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Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate

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Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate
By Elizabeth Hill Boone. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2007. Pg. 320. 144 b&w photos, 12 color illustrations.) ISBN 10: 0-292-71263-4. ISBN 13: 978-0-292-71263-8.

Reviewed by Simon Bonim - March 26, 2007

Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate is a fascinating and well-illustrated book by Elizabeth Hill Boone who holds the Martha and Donald Robertson Chair in Latin American Art at Tulane University. In this significant work, Boone provides an in-depth analysis of ancient Mexican divinatory codices. Most of these codices were destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th century, making those that survived not only invaluable as unique material remains, but also because they provide important insights in the calendar and supernatural forces that affected not only the Aztecs, but also their neighbors.

Within the scope of this book, Boone tackles such controversial issues as the source of the codices, as well as such practical matters as who owned and used these sacred books. Boone also offers a comprehensible explanation of the vocabulary used in the codices and the material contained in them. She also explores how they were used, including their use as divinatory calendars and almanacs that offered advice on just about everything from travel to agriculture.

The text is organized into nine interrelated chapters:
  1. Containers of the Knowledge of the World
  2. Time, the Ritual Calendar, and Divination
  3. The Symbolic Vocabulary of the Almanacs
  4. Structures of Prophetic Knowledge
  5. The Almanacs
  6. Protocols for Rituals
  7. The Cosmogony in the Codex Borgia
  8. Provenience
  9. A Mexican Divinatory System
Boone's analysis of the codices is a welcome addition to the body of knowledge about ancient Mesoamerican rituals, cosmology, and belief systems. This book is ideal for both general readers and scholars wishing to delve into this fascinating area of study. For those who would like to pursue this topic in greater detail, Boone has included detailed endnotes and an up-to-date and comprehensive bibliography.

Related Reviews:

Ritual & Power in Stone: The Performance of Rulership in Mesoamerican Izapan Style Art, by Julia Guernsey.
A detailed overview of the late Prelcassic Izapan style monuments from an art historical perspective.

Sex, Death, and Sacrifice in Moche Religion and Visual Culture, by Steve Bourget.
An in-depth analysis of Moche iconography as seen through depictions of everyday life, death, and ritual sacrifice as depicted in Moche pottery and other visual mediums.

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