In the world and culture of Nahuatl there are forty types of wizards belonging to the pre-Hispanic era. Each wizard had his own function, abilities, and different types of magic; some evil and some kind.
Historian Alfredo Lopez Austin was one of the first to write about this type of magic in his work entitled, “Forty Types of Wizards in the World of Nahuatl.”
The story explains that if you are in a field and an animal crosses your path to observe it and if you can, put your hand on its snout. If it is wet, it is a mountain deity and it will not wish you any evil, but if you feel large rows of teeth, you must kill it.
A Nahualli can be a reader of sacred books, a tamer of hail clouds, a healer, or all of these things at once. There are forty wizards, but only the Nahualli can transform itself into another being.
The Nahuales (Spanish for Nahualli) are gods that acquire human and animal forms. They can turn into lions, alligators, owls, snakes, and dogs. It should be noted that they can turn into fire as well.
Austin’s story narrates in detail how the Nahuatl culture viewed the Nahuallis. Therefore, the bottle is a representation of the rows of teeth that can be found in the snout of these beings. Meanwhile, its case characterizes the open jaw of the Nahual showing its teeth and causing blood to flow from the hearts of the humans and animals who cross its path.
The archaeological site of Ek-Balam, which means “bright star jaguar or black jaguar”, is the area where the ballgame was played more than 3,000 years ago. This was a game where a ball was passed by hitting it mostly with the hip or forearm with the purpose of inserting it into one of the two rings located at the top of the pyramid’s diagonal walls. In north eastern México, this game is called Ulama, the game of life or death; the battle between opposites and duality. In ancient times, the game represented cosmic movement; the beginning and end of cycles. In ancient times, those who played the ballgame or Ulama were considered gods or cosmic warriors, and it was an honor to lose their lives playing the game.
This bottle, half black and half white, symbolizes the duality of the world. The battle between light and dark; death and reincarnation. The coming and going of the stars on the horizon and the rising of the sun. After losing his life in the game, the warrior has the honor of using the door of the underworld to enter the light, as the prize for winning the battle.
Its case represents the tree of life and all the souls of the victorious warriors that managed to reach the underworld by crossing darkness to enter the light. All around and against a dark background, the souls that did not win the battle are displayed.
Altars honoring the dead date back to the pre-Hispanic era more than three thousand years ago. The Day of the Dead celebration honors the deceased and gives them “permission” to return to the world of the living. They are offered their favorite foods, and their most intimate possessions are left on top a table. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, this celebration was carried out in August after the harvest. The harvest was part of the offerings made to a distinguished guest, and such is how visits from the dead were regarded. During this time, the indigenous people also celebrated and honored the visit from the great God of Death.
Later the date of the celebration was changed to November 1st and 2nd (Catholics’ All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day), adapting indigenous rituals to the Catholic religion; thus, pointing to the syncretism in Mexican culture. It is customary to place four candles on the altars honoring the dead, which symbolize the Catholic cross or the four cardinal points. This way the dead know how to arrive as well as how to return to their world.
The story behind this bottle starts with its cap, which represents the Pan de Muertos (“Bread of the Dead”) one of the most important offerings made to the faith- ful departed during this celebration. The skulls that appear on the bottle allude to their visit to this world, sharing with the living that festive spirit and reminding us of the destiny that we will are share one day.
Finally, the flowers and the colorful diamonds that decorate the base of the bottle give life to the altars honoring the dead.
The bottle’s case is a representation of the traditional papel picado (“perforated paper”) that is used to adorn this celebration and the altars dedicated to loved ones who have passed on.