Mesoamerican Rituals and the Solar Cycle
New Perspectives on the <i>Veintena</i> Festivals
Table Of Contents
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- List of Illustrations
- List of Tables
- Part I: Rites and Myths in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica
- Chapter One: Tezcatlipoca and the Maya Gods of Abundance: The Feast of Toxcatl and the Question of Homologies in Mesoamerican Religion
- Chapter Two: The Re-enactment of the Birth of the Gods in Mexica Veintena Celebrations: Some Observations
- Chapter Three: Quetzalcoatl in Nahua Myths and Rituals: Discreet or Omnipresent Protagonist?
- Chapter Four: Beyond Nature and Mythology: Relational Complexity in Contemporary and Ancient Mesoamerican Rituals
- Part II: Ritual Actors and Activities in the Veintena Festivals
- Chapter Five: Haab’ Festivals among the Postclassic Maya: Evidence from Ethnohistoric Sources and the Madrid Codex
- Chapter Six: Maize and Flaying in Aztec Rituals
- Chapter Seven: The Toxcatl and Panquetzaliztli Figurines
- Chapter Eight: Myths, Rites, and the Agricultural Cycle: The Huixtotin Priests and the Veintenas
- Part III: Pre-Columbian Categories, Colonial Interpretations
- Chapter Nine: Dance and Sacrificial Rituals in the Veintena Ceremonies
- Chapter Ten: Ritual and Religious Practices Described in the Florentine Codex: Ritual Unit as a Structural Concept
- Chapter Eleven: An Augustinian Political Theology in New Spain: Towards a Franciscan Interpretation of the Veintenas
- Chapter Twelve: Bright Plumages, Teary Children, and Blessed Rains: Possible Reminiscences of Atlcahualo during the Indigenous Ceremonial Pomp of Saint Francis in Post-Conquest Mexico City
- Notes on Contributors
We would like to express our gratitude to the institutions and individuals who have supported this book project and have assisted us during the process. Foremost we thank the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where we are conducting our research on ancient Nahua culture and religion, principally the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas that hosted the international conference “Las fiestas de las veintenas. Nuevas aportaciones en homenaje a Michel Graulich” in 2016, which was the first step in the long journey of making this volume. A very special acknowledgment goes to Gabrielle Vail, who invited us to submit this book to be the inaugural volume of Peter Lang’s series “Indigenous Cultures of Latin America: Past and Present”: thank you for the help in establishing the fruitful contact with the publisher, the guidance during the development of the book proposal, and the detailed review of specific parts of this work. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the colleagues and students who have provided their support at different stages, foremost the contributors of the present volume who have encouraged us and have placed their trust in us, as well as Cecelia F. Klein, Leonardo López Luján, and John Pohl, who have penned the endorsements. Likewise, we are grateful to Cynthia Vail, Debra Nagao, Chet Van Duzer, Michael Parker, Wendy Aguilar, Stan Declercq, Omar Tapia, Ilse Flores, and Jesús López del Río, who have taken care of the translation and correction of the written contents; to Elbis Domínguez, Nicolas Latsanopoulos, and Rodolfo Ávila, for creating the drawings that illustrate several chapters; and to Mara Vargas and Alicia Cervantes, for helping us to access ←xix | xx→some essential information. We also thank the anonymous reviewer selected by Peter Lang, whose careful reading of our manuscript and detailed remarks have contributed significantly to the final form of this work. Very important, too, was the support received from the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, the Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée nationale in Paris, the Museo de América in Madrid, and the Proyecto Templo Mayor in Mexico City, which have allowed us to reproduce images of Mesoamerican codices and artifacts that are fundamental to the academic quality of this book. Finally, we sincerely acknowledge Emma Clarke, Erika Hendrix, and the editorial team at Peter Lang for their interest in our project, as well as their professionalism and all their hard work in preparing this publication.
elena mazzetto and élodie dupey garcía
This book explores a seminal topic concerning the Mesoamerican past: the festivals that took place during the eighteen periods of twenty days, or veintenas, into which the solar year was divided. In the final stage of Pre-Columbian history—commonly known as the Late Postclassic (AD 1200–1521)—some Mesoamerican societies celebrated these festivals through complex rituals, which included sacrifices, offerings, singing and dancing, ceremonial itineraries and feigned battles. In each festival, the rites involved the priests and the gods themselves, embodied in diverse beings, artifacts, and natural elements. Specific sectors of society—the king, nobles, warriors, merchants, midwives, slaves, and so forth—also participated in these festivals, while the populations of major cities or more modest settlements usually attended public ceremonies. As a consequence, this ritual cycle appears to be a significant thread in Mesoamerican religious life; at the same time, it informs us about social relations in Pre-Columbian societies. Both religious and social aspects of the solar cycle festivals are addressed in the twelve contributions in this book, which aims to improve our understanding of this ceremonial sequence: its actors and rites, its structure and categories, its correspondence to myths, as well as its continuities and meaning in colonial and contemporary times.
