Maize: The Generation of an Empire

Bernardino de Sahagun, Florentine Codex,Book II, fig.13, 16th century Laurentian Library of Florence, Italy

Mexico is a country of many masks - born out of conquest, and survives out of syncretism. Within this struggle, maize stood as the omnipresent nurturer of all the Mexican people. Since the beginning, maize provided the grounds for the growing Mesoamerican ritual canopy. Agriculture in Mesoamerica represents the culmination of a number of interrelated processes, socioeconomic as well as cosmological. The earliest evidence of this can be traced about 5000 BCE in the Tehuacan Valley in Puebla, Mexico, when teosinte was domesticated into what today we recognize as maize. The domestication of this major foodstuff stimulated the impulse of the migrating nomadic tribes to settle. Early Olmec (1500-400 BCE) and Maya communities (1500 BCE - present) built their civilizations with maize as their backbone. Later settlers of the Central Highlands of Mesoamerica like the Mexica - or Chichimecas - settled for the first time in Chapultepec, a hill on the shore of Lake Texcoco roughly around 1248. This essay will present a meticulous layout of Mexica seasonal agricultural rites that centered maize as a sacred element within the public sphere as well as grounding domestic life. A scholarly analysis of the written works of scholar of religion David Carrasc

o, archaeologist Johanna Broda, and art historian Mary Miller, along with study of the post-conquest Florentine Codex, Mendoza Codex, and Codex Borbonicus will be further supported by ethnographic evidence.

By the fifteenth century, the Mexicas were able to conceive a synthesis of cultural elements derived from their own and earlier Mesoamerican cosmovision and ritual. At its core, ritual practices expressed the desire to coordinate time and space. By observing the moving skies in correspondence to the seasonal shifts in the environment, the Mexica sought to understand their place in the universe. The correlation between astronomical phenomenon and ritual life can be observed in the devotion of agriculture. The structure of agricultural festivities was marked by an axis between the dry (tonalco) and wet (xopan) cycles. This bilateral division of the year constituted the foundations of the basic calendar system in which particular seasons found their ritual expression within agricultural ceremonies related to water and maize. Ritual specialist Johanna Broda proposes that the interrelationship between feast, ritual, and natural cycles is not casual. Rather, ritual was the act of bridging astronomy, calendars, natural cycles, economy and cosmovision.

I Atlcahualo - IV Huey Tozoztli: In petition for water

A human´s life is a continuous debt to the gods. Humans eat, and when that happens they take on an obligation. It is the gods´ obligation to nourish their creatures. The hands of the gods are symbols of their capacity to create and sustain, but the human consumption of food must be reciprocated. The gods gave sustenance as loan.

-Alfredo López Austin, Tamoanchan, Tlalocan: Places of Mist.

During the first quarter of the Nahua year, agricultural rituals were centered on the sacrifice of children, particularly at the crest of Mount Tlaloc and in the remolino de la laguna (lagoon “swirl”) at Pantitlan, east in the outskirts of Mexico City, once the Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan. Children represented tlatoques, that is to say Tlaloc’s servants, thus they believed that by sacrificing the children they would call upon magical forces to make rain descend from the skies in order to once again initiate the cycle of corn: their most humble nurturer. In the Codex Mendoza, child sacrifices are illustrated as having occurred as to compensate the longing for rain. The quantity and the age range of children increased “some in each month… so that until the rains came in abundance, in all the feasts they slew children”.

Human sacrifice was based upon the unique and complex religious belief that the human body was the “vulnerable nexus of vital cosmic forces and was filled with divine essences that needed periodic regeneration”. In the cosmic vision of the Mexica, as in other Mesoamerican cultures, human flesh was believed to be made from corn: “indeed truly [Chicomecoatl] is our flesh, our livelihood; through her we live; she is our strength. If she were not, we should indeed die of hunger”. This bodily conception of corn is extended by the Mexica use of the term tonacayo (our flesh), which was used to refer both human flesh and maize, thus forming a “metaphoric tie between man’s corporeal being and the food to which he owed his existence”. Native maize was red, blue and yellow in color; similarly human blood appears blue in the veins when seen through the yellowish tones of skin, but red when cut. Human sacrifice thus mirrored the growth cycle of corn; hence the bond between mankind and maíz is ultimately and utterly related.

