Religion was extremely important in Aztec life. They worshipped hundreds of gods and goddesses, each of whom ruled one or more human activities or aspects of nature. The people had many agricultural gods because their culture was based heavily on farming; also they included natural elements and ancestor-heroes.
They believed that the balance of the natural world, the processes that make life possible - like the rain or solar energy - and that the destiny of people depended on the will of these gods. While some deities were benevolent, others had terrifying characteristics.
The Aztecs thought that the power of the gods should be acknowledged and thanks given to them, so as to avoid the catastrophes that their rage or indifference could cause. For this reason, the monumental ceremonial centers were built and there were so many religious rites. The existence of the gods and their goodwill were maintained by offering up the most valuable human possession, life. This then, was the origin of human sacrifice and the ritual of bearing intense physical pain, which believers intentionally caused themselves.
In art, Chalciuhtlicue was illustrated wearing a green skirt and with short black vertical lines on the lower part of her face. In some scenes babies may be seen in a stream of water issuing from her skirts. Sometimes she is symbolized by a river with a heavily laden prickly pear tree growing on one bank. She is depicted in several central Mexican manuscripts, including the Pre-Columbian Codex Borgia on plates 11 and 65 and in the 16th century Codex Borbonicus on page 5 and Codex Ríos on page 17. When sculpted, she is often carved from green stone as befits her name.
Every September, she received a sacrifice of young girl, decapitated. The sacrifice's blood was poured on a statue of Chicmecoatl and her skin was worn by a priest. She was thought of as a female counterpart to Centeotl and was also called Xilonen ("the hairy one", which referred to the hairs on unshucked maize), who was married to Tezcatlipoca. She often appeared with attributes of Chalchiuhtlicue, such as her headdress and the short lines rubbing down her cheeks. She is usually distinguished by being shown carrying ears of maize. She is shown in three different forms:
Cihuacoatl was especially associated with midwives, and with the sweatbaths where midwives practiced. She is paired with Quilaztli and was considered a protectress of Chalmeca and patroness of Culhuacan. She helped Quetzalcoatl create the current race of humanity by grinding up bones from the previous ages, and mixing it with his blood. She is also the mother of Mixcoatl, who she abandoned at a crossroads. Tradition says that she often returns there to weep for her lost son, only to find a sacrificial knife.
Although she was sometimes depicted as a young woman, similar to Xochiquetzal, she is more often shown as a fierce skull-faced old woman carrying the spears and shield of a warrior. Childbirth was sometimes compared to warfare and the women who died in childbirth were honored as fallen warriors. Their spirits, the Cihuateteo, were depicted with skeletal faces like Cihuacoatl. Like her, the Cihuateteo are thought to haunt crossroads at night to steal children.
Cihuacoatl was also a noble title among the Aztecs, given to the secondary ruler of Tenochtitlan who was responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the capital city. Tlacaelel served as Cihuacoatl under four Aztec kings (Tlatoanis) during the 15th century. As Cihuacoatl he counselled the ruler and personally took charge of the military and public sacrifices.
The word "Coatlicue" is Nahuatl for "the one with the skirt of serpents". She is referred to by the epithets "Mother Goddess of the Earth who gives birth to all celestial things", "Goddess of Fire and Fertility", "Goddess of Life, Death and Rebirth" and "Mother of the Southern Stars".
She is represented as a woman wearing a skirt of writhing snakes and a necklace made of human hearts, hands and skulls. Her feet and hands are adorned with claws (for digging graves) and her breasts are depicted as hanging flaccid from nursing. Coatlicue keeps on her chest the hands, hearts and skulls of her children so they can be purified in their mother's chest.
Almost all representation of this goddess depict her deadly side, because Earth, as well as loving mother, is the insatiable monster that consumes everything that lives. She represents the devouring mother, in whom both the womb and the grave exist.
According to the legend, she was magically impregnated while still a virgin by a ball of feathers that fell on her while she was sweeping a temple. She gave birth to Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl. In a fit of wrath her four hundred children, who were encouraged by Coyolxauhqui (her daughter), decapitated her. The god Huitzilopochtli afterward emerged from Coatlicue's womb fully grown and girded for battle and killed many of his brothers and sisters, including decapitating Coyolxauhqui and throwing her head into the sky to become the Moon. In a variation of this legend, Huitzilopochtli himself is conceived by the ball-of-feathers incident and emerges from the womb in time to save his mother from harm.
