The Preliminary Termination Rites

In the year Ome Acatl or 2 Reed (1507 ad) the 52-year cycle had to come to an end (Sahagun 1953, VII: 25). Certain preparation rites, reminiscent of a preliminary first sequence of a rite de passage, before the New Fire Ceremony was to be drilled (the principal feature of this ceremony) can be acknowledged from the incoherent and incomplete sources.

Some time before the 52-year calendar ritual, the Aztec tlatoani (ruler) Motecuzoma [II] commanded that an individual, whose name contained the words xiuitl or molpilli, should be found. This person had to be a boy with the symbolic name Molpilli, Xuihtlalpil, Xiuhtzitzqui, Xiuhtli, Texiuh, Xiuhtlatlac, Quetzalxiuh, Xiuhquen etc. or a girl with the equally symbolic name Xiuhnenetl, Xiuhcue, Xihuecocotl etc. [1] [2] [3] The person who was to become a ritual subject, had to be born by a woman who was pregnant during a previous 52-year calendar ritual, i.e. c. 52 years ago. The ritual victim, who resided in his/her mother’s womb during the former 52-year calendar ceremony, was to be symbolically sacrificed during the New Fire Ceremony.

For the 52-year calendar ritual of 1507 AD Motecuzoma [II] received a noble man from Uexotzinco called Xiuhtlamin, who was to be the ritual subject of the fire-drill. An image of amaranth seed dough representing Xiuhtlamin was made and, “they set cooked grains of maize upon it, so that they could give it to the people to eat” (Sahagun 1953, VII: 31-32).

This first sequence of the 52-year calendar ritual was considered to be a preliminary termination ritual marking the end of the old 52-year calendar cycle. The ‘Year Bundle festival’, where the old 52-year calendar cycle was symbolically tied and buried, represented the termination of the old time cycle.25 Stone year bundles were made as copies to commemorate the actual bundles, which were, tied and later ritually burned at the New Fire Ceremony. Several stone year bundles carrying the date Ome Acatl (2 Reed) have been unearthed in archaeological excavations. These “Year bundle stones”—interred in ritual tombs or “altars de calaveras” (Sp.)—commem- orated the Ome Acatl (2 Reed) “New Fire” years at the end of one 52-year calendar cycle and symbolised the commencement of a new 52-year calendar cycle (Caso 1967: 129-140; Nicholson 1971a: 43, note 8).26

Fires in all the Aztec houses and temples everywhere in the realm were extinguished. A destruction of statues of deities kept in the houses and the household utensils were destroyed. The streets were swept and all the rubbish was thrown out from the houses (Sahagun 1953, VII: 25; 1957, IV: 143144). Motolima describes these undertakings:

In the afternoon of the last of the last year, in Mexico and all its lands and in Tetzcoco and its provinces, by command of the ministers of the temples the Indians extinguished all of their fires with water, both the fires in the temples of the demons and those in private houses. (In some places they had a perpetual fire burning in the haunts, previously mentioned, and on this day they extinguished also these fires.) (Motolinia 1951: 112-113; 2001: 31).

These cleansing ceremonies and the ritual entombing of the stone-carved bundle of fifty-two sticks introduced the beginning of the next sequence of the rite de passage, the liminal period of the 52-year calendar ritual.

  • [1] Symbolic names also played a part in other postclassic Aztec ceremonies. Forinstance, in the festival of the veintena Panquetzaliztli of the 365-day calendar—dedicatedto the Aztec patron and tribal deity Huitzilopochtli—sacrificial water had to be collectedfrom a spring called Huitzilatl in a cave named Huitzilopochco (Sahagun II, 1951: 130-131).The subjects or protagonists of these ceremonies, Xihuhmolpill and Huitzilopochli, thusshared names with the object which was to be sacrificed, Xiuh etc. and Huitzilatl/ Huitzilo-pochco.
  • [2] The Annals of Cuauhtitlan announce that on Ome Acatl (2 Reed) the Year Bundlefestival was celebrated. Later, on the day Chicueyi Acatl (8 Reed), the fire was ignited onthe hill Huixachtitlan (Bierhorst 1992: 121). But these dates cannot be trusted.
  • [3] A stone year cylinder with the sign Ome Acatl has been identified by L. Batresdeposited in calle de las Escalerillas in Mexico City. Ome Acatl is illustrated on an altar(now in the Roberto Weitlaner collection) decorated with skulls and bones (Caso 1967: 135).Stone Year bundles have been detected in ‘altars’ like ‘the Altar of Skulls’ at Tenochtitlan(Pasztory 1983: 165).
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