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Sweeping the Way

Divine Transformation in the Aztec Festival of Ochpaniztli

By Catherine DiCesare

Publication Year: 2009

Incorporation human sacrifice, flaying, and mock warfare, the pre-Columbian Mexican ceremony known as Ochpaniztli, or "Sweeping," has long attracted attention. Although among the best known of eighteen annual Aztec ceremonies, Ochpaniztli's significance has nevertheless been poorly understood. Ochpaniztli is known mainly from early colonial illustrated manuscripts produced in cross-cultural collaboration between Spanish missionary-chroniclers and native Mexican informants Although scholars typically privilege the manuscripts' textual descriptions, Sweeping the Way examines the fundamental role of their pictorial elements, which significantly expand the information contained in the texts. DiCesare emphasizes the primacy of the regalia, ritual implements, and adornments of the festival patroness as the point of intersection between sacred cosmic forces and ceremonial celebrants. The associations of these paraphernalia indicate that Ochpaniztli was a period of purification rituals designed to transform and protect individual and communal bodies alike. Spanish friars were unable to comprehend the complex nature of the festival's patroness, ultimately fragmenting her identity into categories meeting their expectations, which continues to vex modern investigations. Sweeping the Way addresses myriad issues of translation and transformation in pre-Columbian and post-conquest Mexico, as Christian friars and native Mexicans together negotiated a complex body of information about outlawed ritual practices and proscribed sacred entities.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Series: Mesoamerican Worlds Series


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p. vii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

I have incurred a number of debts in the process of writing this book, and I am immensely grateful to the mentors, colleagues, friends, and family who have always supported and encouraged me over the years. I express special thanks to Flora Clancy, my doctoral advisor, mentor, and friend. It was Flora who first revealed to me the glories of pre-Columbian antiquity and inspired me to turn my attentions ...

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pp. xv-xvi

In Sweeping the Way, Catherine DiCesare uses the vehicle of the Aztec feast of Ochpaniztli (“Sweeping”) to examine some of the fundamental issues in Aztec religiosity. Her immediate focus is on the best-known of the eighteen monthly feasts or ritual dramas in the Aztec civil or “solar” calendar, a feast that has been of interest to several other modern scholars because it features aspects of divinity and sacrality ...

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pp. 1-16

Perhaps no other aspect of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica has engendered more interest than the sanguinary practices for which the Mexica of central Mexico (the so-called Aztecs) are particularly infamous. Since the arrival in the early sixteenth century of Spanish conquistadors and, soon after, Spanish Christian missionaries, descriptions and depictions of human sacrifice have held a special place in the literature describing Mexico’s aboriginal inhabitants.

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1: Sources for Ochpaniztli: Negotiating Text and Image in Early Colonial Mexican Manuscripts

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pp. 17-34

Spanish Christian friar-chroniclers compiling descriptions of Mesoamerican calendars and their associated rituals frequently turned directly to native Nahuas for whatever information, local manuscripts, and artistry they might be willing to provide. Although little is known about their particular identity or training, these indigenous collaborators played a crucial role in creating the colonial ethnohistories. Their investigations into Mesoamerican calendars and calendrical rituals ...

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2: Visualizing the Sacred in the Ochpaniztli Festival

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pp. 35-67

Between ca. 1540 and 1600, Nahua tlacuilos created for the mendicant friars’ religious treatises a corpus of images depicting the eighteen monthly veintena feasts. The extant scenes range from expansive, dynamic imagery filled with celebratory figures engaged in ritual activities, seen in the Primeros Memoriales (fig. 2.13) created at the behest of Fray Sahagún, to sparer illustrations that represent priests, deity-effigies, and ceremonial celebrants arrayed in the ...

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3: Purification and Renewalduring the Festival of Ochpaniztli

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pp. 69-101

The concept of the teixiptla accruing and transmitting the numinous energy of supernatural forces and cosmic phenomena through masks, adornments, and ritual implements provides a useful avenue for examining Ochpaniztli. If the power of the divine were indeed manifested during Ochpaniztli through the teixiptla, creating, in Richard Townsend’s words, “a talismanic token of the sacred,” then scholars may benefit from a closer examination of the ritual attire adorning these ...

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4: The Colonial Image of Tlazolteotl

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pp. 103-122

Failing to grasp the significance of the regalia-laden teixiptla as the means by which ritual celebrants encountered the divine, the Spanish Christian friars did not give substantial attention in their veintena accounts to elucidating the functions and associations of the sacred raiment. They did understand, however, the power that the gods had and that it was present in the deity-images that appeared to them to be “idols.” Accordingly, the missionary-scribes described at length the ...

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5: Ochpaniztli in theMexican Codex Borbonicus

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pp. 123-153

Scholars have long been intrigued by the representation of Ochpaniztli that appears in the veintena chapter of the Codex Borbonicus (figs. 5.1–5.3). This imagery falls within the third section of the manuscript (pp. 23–37), which appears to represent one full Mexican veintena cycle. On these pages, a series of complex, dramatic ceremonial activities and sacrifices are carried out in order to propitiate forces linked with maize, water, sustenance, and the earth’s fertility, forces that ...

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pp. 155-166

As collaborative, cross-cultural documents, what can the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mexican veintena sources allow us to understand about pre- Columbian ritual practices among the Nahua peoples of central Mexico? And how might modern scholars best use these sources, given the myriad interpretive problems they pose? To be sure, as I have outlined in the preceding chapters, these manuscripts are beset by plentiful limitations and pose considerable ...


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pp. 167-207


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pp. 209-222


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pp. 223-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780870819728
E-ISBN-10: 0870819720
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870819438
Print-ISBN-10: 0870819437

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 39 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Mesoamerican Worlds Series
Series Editor Byline: Davíd Carrasco, Harvard University, and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, El Colegio Nacional, Mexico, Series General Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 472226427
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sweeping the Way

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Aztecs -- Religion.
  • Picture-writing -- Mexico.
  • Human sacrifice -- Mexico.
  • Codex Borbonicus.
  • Aztecs -- Historiography.
  • Aztecs -- Rites and ceremonies.
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