausible and likely, even though it had not yet been offered. The ihiyotl—the spirit that was wind, light, and odor—is probably the Central Mexican version of the will-o'-the-wisp. Certainly the Mexica were living in the right environment to see this phenomenon: a shallow, boggy lake was the perfect environment for marsh gas. 162


Swamp Gas and Nocturnal Glow Methane is one of the aliphatic hydrocarbons, organic compounds with simple chemical structures derived from carbon and hydrogen. Methane is one of the simplest chemicals in this family, and it is classified among the alkanes or paraffins. It occurs naturally as gas (Hodgson et al. 1988:20; Klassen et al. 1986:658). In the natural world, methane is produced by anaerobic bacteria in wet, decaying vegetation. These microscopic organisms metabolize organic material, and methane is a by-product of the breakdown of vegetation. Because methane is insoluble in water, it bubbles to the surface, and sometimes the lake or pond even appears to boil vigorously above an active bacterial colony, just as the observer from Neumark, Germany, reported in the 1830s. Methane is also produced in the rumen of cud-chewing animals. A single large cow, for example, may belch as much as two hundred liters of methane each day (McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology 1991: VIII, 478-79). Methane is also present in about one-third of human flatulence, and in the expulsions of virtually everyone who has eaten beans (Rabkin and Silverman 1991:10). Many different species of bacteria produce the gas as a by-product of their metabolism, but these bacteria all have similar nutritional and metabolic properties. They are extremely sensitive to the presence of oxygen and die if exposed to air. In addition, all share two unique coenzymes, one of which transports low energy electrons. When these bacteria are exposed to oxygen, this coenzyme makes them fluorescent in ultraviolet light (McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology 1991: VIII, 479). This property probably does not explain the glow associated with the gas, however. More likely, the flickering nocturnal lights are caused by its spontaneous ignition (Encyclopedia Britannica 1956 :XII, 74). Other than a swampy or damp environment at night, reports of the sightings of the ignis fatuus do not generally give any context, and we do not know in what situations the Mexica saw the disembodied ihiyotl. The atmosphere is often charged with static electricity before, during, or after thunderstorms, or at times of prolonged winds. Occasionally, the air builds up a sufficient charge to ignite combustible materials (Sanderson 1972: 234), and static electricity is probably a more dangerous phenomenon 163


today than at any earlier time. For example, the charge produced by a nearby thunderstorm may have set ablaze flammable hydrogen leaking from a fuel cell that powered the German dirigible, the Hindenburg (Ludlum 1982:142-43). Around Tenochtitlan, the crackling sparks undoubtedly set fire to the large quantities of combustible methane bubbling up from the vegetation rotting underwater. Methane ignites in temperatures of 650 degrees Fahrenheit (well below the temperatures generated by atmospheric lightning). Mixed with air, it is not just combustible, but downright explosive. The most violent convulsions occur when the gas is mixed in a one to ten ratio with the atmosphere. In concentrations of less than 5.53 percent, the gas refuses to burn, but when it exceeds 14 percent, it may ignite without a sound (McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology 1992 :XI, 109-10; Merck 1989:5862). The demented habit of lighting farts, which sometimes results in embarrassing burns, is well known to college students. And some years ago, a methane-laden patient exploded during electrosurgery, an occurrence that provides a persuasive reason for emptying the stomach before invasive medical procedures (Rabkin and Silverman 1991:10). Methane burns with a pale glowing bluish light (Merck 1989:5862). The flames of the ignis fatuus are usually not described as the vigorous yellow or white of a hot fire, but the blue, lavender, and pink of a low temperature fire. One report even said it was possible to put one's hand in the flame without a burn. The head of a cane, held in the fire for at least fifteen minutes, was not much warmer than at the beginning of the experiment (Minnaert 1954:352). The low temperature also explains why burning methane does not set adjacent trees or shrubs on fire. If the ihiyotl was indeed a methane fire and the ignis fatuus, the Mexica probably saw it as a glowing, elusive entity drifting over the lake surrounding Tenochtitlan. The environment favored the formation of the methane necessary for the ignis fatuus, and during the rainy season, the gas could have easily ignited because of residual static electricity. The flames burned cold, unlike the warm and protective hearth fire known to the Mexica or the internal heat of the tonalli. Mesoamericans probably associated cold fire with the underworld and the dead, and the strange behavior of the ignis fatuus suggests a shy, if malign, spirit. The cool fires seem to move, according to European reports, and in164