In Mexica ritual the correlation between time and space is described by the historian and anthropologist David Carrasco, who employs the term “cosmo-magical circle” to map the highly mobile ceremonies marked by cosmological circles. These are described as “symbolic spaces where humans gods and humans actively exchanged their co-essence in order to participate in the rejuvenating forces of earth”. As mentioned earlier, the yearly agricultural rituals commenced with child sacrifices at the crest of Mount Tlaloc and in the remolino de la laguna (lagoon “swirl”) at Pantitlan. This space become representative due to being oriented east of Templo Mayor, thus the direction of the rising sun and Quetzalcoatl (“the plumed serpent”) the ultimate symbol of creation, regeneration and transcendence. The layers of symbolism and meaning become vast at this point. Quetzalcoatl was identified with Venus, the eastern morning star that appears before sunrise. He was also associated with opossums and the discovery of maize as both he and Tezcatlipoca transformed into a red and black ants to obtain access to the great granary inside the cosmic mountain according to recounts of the Mexica Fifth Sun creation myth.

To further plead for rain, Mexica people celebrated Huey Tozoztli (or Great Vigil) during the fourth veintena, the seasonal transition period marked by the sun’s passing through the zenith point. Four days prior to the sun’s passing, there was fasting in every home and “the animation of plant forces began when young men set sedges covered with blood taken from their legs and ears in front of images of the gods in the homes of the populace”. On the fourth night women made atole. When the day broke, celebration began as priests from each temple spread throughout the city in ritual processions. Before returning to the Temple of Cinteopan with the day’s offerings, the priests departed to the milpa fields to get ocholli (green maize stalk), also known as cintil or cinteotl, that is to say “maize god” (Centeotl embodied the male aspects of maize). The green stalk would be brought back to be decorated with flowers as images of gods were thought as containers of the divine essence. The green maize stalks stood in reference to the dynamic co-essence of the gods and their ability to animate objects and to satisfy the “cycle of debt payment,” as Lopez Austin defined. Additionally, before them they laid five foods in a basket crowned by a hard-backed frog with its face painted blue, symbolizing the cosmo-magical force of the first rains which frogs announced with their first croaks. This feast celebrated the blessing of maize awaiting its sowing.

In Mesoamerica, maize was worshiped as both male and female under the names of Centeotl and Chicomecoatl. The principle of duality reigned in Mesoamerican thought and was predominantly found in male/female polarities. In this polarity, there was balance. As Leon Portilla recounts “for the Nahua thought, [...] the intervention of the supreme dual principle, a masculine face is always needed to act, but a feminine one to conceive”. The dynamism generated by the gods developed because of the perpetual movements between opposite forces, and from them human life and the natural world coexisted. Female deities invested with maize such as Chicomecoatl (provider of maize), and Xilonen (goddess of Jilote - corn hair) were also interrelated with female water deities like Chalchiuhtlicue (“Jade Skirt” and goddess of bodies of water). This agricultural female energy constituted the nucleus of the fertility cult as the ultimate source of material wealth. Altepemeh (watery mountains or sustenance mountains), a cosmological concept that intertwines the essence of both maize and water deities. Mountains were fundamental sources of tonacayotl (our sustenance) as they could both store the grains of maize and withhold bodies of water, said concepts will be discussed further ahead.

Bernardino de Sahagun, Florentine Codex, Book II, fig. 14, 16th century Laurentian Library of Florence, Italy

This concept of plant nurturing can be extended to the sacrifice of young females as offerings to Chicomecoatl. Chicomecoatl is the female representation of maize as she is inculcated with prodigious creator powers and provider of “all our food - white maize, black and brown mixed, various hued; large and wide; round and ball-like; slender maize; long maize; speckled red and white as if stripped with blood, painted with blood…” This is a goddess who nourishes and creates. Her name, Chicomecoatl, or “Seven Serpent” might allude not only to a calendrical name in the 260-day calendar but perhaps also to the seven directions of the universe, hence placing her and maize in continuous axis mundi. For the Mexicas, the world in which they lived was conceived as a flat disk of earth, surrounded by water that stretched out to the horizons where it met the sky. This world was set at the center of the four great cardinal regions of the universe. Above the earth rose the thirteen layers of the heavens (Omeyocan) and below the earth were the nine levels of the underworld (Mictlan). 'Seven' is also a number that is in direct dialogue with the Mexica concept for point of origin: chicomoztoc. Chicomoztoc, or "seven caves”, are thought to be earth’s womb and the sight of mankind's birthing origin Thus, man is born from earth like corn sprouts from soil. As for “Serpent”, this mystical animal was considered the ultimate symbol of transformation and regeneration. In Mesoamerican conception, serpents are associated to the creator god Quetzalcoatl and were able to transcend realms. Similarly, as the serpent sheds skin, corn sheds its husk.

