Reading Maize: a narrative and psychological approach to the study of divination in Mesoamerica

Araceli Rojas


The casting of maize seeds is a tool used by contemporary daykeepers in the Mixe area of Oaxaca, Mexico, which along with the prognostications and prescriptions of the 260-day calendar, helps to cure illnesses and afflictions. This divinatory practice was also employed by precolonial tonalpouhque, who were experts of reading the tonalamatl, the pictographic manuscripts with calendrical, ritual and oracular content, such as the now called Borgia Group codices. In this article maize divination will be described and analyzed, arguing that maize divination results in images that can be read in a similar way to these codices. The reading of maize is approached here by employing the concepts of signs and symbols as described by Carl Jung and the notions of chronotope and dialogical narratives by Mijail Bakhtin. The Jungian understanding of divinatory practices as a means of gaining consciousness of oneself is also applied to argue in favor of the therapeutic capacity of reading maize, as it offers relief and triggers action.


Maize divination; codices; Borgia Group; Mixe; Mesoamerica; divinatory signs; divinatory narratives

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