deed, gas was easily disrupted by the approach of a spectator, and it often seemed to recede, as if eluding the person. These small, rather delicate low temperature fires may be easily extinguished by a gust of wind. At the same time, another concentration of the gas further away catches fire, so that the ignis fatuus or ihiyotl appears to withdraw in a lively, animated fashion (Minnaert 1954:352). Or the flame may move along a methane cloud, burning the gas behind it, so that it travels in one direction. Observationally, the flickering light retires from contact with the living and may suddenly fade away into the darkness. Perhaps, too, the Mexica found evidence of a glowing soul in the luminescent bacteria that float on the water or attach to corpses retrieved from the lake. These microscopic organisms occur primarily in salt water, and indeed, only one fresh water species has been discovered. Their light is due to a chemiluminescent reaction and to the absorption and reemission of natural daylight. The organisms do not feel appreciably warmer when they are illuminated, and the glow is perceived as cold light. Some live on dead matter, including meat and fish, and they are not dangerous if consumed. The evolutionary advantage of bioluminscence is not at all clear, and it is usually defined as a nonessential characteristic. Light-producing bacteria often occur in colonies or in proximity to nonluminescent bacteria of the same species (McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology 1991:1, 27;VIII, 268, 272). Two common types of luminescent bacteria are Achrombacter fisheri and Photobacterium phosphoreum (sometimes conflated into Photobacterium fisheri). The light these organisms produce is relatively bright and requires the presence of oxygen. The luciferin, or light-producing material, may be a riboflavin derivative that undergoes oxidation to emit the glow. The light is a steady blue-green (McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology 1991: II, 27, VIII, 268-70), a color similar to the burning ignis fatuus. The luminescent bacteria are often free-floating in salt water, and if they contaminate a body, they, and not the corpse itself, cause the faint gleaming (Poison et al. 1985:21). Despite their rarity, when these microorganisms cover a body and make it glow, the phenomenon is sufficiently impressive to be described in the folklore of many peoples around the world (see Barber 1988:70, for a discussion of this occurrence in European legend). An ancient Central Mexi165


can, retrieving a contaminated body from the lake may have interpreted the glow as evidence of a spirit attempting to leave the body, not just through the orifices, but through the skin, as if it were distributed throughout the body, much like the greenish aura caused by static electricity. Thus, the shining ihiyotl appeared first as breath, in and around the body in life, then on the flesh in death, and over the lake as the ignis fatuus after death.





based on odors. The Totonac of coastal Veracruz, for example, have a complicated system of olfactory classification (Aschmann 1946), while the Uto-Aztecan Luiseño of southern California noted the presence of an evil water spirit called the yuyungviivit because it emitted a smell like that of stagnant water (Sparkman 1908:219). Small wonder, then, that the ancient Mexica noticed and attributed significance to aromas. According to Molina, the term ihiotia means "to expel air, to break wind, to take strength, or to shine and glow with rich vestments" (1970:36 r.; "resollar, o peerse, o tomar aliento, o resplandear y luzir con ricas vestiduras"). The elusive ihiyotl was associated with the vile smell of flatus, but methane gas itself is colorless and odorless, and hence, cannot be responsible for the aroma of this spirit, even if it is the source of its glow. Because the Mexica lived on a shallow lake with a marshy perimeter, they were surrounded by rotting vegetation, and decaying plants also yield 167


a wide variety of chemicals with extremely unpleasant odors. In ancient Central Mexico, the various components of swamp gas were the basis for an extensive olfactory metaphor linking the smell of the shining ihiyotl to the body's internal rumblings, and by extension, to the stinking vapors emanating from the dead. Rotting Vegetation, Flatulence, and Life Force Two common metabolic products of anaerobic bacteria are ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Coastal wetlands are particular rich sources for sulfurous gases. These are released in greater amounts at night, when they sometimes reach concentrations of ten thousand times the global norm (Jorgenson, 1982:221-26). Thus, rotting vegetation yields methane, which is odorless and colorless, but which ignites at low temperatures, and gases, including ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which are also produced by the breakdown of food in the human intestinal tract. Flatus consists primarily of odorless compounds, including nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane. Its largest components are carbon dioxide, which acts as a propellant, and hydrogen. Other gases make up as little as 1 percent of human flatus, but these lend internal gas its aroma. Most are associated with the breakdown of the tryptophane in protein foods and include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile amines, skatole, índole, and short-chain fatty acids. Skatole, as the name implies, lends its odor to feces and is usually accompanied by the similar compound, índole. Short-chain fatty acids have the odor of rancid butter (Rabkin and Silverman 1991:12-16). The smell of flatus (and hence, the odor of the ihiyotl, according to the Mexica) is attributable to ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, and the odors wafting over the lake around Tenochtitlan were similar, if not identical. The vaporous ihiyotl was normally contained in the flesh, but it emerged during life as flatus, a common by-product of a healthy, well-fed individual. Breaking wind is normal, and usually the more a person eats, the greater the volume of internal wind seeking escape. The Mexica were correct: the more ihiyotl—spirit and breath—a person possessed, the greater the vigor of that person's life force. Conversely, people who do not eat adequately are subject to fatigue and illness and contain less life force manifested as 168