Male-female tensions and antagonism play important roles in these seasonal agricultural sacrifices. In the fourth veintena or IV Huey Tozoztli, the Florentine Codex describes the first festival of female sacrifice as a procession of seven youthful women carrying on their backs cob bundles from the year before to the temple of Chicomecoatl. There they bound the cobs of maize in groups of seven to wrap them in reddened paper and one of the females would then be selected to be aquetzalli, adorn in the image of Chicomecoatl. Both her arms and legs were pasted with red feathers and on her cheeks two circles of tar that were flecked with iron pyrites. She was then perceived as the young maize seed to represent the feminine part of the cosmos: the earth and “its power to store and release the powers of growth in the plants”. The color symbolism is observed in the double maize ear fetishes, known as the cemmaitl, wrapped in red-painted paper to embody the spirit of the maize, “the fertile seed passed down through through generations of planting”. Red is also the color identified with East and with Quetzalcoatl, ultimate god of creation and regeneration. Needless to say red is also the color of blood, sacred substance for the renewal of all the cosmos.

As described by Sahagún in the Florentine Codex, these living fertility images walked in procession to the temple and granary where the ears of maize were made into ‘hearts’. In Mexica botanical thought, maize seeds were composed of two elements, the visible seed and the invisible substance called the ‘heart of maize’. The ‘hearts’ of living organisms were ‘recycled’ through a “great granary in the underworld of the dead, the place called Tlalocan, a colossal receptacle enclosed in the cosmic mountain”. This granary underneath the “cosmic mountain” is perhaps also the one Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca discovered during the Fifth Sun creation myth as discussed earlier. However, for the grain of maize - the physical maize - to be converted into an active seed, it had to be united with the ‘heart’ through the passing of ritual forces. Hence, the young females became the living symbols of corn as they approach the already decorated temple of Chicomecoatl with maize stalks - an archetypal cosmic hill in itself - in procession to become sacrificed and achieve the union between physical and spiritual.

Once in the temple before the priest, “the actual vehicle for the supernatural through ecstatic trance and spirit-possession”, the selected female would undergo a second stage of magical transformation known as the, becoming an impersonator or living vessel of the heart of the goddess. She was adorned with cosmic symbols “all in red - completely red on her arms, her legs, her face” to become the living image of Chicomecoatl, the heart of corn. Under the spell of ritual, the young woman became young corn possessed with the sacred power of plant regeneration. At the height of this magical renewal of being, the young female ixiptla, the female receptacle of the heart of maize, was sacrificed and her skin flayed. Her skin was later worn by a male priest whose ritual identity is now transformed into the corn goddess. This woman was not only adorned to be sacrificed, but she had gone through spiritual regeneration so that her death would pay the debt owed to the goddess to restart the germination of corn. David Carrasco defines this scene, as mentioned in Sahagun’s recordings in the Florentine Codex, by the Nahuatl term teomiqui, meaning to “die divinely” or to “die like a god.”

Thus far, sacrificial rites seem to intensify within points of uncertainty, that is to say transitional periods, where cosmic anxiety overpowers political stability. The antagonism between the core area of Tenochtitlan and the surrounding city-states “created immense stresses that were resolved by human sacrifices carried out at the Templo Mayor”. The ritual strategy of feeding the gods became the major religio-political instrument for subduing the enemy, controlling the periphery and rejuvenating cosmic energy. This was the outcome of Mexica statecraft plagued by uncertainties. The Mexica sought sacrificial activity as the stable element that constantly remained true to its purpose and function regarding social order, military empowerment, and cosmic regeneration.

VI Etzalcualiztli - XI Ochpanztli: Rain season

Duran describes that if by VI Etzalcualiztli the fields of maize or milpas promised to be forthcoming, people would then harvest the tender corn to prepare etzalli - corn dough bolitos guisados (stewed buns) with beans- for celebratory purposes. The feast of etzalli denoted abundance and it would have been celebrated in honor of Tlaloc and Chalchiuhticue (male and female water related deities) at the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan. Prepared offerings included green husks, jilotes (corn hair), and the corn itself in addition to the already prepared etzalli. These offerings would have been made to serve as a supernatural analogy for the aspiration for the culmination of rain and the already young growing cobs. VI Etzalcualiztli became such a significant period because although sporadic rains occurred beforehand, rain in plenitude did not arrive until coming of VI Etzalcualiztli. This was commemorated by a final child sacrifice in honor of Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue in the heart of Tenochtitlan at the Templo Mayor.

