This essay examines some instances of interspecific dialogues between owls and human beings recorded in Nahuatl-language sources from the sixteenth century. Since ancient times, owls have been considered omens of death in Mexico. This article analyzes the cultural and linguistic context of this belief among the contact-period Nahuas: the import of tetzahuitl (omens) in the animistic worldview of the Aztecs, as well as the characteristic semantic pair in tecolotl, in chiquatli (“the owl, the barn owl”) to signify the lethal activities of the most representative messengers of the Lords of Death and Destiny, Mictlantecuhtli and Tezcatlipoca. Moreover, the essay shows how the ancient Nahuas considered the intelligibility of animal languages and engaged in active dialogues with the animal representatives of the gods, a form of communication that encompassed both the private and public spheres, as in these dialogues matters of disease, pollution, and warfare came into consideration.

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