Black Magic and Sorcery in Aztec Mexico: The Power of Superstition

Patecatl, Aztec god of healing - Codex Telleriano-Remensis

The Aztecs were obsessed with the idea of good and bad luck. No Aztec would dream of doing anything until the astrologer-priests had declared the time favourable.

This precaution covered virtually everything from getting married, going on a journey, setting out on a military or trading expedition, to naming a child or constructing a building.

Choosing a Lucky Day for a Naming Ceremony

However, even at supposedly lucky times, the Aztecs performed special rituals to make absolutely sure that the luck would continue. For instance, when relatives visited a newborn child, they did not enter its parents’ house until they had rubbed ashes on their knees and joints. This was to preserve the baby against lameness and rheumatism.

Already, an astrologer had been called in to read the child’s horoscope and work out a lucky day for the naming ceremony. At this juncture, the child’s parents were often filled with fear, because there were many unlucky days on which a child could be born.

The Significance of the Aztec Zodiac

There were twenty signs rather like signs of the Zodiac on the 365-day calendar the Aztecs used for everyday purposes and each day of each sign had its own prediction about the child’s character.

A baby born on the sign 9 Mazatl (deer) would have a foul temper. A boy born on 1 Ocelotl (ocelot) was destined for a miserable fate: ultimately, he would either die as a slave or become one of the thousands of prisoners regularly sacrificed to the Sun god..

On the other hand, a child born on 5 Osomatl (monkey) would be a good natured, popular person and to be born on 4 ltzcuintli (dog) indicated that success and wealth would come easily in life.

Superstitions about Children and Childhood

As the child grew up, his or her life was affected by all sorts of complex superstitions. When a baby lost a tooth, it had to be dropped into a mouse hold: if this were not done, then the permanent adult tooth would not grow in its place.

If anyone stepped over a child lying on the ground, this meant that it would not grow. It was imperative, therefore, to step back immediately, so that this great misfortune would be avoided.

Many Aztec superstitions were supposed to foretell the coming of sickness, suffering and death. Something like this would occur, the Aztecs believed, if they heard the cry of the screech owl, whom they believed to be the ambassador of the lord of the underworld.

This was not all. The Aztecs thought that certain people, born on 3 Cipidatli (alligator) and 1 Ehecatl (wind) had a special talent for black magic. They could change themselves into animals, make people waste away and die or go mad.

The Magic Forearm of a Dead Mother

If a woman died in childbirth, her family had to watch over her very carefully in the first few days after her death, because her fore-arm was supposed to have great magic powers. This might tempt a sorcerer intent on practising black magic to chop it off and steal it.

The severed forearm could create extreme fear. The Spanish friar Bernardino de Sahagun was told that sorcerers would come to a house with no weapon other than this fore-arm, and so terrify the family living there that they were able to rob them of anything and everything they wanted without encountering any resistance.

Aztec Doctors and Healers

The Aztec ticitl, who acted as a doctor or healer, was not very different from these sorcerers. Their so-called cures were a mixture of magic spells and incantations, some knowledge of healing herbs and a great deal of trickery.

It is quite understandable that medicine and curing should have become so mixed up with sorcery and magic, since sickness was supposed to be a punishment from the gods. Alternatively, it was the result of a curse laid by some wicked spirit.

The first task of a healer was to discover which god or evil spirit was responsible for the illness. This was done by what might be termed magic guesswork. The healer would throw a bundle of rods onto the ground and, depending on the pattern they made when they scattered, the source of the illness could be named.

Healing by Magic Spells and Sorcery

When children fell ill, the healer would hold them over a bowl of water and call on the water goddess to help in the diagnosis. The child’s face could be seen reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water and if there was a shadow over it, then the healer pronounced that the young victim had had its soul stolen.

There were several types of treatment. Many prayers, spells and magic formulae were intoned in a language which only the healer could understand. Meanwhile, the room in which the patient lay would be filled with tobacco smoke and burning incense, both of which added to the atmosphere of sorcery and mystery.


  1. Aguilar-Moreno, Handbook to Life in the Aztec World(New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2007) ISBN-10: 0195330838/ISBN-13: 978-0195330830 New York
  2. Jimenez, Randall C. and Graeber, Richard B. Aztec Calendar Handbook (Saratoga, California, Historical Science Publishing, 2001) ISBN-10: 096 6116313/ISBN-13: 978-0966116311