A massive sculpture known as the Coatlicue Stone was discovered by the astronomer Antonio de León y Gama in August of 1790 after an urban redevelopment program uncovered artifacts. Six months later, the team discovered the massive Aztec sun stone. De León y Gama's account of the discoveries was the first archeological work on Pre-Columbian Mexico.
Aztec Serpent Moon Goddess
In Aztec mythology, Coyolxauhqui ("golden bells") was a moon goddess. She was a daughter of Coatlicue and the ruler of the Centzon Huitznahuas, the star gods. She was a powerful magician and led her siblings in an attack on their mother, Coatlicue, because she became pregnant in a shameful way (by a ball of feathers). Coatlicue's fetus, Huitzilopochtli, sprang from her womb in full war armour and killed Coyolxauhqui, along with many of the brothers and sisters. He cut off her limbs, then tossed her head into the sky where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night.
A shield-shaped stone frieze reflecting this story was found at the base of the stairs on the Templo Mayor. In this frieze, Coyolxauhqui is shown spread out on her side, with her head, arms and legs chopped away from her body. She is distinguished by balls of eagle down in her hair, a bell symbol on her cheek, and an ear tab showing the Mexica year sign. As with images of her mother, she is shown with a skull tied to her belt. Scholars also believe that the decapitation and destruction of Coyolxauhqui is reflected in the pattern of warrior ritual sacrifice. First, captive's hearts were cut out, then they were decapitated, their limbs chopped off, and finally their bodies were cast from the temple, to lie, perhaps, on the great Coyolxauhqui stone.
Coyolxauhqui's celestial associations are not limited to the moon. Other scholars feel she should be understood as the Goddess of the Milky Way, or be associated with patterns of stars associated with Huitzilopochtli.
Huehueteotl is frequently considered to overlap with, or be another aspect of, a central Mexican/Aztec deity associated with fire, Xiuhtecuhtli. In particular, the Florentine Codex identifies Huehueteotl as an alternative epithet for Xiutecuhtli, and consequently that deity is sometimes referred to as Xiutecuhtli-Huehueteotl.
However, Huehueteotl is characteristically depicted as an aged or even decrepit being, whereas Xiutecuhtli's appearance is much more youthful and vigorous, and he has a marked association with rulership and (youthful) warriors.
God of War-Lord of the South-The Young Warrior-Lord of the Day- The Blue Tezcatliopoca of the South-Patron God of the Mexica. Known metaphorically as "The Blue Heron Bird", "The Lucid Macaw", and "The Eagle".
The derivation of his name may have come from the ancient Chichimeca "Tetzauhteotl", possibly meaning "Omen-God".
He is considered an incarnation of the sun and struggles with the forces of night to keep mankind alive. Only to have found a place of major worship among the Aztec peoples. Huitzilopochtli is credited with inducing the Aztecs to migrate from their homeland in "Aztlan" and begin the long wanderings which brought their tribe to the Mexico Valley.
According to Aztec legend, Coatlicue, goddess of the earth had given birth to the moon and stars. The moon, Coyolxauhqui, and the stars called, Centzonhuitznahuac, became jealous of Coatlicue's pregnancy with Huitzilopochtli. During his birth, Huitzilopochtli used the "serpent of fire" and the sun's rays to defeat the moon and stars. Every day the battle continues between day and night. The Mexica saw the sunrise as a daily victory for this deity over the forces of darkness.
Huitzilopochtli can only be fed by Chalchihuatl, or the blood of sacrifice, to sustain him in his daily battle. He resides in the seventh heaven of Aztec mythology. The seventh heaven is represented as blue. His temple on the great Pyramid in Tenochtitlan was called Lihuicatl Xoxouqui, or "Blue Heaven". Over 20,000 victims are thought to have been ritually killed at the opening of his great temple in Tenochtitlan during a four day period.
