Friday, January 7, 2011

Let's Get Our Facts Straight: Tonantzin, Eh?

Seriously, People! Does this.......

.....have anything in common with this?

If you think they look alike, I'd have to ask what you've been drinking. Yet both can be addressed as Tonantzin. Why? Because Tonantzin is an honorific, not a name. It means "our revered mother." I could easily address Our Lady of Guadalupe that way. On the other hand, I'd have no problem addressing Coatlicue, the tough looking customer in the bottom picture, as Tonantzin, either. Wouldn't want to end up as part of her necklace , now, would I?

All over cyberspace, we see Our Lady of Guadalupe presented as a syncretized version of "the Aztec goddess Tonantzin." Some accounts even rip the image off the tilma to create a beautiful, loving goddess who never existed. The truth is that there never was an "Aztec goddess Tonantzin." The story comes from shoddy research and overactive imaginations. All Aztec goddesses could be called Tonantzin because it was a title of respect.

It was perfectly natural for Our Lady to be called Tonantzin; "Our Revered Mother." It wasn't syncretism, it was more a translation from Spanish to Nahuatl. It wasn't a case of an oppressed people hiding old beliefs under new forms, but of an oppressed people reaching out for new beliefs and adopting them as their own. It certainly wasn't a case of "imperialist" Spaniards forcing their religion on people who desperately wanted to cling to their beloved old gods. To insist on interpreting the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe in that way, in the absence of any confirming evidence, is to imperialistically impose the notions of our own time on people who are no longer around to tell us we're off our gourd. As for them, all we can say with certainty is that they loved their new Tonantzin.

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