Nahualli: Traditional Aztec Witchcraft and Totems
Article ID: 15912
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 193
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Author: Jessica Leigh
Posted: June 1st. 2017
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In the older Mexican traditions, "a witch" is usually defined as a person, usually female, who only uses magick to harm. Amongst the Otomi people, for example, it is thought that you should do your best not to influence people too negatively or in any negative manner. This is because you may attract the attention of a Witch, who could be offended. You are to blend in with everyone, so to speak. This attitude is changing in modern times. Brujeria [Spanish for Witchcraft.] is being increasingly embraced. (It may be the influence of more modern traditions such as Wicca.) Most people use magick to cure, but also use Witchcraft and curing practices. These people are usually identified as "curers" [curandero] and their practice is passed down to apprentices. Its lineage based a majority of the time, similar to Gardernarian Wicca.
They are more common all over Central America now. Their practices may differ from area to area. (Not too dramatically though.) They're usually found in more rural areas where Catholicism did not quite take the hold that it did in bigger cities. (Their beliefs are less "Christianized" than ones in cities.) They tend to be more superstitious in these types of areas, maybe because of isolation. Practices and beliefs have the added the traditions of Catholicism mixed in with Pre-Colombian beliefs of Natives, such as the Aztecs and Mayans. This happens mostly in rural Mexico. The Aztec religion technically, still "lives" because of these practices.
Many times Brujas or Brujos are employed for the magickal prowess. (Brujas is the feminine term for Witch, while Brujo is the masculine term.) They can be employed for curses and curing. However, curing is the most common request of magickal practices there. The curandero will do anything from removing the evil eye, to cleansings, to healing ailments, and giving out herbal remedies. (When scientifically tested, it was found that traditional Aztec medicine was up to 60% effective in treating patients, which was a high rate for people without modern technology.) They might even remove curses cast by enemies or perform exorcisms.
Modern Aztecs still honor the old spirits that dwell in those places. (Animal spirits, earth spirits, spirits of the air, etc.) The curandero or Bruja can act as though they are a shaman at times, part-time magick user and part-time priest. (This is pretty close to how people used to be in the old ways, before civilization.) Their prayers also honor the earth, heavens, and underworld. They usually build their altars with the representation of these layers. (Animism is a concept, that everything has a spirit. Even inanimate objects. This is useful in incantations where you state your intention and will. It’s how you make objects yours own and how you direct energy, as well as in purification rites. Animism is inherent in all Mesoamerican beliefs. Even the modern ones are still popular like this.)
To Mesoamericans and modern Mexicans, reality is an appearance. Any sorcerer/Witch/skilled magick user knows that there are layers of reality under this one. That's why there are 9 layers of the underworld and 13 layers of the heavens. While the main cosmos is consisted of earth, heaven, and the underworld. [Earth is middle, underworld below, and heaven above.] Most of magick in Mexico and Pre-Colombia Mexico used the practice called dream working, where you use your dreams to manipulate reality, gather information, or cure someone and so forth.
The appearance of reality, layers of realities with in reality, is perhaps a very important part of magickal practice. Trickery and illusions in Mesoamerican magick is very much used and valued. The god of sorcerers himself, Tezcatlipoca, also known as San Simon or Maximon to modern Natives, often used trickery, which included appearance based magick to get what he wanted. [His nahualli is also a legendary jaguar.] These types of things are a good skill to learn if one travels to the otherworld or underworld, as one would encounter demons and spirits with ulterior motives. Also, stealth is a skill to be acquired so that one would not be seen by beings that might harm one.
Rituals may take place in the waking world, while the rest takes place in the other one, the realm of dreams, where the sorcerer or curer can travel to the underworld if needed. Caves, mirrors, and water are thought to be portals in this otherworld. (Any reflective surfaces count or places underground.) If one can't travel to the underworld or otherworld in dreams, one would do a ritual in a cave or the cave's entrance for example.
To ancient Mesoamericans and modern Natives of Mexico, animals are really important in magick. In traditional Aztec thought, everyone has a nahualli, an animal that shares its soul with you. However, a good sorcerer can obtain more nahualli. Though they will never share their souls (like the one you were born with) , you can obtain other nahualli through ritual, by stealing someone else's nahualli, or as gifts from the gods. (This is very similar to the modern belief of personal totem animals, and it has a modern name: nagual or nagualism.) One sort of ritual to get another nahualli is to hunt, kill, and eat an animal you want. Eating the animal …in magickal thought… is to "take its power" for yourself. [Think ‘you are what you eat’.] Life sustained on life, the cycle continues.
Animals are so important in magickal thought amongst the people of Mexico that where you're placed on the social ladder would have to do with your nahualli. The frequently seen animals [mice, skunks, pigs, cows, rabbits, etc] represent commoners, the regular folk who make up the majority. The uncommonly seen animals represent the "middle class". [coyotes, ocelots, etc].
The most powerful people on the social ladder [noble/ruling class] and the most powerful sorcerers are the infrequently, often times nocturnal, animals. [jaguar, owl, bear, etc] The most powerful and elusive of all these animals being the jaguar who is held at the highest level amongst most people in ancient and modern Mexico. Anybody with the born nahualli of a jaguar is thought to be endowed with being a powerful sorcerer and skilled at magick naturally.
In theory, one can influence reality through the otherworld. Like a ripple effect when you through a stone into water, in the dream world, you can turn into your nahualli, become in tune with it, and use its skills. This is especially useful if you have a flying type nahualli or totem, which can go into the heavens and travel at high speed.
1. Animal Souls and Human Destiny in Chamula by Gary Gossen (JSTOR article)
2. Tonal and Nagual in Otomi Thought by James Dow (JSTOR article)
3.Quiche Maya Dream Interpretation by Barbara Tedlock (JSTOR article)
4. Dialougue of the Earth and Sky by T. Knab
5.Mexicalore.co, uk [website]
Copyright: I wrote the article, and published it on a few social sites. (Tumblr blog Azteca Memoria and Paganspace.) So if you see it republished there, it's me. I usually go by Jeth, ChaoticBlue/Bleu, or Witch of the Wild nowadays.
Picture is of the Black God of magick Tezcatlipoca. It was found in public domain on Wikipedia and is from the codex Borgia, originally. The author of the codex Borgia is unknown and from the 15th century.There is not copyrights for it.
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