exiting air, or flatus. As they noted, the ihiyotPs absence caused physical debilities, while its presence made people grow and thrive. The amount of gas in the intestines provides a good index to sufficient food intake and general health. But the amount of flatus depends not only on the quantity, but also on the types of foods consumed. After a meal, intestinal bacteria go to work on the oligosaccharides, or complex sugars, and turn them into simple sugars. This process causes the contents of the stomach to ferment and produce a gas bubble (Rabkin and Silverman 1991: 6-7). Many of the staples of the Precolumbian diet, including beans, corn, squash, pumpkins, and amaranth (Ibid., 152-55), cannot be broken down by the stomach; this task is left to colonies of bacteria, which also produce gases during the process. In most normal pregnancies, the shifting of gas in the lower intestines is similar to the sensation of "quickening," that is, the fetus's first movements, which usually begin between the fourteenth and the twenty-sixth week of pregnancy. When the new mother first feels this motion in the womb, usually between the eighteenth and the twenty-second week, it often feels like, and is mistaken for, gas (Eisenberg et al. 1991:4,159). If the woman were not expecting, her perception might by followed by a volley of air, and indeed, a pregnant woman is often not sure if the rippling in her lower abdomen is her infant or her dinner. Observationally, the soul that escapes or is detected in the odor of flatus—the ihiyotl—becomes particularly active inside the body at the time of pregnancy. Quickening feels like intestinal gas, and the sensation becomes more intense as the child begins to move and grow. Perceptually, quickening appears to be a function of interior air, so that the increased activity of the ihiyotl coincides, and causes, the enlivening of the child in utero. As the Mexica observed, the liver and perhaps the ihiyotl lodged within it, encourage the healthy development and growth of a child. Thus, a good amount of this soul helps the person to become strong. Methane, Digestive Gases, and the Dead

Puffs of methane, according to many reports, also appear in churchyards where the dead are buried (Encyclopedia Britannica 1956 :XII, 74). Unless corpses are enclosed and sealed in lead coffins or buried sufficiently 169


deep in the ground, methane may leak to the surface and, under certain conditions, auto-ignite. Once again, the pale, glowing gas seems to be disembodied souls risen from the grave (see Barber 1988:70, for a discussion of methane and its association with the soul in European folklore). Even more important, methane and the digestive gases are normal by-products of microscopic organisms contained within the body. These continue to live and work, even after the human being has died. In the process of autolysis, the digestive enzymes continue to work after death, but they no longer break down just the food remaining in the digestive tract. Instead, they start on the body's internal walls, slip into the body's other cavities, and continue to digest the flesh until the organs and enzymes have broken down. At the same time, bacteria also digest the tissues, and during putrefaction, release the foul-smelling gases associated with decomposing protein (Rose 1988:178), appropriately called putrescine and cadaverine. These gases are present in flatulence during life and provide evidence of bacterial activity in the digestive tract, but of course, their amounts increase markedly after death (Merck 1989:1264). Cadaverine is the result of the decarbonization of lysine and is generated by the action of bacteria on meat, the albumin in eggs, and fish, as well as on the human body itself (Ibid., 245). If the Mexica could see and smell the ihiyotl, they probably also could observe its exit from the body after death, both as flatus and as a greenish stain that covered the body. In a mild climate, decomposition begins with the appearance of spots over the abdominal area in as little as two days after death if the body is not refrigerated (Simpson, with Knight 1985:12). This is caused by the actions of enzymes, the body's internal bacteria, and bacteria from organisms in the surrounding earth, air, and water (Rose 1988: 178). After a week or so, these spots cover the entire body. The optimum temperature for decay falls between 70 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The entire process of decomposition may be hastened in bodies that have been submerged in water (Poison et al. 1985:20,22), and in as little as twelve to eighteen hours after death, skin color may change from flesh to green to black (Rose 1988:178-79). Perhaps the Mexica interpreted these unsavory dark green spots that appeared on the abdomen above the liver as evidence of the bile that lodged in that organ and filled people with intense anger. Should the corpse be con170


taminated by thermoluminescent bacteria, the pale glowing green color might be considered to be the bile or the exiting spirit. If the ihiyotl resided in the liver, its attempt to leave the body at death stained the abdominal area a dark green, perhaps even as the body glowed with thermoluminescent bacteria (see López Austin 1984:1, 262; 1988a:I, 236, for the association of the ihiyotl with this part of the body). As decomposition proceeds, the internal build up of methane and the accompanying gases often causes the body to bloat, sometimes to as much as three times its size (Rose 988:178). The gases shift inside the body, and the corpse may be briefly reanimated, albeit in a rather bizarre and unpleasant way by the ihiyotl. The body may shift position (see Barber 1988:128, for a discussion of this phenomenon in the folklore of Europe). Observations of this grisly phenomenon are commonly elements in Irish stories in which the dead man sits up during his own wake and delivers a witty oneliner or two before lying down to his final rest. As long as the ihiyotl was retained wholly or partially in the body, the flesh was alive in some manner. With the build up of gases, the corpse appears to grow in the abdominal area, as if the person, whether male or female, had conceived a child. Even without being moved, it emits vile odors from its orifices, almost in a grotesque parody of flatulence, if such is possible. In Mexica terms, the ihiyotl appears to be trapped in the body as it bloats and simulates fecundity, but the gases can be heard and smelled as the spirit leaves through the body's openings. Moving the body allowed the gases to escape explosively, and if conditions were right, the methane might ignite with the characteristic popping. At death, the ihiyotl left the body, but not necessarily all at once. The process of draining the spirit from the body may have taken some time. The optimum temperature range for speeding putrefaction is compatible with the climate of the Central Plateau of Mexico for most of the year. Moreover, Tenochtitlan sat in the center of a lake, and death by accidental drowning would have been relatively common in the prehispanic period. When a body fell into the water, the entire process would have been quite rapid, and the living would have had frequent opportunities to observe the green patches on a body's sides, the swelling, and the escape of gases—some with the odors of flatulence and rotting vegetation—from the orifices. 171


