Thèse : The fate of earthly things: Mexica-Aztec deities and their representation
- Bassett, Molly
- Busto, Rudy V. (dir.)
- Peterson, Jeanette F. (dir.)
- Santa Barbara : University of California, 2009, 1 vol. (245 p.).
- Ph.D. : Religious Studies
The Mexica-Aztec conceived of their world as animate. Early postcontact witnesses of the surviving Mexica-Aztec and their culture described the many Central Mexican gods and goddesses with fascination but limited clarity. Similarly compelled to describe with the proliferation of Mexica-Aztec images and effigies, recent scholarship describes manifestations of this cosmic animation gods, deities, supernaturals, spirits and forces. These terms may approach how the Mexica-Aztec and other Central Mexicans spoke of the cosmic animation they divined and venerated, but these approximations have outlived their usefulness in the study of Mexica-Aztec religion.This dissertation re-examines two fundamental components of Mexica-Aztec religion: teotl (pl. teteo) and ixiptla. These terms revolve around concepts of deities and their manifestation, and they have evaded easy transcription. However, an examination of their concurrence in older Nahuatl descriptions of Mexica-Aztec rituals confirms the importance of their cultural specificity. Teteo, traditionally “deities,” function together with ixiptla, “impersonators, representations or likenesses.” Teteo exist in the physical world through their embodiment in ixiptla, which include media as diverse as clay figurines, elements of the natural environment, stone monoliths and humans.
The central thesis of this study is that a better understanding of how teteo and ixiptla function together in language and in ritual contexts will enable a more informed discussion of the nature of teteo, their representation, identification and classification. A comprehensive examination of the concurrences of teotl and teixiptla (and their many derivations) in Bernardino de Sahagún’s mid-sixteenth century masterpiece The General History of the Things of New Spain serves as the basis for comparisons I draw between older Nahuatl and modern Nahuatl cosmovisions. These comparisons illustrate the extent to which the specific characteristics of Mexica-Aztec religious beliefs and practices has been overlooked in scholars’ efforts to identify and classify Aztec deities. Additionally, they provide insights into how the Mexica-Aztec might have animated ixiptla, the localized embodiments of their teteo.
As a result of this dissertation, I hope to make a meaningful contribution to the understanding of Mexica-Aztec religion by clarifying the ways in which the Mexica-Aztec conceived of teteo, defined their attributes and animated them as ixiptla.