Abstract

Although the precontact Nahua nezahualiztli ritual received significant coverage in historical sources, the Christian discourse of these sources misinterpreted it as either fasting or penance, inscribing nezahualiztli in the Western idea of the sacred. In order to learn more about the Nahua worldview, this article uses methods derived from philology, cognitive linguistics, and anthropology to reconstruct the meaning that nezahualiztli had for the precontact Nahua. I review numerous mentions of this ritual in the sources and discuss three examples involving nezahualiztli. I conclude that avoiding some hygienic practices, fasting, and abstaining from sex, among other forms of abstinence, allowed humans to assimilate with the deities and dead who inhabited the world beyond. The Nahua observed nezahualiztli whenever they needed to enter a liminal state, such as during funerals, travel, or creative actions. This insight adds to our understanding of the Nahua sacred, particularly the relationship between humans and gods.

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