Tezcatlipoca is depicted as a Smoking Mirror, god of the nocturnal sky, god of the ancestral memory, god of time and the Lord of the North, the embodiment of change through conflict, a Mexica Shiva. The prayer to Tezcatlipoca that follows is made after the priest has heard a confession. In the Mexica (Aztec) rite, this absolution from sin exists once only in a lifetime, a feature that echoes certain European medieval practices.
—O our most compassionate Lord, protector and favorer of all, thou hast now heard the confession of this poor sinner, with which he has published in thy presence his rottenness and unsavoriness. Perhaps he has hidden some of his sins before thee, and if it be so he has irreverently and offensively mocked thy majesty, and thrown himself into a dark cavern and into a deep ravine; he has snared and entangled himself; he has made himself worthy of blindness, shrivelling and rotting of the members, poverty, and misery. Alas, if this poor sinner have attempted any such audacity as to offend thus before thy majesty, before thee that art lord and emperor of all, that keepest a reckoning with all, he has tied himself up, he has made himself vile, he has mocked himself. Thou thoroughly seest him, for thou seest all things, being invisible and without bodily parts. If he have done this thing, he has, of his own will, put himself in this peril and risk; for this is a place of very strict justice and very strait judgment. This rite is like very clear water with which thou washest away the faults of him that wholly confesses, even if he have incurred destruction and shortening of days; if indeed he have told all the truth, and have freed and untied himself from his sins and faults, he has received the pardon of them and of what they have incurred. This poor man is even as a man that has slipped and fallen in thy presence, offending thee in divers ways, dirtying himself also and casting himself into a deep cavern, and a bottomless well. He fell like a poor and lean man, and now he is grieved and discontented with all the past; his heart and body are pained and ill at ease; he is now filled with heaviness for having done what he did; he is now wholly determined never to offend thee again. In thy presence, O Lord, I speak, that knowest all things, that knowest also that this poor wretch did not sin with an entire liberty of free will; he was pushed to it and inclined by the nature of the sign under which he was born. And since this is so, O our Lord, most clement, protector and helper of all, since also this poor man has gravely offended thee, wilt thou not remove thine anger and thine indignation from him? Give him time, O Lord; favor and pardon him, inasmuch as he weeps, sighs, and sobs, looking before him on the evil he has done, and on that wherein he has offended thee. He is sorrowful, he sheds many tears, the sorrow of his sins afflicts his heart; he is not sorry only, but terrified also at thoughts of them. This being so, it is also a just thing that thy fury and indignation against him be appeased and that his sins be thrown on one side. Since thou art full of pity, O Lord, see good to pardon and to cleanse him; grant him the pardon and remission of his sins, a thing that descends from heaven, as water very clear and very pure to wash away sins, with which thou washes away all the stain and impurity that sin causes in the soul. See good, O Lord, that this man go in peace, and command him in what he has to do; let him go to do penance for and to weep over his sins; give him the counsels necessary to his well living.
Having completed this prayer, the confessor stops from addressing Tezcatlipoca and turns to the penitent, saying:
O my brother, thou hast come into a place of much peril, a place of travail and fear; thou hast come to a steep chasm and a sheer rock, where if any one fall he shall never come up again; thou hast come to the very place where the snares and the nets touch one another, where they are set one upon another, in such wise that no one may pass thereby without falling into some of them, and not only snares and nets but also holes like wells. Thou hast thrown thyself down the banks of the river and among the snares and nets, whence without aid it is not possible that thou shouldst escape. These thy sins are not only snares, nets, and wells, into which thou hast fallen, but they are also wild beasts that kill and rend both body and soul. Peradventure, hast thou hidden some one or some of thy sins, weighty, huge, filthy, unsavory, hidden something now published in heaven, earth, and Hades, something that now stinks to the uttermost part of the world? Thou hast now presented thyself before our most clement Lord and protector of all, whom thou didst irritate, offend, and provoke the anger of, who to-morrow, or some other day, will take thee out of this world and put thee under his feet, and send thee to the universal house of Hades, where thy father is and thy mother, the god and the goddess of hell, whose mouths are always open desiring to swallow thee and as many as may be in the world. In that place shall be given thee whatsoever thou didst merit in this world, according to the divine justice, and to what thou hast earned with thy works of poverty, misery, and sickness. In divers manners thou wilt be tormented and afflicted in the extreme, and wilt be soaked in a lake of intolerable torments and miseries; but here, at this time, thou hast had pity upon thyself in speaking and communicating with our Lord, with him that sees all the secrets of every heart. Tell therefore wholly all that thou hast done, as one that flings himself into a deep place, into a well without bottom. When thou wast created and sent into the world, clean and good thou wast created and sent; thy father and thy mother Quetzalcoatl formed thee like a precious stone, and like a bead of gold of much value; when thou wast born thou wast like a rich stone and a jewel of gold very shining and very polished. But of thine own will and volition thou hast defiled and stained thyself, and rolled in filth, and in the uncleanness of the sins and evil deeds that