Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Greeting The Dawn

The Sun Disk

The Sun Disk

“The Sun has come, has risen, the Shining One. How will He fare today? What will He do? Maybe disaster will strike us, His people. O Lord, go and do your noble duty! Bring light to Earth’s Surface!”

Above is my version of one of the traditional Aztec prayers to greet the sun, modeled upon the one recited each morning. (To read the original that inspired this, go HERE and type Tonametl in the “Search in this Book” field. A professional translation of the source prayer is the only hit on page 50, so you can’t miss it.)

Traditionally, a prayer like this was offered right at sunrise, as the Sun, Tonatiuh (literally, “He Goes Forth Shining”), climbed into the sky. It was a daily duty of the priests, and they accompanied their prayer with the beheading of quail, burning copal incense, and possibly autosacrifical bloodletting as well. While the daily offering of quail was generally reserved for the priests and not the general populace, prayer, incense, and autosacrifice were things accessible to all.

The basic structure is simple, and some of its features appear in the longer, more elaborate festival prayers. It has an invocation and a recitation of the god’s name(s), and parallel repetition of phrases. The repetition is a common feature of what was called “lordly speech” in Imperial times, and was a formal style of rhetoric used by nobles and by people addressing the aristocracy. As the Teteo are depicted as the nobility over humans, the same type of formal language is used in prayers addressing them, as all humans would be commoners or macehuales to Them. These techniques combine to show the respect the worshipper has for the gods.

The second half of the prayer consists of contemplation of the future, including the realization that our world is an uncertain, unstable place, and our fortunes could reverse at any time. I wouldn’t be surprised in this context if it is not only a statement of the fragility of mankind, but a subtle plea to Tonatiuh to not be slack in His duties of warming and lighting Tlalticpac (Earth’s Surface). Finally, the prayer closes with a double exhortation to the Teotl to shine with vigor upon the world, the petitioner literally cheering the god on.

If you wish to become more familiar with how the Aztecs composed their prayers and hymns, I recommend visiting my Hymns & Prayers section on the Sacred Texts section of this blog.

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7 responses

  1. Xuchilpaba

    Thank the gods for your blog. I have absolutely nothing to rely on when it comes to Aztec/Mesoamerican research anymore. I have some books, FAMSI, and book 1 & 3 of the Florentine,(planning on getting them all.) and that’s it. I have been doing everything by myself.

    How would the greeting of the sun on daily basis work for those who consider themselves priests in a modern context? i mean we can’t go about sacrificing quail everyday. And did only certain priests do this, or all of them?

    September 27, 2008 at 6:54 PM

  2. cehualli

    Thanks, Xuchil:-) It’s rough when you don’t have much in the way of research materials at hand, as so little of this stuff is at all accessible if you don’t either have a serious library yourself, or access to a university research library. Even then, it still may not have what you want — like Boston U’s not having the Cantares Mexicanos… Speaking of which… bah, still no realistically-priced ones up online.

    Anyway, remember that deal I mentioned I was negotiating to buy that guy’s copy of the Florentine? I closed it, I now have the full set. So if you need something checked, email me and I can look.

    Back on the matter of your questions:

    Hm. I imagine the quail sacrifice would have to be foregone, at least actual live quail. Perhaps a paper effigy of a quail could be used as a substitute, particularly one that’s been blooded. The paper figure could have its head torn off, then be burned. There is some support for paper model substitution in Mexico, especially in the modern day. I imagine high-quality paper, even if it’s amate paper, would be a lot more doable than live birds.

    As for which of the priests were doing it, I’ve never seen any information indicating that it was limited to only certain ones. The context of where it shows up in Book 2 of the Florentine Codex rather makes it look like a general priestly duty. It would make sense, as it’s relatively straightforward and would be something that even a novice priest could handle. Plus, the rest of the daily priestly chores listed seemed to have been something every priest did at some point, regardless of which temple they served in. Some duties were done no matter what rank you were, it seemed, like bloodletting.

    Hmmm. It might be time for me to do a survey piece on the daily priestly chores and minor rituals. Thanks for bringing this subject to mind.

    September 28, 2008 at 2:45 AM

  3. cehualli

    Oh, BTW Xuchil… I strongly encourage you to check back again Sunday at about 12:13AM, Eastern Time. I’ve got a really, really juicy little link scheduled to post, you’ll love it.

    September 28, 2008 at 2:49 AM

  4. Xuchilpaba

    How much did you pay for the entire F. codex?

    Hm, that’s a book I am going to get soon so i will check it.(book 2 i mean) I think the paper quail thing is a great idea, because of modern limitations. I never realized being a priest was so tough! I know it was rigorous but your post put it in perspective of how hard it is… And to think they would go out in the middle of the night and perform bloodletting to the gods, then raise t dawn to do a ritual to the sun everyday!

    And I am here on Sunday, but it’s 6:32 am. Soon my job hours will change and I will be able to stay up later…

    September 28, 2008 at 6:32 PM

  5. Xuchilpaba

    *6:32 pm. Sorry. 😛

    September 28, 2008 at 6:33 PM

  6. cehualli

    Heya Xuchil,

    I paid $200 for the complete set before shipping, used. Insanely good price, I never thought I’d see a set go that cheap. But the seller wanted to liquidate it quick, and we already have a good business history together, so he gave me a good deal. I will probably be continuing to pick at the gems from his library for a while.

    I strongly recommend Book 2: The Ceremonies given your priestly aspirations. It has a lot of information that will be key for you.

    And I know! Their priesthood requirements and duties were intense. Not only did you have the midnight bloodletting and dawn greeting, but there are 7 other times throughout the day where they would conduct incense and other offerings. I don’t know if they rotated who took which slot among the priests in the temples, or if everyone participated every time, but if it’s the latter, that had to have been rough. At the very least, *everyone* did the midnight sacrifice.

    Coolness on the upcoming hours change! I always update between 12 and 6AM, Eastern time, if you haven’t noticed. I’m a nocturnal soul.

    September 29, 2008 at 12:14 AM

  7. Xuchilpaba

    yeah I can’t wait to get to a nocturnal routine again myself.

    And who told you I had priestly aspirations? :p Well anyways, mine is prolly not SPG or w/e like Shock and Yehecatl because the community thinks I am a bitch for my behavior. I just love the gods, plain and simple. Tlaloc and Tezcatlipoca are my two top deities and all the gods have done so much in my life. As a confession, I never really had UPG with my other religions like this one.

    200 bucks is like the best price I have heard so far!

    September 29, 2008 at 4:12 PM

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