Mayahuel (Nahuatl pronunciation: [maˈjawel]) is the female deity associated with the maguey plant among cultures of central Mexico in the Postclassic era of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology, and in particular of the Aztec cultures. As the personification of the maguey plant, Mayahuel is also part of a complex of interrelated maternal and fertility goddesses in Aztec religion and is also connected with notions of fecundity and nourishment.
Origins from the Maguey Plant
Maguey is a flowering plant of the Agave genus, native to parts of southwestern modern United States and Mexico. The depictions of Mayahuel in the Codex Borgia and the Codex Borbonicus (see Figure 1. and Figure 3.) show the deity perched upon a maguey planet. The deity's positioning in both illustrations, as well as the same blue pigment used to depict her body and the body of the maguey plant on Page 8 of the Codex Borbonicus, give the sense that she and the plant are one. Furthermore, the Codex Borbonicus displays Mayahuel as holding what looks like rope, presumably spun from the maguey plant fibers. Rope was only one of the many products extracted from the maguey plant. Products extracted from the maguey plant were used extensively across highlands and southeastern Mesoamerica, with the thorns used in ritual bloodletting ceremonies and fibers extracted from the leaves worked into ropes, netting, bags, and cloth. Yet, perhaps the maguey product most well-known and celebrated by the Aztecs is the alcoholic beverage octli, or later named pulque, produced from the fermented sap of the maguey planet and used prominently in many public ceremonies and on other ritual occasions. By extension, Mayahuel is also often shown in contexts associated with pulque. Although some secondary sources describe her as a "pulque goddess", she remains most strongly associated with the plant as the source, rather than pulque as the end product.
Gallery of Appearances in Primary Sources
Figure 3. Mayahuel, depicted on the upper left side of Page 8 of the Codex Borbonicus
Figure 4. Mayahuel depicted in the Codex Magliabechiano on page 58 recto.
Figure 5. Carving of Mayahuel displayed at the Templo Mayor or Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan, now displayed at the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City.
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- Miller & Taube (1993, p.111); see also n. 87 to folio 265r of Primeros memoriales (Sahagún 1997, p.110).
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- Codex Borgia (Figure 1) and Codex Borbonicus (Figure 3)
- Miller & Taube (1993, p.108)
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- In Nahuatl languages: octli. Pulque is derived from a fermentation of the sweet liquid sap extracted from the plant (in Spanish: aguamiel, "honey-water"). See Miller & Taube (1993, p.108) and Townsend (2009, p.178).
- Miller & Taube (1993, pp.108,138)
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