Organizing the Ihiyotl

Native American people commonly identify the dead as air, wind, or glowing entities. The Mexica are well within indigenous traditions with the ihiyotl, but at the same they occupied a specific and unusual ecological niche that enabled them to elaborate the idea of the dead spirit in a particular way. They constructed an olfactory metaphor. The ihiyotl evolves from common and widespread ideas about the nature of the spirit after death, but the characteristics the Mexica ascribed to this soul are based upon careful observations of natural phenomena associated with wetlands. The ihiyotl is the ancient Mexica equivalent of the aire or wind of their descendants. The Mexica themselves may or may not have used the term commonly, but modern Náhuatl speakers eschew the term. Instead, Nahua villagers prefer ehecatl, or they substitute the Spanish aire. On the other hand, today Chorti employ the Central Mexican word in preference to one in their own language. Perhaps ancient and modern people would rather choose a foreign word for the spirit, so as not to call it by its real or true designation in their own language, and hence to alert these unpleasant entities to any attention from the living. Even speaking their name might summon them: better they should not even be mentioned in human speech. The Mexica would have been surrounded by dead spirits. Other people saw the corpse lights occasionally, when a few inches of water collected in low spots, but the Mexica would have seen them all year long. No wonder they did not use their own word: their dead lived with them.




in the soul. As my work progressed, however, it evolved into an exploration of the body and natural history, rather than an iconographic and ethnohistorical study of religious symbolism. Without realizing it, I slipped into the old Americanist tradition of examining the natural history basis of indigenous thought and belief. Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, the sixteenthcentury ethnographer-priest whose work is crucial to our understanding of the Mexica, for example, introduced his work with accounts of the gods but ended with the properties and folklore of minerals. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European natural historians came to the New World on exploratory expeditions, and they wrote about and provided illustrations of, not just the land, its resources, geology, animals, and medicinal plants, but the customs of its people. They treated the human inhabitants as part of the environment. Although this approach has been somewhat discredited, its lessons 173


should not be entirely ignored. At worst, materialist explanations of ideology deprive human beings of their unique ability to make culture and to fashion an intellectual life that often far exceeds the simplicity of their technology or the poverty of their territories. But at best, they provide the basis for a holistic approach to human thought. People do not live in vacuums or abstract spaces. They formulate their concepts and cultures in specific environments and of the raw materials available to them. When we reconstruct what they saw, felt, touched, and smelled, their ideas become neither exotic nor opaque, but intelligent explanations of the environment that existed at a particular time and place. This is, as I noted, an old tradition. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Sir James Frazer (1916,1926,1968,1976) and Edward Tylor (1878,1903,1970a, 1970b, 1970c, 1974) often attributed the origins of Old and New World beliefs to responses to the natural world. Unfortunately, scholars from this period tended to view the genesis of native beliefs from nature as inferior to the philosophy and religion of the West, which, like the Old and New Testaments, were supposed to have been divinely revealed or which had the cachet of being the result of sophisticated speculation, like the works of the Classical Greeks. If a concept could be demonstrated to have originated in observations of the natural world, it was manmade, arguable, and less worthy and exalted than ideas whose terrestrial origins are obscured. Later scholars examining the interplay between environment and thought omitted the slight tinge of judgment about the value of concepts rooted in natural history. Particularly noteworthy is the work of Weston LaBarre (1938,1951,1980), who has strongly stressed the role observation of the physical world played in the development of religious ideas in the Americas. Probably better known are the popular studies of Marvin Harris (1974, 1977, 1979, 1985, 1987, 1989), who I believe sometimes misunderstands New World evidence, but who, nevertheless, shares the assumption that people do not invent their religion from mental constructs and that even the seemingly most baffling (to outsiders, at least) behavior has a logical basis in experience. Materialist explanations of religion express the belief that, for all their differences, people provide rational and intelligible explanations about their world that can be understood if we have access to the information they have about their world. 174


Finally, the group of scholars most interested in pursuing the influence of environment on ideology are the South Americanists, and particularly those working in the lowland areas of that continent, regardless of what other theoretical approach they use to decipher their cultural materials. Among many excellent works, those of Wilbert (1970,1975,1989), the late Reichel-Dolmatoff (1971, 1975, 1978), Crocker (1977, 1985), and the formidable Richard Evans Schultes (1988) are outstanding. The influence of observation is apparent, too, in the far north, and among ethnographers of the Inuit especially, the inescapable and desolate environment is regularly assumed to exert a powerful influence on thought. Some good and interesting work is also being done on Mesoamerican topics. Scholars such as Broda (1982a, 1982b, 1987a, 1987b, 1989, 1991), D. Carrasco (1981a, 1981b, 1987a, 1987b, 1989, 1991), and Matos Moctezuma (1984a, 1984b, 1987a, 1987b, 1988, 1990) working primarily with the physical placement of the capital city of Tenochtitlan and Mexica legend, have made significant contributions to understanding how environment, urbanization, and ideology were closely related (see also Carlson 1981; Léon-Portilla 1978; Tichyl983). That culture grows from a specific environment does not devalue anyone's thoughts. Perhaps the West must put aside its suspicions about the unworthiness of ideology that begins with observation and its insistence on an outmoded vision of human detachment from the natural world. But having explored the natural history basis of the soul in ancient Mexico, what may we conclude about them? The Three Souls as Artifacts of Observation