thou hast committed and now confessed. Thou hast acted as a child without judgment or understanding, that playing and toying defiles himself with a loathsome filth; so hast thou acted in the matter of the sins that thou hast taken pleasure in, but hast now confessed and altogether discovered before our Lord, who is the protector and purifier of all sinners. This thou shalt not take for an occasion of jesting, for verily thou hast come to the fountain of mercy, which is like very clear water, with which filthinesses of the soul are washed away by our Lord God, the protector and favorer of all that turn to him. Thou hast snatched thyself from hades, and hast returned again to come to life in this world, as one that comes from another. Now thou hast been born anew, thou hast begun to live anew, and our Lord God gives thee light and a new sun. Now once more thou beginnest to radiate and to shine anew like a very precious and clear stone, issuing from the belly of the matrix in which it was created. Since this is thus, see that thou live with much circumspection and very advisedly now and henceforward, all the time that thou mayest live in this world under the power and lordship of our Lord God, most clement, beneficent, and munificent. Weep, be sad, walk humbly, with submission, with the head low and bowed down, praying to God. Look that pride find no place within thee, otherwise thou wilt displease our Lord, who sees the hearts and the thoughts of all mortals. In what dost thou esteem thyself? At how much dost thou hold thyself? What is thy foundation and root? On what dost thou support thyself? It is clear that thou art nothing, canst do nothing, and art worth nothing; for our Lord will do with thee all he may desire and none shall stay his hand. Peradventure, must he show thee those things with which he torments and afflicts, so that thou mayest see them with thine eyes in this world? Nay verily, for the torments and horrible sufferings of his tortures of the other world are not visible, nor able to be seen by those that live here. Perhaps he will condemn thee to the universal house of Hades; and the house where thou now livest will fall down and be destroyed, and be as a dung-hill of filthiness and uncleanness, thou having been accustomed to live therein with much satisfaction, waiting to know how he would dispose of thee, he our Lord and helper, the invisible, incorporeal and alone one. Therefore I entreat thee to stand up and strengthen thyself and to be no more henceforth as thou hast been in the past. Take to thyself a new heart and a new manner of living, and take good care not to turn again to thine old sins. Consider that thou canst not see with thine eyes our Lord God, for he is invisible and impalpable, he is Tezcatlipoca, he is Titlacaoa, he is a youth of perfect perfection and without
El dios llamado titlacaoa, o tezcatlipuca. El dios que se llamava titlacaoan, dezian: que era criador del cielo y de la tierra, y era todopoderoso: el cual dava a los vivos, todo quanto era menester de comer y bever y riquezas. Y el dicho tlitlacaoan era invisible. Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España | Bernardino de Sahagún
spot. Strengthen thyself to sweep, to clean, and to arrange thy house; for if thou do not this, thou wilt reject from thy company and from thy house, and wilt offend much the very clement youth that is ever walking through our houses, and through our streets, enjoying and amusing himself—the youth that labors, seeking his friends, to comfort them and to comfort himself with them. To conclude, I tell thee to go and learn to sweep, and to get rid of the filth and sweepings of thy house, and to cleanse everything, thyself not the least. Seek out also a slave to immolate him before God; make a feast to the principal men, and let them sing the praises of our Lord. It is moreover fit that thou shouldst do penance, working a year or more in the house of God; there thou shalt bleed thyself, and prick thy body with maguey thorns; and, as a penance for the adulteries and other vilenesses that thou hast committed, thou shalt, twice every day, pass osier twigs through holes pierced in thy body, once through thy tongue, and once through thine ears. This penance shalt thou do not alone for the carnalities above mentioned, but also for the evil and injurious words with which thou hast insulted and affronted thy neighbors; as also for the ingratitude thou hast shown with reference to the gifts bestowed on thee by our Lord, and for thine inhumanity toward thy neighbors, neither making offerings of the goods that were given thee by God, nor sharing with the poor the temporal benefits given by our Lord. Thou shalt burden thyself to offer paper and copal; thou shalt give alms to the needy and the hungry, to those that have nothing to eat nor to drink nor to cover themselves with; even though thou thyself go without food to give it away and to clothe the naked: look to it, for their flesh is like thy flesh, and they are men as thou. Care most of all for the sick, they are the image of God. There remains nothing more to be said to thee; go in peace, and entreat God to aid thee to fulfill what thou art obliged to do; for he gives favor to all.
Source: Bernardino de Sahagún, Hist. Gen., tom. i., lib. iii.
There are some who argue that the prayers reflect a certain bias that sees Mexica (Aztec) practice through the lens of classical notions of polytheism. It is suggested that the Mexica pantheon is but aspects of one Teotl-reality, as Brahman is said to the the godhead from which all stems in Hindu thought. The Nahuatl term Teotl is often translated as “god”, but it may have held more abstract aspects of the numinous or divine, akin to the Polynesian concept of Mana. In Pipil mythology Teut (Nawat cognate of Teotl) is known merely as the creator and the father of life.
While it is certainly true that theology is a thought process inside a practice, the practice here described and the thoughts expressed, demonstrate a complex system that has much overlap to the classic European tradition.
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.