Tláloc Vessel
Tláloc effigy vessel, Museo del Templo Mayor (Mexico City)

Al dios de la pluvia llamado Tláloc, senor del paríso terrenal, con otros muchos dioses sus sujetos, que llamaban Tlaloques, y su hermana llamada Chicomecóatl. Esta oración usaban en tiempo de seca para pedir agua a los arriba.

To Tláloc, the god of the rain, the lord of the earthly paradise [Tlalocan], with many other gods as his subjects, who were called Tlaloques and their sister, Chicomecóatl, the goddess of nourishment. A prayer used in dry times to request water from the above.


¡Oh señor nuestro humanísimo, y liberal dador y señor de las verduras y frescuras, y señor del paraíso terrenal, oloroso y florido, y señor del incienso o copal!

O our most humane lord, and most generous giver of green herbs and fresh airs, lord of the fragrant and flourishing primordial earth, god of incense or copal!


Hay dolor, que los dioses del agua vuestros sujetos se han recogido y escondido en su recogimiento—los cuales suelen dar las cosas necesarias, y son servidos con ulli y con yauhtli y con copal—y dejaron escondidos todos los mantenimientos necesarios a nuestra vida, que son piedras preciosas, como esmeraldas y zafiros.

There is sorrow, that the gods of water, your subjects—who usually give the necessary things, and who are served with ulli and yauhtli and with copal—have gathered and hidden in their abode and have concealed all the necessary nourishments for our life, which are as precious stones, like emeralds and sapphires.


Y lleváronse consigo a su hermana la diosa de los mantenimientos.

And they have taken with themselves their sister, Chicomecóatl, the goddess of nourishment.


¡Oh… dolor de nosotros que vivimos… todo se pierde y todo se seca por la falta del agua!

O sorrow for us who live! Everything is lost and everything shrivels up due to lack of water!


Traen las bocas secas, como esparto, y los cuerpos que se les pueden contar todos los huesos.

They (the Tlaloques) bring dry mouths, dry as esparto grass, and bodies upon which all of the bones can be counted.


Hasta los animales y aves padecen gran necesidad por razón de la sequedad.

Even the animals and birds endure great need because of the drought.


Es gran angustia de ver las aves, unas de ellas traen las alas… arrastrando… otras que… no pueden andar, y otras abiertas las bocas de sed y hambre.

It is great anguish to see the birds, some of them with wings dragging, others unable to walk, others open-mouthed from thirst and hunger.


Y los animales, señor nuestro, es gran dolor de verlos… andan lamiendo la tierra de hambre, andan las lenguas colgadas y las bocas abiertas carleando de hambre y de sed.

And the animals, o lord, it is painful to see them. They lick the earth from hunger, their tongues hanging out, their mouths open, gasping from hunger and thirst.


Y la gente… pierde el seso, y se mueren por la falta de agua: todos perecen sin quedar nadie.

And the people are losing their minds, and they die from lack of water—all perish; none remain.


Es gran dolor ver toda la haz de la tierra seca, ni puede criar ni producir las yerbas ni los árboles, ni cosa ninguna que pueda servir de mantenimiento… ahora todo está seco, todo está perdido.

It is anguish to see the entire face of the earth, dessicated; neither can it grow nor produce herbs or trees, nor anything that can serve as sustenance. Now all is dry, all is lost.


Es cosa espantable sufrir el hambre, que es así como una culebra que con deseo de comer, está tragando la saliva y está carleando… y está voceando porque le den comida… es cosa espantable ver la agonía… es… hambre tan intensa como un fuego encendido.

It is a frightening thing to suffer starvation, which is like a snake that, with a desire to eat, is swallowing its own saliva and gasping, and crying out for food. It is a frightening thing to see the agony. It is hunger as consuming as a burning fire.


¡Oh señor de las verduras, y de las gomas y de las yerbas olorosas…!

O lord of vegetables and of tree gums and of fragrant herbs!


Perece todo el mundo, hasta las bestias y animales y aves se pierden y acaban sin remedio ninguno.

The whole world perishes—even the beasts and animals and birds are lost and expire without any remedy.


Suplicóos… enviar a los dioses que dan… las pluvias y temporales, y que son señores de las yerbas y de los árboles.

I implore you, send the gods who bring the rains and storms, and those who are masters of the green plants and the trees.


Ábrase la riqueza y la prosperidad de vuestros tesoros, y muévanse las sonajas de alegría, que son los báculos de los señores dioses del agua.

