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8-10-2015, 08:39


Since the cosmos and all its inhabitants are not only constituted by but also identical with teotl, it follows that all things are empowered and vivified by teotl’s energy. If we think of animism as the thesis that all things are empowered and vivified, then Aztec metaphysics clearly embraces animism. Aztec animism appears to be underwritten by the following ideas. First, to exist (to be) is to be alive (or animated) in the sense of being energized, vitalized, or empowered.

Second, to exist and to be alive is to move, act, change, transform, affect, and be affected. Things change, move, and affect both themselves and other things by dint of their animating energy. Since aU things possess power to make things happen, aU things may be said to possess agency. The ongoing agency of all things contributes to the ongoing transformation of the cosmos.

From this it follows that everything - from rocks, mountains, earth, water, fire, wind, sun, buildings, works of art, weapons, tools, games, and musical instruments to insects, plants, incense, tobacco, pulque, animals, and humans - is literally animated, empowered, and vivified.189 James Dow writes, “Uncontaminated animistic philosophy is relatively simple. AU things move and act because their animating force gives them the power to do so.”19° Kay Read adds, “All Mesoamericans lived in a world in which everything was alive. All lived and moved because all were imbued with many kinds of powers.”191 To the foregoing list of items Guilhem Olivier, Lopez Austin, Doris Heyden, and McKeever Furst add music and spoken words including song-poems, incantations, prayers, and names.192 As we saw above, the energy of buildings, song-poems, and works of art can be well-balanced, well-ordered, and beneficial to humans or it can be disordered, ill-balanced, and harmful to humans. Furthermore, since all things are alive, adds Read, it follows that all things are born, mature, and eventually die. All things, in other words, have life cycles; all undergo change and transformation.193

From this it follows that what we in the West call “nature” is by Aztec lights thoroughly alive. Nature is neither dead matter nor lifeless machine. Indeed, Aztec animism is grounded in the immediate perception that all things are empowered. Aztec metaphysics does not start from a lifeless world and only later attribute animating energy to it. Reality is not divided into two essentially different kinds of stuff: animate versus inanimate, mind versus matter, or spirit versus body. Once again quoting Monaghan, “If the division between spirit and matter is axiomatic in Judeo-Christian thought, Nuyootecos begin in a different place, assuming that everything in existence is endowed with a life principle. . . . [A] single sacred force animates all of existence.”194 Furthermore, as Dow argues, there is no distinction between “symbolic and physical effects or between psychological and medicinal causality. All significant actions are the result of animating forces at work.”195 Lopez Austin and Dow also contend the omnipresence ofvivifying energy in the cosmos helps us understand shamanism. The shaman, according to Dow, is able to see and manipulate these forces, being “a specialist in manipulating the unseen, living animating forces.”196 According to Lopez Austin, the shaman is able to communicate with the hidden nature of things using nahuallatolli (“the language of the occult”).197

Arturo Gomez Martinez argues contemporary Nahuatl-speakers in the municipality of Chicontepec in the Huasteca region of Veracruz embrace a form of animism according to which “all existing things on earth and in the cosmos possess ''una fuerza, an energy, vigor or force, that provides them with life, but not a life like that of humans, but an eternal life that only comes to an end with the destruction of the universe.”198 According to Alan Sandstrom, Nahuatl-speakers in Amatlan likewise embrace animism. They believe all things have a yolotl (“life force”) by virtue of partaking in the larger life force of the cosmos, and therefore all things may be said to be alive.199 They cite as evidence of the vitality of mountains, lakes, and stars, for example, the fact they “impinge on human thoughts and actions.”200