The intricate interrelation among the maize and water deities is indisputable. The constant push and pull of energy between agricultural rites and these deities are a projection of lust for fertile soil. Adoration of fertility images is associated with the power of regeneration. Through these images, worship of Earth’s bounty became palpable in goddesses such as Chicomecoatl or Chalchiuhticue who personify fertility. Ahead, an additional goddess invested with fertility and the renewal of the cosmic energy will be introduced.

In the following veintena, VII Tecuihuitontli, forty days after the celebration of the red woman of the Great Vigil (IV Huey Tzoztli) and sacrifice at Chicomecoatl’s temple for the renewal of maize’s cosmic heart, another female figure would now take on the task of ritual transformation. She would become the green and yellow teotl ixiptla of Huixtocihuatl, female fertility figure who reigned over salt and salt water and who was elder sister to the rain god Tlaloc. This fertility festival was known as “The Minor Festival of the Lords” in which a young female was once again opulently adorned to regenerate cosmic fertility. Her body, decorated in an array of cosmic symbols, was ornamented with yellow ocher, the color of maize blossoms. She was painted with vivid green and crowned with a paper cap with many outspread quetzal feathers in the form of maize tassels. Golden earplugs flashed on the sides of her face like squash blossoms, and she wore a cape of billowing clouds. This image of water and sky was repeated in the skirt, which partially covered the calves with bound jaguar skins covered with bells. Her ankles sported golden bells so that when she walked she rustled, clattered, and tinkled. She moved on foam sandals lined with cotton yard. All these colors, designs, and symbols were the bright backdrop for her shield with lily flowers and leaves painted on it. This fertility image was adored with yellow parrot-feather pendants made into tassels like the forepart of a locust and with eagle, quetzal, and tail feathers of parrots. This description is drawn from the written recordings of the Florentine Codex. This symbolic multi-layered costume was the embodiment of the fertile cosmos in representation of Huixtocihuatl.

For the following ten days women sang and danced for Huixtocihuatl and when the days had passed, in the evening they began holding vigil for her. She was then forced to dance through the night to deprive her from sleep. Following these “delirium-producing rites”, the sacrifices began when war captives, who had also been transformed into images of gods under the name of huixtotin, or salt people, were also forced to dance all night. This naming signified a metamorphosis of place within ritual, as these individuals would then walk in a procession through the ceremonial center to the cosmo-magical circle of the Temple of Tlaloc and ascends to the summit. Here, the captives were put to death as their bodies would now serve as a bed for the ‘goddess’ who was brought out to the sacrificial stage to be pinned down and stretched out upon her back to become a “total example of female vulnerability.” Her head pulled tightly and decapitated. The female body, gushing in blood, was further torn apart; the breast slit open to retrieve the heart from the body and then placed in the chalciuhxicalli, a green stone jar with cosmic images carved into it.

Sahagun’s short but detailed description of this dramatic culmination of sacrificial act is perhaps due to his own repulsion against such ‘savage’ manifestations, but it unequivocally expresses a cathartic release of profound tensions, hopes, and fears. The body of the ‘goddess’ was then brought down after being covered with a precious cape. Her descent from the temple meant her body was now in the public eye, and trumpets announced the completion of corn’s spirit regeneration as it was then celebrated with the consumption of pulque. In the veintena that follows, another agricultural rite invested with the feminine part of the fertile cosmos rendered place.

Xilonen is another goddess devoted to the powers of maize. With the coming of VII Huey Tecuilhuitl, once more a young female was selected to become the ixiptla figure for ritual transformation by “entering the sand”. Entering the sand was a symbolic act of dying, joining the water and earth as a passage to the underworld. She traveled with a consort of elder women to four sacred sites associated with the four-year bearers: Reed, Flint Knife, House, and Rabbit. She participated in collective dancing before the priestesses conducted her to the sacrificial temple where she then scattered powdered yauhtli in presence of the fire priest. Here, the priest lifted her up in his back, her body bent backward as his body bent forward. Sacrificed in this display of physical dexterity, she had nijman ye ic tlacoti, or “she performed her service”, meaning that “she had made the payment of the debt by completing the circle of reciprocity to the regeneration of plants and foodstuffs that drove this month’s events”. Her heart was then extracted and placed in a blue jar representative of the blue cosmic mountain and for the first time in the year, people consumed tortillas of green maize. Canes of green corn were chewed, and green amaranths were cooked in celebratory feasting. This emphatic series of culminating events brought green maize to life for humans and therefore signified hope for human life to continue.