Open the wealth and prosperity of your treasures, and shake the rattles of joy, which are the staffs of the gods of the water.


¡Oh señor humanísimo, generosísimo, dador de todos los mantenimientos…! Con gran suspiro y angustia de mi corazón llamo, y ruego a todos los que sois dioses del agua, que estáis en las cuatro partes del mundo, oriente, occidente, septentrión y austro, y los que habitáis en las concavidades de la tierra, o en el aire, o en los montes altos, o en las cuevas profundas, que vengáis… a regar la tierra, porque los ojos de los que habitan en la tierra, así hombres, como animales y aves, están puestos… ¡Oh señores nuestros, tened por bien de venir!

O most humane and generous lord, giver of all sustenance! With a great sigh and anguish in my heart I call, and I pray to all of you who are the gods of water, who inhabit the four corners of the world, east, west, north and south, and who dwell in the hollows of the earth, or in the air, or in the high mountains, or in the deep caves, that you come to water the earth, because the eyes of all those who live on the earth, humans and animals and birds, are set upon you. O our lords, please come!


Contextual Note

Translations are always one step removed from an original culture, but in the case of these fragments from 16th-century Mexico, there are two levels of distance. There is the original Náhuatl language, followed by the Spanish translations recorded by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún (c. 1499-1590), and then finally there are my own English renderings of de Sahagún’s text. As a missionary, Fr. Bernardino’s text is undoubtedly compromised by the limitations of his particular worldview and religious ideology, but his work is still unarguably remarkable as a record of the Náhuatl language and Aztec cosmologies and practices. His rigorous methodologies for researching and documenting indigenous Mesoamerican cultures are now considered to have been pioneering in the fields of ethnology and anthropology.

In making these selections, I have omitted sections where the text has become overtly Christianised or critical, and given the date of his work (1545-1590) there are inevitable archaisms within both vocabulary and style. As some words are no longer in common usage in contemporary Spanish, or their original meanings have altered over time, I have consulted older dictionaries to revive their original meanings.

In choosing to translate specific fragments from a much larger whole, I have made editorial decisions regarding both the source text and the consequent English translation. Stylistically, I have chosen to make many of the fragments free-standing sentences in English. Though my intention is always to translate a source text as faithfully as possible, I also aim to share the poetic beauty and heart-felt intensity of the original Náhuatl invocation, as far as I am able.

It is important to note, and to celebrate, the contemporary flowering of Náhuatl poetry by indigenous speakers of the language in Mexico today. Though the impact of Spanish colonialism has been significant, the Náhuatl language has survived, and its descendants are still lifting their voices into song.

Source Text

Sahagún, Bernardino de (1499-1590): Códice Florentino: Historias general de las cosas de Nueva España (Tomo II), Ed. Pedro Robredo, Calle de Justo Sierra No. 41, México, D. F, 1938.

Glossary (in order of appearance in the text)

Tláloc: a primary Aztec deity associated with rain, fertility, water, agriculture, storms and lightening. He is related to and/or descended from even earlier Mesoamerican rain gods within the Mayan and Olmec cultures. He is considered both beneficent and wrathful, for he could gift either life-giving rains or crop-destroying storms, floods, lightening, hail, or, through withholding rain, droughts and starvation. Hence, ceremonies in his honour took place throughout the year to ensure rain during the growing season.

pluvia: an archaism from Latin; Mod. Spanish, lluvia.

Tlalocan: a primordial, ever-flourishing earthly paradise; the dwelling place of Tláloc and the Tlaloques.

the Tlaloque (also Tlaloques and Tlálocs): a collection of water deities affiliated with Tláloc.

Chicomecóatl: an Aztec goddess of agriculture. Also known as the ‘goddess of nourishment’.

ulli: drops of liquid rubber derived from Castilla elastica which were used ceremonially in connection with the rain deities.

yauhtli: ritual incense which included Tagetes lucida (Mexican marigold), a plant sacred to Tláloc.

copal: derived from Náhuatl ‘copalli’, meaning incense. A tree gum, primarily from Protium copal, which was used as ritual incense in ceremonial offerings to the gods.


The author would like to offer thanks to Glenda Arandi Ch.


Autumn Richardson is a Canadian-British poet, editor and publisher. Her books include Heart of Winter (2016), An Almost-Gone Radiance (2018) and Ajar To The Night (2020). She is the co-director of Corbel Stone Press with British artist Richard Skelton. Together they edit the biannual journal of eco-poetics and esoteric literature, Reliquiae.