In the entire corpus of Mexica art, representations of the Mexicans three animating powers are rare. In fact, the souls can be specifically identified only once, on page 44 of Codex Laud (fig. 32), where they leave the body, presumably at death. López Austin (1984:1, 361; 1988a:I, 316-17) suggests the yolia may be the sinuous serpent wearing the wind god's buccal mask and truncated cap (for example, figs. 27 and 28) and emerging as the breath from the skeleton's mouth. The tonalli may appear at the top of the head, where it exits from the body during dreams, visions, or frights, thereby causing the symptoms of soul loss. The ihiyotl may be dislodged from its 175


32. The separation of the yolia, tonalli, and ihiyotl at death. Postclassic Central Mexico or Puebla. (Redrawn by the author from Codex Laud 1966:44.)

home in the liver, and it appears to come from the intestines. On the other hand, the skeleton does not possess its own specific vital power, but in Codex Laud, it is as alive as the rest of the body's components, perhaps because one of the three enlivening forces—usually the yolia—may cling to the remains in the grave. Usually, the animating powers underlie representations and stories rather than forming categories illustrated directly. More often, at least one of the three souls is the basis for the mechanism by which gods and men accomplish their actions in the world, and in this context, the tonalli is certainly the most important of the three. It is a life force, and it is also the means by which innate life force is increased. It gives power to make organisms come into being, live, grow, and reproduce. At the same time, it is also a power that circulates throughout the world and lodges in the body, but it is not co-equal or synonymous with the body. In living flesh, a person feels it as heat, the throbbing of blood, or the warmth of a blush, and it is manifested in the growing hair or nails. It can also be held, seen, and displayed in objects the West would classify as inanimate— in well-worked precious jewels, as rare, beautifully colored feathers, or in the skins and pelts of animals. The tonalli is physical but ephemeral, and people see it as the body's double—a furtive shadow visible in the sunlight or the cold, in the traces of family resemblance passing across faces of descendants or twins, or in the likeness captured in a reflecting mirror. 176


In many ways, tonalli is an impersonal force. It exists outside the specific person in which it may temporarily reside. The animating force is contained in, and conveyed by, the sacred 260-day ritual calendar used to divine the nature of time, and the creatures born in it. The dispensations of the days are set and fixed even before a man or woman comes into being. Even the gods must accept the characters the days lend to living beings, and probably to their endeavors and acts as well. Because it is not specific and personal, the tonalli can leap from the body and be transferred from one person to another by sharing a name, taking the hair, or acquiring a captive's blood. As an impersonal force circulating throughout the world, the Mexica conception of tonalli was well within Native American ideas of spirit power as an impersonal force held temporarily by an individual entity, human or otherwise. Without insisting on exact correspondence, the tonalli sounds much like the impersonal orenda of the Iroquois, wakan of the Sioux, or sila of the eastern Inuit, all of which are impersonal powers and which, like the Mexica idea, are sometimes associated with a kind of cosmic breath that enters human bodies in varying quantities and lends differing vital powers. The Mexica perceived the tonalli in the breath. Nevertheless, the tonalli was somewhat unusual because it entered the body, not just through the respiration of the aged deities, but through the action of the fire drill. In Mesoamerica, metaphorical language about the body tends to be drawn— appropriately—from nature, but the metaphor for the tonalli's beginning was based on a technological process. The body is usually described as a plant, or like a plant. It is made of cornmeal, or it is a fruit or flower. Or it is a microcosm of the earth, or the sky, or some combination of the two. The technological origin of one of the human souls is almost the ancient Central Mexican equivalent of the twentieth-century assertion that the "body is a machine." But then, by the time of the Conquest, the Mexica of Central Mexico were more or less urban people, and for many of them living in the capital, perhaps the agricultural metaphors were already beginning to lose their immediacy. As a shadow and double of the body, the tonalli may have survived the body at death and trudged the road to the underworld. Its exact fate is difficult to determine, but the Mexica apparently did not believe the tonalli was re-released randomly into the environment after death. Physical heat 177


dissipated, to be sure, and pulses ceased, as the somatic signs that it had escaped its earthly envelope, but it seems to have remained intact and to have lived a future life. If this is the case, over time, human existence represented a transfer of vital power from the heavens and from warm things, like the sun and fire, first to the human body, growing plants, and all creatures on the earth's surface. But after death, the human life force went to the underworld. The passage of years inevitably meant less heat above, and more warmth below, where, it turns out, it was not wasted. The underworld was a dark, dank place. Below the ground were graves and corpses, but the world below was also the place where the seeds of new lives were kept. One Central Mexican story tells of Quetzalcóatl transforming himself into a black ant in order to enter the Mountain of Sustenance to retrieve seeds for agriculture and for the benefit of humanity, thus suggesting a more positive aspect for the place, depending upon the story and the point the narrator wished to make (Leyenda de los Soles 1945: 106; for an English-language version of this story, see 1992:146-47). Logically, too, the underworld contained not only corpses but plants, which were pushed up from below. It was also filled with tonalli, because the dead are nothing but their tonallis, or shadowy doubles of the body in life. Their living relatives sent them off after death, bundled up in white cloth, and then called them back annually as the life-giving rain clouds. The ancestors' animating force spread across the dry land and returned their vital power to the surface and to their relatives' fields and crops. The Mexica often fortified their strength by burning copal, a resinous incense that produces enormous quantities of smoke resembling rain clouds, and by cooking popcorn, which billowed up like the cumulus clouds over the mountain peaks in the spring and summer (J. L. Fürst 1993). The yolia is equally the substratum of some ideas, but it does not seem to play so crucial a role as does the tonalli. The yolia is also a life force, and it, too, is felt in the breath. It takes the form of birds and other alates, and may travel over the land to the south. By the time of the Conquest, perhaps the Mexica had come to believe that at least some people's yolias set out to the heavens after death—a plausible destination if they transformed into butterflies, hummingbirds, bananaquits, and other flying creatures. In the sky, the spirits of dead warriors accompanied the sun on its journey 178


