A prayer for help from poverty. Flower songs, Hymns, Prayers all form a continuum of memorized allegory that sheds lights on the thought and culture of its users. The following is a prayer to Tezcatlipuca and Yoalliehecatl:
O our Lord, protector most strong and compassionate, invisible, and impalpable, thou art the giver of life; lord of all, and lord of battles, I present myself here before thee to say some few words concerning the need of the poor people, the people of none estate nor intelligence. When they lie down at night they have nothing, nor when they rise up in the morning; the darkness and the light pass alike in great poverty. Know, O Lord, that thy subjects and servants, suffer a sore poverty that cannot be told of more than that it is a sore poverty and desolateness. The men have no garments nor the women to cover themselves with, but only certain rags rent in every part that allow the air and the cold to pass everywhere. With great toil and weariness they scrape together enough for each day, going by mountain and wilderness seeking their food; so faint and enfeebled are they that their bowels cleave to the ribs, and all their body reëchoes with hollowness; and they walk as people affrighted, the face and the body in likeness of death. If they be merchants, they now sell only cakes of salt and broken pepper; the people that have something despise their wares, so that they go out to sell from door to door and from house to house; and when they sell nothing they sit down sadly by some fence, or wall, or in some corner, licking their lips and gnawing the nails of their hands for the hunger that is in them; they look on the one side and on the other at the mouths of those that pass by, hoping peradventure that one may speak some word to them. O compassionate God, the bed on which they lie down is not a thing to rest upon, but to endure torment in; they draw a rag over them at night and so sleep; there they throw down their bodies and the bodies of children that thou hast given them. For the misery they grow up in, for the filth of their food, for the lack of covering, their faces are yellow and all their bodies of the color of earth. They tremble with cold, and for leanness they stagger in walking. They go weeping, and sighing, and full of sadness, and all misfortunes are joined to them; though they stay by a fire they find little heat. O our Lord, most clement, invisible, and impalpable, I supplicate thee to see good to have pity upon them as they move in thy presence wailing and clamoring and seeking mercy with anguish of heart. O our Lord, in whose power it is to give all content, consolation, sweetness, softness, prosperity and riches, for thou alone art lord of all good—have mercy upon them for they are thy servants. I supplicate thee, O Lord, that thou prove them a little with tenderness, indulgence, sweetness, and softness, which indeed they sorely lack and require. I supplicate thee that thou will lift up their heads with thy favor and aid, that thou will see good that they enjoy some days of prosperity and tranquillity, so they may sleep and know repose, having prosperous and peaceable days of life. Should they still refuse to serve thee, thou afterwards canst take away what thou hast given; they having enjoyed it but a few days, as those that enjoy a fragrant and beautiful flower and find it wither presently. Should this nation, for whom I pray and entreat thee to do them good, not understand what thou hast given, thou canst take away the good and pour out cursing; so that all evil may come upon them, and they become poor, in need, maimed, lame, blind, and deaf: then indeed they shall waken and know the good that they had and have not, and they shall call upon thee and lean towards thee; but thou wilt not listen, for in the day of abundance they would not understand thy goodness towards them. In conclusion, I supplicate thee, O most kind and benificent Lord, that thou will see good to give this people to taste of the goods and riches that thou art wont to give, and that proceed from thee, things sweet and soft and bringing content, and joy, although it be but for a little while, and as a dream that passes. For it is certain that for a long time the people go sadly before thee, weeping and thoughtful, because of the anguish, hardship, and anxiety that fill their bodies and hearts, taking away all ease and rest. Verily, it is not doubtful that to this poor nation, needy and shelterless, happens all I have said. If thou answerest my petition it will be only of thy liberality and magnificence, for no one is worthy to receive thy bounty for any merit of his, but only through thy grace. Search below the dung-hills and in the mountains for thy servants, friends, and acquaintance, and raise them to riches and dignities. O our Lord, most clement, let thy will be done as it is ordained in thy heart, and we shall have nothing to say. I, a rude man and common, would not by importunity and prolixity disgust and annoy thee, detailing my sickness, destruction, and punishment. Whom do I speak to? Where am I? Lo I speak with thee, O King; well do I know that I stand in an eminent place, and that I talk with one of great majesty, before whose presence flows a river through a chasm, a gulf sheer down of awful depth; this also is a slippery place, whence many precipitate themselves, for there shall not be found one without error before thy majesty. I myself, a man of little understanding and lacking speech, dare to address my words to thee; I put myself in peril of falling into the gorge and cavern of this river. I, Lord, have come to take with my hands blindness to mine eyes, rottenness and shrivelling to my members, poverty and affliction to my body; for my meanness and rudeness this it is that I merit to receive. Live and rule for ever in all quietness and tranquillity, O thou that art our lord, our shelter, our protector, most compassionate, most pitiful, invisible, impalpable.
