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A Prayer to Titlacauan

The tradition of Flower Songs, and spoken word poetry, is augmented by an Aztec complex tradition of sacred hymns.  Some of these hymns support the notion that Nezahualcoyotl fostered a version of Aztec monotheism, as suggested by Bernardino de Sahagún in his various writing.  “God” is variously identified with the following nahuatl words:

  • Titlacauan (also known as Tezcatlipoca was a central deity in Aztec religion, one of the four sons of Ometeotl)
  • Yautl
  • Telpuchtli
  • Tlamatzincatl
  • Moiocoiatzin
  • Iaotzin
  • Necociautl
  • Necaoalpilli
  • and others:

O, thou almighty God, that givest life to men, and art called Titlacauan, grant me in thy mercy everything needful to eat and to drink, and to enjoy of thy soft and delicate things; for in grievous toil and straitness I live in the world. Have mercy on me, so poor I am and naked, I that labor in thy service, and for thy service sweep, and clean, and put light in this poor house, where I await thine orders; otherwise let me die soon and end this toilful and miserable life, so that my body may find rest and a breathing-time.

Source: SahagunHist. Gen., tom. i., lib. iii., pp. 241-2.

In illness the people prayed to this deity as follows:

O God, whose name is Titlacauan, be merciful and send away this sickness which is killing me, and I will reform my life. Let me be once healed of this infirmity and I swear to serve thee and to earn the right to live; should I by hard toil gain something, I will not eat it nor employ it in anything save only to thine honor; I will give a feast and a banquet of dancing in this poor house.

Source: SahagunHist. Gen., tom. i., lib. iii., pp. 241-2.

But the sick man that could not recover, and that felt it so, used to grow desperate and blaspheme saying:

O Titlacauan, since thou mockest me, why dost thou not kill me?

Source: SahagunHist. Gen., tom. i., lib. iii., pp. 241-2.

All hymns are referenced in Bernardino de Sahagún, in his most famous surviving work the General History of the Things of New Spain , of which the Florentine Codex is a crucial part with wonderful imagery in the Aztec style.  The reference to God as invisible, unseen, falls into the Christian tradition that denies corporality to God in an infinite, eternal sense.

The following prayer to Tezcatlipoca (is the Smoking Mirror; he is the 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) demonstrates the attribute of invisibility in the context of a plea for mercy:

