Sylvia Marcos provides insights into the conceptual religious archaeology of Mesoamerican gender and eros. Drawing on the hermeneutics of Mesoamerican oral discourses, she analyzes precontact archaeological records and explores indigenous and Spanish voices in colonial documents and codices. She cuts through the layers of misinterpretation and mistranslation of indigenous erotic and gender concepts to tease out indigenous knowledges. She also seeks the fractured and hybrid continuities between the Aztec and the Maya of the contact period and the living narratives of Mazatec (Oaxaca), Chontal (Tabasco), Nahua (Puebla), Maya (Chiapas), and spiritualist healers in Mexico City and Cuernavaca (Morelos). She draws on authors as diverse as Bernardino de Sahagún, Alfredo López Austin, Miguel León Portilla, Louise Burkhardt, Thelma Sullivan, Susan Kellogg, and Cecilia Klein to explore Aztec notions; and Fray Diego de Landa, Gary Gossen, Dennis Tedlock, Barbara Tedlock, and Evon Vogt to explore Maya concepts.
Marcos gives the reader a sampling of the notions common to indigenous Mesoamericans; she does not explore the cultural, geographic, or historical differences among them. Inspired by Guillermo Bonfils notion of a “México profundo” (deep Mexico) and Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Vintage, 1970), she unravels the common cognitive processes of indigenous Mesoamericans and spans the gendered cognitive and symbolic frames of Mesoamerican healing rituals; Mesoamerican notions of gender duality, fluidity, and equilibrium; religious metaphors of soil and sexuality; the various spiritual positionalities of women healers; the corporeality in religious metaphors and narratives; the clash between indigenous spiritual eroticism and Spanish Catholic morality; and the balance and complementarity in Mesoamerican gender ideology.
The Mesoamerican notion of a porous, fluid, eroticized, and balanced corporeality connected to the cosmos is central to the book. Marcos shows that Mesoamerican “embodied thought” incarnates knowledge of the cosmos and links matter and body with spirit, and soil with sexuality. In indigenous Mesoamerica, the body is porous and fluid, like the forces of the cosmos: “The skin is not a hermetic barrier between what is inside and outside of the body,” and “multiple animic entities reside in certain body parts but are not permanently fixed in them” (63). Mesoamerican erotic spirituality upholds the life-giving force of the cosmos, unites humans and gods, revitalizes the elderly, and reflects the pleasures of an earthly identity.
Marcos argues that Catholic morality shook the foundations of indigenous cosmology through the repression of indigenous eroticism, the “disdainful superiority of spirit over flesh” (113), and the imposition of Spanish gender hierarchies, which marginalized women and punished their erotic desires. The legacy of both indigenous and Spanish Catholic perceptions of gender, body, [End Page 689] and spirit is present in the practice of contemporary Mesoamerican healers (curanderas)—predominantly Catholic or evangelical women. Curanderas articulate “embodied thought” when they show bodily ailments to be reflections of planetary movements, when an ailment is materialized in an object, which is then extracted from the body of the patient, and when they simultaneously clean body and soul in “limpias.” Curanderas convey hybrid Spanish-indigenous notions of gender, body, and spirit when they speak of themselves, alternatively, as vehicles for divinity who consume the “flesh of God” in the form of hallucinogenic mushrooms; as humble vessels that incorporate a god; as messengers of divine wisdom; as companions of Jesus, with whom they share a task; and as servants working under the orders of a fatherly God.
Another major contribution of the book is an insightful reading of the complex relationship among gender duality, gender fluidity, and gender equilibrium in Mesoamerican thought. Marcos describes a gendered cosmology in which everything is in flux and in balance. While Mesoamericans recognize masculine and feminine poles, this is not the fixed gender binarism prevalent in Western thought. Rather, “what was feminine and masculine [in all entities—rocks, plants, animals, people, and deities] oscillated, continuously reconstituting and redefining itself… and neither pole could dominate or prevail over the other except for an instant” (45).
Mesoamerican notions of gender duality, fluidity, and equilibrium are both analogous to and different from those of...