Spanish-American Studies: The Colonial Period

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The thirteen chapters of Sorcery in Mesoamerica, ed. by Jeremy D. Coltman and John M. D. Pohl (Louisville: University of Colorado Press, 2021), vii–ix + 409 pp., challenge the image of pre-Columbian sorcery with ‘failed millenarian movements’, ‘nasty idolatry trials’, and ‘corrupted and vestigial religious practices in remote rural areas’ (vii). Based on this rationale, the collection brings together a wide range of ground-breaking discussions on Maya and Nahua communities, from the pre-Conquest period to the 18th century, covering taxonomies of witchcraft as understood by the Spaniards, the sociocultural implications of cases of sorcery, counter-sorcery, and witchcraft, and its connection with magic, medicine, and female sexuality. One of the main strengths of this edited volume is the ample scope characterizing some chapters, which juxtapose pre-Hispanic with colonial practices and beliefs, analyse their presence in textual, visual, and artistic sources, and locate them in geographical regions that are widely set apart. Two examples are next proposed. In ‘The Devil Incarnate: A Comparative Perspective on “Deer-Serpents” in Mesoamerican Beliefs and Ritual Practices’ (236–282), Jesper Nielsen examines the presence and meaning of the serpents with horns or antlers, like the Nahua mazacoatl, in oral, visual, and written sources. Taking readers through a long comparative journey, Nielsen analyses glyphs in Teotihuacan and in Maya codices, in sculptures of Chichen Itza, and in rock art and pottery in northern Mexico. He expands his survey by tracing the representation of these serpents in oral accounts, for instance of American north-west and north-east indigenous groups, like the Algonquin and the Cherokee, and in other well-known written sources like Sahagún, which helps Nielsen explain why in current Mexico the deer-serpent is still associated with the Devil. Similarly intertwining artistic and written sources, in ‘From Clay to Stone: The Demonization of the Aztec Goddess Cihuacoatl’ (330–380), Cecilia F. Klein examines the cult of Cihuacoatl. She traces her presence in monuments such as the stone of Motecuzoma and Tizoc, pre-Hispanic codices like Tudela, Magliabechiano, early colonial sources such as the Historia de los mexicanos por sus pinturas, and other texts by Mendieta, Ruiz de Alarcón, Sahagún, and Torquemada. Klein concludes that, although the deity shared attributes with other female, malevolent mythical figures, Cihuacoatl was likewise a revered goddess, with heroic features, and that her image was demonized gradually over time by Christian practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-286
Number of pages10
JournalThe Year’s Work in Modern Language Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Apr 2023


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