The following prayer is one addressed to Tezcatlipoca by a recently elected ruler, to give thanks for his election and to ask favor and light for the proper performance of his office:
O our lord, most clement, invisible and impalpable protector and governor, well do I know that thou knowest me, who am a poor man, of low destiny, born and brought up among filth, and a man of small reason and mean judgment, full of many defects and faults, a man that knows not himself, nor considers who he is. Thou hast bestowed on me a great benefit, favor, and mercy, without any merit on my part; thou hast lifted me from the dung-hill and set me in the royal dignity and throne. Who am I, my Lord, and what is my worth that thou shouldst put me among the number of those that thou lovest? among the number of thine acquaintance, of those thou holdest for chosen friends and worthy of all honor; born and brought up for thrones and royal dignities; to this end thou hast created them able, prudent, descended from noble and generous fathers; for this end they were created and educated; to be thine instruments and images they were born and baptized under the signs and constellations that lords are born under. They were born to rule thy kingdoms, thy word being within them and speaking by their mouth—according to the desire of the ancient god, the father of all the gods, the god of fire, who is in the pond of water among turrets surrounded with stones like roses, who is called Xiuhtecutli, who determines, examines, and settles the business and lawsuits of the nation and of the common people, as it were washing them with water; in the company and presence of this god the generous personages aforementioned always are. O most clement Lord, ruler, and governor, thou hast done me a great favor. Perhaps it has been through the intercession and through the tears shed by the departed lords and ladies that had charge of this kingdom. It would be great madness to suppose that for any merit or courage of mine thou hast favored me, setting me over this your kingdom, the government of which is something very heavy, difficult, and even fearful; it is as a huge burden, carried on the shoulders, and one that with great difficulty the past rulers bore, ruling in thy name. O our Lord, most clement, invisible, and impalpable, ruler and governor, creator and knower of all things and thoughts, beautifier of thy creatures, what shall I say more, poor me? In what wise have I to rule and govern this thy state, or how have I to carry this burden of the common people? I who am blind and deaf, who do not even know myself, nor know how to rule over myself. I am accustomed to walk in filth, my faculties fit me for seeking and selling edible herbs, and for carrying and selling wood. What I deserve, O Lord, is blindness for mine eyes and shriveling and rotting for my limbs, and to go dressed in rags and tatters; this is what I deserve and what ought to be given me. It is I that need to be ruled and to be carried on some one’s back. Thou hast many friends and acquaintances that may be trusted with this load. Since, however, thou has already determined to set me up for a scoff and a jeer to the world, let thy will be done and thy word fulfilled. Peradventure thou knowest not who I am; and, after having known me, wilt seek another and take the government from me; taking it again to thyself, hiding again in thyself this dignity and honor, being already angry and weary of bearing with me; and thou wilt give the government to another, to some close friend and acquaintance of thine, to some one very devout toward thee, that weeps and sighs and so merits this dignity. Or, peradventure, this thing that happened to me is a dream, or a walking in sleep. O Lord, thou that art present in every place, that knowest all thoughts, that distributest all gifts, be pleased not to hide from me thy words and thine inspiration. I do not know the road I have to follow, nor what I have to do, deign then not 228to hide from me the light and the mirror that have to guide me. Do not allow me to cause those I have to rule and carry on my shoulders to lose the road and to wander over rocks and mountains. Do not allow me to guide them in the tracks of rabbits and deer. Do not permit, O Lord, any war to be raised against me, nor any pestilence to come upon those I govern; for I should not know, in such a case, what to do, nor where to take those I have upon my shoulders; alas for me, that am incapable and ignorant. I would not that any sickness come upon me, for in that case thy nation and people would be lost, and thy kingdom desolated and given up to darkness. What shall I do, O Lord and creator, if by chance I fall into some disgraceful fleshly sin, and thereby ruin the kingdom? what do if by negligence or sloth I undo my subjects? what do if through my fault I hurl down a precipice those I have to rule? Our Lord, most clement, invisible and impalpable, I entreat thee not to separate thyself from me; visit me often; visit this poor house, for I will be waiting for thee therein. With great thirst I await thee and demand urgently thy word and inspiration, which thou didst breathe into thine ancient friends and acquaintances that have ruled with diligence and rectitude over thy kingdom. This is thy throne and honor, on either side whereof are seated thy senators and principal men, who are as thine image and very person. They give sentence and speak on the affairs of the state in thy name; thou usest them as thy flutes, speaking from within them and placing thyself in their faces and ears, opening their mouths so that they may speak well. In this place the merchants mock and jest at our follies, with which merchants thou art spending thy leisure, since they are thy friends and acquaintances; there also thou inspirest and breathest upon thy devoted ones, who weep and sigh in thy presence, sincerely giving thee their heart. For this reason thou adornest them with prudence and wisdom, so that they may look as into a mirror with two faces, where every one’s image is to be seen; for this thou givest them a very clear axe, without any dimness, whose brightness flashes into all places. For this cause also thou givest them gifts and precious jewels, hanging them from their necks and ears, even like material ornaments such as are the nacochtl, the tentetl, the tlapiloni or head-tassel, the matemecatl or tanned strap that lords tie round their wrists, the yellow leather bound on the ankles, the beads of gold, and the rich feathers. In this place of the good governing and rule of thy kingdom, are merited thy riches and glory, thy sweet and delightful things, calmness and tranquillity, a peaceable and contented life; all of which come from thy hand. In the same place, lastly, are also merited the adverse and wearisome things, sickness, poverty, and the shortness of life; which things are sent by thee to those that in this condition do not fulfill their duty. O our Lord, most clement, knower of thoughts and giver of gifts, is it in my hand, that am a mean man, to know how to rule? is the manner of my life in my hand, and the works that I have to do in my office? which indeed is of thy kingdom and dignity and not mine. What thou mayest wish me to do and what may be thy will and disposition, thou aiding me I will do. The road thou mayest show me I will walk in; that thou mayest inspire me with, and put in my heart, that I will say and speak. O our Lord, most clement, in thy hand I wholly place myself, for it is not possible for me to direct or govern myself; I am blind, darkness, a dung-hill. See good, O Lord, to give me a little light, though it be only as much as a fire-fly gives out, going about at night; to light me in this dream, in this life asleep that endures as for a day; where are many things to stumble at, many things to give occasion for laughing at one, many things like a rugged road that has to be gone over by leaps. All this has to happen in the position thou hast put me in, giving me thy seat and dignity. O Lord, most clement, I entreat thee to visit me with thy light, that I may not err, that I may not undo myself, that my vassals may not cry out against me. O our Lord, most pitiful, thou hast made me now the back-piece of thy chair, also thy flute; all without any merit of mine. I am thy mouth, thy face, thine ears, thy teeth, and thy nails. Although I am a mean man I desire to say that I unworthily represent thy person, and thine image, that the words I shall speak have to be esteemed as thine, that my face has to be held as thine, mine eyes as thine, and the punishment that I shall inflict as if thou hadst inflicted it. For all this I entreat thee to put thy spirit within me, and thy words, so that all may obey them and none contradict.
Source: Bernardino de Sahagún, Hist. Gen., tom. i., lib. iii., pp. 241-2.
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.