The sacrifice of Xiloen’s ixiptla, or impersonator, was then commemorated through drinking and feasting. At midday, servants, their hair bound with reed blades, spread out and distributed food to the people. They ate “as many tamales as he could take of [with one hand], all those did he give. They were perchance tamales of maize treated with lime, or tamales made with fruit; some were tamales of maize blossoms, some were tamales with twisted ends, somewhere honey tamales. And some the twisted end tamales some had grains of maize, come had beans.” The preparation of food had within itself ritualistic aspects. The consumption of food during ritual has already been discussed, but the preparation of it was grounded within the domestic sphere.

Eaten in a variety of forms, maize was most commonly cooked as a tortilla, a round, flat, toasted bread that is a staple of Mesoamerican cuisine from the Classic period through the present. Prepared by first soaking the shelled corn in an akali solution, next grinding the wet grains on a metate (grinding stone) until made into dough. Shaping the tortillas by hand and finally cooking them in a clay griddle called comalli. Tortilla making was a practice passed down from mother to daughter as shown in the Mendoza Codex. Also popular were the tamales, ancient coarse maize dough was shaped into balls, often with some beans, chilies, or sometimes meat in the center, then wrapped in maize leaves and steamed in a large clay pot. Other forms in which the Aztecs ate maize were atone, a thin gruel of fine maize flour in water flavored with spices. These ancient dishes have become recurrent in the act of ritual eating during the agricultural festivals mentioned.

Codex Borbonicus, page 23 Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée Nationale, Paris

The final sacrificial act of the maize agricultural cycle was conceived in the eleventh veintena, Ochpaniztli (“sweeping of the way”) where “the most spectacular display of the female in service of dying” takes stage. Ochpaniztli is also the month where the passing of the sun for the second time through the zenith point announcing the transitional period between rain season to dry season occurs and this found its ritualistic expression in, once again, female sacrifice. David Carrasco argues that these female-focused agricultural rites were intertwined with sexual desires between genders as the young girls were displayed ornamented and dancing in the eye of the noble and military male public. The power of women over man could “torment (young men) into war; thus they moved them; thus the women would prod them into battle. Indeed we men said; ‘Bloody, painful are the worlds of the women; bloody penetrating are women’s words.’ ” Thus, the transformation of the heart of ‘woman-as-plant’ was sought as inspiration for war. The Mexica Empire was sustained by means of war and military power. This observation made by Carrasco further exemplifies the infusion of maize with gender identity and the war thirst that drove the building of the empire.

Ochpaniztli was celebrated with feasting and dance involving rows of circling performers followed by “a four-day mock battle breaks between various groups of women, including women physicians, pleasure girls, and older women”. These mock battles serve to mentally focus the women on the purpose of the ritual, which is to sustain a positive mood of the Teteo innan ixiptla (impersonator) to “banish her sorrow, they kept gaining her attention, they kept making her laugh that she might not be sad. Because if there were weeping, it was said it would be an omen of evil.” The consequences: a weeping ixiptla reflected a disastrous outcome of agricultural product and warfare.

However, this particular ritual is centered in the act of giving. The ixiptla was later escorted to the market where she gave cornmeal to ensure fertility. Later taken into the temple where she was guarded, she was told “My dear daughter, now at last the ruler Moctezuma will sleep with thee. Be happy”. Carrasco assumes this as an annunciation of royal sex as she gave her virginity to the tlatoani (king), the most holy man, as he would disseminate his seed and initiate the reenactment of the mythic gieros gamos; the sacred union of the Sky, now in the form of the Mexica tlatoani, and the Earth, in the form of a ixiptla. His seed is scattered within the “heart” of the plants that she embodies. It was a celebration of ritual marriage between the Mother Goddess of the Earth with the solar god, and from this union, Centeotl, the corn god, is born. After sexual intercourse, she, unknowingly, was decapitated, her heart extracted and her body flayed to be used by a naked priest, a “very strong man, very powerful, very tall,” struggled into the wet skin, with its slack breasts and pouched genitalia. The double nakedness of layered skin resulted in ambiguous bi-gender embodying both female and male. The death of one ixiptla gave birth to another ixiptla. This new ritual figure was named Teccizquacuilli, a male transformed into the female Earth deity through the magical costume of female skin, empowered with the essence of Teteo innan. Thus, women were living pivots capable of likening the hearts of plants with the preparation for war. This demonstrates that males readapted and redirected the female creative energy associated with the earth, plants, fertility into military needs and purposes. The skin of one thigh was reserved to be fashioned into a facemask for the man impersonating Centeotl, Young Lord Maize Cob, the son of Toci as it traveled to the Pochtlan Nahua community, a city-state situated in the modern state of Guerrero.