O mighty Lord, under whose wing we find defense and shelter, thou art invisible and impalpable even as night and the air. How can I that am so mean and worthless dare to appear before thy majesty? Stuttering and with rude lips I speak; ungainly is the manner of my speech as one leaping among furrows, as one advancing unevenly; for all this I fear to raise thine anger, and to provoke instead of appeasing thee; nevertheless thou wilt do unto me as may please thee. O Lord, that hast held it good to forsake us in these days, according to the counsel thou hast as well in heaven as in hades—alas for us, in that thine anger and indignation has descended in these days upon us; alas, in that the many and grievous afflictions of thy wrath have overgone and swallowed us up, coming down even as stones, spears, and arrows upon the wretches that inhabit the earth—this is the sore pestilence with which we are afflicted and almost destroyed. Alas, O valiant and all-powerful Lord, the common people are almost made an end of and destroyed; a great destruction and ruin the pestilence already makes in this nation; and, what is most pitiful of all, the little children that are innocent and understand nothing, only to play with pebbles and to heap up little mounds of earth, they too die, broken and dashed to pieces as against stones and a wall—a thing very pitiful and grievous to be seen, for there remain of them not even those in the cradles, nor those that could not walk nor speak. Ah, Lord, how all things become confounded; of young and old and of men and women there remains neither branch nor root; thy nation and thy people and thy wealth are leveled down and destroyed. O our Lord, protector of all, most valiant and most kind, what is this? Thine anger and thine indignation, does it glory or delight in hurling the stone and arrow and spear? The fire of the pestilence, made exceeding hot, is upon thy nation, as a fire in a hut, burning and smoking, leaving nothing upright or sound. The grinders of thy teeth are employed, and thy bitter whips upon the miserable of thy people, who have become lean and of little substance, even as a hollow green cane. Yea, what doest thou now, O Lord, most strong, compassionate, invisible, and impalpable, whose will all things obey, upon whose disposal depends the rule of the world, to whom all is subject—what in thy divine breast hast thou decreed? Peradventure hast thou altogether forsaken thy nation and thy people? Hast thou verily determined that it utterly perish, and that there be no more memory of it in the world, that the peopled place become a wooded hill and a wilderness of stones? Peradventure wilt thou permit that the temples, and the places of prayer, and the altars, built for thy service, be razed and destroyed and no memory of them be left? Is it indeed possible that thy wrath and punishment, and vexed indignation are altogether implacable and will go on to the end to our destruction? Is it already fixed in thy divine counsel that there is to be no mercy nor pity for us, until the arrows of thy fury are spent to our utter perdition and destruction? Is it possible that this lash and chastisement is not given for our correction and amendment, but only for our total destruction and obliteration; that the sun shall nevermore shine upon us, but that we must remain in perpetual darkness and silence; that nevermore thou wilt look upon us with eyes of mercy, neither little nor much? Wilt thou after this fashion destroy the wretched sick that cannot find rest nor turn from side to side, whose mouth and teeth are filled with earth and scurf? It is a sore thing to tell how we are all in darkness, having none understanding nor sense to watch for or aid one another. We are all as drunken and without understanding, without hope of any aid; already the little children perish of hunger, for there is none to give them food, nor drink, nor consolation, nor caress—none to give the breast to them that suck; for their fathers and mothers have died and left them orphans, suffering for the sins of their fathers. O our Lord, all-powerful, full of mercy, our refuge, though indeed thine anger and indignation, thine arrows and stones, have sorely hurt this poor people, let it be as a father or a mother that rebukes children, pulling their ears, pinching their arms, whipping them with nettles, pouring chill water upon them; all being done that they may amend their puerility and childishness. Thy chastisement and indignation have lorded and prevailed over these thy servants, over this poor people, even as rain falling upon the trees and the green canes, being touched of the wind, drops also upon those that are below. O most compassionate Lord, thou knowest that the common folk are as children, that being whipped they cry and sob and repent of what they have done. Peradventure, already these poor people by reason of thy chastisement weep, sigh, blame, and murmur against themselves; in thy presence they blame and bear witness against their bad deeds and punish themselves therefor. Our Lord most compassionate, pitiful, noble, and precious, let a time be given the people to repent; let the past chastisement suffice, let it end here, to begin again if the reform endure not. Pardon and overlook the sins of the people; cause thine anger and thy resentment to cease; repress it again within thy breast that it destroy no farther; let it rest there; let it cease, for of a surety none can avoid death nor escape to any place. We owe tribute to death; and all that live in the world are the vassals thereof; this tribute shall every man pay with his life. None shall avoid from following death, for it is thy messenger what hour soever it may be sent, hungering and thirsting always to devour all that are in the world and so powerful that none shall escape: then indeed shall every man be punished according to his deeds. O most pitiful Lord, at least take pity and have mercy upon the children that are in the cradles, upon those that cannot walk. Have mercy also, O Lord, upon the poor and very miserable, who have nothing to eat, nor to cover themselves withal, nor a place to sleep, who do not know what thing a happy day is, whose days pass altogether in pain, affliction, and sadness. Than this, were it not better, O Lord, if thou should forget to have mercy upon the soldiers and upon the men of war, whom thou wilt have need of sometime; behold it is better to die in war and go to serve food and drink in the house of the sun, than to die in this pestilence and descend to hades. O most strong Lord, protector of all, lord of the earth, governor of the world, and universal master, let the sport and satisfaction thou hast already taken in this past punishment suffice; make an end of this smoke and fog of thy resentment; quench also the burning and destroying fire of thine anger: let serenity come and clearness; let the small birds of thy people begin to sing and to approach the sun; give them quiet weather so that they may cause their voices to reach thy highness and thou mayest know them. O our Lord, most strong, most compassionate, and most noble, this little have I said before thee, and I have nothing more to say, only to prostrate and throw myself at thy feet, seeking pardon for the faults of this my prayer; certainly I would not remain in thy displeasure, and I have no other thing to say.

 What comes through from these hymns is the complex theology that underlies these prayers.

Categories: Aztec Aztec Hymns & Prayers Aztec Religion

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The Orly

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