Mayahuel, the tequila, or the maguey Goddess?
According to Aztec mythology, the goddess Mayahuel gave origen to the maguey plants. It is said that when Quetzalcoatl and Mayahuel were fleeing from Tzitzimitl (stars demon ), they tried to hide by pretending to be branches of a tree. However, Tzitzimitl recognized Mayahuel and broke the branches into pieces. Quetzalcoatl, devastated, buried the pieces, and from those fragments of branches the first maguey plants began to sprout. This myth is a clear testimony of the admiration that the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica had for the agave. The goddess Mayahuel was also part of a group of maternal and fertility goddesses in Aztec mythology. Mayahuel is also associated with the concept of fertility and nutrition.
The representation of Mayahuel in the codices is of a young woman carrying a flowering maguey with many breasts to feed her many children, the ” Centzon totochtin”, represented by 400 rabbits, which were gods of drunkenness / ecstasy. This mythological representation most likely refers to the fact that the maguey was used to produce pulque, , a fermented drink consumed in religious ceremonies and special festivities. It is likely that this concept of Mayahuel has been seized to create the mistaken myth that the goddess Mayahuel is the tequila goddess. The reason this symboloogy or myth is mistaken is because the variety of agave used to produce tequila (Agave tequilana), best known as blue agave, is unrelated to the variety used to produce pulque (Agave salmiana). The processes to produce pulque and tequila are also completely different. Pulque is strictly a fermented drink, and although the production of tequila also requires fermentation to produce alcohol from blue agave sugars, the fermentation types in each case are completely different. The fermentation of tequila is done by a yeast, while pulque is fermented by a bacteria. The substrate used for fermentation in the case of pulque is the sugary sap or mead of the plant, which is obtained by scraping the center of the plant before flowering. Tequila, on the other hand, is produced from the fermented juices (or must) obtained by grinding the blue agave heart or pineapple after cooking it. This must is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol and produce the aguardiente that we call Tequila. Another small detail that is not considered when Mayahuel is referred to as the Tequila goddess is that the technique of distillation to produce commercial spirits began in the American Continent in the sixteenth century, much later from when Maguey and Mayuahuel captured the imagination of our ancestors.
If we consider the amazing attributes of the maguey / agave, it is clear why these plants are represented as deities in pre-Hispanic mythology:
- Wild plants that did not need any special care
- Different varieties adaptable in many arid and semiarid conditions
- They can grow in poor and sloping soils, even in canyons
- They reproduce efficiently by means of seedlings or suckers and seeds
- The plant is strong and beautiful, and after an amazing flowering period, they die
- All parts of these plants were used by the inhabitants of Mesoamerica: for example, the juice was used as a sweetener and make pulque, the leaves for eating as well as to make tiles, the flowiering trunk or steam called quiotes as support beams and wood, its thorns as pick sor nails, the cuticle of the leaf as paper, and the heart or pineapple as sustenance and as a sweetener.
All of the abovementioned makes us think that it is likely that during the pre-Hispanic era, the maguey or the agave, however we want to call it, was considered a remarkable plant and considered a sacred plant, and was therefore assigned to mayahuel, the deity representative of fertility, livelihood, and happiness.
Imagining than the same goddess was the Tequila Goddess, is a fallacy.
Saludos and cheers
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