Like their European counterparts, the Mexica were not averse to seeking help for more sinister goals. What follows is a plea in time of war to Tezcatlipoca (a central deity in Aztec religion, and his main festival was the Toxcatl ceremony celebrated in the month of May) and Yautlnecociautlmonenequi:
O our Lord, most compassionate, protector, defender, invisible, impalpable, by whose will and wisdom we are directed and governed, beneath whose rule we live—O, Lord of battles, it is a thing very certain and settled that war begins to be arranged and prepared for. The god of the earth opens his mouth, thirsty to drink the blood of them that shall die in this strife. It seems that they wish to be merry, the sun and the god of the earth called Tlaltecutli; they wish to give to eat and drink to the gods of heaven and hades, making them a banquet with the blood and flesh of the men that have to die in this war. Already do they look, the gods of heaven and hades, to see who they are that have to conquer, and who to be conquered; who they are that have to slay, and who to be slain; whose blood it is that has to be drunken, and whose flesh it is that has to be eaten;—which things the noble fathers and mothers whose sons have to die, are ignorant of. Even so are ignorant all their kith and kin, and the nurses that gave them suck—ignorant also are the fathers that toiled for them, seeking things needful for their food and drink and raiment until they reached the age they now have. Certainly they could not foretell how those sons should end whom they reared so anxiously, or that they should be one day left captives or dead upon the field. See good, O our Lord, that the nobles who die in the shock of war be peacefully and agreeably received, and with bowels of love, by the sun and the earth that are father and mother of all. For verily thou dost not deceive thyself in what thou doest, to wit, in wishing them to die in war; for certainly for this didst thou send them into the world, so that with their flesh and their blood they might be for meat and drink to the sun and the earth. Be not wroth, O Lord, anew against those of the profession of war, for in the same place where they will die have died 208many generous and noble lords and captains, and valiant men. The nobility and generosity of the nobles and the great-heartedness of the warriors is made apparent, and thou makest manifest, O Lord, how estimable and precious is each one, so that as such he may be held and honored, even as a stone of price or a rich feather. O Lord, most clement, lord of battles, emperor of all, whose name is Tezcatlipoca, invisible and impalpable, we supplicate thee that he or they that thou wilt permit to die in this war may be received into the house of the sun in heaven, with love and honor, and may be placed and lodged between the brave and famous warriors already dead in war, to wit, the lords Quitzicquaquatzin, Maceuhcatzin, Tlacahuepantzin, Ixtlilcuechavac, Ihuitltemuc, Chavacuetzin, and all the other valiant and renowned men that died in former times—who are rejoicing with and praising our lord the sun, who are glad and eternally rich through him, and shall be for ever; they go about sucking the sweetness of all flowers delectable and pleasant to the taste. This is a great dignity for the stout and valiant ones that died in war; for this they are drunken with delight, keeping no account of night, nor day, nor years, nor times; their joy and their wealth is without end; the nectarous flowers they sip never fade, and for the desire thereof men of high descent strengthen themselves to die. In conclusion, I entreat thee, O Lord, that art our lord most clement, our emperor most invincible, to see good that those that die in this war be received with bowels of pity and love by our father the sun, and our mother the earth; for thou only livest and rulest and art our most compassionate lord. Nor do I supplicate alone for the illustrious and noble, but also for the other soldiers, who are troubled and tormented in heart, who clamor, calling upon thee, holding their lives as nothing, and who fling themselves without fear upon the enemy, seeking death. Grant them at least some small part of their