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Contribution to Book
The Body Cured by Cleansing: Washing Away the Evidence: Midwives and Ritual Cleansing in Mesoamerica and Colonial New Spain
The Body Subject and Subjected (2016)
  • JEANNE GILLESPIE
Abstract
In many Mesoamerican rituals, midwives and female doctors performed powerful activities related to cleansing. In fact, the divinity known as Tlazoteotl, “Divine Filth Eater” was the patron of midwives.  Cleanliness and the process of renewal was so important to the Aztecs in the late fifteenth century that Tlazoteotl was responsible for cleansing rituals that would occur in the event of physical or psychic “dirtiness,” however, the idea of “dirtiness” did not have the same connotation as in Europe. “Dirtiness” or “contamination” was not necessarily a “bad” thing, merely a result of imbalance or of excess.[i] Louise Burkhart reminds us that the world was a slippery place and sometimes one slipped and became soiled in the process.  When that happened, Tlazoteotl was responsible for "putting things right." This study examines how and why Mesoamerican midwives used sweat baths and other ritual cleansing to restore balance to a patient out of balance.




[i]See Cecilia Klein's discussion of filth and renewal in "Teocuitlatl, 'Divine Excrement': The Significance of 'Holy Shit' in Ancient Mexico." Art Journal 52/3 Scatological Art (Autumn 1993), pp. 20-27.
Keywords
  • Mesoamerica,
  • Midwives,
  • Sweatbath,
  • Pulque,
  • Tlazoteotl,
  • Mayahuel,
  • Temascal
Publication Date
2016
Editor
Debra D. Andrist
Publisher
Sussex
ISBN
9781845197407
Citation Information
JEANNE GILLESPIE. "The Body Cured by Cleansing: Washing Away the Evidence: Midwives and Ritual Cleansing in Mesoamerica and Colonial New Spain" Brighton, Chicago, TorontoThe Body Subject and Subjected (2016)
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jeanne_gillespie/5/