Duran relates that the great temple contained a wooden statue carved to look like a man sitting on a blue wood bench. A serpent pole extended from each corner to give the appearance of the bench as a litter. On his head was placed a headdress in the shape of a bird's beak. A curtain was always hung in front of the image to indicate reverence.
Tlacaelel, the Aztec power broker, is thought to have propelled this god into the place of importance that Huitzilopochtli held, some suggest even re-writing Mexican history.
Huitzilopochtli's creation may have come from the ancient Mexica god "Opochtli", the Left Handed One, and a leading old Chichimec god of weapons and water. He was called "He Who Divides the Waters", and was principal in worship in the Huitzilopochco area and it's famous waters. Opochtli is thought to have been worshipped in ancient Aztlan.
Huitzilopochtli is said to be a representation of Tezcatlipoca in midsummer as the high sun in the southern sky. His name may have derived with his association with the color blue as when staring at the sun, spots of blue are seen by the eyes after looking away. His association with "on the left", was because when facing in the direction of the sun's path, east to west, the sun passed on the left.
Huitzilopochtli was the most celebrated of the Mexican deities and came to embody the aspirations and accomplishments of the Aztec. His cult could have been considered the "state cult" and was a focus of the powerful economic and political system.
Also known as "The Portentous One", as he directed the Mexica on their nomadic trek into the Valley of Mexico through a series of signs and omens. It was Huitzilopochtli who sent the eagle to perch on the nopal cactus to indicate the site of the Mexica's final resting place. His elevation to the rank of a major deity coincided with the formation of the triple alliance between Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. At this formation of the alliance his recognition as the god of war was complete and total.
As the power of Tenochtitlan grew his image was incorporated into the new lands and regions coming under Mexica control and he assumed new prominence and attributes even to the point of usurping the more traditional sun god, Tonatiuh. His main temple in the great temple of Tenochtitlan, (the Temple Mayor), was set alongside Tlaloc, god of rain, the symbolism of these two deities elevated above all others was a reflection of the economic status of the Mexica empire, (agriculture and war-tribute). Of interest many pictures and statues have survived of Tlaloc and other major deities but relatively few of Huitzilopochtli.
Images of Huitzilopochtli may be found in the Codex Borbonicus in which he is depicted standing in front of a small temple in his honor, in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, in his capacity as symbol of the month of Panquetzaliztli, and in a dual painting with Paynal, (messenger god), in Sahagun's Primeros Memoriales. His image further adorns the Codex Boturini in his guidance of the Mexica on their wanderings.
In the Codex Azcatitlan he is represented as a combination hummingbird and serpent tail being carried in what might be thought of as a backpack. In the Codex Florentine his birth is recorded as well as his famous battle with the stars. In all painted images his adornments are different, some with a shield of turquoise mosaic, others with a shield of white eagle feathers. The central image in all drawings is that of a warrior and a leader. He is often depicted as a seed dough image or "teixiptla" which was often made and prized during feasts.
Although Huitzilopochtli was worshipped greatly during the entire Mexica year he was of particular importance during the feast of Toxcatl, Dry Thing, Tlaxochimaco, Giving of Flowers, Teotleco, Arrival of Gods, and Panquetzaliztli, Raising of Banners. The feast honoring the raising of banners is generally thought to be his major yearly feast.
Nowhere was Huitzilopochtli more honored than in his main temple atop the great pyramid in Tenochtitlan in the Temple Mayor. His main cult statue stood in the southernmost corner of the twin shrines to him and Tlaloc. The shrine to this deity is described in detail by Duran as well as accounts by several of the soldiers with Cortes, namely Andres de Tapia and Bernal Diaz as well as Cortes himself.
Duran claims to describe the statue based on reports from native informants and from direct interviews with surviving conquistadors. He describes the image as a wooden statue carved to look like a man seated on a blue wooden bench in the form of a liter. The liter poles contained images of serpents long enough to be carried on the shoulder of men. The bench was in the traditional Huitzilopochtli "sky blue" color. The image itself had a blue forehead with a blue band reaching from ear to ear also blue.
