The Aztec Gateway

First, I would like to make it clear that Aztec forms of magic are separate from the religion. While there is some overlap (some things that the Aztec priesthoods were well-versed in, such as divination, were clearly magical, while some Aztec spells called upon particular gods for help), belief in magic is not a focus nor a necessity in ancient Aztec religious beliefs. The Aztec religion is focused mainly upon devotion and worship directed to the gods, rather than upon the practice of spells as the major form of religious ritual (unlike many modern forms of Paganism). Religion and magic were two different things, which may be combined, but were often separated.

Secondly, I would like to say here that I prefer not to spell such things as "magick." I am not a fan of Aleister Crowley, nor do I care much for numerology. Thirdly, I will clarify that the Aztec sorcery I am talking about here is historical, and has nothing to do with the New Age "Toltec nagualism" trend. That said...

Nahualli is a term which denotes two different, yet connected things. In one use, the word nahualli is the term used for a spiritual twin of a person, almost always an animal form. The gods have nahualli as well. For example, Tezcatlipoca’s nahualli form is Tepeyollotl, a jaguar god, and Huitzilopochtli’s are the hummingbird and the eagle.

Every person has a nahualli. The nahualli is an animal that you have a spiritual connection to. In this form, a nahualli is much like the concept of a totem animal found in other Native American cultures. Usually, the nahualli has traits that reflect those of the person they belong to. Unlike the concept of a totem animal, the nahualli denotes an actual individual animal believed to exist, either in the spirit world or in the physical world itself (depending on regional beliefs). The nahualli is the spiritual twin of a person, said to have been born at the same time and share the portion of the soul known as the tonalli.



In the spiritual realms, a person might take the form of their nahualli at times. In other cases, a nahualli may appear much like the European concept of a familiar animal, showing itself as an individual animal of a person’s nahualli species which the person has a mental and spiritual connection to in this world. While this connection gave strength, it also gave weakness; a person could be harmed or killed by doing the same to their nahualli animal. For a person to find another's nahualli required powerful magical abilities, however.

The other definition for nahualli is a sorcerer. Nahualli sorcerers have mastered control over their animal spiritual twin, as well as other forms of magic. The most famous trait attributed to the Nahualli of legend is the ability to shape shift into their animal forms. Belief in this form of sorcery outlasted even the conquest; the Spanish friars were frightened of the Aztec sorcerers and often recorded events attributed to them. In modern Mexico, the term nahualli has been turned into “nagual,” and the concept still survives in some form.



Accomplished Nahualli sorcerers could use their spiritual animals for many things, and the most powerful were said to “collect” spiritual animals to use their powers. In order to do this, the sorcerer was said to journey into the spiritual realms during his sleep and trap an animal there. Different species of animals granted different powers and allowed the sorcerer to assume more forms, but no matter how many animals a person collected, he would only have one true nahualli, one animal twin connected to his soul.

In addition to the powers of animals, Aztec sorcerers were well versed in herbs and magical concoctions, and often seemed to walk a fine line between curer one moment and hired hexer the next. There is significant evidence that a great deal of Aztec sorcery relied on a knowledge of very real forms of seemingly mystical assassination. In the purely mystical realm, however, Aztec sorcerers were also feared and revered for their strong abilities in navigating the spiritual worlds through their dreams. A truly accomplished nahualli could strike at his enemies’ souls or heal his clients’ spirits during sleep. Such sleeps were usually preceded by extremely lengthy rituals and supplications made to the gods upon whose territory the nahualli wished to proceed. It is important to note, however, that asking permission to proceed with your will is a very different matter than calling upon the gods to run errands for you, as so many modern magical practitioners seem to believe is proper.


All materials ©2002-2007 J. Quipoloa. Do not reproduce without permission.