These Are The Top 11 Gods And Goddesses Of The Aztec Empire That You Should Know About
Mexico’s Aztec community, whom the Spanish conquistadors met in Mexico during the 16th Century, believed in a complex and diverse realm of gods and goddesses. Many experts have identified at least 200 different gods/goddesses, divided into three groups: the heaven or the sky; the rain, fertility and agriculture; and, finally, war and sacrifice.
It was in 1325 that the Aztec people moved from their legendary one of Aztalan to an island in Lake Texcoco – where present-day Mexico City stands. Legend has it that the Aztecas saw an eagle holding a rattlesnake in its talons, perched on a cactus. Believing this vision was a prophesy sent by the god Huitzilopochtli, they decided to build their new home on that exact site. And so the city of Tenochtitlán was founded.
To this day, this story of their great migration from their legendary home of Aztalan is pictured on the coat of arms of Mexico. It is clear, then, that mythology and religion played a key role in Aztec culture. So we’ve rounded up eleven of the most important gods and goddesses that you should know about.
1.) Huitzilopochtli – Father Of The Aztecs
Huitzilopochtli (pronounced Weetz-ee-loh-POSHT-lee) was the patron god of the Aztecs. During the great migration from their legendary home of Aztalan, Huitzilopochtli told the Aztecs where they should establish their capital city of Tenochtitlan and urged them on their way. His name means “Hummingbird of the Left” and he was the patron of war and sacrifice. His shrine, on top of the pyramid of the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, was decorated with skulls and painted red to represent blood.
2.) Quetzalcoatl – God of Light and Wind
Counted among the most important of Aztec gods (and Mesoamerican divine entities), Quetzalcoatl, regarded as the son of the primordial god Ometecuhtli, was venerated as the creator of mankind and earth.
Also known as Kukulkán to the Maya and Gucumatz to the Quiché (of Guatemala), etymologically, the very name ‘Quetzalcoatl’ comes from the combination of the Nahuatl words for the quetzal – the emerald plumed bird, and coatl or serpent. As for his aspects, often considered as the Aztec god of wind and rain, Quetzalcoatl also espoused a variety of avenues like science, agriculture, crafts, and even merchants.
3.) Tlaloc – God of Rain and Storms
Tlaloc (pronounced Tláh-lock), the rain god, is one of the most ancient deities in all Mesoamerica. Associated with fertility and agriculture, his origins can be traced back to Teotihuacan, the Olmec and the Maya civilizations.
Tlaloc’s main shrine was the second shrine after Huitzilopochtli’s, located on top of the Templo Mayor, the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. His shrine was decorated with blue bands representing rain and water. The Aztec believed that the cries and tears of newborn children were sacred to the god, and, therefore, many ceremonies for Tlaloc involved the sacrifice of children.
4.) Tezcatlipoca – God of The Night
Tezcatlipoca (pronounced Tez-cah-tlee-poh-ka)’s name means “Smoking Mirror” and he is often represented as an evil power, associated with death and cold. Tezcatlipoca was the patron of the night, of the north, and in many aspects represented the opposite of his brother, Quetzalcoatl. His image has black stripes on his face and he carries an obsidian mirror.
The Aztec god was also associated with a range of various concepts, including north, hurricanes, war, rulership, eternal youth, divination, sorcery, and jaguars.
5.) Xipe Totec – God of Fertility and Sacrifice
A deity of agricultural renewal, vegetation, seasons, goldsmiths, and liberation, Xipe Totec was counted among one of the major Aztec gods and goddesses. And while his related concepts and powers seem fairly innocuous, the worship (and its mode) of Xipe Totec was anything but. This is somewhat discerned from his ominous name roughly meaning – ‘our lord with the flayed skin’.
The Nahuatl moniker comes from the mythical narrative where the Aztec god flayed his own skin to feed humanity, thus symbolizing how maize sheds its outer skin cover before germination (‘rebirth’).
6.) Coatlicue – The Mother Of Gods
Venerated as the “mother of gods and mortals”, Coatlicue was the feminine god who gave birth to the stars and moon. Her face was made up of two fanged serpents, her skirt of interwoven snakes and she wore a necklace of hands, hearts and a skull.
Coatlicue was as feared as she was beloved, symbolising the antiquity of earth worship and of childbirth. She was also associated with warfare, governance and agriculture.
7.) Tonatiuh – God of The Sun
Tonatiuh (pronounced Toh-nah-tee-uh) was the Aztec sun god. He was a nourishing god who provided warmth and fertility to the people. In order to do so, he needed sacrificial blood. Tonatiuh was also the patron of warriors. In Aztec mythology, Tonatiuh governed the era under which the Aztec believed to live, the era of the Fifth Sun; and it is Tonatiuh’s face in the center of the Aztec sun stone.
8.) Centeotl – God of Maize
Centeotl (pronounced Cen-teh-otl) was the god of maize, and as such he was based on a pan-Mesoamerican god shared by Olmec and Maya religions. His name means “Maize cob Lord”. He was closely related to Tlaloc and is usually represented as a young man with a maize cob sprouting from his headdress.
9.) Chalchiuhtlicue – Goddess of Running Water
The wife (or sometimes sister) of Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue was the goddess of running water and all aquatic elements. Like other water deities, Chalchiuhtlicue was often associated with serpents. She was mostly depicted wearing a green or blue skirt from which flows a stream of water.
Chalchiuhtlicue was also the patroness of childbirth and a protector of newborn babies.
10.) Mayahuel – Goddess of The Maguey
Mayahuel (pronounced My-ya-whale) is the Aztec goddess of the maguey plant, the sweet sap of which (aguamiel) was considered her blood. Mayahuel is also known as “the woman of the 400 breasts” to feed her children, the Centzon Totochtin or “400 rabbits”.
11.) Mictlantecuhtli – God of The Underworld
Among the major Aztec gods and goddesses, Mictlantecuhtli was the deity of death and the underworld and was usually associated with creatures like owls, spiders, and bats (along with the direction of the south).
In the mythical narrative, Mictlantecuhtli played his role in delaying the Feathered Serpent from gathering the bones of humans in his underworld realm Mictlán. And it was only after Quetzalcoatl tricked him that humanity was ‘revived’ from bones and blood of the gods.
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