The image had a headdress shaped like a hummingbird beak made of gold. The feathers adorning the headdress were a beautiful green. In his left hand he held a shield, white, with five bunches of white feathers in the form of a cross. Four arrows extended from the handle of the shield. In his right hand he held a staff in the image of a serpent which was also blue. Gold bracelets were on his wrists and he wore blue foot sandals. This image was covered from view with a type of curtain adorned with jewels and gold. Bernal Diaz also relates an account and it is certainly worth reading.
Huitzilopochtli shared the top of the great temple with Tlaloc in Texcoco as well as in Tenochtitlan and is described in detail in Pomar's book. Pomar's Huitzilopochtli was an image of a standing young man, made from wood adorned with a cloak of rich feathers and wearing an ornate necklace of jade and turquoise surrounded by golden bells. His body paint was blue with a blue striped face. His hair was of eagle feathers and had a headdress of quetzal (46) feathers.
Oh his shoulder was a form of a hummingbird's head. His legs were adorned and decorated with gold bells. In his hand was held a large spear, a spearthrower, and a feathered shield covered with a lattice work of gold stripes.
There was no greater worshipped image to the Mexica and the stone idol that was atop the pyramid in Tenochtitlan that was removed under the eyes of Cortes. The idol was entrusted to a man called Tlatolatl. Tlatolatl successfully was able to hide this image of Huitzilopochtli as was uncovered during an investigation by the Bishop Zummaraga during the 1530's. The statue has never been found and is probably resting and waiting today in a cave somewhere in northern Mexico.
Listed in the Codex Boturini, the sacred bundle of Huitzilopochtli carried during the wandering years was born by four "bearers", named Tezacoatl, (Mirror Serpent), Chimalma, (Shield Hand), Apanecatl, (Water Headdress), and Cuauhcoatl, (Eagle Serpent). The Codex Azcatitlan shows only two god bearers. Duran agrees that there were four bearers but does not name them. Juan de Torquemada in his "Monarquia indiana also confers the four god bearers. Hernando Alvarado Tezozomoc keeps the bearer Cuauhcoatl but replaces the other three with Quauhtlonquetzque, Axoloa, and Ococaltzin. To further confuse this issue the Cronica Mexicayotl replaces Cuauhcoatl, (Eagle Serpent), with Iztamixcoatzin, (White Cloud Serpent).
His wife was Mayahuel and his twin sister was Xochiquetzal. As one of the gods responsible for fertility and agricultural produce, he was associated with Tlaloc, god of rains, and Cinteotl, god of maize.In the mid-1800s, a 16th-century Aztec statue of Xochipilli was unearthed on the side of the volcano Popocatepetl near Tlamanalco. The statue is of a single figure seated upon a temple-like base. Both the statue and the base upon which it sits are covered in carvings of sacred and psychoactive plants including mushrooms (Psilocybe aztecorum), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), morning glory (Turbina corymbosa), sinicuichi (Heimia salicifolia), possibly cacahuaxochitl (Quararibea funebris), and one unidentified flower. The figure himself sits crosslegged on the base, head tilted up, eyes open, jaw tensed, with his mouth half open. The statue is currently housed in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City.
It has been suggested by Wasson, Schultes, and Hofmann that Xochipilli represents a figure in the throes of entheogenic ecstasy. The position and expression of the body, in combination with the very clear representations of hallucinogenic plants which are known to have been used in sacred contexts by the Aztec support this interpretation.
Wasson says in The Wondrous Mushroom of the statue of Xochipilli:"He is absorbed in temicxoch, 'the flowery dream', as the Nahua say in describing the awesome experience that follows the ingestion of an entheogen. I can think of nothing like it in the long and rich history of European art: Xochipilli absorbed in temicxoch."
Mixcoatl is represented with a black mask over his eyes and distinctive red and white 'candy-cane stripes' painted on his body. These features are shared with Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the Lord of the Dawn, god of the morning star. Unlike Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Mixcoatl can usually be distinguished by his hunting gear, which included a bow and arrows, and a net or basket for carrying dead game.
