Aztec rituals for making rain
The aquatic offerings of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan
Leonardo López Luján 洛佩斯·卢汉
Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia 墨西哥国家人类学和历史学研究所
Scarce rain, excessive rain, inopportune rain… These three phenomena were the nightmares to all ancient societies who based their lives on dry farmed crops, without the use of irrigation. Thus, the peoples of Mesoamerica welcomed rainfall only when it was received in adequate quantities and at precise moments. If both elements –amount and time— did not occur in the proper combination, the consequences could be devastating and culminate in tragic famines, mortalities, or migrations.
The often unforeseeable character of rainfall was a hallmark of Mesoamerican religions. Throughout time the peoples of ancient Mexico have had an obsession about controlling rainfall by means of invoking supernatural forces. This is very clear in the Aztec 365-day calendar: nine of its 18 twenty-day months, were dedicated to the cult of the rain and fertility deities. In these months, most of the prayers, offerings, and child sacrifices were addressed to Tlaloc, the Rain God, and to his tiny assistants, named tlaloque. Tlaloc was also normally invoked as Tlamacazqui, “The Giver”, because he provided everything required for plant germination. This cherished god sent rains and currents of water from Tlalocan, the place of fog, of infinite abundance and of everything green.
During the XVth and XVIth centuries, the most impressive propitiatory rituals addressed to the rain gods took place at the Tenochtitlan’s Great Temple. The inhabitants of this imperial capital conceived their main pyramid as a representation of Tlaloc’s mythical mountain, hollow, and full of water and riches. In fact, several decorative elements of this impressive architectural monument, such as blue mural paintings, sculptures of Tlaloc, serpents, frogs, whirlpools, and protruding stones, recall that mountain. Each time the Great Temple was enlarged, the architects were careful to repeat the previous structure and, in this way, reproduced the Mountain of Tlaloc.
A formal resemblance, however, was not the only requisite for becoming a sacred place. When this pyramid was dedicated, the Aztecs were obliged to perform certain rituals that repeated the mythical acts of the rain gods for the purpose of guaranteeing the temple’s reality and permanence. Because of this, I will describe in this presentation two complexes of buried offerings excavated by the Great Temple Project in downtown Mexico City. These offerings are the material vestiges of ceremonies that, through a mechanism of sympathetic magic, attempted to imitate a sacred mountain and re-enact the primordial actions of the gods. The ten offerings I will analyze here were propitiatory methods to generate clouds, rain, and, consequently, the earth’s fertility.
Leonardo López Luján is a Mexican archaeologist and the current director of the Templo Mayor project of National Institute of Anthropology and History. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Archaeology from Mexico’s National School of Anthropology and History and a doctorate from France’s Université de Paris Ouest. He specializes in the politics, religion, and art of Pre-Columbian urban societies in Central Mexico. Throughout his academic life, he has held many prestigious offices with the various Mexican Academies and has served as a visiting professor at Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Sapienza-Università di Roma, École pratique des hautes études in Paris, and the Francisco Marroquín University of Guatemala. He has been a guest researcher at such institutions as Princeton, the Musée de l’Homme, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Institut d’études avancées de Paris. Since 1988, he has been a full-time researcher at INAH. In 2013, he was elected correspondent member of the British Academy and honorary member of the Society of Antiquaries of London for his contributions in Mesoamerican studies. He received the 2015 Shanghai Forum Archaeology Award as the director of one of the ten best archaeological research programs in the world.