Sweeping the Way

Sweeping the Way: Divine Transformation in the Aztec Festival of Ochpaniztli

CATHERINE R. DiCESARE
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46ntd0
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    Sweeping the Way
    Book Description:

    Incorporating human sacrifice, flaying, and mock warfare, the pre-Columbian Mexican ceremony known as Ochpaniztli, or "Sweeping," has long attracted attention. Although among the best known of eighteen annual ceremonies, Ochpaniztli's significance has nevertheless been poorly understood. Ochpaniztli is known mainly from early colonial illustrated manuscripts produced in cross-cultural collaboration between Spanish missionary-chroniclers and native Mexican informants and artists.   Although scholars typically privilege the manuscripts' textual descriptions, Sweeping the Way examines the fundamental role of their pictorial elements, which significantly expand the information contained in the texts. DiCesare emphasizes the primacy of the regalia, ritual implements, and adornments of the patron "goddess" as the point of intersection between sacred, cosmic forces and ceremonial celebrants. The associations of these paraphernalia indicate that Ochpaniztli was a period of purification rituals, designed to transform and protect individual and communal bodies alike. Spanish friars were unable to apprehend the complex nature of the festival's patroness, ultimately fragmenting her identity into categories meeting their expectations, which continues to vex modern investigations.   Taken together, the variety of Ochpaniztli sources offer a useful tool for addressing myriad issues of translation and transformation in pre-Columbian and post-conquest Mexico, as Christian friars and native Mexicans together negotiated a complex body of information about outlawed ritual practices and proscribed sacred entities.

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-972-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  5. FOREWORD
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
    Elizabeth Hill Boone

    In Sweeping the Way, Catherine DiCesare uses the vehicle of the Aztec feast of Ochpaniztli (“Sweeping”) to examine some of the fundamental issues in Aztec religiosity. Her immediate focus is on the best-known of the eighteen monthly feasts or ritual dramas in the Aztec civil or “solar” calendar, a feast that has been of interest to several other modern scholars because it features aspects of divinity and sacrality that are especially important to understanding Aztec ideology. She employs it, however, to reach even deeper into Aztec religious thought and practice.

    Whereas others have privileged the textual accounts of these dramatic...

  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-16)

    Perhaps no other aspect of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica has engendered more interest than the sanguinary practices for which the Mexica of central Mexico (the so-called Aztecs) are particularly infamous. Since the arrival in the early sixteenth century of Spanish conquistadors and, soon after, Spanish Christian missionaries, descriptions and depictions of human sacrifice have held a special place in the literature describing Mexico’s aboriginal inhabitants. Worried that the native population continued to practice “idolatrous” and sacrificial rites—perhaps even in the guise of Christian pageantry—the mendicant friars paid special attention to understanding indigenous ritual practices. To this end they initiated an...

  7. 1 SOURCES FOR OCHPANIZTLI: NEGOTIATING TEXT AND IMAGE IN EARLY COLONIAL MEXICAN MANUSCRIPTS
    (pp. 17-34)

    Spanish Christian friar-chroniclers compiling descriptions of Mesoamerican calendars and their associated rituals frequently turned directly to native Nahuas for whatever information, local manuscripts, and artistry they might be willing to provide. Although little is known about their particular identity or training, these indigenous collaborators played a crucial role in creating the colonial ethnohistories. Their investigations into Mesoamerican calendars and calendrical rituals required that, together, Spanish mendicant friar-chroniclers and Nahua scribes and artists confronted and negotiated an ancient, highly sophisticated manuscript tradition. Many of the Ochpaniztli illustrations were executed using conventions that evoke native Mexican pictorial traditions; however, the extreme dearth...

  8. 2 VISUALIZING THE SACRED IN THE OCHPANIZTLI FESTIVAL
    (pp. 35-68)

    Between ca. 1540 and 1600, Nahua tlacuilos created for the mendicant friars’ religious treatises a corpus of images depicting the eighteen monthly veintena feasts. The extant scenes range from expansive, dynamic imagery filled with celebratory figures engaged in ritual activities, seen in the Primeros Memoriales (fig. 2.13) created at the behest of Fray Sahagún, to sparer illustrations that represent priests, deity-effigies, and ceremonial celebrants arrayed in the attire of the patron gods. These include numerous examples, such as the related Codices Telleriano-Remensis and Vaticanus A / Ríos; the cognatic Codices Magliabechiano, Tudela, and Ixtlilxochitl; and the religious treatises and calendrical...

  9. 3 PURIFICATION AND RENEWAL DURING THE FESTIVAL OF OCHPANIZTLI
    (pp. 69-102)

    The concept of the teixiptla accruing and transmitting the numinous energy of supernatural forces and cosmic phenomena through masks, adornments, and ritual implements provides a useful avenue for examining Ochpaniztli. If the power of the divine were indeed manifested during Ochpaniztli through the teixiptla, creating, in Richard Townsend’s words, “a talismanic token of the sacred,” then scholars may benefit from a closer examination of the ritual attire adorning these sacred armatures and impersonators.¹ This chapter therefore focuses its investigation on the paraphernalia the Nahua tlacuilos pictured in their Ochpaniztli illustrations, examining the social, performative, and ritual contexts within which they...

  10. 4 THE COLONIAL IMAGE OF TLAZOLTEOTL
    (pp. 103-122)

    Failing to grasp the significance of the regalia-laden teixiptla as the means by which ritual celebrants encountered the divine, the Spanish Christian friars did not give substantial attention in their veintena accounts to elucidating the functions and associations of the sacred raiment. They did understand, however, the power that the gods had and that it was present in the deity-images that appeared to them to be “idols.” Accordingly, the missionary-scribes described at length the nature and realms of the Mexican gods, as they understood them, in a variety of ethnohistoric texts, including deity-catalogs, divinatory almanacs, veintena treatises, and historical chronicles,...

  11. 5 OCHPANIZTLI IN THE MEXICAN CODEX BORBONICUS
    (pp. 123-154)

    Scholars have long been intrigued by the representation of Ochpaniztli that appears in the veintena chapter of the Codex Borbonicus (figs. 5.1–5.3). This imagery falls within the third section of the manuscript (pp. 23–37), which appears to represent one full Mexican veintena cycle. On these pages, a series of complex, dramatic ceremonial activities and sacrifices are carried out in order to propitiate forces linked with maize, water, sustenance, and the earth’s fertility, forces that celebrants engaged through the medium of the sacred teixiptla. This teixiptla appears multiple times and in various manifestations throughout the imagery, perhaps most spectacularly...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 155-166)

    As collaborative, cross-cultural documents, what can the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexican veintena sources allow us to understand about pre-Columbian ritual practices among the Nahua peoples of central Mexico? And how might modern scholars best use these sources, given the myriad interpretive problems they pose? To be sure, as I have outlined in the preceding chapters, these manuscripts are beset by plentiful limitations and pose considerable difficulties to scholars investigating Nahua ceremonial and artistic traditions. Even so, in spite of their drawbacks, exclusions and partial visions, biases, and multiple agendas, the early colonial veintena documents must remain fundamental resources to investigate...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 167-208)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 209-222)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 223-230)