Mixcoatl was one of four children of Tonacatecuhtli, meaning "Lord of Our Sustenance," an aged creator god, and Cihuacoatl, a fertility goddess and the patroness of midwives. Sometimes Mixcoatl was worshipped as the "Red" aspect of the god Tezcatlipoca, the "Smoking Mirror," who was the god of sorcerers, rulers, and warriors. In one story, Tezcatlipoca transformed himself into Mixcoatl and invented the fire drill by revolving the heavens around their axes, bringing fire to humanity. Along with this cosmic fire drill, Mixcoatl was the first to strike fire with flint. These events made Mixcoatl a god of fire, along with war, and the hunt.
Mixcoatl was the father of 400 sons, collectively known as the Centzon Huitznahua, who ended up having their hearts eaten by Huitzilopochtli. The Centzon Huitznahua met their demise when they, and their sister Coyolxauhqui, after finding their mother Coatlicue pregnant, conspired to kill her. However, as they attacked she gave birth to a fully formed and armed Huitzilopochtli, who proceeded to kill his half-siblings. Mixcoatl was also thought of as being the father of another important deity, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.
Quecholli, the 14th veintena, the 20-day Aztec month, was dedicated to Mixcoatl. The celebration for this month consisted of hunting and feasting in the countryside. The hunters would take the form of Mixcoatl by dressing like him, kindling a new fire to roast the hunted game. Along with these practices, a man and woman would be sacrificed to Mixcoatl at his temple. The female would be slaughtered as would be a wild animal -- that is, by bashing her head against a rock four times. Subsequently, her throat would be cut, and she would be decapitated. The male victim would display her head to the crowd before he, himself, would be sacrificed in the familiar Aztec way: heart extrusion.
Along with the divine Mixcoatl, some believe there was a real figure known as Mixcoatl. It is thought he was a Chichimec leader during the Toltec period. It is not clear how much of the myth is based on this person if he really did live.
The Aztecs had several different myths about the creation, and nanahualt participate in several. In the legend of Quetzalcoatl, Nanauatl helps Quetzalcoatl to obtain the first grains which will be the food of humankind.
In Aztec mythology, the universe is not permanent or everlasting, but subject to death like any living creature. However, even as it died, the universe would be reborn again into a new age, or "Sun." Nanauatl is best known in the "Legend of the Fifth Sun," recopilated by Sahagun.
In this legend, which is the basis for most nahuatl myths, there has been four creations, in each one, one god has taken the toil of being the sun: Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, and Ehecatl. Each age inevitably ended because the gods were not satisfied with the men they had created. Finally Quetzalcoatl, retrieves the sacred bones of their ancestors, mixed with corn and his own blood, manages to make acceptable human beings. But no other god wants the task of being the sun.
The gods decided that the future and possibly last sun, has to offer his life. Finally, two gods are chosen: Tecciztecatl and Nanauatl, the former because he is wealthy and the latter because he is humble. Tecciztecatl is proud, and sees an opportunity to gain immortality. Nanauatl accepts because he sees becoming the sun as his duty. They are purified. Tecciztecatl offers rich presents, and coral instead of blood. Nanauatl offers his blood, and makes penitence.
The gods make a big fire, which burns for four days. When Tecciztecatl tries to jump into the fire, he is afraid and fails four times, because the heat is so strong. Because of this, the gods ask for Nanauatl. He closes his eyes to control his fear, and jumps. When Tecciztecatl sees that Nanauatl has jumped, he feels wounded in his pride and jumps after him. Nothing happens at first. But eventually two suns appear in the sky. The gods are angry, because Tecciztecatl was still following Nanauatl, and they are glowing exactly the same; so one of the gods takes a rabbit and throws it in the face of Tecciztecatl. He loses his brilliance, and the rabbit is marked on his face. So he became the moon, and the moon still has the mark of a rabbit.
But still, the sun does not move. The gods accept they need to die, so the men can live. The god Ehecatl sacrifices all the gods, and then with a powerful wind makes the sun begin to move.Men need to repay the gods their sacrifice.An important aspect of this legend is the death of the gods. The Aztec gods have no real earthly power, because they are dead, and only exist in the spiritual world, they even have to use a magic mirror made of obsidian to see the world - all of them, except Ehecatl. Ehecatl, the wind, becomes the symbol of the forces of nature: we can't see him, but we can feel his power.
OMETECUHLTI / OMECIHUATL