toward the zenith, and the souls of women who died bearing their first child went with the sun toward the horizon. Although Christian concepts echo through this idea, it may reflect some indigenous core of meaning. In Central Mexico, and throughout the Uto-Aztecan family, souls become alates after death, and this belief, too, has an origin in observations of the body's pattern of lividity at death and in the great number of insects that enter and leave the grave. Hearts contained the yolia, and the Mexica offered them to their gods, to sustain the powers, particularly, of the sun. While Christians saw a parallel between the fleeing yolia and the soul entering heaven, the Mexica seem to have been offering the gods something quite different from a soul carrying a particular personality or identity. Nor were people tendered an eternal life like the Christian paradise. Instead, the yolia conveyed life force to maintain universal order, and the deities took the yolia's innate power and expended it to keep the world in proper functioning order, until creation ran down again at the end of the fifty-two year cycle and had to be renewed with ritual and more tonalli-bearing blood and yolia-bearing hearts. Sending the yolia to the divinities may have extinguished rather than maintained its individual qualities. For the prehispanic Central Mexicans, human character was partially caused by a dearth, a fullness, or an excess of life force. Too little, and the person was weak, immoral, unsuccessful, or apt to sicken and die at an early age. Too much, and he or she might interfere with the equilibrium of others, absorbing life force from the less well endowed. If the amount was sufficient, a man or woman might expect a normal life, complete with family, moderate success, and a regular span of years. Very likely, if a person received a little more than a normal share, he or she achieved some notable successes. The third soul-like element, the dreaded ihiyotl, is more problematic. It had a somatic origin, lent the ability to grow and thrive, and emerged as flatus or as the smelly gases from a dead and bloated body. The ihiyotl was also the inharmonious residue of the personality, and a person's moral choices during life might have added to or subtracted from its negative quality. If it was indeed parallel to the winds and aires of the colonial and modern periods, the Mexica probably considered it too terrible to call or to trap by 179


representation. These souls were better off gone, dissipated, or banished from the ordered social space of the city. Not surprisingly, the ihiyotl does not seem to be illustrated, outside the one example from Codex Laud. The Mexica must have been surrounded by evidence of the antisocial aspects of their dead. By living on a lake, they smelled the escaped souls of their ancestors and saw their spirits in the glowing, elusive lights ignited by the methane gas that roiled the water as it bubbled up from the rotting vegetation. Perhaps, too, the Central Mexicans were haunted by the spirits of the people they sacrificed to feed the gods and maintain the world. Many Native Americans fear the souls of those they have killed, whether human or animal. The Mexica may also have viewed the visual and olfactory residue of their enemies with similar trepidation. Despite some real points of difference, the three souls share one attribute: all three are, or are manifest in, the breath. Because they are based on experience of the body in nature, Mexica categories of the soul are not discrete and fully separate. Similar physical symptoms accompany many conditions, normal or otherwise, and thus a sensation as simple as the breath may be attributed to more than one vital power. Heartbeat and respiration overlap in exercise and disease, and breath is logically associated with the heart. On the other hand, breath sometimes seems to be spread throughout the entire body, especially in cold temperatures, at times of exercise or exertion, or because of the glow caused by static electricity. It seems to be a shadowy double, visible in the sun but also discernible on other occasions. In this sense, it can easily be a function of the tonalli or the yolia. Or, if breath is evidence of air contained in the flesh and escaping after death, it is clearly linked with feelings of quickening, flatulence, decomposition, and the glowing methane gas in the Mexicans lacustrine environment. If pressed on the subject, a Mexica, and probably a Nahua descendant, might classify the breath under one or the other of these souls, but in life, experience, and medical treatment, respiration may play a part in all three. Further, the physical characteristics of all three are known, not just in the daily business of life and bodily sensation, but equally by the contrast of the living flesh with the corpse. After death, the body undergoes marked changes. It grows cold, indicating that heat is a property of the tonalli, and the appearance of an álate on the back reveals that the yolia has flown to 180


