Obsidian mirror

Obsidian mirror

Bullock Collection

AOA 1825,12-10.16

The Aztec people made mirrors of varying sizes with cut iron pyrites and obsidian (a volcanic glass). They were sometimes used in divination and healing practices. For example, if a child was suffering from 'soul loss' the healer would look at the reflection of the child's image in a mirror or a container with water. If the image were clear the child would soon recover; if it were shadowy, the soul had been lost. Like the Aztecs, some people in parts of Mexico today believe that 'soul loss' is a cause of illness.

Mirrors were also associated with Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of rulers, warriors and sorcerers. His name can be translated as 'Smoking Mirror'. In many depictions during the Postclassic period (AD 900/1000-1521) his foot is replaced by a mirror.

Obsidian, ranging in colour from almost black (as here) to translucent green, came from various sources in Mesoamerica. At least six major sources are known in Central Mexico, in the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Puebla and Michoacan. The most important source before European contact was Pachuca, in Hidalgo, which produced a beautiful green obsidian. Obsidian was also used for scraping and cutting tools, as well as for ornaments and carvings.