Gray Copal

Black copal, also called gray or stone copal, is a resin produced naturally by trees of the genus Bursera and Protium. Copal has strong esoteric properties of protection, cleansing, connection and healing.

It is a darker and denser resin, with a woody and balsamic aroma, especially used to strengthen spiritual protection.

Black Copal is very important in Mexican culture, and native cultures have used it for centuries as a sacred resin in their spiritual practices.

The Mayans and Aztecs used it in all kinds of rituals. In Nahuatl, this tree was called copalquáhuitl and its resin copalli, while in its sacred use it was called iztacteteo, the “white god.”

Instructions for use: Light a charcoal and pour a little resin on the coals. The resin will melt and release its fragrance into the air for several minutes.


History of Copal

Upon arriving in America, the Spanish learned about the native use of copal, discovering that its aroma was almost the same as that of incense used in Europe for the same purpose.

In these pre-Hispanic rituals, white copal resin was offered both physically and in the form of smoke when burned as incense.

In pre-Hispanic ritual contexts, white copal resin was offered both physically and in the form of smoke, by burning it. With copal smoke the deities were honored and man’s bond with the gods was strengthened.

The priests smoked the figures of their gods with copal several times a day, directing the smoke towards the four cardinal directions and the sun.

According to the stories of the Spanish upon their arrival in Mesoamerica, the incense that we know as copal was considered by the ancient Mexicans as a god with magical and religious powers that made it a protector. They called it iztacteteo, which means “white gods”, because of the smoke it produces when burned over hot embers.

According to these same accounts, people used copal very frequently, at least twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. It was used to offer to the gods, to clean temples, during funerals and in ceremonies to ask for good harvests.

Copal was also used for festivities dedicated to the rain-giving gods, to revere the numens of corn and the main gods of the Nahua pantheon: Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, Xiuhtecuhtli; Rituals were made with offerings and copal to promote good hunting, fishing, extraction of wood, resins and stone from the mountains, the establishment of plants in gardening; to honor warriors for their military victories, etc.

And, of course, copal had a primary role in any ceremony or ritual.

In the codices there are drawings that show gods or priests offering copal.


Copal and the Mayans

The use of copal occurred among the Mayans, as testified by the copal balls of the Sacred Cenote of Chichén Itzá.

Copal was known as pom among the Mayans. It became an object of commercialization, since it was requested in an important way through indigenous taxation since the 16th century.

The sacá and the chahalté were used both for incense burners and for the preparation of ritual drinks, which had cocoa as their primary ingredient.

Tobacco or k’uts was frequently mixed with copal, a combination that was chewed or placed between the lip and gum for a long time in order to quench thirst and increase vigor.

In addition to serving as a catalyst for copal smoke, the sacred fire heated the rocks where the infusions that generated healing vapors were poured, such is the case of the temazcals commonly used in Mesoamerica and the Mayan area.

Copal and the Aztecs

In pre-Hispanic times, among the Aztecs, the tree was known as copalquáhuitl: “copal tree”, and the resin extracted from it as copalli: “incense”. Due to its religious use, it was known as iztacteteo, “white god”, due to the color of the smoke it gave off.

Bernardino de Sahagún, in his General History of the Things of New Spain, describes how copal gum was used ritually by the inhabitants of the Aztec capital, who burned it as an offering to their gods:

“In the offering of incense or copal, these Mexicans, and all those from New Spain, used a white gum that they call copalli—which is also widely used now—to incense their gods. They did not use incense, although there is it in this land.

The satraps used this incense or copal in the temple and all the other people in their homes […].”

General history of the things of New Spain, Book II.

“Copalquáhuitl” refers to “copal tree” in Nahuatl, and although some species of Bursera produce copal resin, each specific name is usually associated with a particular species.


Tenochtitlan​ was the capital of the Aztecs, who called themselves “Mexica”, founded in the year 1325, to be later conquered and destroyed by the Spanish in 1521.

Its largest monument found is the so-called “Major Temple of Tenochtitlan”, a pyramid crowned by two temples dedicated to the gods Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, which had incredible dimensions of 80 meters on each side and 60 meters high.

Among its remains, artifacts and copal fragments of all kinds have been found; cylinders, cones, balls, pyramidal or rounded bases of sacrificial knives, bars, fragments and anthropomorphic figures of copal, some covered with stucco, and others made of pure white copal; On the surface of some of these elements, remains of leaves and bark of Bursera bipinnata have been found.

(Currently, gathered in the Cultural Assets Warehouse of the TMT Museum).

The rituals to the gods were carried out on the tops of the mountains

churches, city temples, neighborhoods and domestic altars.

Offerings have been found that have copal in the form of small tortillas, tamales or corn kernels, indicating that copal was considered food for the gods.

In these divine festivities, offerings of food, flowers, copal, and also horrible human sacrifices were made, since agricultural production and good fortune for success in military combat depended on their gods.

Copal was also used as glue to make inlays on masks and join mosaics of stone, shell and other materials. Mixed with pigments, copal was also used to make paints that were used in goldsmithing and to decorate murals.

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