THE RELIGIOUS HISTORY of postconquest Mexico has often been seen in terms of successful or unsuccessful resistance to a Christian conversion campaign. In fact, conscious, overt indigenous resistance was not utterly lacking from the picture, and it is not entirely inappropriate to speak of some effort on the part of the Spaniards to convince or "convert" the Indians in the manner of evangelists of our own times. But neither category, conversion or resistance, truly hits the mark. As in politics, existing Nahua patterns were what made the quick apparent success of Spanish modes possible; the altepetl was as important in religious as in political organization. One can hardly speak of an indigenous inclination to disbelief in Christianity. For the people of preconquest Mesoamerica, victory was prima facie evidence of the strength of the victor's god. One expected a conqueror to impose his god in some fashion, without fully displacing one's own; the new god in any case always proved to be an agglomeration of attributes familiar from the local pantheon and hence easy to assimilate. Thus the Nahuas after the Spanish conquest needed less to be converted than to be instructed. Spanish ecclesiastics seem to have taken much the same view of the matter, since they spoke mainly in terms of instruction or indoctrination rather than conversion, and never referred to themselves as missionaries, the word so many modern scholars have anachronistically preferred.
Mesoamerican religion, including that of the Nahuas, was highly developed. A complex pantheon of deities possessed specific iconographic and other attributes and was embodied in images inhabiting sumptuous temples; there a hierarchy of religious specialists held forth, overseeing the observance of a full calendar of festivities, replete with processions and rich costumes, throughout the year. Sacrificial and penitential practices affected all levels of the population, while divination and shamanistic rites played some part in every aspect of daily life. Religion was an integral part of sociopolitical organization. A special ethnic god (like the Mexica's Huitzilopochtli, often at once a deified ancestor and a variant of one of the general Mesoamerican