It's Alive: Gambling, Animatism, and Divination Among the Aztecs

Author(s): Susan Evans

Year: 2015


Gambling and divination both pit the hopes of the petitioner against an uncertain future outcome. Popular for millennia, they seem to inhabit distinct spheres of interest, secular and spiritual, but overlap as the individual tries to assess the odds and garner available forces of knowledge, luck, or patronage of the spirits. In Aztec culture, this overlap linked the spiritual realm of divination and the base entertainment presented by gambling (which they regarded as dissolute, though common). The Aztecs lived in a rich, nuanced environment which they perceived as alive, its vitality evidenced by its animated aspects. The Aztecs responded with patterns learned since childhood: the rites and fates of the calendars of nature and culture, the good and bad omens, and the appropriate chants, adages, or exorcisms to restore a balance if chaos should threaten. One could seek advice from "wise ones" (as Aztecs referred to those with specialized knowledge) to interpret phenomena and their bearing on the future. Similarly, the movement of a few beans and a little time in a game of patolli might radically alter one’s fortune. Gambling and divination depended on animated phenomena, and Aztec practices reveal their methods of communicating with this living world.

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Cite this Record

It's Alive: Gambling, Animatism, and Divination Among the Aztecs. Susan Evans. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 394870)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;