desire, some rest and repose in this life; or if here, in this world, they are not destined to prosperity, appoint them for servants and officers of the sun, to give food and drink to those in hades and to those in heaven. As for those whose charge it is to rule the state and to be tlacateccatl or tlacochcalatl, make them to be fathers and mothers to the men of war that wander by field and mountain, by height and ravine—in their hand is the sentence of death for enemies and criminals, as also the distribution of dignities, the offices and the arms of war, the badges, the granting privileges to those that wear visors and tassels on the head, and ear-rings, pendants, and bracelets, and have yellow skins tied to their ankles—with them is the privilege of appointing the fashion of the raiment that every one shall wear. It is to these also to give permission to certain to use and wear precious stones, as chalchivetes, turquoises, and rich feathers in the dances, and to wear necklaces and jewels of gold: all of which things are delicate and precious gifts proceeding from thy riches, and which thou givest to those that perform feats and valiant deeds in war. I entreat thee also, O Lord, to make grace of thy largess to the common soldiers, give them some shelter and good lodging in this world, make them stout and brave, and take away all cowardice from their heart, so that not only shall they meet death with cheerfulness, but even desire it as a sweet thing, as flowers and dainty food, nor dread at all the hoots and shouts of their enemies: this do to them as to thy friend. Forasmuch as thou art lord of battles, on whose will depends the victory, aiding whom thou wilt, needing not that any counsel thee—I entreat thee, O Lord, to make mad and drunken our enemies so that without hurt to us they may cast themselves into our hands, into the hands of our men of war enduring so much hardship and poverty. O our Lord, since thou art God, all-powerful, all-knowing, disposer of all things, able to make this land rich, prosperous, praised, honored, famed in the art and feats of war, able to make the warriors now in the field to live and be prosperous, if, in the days at hand, thou see good that they die in war, let it be to go to the house of the sun, among all the heroes that are there and that died upon the battle-field.
Source: Bernardino de Sahagún, Hist. Gen., tom. i., lib. iii., pp. 241-2.
Mexica (Aztec) theology is inferred from the surviving hymns and traditions as preserved by the Spanish chroniclers. When pressed on the theological framework by the Spanish padres, the native reverted to a duality of father sun and mother earth, with all in between a blur, cf:
Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chichimeca in Kingsborough’s Mex. Antiq., vol. ix., p. 261. ‘Tuvo por falsos á todos los dioses que adoraban los de esta tierra, diciendo que eran estatuas ó demonios enemigos del género humano; por que fue muy sabio en las cosas morales, y el que mas vaciló buscando de donde tomar lumbre para certificarse del verdadero Dios y criador de todas las cosas, como se ha visto en el discurso de su historia, y dan testimonio sus cantos que compuso en razon de esto como es el decir que habia uno solo, y que este era el hacedor del cielo y de la tierra, y sustentaba todo lo hecho y criado por él, y que estaba donde no tenia segundo, sobre los nueve cielos, que él alcanzaba, que jamas se habia visto en forma humana, ni otra figura, que con él iban á parar las almas de los virtuosos despues de muertos, y que las de los malos iban á otro lugar, que era el mas ínfimo de la tierra, de trabajos y penas horribles. Nunca jamas (aunque habia muchos ídolos que representaban muchos dioses) cuando se ofrecia tratar de deidad, ni en general ni en particular, sino que decia yntloque in nauhaque y palne moalani, que significa lo que està atras declarado. Solo decia que reconocia al sol por padre; y á la tierra por madre.’
Not having developed a true writing system, the reliance on mnemonics depended on prompting oral memory. Both prayers nonetheless express a range of ideas that are profoundly similar to Christian theology.
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.