The Aztecs have captivated the Western world for centuries. They were one of the dominant groups of people within the Mesoamerican Region. The Mexica, otherwise known as the Aztecs, learned much of what they based their mythology on from the Toltecs.
The Toltecs were thought to be the first to bring “culture” to the region, and so the Mexica looked to them for spiritual guidance. Much of what makes up Aztec Mythology was based on Toltec traditions. The Mexica also adopted the traditions of other cultures they either met or conquered. Since the Mexica adopted other traditions within their own, they had numerous creation myths. All of this can be considered as Aztec mythology.
Aztec Creation Myth
There were two dualistic gods. They were named Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, who each represented light and dark. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca live in the skies for an Earth Monster resided in the oceans. The Earth Monster had numerous mouths in which she devoured all. Each time the twins created something, the Earth Goddess swallowed it whole.
Finally, they had enough. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca transformed themselves into snakes and wrapped themselves around the Earth Monster. They soon split her in half and created the world as we know it. Her legs and stomach turned into the sky, and her upper body transformed into the earth. Her hair became flowers and trees and her eyes were turned into springs and caves.
It was said she was granted the ability to provide nourishment for people as a form of compensation for being torn in half by the twins, but she ultimately was unhappy. The goddess would become so unhappy that she could be heard crying at night. The only way to cheer her up would be to placate her with human blood. Human hearts are given in exchange for nourishment so that people can survive.
Founding of Tenochtitlan
The Aztecs constantly paid tribute to Huitzilopochtli with human sacrifice. The Mexica built the great city of Tenochtitlan on an artificial island in the middle of Lake Texcoco.
North of the lands where the Aztecs resided Huitzilopochtli's sister and her son, Copil. Copil grew up loathing his uncle and vowed to end Huitzilopochtli's streak of cruelty. He then raised an army and went to the Lake of the Moon, Lake Texcoco. In the middle of this lake were the Aztecs and Huitzilopochtli.
Copil was unaware that his uncle knew of his coming from his network of spies. Huitzilopochtli, now angrier than ever, demanded that three of his priests go across the lake in order to cut out Copil’s heart and bring it to him. The priests went over and cut out Copil’s heart and brought it back to the island and Huitzilopochtli. He ordered the priests to then bury the heart in the middle of the island.
The next morning, a green plant with red flowers was seen growing where the heart was buried. This plant is a nopal cactus and is said to serve as a symbol of Copil’s courage. Three days later, on the nopal cactus stood an eagle with a serpent in his beak. After the Aztecs saw this, they constructed a magnificent city on the island. This city was named Tenochtitlan.
© beanqueen.killer - Tenochtitlan
The Myth of Tepoztecatl
Tepoztecatl was said to have been born to a virgin who became pregnant after having a bird land on her shoulder. This happened as she was washing her clothes by a nearby river. To hide their dishonor, her family made many attempts to kill the baby. None of which succeeded.
Tepoztecatl was then raised by two old villagers, El Coli, and La Nana, after being found in a box floating on a river. Near this village lived a monster-serpent named Mazacoatl. Each year the villagers sacrifice one of their elders to the beast. One year, El Coli was chosen. Tepoztecatl volunteered to face Mazacoatl in his father’s stead. He killed the beast after using his obsidian knife to cut his way out of Mazacoatl’s belly.
Afterward, the villagers rejoiced. They feasted and partied in his honor. During the great a party, a dirty stranger arrived and was denied entrance. This was Tepoztecatl himself. He soon returned in all his divine splendor. This sparkling version of himself was received with love and he soon chastised the partygoers for denying him based on his appearance and not his merit.
From now on, whenever a Tepoztlan family organizes a party or feast, no one is denied entrance. Everyone is welcomed as a guest.
There are a number of divinities within the Aztec Pantheon. Below, I’ll detail some of the more well-known and interesting deities.
The Creator-Gods of Aztec Mythology are said to be the four sons of Ometoetl. They are considered to be the “Father and Mother of us all”. The Creator-Gods are
• Ometeotl: This god is said to be the creator of all things in the cosmos. Ometeotl is both masculine and feminine. This is a dualistic god. The god’s two sides are known as Tonacatecuhli and Tonacacihuatl. The Lord and Lady of Sustenance. The two sides gave birth to the rest of the creator-gods. Even though this god is responsible for the creation of the world and the other deities, it is not responsible for the creation of man. This falls to the other gods listed in the Aztec pantheon.
• Tezcatlipoca: Also known as Smoking Mirror, is described as the God of providence. His name comes from his association with obsidian. Obsidian was used in those times to construct mirrors and other items used in spiritual rituals and ceremonies. He is often described as having a yellow and black striped painted across the face, and also with his foot replaced with an obsidian bone, mirror, or snake. His lost foot pays homage to a battle he had with the Earth Monster in which he lost his foot. Sometimes this obsidian is located on his chest.
• Xipe-Totec: Also known as Our Lord the Flayed One, was the chief deity that represented the life cycle. He is associated with life, death, and rebirth. He bridged the connection between warfare and agricultural harvest. He famously is known for flaying himself in order to feed humanity. He also usually is shown with vertical stripes running across his face and eyes. Artists typically emphasize the flayed and layered skin. this is used to represent his sense of sacrifice and rebirth.
• Quetzalcoatl: Quetzalcoatl is known as the Feathered Serpent. He is the Aztec god of air, learning, knowledge, and wind. He was also the patron deity of the Aztec priesthood. Additionally, he was strongly associated with the planet Venus. The Feathered Serpent has always been depicted as a mix of both human and serpent features. In the days shortly after this deity’s origin, he was usually shown with stronger serpentine features. He was usually known as the god of the morning star, and his brother was associated with the evening star. The legends are not always in agreement of the actions of deities.
• Huitzlipochtli: He is known as the deity of war. His actions have already been covered in the description of the world’s creation myth. He is considered the patron god of the Aztec people and their national god as well. They believed they had to make sacrifices to him to protect themselves from the “infinite night”. He needed human blood from sacrifice to keep himself going as he had to protect the present world from his hundreds of siblings. They threatened to bring the world into the night. He is also associated with fire.
Coatlicue was the mother of Centzon and Huitznahua. She found a ball of feathers, and upon placing it in her waistband, became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli. After this happened, Coatlicue’s other children became suspicious of the pregnancy. After his birth, he quickly defeated his siblings. He is said to represent the sun chasing the stars.
Tlaloc: Tlaloc is the Lord of the Rain. He is the rain god and also a patron deity of fertility. He is said to bring storms and rains and helps farmers grow their crops. Tlaloc is responsible for floods and drought. He is noticeable due to his goggle-eyed appearance and fangs. His eyes are often painted blue.
Chicomecoatl: Also known as Xilonen, Chicomecoatl is the Lady of Vegetation. She is known as the patron deity of corn and even carries physical characteristics honoring maize. She has been depicted with her face painted red with flowers adorning her dress.
Aztec Mythology in Popular Culture
Aztec deities often make appearances in popular culture. They are referenced in movies, books, TV shows, video games, and music. Some famous examples include Star Trek, Jackie Chan Adventures, DC Comics, you name it.
Aztec Mythology is rich with hero myths, creation stories, and insights into Mesoamerican society. From Quetzcoatl’s still-standing position as a symbol of Mexico to the infamous nature of blood sacrifice. They show us that these civilizations were not only advanced but had multilayered societal values that we are still struggling to understand to this day.