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  • Lord Sun dawns on the day called Seven Monkey, his fingers slowly spreading a rosy sheen that mixes softly with smoke rising from Tenochtitlan's many hearth fires.

  • The midwife, Xoquauhtli, has a difficult choice to make.

  • A momentous shift from rainy season to dry season is underway.

  • All summer, the gods have kept the people fed with corn, but the fertile summer months are disappearing.

  • This day occurs during the festival that marks the shift between the summer season, when the gods feed the people, and the winter season, when the people feed the gods in return.

  • Xoquauhtli owes a debt to her patron, Teteoinnan, the female warrior goddess at the center of this festival.

  • Teteoinnan wages war both on women's battlefields of birth and in men's battles with Tenochtilan's enemies.

  • She must be kept happy or she will bring bad luck.

  • The midwife should participate in the festival today, but one of her patients could go into labor any minute.

  • Xoquauhtli decides to check on her patient first.

  • The expecting mother hasn't worked too hard, chewed gum, or lifted heavy things.

  • Her family is taking good care of her.

  • Surely Xoquauhtli can take a little time to honor her goddess.

  • She leaves her apprentice in charge and heads to the center of the city.

  • Along the way, she sees women sweeping the roads and hanging gourds in preparation for the festival.

  • Finally, she reaches the Great Pyramid.

  • On top are two temples: The north, where rituals honor the rain god in the summer, and the south one is where rituals honor the war god in the winter.

  • On the equinox, the sun rises between the 2 sides.

  • The ceremony begins with a mock battle between the midwives and the other physicians.

  • Xoquauhtli's team battles heartily, throwing "nochtles", marigolds, and balls made of reed and moss.

  • They joke, call their rivals names, and laugh.

  • But then, a girl comes running with a message for Xoquauhtli.

  • Her patient is in labor!

  • She hurries back to the house.

  • All the old women from the extended family have already gathered for the birth; their experience is very valuable if anything goes wrong.

  • She readies herself with a prayer, praising her most important tools, her fingers.

  • Then she doses the patient with "cihuapatli" to help expel the baby, massages her in sweat house, and rubs her stomach with tobacco.

  • Offering Teteoinnan a short prayer, she urges her patient to act like a warrior.

  • A strong baby girl slips into her waiting hands and the old women shout triumphant cries.

  • Xoquauhtli takes a few drops of water from a jade bowl, breathes on them, and places them on the baby's tiny tongue.

  • She calls her a precious greenstone, a little warrior, and tells her how the Lord and Lady of the Ninth Sky breathed life into her, sending her to this place of burden and torment.

  • She then turns to the new mother, praising her, telling her she acted like an eagle warrior, a jaguar warrior.

  • By the time they finish, it's late, and the flames of the fire have died down.

  • Xoquauhtli piles the remaining hot coals in the center of the hearth, stoking them to keep them going.

  • She lays the baby in a woven basket, head facing the warming fire.

  • This will warm her "tonalli", an important soul center in the body, central to health and well-being.

  • It's almost midnight.

  • If Xoquauhtli hurries, she can get back to the temple for the culmination of the festival.

  • She makes her way to the city center, where a priest carries a woman on his back to the top of the pyramid.

  • To begin the new season and feed the gods, she will be beheaded, symbolizing how corn is cut in the fields.

  • Afterward, she will be reborn as Lady Teteoinnan, and preside over the induction of new warriors.

  • Go back in time to the capital of ancient Egypt, to see how the doctor Peseshet tends to her patients' ailments. Or dive deeper into Aztec culture with the myth of how the weak and pimply Nanahuatl became lord's son.

Lord Sun dawns on the day called Seven Monkey, his fingers slowly spreading a rosy sheen that mixes softly with smoke rising from Tenochtitlan's many hearth fires.

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