Highland Mexican Souls as Essences and Symbols

Author(s): Markus Eberl

Year: 2015


The ancient Aztecs believed in multiple souls, including Tonalli, Ihiyotl, Yolia, and Nahualli. These souls overlap and extend beyond animated bodies. For example, the Tonalli is not only the heat of life and centered in the head but also an essence shared by animals and humans, similar to the Nahualli. Yolia refers to the physical heart and animates living beings. At death, it takes the form of a bird and flies away. These examples mix description and symbol: Is Tonalli literally heat or comparable to heat? Does the Yolia of a dying person become a bird or is it like a bird? I argue that neither an essentializing nor a constructive approach can resolve the quandary. Instead, I develop a dialectical model. I pay particular attention to ephemeral substances like fire that are both essences and representations of souls.

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Cite this Record

Highland Mexican Souls as Essences and Symbols. Markus Eberl. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395567)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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