another realm. The exit of the ihiyotl as stinking vapors, as the body ceases to move or twitches in a parody of life, is impressive and unforgettable. The departure of the soul is reflected in postmortem experience. The Mexicas' beliefs about the soul contain careful observations of bodily phenomena associated with the living and with the dead. Each of the three souls is verifiable in human bodies, despite the poetic imagery in which they are presented. This is undoubtedly because the Mexica did not define a soul by abstract theological responses to heretical positions and sects as the Christians did, and orthodoxy was not particularly important. Instead, animating forces could be felt, touched, or even smelled in normal experience, and they could be manipulated to cure and maintain equilibrium. Their definitions served medical as well as spiritual uses. At contact, Westerners would have recognized some indigenous ideas as echoes of heresy and nature religions in the countryside, or as ideas held by the ancient pagans, who, however wrong, were part of an increasingly respected historical past. Multiple souls with somatic functions could easily be taken as evidence that New World people shared something of the world view of the ancients, and hence, were worthy of some attention and respect, if not of emulation. If these beliefs could not be trimmed to overlap with the Jewish half of Judeo-Christian ideology, they could be analogous to the thoughts of the classical pagan philosophers, who did, in fact, develop a similar schema based on observations of bodily phenomena. New World peoples might thus be a less evolved group, like the ancestors of the Spaniards and Italians, and thus the New World was not new so much as it was a repository of the past. If the native peoples were not patriarchs and prophets, they might at least be effective doctors. Then, too, a belief in the soul provides clear evidence that New World peoples, like pagan philosophers of the past, grasped something of the ultimate truth, however imperfect or distorted. Statements about the soul might also indicate that they were still fully human, rational, and capable of being taught the Word of God. What is particularly interesting is that none of the early Spanish friars, whether Molina in his dictionary, or Sahagún, Duran, or any of the others, tried to fit the three souls into a hierarchy of functions like Aristotle's, with ihiyotl at the base (I hesitate to use the word bottom in this context), and the tonalli or yolia at the top, perhaps because the indigenous categories do 181


not fit a European schema. Instead, the ethnographer-priests took a piecemeal approach and looked for parallels to the Christian soul in each native category, usually seizing on the breath as evidence that an entity was a soul comparable to the eternal Christian soul breathed into the nostrils of the sleeping and inert Adam. Both Old and New World peoples in the sixteenth century probably agreed on the immanence of soul in matter. Mexica souls indicate that a person is not an entity separated from the surrounding environment. The soul, as part of the human organism, travels to other realms after death, but other spirit fragments remain on earth as birds or as moving air or shadows, while still others remains in the grave. Souls are not singular, indivisible, and of some other substance, but form a continuum from internal to external phenomena. A man or woman does not die so much as dissolve into constituent parts whose nature is to live, with or without an intact body. The Mexica vested significance in matter, unlike the modern Western Christian tradition, whose thrust has been to withdraw animating power and meaning from the physical world and to shift importance to the nonmaterial realm. For the ancient Mexica, spirit infused matter and matter manifested the soul. Although Mexica ideas about the soul were based on observation and on their experience of a particular environment, their elaborations rest on some common New World ideas. First is the assumption that spirit power circulates throughout the world and is trapped in the bodies of human beings who share unequally in the vital force. This inequality of vitality was apparent in social success, benefits, wealth, and position, but it was also possible to regulate, attain, and display greater force. The Mexicans particular way of increasing life force included choosing a better birthdate, capturing an enemy's forelock, or dressing in the iridescent green feathers of the quetzal bird. Then, too, the Mexica shared with indigenous people a belief that the body was a collection of multiple rather than unitary souls. In Central Mexican belief, the flesh was brought into being by the sexual act and probably by the coagulation of parental bodily fluids. At death, its three animating forces split apart, each going its own direction—the tonalli descending to the underworld, the yolia ascending to the heavens or staying with the 182


physical remains in the grave, and the ihiyotl dissipating into the air, probably perceptible in the odoriferous and glowing gases drifting over the lake. The Mexica also shared with other peoples of the Americas the belief in the somatic nature of spiritual phenomena. Any soul was known through its operations in the body, rather than as an article of faith. To at least some sixteenth-century Christians, this position would have had a familiar ring to it, and the Spanish chroniclers and friars probably had less difficulty identifying souls with the body than we do. They were still familiar with the ancient Greek idea that medically the body contained the vegetative and sensitive souls, or functions of a soul, and shared these with plants and animals. These vivifying forces lodged in the body and animated it, without any implication of a spiritual, noncorporeal dimension. Very likely indigenous categories would have made more sense to the skteenth-century Spaniards, even if the outlines of each entity differed from the European definition. The Next Steps The ancient Central Mexicans shared in widespread native American patterns of belief, but they occupied a very unusual environment. Their thoughts on fundamental matters give us the opportunity to examine the interplay between general Mesoamerican or Uto-Aztecan ideas and specific adaptations in response to living in unique situations. Here, comparative ethnography enables us to establish common outlines of belief, but we must not assume an idea is shared because it is diffused from one group to another. In many cases, because natural phenomena form the basis for ideas, a similar belief appears across language lines or in disparate times and places. The soul-as-bird, for example, may be an example of a widespread conviction that could arise more easily by handling corpses than through contacts between peoples. Deciphering early Mesoamerican beliefs sometimes entails beginning with the last civilization before the Conquest and reasoning backwards, since we have more complete early records for Central Mexico than for other places. Yet standing in Mesoamerica, the Mexica look and sound very North American. They share ideas and patterns with their Uto-Aztecan cousins all the way into northern California, Utah, and Colorado. But go 183


