Spanish "Gods"

Craig Berry cberry at
Mon Jan 24 17:12:54 UTC 2000

On Sun, 23 Jan 2000, Richard Haly wrote:

> The problem with thinking that Nahuas considered Spaniards to be gods
> resides not in Nahua "naivete" nor in Spanish presumption but in our own
> unexamined assumptions of what gods are. If we go back to what Nahuas
> called Spaniards we find teotl and we also find that they spoke of their
> own rulers using the same term. The issue is not one of deifying
> Spaniards but of humanizing "gods." What is teotl? Recall that commoners
> could not look directly at Moteuczomah just as they could not look
> directly at the sun. Too much tonalli (radiance). They would be blinded.
> It is lots more productive to think of both Nahua rulers and Spaniards
> as these sort of man-gods.

Good discussion of the term.  I have always summarized 'teotl' for my own
purposes as 'extreme, unusual, or supernatural.'  A good example is the
Nahua coinage 'teomazatl' for 'horse' -- it's like a deer, kind of, but
incredibly unusual and extremely big for a deer.  Another way to put the
definition might be 'far outside everyday experience' (which is really
just another way to say 'supernatural', I suppose).

The thing about 'teteo' is that, being outside normal experience, you
never know what powers they might have or what they might do.  If you go
to fight Tlaxcallans or Huaxtec, you don't necessarily know their precise
battle plans or numbers, but you know how they'll fight, where they'll
fight, what their goals are, what they will and won't do in combat, and so
forth.  Once classified as teotl, the Spaniards moved into a category
characterized by unpredictability at a terrifying level.  There is no
shame in being reluctant to fight someone who has already shown
capabilities and behaviors never before seen, and who therefore might have
unknown additional powers in reserve.

> What I don't understand are all these stereotypical interpretations on
> either side. Perhaps it's time to again trot out a quote that appears
> every so often here: Walt Kelley (creator of Pogo): "We have met the
> enemy and he is us."

That's a good quote to *always* have near at hand. :)

   |   Craig Berry - cberry at
   |   "The road of Excess leads to the Palace
      of Wisdom" - William Blake

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