Bodily Inscriptions as Signs in Medieval Christian Piety and Aztec Rituals
Journal of Ritual Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 37-51, 2011
16 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 14, 2011
A structuralist-semiotic approach promotes understanding of the meanings of ritualistic bodily inscriptions. Two conspicuous examples of bodily inscriptions are the marks on Jesus’s body as understood in medieval piety, and the mangled and flayed bodies of Aztec ceremonial practice. Throughout, a bodily inscription is any alteration, such as piercings or circumcisions or marks of punishment, that has one or more meanings. Foucault’s analysis of power brings out points of both similarity and difference between the Christian and Aztec examples. Thereby one gains a deeper grasp of these bodily inscriptions. One also sees that these inscriptions, far from being solely aesthetic or mutilative, function as strategies within a system of power relations. Anyone who sees the comparison of Christian and Aztec practices to be a strained or unpromising enterprise should bear in mind Richard Trexler’s work on New World sexuality and practices as perceived and criticized by the Spanish, and Eva Hunt’s enduring contribution to the understanding of a Mesoamerican deity and its cosmological and cultural dimensions.
Keywords: Anselm, Black Death, Foucault, Franciscans, Tlacaxipeualiztli
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