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Xalli: the Aztec soil of the death

Word of the week: xalli (sand in Náhuatl)


Xalli is the Nahuatl word for sand.


Steps on the sand, view of Aztec city.

"Xalli iteuhyan," or spread the sand in Nahuatl, was a method for purification of the bodies of people who died sacrificed: this seems to be the reason why researchers found sand in the ceremonial offerings of the ancient Templo Mayor in Mexico City. Biologists and anthropologists agree that sand has cleanser properties and may have been used to clean up sacred places.


The pre-Hispanic cultures in Mexico gave so much importance to soil that they had at least ten different names to classify it depending on its fertility to grow food. They had poems and prayers dedicated to the ground, mountains made of soil, and the life that lived and grew in them. They had uses for every kind of soil and valued them equally, using the dryest types for building and crafting tools.


Xalli, or sand, was so crucial that it was present in many names of cities and towns in Mexico. Jalisco, one of the biggest cities in the country, gets its name from Xalli (sand), ixtli (face or surface), and co (place). In some areas, xalentli means beach, although this can change from one place to another since it's said that Nahuatl has 30 different variants.


Whether by coincidence or because sand holds deep meaning in many cultures, this element appears in the poem "She Had Some Horses" by author Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The first verse, "She had horses who were bodies of sand," gives name to PepperBerry's new series: Bodies of Sand. The verse evokes the ephemeral sensation of sand flying on the wind or being moved by water. That there is life emerging from death is one of the topics you can find in the first novel of the series, Where the days repeat themselves endlessly. Follow us on our social networks and find out other details of this saga.

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