Xipe Totec

Xipe Totec was one of the major gods that the Aztecs worshiped. His name can be translated to "Our Lord the Flayed One”. Despite this grim title Aztecs believed that he helped crops grow. During annual Tlacaxipehualiztli celebration to honor him, hundreds of people were sacrificed.

Myths and Representations

Xipe Totec Statue

© Travis - Xipe Totec Statue

Xipe Totec was the Aztec god of agriculture, rebirth, and the changing of the seasons. Many Aztecs loved him due to his association with having a plentiful harvest and rebirth. Goldsmiths worshiped him due to his connection to abundance. Yet, he also contributed to death and disease. There were many human sacrifices made to him. To honor him Aztec priests would flay captured victims and then wear their skin.

He is one of the children of the Ometeotl, the god of duality. His brothers are Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli, and Quetzalcoatl. Altogether these gods represented the primordial gods of creation. Aztecs believed that they were the givers of life and the creation of the universe.

Unlike his brothers, he does not have many mythical stories. One of them is how he would peel the skin off his own body to feed the Aztec people. Another is how he was one of the gods that jumped into Teotihuacan's raging fire. He made this sacrifice to make the sun move across the sky.

This god is represented as a human wearing a flayed human skin. Most depictions of this extra skin are seen hanging from the god's wrists and ankles. These flayed skins were often painted yellow, tan, or gold to symbolize abundance. In contrast, his own skin was painted red. There can be dark, vertical stripes along his chin, forehead, and across his eyes. His ears are perforated.

Statues do not have Xipe Totec wearing many clothes. Some drawings depict him wearing a headdress and a ceremonial garb. The color of these items were vibrant greens and reds. It is common to show him with one hand holding a sharp, ceremonial weapon and the other a shield. In some cases, he was holding a container filled with grain.

On rare occasions, he is shown with a man on a pedestal. This man has an incision across the center of his chest, a mark used to signify that his heart has been extracted. Removing the heart and flaying a victim was a common way to pay homage to this god.

Depiction of Xipe Totec

Depiction of Xipe Totec

Festival of Xipe Totec

Tlacaxipehualiztli was the annual festival to honor Xipe Totec. The celebration lasted twenty days. It began on the spring equinox before the rainy season started. To start this event, recently captured slaves were dressed as this god. Then, these slaves were forced to fight each other as gladiatorial sacrifices. There were no survivors.

The following day two groups of men would form. One would represent their god and would wear the skins of the men that were killed the day before. The other group would be comprised of fearless Aztec soldiers. They would be dressed in warrior garb. For hours these two parties would mock battle each other.

When the battle finished, the Aztec warriors would run throughout the city. They would barge into houses and demand gifts from citizens. Common gifts were corn and gold jewelry. These tributes showed their love and were thought to bring good fortune. If a family did not have a proper gift ready for the Aztec warriors they were punished.

During Tlacaxipehualiztli goldsmiths would hold a feast called Yopico. A local leader, also called a satrap, would wear one of the flayed skins from a killed captive. He would also be adorned with gold jewelry, a crown, and a gold shield. Brightly colored feathers and other symbolic items were worn to make him appear as their god.

All these items were provided by the goldsmiths as a tribute. They would then offer the satrap food which consisted of corn and fruit. Yopico ended with a large dance and war exercises

The remainder of the twenty-day celebration, there were many sacrifices and mock battles. Captives would have their hearts cut out and then their skin cut. They were flayed in such a way that it would remain together as one piece. Priests would wear these skins for the entirety of the holiday. They would perform fertility rituals in the skins. Warriors would also wear them and partake in skirmishes across the city of Tenochtitlan.

When Tlacaxipehualiztli ended all the flayed skins were collected. They were stored beneath the city's temple in special containers. These containers would hold in the horrid smell.

Stone Mask - Head of Aztec God Xipe Totec

© Jeff Stvan - Stone Mask - Head of Aztec God Xipe Totec

Human Sacrifice

The Aztec people sacrificed many people to honor Xipe Totec. Some of these sacrifices occurred throughout the year. A substantial amount happened during Tlacaxipehualiztli. Slaves were primarily the ones who were chosen to be killed. Due to this gods association with goldsmiths, people who stole gold were also sacrificed.

While many forms of sacrifice existed, the Aztecs chose two forms above all others to pay homage. They were known as gladiator sacrifice and arrow sacrifice.

Gladiator sacrifices were when captives were forced to fight each other or an Aztec warrior. It was common practice to give the victim a mock weapon. Their waist or ankle would be tied to a large stone so they could not run away. Their weapon was made of wood and feathers. Captives rarely survived going up against an Aztec warrior with real weapons and armor.

Arrow sacrifices happened during periods of drought or before the rainy season. They promoted an abundant rainfall. A slave would be tied with their limbs stretched outwards onto a wooden frame. Aztec warriors would shoot them full of arrows and allow their blood to spill onto the ground. This symbolized the rain they were praying for. When the captive was finished bleeding their heart was removed and his skin flayed.

Facts about Xipe Totec

  • His name can be translated to mean "Our Lord the Flayed One".
  • He had several other names including Tlatlauhca, Tlatlauhqui Tezcatlipoca, and Youalahuan.
  • The Aztecs worshiped him in central Mexico. However, his influence stretched as far as the Yucatán Peninsula.
  • In January 2019 a new temple to this god was found in Puebla, Mexico. It is the first surviving temple found in this area.
  • Xipe Totec is the god of agriculture, rebirth, goldsmiths, sickness, sacrifice, and the changing of the seasons.
  • Depictions of him show him wearing a flayed skin and holding a weapon, a shield, or a jug filled with grain.
  • He is usually painted yellow or gold to symbolize abundance.
  • There was a celebration for this god called Tlacaxipehualiztli. It lasted twenty days.
  • During Tlacaxipehualiztli hundreds of captives were sacrificed. Their bodies were then flayed and worn for the rest of the holiday.
  • Goldsmiths would capture thieves to sacrifice to him.
  • He was the son of the dual god Ometeotl. He was also the brother of Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli, and Quetzalcoatl.
  • It was believed that he was one of the gods that sacrificed himself to make the sun travel across the sky.