These two god-images, empowered by the song fragments of the original ixiptla girl, eventually met at the temple of Huitzilopochtli (god of war) in Tenochtitlan where they would then turn towards the populace in complete metamorphosis and, as recorded “there [was] much to fear; fear spread over the people; indeed fear entered into the people.” This was a political statement of Mexica military might. This projection of the war state’s godly power echoes the historical post-union skinning of the Culhuacan princess and the Mexican leader during the years of first Azlan’s immigrants settled in the Texcoco valley.

The two deity impersonators would then retreat back to the temple and on the following day, the Toci impersonator is greeted by the noblemen as he would be further adorned with another layer of cosmo-magical skin, attaching feathers, a paper crown, five marketplace banners (green maize stalks), and a row of maguey leaves for a headdress. The impersonator was now transformed into a sacrificer as five captives were brought before her/him to open the chest cavity and extract the heart. The regeneration is complete. The vital hearts of plants are stored and the warriors are prepared to launch themselves outward to the frontier marked with blood and skin. The males would then be stripped of their the adornments. The skin is placed on a wooden support with the head looking forward into the city. Thus, the ritual use of skin served as a metaphor to transform the city into a site of war and contributes to the militarization of the society, as argued by Carrasco.

Eduard Seler has suggested that this was the pre Hispanic celebration of harvest. Ethnographic anthropologist Johanna Broda argues that XI Ochpaniztli was not the festival of the harvest, but rather that its purpose was to conjure, by means of rites, the fulfillment of maize’s becoming of ‘mature age’. Climatic settings pushed harvest season two or three veintenas after. However, XI Ochpaniztli did correspond with the conclusion of rain season announced by the passing of the sun through the zenith point. In the form of song Chicomecoatl was manifested among the people as the departure of corn’s spirit:

Song of Chicomecoatl

Seven Corncob

Now arise

Now wake up

It is our mother

You are going to leave us bereft

You are going to your home in Tlalocan

This was accompanied in Tenochtitlan with adoration of hills and pulque gods. Hills were sought as the keepers of water as they released it when the sacrifice of children began once more in I Atlcahualo along with the worship of water-related deities. Hills and mountains were also specifically dedicated to the cult of maguey. Maguey served for the production of pulque, a Mesoamerican alcoholic beverage used for multiple purposes, as it is also thought of as an “an absolute symbol of fertility”.

The accumulation of rituals thus far was intended for prosperous forthcoming dry season to come. The community’s energy within these periods was oriented to warfare as the foodstuffs were now secured. The symbolism of maize permeated the most intimate aspects of Mexica thought. People were often compared to the maize plant as for example, an honored person was said to have “reached the season of the green maize ear”. Thus, for the pre-Conquest indigenous societies of Mexico, the cultivation of maize is of grave importance thus it ensures their alimentary survival, and it is the core pillar of the economic activity and prosperity in which human labor is invested, social relations are forged and ritual celebrations are organized.

Codex Borbonicus, page 24 Bibliothèque de l'Assemblée Nationale, Paris

Flesh of Maize, Tonacayo

In the Mesoamerican view of the world, maize rendered a sense of life. Ritual endeavor was the act of bridging astronomy, calendars, natural cycles, economy and cosmovision. The consistent ritual search in Mesoamerican cosmovision of maize regeneration gives us access to their understanding of the nature of human existence. Maize gave people a backbone from where to construct a civilization. Not only as their humblest nurturer, but it was also considered the ultimate symbol of transformation and regeneration as, through its mirroring characteristics of those of a serpent, maize transcended realms by simultaneously grounding a palpable understanding of axis mundi through the projection of both male and female polarities. This integrated outcome gave existential placement to indigenous communities within the confinements of time and space. To conjure, by means of rites, the places that it inhabits, the objects that in can animate, and the existential states that it can induce, allowed individuals to conceive themselves within larger systems of meaning that governs their sense of being. The power of which maize is invested with meant not only the regeneration of the universal cosmos but also the regeneration of the Mexica Empire.