Page:The Story of Mexico.djvu/153

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121
AZTEC CHARACTER.

the children, preparing food, and all household requirements.

Among the Aztecs was an order of priestesses, who withdrew from the world for one or more years at the age of twelve or thirteen, and went to live shut up within the inner courts of the teocalli. Their hair was cut in a set fashion, common to all, but they were allowed to let it grow again after one cutting; they were draped in white, without any decoration or ornament, and always slept in their clothes, "in order to be ready for work in the morning." The life was one of abstinence and toil; they carried their eyes always cast down, and bore themselves with great modesty of deportment, always watched by the sharp eye of a lady-superior within the walls of their retreat, and outside by vigilant old men who stood guard by day and night. Their food was plain and sparing, only at feast-time were they allowed meat, and then because their accustomed routine was interrupted by unusual exertion. They assisted at the religious dances of these festivals, their feet and hands adorned with feathers, and their cheeks painted red. On days of penance they pricked their ears, and put the blood on their cheeks "as a religious rouge," says the account; washing it off in a particular basin destined for that purpose. The slightest variation from the path prescribed to them was punished by death. Some of the Nahuatl deities are goddesses, which shows that the sexes were not unequally reverenced. An important goddess, Coatlicue, or She of the Skirt of Serpents, has a statue in the court of the museum at Mexico,