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Hell and Humanism

Cultural Perspectives

The Tlamatinime (The Men with Words) were philosopher poets in the Calmecacs or Aztec schools. They posed the question, “Is there any truth in man?” This is fundamental to Aztec humanism, a theme that reoccurs throughout Nahuatl literature, translated into Spanish following the conquest in 1521.

Does Man Possess Any Truth?

Does man possess any truth?

If not, our song is no longer true.

In peace and pleasure let us spend our lives;

come, let us enjoy ourselves.

Let not the angry do so; the earth is vast indeed!


Native humanism resembled some aspects of European Romanticism. The earth gave birth to all things from a sea where the begetters, wrapped in quetzal feathers, waited to speak the word “terra.” Heaven was tangled in the crown of a ceiba tree at the center of the world. Mictlan, or “the place of darkness,” was at its roots. Canadian Indians met missionaries and their descriptions of an eternal hell with skepticism. Accustomed to harsh, long winters and shortages of kindling, the Indians shook their heads in disbelief at a place of everlasting fire and brimstone. “No one has that much wood,” they scoffed.

Mayan hells are depicted as nine levels or “places of fright,” of which Metnal, ruled by Ah Puch, was the lowest and most abominable. The Lords of Xibalba—Lords of Death, such as Bone Scepter, Jaundice Master, and Bloody Teeth—ruled over their black realm, Xibalba, a large urban space of many structures. There was the council place of the Lords, with its “hot seat” to torment shades of the living, lush gardens, the Xibalban ball court, and homes comprising a great city. Obstacles for the souls of the deceased included rivers of blood and scorpions and a Hot House, filled with fires and unbearable heat.

In occult rituals, black is invoked for new beginnings and obtaining knowledge of hidden things, in spells using “black energy.” Black beans and smoky bacon work their dark magic in this hearty soup!

Black Bean Soup with Bacon


10 slices bacon, finely chopped

2 medium onions, chopped

6 garlic cloves, pressed

2 to 3 cups chicken broth

1-1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp. tomato paste

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp. Mexican chili powder

4 (15-1/2 ounce) cans black beans, drained but not rinsed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Juice of 1/2 lime


Thinly sliced scallions

Sour cream

Grated cheddar cheese


Fry bacon gently into a large heavy saucepan over medium heat until fat is rendered. Stir in onions and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire, and chili powder. Stir in beans, turn heat to high and bring to the boil. Adjust to gentle simmer and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add cilantro. Cook until the soup is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in lime juice. Serve with garnishes on the side.


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