north and turn around, they seem equally Mesoamerican. Although I have taken no steps toward doing so, it would be useful to sort out what is Mesoamerican, Greater Mesoamerican (for example, connections to UtoAztecan speakers and the Chichimecs of the northern deserts), and UtoAztecan, based upon comparative ethnography, while at the same time discounting beliefs that could easily originate in observations of the body, the environment, or both. This study has answered some of my questions, but it has raised many more. Once souls are defined, the issue becomes one of their destination and fate, and the question of what the Mexica thought of death and dying (and not just the dramatic death and dying of sacrifice) becomes crucial. Then, too, the relationship of the gods to the body, the natural world, and the three animating forces has not been resolved. Nor has the connection between the three named souls and another vital power, the one I have studiously avoided throughout this volume—the nahualli—been explored. The animal companion deserves an entire book of its own, beginning with Central Mexico and continuing with beliefs in western Mexico, the North American Southwest, and southern California. Clearly, defining the natural history of the soul is just the beginning.



1: The Evolving Soul 1. Under the impetus of Foucault and his works on the body, studies about Native American conceptions of the body have appeared, particularly in the last few decades. López Austin (1970, 1984, 1988a) and Ortiz de Montellano (1982, 1989a, 1990) have written seminal works on ancient Central Mexico, and other studies for Central Mexico include Andrews and Hassig (1988), C. Klein (1993), León-Portilla (1992), and Rogers and Anderson (1965,1966). A growing bibliography now exists on the influence that observations of natural history have had on Mesoamerican religious beliefs. See, for example, D. Carrasco (1989, 1991). Astronomy is especially well documented (Aveni 1980, 1989; Broda 1982a, 1982b; and Milbrath 1980). Studies of animal behavior and beliefs include Benson (1988), J. L. Fürst (1989), R T. Fürst (1968), Munn (1984), and O'Mack (1991) (see also Hultkranz 1966). Works concerned with the effect of climate and geography in ancient Central Mexico include Broda (1989, 1991) and Brumfiel (1983). García Quintana and Romero Galván (1978) have written on the Central Mexican lacustrine environment, and Crosby (1972,1986) has chronicled the 185


changes in die natural world after the conquest. Sandstrom (1975) has clearly delineated die interplay between ecology, economy, and ideology in one modern Nahua community, Heyden, who has examined vegetation, rocks, and climatic changes in a number of articles (1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989,1991), has provided the most important body of work. 2. The languages, symbols, and rituals shared by Mexico and the American Southwest have long been of interest to scholars. A 1943 conference brought together experts to deal specifically with these associations. The papers have been republished in Hedrick, Kelley, and Riley, The Mesoamerican Southwest (1974), along with some other early essays. More recently, the issue has engaged the interest of Carr and Gingerich (1983), Dutton (1964), Hall (1987), D. Kelly (1955), León-Portilla (1982), Morgan (1950), Spieer (1964), and Wilcox (1991). An increasing number of scholars are studying modern Nahua peoples. Today, the Sierra de Puebla is particularly rich in information, and studies have been made in Atla (Montoya Briones 1964), Cuetzalan (Knab 1983,1991a, 1991b, 1992; Ross 1950), Yancuicdapan (Signorini and Lupo 1989), San Andrés Hueyapan (Huber 1990a, 1990b), and Xalacapan (McKinley 1963; Robinson 1961). Beliefs in various Veracruz towns have also been documented by García de León (1968, 1969), Munch Galindo (1983, 1991), Provost (1975, 1981), Sandstrom (1975, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1991), Sandstrom and Sandstrom (1986), and Taggart 211-56. Washington, D.C.: DORLC. . 1987^ Templo Mayor as Ritual Space. In J. Broda, D. Carrasco, and E. Matos Moctezuma, eds., The Great Temple ofTenochtitlan: Center and Periphery in the Aztec World, 61-123. Berkeley: University of California Press. . 1989. Geography, Climate and the Observation of Nature in Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. In D. Carrasco, ed., The Imagination of Matter: Religion and Ecology in Mesoamerican Tradition, 139-53. Oxford: BARIS, 515. . 1991. The Sacred Landscape of the Aztec Calendar Festivals: Myth, Nature, and Society. In D. Carrasco, ed., To Change Place: Aztec Ceremonial Landscapes, 74-120. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, Broder, Patricia Janis. 1978. Hopi Painting: The World of the Hopis. New York: Brandywine Press. Brody, J. J. 1991. Beauty from the Earth: Pueblo Indian Pottery from the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Brotherston, Gordon. 1979. Image of the New World. The American Continent Portrayed in Native Texts. E. Dorn and G. Brotherston, trans. London: Thames and Hudson. . 1982. Tawaddud and Maya Wit: A Story from the Arabian Nights Adapted to the Community Books of Yucatan. Indiana 7:131-41. Brown, Betty Ann. 1984. Ochpaniztli in Historical Perspective. In E. H. Boone, ed., Ritual Human Sacrifice in Mesoamerica, 195-210. Washington, D.C.: DORLC. Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. 1980. Specialization, Market Exchange and the Aztec State: A View from Huexotla. CANT 21:459-7$. . 1983. Aztec State-Making: Ecology, Structure and Origin of the State. AA 85(2): 261-84.



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