time computation systems in mesoamerica
Since the earliest stages of civilization, Mesoamerican cultures have created complex calendar systems that measured and organized time. These time computation ←1 | 2→systems were of fundamental significance in the Pre-Columbian era. Not only sophisticated tools for recording the passage of time, they were schemata that structured ancient thought and understanding of the world. In fact, these calendar systems influenced the conduct of all members of society and determined their future. They were also frameworks for explaining events that affected the natural environment, in particular the alternation of day and night, as well as seasonal cycles.
Mesoamerican civilizations primarily used two systems of time computation. One of them was a divinatory 260-day count, called the tonalpohualli in Nahuatl, a term that literally means “day-count” or “count of the fates.”1 This divinatory calendar was formed by the association of twenty calendrical signs2 and thirteen successive numerals—1-Crocodile/Earth Monster, 2-Wind, 3-House, etc.—whose combination led to the division of the cycle in periods of 13 days. Each day and each 13-day series were placed under the ascendency of a divinity, who imbued them with positive or negative influences that had an impact on all human activities, whether in everyday life or in ritual contexts. Information about the fortune of these temporal periods was recorded in “books of fate,” manuscripts where the count was depicted in various forms. Such manuscripts were used by calendar specialists in order to predict omens, which were taken into account, for example, when sowing and harvesting, as well as to choose the name of a newborn, to determine the start of war or a trade expedition, or to find the date for a wedding or a ruler’s accession to the throne.3
The second system of time computation, the subject of this book, was a solar calendar of 365 days, called the xiuhpohualli, “year-count,” in Nahuatl, and haab’, cuiya, and iza, “year,” respectively in Maya (Yucatec), Mixtec, and Zapotec. It was generally formed by eighteen periods of twenty days, plus a period of five days that was seen as unlucky: this was a time when ordinary activities, such as lighting a fire to cook, were forbidden, and the destiny of individuals born during these days was prophesied as being extremely inauspicious, which was reflected in the name they were given.4 At the time of contact, the Spaniards began calling the 20-day interval veintena, the Spanish translation of the Nahuatl word cempohualli, “twenty.” In the account known as “Anales de Cuauhtitlan” (2011, 27) and in the Primeros Memoriales (1997, 55) the calendar divided into periods of twenty days is named cecempohuallapohualiztli or cecempoallapualli “count twenty by twenty” in Nahuatl, an expression used by scholars such as Patrick Johansson (2005), Andrea Rodríguez Figueroa and Leopoldo Valiñas Coalla (2010, 2014), Marc Thouvenot (2015, 2019), and Ana Díaz (2011). In colonial times, the solar count was also known as the “calendar of the fixed festivals” (calendario de las fiestas fijas) (Sahagún 1979, bk 2: fol. 3r), because, in the eyes of the Spaniards, the religious events celebrated throughout this cycle of time always occurred on the same dates during the year, while the ceremonies corresponding to the divinatory calendar were movable, for they followed the 260-day count.5←2 | 3→
In the Late Postclassic, these two systems of time measurement were considered extremely ancient, and their invention was often attributed to the gods or the forefathers of humankind; in some contexts, the two counts were even conceived of as divinities. In Central Mexico, for example, according to the “Historia de los mexicanos por sus pinturas” (2002, 27–29), the days, the “months,”6 and the solar calendar were created by the gods Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli, before they made the primordial waters and the earth’s surface. Similarly, the “Anales de Cuauhtitlan” (2011, 27), together with the Florentine Codex compiled by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún (1950–82, bk 4: 4), recount that the creation of the divinatory count of 260 days and the organization of the solar cycle in 20-day periods were established by the ancestral couple Cipactonal and Oxomoco. The Maya, in turn, thought that the great temporal cycles belonged to ancient times even predating the creation of the world (Velásquez García 2017, 8), and they conceived of them as divinities, in other words as beings endowed with consciousness, reason, knowledge, and will.
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- Publication date
- 2021 (March)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XX, 334 pp., 24 b/w ill., 20 color ill., 8 tables.