They call it the oldest profession in the world. Many people are against it because of their moral or ethical views, while some people see it as an essential part of life. Others fight for recognition and defend the rights of those who make a living doing it. Prostitution has generated a wide variety of reactions that are mostly determined by the historical period in which it takes place. So, it’s interesting to find traces of this practice in historical archives because they help us understand its presence in a particular society, which can sometimes be completely different from what we’d expect.
Having said this, let’s go back to Pre-Columbian Mexico, more specifically, to the golden age of the Aztec empire, between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. War was a central factor in the cosmogony of this culture. In fact, because of this focus on war, they managed to rule over smaller groups for a long time. The importance they gave to war was such that they believed that when warriors died, they would go to Tonatiuhichan, a heaven that was reserved for those who died in combat or sacrificed themselves, as well as for women who died during childbirth, because they thought their death was just as honorable and required the same strength as going to war. This vision of the world influenced many of their activities, including, of course, prostitution.
Representation of an ahuianime
Aztec prostitutes, also known as ahuianime, were mostly associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of flowers, beauty, love, art, and sex for pleasure, which made her the patron of both artists and prostitutes. This goddess was depicted as a young, beautiful, and cheerful woman who seduced men and inspired the pleasure that’s found in beauty (that’s why she was also associated with art, especially weaving). Ahuianime were identified by the way they resembled their patron goddess: unlike the rest of Aztec women, they would wear their hair down or wouldn’t even comb it. They’d paint their faces with a yellowish ink, adorn their bodies with lots of jewelry, and perfume themselves with fragrant herbs and flowers. The sacred link between them and their patron goddess also connected them to the Aztec religion, to the point that they even had a role as priestesses in rituals, especially those involving human sacrifice.
This last point is one of the reasons why the Aztec war-centered view of the world gave prostitutes a sacred role as well as protection in their society. More than just giving sexual pleasure, some ahuianime were also trained to entertain both soldiers and future victims of human sacrifice with other arts, such as music, dance, cooking, and, according to a research by Geoffrey G. and Sharisse D. McCafferty, some of them even went to war with soldiers to “cheer them up” during battles and motivate those who were scared. Also, during a feast called Toxcatl, the ahuianime, assuming a role similar to that of Xochiquetzal, had sex with an impersonator of the god Tezcatlipoca who was meant to be sacrificed, and afterwards, they were rewarded with all his belongings.
The Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal
However, according to Bernardino de Sahagún, a Spanish priest who chronicled a great deal of Aztec traditions and customs during the time of the Conquest, states that these women weren’t as accepted by their society as it would seem. According to him, noblewomen were advised to behave “properly,” that is, contrarily to ahuianime, who were criticized for being “libertines, vain, and presumptuous” due to the way they dressed and acted, in a similar manner to how the goddess Xochiquetzal was believed to behave. Nonetheless, these kinds of historical records –if not all of them– should be taken with a grain of salt, especially considering that they were written from the conquerors’ perspective, which was highly influenced by the Catholic Church.
There is still a lot of mystery surrounding this culture because many of the documents that recorded their traditions were destroyed during the Conquest, and it’s likely that those that were rescued were influenced by the views of the conquerors. But whether they were openly accepted or frowned upon, the sacredness of Aztec prostitutes and the ambivalent views about them is a clear example of how sexuality was woven into their mindset and cosmogony. But more importantly, the fact that Ahuiamine were trained and educated to entertain others and spread joy in all its forms, even during war or sacrifices, shows an important part of the Aztec mindset: that sexuality wasn’t seen merely as a means to reproduce, but also as a way to experience pleasure. Perhaps, in the end, the perpetual debate about prostitution shouldn’t really be based on whether it’s good or bad, moral or immoral, but instead on how it reflects our society’s views on sexuality, a natural part of being human.
If you want to know more about Aztec culture, don’t miss these:
Ocelot Meat And Other Pre-Columbian Birth Control Methods
The Aztec Women Who Became Goddesses After Dying During Childbirth
Masturbation: The Sacred Ritual Of Pre-Columbian Cosmology