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Soustelle - Aztecs and Mexica - Determining destiny



Type of Spiritual Experience


Although Soustelle did not understad the importance of what was being done or how it worked, he did at least document the practices of what were esentially astrologers.  The Aztec calendar was extraordinarily complex, and the days of a baby's birth as well as the time of birth were recorded with absolute precision and used to work out the baby's destiny.

The destiny was also used to work out what the child might be - a hero, a priest a priestess or a simple householder in support of the others.

During the birth festivities, which lasted several days, the astrologer was called in by the father.  He brought a very large number of books with him [the calendars] and once he knew the exact moment of birth he cinsulted the tonalamatl to find the sign of the day of birth and the set of thirtenn days to which it belonged.

Destiny has been wrongly translated as fate, which is different.

A description of the experience

The Daily Life of the Aztecs – Jacques Soustelle


From the Mayas, who seem to have been positively hypnotised by time and its majestic passage, onwards, all the civilised nations of Mexico and Central America worked out complex chronological systems, and this for two purposes:

  • the first was to find fixed points in order to understand and foresee the succession of natural phenomena, the seasons and the movements of the stars, and so to regulate the rites that were necessary to their proper sequence;
  •  the second was to determine the destiny of each man and the fortunes of each undertaking by means of a body of portents which made up a coherent whole quite as 'scientific' for those people as our rational explanations of the world are for us.........................

Dlvination was not only permitted but practised, by a particular class of priests called tonalpouhque. They were educated in the monastery schools, for it was there that a knowledge of the characters used in the divinatory calendar was taught; and indeed this knowledge formed an integral part of the higher education.

….But it seems that these [people] did not become members of a temple when they were qualified; they set up on their own account.

Neither business nor income can have lacked, for every family necessarily went to a tonalpouhque whenever a child was born: furthermore, there was no important occasion in life, marriage, leaving for a journey or a military expedition, etc., whose date was not fixed by the tonalpouhque, either at the request of private persons or of officials. Each of these consultations was paid for by a meal, by presents, 'several , cloaks, some turkeys and a load of victuals’................

When the Duality decides that a man shall be born or 'come down' (temo) he consequently finds himself inserted automatically into this order and in the grasp of the omnipotent machine. The sign of the day of his birth will govern him until the day of his death - it will even decide his death and so his after-life: it will decide whether he is to die as a 'sacrifice' [red route - sun path]and thus join the splendid retinue of the sun, or to be 'drowned' [blue route - the moon route] and so inhabit the unendingly happy Tlalocan, or to be consigned to the void in the shadowy hereafter of Mictlan. His whole fate is subjected to the strictest predestination.

There were certainly attempts at correcting fate, however.

If a child were born under an unfortunate sign, some days were allowed to go by before naming him, until a fortunate sign should come. It was also conceded that by dint of penance, privation and self-control a man might escape the evil influences which doomed him, for example, to drunkenness, gambling and debauchery. But it does not seem that there was ever much hope of avoiding the inexorable operation of the signs. They were at the base of everything, the fate of individuals and the fate of communities; and the gods themselves were not free - it was because the sign i acatl ruled the destiny of Quetzalcoatl that he had to appear in the east in the shape of the morning star.
Consequently the life of the Mexican was dominated by the portents drawn from the tonalamatl.

The source of the experience

Aztecs and the Mexica

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps