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Title: The gods of Mexico

Author: Lewis Spence

Release date: August 27, 2023 [eBook #71503]

Language: English

Original publication: New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1923

Credits: Jeroen Hellingman and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at for Project Gutenberg (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


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This book deals exclusively with the religion of the peoples of ancient Mexico. With the history and archæology of that country I am not concerned in these pages, unless where they have a bearing upon the main subject. By “Mexico” I mean that region of North America lying between the Tropic of Cancer and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Thus only passing reference to the religion of the Maya of Yucatan or the Quiche of Guatemala is made in the way of occasional comparison.

I have thought it best at the outset to make these points clear beyond the possibility of misapprehension. It was formerly usual to regard the entire tract occupied by Central American civilization from the Tropic of Cancer to Nicaragua as one and indivisible in its manifestations. But it is now clear that the type of advancement peculiar to the more northerly portion inhabited by the Nahua (Aztec and Chichimec) peoples of Mexico proper presents numerous and striking divergencies from the more southerly though related Maya civilization of Yucatan and Guatemala. Regarding the priority of these two cultures no doubt exists. The Maya was greatly the more ancient. But during the century preceding the conquest of Mexico by Cortéz it had been subjected to Nahua immigration and influences, especially as regards its religious beliefs. It is therefore necessary to exercise caution in the identification of Nahua or Mexican with Maya myths and divine forms, and with this in view I have directed my researches more especially to an examination of the deities and ritual practices of the Mexican area, in the hope that once the fundamental beliefs of this better-known [vi]region have been ascertained, the results arrived at may be applied with some measure of confidence to the obscure field of Maya belief. It seemed to me also essential, if progress were to be made, to apply a more intensive method of investigation than has hitherto been deemed possible or desirable to the first origins of the Mexican gods, and it is especially with the results obtained by this means that I am concerned rather than with the conclusions of others.

I have chosen The Gods of Mexico as the title of this book, as its contents refer more particularly to the development and general description of the deities of ancient Anahuac than to the questions of ritual, priesthood, or religious architecture. It has seemed to me that, once the fundamental nature of the gods has been made clear, when the multitudinous and conflicting details regarding them have been sifted, collated, and reduced to order, more will have been done to discover the whole purport of Mexican religion than if investigation had been directed in particular to ritual practice. But that I have not neglected the question of ritual is proved by the extended notices of the festivals I have appended to the description of each of the gods. I have, however, confined my descriptions and criticisms of ceremonial to these, and have refrained from the illustration of the sacraments of life and death, baptism, burial, and the like, as it is my hope to be able to deal with the whole subject of ritualistic practice among the Mexicans at a future date.

Many authorities, even should they sympathize with the endeavour set forth in these pages, will question its timeousness. Our knowledge of the religion of ancient Mexico, they will say, is still too vague and too fragmentary to permit of the assemblage and criticism of its material. Such a charge it is impossible to gainsay. Yet the bitter-sweet experience of twenty years of meditation among the ruins of the Mexican pantheon has emboldened me to attempt its partial restoration by the aid of such reconstructive capacity as I possess. My reasons for essaying this rather adventurous undertaking are twofold. The first is, that although the [vii]time is scarcely ripe for it, the venture may inspire more skilful investigators to address themselves to the task of research in a subject that has been unaccountably neglected in this country. The second is the hope that those who come after me in the study of Mexican religion may, as the result of my labours, be spared the many weary years of groping that have fallen to my lot, and be enabled to commence their journey from the point where I now stand.

Although political and financial conditions in Mexico frequently arouse a passing agitation in the minds of British people, the antiquities of that extraordinary land, various as Greece and mysterious as Egypt, have failed to appeal to them with the same degree of interest. We have not yet, perhaps, quite recovered from the amazement with which in our own day we have seen the secret gates of the East unlocked and the prodigies of Mesopotamia and the endless dynasties of the Nile emerge therefrom. Yet an archæology less venerable, but no less notable, pleads with us for recognition from a continent so closely associated with the spirit of modernity that we can scarcely believe in its ability to present us with the credentials of respectable antiquity. American scientists, however, have in recent years successfully addressed themselves to the problems of Isthmian research, and the antiquaries of Germany and France have, in certain respects, even improved upon their endeavours. Great Britain alone remains insensible to the lure of old Mexico, and small indeed is the band of workers that she has given to this department of archæology.

No manifestation of the life and thought of ancient Mexico so well deserves the attention of British students of antiquity as its picturesque if bizarre religion. Our position in folklore is pre-eminent; indeed we may with justice claim the reconstruction of traditional science as due to the efforts of British scholarship. As the English word “folklore” is in world-wide use, so is the terminology of the science it denotes replete with English expressions; yet in British works which deal with traditional lore the Mexican analogies employed are almost invariably quoted at second-hand, sources of the [viii]most unsatisfactory description are drawn upon to illustrate Mexican belief, and it is obvious that the few modern treatises which have sought to explain this most involved of all mythologies are not sufficiently taken advantage of by authorities on folklore.

To those who possess even an elementary acquaintance with the study of Mexican religion this will cause no surprise, for the initial difficulties which confront even the experienced antiquary who desires to gain a working knowledge of its principles are sufficiently discouraging. In all likelihood the quest is sooner or later abandoned in despair of acquiring that fundamental information from which it is possible to proceed to a more profound knowledge of the subject. The native languages, familiarity with which is desirable, are complex and difficult of mastery. The paintings or codices which depict the gods present a riot of symbolic intricacy sufficient in itself to damp enthusiasm. Many years must be spent in the study of a system of symbolic painting, to which a specially qualified section of the Mexican priesthood dedicated itself in the full knowledge of a mythological scheme at the nature of which we can but guess. It is, above all, necessary to become thoroughly conversant with an overwhelming body of Spanish Colonial literature, which must be handled with the greatest discretion, owing to its vague, contradictory, and essentially untrustworthy character. Lastly, an acquaintance with manuscript sources, obscure and difficult of access, is quite as indispensable, and these, indeed, are among the most valuable of the adjuncts to a knowledge of Mexican belief.

By far the most eminent and successful among modern writers on Mexican mythology and ritual is Professor Eduard Seler, of Berlin, who, owing to the generosity of the Duc de Loubat, has been enabled to publish monographs upon the principal Mexican hieroglyphical paintings or codices. In these he has done much for the elucidation of the involved symbolism in which the native MSS. abound, and has greatly added to our knowledge of the divine forms represented in their grotesque pages. Elaborate photogravure reproductions [ix]of these, the papyri of Mexico, have also been published, superseding the older and less accurate copies in the great collection of Lord Kingsborough. In his Gesammelte Abhandlungen,1 too, a work quite encyclopædic as regards its scope and aim, Professor Seler has approached almost every problem presented by Mexican archæology. But his work might have been of greater value had he been mindful of the difficulties which the subject presents to the non-specialist reader. Indeed, the technicality and aridity of his general method often render his output comprehensible to few but the “senior wranglers” of the study.

American students of ancient Mexico and Central America have almost entirely confined themselves to the examination of sites and monuments. In France, M. Beuchat has provided students with an admirable handbook in his Archéologie Américaine, which, if too general in its purport and marred by a lack of linguistic knowledge, is still valuable as an elementary manual to American antiquity. The essays of Lehmann, De Jonghe, and Preuss have provided the student with translations of manuscript material hitherto closed to him, or have smoothed his way to a clearer comprehension of the difficulties connected with the Mexican calendar. The best modern English handbook on Mexican archæology is that by Mr. T. Athol Joyce, of the British Museum, but its lack of references is a serious drawback and the material it contains suffers from compression.

The method of my investigation of the divine forms of Mexico is set forth in the introductory paragraph immediately preceding that part of the book which deals with the gods more especially. Regarding the tonalamatl and the Calendar, I have thought it best to relegate this difficult and obscure subject to an appendix, in order that it should not interfere with the main current of proof. In dealing with the Codices throughout I have employed the pagination of Seler rather than that of Kingsborough, as referring to the more modern and greatly preferable editions of the Duc de Loubat, except [x]in cases where a manuscript is to be found in Kingsborough’s work alone. It is my sincere hope that the bibliography at the end of the book as well as that to be found at the conclusion of the appendix on the tonalamatl will lighten the labour of students of Mexican religion, whose co-operation in the discovery of errors I most cordially invite.

The illustrations in this book are, for the most part, taken from the native Mexican codices or paintings, and from representations of the gods in stone or pottery. It has, of course, been impossible to furnish every picture or representation alluded to in the text, but these, in their entirety, will be found in the excellent coloured reproductions in collotype published by the Duc de Loubat, full particulars of which are given in the bibliography of the codices on pages 378–381. These reproductions can be consulted in many of the greater libraries, especially in those connected with the Universities. I have preferred, in many cases, to furnish the student with those representations of the gods which he would have found it more or less difficult to procure. The numbers of the pages or sheets attached to the illustrations refer to the places where the respective figures can be found in the reproductions of the Duc de Loubat.

In conclusion, I have to thank my daughter, who took infinite pains in transcribing from books and treatises difficult of access, in the British Museum and the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh, and who sacrificed much of that time which young people usually devote to amusement in order that she might help me in a difficult task.

L. S. [xi]

1 See Bibliography for description of this and all other works alluded to throughout the work. 





The type and evolution of Mexican religion—The antiquity of Mexican religion—The literature of Mexican religion: I, The native codices; II, The native writings; III, Native art-forms; IV, Writings of the Spanish conquerors of Mexico—The origins of Mexican religion—Evidence of early religion in Mexico—Deification of the elements of growth—Evidences of primitive influences—Fetishtic origin of gods—Animal gods—Growth of the rain-cult—The necessity for human sacrifice—The later elements of Mexican religion—Cultural elements of Mexican religion—The Quetzalcoatl cult—The cult of obsidian—Unity of religious conception throughout Mexico        pp. 1–35



The “ages” of Mexican cosmogony—The making of the earth—The peopling of the earth—Creation of the sun and moon—The Historia de los Mexicanos—Deluge myths—The “Coxcox” fallacy—The fall of the gods—Mexican conceptions of the universe—The five regions of the world: The Tree of the East; the Tree of the North; the Tree of the West; the Tree of the South; Tlaxicco; Tlapcopa; Uitznauac or Uitzlampa; Ciuatlampa; Mictlampa—The supporters of the heavens—The Aztec heavens: Tlalocan; Homeyoca—Mictlampa as Hades        pp. 36–64



Method of treatment—Uitzilopochtli—Tezcatlipocâ—Quetzalcoatl        pp. 65–145



Tonacatecutli—Tonacaciuatl        pp. 146–152 [xii]



Introductory—Tlazolteotl—Chicomecoatl—Cinteotl—Ciuacoatl—Coatlicue—Xochiquetzal—Macuilxochitl or Xochipilli—Xipe—Xilonen—Itzpapalotl—Zapotlantenan—Ilamatecutli        pp. 153–233



Introductory—Tlaloc—Chalchihuitlicue—Uixtociuatl—Atlaua—Napatecutli—Matlalcuêyê—Opochtli        pp. 234–267



Xiuhtecutli—Chantico—Quaxolotl        pp. 268–284



General—Tezcatzoncatl—Tepoxtecatl—Patecatl—Mayauel—Totoltecatl—Macuiltochtli—Totochtin—Tomiauhtecutli        pp. 285–299



Tonatiuh the Sun-God (Piltzintecutli)—Metztli or Tecciztecatl the Moon-God—Mixcoatl, Iztac Mixcoatl or Camaxtli—Tlauizcalpantecutli—Coyolxauhqui—The Tzitzimimê        pp. 300–326



Mictlantecutli—Mictecaciuatl—Tepeyollotl        pp. 327–335



Itztli—Itztlacoliuhqui—Paynal—Yacatecutli        pp. 336–343 [xiii]



Xolotl—Ixtlilton—Omacatl—The Ciuateteô or Ciuapipiltin        pp. 344–358



Day-signs—Model tonalamatl—The day-gods—Gods of the “weeks”—Lords of the night—Lords of the day-hours—Tonalamatl festivals—Recapitulation—The calendar round—The nemontemi—The Venus period—Short bibliography of works relating to the tonalamatl        pp. 359–371


GLOSSARY        pp. 382–383

INDEX        pp. 384–388 [xiv]



Nephrite Figure of a Death-god Frontispiece
Colossal Statue of Coatlicue 14, 15
Statue of Coatlicue 16, 17
The Great Calendar Stone of Mexico 38
Symbols of the “Suns” in Mexican Cosmogony 40, 41
The Trees of the World-quarters 58, 59
The Tree of the Middle-quarter 60
Uitzilopochtli 66
Coyolxauhqui 67
The Red and Black Tezcatlipocâs 92
Tezcatlipocâ in Various Forms 93, 98
Altar of Skulls to Tezcatlipocâ 99
Quetzalcoatl and Tlauizcalpantecutli 118
Quetzalcoatl and the Death-god 119
Forms of Quetzalcoatl 120, 121
Tonacatecutli-Tonacaciuatl 121
Forms of Tlazolteotl 156, 157
Forms of Chicomecoatl 170
Cinteotl 171
Ciuacoatl 180
Forms of Ciuacoatl 181
Xochiquetzal and her Symbols 188
Forms of Xochiquetzal 189, 190
Stone Figures of Macuilxochitl 196, 197
Forms of Macuilxochitl 198
Forms of Xochipilli 199
Pottery Figure of Xochipilli [xv] 200
Forms of Xochipilli 201
Forms of Xipe 204
Stone Image of Xipe 205
Forms of Xipe 208
Itzpapalotl 222
Itzpapalotl (Stone of Aristides Martel) 223
Xilonen and Zapotlantenan 223
Forms of Tlaloc 236, 237, 240
Chalchihuitlicue 258
Chalchihuitlicue and Tlauizcalpantecutli 259
Chalchihuitlicue and Uixtociuatl 260
Forms of the Tlaloquê 261
Xiuhtecutli and Tlauizcalpantecutli 268, 269, 272
Xiuhtecutli and Chantico 276
Ixcoçanhqui and Chantico 277
Tepoxtecatl 292
Patecatl, with Octli Emblems 293
The Octli-gods 298, 299
Totoltecatl 299
Forms of Tonatiuh 300
Mexican Idea of Sacrifice to the Sun-god 301
Planetary Deities 304
Forms of Mixcoatl 310, 311
Forms of Tlauizcalpantecutli 320
Tlauizcalpantecutli and Victim 321
Forms of the Underworld Deities 328
Statue of an Octli-god 329
Variants of the Great Gods 336
Xolotl and Tlaloc 344
Minor Deities 345
The Lords of the Night-hours 364




The pronunciation of Mexican names presents at first some little difficulty. The letter X is invariably pronounced as sh, so that Mixcoatl and Mexitli are, viva voce, Mishcoatly and Meshitlee, the final tl being pronounced as tl followed by a short y, although the natives in many parts of the country articulate it with a definite clicking sound, unapproachable by a European. The names of the more important gods are pronounced as follows:

Uitzilopochtli = Wit-zil-o-potchtly
Tezcatlipocâ = Tez-catly-pocā
Quetzalcoatl = Quetzal-co-at-ly
Xipe = Shee-pay
Chalchihuitlicue = Chal-chĕĕ-wĕĕt-lēē-kway.

Most of the others are comparatively simple of pronunciation. The ch sound is pronounced as in Spanish, i.e. hard, as in “thatch.” [1]







If, like the necromancers of old, we possessed the power to summon the shades of the dead before us, and employed this dread authority to recall from the place of shadows the spirit of a member of the priesthood of ancient Mexico, in order that we might obtain from him an account of the faith which he had professed while in the body, it is improbable that we would derive much information regarding the precise significance of the cult of which he was formerly an adherent without tedious and skilful questioning. He would certainly be able to enlighten us readily enough on matters of ritual and mythology, calendric science and the like; but if we were to press him for information regarding the motives underlying the outer manifestations of his belief, he would almost certainly disappoint us, unless our questionary was framed in the most careful manner. In all likelihood he would be unable to comprehend the term “religion,” of which we should necessarily have to make use, and which it would seem so natural for us to employ; and he would scarcely be capable of dissociating the circumstances of his faith from those of Mexican life in general, especially as regards its political, military, agricultural, and artistic connections.

Nor would he regard magic or primitive science as in any way alien to the activities of his office. But if we became more importunate, and begged him to make some definite statement regarding the true meaning and import of his [2]religion ere he returned to his place, he might, perhaps, reply: “If we had not worshipped the gods and sacrificed to them, nourished them with blood and pleasured them with gifts, they would have ceased to watch over our welfare, and would have withheld the maize and water which kept us in life. The rain would not have fallen and the crops would not have come to fruition.”1 If he employed some such terms as these, our phantom would outline the whole purport of the system which we call Mexican religion, the rude platform on which was raised the towering superstructure of rite and ceremony, morality and tradition, a part of which we are about to examine.

The writer who undertakes the description of any of the great faiths of the world usually presupposes in his readers a certain acquaintance with the history and conditions of the people of whose religion he treats. But the obscurity which surrounded all questions relating to Mexican antiquity until the beginning of this century formerly made it essential that any view of its religious phase should be prefaced by an account of the peoples who professed it, their racial affinities, and the country they occupied. This necessity no longer exists. The ground has been traversed so often of late, and I have covered it so frequently in previous works,2 that I feel only a brief account of these conditions is necessary here, such, in a word, as will enable the reader to realize circumstances of race, locality, and period.

The people whose religious ideas this book attempts to describe were the Nahua of pre-Colombian Mexico, a race by no means extinct, despite the oft-repeated assertions of popular novelists, and which is now usually classed as a branch of the great Uto-Aztecan family of the North American Indian stock. They spoke, and their descendants still speak, a language known as the Nahuatl, or Nahuatlatolli (“speech of those who live by rule” or “by ritual observance”). At the era of the Spanish invasion of their country in 1519 [3]they had succeeded in overrunning and reducing to their dominion practically all that part of modern Mexico which lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. They were, in all probability, immigrants from the north, and their art-forms, no less than their physique and beliefs, have led certain writers to form the opinion that they came originally from the neighbourhood of British Columbia, or that they had a common origin with the Indian tribes which inhabit that region at the present time.

However this may be, the first Nahua immigrants would appear to have entered the Valley of Mexico at some time during the eighth century of our era. But the Aztecâ, part of a later swarm of Nahua, do not seem to have descended upon it until the middle of the thirteenth century, or to have founded the settlement of Mexico-Tenochtitlan until about the year 1376. At the period of their arrival in the valley they were a barbarous tribe of nomadic hunters, wandering from place to place in search of fresh hunting-grounds, precisely as did many North American Indian tribes before reservations were provided for them. Gradually, by virtue of their superior prowess in war, they achieved the hegemony of the Plateau of Anahuac, which boasted a tradition and civilization at least five hundred years old. These they proceeded to assimilate with marvellous rapidity, as is not infrequently the case when a race of hunters mingles with a settled agricultural population. Indeed, in the course of the century and a quarter which intervened between the founding of Mexico and the period of the Spanish Conquest, they had arrived at such a standard of civilization as surprised their Castilian conquerors. When the Aztecâ, abandoning their wandering life, finally settled in the Valley of Anahuac, upon the site of Tenochtitlan, now the city of Mexico, they embarked upon a series of conflicts with their neighbours, which ended in the complete subjection of these peoples.

The races over whom they exercised a kind of feudal sway were many and diverse, and only the more important of these can be mentioned here. To the north [4]dwelt the hunting Chichimecs, a related people, and the Otomi, a semi-barbarous folk, probably of aboriginal origin, and speaking a distinct language. To the west dwelt the Tarascans, whose racial affinities are unknown, or, at least, dubious. South of the Rio de las Balsas were situated the Mixtecs and Zapotecs, whose language somewhat resembled that of the Otomi and who possessed a larger measure of civilization. On the East Coast were found the Huaxtecs and Totonacs, races of Maya origin, and south-east of these lay the Olmecs, Xicalancas, and Nonoualcas, of older precedence in the land. Beyond the Isthmus of Tehuantepec were found the Maya, a people of relatively high civilization, whose origin is obscure, and into the question of whose relationship I do not propose to enter in this place.



Until the beginning of the present century most Americanists held that Mexican civilization and consequently Mexican religion were the outcome of but a few generations of native progress. It is true that the Nahua people had behind them a relatively brief history of national and tribal life, but modern research has shown that they were undoubtedly the heirs of a civilization having early foundations and of considerable achievement and complexity, the religious aspect of which had arrived at a high state of development.3 Evidences of the archaic character of this faith are rapidly accumulating, but many years must yet be dedicated to the examination and comparison of the data concerning it before it is possible to speak with any degree of certainty regarding the causes which contributed to its formation and evolution.

Although we must necessarily regard Mexican religion as having had a progressive history spread over many generations, we are at present almost ignorant of the gradual changes which accompanied its growth. An effort will be made to outline the probable nature of these mutations, but the endeavour will not receive any great measure of [5]assistance from the abundant but chaotic and unclassified material amassed by Americanists during the last twenty years, which in its present condition is not of much value as regards this particular branch of the subject, but which it is the writer’s intention to employ, so far as it is capable of illustrating the question before us.



It is necessary at this stage to deal briefly with the sources of Mexican religious history. A literature, bewildering in its scope and variety, has grown up around the subject of Mexican antiquity as a whole, and it is perhaps well for the student if he approaches it with only a partial realization of the spacious character of the material he must review. I have thought it best in such a work as this to relegate most of the bibliographical matter to an appendix, where an endeavour has been made to supply the student with a trustworthy catalogue of such manuscripts and works as are essential to the study of Mexican religion. It is hoped that this may prove of guidance and assistance and spare much initial toil. But for the present I will confine my remarks to such general observations upon the sources from which we partly glean our knowledge of the ancient Mexican faith as will serve the immediate purpose. These sources are four in number: (I) The native codices or paintings; (II) the native annals; (III) native art-forms in architecture, sculpture, pottery, and mural painting, depicting gods and other divine beings; and (IV) the writings of the Spanish conquerors of Mexico.

(I) The Native Codices.—These are paintings executed by native Mexican artists upon agave paper, leather, or cotton. Through the misguided zeal of the early Spanish religious authorities, who regarded them as of diabolic character, only some twelve of these remain to us, the greater number of which possess a mythological or religious significance. In their pages we find representations of many of the principal deities of the Mexican pantheon, as well as illustrations of [6]several passages in Mexican myth, and they frequently depict the tonalamatl or priestly Book of Fate, with its highly complex symbolism.4 Close familiarity with these manuscripts is indispensable, as they constitute one of the few original sources of our knowledge of the aspect, costume, and insignia of the Mexican deities. All of them have been handsomely, if expensively, reproduced, and these are detailed in the bibliography.

Here it is only necessary to remark upon the several theories which have regard to their place of origin. Dr. H. J. Spinden, in his valuable Study of Maya Art, objects that “most of the detailed accounts of religious beliefs and ceremonies that have come down to us refer primarily to the Valley of Mexico, while nearly all the really elaborate codices of a religious nature come from either the Zapotecan-Mixtecan area or from the Maya.”5 We are not here concerned with the Maya manuscripts, and with regard to the Zapotec and Mixtec examples we have the assurance of Seler,6 which is founded upon critical evidence of value, that an entire group of these manuscripts—and that by far the most important, the Codex Borgia group—“belongs to a Mexican-speaking people” who inhabited the districts of Teouacan, Cozcatlan, and Teotitlan del Camino, and who, though separated from the Nahua of the Valley of Anahuac at an early period, yet in great measure retained the ancient beliefs common to both. Nearly all of the deities represented in this group of manuscripts so closely resemble in their aspect, costume, and general symbolism the drawings and descriptions of gods known to have been worshipped in the Mexican area proper, as to make it positively certain that they represent the same divine beings with merely trifling differences of detail due to local environment. The separation of the Nahua of the Plateau of Mexico and those of the more southerly region was of such duration as to justify the belief that their religious ideas had diverged considerably. But the subsequent conquest of the southern area by the Northern [7]Nahua must have resuscitated old common beliefs among their kindred in the south, and weakened the ideas they had adopted or developed in that environment. This is proved by the considerable variation in type between the oldest southern pottery representing what are presumably divine forms and the pictures of the gods in the later manuscripts of the Codex Borgia group.

(II) The Native Writings.—These “annals,” as they are sometimes called, the work of natives who wrote in Spanish, constitute a mine of aboriginal information of nearly equal value with that contained in the codices, but considerable discrimination is necessary in using them in view of the tendency of their authors to corrupt traditional material when inspired by patriotic or other motives. This, however, manifestly does not apply with equal force to accounts of a mythical or ritual nature and to historical events, which offer a much greater temptation than the former to scribes manifestly ignorant of the virtues of literary integrity. The Mexican annals are of two classes: those which represent the historical or traditional relics of native communities, such as the Annals of Quauhtitlan, also known as the Codex Chimalpopocâ; and those which are the work of educated Mexicans or half-breeds, prone to magnify the splendour of the ancient races. Ranking almost as a third or separate class are the sacred songs or hymns included in the Mexican MS. of Sahagun’s Historia General, which that most unwearied of workers received at first hand from approved native scribes. The several native writings will be found described in the appendix, and the hymns, or rather a translation of them into English prose, will be met with in the descriptions of the several deities to which they apply.

(III) Native Art-forms.—Mexican architectural motifs, mural paintings, and especially sculpture and pottery, frequently afford reliable material upon which to form conclusions regarding the aspect and costume of the gods, and reproductions of the most important of these illustrate the descriptions of the several Mexican deities.

(IV) Writings of the Spanish Conquerors of Mexico.—If [8]the representatives of the Church in Mexico must be condemned for their narrow and illiberal action in destroying all native manuscripts and paintings bearing upon the ancient religion of the country, certain more enlightened individuals among them laboured strenuously to remove this reproach by their zealous, if frequently unskilful, attempts to reconstruct a knowledge of the popular faith by unremitting researches into native tradition. This attitude met with but little countenance from their ecclesiastical superiors, and at times they laboured under conditions the reverse of favourable for the collection of traditional material. But it would be ungrateful not to pay a meed of respect to the self-sacrifice of those enlightened and resourceful men, but for whose endeavours our knowledge of Mexican antiquities would be all the poorer.

Undoubtedly the most valuable collection of evidence relative to the Mexican religion compiled by a Spanish churchman is the Historia General of Bernardino Sahagun, whose work, composed with scholarly care and an almost prophetic knowledge of the correct methods to be pursued in the collection of traditional material, was completed about the middle of the sixteenth century, but remained unpublished until 1830. This work has been described so repeatedly as to require no further mention here, and other notable works are included in the bibliography. Some allusion should also be made here to the works known as the Interpretative Codices, compiled by Pedro de Rios and other monks, who retained the services of native painters to execute drawings of Mexican deities or, as some believe, drew these figures themselves, the symbolism and general meaning of which they endeavoured to make plain and interpret, only too often in the light of their knowledge of the Scriptures.



The question of the origin of Mexican religion, like that of the civilization of which it was perhaps the most salient characteristic, has afforded matter for ardent controversy [9]from the period of the discovery and conquest of the country until the present day. But, even so, it is still unsafe to dogmatize upon Mexican religious origins. At the time of the Conquest we observe Mexican religion as a highly complex faith, with a ceremonial of the most elaborate nature, a priesthood with nicely defined gradations in office, and a pantheon which had obviously been formed by the collocation of the deities of provincial and dependent tribes and peoples around a nucleus composed of the national and departmental gods of the Aztecâ. The great temple-area of Mexico-Tenochtitlan harboured a bewildering array of gods, many of which possessed separate shrines and ministrants. An intensive examination of the alien elements represented, however, tends to prove the identity of many of them with the gods of the Aztecâ, a similarity which, in numerous instances, was manifest to that people themselves and which was the result of tribal affinity or basic resemblance in religious conception. Nevertheless a residuum of unrelated deities remained, which might, perhaps, be accounted for by positing the existence of two markedly different cultures or tendencies in Mexico, barbarous and civilized. This may imply that the opposing influences which gave rise to these variations were alien to each other racially, or it may indicate that, whereas one had remained in an environment of barbarism, the other had developed and enlarged its theological and even its mythical conceptions in the light of the necessities of an advancing material civilization. Whence the seeds of that civilization came is, as has been said, matter of controversy. The existence of a system of monachism in Mexico would seem to indicate a non-American origin. Elements common to both aspects of this interesting faith were sufficiently numerous in Mexican religion. Thus the so-called Chichimecs, or rude hunters of the steppes to the north of the Valley of Mexico, retained in their pristine form the simple beliefs and the ungraded pantheon, which in the case of the more advanced tribes of cognate origin rapidly took shape as a great State religion under the influences of a more complex social system, [10]the stimulus of alien religious conceptions, and above all, of a priesthood skilled in the reduction of theological and mythical material to dogma. This cult, although composed of elements perhaps at first conflicting in aim and character, had yet arrived at a comparative degree of homogeneity and had evolved an intricate and exacting ritual and a symbolism of great richness and artistic complexity, the extensive and bewildering nature of which can be verified by a cursory inspection of the native codices.



The myths which relate to the earliest religious influences in Mexico are for the most part connected with the pre-Aztec “Toltec” civilization and the more ancient and sacred sites of Tollan and Teotihuacan. They chiefly refer to a god or culture-hero called Quetzalcoatl, whose myths and attributes will be described elsewhere in this work, and who was regarded as the prototype of the Mexican priesthood and one of the inventors of the tonalamatl or Book of Fate. The type of religion founded by him differs greatly from that practised by the Mexicans at the period of the Conquest, as it eschewed, or was, perhaps, originally innocent of, human sacrifice or ceremonial cannibalism, and practised purification and penance by the drawing of blood. In certain myths its founder is described as a native of the country, in others as the offspring of divine beings, while still others regard him as a foreigner who introduced his cult from the east. It is noteworthy that this cult is closely connected with monachism7 and that in later times it was, perhaps, regarded as more intimately bound up with pietistic and “civilized” ritual practice than that of any other Mexican deity. Ultimately, the myths relate, Quetzalcoatl left the country because of the machinations of “enchanters.”8 This may mean that the older and less barbarous cult was forced into a secondary place by the ruder and more popular beliefs of a tribe of lower culture, but there are evidences that the [11]religion of Quetzalcoatl assuredly assisted in the building-up of the rain-cult of Mexico. In any case little information is to be gleaned from the myth of Quetzalcoatl for our present purpose of illustrating the primitive type of Mexican religion, and it must probably be regarded as pointing to the existence of an early monachism and a developed ritual in ancient Mexico.9

The myths relating to the great tribal gods, if faithfully examined, assist us in forming a definite idea of the character of early religious conceptions in Anahuac. The hymns to the gods are, perhaps, a surer indication of the trend of popular faith and probably date from a more archaic period than do the myths, which, as we possess them, nearly all exhibit signs of priestly alteration. In several of these chants we assuredly arrive at the whole significance of Mexican religion, which in its essence, and as seen at the Conquest period, was nothing more than a vastly elaborated rain-cult, similar in its general tendency to that still prevalent among the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico and Arizona, yet broader in outlook, of a higher complexity and productive of a theology and an ethical system of greater sophistication and scope. The religion of the Pueblo peoples is, indeed, the poor and degenerate descendant of the bizarre and picturesque ritual of the Mexicans, or, more probably, had a common origin with it. Through the researches and personal exertions of many well-equipped Americanists the entire ritual of this modern pluvial cult is now well known and deserves the closest study from students of Mexican religion, as providing them with comparative and analogical material of the first importance.10

We shall keep on the trail of a very definite clue if we attempt to descry in such evidences as we possess of archaic Mexican faith the signs of an incipient rain-cult, having its origin in a settled agricultural existence. If we glance at [12]the general characteristics of the numerous members of the Mexican pantheon, we find that very readily and quite naturally they group themselves into three great classes: (a) creative deities, which may be regarded as the outcome of late theological speculation, and which may, accordingly, be passed over in this place; (b) gods of growth; and (c) gods developed from specific objects and deified heavenly bodies, some of which latter were developed from gods of the chase. The “original” deities of Mexico would seem, therefore, to have presided over vegetable growth and conferred on their votaries good luck in the hunt. But as time passed, these latter also took on the attributes of gods of the cereal and vegetable food-supply, and, indeed, often seriously contested the status of the true growth-gods in the elaborate nature of the symbolic vegetal ceremonial with which their festivals were celebrated.

It is not surprising that the Valley of Mexico became the centre of a cult of which the appeal for rain was the salient characteristic. A copious supply of rainfall for the purposes of irrigation is, indeed, a necessity to the Mexican agriculturist, and a dry year in ancient Anahuac brought with it famine and misery unspeakable. Inexpressibly touching are the fervent prayers to Tlaloc, god of water, that he should not visit his displeasure upon the people by withdrawing the pluvial supply. “O our most compassionate lord … I beseech thee to look with eyes of pity upon the people of this city and kingdom, for the whole world, down to the very beasts, is in peril of destruction and disappearance and irremediable end … for the ridges of the earth suffer sore need and anguish from lack of water … with deep sighing and anguish of heart I cry upon all those that are gods of water, that are in the four quarters of the world … to come and console this poor people and to water the earth, for the eyes of all that inhabit the earth, animals as well as men, are turned towards you, and their hope is set upon you.”11 [13]



The elements of growth, in the mind of primitive man, are four in number, the earth, grain, rain, and solar heat, and it is not remarkable that all of these came to be regarded as deified powers, and were latterly personalized in anthropomorphic form. It does not appear that the sun was at first looked upon as an agency of growth. There is, indeed, proof that in early times he was not regarded as of any importance from a calendric point of view, and that the time and festival-counts were designed upon a lunar basis.12 It is not unlikely that, in a region where his torrid heat, if unaccompanied by rainfall, resulted in famine, he was at first regarded, if not unfavourably, at least with no special predilection. If this conclusion is correct, and we can afford to discount solar influence in the primitive Mexican cultus—or rather that adopted by the aboriginal peoples on embracing a settled agricultural existence—there remain to us the three elements of earth, grain, and rain from which to reconstruct the prototypes of the Mexican pantheon.

In Mexican myth the earth is represented as a monster known as cipactli, the pictures of which have given rise to the assumption that it is either a crocodile, a swordfish, or a dragon. We shall probably not err if we place it in the last category and see in it that great earth-monster common to the mythologies of many races, and which is most conveniently called the “earth-dragon.”13 This sign cipactli became the first in the tonalamatl or Book of Fate, where it is connected with the creative deities and the Earth-mother, who was known by many names. Circumstances exist which seem to lend colour to the assumption that, as in other countries, the Mexican Earth-mother had at one time been regarded as forming the earth, the soil. At the terrible and picturesque festival of the Xalaquia (“She who is clothed with the sand”), the sacrificed virgin was supposed to enrich and recruit with her blood the frame of the worn-out goddess, who had [14]been, says Seler, “merged in the popular imagination with the all-nourisher, the all-begetter, the earth.”14

Perhaps the best evidence that the idea of the Earth-mother was associated with the conception of the earth-dragon is afforded by the colossal stone figure of Coatlicue, one of her manifestations, which once towered above the entrance to the temple of Uitzilopochtli in Mexico and is now housed in the Museo Naçional in that city. In this figure, as in a similar if less massive statue from Tehuacan, the characteristics of the cipactli earth-animal obtrude themselves in a wealth of scale, claw, and tusk, which although frequently described as serpentine, is only partially so, and shows traces that more than one idea was in the mind of the artist who chiselled its symbolic intricacies. In the latter of these sculptures the appearance of ferocity is most marked and is accompanied by the same dragon-like claws on hands and feet. In the mythologies of many lands the Earth-mother is represented as ferocious, insatiable, as slaying those who take part in her amours, as a riotous and outrageous demon, unnatural and destructive in her lusts and appetites, and it would seem that her Mexican phase throws light upon the reasons for this savage wantonness. In the sculpture first alluded to, and in the carving on its base, we can perceive a close resemblance to the earth-monster of the Maya peoples, especially as represented in the carvings at Copan and in the Temple of the Cross at Palenque. These afford almost irrefragable proof of the correctness of the supposition regarding the fusion of the concepts of the earth-beast and the earth-mother which has been outlined.15



(Now in the Museo Naçional, Mexico.)



The deification of the grain is so universal a phenomenon as to require but little explanation, especially in regard to a country where it formed the staple alimentary supply. It appears to have received divine honours in many districts in Mexico and to have been worshipped under a variety of names, but there was little difference between the characters [15]of these several cults, and the absence of this is well exemplified by the readiness with which they amalgamated and the fusion of their central figures.

The deification of the rain, as apart from the idea of a mere rain-god, is perhaps a circumstance of more novelty to the student of Comparative Religion. Tlaloc, the god of rain or moisture, is one of the most striking examples of this process in any mythology. A god of great antiquity, his pluvial character is obvious and undoubted. But he is also the life-giver, the nourisher, who from his home in the green uplands of Tlalocan sends the vivifying rains to fill the deep fissures in the hard, cracked soil of the Valley of Anahuac. In the courtyard of his dwelling stood four jars of water, typifying the four different “kinds” of rainfall which corresponded to the four quarters of the heavens, and these were distributed by his progeny, the Tlaloquê. There is the best evidence that the aspect of Tlaloc was evolved from the idea of the rain itself. His face is formed from the interlacings of two serpents, his face-paint is black and blue, or dirty yellow like the threatening cloud which holds the thunder-shower. The garments he wears are splashed with ulli rubber-gum, evidently intended to symbolize rain-spots. Indeed, his robe is called the anachxechilli or “dripping garment,” and is frequently depicted as set with green gems to represent the sparkling raindrops. Few rain-gods, even the Vedic Indra himself, whom Tlaloc somewhat resembles, are so frankly symbolic of the moisture which falls from above.16 But his serpentine or dragon-like form renders it probable that, although he was regarded in later times as a personification of the rain, in earlier times he was looked upon as the “Water Provider,” the great serpent or dragon which dwelt among the hills and which must be defeated by a hero or demi-god ere it will disgorge the floods which ensure the growth of vegetation.



We may now examine the elements just described for traces [16]of the early constituents of religion. The conception that the earth itself was a monster gifted with life is evidently the outcome of a belief in “animism” or “personalization,” and merits little further notice because of its obvious character. Although the grain was also personalized, there are evidences of its “fetishtic” nature in early times. The great stone figure of Coatlicue already alluded to, besides affording evidence of the dragon-like character of the Earth-mother, exhibits many of the attributes of the primitive fetish manufactured from bundles of maize, large beans representing the eyes and pumpkin pips the teeth, while strips of paper form the mouth and labret. True, these early characteristics have been overlaid by the abounding symbolism of later and more complex ideas—the skin of the sacrificial victim, the serpent-heads, representing perhaps the spouting of that victim’s blood from the severed trunk and the skirt of serpents with which myth credited the goddess—but in the clumsy amorphousness of this wondrously carven block we can readily perceive the outline of the maize-sheaves from which its idea was drawn. Indeed the ears and leaves of the maize-plant descend from underneath the skirt of serpents and decorate the knot which secures it behind.17



(Found in the Calle del Calisco, Mexico.)





More than one of the great gods exhibit the signs of fetishtic origin. Uitzilopochtli, the great tribal patron deity of the Aztecâ of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, was described in tradition as leading them from the mythical northern country of Aztlan in the form of “a little bird.” He is usually represented in the pictorial MSS., where his appearance is infrequent, as wearing a mantle made from humming-birds’ [17]feathers. Later legend spoke of him as the vindicator of his mother, a goddess of vegetation, and as slaying her detractors, his own half-brothers, while in historical times the whole business of war was arranged through the instrumentality of his oracular image and was carried out chiefly in view of the necessity for human sacrifice which characterized his especial cult. But if we examine the roots of the beliefs which cluster around him, we shall find much to convince us that he was, after the entrance of his people into the Valley of Anahuac, identified with the maguey plant, which forms so familiar an object in the Mexican landscape. Extended proof of this lowly origin will be found in the section which deals with the god.

Quite as humble are the beginnings of the god Tezcatlipocâ, perhaps the most universally dreaded among the Mexican deities. Regarding his precise significance nothing very definite has been arrived at by modern authorities. As will be shown later, the early significance of Tezcatlipocâ arises out of his connection with obsidian, which had an especial sanctity for the Mexicans.



In our gropings for the roots of the Mexican faith we must not fail to notice those elements which stand apart from agricultural religion and are eloquent of the concepts of a still earlier time. Agricultural theology is as old as agriculture, and no older. The food-supply of the savage prior to that period depends upon the successful conduct of the chase. His gods are therefore often precisely of the species of animal by hunting which he gains a livelihood, and which he frequently regards as placed at his disposal by a great eponymous beast-god of the same kind.18 Again, for some reason which has never been satisfactorily explained and for which no solution can be found at present, in view of the rather dubious nature of what is known as “totemism,” primitive man adores, or in some manner exalts, certain [18]animals on the flesh of which he does not live. But although gods evolved from animal shapes are frequently to be met with in the Mexican pantheon, I can recall no instance of the taboo of the flesh of any animal as an article of diet in Anahuac, or Mexico proper, although this may be found in the cultus of several of the tribes of the more outlying regions.

Uitzilopochtli has the characteristics of a humming-bird, and, indeed, all of the thirteen gods which governed the hours of the day are figured in the tonalamatl of the Aubin Collection with bird-disguises, and one of the thirteen heavens of the Mexicans is set apart for bird-gods, while certain other deities appear in animal forms. For example, Tepeyollotl is figured as a jaguar, Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl have serpentine characteristics, Itzpapalotl is a butterfly-dragon, Tezcatlipocâ a spider, a jaguar, or a turkey, Mixcoatl takes deer shape, and so on. But some of these forms are probably symbolic rather than “totemic.” The cult of Nagualism,19 a degraded post-Colombian form of the old religion, was insistent upon the connection of its votaries with an animal spirit or familiar from an early period of their lives—that is, to each individual a personal “totem” was assigned, precisely as is the case among many North American tribes at the present time and as among the Lacandone of Yucatan.



Enough has been said in view of the restricted nature of the evidence, to prove that Mexican religion passed through much the same primitive conditions as other faiths. Further evidence on this point will be adduced as the gods are severally described. We may now proceed to examine such proof as we possess of the onward and upward progress of the cult of rain and growth in Mexico. We may, perhaps, imagine the institution of tribal or village rain or grain fetishes, which in course of time would attain godhead by reason of popularity or supposed auspiciousness. The ministers of these would probably bear a strong resemblance [19]to the medicine-men of North American Indian tribes. Warfare undoubtedly played a great part in the fortunes of these local cults. Thus, did the people of a certain tribal god triumph in feud or battle, his worship would almost certainly be enlarged in a territorial sense. But such a triumph would be a small incentive to further conquest when compared with the absolute necessity for war engendered by the holy law that captives must be obtained for purposes of sacrifice to the tribal deities.



The origins of the institution of human sacrifice in Mexico are obscure. Native mythology attributed its invention to a group of earth-goddesses headed by Teteo innan or Tlazolteotl, who in the Calendar year “eight-rabbit” came to the city of Tollan or Tula from the Huaxtec country and, summoning the captives whom they had taken in that land, said to them: “We want to couple the earth with you, we want to hold a feast with you, for till now no battle-offerings have been made with men.”20

This myth is, perhaps, ætiological, but it would seem to have some historical basis. Deeply rooted in the Mexican mind was the idea that unless the gods were abundantly refreshed with human blood they would perish of hunger and old age and would be unable to undertake their hypothetical labours in connection with the growth of the crops. Whence came this idea? Undoubtedly from that process of barbaric reasoning through which Mexican man had convinced himself that the amount of rainfall would be in ratio to the amount of blood shed sacrificially. Seler21 has indicated his belief in such a process of reasoning by stating that “the one was intended to draw down the other, the blood which was offered was intended to bring down the rain upon the fields.” This, then, is the precise nature of the compact between Mexican man and his gods, Do ut des, “Give us rain, and we shall give you blood.” Once this is understood the basic [20]nature of Mexican religion becomes clear, and all the later additions of theology and priestly invention can be viewed as mere excrescences and ornaments upon the simple architecture of the temple of the rain-cult.



The evolution of a higher cultus is frequently identified with a more intimate acquaintance with the heavenly bodies, but it is not generally appreciated or understood by students of Comparative Religion that at least two different kinds of conception underlie the general idea. A luminary, sun, moon, or star, may be deified and achieve godhead by reason of striking natural characteristics, or, on the other hand, it may be identified with some god already known. Thus Mexican myth, as related to Sahagun by the natives, asserted that the gods met at Teotihuacan and told how two of their number, Nanahuatl and Tecciztecatl, sacrificed themselves by leaping into a great fire, becoming the sun and moon respectively. The remaining gods, sacrificing themselves also, “conferred life upon the stars,” that is they became identified with the several stellar constellations, becoming known as the Centzon Mimixcoa and Centzon Uitznaua, or “Four hundred Northerners” and “Four hundred Southerners,” as they occupied the sky on its northern or southern side.22

Although this myth and a version of it current at Texcuco and given by Mendieta in his Historia Ecclesiastica23 both represent Nanahuatl as the sun-god, he was not so known in Mexican popular religion and priestly practice, and was indeed a form of the god Xolotl, a deity of obscure characteristics. Tecciztecatl certainly was regarded as the moon-god, but the solar luminary was known as Tonatiuh or Piltzintecutli. As has already been stated, there are sound reasons for the belief that the solar cult was a relatively [21]late institution in Mexico, although in some parts of the country it may have flourished for generations before it became popular in Tenochtitlan. Slightly elaborating our former reasons for this statement, we may indicate: (1) The name Tonatiuh appears in the myths of the origin of the sun as that of the luminary, but not of a god. (2) The circumstance that Tonatiuh was regarded by the Mexicans as a “heaven,” a Valhalla, to which the warriors slain in sacrifice betook themselves after death, and therefore represented a place of reward, a class of myth which is nearly always of comparatively late origin, and is the fruit of mature speculation. (3) The fact that Tonatiuh was closely identified with the warrior caste and therefore with human sacrifice, which was a late introduction and the paramount reason for the existence of that caste. (4) That the original Calendar was a lunar one. But these and other considerations will be dealt with more fully when we undertake the elucidation of the sun-god’s characteristics.

The amalgamation of the solar cult and of the Quetzalcoatl cult (representing the later and earlier “civilized” elements in Mexican religion) with the rain-cult is not an isolated phenomenon in the world’s religious history. The analogy of the fusion of the Osirian cult of Egypt with that of Ra will occur to everyone in this connection, and as the theology of the priests of the more aristocratic faith became in the event subsidiary in real importance to that of the far more popular Osirian worship, in the same manner the Quetzalcoatl cult, and in some measure the solar, were of much less real significance in Mexican life generally than the earlier popular belief. The solar worship seems to have successfully and naturally identified itself with the rain-cult, as also did the Quetzalcoatl religion. The myth which described Quetzalcoatl as the founder or inventor of the tonalamatl or Book of Fate24 probably records an effort on the part of his priesthood to identify their cult with the popular agricultural religion or to systematize or reduce to symbolic form an idea which until that time had probably [22]existed in an uncertain and chaotic condition in the popular mind. For even if the tonalamatl were introduced from the Zapotec or Mixtec country or the Maya region, as is generally supposed, it required skilful arrangement to make it subserve the purposes of Aztec religion. The priesthood and cultus of Quetzalcoatl were widespread throughout Central America and Mexico, and its ministers appear to have adapted themselves with skill and patience to the conditions of the various regions to which they penetrated, the result of their labours never being quite the same in any two regions. It is remarkable, too, that, probably by reason of the superior erudition and ability of its priesthood, the caste of Quetzalcoatl held chief sway in Mexican ecclesiastical government.25 But a partial, though by no means complete, hostility to human sacrifice and ceremonial cannibalism, a grudging acquiescence in what it had, in all likelihood, denounced in earlier times, gave it in later days a somewhat aloof and separate character.



We must now glance briefly at such evidences as we possess of the distinct racial or cultural elements which assisted in the development of Mexican religion. Three such elements appear to be indicated. It would seem that from an early period a people of settled and agricultural habits occupied the Mexican Plateau. These were probably relatively aboriginal to the Toltecs and may have been of Otomi or Tarascan blood, and to them I would refer the original foundation of a rain-cult having Tlaloc as its principal deity. Tlaloc was unquestionably one of the most venerable gods of Mexico, indeed he is the only god who can be identified with certainty in the remains of pre-Nahuan date at Teotihuacan. Tradition spoke of the finding of an ancient idol representing him by the early Chichimec immigrants.26 At least five of the yearly festivals were celebrated in his honour, and ancient sculptured representations of him have [23]been found in Tarascan territory, in Michoacan, Teotihuacan, Teotitlan, in the Zapotec country and in Guatemala, thus affording irrefragable testimony to his antiquity. Rather later than the culture which probably founded the rain-cult (a religion necessary and indeed inevitable in Mexico) was the Toltec civilization, which regarded Quetzalcoatl as its chiefest divinity, and which probably was brought from the Huaxtec country. But the Toltec are said to have been of Nahua blood, and may have been composed of a Nahua populace and a Huaxtec or proto-Maya aristocracy. The later hordes of Nahua (Chichimecs, Aztecâ, etc.) found these elements already settled upon the land, but brought with them a religion which, if it was destined to have a powerful effect upon the faith of the agricultural folk with whom they came into contact, was also to be quite as strongly influenced by it.

Reverting to the conditions prevailing in Mexico prior to the entry of the Chichimec Nahua, we may regard the rain-cult of the Tlaloc religion as in some measure resembling that of the Pueblo Indians of Northern Mexico and Arizona at the present time. The serpentine character of its principal deity, the appeal for rain which composes the basis of most of the prayers to him, provide strong proofs of such a similarity, and, as has been said, the antiquity of the rain religion is proved by the discovery of early sculptured forms and the facts adduced above. The Tlaloc religion had also been able in some degree to retain its own sacrificial customs, the drowning of victims being practised in addition to the Nahua method of slaughter on the stone of sacrifice. The date of the introduction of the religion of Quetzalcoatl is generally placed at the middle of the eighth century of our era, so that we are perhaps justified in assuming that the faith of the greater portion of Anahuac27 before that time had as its basis the rain-cult, as represented by Tlaloc.

The religious customs of those peoples who were relatively aboriginal to the Nahua support the theory of the predominance of the rain-cult in Mexico from a very early period, [24]and Torquemada states that during seasons of drought the Otomi sought to propitiate the rain-gods by sacrificing a virgin on the top of a hill.28 Espinosa says that the Tarascans sacrificed snakes rather than human beings—possibly for the same reason as the Esquimaux beat their dogs during an eclipse, in order that the Great Dog which causes the undesirable phenomenon may desist, the Tarascans probably killing the reptiles in question in order that the Great Snake might relent and send rain.29 The towns about Chapala paid divine honours to the spirit of the adjacent lake. Late though these survivals may have been at the era of the Conquest, yet they seem to have enshrined the memory of an early rain-cult among the peoples with whom they were found, and many others could be adduced.



The appearance of the Quetzalcoatl cult in Mexico, which would seem to have entered the country at some time about the middle of the eighth century, must have caused very considerable alterations in the simple and probably as yet uninfluenced rain religion which it found in occupancy. From whatever portion of the Isthmian tract it came, one thing regarding it is positively certain—that it introduced into Mexico the rudiments of the calendric computation evolved in Central America. In its phase as imported by the apostles of the Quetzalcoatl religion, it seems fairly certain that the tonalamatl was of the nature of a lunar time-count, and the probabilities are that its protagonists discovered on their arrival in Anahuac that a count similar in character was in use among the priesthood of the Tlaloc worshippers, who as an agricultural people could hardly have been without some such system of computation. The Quetzalcoatl faith, however, was manifestly of a considerably higher status than that which it encountered, as is obvious not only by the numerous and extraordinary traditions [25]regarding the Toltec civilization, but the actual remains it has left. It is clear that, whether it found a calendar or time-count already existing, it placated aboriginal opinion by the amalgamation of the several festivals of the rain-god with its own. The fact that the day-signs of the Mexican calendar or tonalamatl are almost identical with those of the Maya tonalamatl is good proof that the former was developed from the latter; and if only a small proportion of Toltec deities find a place in its monthly festivals, that would seem to be due to the circumstance that later Nahua demands for the inclusion of their tribal deities were acceded to. We may, perhaps, imagine the early tonalamatl of the Quetzalcoatl missionaries to have been similar in form to that of the Maya—that is, it must have been almost wholly concerned with the festivals of deities of a purely agricultural kind.

But the religion of Quetzalcoatl, as observed in his Yucatec form of Kukulkan and his Guatemalan variant of Gucumatz, bore a close resemblance to that of Tlaloc. In Yucatan Quetzalcoatl was regarded by priests and people as the great rain-making priest, the god of moisture, whereas in Mexico he is merely the sweeper of the ways to the Tlaloc deities of rain. This is surely eloquent of the fact that the Tlaloc religion was not only of greater antiquity in Mexico, but that its ministers were disinclined to permit the deity of the new religion to adopt a status similar to that of their own god. With true priestly diplomacy, then, it would seem that they temporized by affording Quetzalcoatl a status as the great rain-making priest, a character which he retained to the last. Myth certainly alludes to Tlaloc as the supplanter of Quetzalcoatl in the affections of the goddess Chalchihuitlicue and as robbing the peaceful culture-hero of the maize-plant which he had discovered. This does not necessarily signify the defeat of an older religion by a more novel faith, but may relate to a successful defence by the more ancient cultus and its absorption of the other.

The theory of the amalgamation of the Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl cults appears to me to be in some measure assisted by [26]the circumstance that the devotees of both placed a high value upon minerals of a green colour. The word chalchihuitl (“green stone”), of such common occurrence in the works of the Spanish authors who wrote on Mexican affairs, must be taken as applying with equal force to jadeite, nephrite, turquoise, emerald, chlormelanite, green quartz, precious serpentine, or, indeed, any mineral of a green shade. A tradition existed that Quetzalcoatl brought the use and manipulation of jadeite into Mexico, but green was a salient hue in the insignia of Tlaloc, and the name of his consort Chalchihuitlicue (“greenstone skirt”) is eloquent of his connection with the several kinds of stones which the Mexicans grouped under the name chalchihuitl. Whatever significance attached to the colour of these stones, apart from their nature as precious stones, whether or not they were symbolic of water or verdure, or metal, or of all of these agencies, which are regarded as so potent by primitive peoples, it is apparent that both cults employed them symbolically or pseudo-scientifically, and it therefore seems probable that each of these religions was originally connected with the worship of water, and therefore the influence associated with and contained in water, and that this belief would render their amalgamation a process of little difficulty.

If, however, such similarities eventually made for the union of the cults, traditions were not lacking regarding their early differences or hostilities. As has been said, myths survived into historical times, which stated that although Quetzalcoatl had succeeded in discovering maize, Tlaloc had stolen it from him and had also succeeded in alienating from him the affection of Chalchihuitlicue, who had originally been regarded as the wife of Quetzalcoatl.30 But these myths are undeniably of late origin. Quetzalcoatl’s status as a celibate god or priest would scarcely allow his name to be connected with matrimony, and it is plain that Chalchihuitlicue, the water goddess, is in a sense merely a personification of the chalchihuitl stone, which was, perhaps, originally one of the symbols of the Quetzalcoatl cult and which later [27]became personified in female form, thus giving rise to the myth in question. Nor do these tales necessarily prove the priority of the Quetzalcoatl cult, which was indeed regarded as responsible for practically all Mexican civilization and which would naturally be credited with the introduction of the use of the sacred stones.



But if the later Nahua immigrants also came to regard these chalchihuitl stones with reverence, at the period of their entrance to the Mexican plateau they paid devotion to a mineral of a very different kind. And this it is which helps us to regard their faith as differing entirely from those other faiths which already flourished in the land. The mineral with which their cult was so closely connected was obsidian, a vitreous natural glass found in the upper volcanic strata of Mexico and northern California, which flakes readily from the core by pressure and gains by mere fracture a razor-like edge of considerable penetrative power. The principal quarry of this volcanic glass was the mountain known as the Cerro de las Navajas (“hill of the knives”) near Timapan, and from this centre the itztli, by which name obsidian was known to the Mexicans, was widely distributed by barter over a very considerable area. There would seem to be proof that this mineral, so suitable for the purposes of the nomadic hunter, was anciently known far to the north of Mexico. The observations of Dr. G. M. Dawson31 in British Columbia satisfied him that trading intercourse was engaged in by the coast tribes with those of the interior along the Frazer River Valley and far to the south. From the remotest times embraced in their native traditions, the Bilqula of Dean Inlet have possessed a trade route by way of the Bella Coola River to the Tinné country, along which trail broken implements and chips of obsidian have been found. Many of the routes in British Columbia have also [28]yielded chips and flakes of obsidian, which, the Tinné Indians stated, was obtained from a mountain near the headwaters of the Salmon River (about long. 125° 40′, lat. 52° 40′), formerly resorted to for the purpose of procuring the mineral. The Indian name of this mountain is Bece, which, Dr. Dawson suggested, is the same with the “Mexican” name for knife, itztli, an etymology which may be of Nahuatlac origin. Mr. T. C. Weston, of the Geological Survey, also noted in 1883 the finding of a flake of obsidian in connection with a layer of buffalo bones occurring in alluvium, and evidently of considerable antiquity, near Fort McLeod, Alberta. The nearest source of such a material is the Yellowstone Park region. The coast tribes of British Columbia have been traders for untold generations, exchanging oolactin oil for such material as they could make implements from, and there seems to be no doubt that the Mound-builders of Ohio, Wisconsin, and Kentucky were also acquainted with obsidian, which they could only have obtained by the process of barter. It was thus either to be found in the regions from which the Nahua are thought to have come, or else obtainable through the channels of trade.

If, then, it be granted that the Chichimec Nahua were acquainted with obsidian and its properties before their entrance upon the Plateau of Anahuac (a hypothesis which is strengthened by the material differences of workmanship between their tools and weapons made of this material and those of the aboriginal peoples of Mexico), sufficient time had elapsed for their development of a cult, which, at the era of the Conquest, exhibited traces of a very considerable antiquity. It was, naturally, as a hunting people that they employed weapons of obsidian. The herds of deer on the flesh of which they chiefly lived roamed the steppes, and proof abounds that the customs of the chase strongly influenced the religious ideas of the early Nahua. Certain of their gods, indeed, seem to have been developed from cervine forms, for among barbarous races the animal worshipped is that which provides the tribe with its staple food, [29]or, more correctly, a great eponymous figure of that animal is adored—for example, the Great Deer, who sends the smaller deer to keep the savage in life. In like manner barbarous fisherfolk are wont to worship the Great Fish, which sends them its progeny or its subjects to serve as food. These deer gods or hunting gods in some way connected with the deer—Itzpapalotl, Itzcuêyê, Mixcoatl, Camaxtli—had also stellar or solar attributes. The deer was slain by the obsidian weapon, which, therefore, came to be regarded as the magical weapon, that by which food was procured. In the course of time it assumed a sacred significance, the hunting gods themselves came to wield it, and it was thought of as coming from the stars or the heavens where the gods dwelt, in precisely the same manner as flint arrowheads were regarded by the peasantry of Europe as “elf-arrows” or “thunder-stones”—that is, as something supernatural, falling from above.

But the obsidian itself became deified as Tezcatlipocâ. I have retained the full proof of this assertion for the section which treats of that god, and must here content myself with a summary of it. The whole cult of obsidian centred in the personality of Tezcatlipocâ. His idol was made of that stone, and in Codex Borbonicus his sandals are painted with the zigzag line of the obsidian snake. In his variant of Itztli (obsidian) he was the god of the sacrificial knife of obsidian, and in certain codices he is represented as having such a knife in place of a foot. From this stone, too, divinatory mirrors were made, one of which was held by the idols of Tezcatlipocâ and served as the mirror or scrying-stone in which he witnessed the doings of mankind. Obsidian, the great life-giver, food-getter, blood-provider, became identified in the form of this god with the cause or breath of life, which, in turn, was identified with the wind, and therefore it came to be classed among those magical stones which in some mysterious manner are considered capable of raising a tempest. In this manner Tezcatlipocâ came to be regarded as a god of wind, and has been identified with the Hurakan of the Quiches of Guatemala, from whose name the expression [30]“hurricane” has been borrowed and who was probably introduced into Central America by the Nahua.

When the nomadic Chichimec adopted an agricultural condition, obsidian had doubtless been regarded as sacred for many generations. It was by virtue of this magical stone that the nourishment of the gods was maintained by the sacrifice of deer; but when the Chichimec came to embrace a more settled existence within an agricultural community where deer must certainly have been more scarce, the nourishment of the gods had necessarily to be maintained by other means. The manner in which this was effected is quite clear. Slaves and war-captives were sacrificed instead of beasts of the chase, and at the festival of Mixcoatl, the greatest of the Chichimec gods, women were sacrificed in the place of deer, and after being slain were carried down the steps of the teocalli, their wrists and ankles tied together precisely in the manner in which a deer is trussed by the hunter.32 The transition from deer-sacrifice to a human holocaust and from the hunting to the agricultural condition is well illustrated by an ancient hymn relating to the goddess Itzpapalotl (“Obsidian Butterfly”), who was associated with Mixcoatl.

“O, she has become a goddess of the melon cactus,

Our Mother Itzpapalotl, the obsidian butterfly.

Her food is on the Nine Plains,

She was nurtured on the hearts of deer,

Our Mother, the earth-goddess.”

The inference in these lines seems to be that whereas Itzpapalotl was formerly a goddess of the Chichimec nomads of the steppes, who sacrificed deer to her, she has now become the deity of the melon-cactus patch and an agricultural community. Her first human victim is also mentioned by Camargo,33 who states that the Chichimec, coming to the province of Tepeueuec, sacrificed a victim to her by shooting him with arrows. Itzpapalotl has more than one cervine attribute.34 [31]

Mexican tradition makes it very plain that obsidian, because of its blood-procuring properties, came to be regarded as the source of all life, as the very principle of existence. Tonacaciuatl, the creative goddess, as we shall see, gave birth to an obsidian knife from which sprang sixteen hundred demigods who peopled the earth,35 and the infant which the goddess Ciuacoatl leaves in the cradle in the market-place undergoes metamorphosis into an obsidian knife.36 As the Codices show, grain is often pictured in the form of the obsidian knife of sacrifice. Just as in many myths, both in the Old World and the New, flint was regarded as the great fertilizer because of its supposed connection with the lightning, so was obsidian. Thus all the elements which go to make for growth and life were regarded as having a connection with this mineral, even the sun itself, as we shall see, being identified with the Mirror of Tezcatlipocâ. The idea that the sun could not live without human blood was a purely Nahua conception, arising out of an earlier belief that it must be nourished upon the blood of beasts. Of the transitional process abundant proof exists. The hunter’s obsidian weapon which supplied the necessary pabulum became in turn the weapon of the warrior who procured victims for the holocaust, and the sacred knife of the priest who sacrificed them to the deity. Obsidian was thus chiefly the war weapon and the sacrificial weapon, but the traditions relating to it refer to practically all the offices of human art, industry, and activity generally.

Lest this hypothesis seem overstrained, analogies may be indicated. That which is initially sacred in a primitive cult frequently comes to have interrelations with the whole environment of its deities. Thus the worship of the oak by the Druids appears to have given an oak-like virtue to the oracular birds which dwelt in its branches, to the soil from which it grew, to the sky above it, to the priests who ministered to it and to the sacred implements they employed. The same may be said of the oak-cult of Zeus and the vine-cult [32]of Dionysos. The numerous traditions which cluster round the ceremonial use of jade in China are eloquent of such a tendency. Thus trees, plants, animals, and natural objects are all in a manner identified and connected with the beautiful jade stone in its character as an imparter of vitality. Thus in the great worship of the gods whose cult was connected with obsidian, well-nigh everything with which it had interrelations came to partake of the nature of obsidian—grain, the earth, the atmosphere, the sun, the stars, the priesthood, blood, and rain.

The process by which this Nahua cult became amalgamated with those of Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl seems fairly clear. Upon their settlement on the Plateau of Anahuac it is plain from the terms of certain myths that the Nahua did not regard the cult of Quetzalcoatl in any friendly manner. Tezcatlipocâ is spoken of as driving him from the country, and it is probable that to begin with a certain amount of persecution may have been inflicted upon his adherents. But the Nahua would undoubtedly come to recognize the value of the calendar system connected with his cult, and it is clear that they did so from the fact that we find included in it certain of their principal gods. The final process of amalgamation probably took place during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, for, as seen at the Conquest period, the union of the three great cults of Mexico must have occupied several centuries. Such a duration of time was necessary for the development of a homogeneous and involved symbolism, which was obviously based on a tacit recognition of the unity of the Mexican faith. Initial disparities seem to be indicated principally by ancient traditions, of which perhaps the most notable was that which spoke of the different heavens of the three original cults, the Tlalocan of the worshippers of Tlaloc, the Tlapallan or over-sea paradise of the Quetzalcoatl cult, and the Sun-house or Valhalla of the Nahua. A striking proof of the adjustment of the chronology of the three cults may perhaps be found in the myths which speak of the existence of several “suns” or ages prior to the historical era, the “rulers” or patrons of [33]which were, according to the most trustworthy sources, Tezcatlipocâ, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, and Chalchihuitlicue, goddess of the Tlaloc cult.37

The attribution of higher and abstract qualities to the gods was probably of comparatively late origin. Especially is this to be observed in the case of Tezcatlipocâ, to whom, at the period of the Conquest, we find attributed such a bewildering array of qualities, both concrete and abstract, lofty and the reverse, as would seem to indicate that, had European influences failed to penetrate to Anahuac, his worship might have reached the monotheistic stage, and in time have overshadowed that of the other gods of the Mexican pantheon. Undoubtedly, too, the priesthood, and probably the nobility, fostered a more esoteric and loftier type of religion than was understood of the people, and good proof (which is by no means confined to the rather doubtful circumstance that Nezahualcoyotl of Texcuco built a temple to the “Unknown God”) is forthcoming that theological questions of greater or less complexity had begun to exercise the minds of the hierarchy.



At the epoch of the Conquest it is abundantly clear that the Aztecâ had succeeded in establishing their tribal cult, enriched with the beliefs of the peoples they had conquered, over a wide area. They had adopted into their pantheon such deities of the surrounding tribes as appealed to their imagination, or were too powerful to be ignored, and actually “imprisoned” many others of lesser puissance, whose idols were kept in confinement in a building within the precincts of the great temple at Mexico-Tenochtitlan.38

Within the historical period but little radical difference existed between the several Mexican cults, which all appear to have been affected by a common influence. We observe, therefore, the phenomenon of certain early religious forms [34]originating under common influences, separated for centuries and profoundly altered by immigrant forces, at length brought together again by the amalgamating powers of conquest under the influence of one central and paramount cult, only, when once more united, to find a common destruction at the hands of the ministers of an alien and invading faith.

At the period of the Conquest, then, we find the Mexican religion relatively homogeneous in character, with a widespread ascendancy, its provincial activities exhibiting differences of little more than local kind. Even in its most far-flung manifestations, indeed, it never showed such variations as permit us to say that the most dissimilar or distant variety of the cult entirely differed from the metropolitan exemplar.39 This being so, we are as fully justified in speaking of a Mexican religion as we are in alluding to an Italic or a Hellenic religion, and perhaps more so than in extending the analogy to Egypt, where anything like homogeneity in either theology or popular worship appears never to have been attained. We find, then, that the religion of ancient Mexico, as known at the Conquest period, was the outcome of later religious and ethical impulses brought to bear upon a simple rain-cult, which, judging from the atmospheric conditions essential to it, must have been indigenous to the country. Although the cults of its several deities still retained some measure of distinctiveness, all had long before been amalgamated in what was really a national faith. There are signs, too, that a fully developed pantheon had been evolved, which mirrored an elaborate social system in caste, rank, and guild, but the mythical material from which this might have been reconstructed is only partly available. We find, too, that practically every god in the Mexican hierarchy, whatever his original status, was in some manner connected with the rain-cult. Indeed, the rain-cult is the central and coalescing factor in Mexican religion, its nucleus and foundation. As might be expected, most of the deities of agricultural [35]growth appear to be of either Toltec or alien origin. Thus, Chicomecoatl was Toltec, while Tlazolteotl, Xochiquetzal, Xilonen, Cinteotl, and Xipe were all alien deities of the older settled peoples, but what their relationship to the three great cults of Mexico may have been is not apparent. Most of these deities appear in the tonalamatl, so that their worship must have been adopted at a comparatively early date.

Students of religious phenomena not infrequently show distaste for the deeper consideration of the Mexican faith, not only because of the difficulties which beset the fuller study of this interesting phase of human belief in the eternal verities, but also, perhaps, because of the “diabolic” reputation which it has achieved, and the grisly horrors to which it is thought those who examine it must perforce accustom themselves. It is certainly not the most obviously prepossessing of the world’s religions. Yet if a due allowance be made for the earnestness of its priests and people in the strict observance of a system the hereditary burden of which no one man or generation could hope to remove, and the religion of the Aztecâ be viewed in a liberal and tolerant spirit, those who are sufficiently painstaking in their scrutiny of it will in time find themselves richly rewarded. Not only does it abound in valuable evidences for the enrichment of the study of religious science and tradition, but by degrees its astonishing beauty of colour and wealth of symbolic variety will appeal to the student with all the enchantment of discovery. The echoes of the sacred drum of serpent-skin reverberating from the lofty pyramid of Uitzilopochtli, and passing above the mysterious city of Tenochtitlan with all the majesty of Olympic thunder, will seem not less eloquent of the soul of a vanished faith than do the memories of the choral chants of Hellas. And if the recollection of the picturesque but terrible rites of this gifted, imaginative, and not undistinguished people harrows the feelings, does it not arouse in us that fatal consciousness of man’s helplessness before the gods, which primitive religion invariably professes and which reason almost seems to uphold? [36]

1 Motecuhzoma described his faith to Cortéz in almost precisely similar terms. See Bernal Diaz, True History of the Conquest of Mexico, Maudslay’s translation. London, 1908. 

2 Especially in The Civilization of Ancient Mexico, 1911. 

3 See Seler, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, passim. 

4 See Appendix, The Tonalamatl and the Solar Calendar. 

5 A Study of Maya Art, 1913, p. 225. 

6 See his commentaries on the several codices, passim. 

7 See Torquemada, bk. vi, c. 24. 

8 Sahagun, III, c. 4; Anales de Quauhtitlan

9 On Quetzalcoatl generally see Sahagun, passim; Torquemada, vol. i, p. 254; Motolinia, tom. i, pp. 10–11; and Mendieta, passim. 

10 Consult bibliography to chapter ix of H. B. Alexander’s North American Mythology. Boston, 1916. 

11 Sahagun, bk. vi, c. viii. 

12 See appendix on Tonalamatl

13 See chapter on Cosmogony. 

14 Seler, Codex Vaticanus B, 1902–3, p. 174. 

15 In many cosmogonies—Hindu, Babylonian, Chinese, Scandinavian, for example—the earth is formed from the remains of a slain monster or living being. 

16 See section on Tlaloc. 

17 Payne in his History of the New World called America, vol. i, 1892, pp. 424 ff., was the first to indicate the “fetishtic” nature of this statue, which he identifies as that of Chicomecoatl. He pours the vials of scorn upon “the Italian dilettante Boturini” for his identification of the block as Uitzilopochtli-Teoyaomiqui. He further states that it “has no limbs,” but its large, scaly dragon-legs are at least as obvious as his lack of success in giving the sculpture its proper name. 

18 See my article “Cherokees” in Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, vol. iii, p. 504. 

19 See Brinton, Nagualism

20 Anales de Quauhtitlan (Brasseur, Hist. Nat. Civ. de Mex., vol. i, pp. 400 ff.). 

21 Codex Vaticanus, 1902–3, p. 75. 

22 For much Mexican star-lore of value see Seler’s Venus Period in the Picture-Writings of the Borgia Codex Group, translated into English in Bulletin 28 of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 355 ff. For the myth see section on Cosmogony. 

23 Bk. ii, c. 4. 

24 See Appendix on Tonalamatl

25 Sahagun, bk. ii, Appendix. 

26 Clavigero, Storia del Messico, vol. i, bk. vi, p. 257 (English translation). 

27 The native name for Mexico, signifying “Place upon the water.” 

28 Monarq. Ind., tom. ii, p. 525. 

29 Hist. Mex., tom. i, pp. 291–2. 

30 See the section on Tlaloc. 

31 Notes on the Shushwap People of British Columbia, “Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada,” 1891, vol. ix, sect. ii. Montreal, 1892. 

32 Sahagun, Hist. Gen., bk. ii, c. xiv. 

33 Hist. de Tlaxcallan, c. v. 

34 See Section on Itzpapalotl. 

35 See chapter on Cosmogony. 

36 See Sahagun, bk. i, c. 6. 

37 See chapter on Cosmogony. 

38 Torquemada, bk. viii, c. 13. 

39 Although some of the old authors, Bernal Diaz for instance, say explicitly that the gods of one city were not recognized in another, in effect they were, only under other names. 




Accounts of the creation of the world and of man, even as handed down to us by those writers on Mexican mythology who had the best opportunities for collecting them, are prone to vagueness, and differ so materially one from another that we will probably not be in error if we impute their inconsistencies to a variety of local origins. As regards the agencies by whom the creation or reconstruction of the earth was accomplished, we are not in doubt, for certain passages in the Interpretative Codices find almost exact corroboration in the creation story contained in the Popol Vuh, the mythic book of the Quiche of Guatemala (which was unknown to the interpreters of the Mexican Codices), as well as in similar works of Maya origin.

The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis states that the god Tonacatecutli, “when it appeared good to him, breathed and divided the waters of the heavens and the earth, which at first were all confused together, and disposed them as they now are.”1 Further, “he breathed and begot Quetzalcoatl, not by connection with a woman, but by his breath alone.”2 The first of these deities, and his female counterpart Tonacaciuatl, are almost certainly spoken of in the Popol Vuh as “the serpents covered with green feathers,” which, farther on in the Quiche work, are alluded to as Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, gods who are generally admitted to be the same as the Mexican Oxomoco and Cipactonal, who, again, are either identical with or closely connected with Tonacatecutli and his spouse.3 Quetzalcoatl, [37]too, appears in the Popol Vuh as Gucumatz, a known Quiche equivalent or translation of his name, for as “wind” or “breath” he was also thought of as “spirit” or “life,” and probably his fecundating efficacy as a water-bearing god was also taken into consideration. In the Sahagun MS. in the Academia de la Historia, Madrid, is a passage which reads when translated: “They say that he made, created, and formed us whose creatures we are, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, and he made the heaven, the sun, the earth.” The Anales de Quauhtitlan or Codex Chimalpopca,4 too, relates how Quetzalcoatl created the four classes of humanity, the men of the four “suns” or periods of the world, and how men were made by him on the day “7 wind,” and, as we shall see, the work of creation in detail is alluded to in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas, as effected by him and by Tezcatlipocâ. Lastly, we find in the Creative Council of the Quiche heaven, Hurakan, who is none other than Tezcatlipocâ, a deity closely connected with Quetzalcoatl in at least one Mexican creation myth.



Having thus satisfied ourselves regarding the creative personnel of the Mexican pantheon, and preserving further proof of the constructive character of certain of these deities until we come to discuss them individually, we may proceed to examine such myths as tell of the formation of the world. In the belief of the Mexicans the earth was not destined to receive its present inhabitants, although occupied by man-like beings, until it had undergone a series of cataclysms or partial destructions, regarding the precise incidence and even the number of which there is a marked difference of opinion on the part of the older authorities.

The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus states that “in the first age” (or “Sun,” as these periods were called by the Nahua of Mexico) “water reigned until at last it destroyed [38]the world.… This age, according to their computation, lasted 4,008 years, and on the occurrence of that great deluge they say that men were changed into fish, named Tlacamichin, which signifies men-fish.”5 The second age, he tells us, lasted for 4,010 years and the world was ended by the force of violent winds, the catastrophe concluding by the transformation of men into apes. The third age endured for 4,801 years and ended in a universal fire, and in the fourth, which occupied 5,042 years, the human race, which had never ceased to transmit a few survivors from one of these epochs to the next, was almost destroyed by famine.

In his Historia Chichimeca6 Ixtlilxochitl calls the first of these epochs Atonatiuh (Water Sun), in which all men perished by a great inundation. The second epoch, Tlachitonatiuh (Earth Sun), ended with violent earthquakes. In this age lived gigantic beings called Quinames. The third epoch was Ecatonatiuh, or “Sun of Wind,” in which edifices, trees, and men were nearly all destroyed by hurricanes, those who remained being changed into creatures of an intelligence so low as to be almost indistinguishable from monkeys.7 The Texcucan chronicler does not furnish us with the name of the present age in his Historia, nor in his Relaciones,8 where, however, we receive fuller information regarding the first three epochs, which he succeeds in carelessly transposing, giving the third the second place.



(Now in the Museo Naçional, Mexico.)

Camargo9 would almost appear to have been indebted to Ixtlilxochitl for his version of the creation myth, but he seems to have been under the impression that only two of the epochs were ended. That three past cataclysms had taken place and that four ages in all had occurred is, indeed, the most generally favoured version of the story, but some [39]authorities seem to have been of the opinion that a myth was current among the Mexican people which stated that no less than five epochs had taken place in the history of the world. Gama, Gomara, and Humboldt share this view, and Mendieta is of opinion that five “suns” existed before the present era, all of which were of such noxious character that the inhabitants of the earth languished and perished through their baneful influence.

But we have more stable authority for the sequence of these “suns” or epochs. It is probable that this cataclysmic theory was in vogue among the Nahua for generations before it received a more or less definite form, and, indeed, Veytia10 and Ixtlilxochitl11 state that the number of suns was agreed upon at a meeting of native astronomers within traditional memory. We are probably following the official version of the myth if we accept that to which the so-called calendar-stone of Mexico gives sculptured form and which may be interpreted as follows: While the world was still wrapped in primeval gloom, the god Tezcatlipocâ transformed himself into the sun. This epoch, which was known as Naui Ocelotl or “Four Jaguar,” ended in the destruction of humanity and the race of giants who then inhabited the earth by fierce jaguars. Quetzalcoatl became the second sun, and the age of Naui Eecatl or “Four Wind” ended in violent hurricanes, during which men were transformed into monkeys. Tlaloc then took upon himself the task of providing the world with light, and his epoch of Naui Quiauitl or “Four Rain” came to an end by means of a deluge of fire. The goddess Chalchihuitlicue represented the sun of the age Naui Atl, “Four Water,” at the end of which there descended a deluge in which men were changed into fishes. Later there appeared the present sun, Naui Olin, which, it was believed, would end in earthquakes.



The second chapter of the Historia de los Mexicanos por [40]sus Pinturas, a précis of the opening chapters of which is given farther on, states that the gods “created a great fish which is called the Cipactli, which is like the cayman [alligator], and of this fish they made the earth.”

The description of the earth-monster, as it appears in the Codices, as an alligator or sword-fish is, however, by no means convincing. Moreover, the sculptured representation of the earth-monster in Maya art, especially in such examples as that from Copan, is essentially dragon-like in form, and there would seem to be little difficulty in classing the Cipactli as an earth-dragon, similar in nature to the cosmic monster of Chinese art and mythology. The fact, too, that in the native paintings we frequently observe the sun-god in the act of being swallowed by the Cipactli strengthens the analogy with the Chinese example.

The Jaguar-sun.

The Jaguar-sun.

The Wind-sun.

The Wind-sun.




The precise manner in which the earth was peopled by the gods is also a subject concerning which great variety of opinion is shown by the older writers on Mexican beliefs, and, as in the case of the cosmogonic myth proper, this is probably to be accounted for by local variation. Mendieta12 is our authority for a conception which appears to have gained wide currency in many parts of Mexico. There is good evidence that he in turn received it from Andres de Olmos, a friar of great literary integrity and linguistic capability, whose writings we may regard with credence and confidence. The myth opens in the heavenly abode of the gods Citlalatonac and Citlalicue, who were also known as Ometecutli and Omecihuatl or Tonacatecutli and Tonacaciuatl, and whom the Mexicans regarded as the eventual sources of all human life. The goddess gave birth to a flint knife, probably such an implement as was employed for the purpose of human sacrifice. The circumstance appeared of bad omen to her sons, who, scandalized by it, cast the flint earthwards. It fell in the vicinity of Chicomoztoc, the Place of Seven Caves, [41]and immediately there sprang from it an army of sixteen hundred gods, who, discontented with their condition, dispatched Tlotli, the Hawk, as an ambassador to the heavenly sphere to ask as a boon that the power of creating men might be conferred upon them, as it was not fitting that beings of divine origin should suffer the miseries of earthly toil. Their mother, who also seems to have been perplexed by the manner of their birth, replied in no very gracious terms. But in order to relieve their wretchedness, she directed them to seek the good offices of Mictlantecutli, Lord of the Realm of the Dead, from whom, she suggested, they might obtain some of the relics of past generations, which, if subjected to the magical influence of sacrifice, might provide the beginnings of a new earth-race. After consultation, the earth-gods chose Xolotl13 as their messenger to the place of the dead, and after an interview with its terrible ruler, he succeeded in obtaining a bone of superhuman dimensions. Fearful of treachery at the hands of Mictlantecutli, Xolotl turned to flee, but was pursued and, falling in his flight, broke in pieces the precious relic he carried. These he hastily gathered up and succeeded in quitting the subterranean world without mishap. Returning to his brothers, he placed the bone in a vessel, and each of the earth-gods, drawing blood from his own body, dropped it into the receptacle. For three days nothing occurred to justify their hopes; but on the fourth the gory mass stirred, and from its depths there emerged a human boy. Satisfied with the experiment, the gods repeated it, and at the end of another four days a girl arose from the vessel. Xolotl was appointed guardian to the children so miraculously created,14 and nourished them upon the milk-like juice of the maguey plant. They throve apace, and in course of time became [42]man and woman, the progenitors of the entire human race, who differ in bulk and stature as the pieces of the rescued bone varied in size and shape. Thus were born Iztac Mixcoatl the first man and Ilanceuitl or Ilamatecutli, his wife.

The Water-sun.

The Water-sun.

The Rain-sun.

The Rain-sun.




These deeds had, however, passed in a world of darkness, for as yet the sun had not risen. A council of the gods was assembled at Teotihuacan, a locality of great sanctity, and seated round a council fire, it considered the means by which the luminary might be created. It was resolved that he who first cast himself into the fire should be transformed into the sun. The offer was accepted by Nanahuatzin, who was afflicted with a painful disease, had therefore found life intolerable and did not dread the transformation. Nothing happened for some time after his self-immolation, and the waiting gods began to make wagers with one another regarding the place in the heavens where the sun would be likely to show itself. None of them had considered it probable that it would rise in the East, and when at last it became visible in that quarter, it was as a stationary mass which directed such scorching rays upon them that they dispatched the hawk messenger to request it to depart. Whether or not Nanahuatzin in his rôle of Sun-god was wroth with his brothers for personal reasons, he replied that it was his intention to destroy them utterly. A great fear seized upon some, whilst others grew angry and caught up their weapons. Among the latter was Citli, who fitted an arrow to his bow and fired at the transformed Nanahuatzin. The sun-god avoided the shaft. He could not, however, evade all those which followed, but seizing one, cast it back at Citli, whom it transfixed and slew. Fiercer became the heat, until at length the gods could tolerate it no longer, and felt that it behoved them to perish by each other’s hands rather than by the ignoble death of suffocation. They agreed that Xolotl should dispatch them one by one, cutting open their breasts, and this holocaust he undertook, finally slaying himself. Before perishing, the gods left their raiment to their personal [43]servants, of which each retainer made a bundle, wrapping his master’s clothing round a stick, placing a small green stone inside to serve as a heart, and naming it after the god to whom it had belonged. Olmos himself encountered such a relic in Tlalmanalco, exhibiting evidences of very considerable age.15 On the death of the gods the sun began to move in the heavens, and a god, Tecciztecatl, who had hidden himself in a cavern when Nanahuatzin leaped into the fire, now emerged from his hiding-place and took the form of the moon. The retainers carried the bundles from place to place, and one of them, the servant of Tezcatlipocâ, coming to the sea-shore, had a vision of his deceased master, who commanded him to betake himself to the house of the sun and to bring him singers and players of instruments to assist in the celebration of a festival. To enable the messenger to travel to the Sun-House, the whale, the siren, and the tortoise were asked to form themselves into a bridge which might reach the abode of the luminary. The servant crossed it, singing sweetly as he went, and his song was heard by the Sun, who straitly commanded his retainers not to respond to it on being approached by the singer. This some of them failed to do, and returning with the messenger, took with them the necessary instruments wherewith to celebrate the festival of Tezcatlipocâ.

The people of Texcuco, says Olmos, naturally placed the occurrence of these events within their own boundaries, but they added (according to a pictorial manuscript which they showed the friar) that the Sun shot a dart into the ground and at this spot the first man arose. He was imperfect, being formed only from the armpits upward. He was followed by a woman. Mendieta suppresses the remainder of the myth because of its Rabelaisian details, but we may conclude that from these twain humanity was descended.

Sahagun’s account of the creation of the sun and moon16 [44]differs somewhat from the foregoing and is as follows: The gods met at Teotihuacan, and asked one another: “Who will undertake the task of lighting the world?” to which one god called Tecciztecatl (he who was to become the Moon-god) replied: “That will I.” They cast about for still another member of the pantheon to undertake the duty. At last they fixed upon one who was afflicted with a terrible disease who at once agreed to the accomplishment of their desires. During four days the gods prepared for the occasion by acts of penitence, then they kindled a fire on a rock named Teotexcalli (high place of the gods). Meanwhile Tecciztecatl made offerings of many precious things, rich feathers and golden ornaments. The spines with which the gods ceremonially pricked themselves were like the spines of the maguey, but were made from precious stones, and the copal they used for incense was of no common sort. The victim, who was called Nanahuatl, offered nine green reeds, joined three and three, instead of the ordinary branches and balls of grass and spines of the maguey generally employed for such ceremonies, and these he saturated with his own blood. In place of copal he offered up the scabs of his sores. The gods built a tower for each of the two divinities who had undertaken the illumination of the world, and performed penance for four days and four nights. They then strewed the ground with the branches, flowers, and other objects of which they had made use during that time. On the night following, shortly before midnight, they brought Tecciztecatl his ornaments. These consisted of a plumage called aztacomitl, made of herons’ feathers, and a jacket of light stuff, whilst to Nanahuatl they gave a crown of paper called amatzontli (paper hair) and a stole and cincture, likewise of paper. Midnight having arrived, all the gods ranged themselves in the place called Teotexcalli, where the fire had burned for four days. They arranged themselves into two files, one on either side of the fire, and Tecciztecatl was requested to cast himself into the burning mass. Terrified by the intense heat which he experienced as he advanced towards the flames, the god recoiled; again and again he essayed [45]to leap into the fire, but his courage failed him. Then the gods called upon Nanahuatl, who, on being summoned, immediately cast himself into the blazing mass, where he at once began to crackle “like meat that roasts.” Tecciztecatl, ashamed of his former conduct, now followed him into the conflagration, and it was said that the eagle entered the flames at the same time, which is the reason assigned for its dark plumage. The tiger or ocelot followed, and was only partly burnt, as is witnessed by its spots. It is evident that this myth applied in some manner to the Aztec military brotherhoods of quauhtli and ocelotl, who wore the eagle and ocelot insignia respectively.17

The gods had already waited some time to witness the resurrection of Nanahuatl, when they beheld the heavens commence to grow red. Terrified at the sight, they fell upon their knees and could not comprehend whence the light had arisen. The glow of sunrise illuminated every point of the compass, but many fixed their gaze upon the East, feeling that in that direction the luminary would first be sighted. Those who gazed thither were Quetzalcoatl (also called Eecatl), Totec, and Tezcatlipocâ. Others called Mimixcoa were innumerable, and there were also present four goddesses, Tiacapan, Teicu, Tlacoeua, and Xocoyotl. When the sun rose at length he appeared very red, and no one might look upon him without being blinded by his rays. The moon appeared at the same time, and gave forth light equal to that of the orb of day. But the gods thought it ill that the moon should be as bright as the sun, and therefore one of them took a rabbit and cast it at the face of the moon, so that it remained there to dim its splendour. Although the sun and moon were raised above the earth, they remained stationary. They spoke mockingly to their erstwhile companions.

“How now,” they said, “do you wish to remain in mortal shame? Die all of you and confer life upon the stars.” The wind then offered to discharge the function of immolating [46]the gods and slew them one by one. Only Xolotl refused to die, and begged for life, weeping so sorely that his eyes dropped out. When those who were to make the sacrifice laid hold of him he fled and concealed himself in a field of maize, where he changed himself into a stalk of that plant having two feet (roots) such as the peasants call xolotl. But having been recognized among the maize, he took flight a second time and hid himself among some maguey plants, where he changed himself into the double maguey plant which is called mexolotl (maguey of Xolotl). On being discovered a third time he took flight once more and threw himself into the water, where he took the form of a fish called axolotl.18 But in this last disguise he was caught and killed.

When the gods had been slain the wind commenced to whistle and blow with violence, so that at length the burning globe of the sun began to drift over the heavens. But the moon still remained at rest, and in this manner they became separated, so that their habit is to rise at different hours.

The Anales de Quauhtitlan, after the manner of the Book of Genesis, states that the world and all therein were created in seven days. In the sign Tochtli the earth was created, the firmament was erected in Acatl, animals came into being in Tecpatl, and man was made out of dust or ashes on Ehecatl, the seventh day, but completed and perfected by Quetzalcoatl, who appears to have played the part of a demiurgos as regards the human race. There can be little doubt that this myth has been sophisticated, or is a later invention. The Anales de Quauhtitlan, however, sustains the accounts of Olmos and Sahagun regarding the creation of the sun and moon.

Camargo, speaking of the Tlaxcaltec cosmology,19 says that the Indians did not believe that the world had been created, but that it had been produced by chance. Space, according [47]to their philosophy, has always existed. Veytia20 states that the Mexicans believed the world and man to have been created by Tloque Nahuague (Tonacatecutli). Boturini credits the creation to the same first cause, and passages in Sahagun lead us to believe that both Tezcatlipocâ and Quetzalcoatl were regarded as sub-creative spirits, who were either partly or wholly responsible for the existence of the universe. Clavigero expressly states that the former was “the soul of the world, the creator of heaven and earth and lord of all things.”21 Mendieta,22 a much older authority, gives it as his opinion that the making and moulding of the world was the handiwork of several gods, but especially of Tezcatlipocâ, Uitzilopochtli, and an obscure deity, Ocelopuchtli, who equates with the ocelot alluded to in Sahagun’s account.

Sahagun, it will be observed, disappoints us in his account of the creation, which he confines to the details of the appearance of the sun and moon and is silent concerning the creation of gods and men. This is strange when the facilities he had for the collection of myths are considered, but as a priest, it is evident that he is more interested in points of ritual than in religious narrative, which, he evidently agrees with Curtin’s French-Canadian, is to be regarded as “chose d’absurde.”23 Even although we possess the sonorous warning of Prescott and the objections of others to bias us against Ixtlilxochitl, there is little ground for regarding his version of the Mexican creation story as being other than he received it from sources which would have been unspeakably precious had he made better use of them as regards other subjects.

Regarding Ixtlilxochitl’s version of the creation myth, that the creator Tloque Nahuague, the maker of the planets, brought into being a man and a woman from whom all human beings are descended, we have no parallel in Mexican myth, nor, indeed, in American myth, if we accept that of [48]the creation of man current in ancient Peru, and it is probable that, so far as his version of the creation of humanity is concerned, Ixtlilxochitl had encountered a myth which was either of relatively late origin, or had arisen out of the ideas engendered by contact with Christianity. This is, however, by no means to say that Ixtlilxochitl himself invented the account.24



The Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas is a manuscript of such importance to the study of Nahua Cosmogony that a short précis of its earlier chapters may, perhaps, be found of value in this place.

“Tonacatecutli and his consort Tonacaciuatl, who had existed from the beginning, resolved to undertake the work of creation. They had four sons, the eldest of whom was Tlactlauque-Tezcatlipocâ, or Camaxtli. He was born of a red colour. The second son, Yayanque-Tezcatlipocâ, was greater and more powerful than the rest. He was born black. The third was Quetzalcoatl or Yacatecutli, and the fourth Omitecilt, and for another name Magueycoatl, and the Mexicans called him Ochilobi (Uitzilopochtli), for he was left-handed and was chief god to those of Mexico, and their war-god. Of these four, Tezcatlipocâ was the wisest, was in all places, and knew the hearts and thoughts of everyone. And for this he was called Moyocoya, “he who is all-powerful, and who has all those things without which nothing can be.” Uitzilopochtli was born without flesh, but with bones,25 and in this state he remained for six hundred years, during which time the gods made nothing.

“After six hundred years these four god-like brothers were born, and all came together to order what was to be and the law that they should hold. They made a half-sun in the midst, the other luminaries great and small, [49]and a man and woman named Oxomuco and Cipactonal, commanding him to till the earth and her to spin and weave. From these were born the maceguales or labourers. And to Cipactonal the gods gave certain grains of maize that she might keep them and use them for charms and riddles, and since that day women have used them for that purpose.

“The gods then gave this pair the days of the calendar and divided them into months, twenty days to each month, and three hundred and sixty days in the year. Then they made Mictlantecutli and Mictecaciuatl, man and wife, to be the gods of the infernal regions. Later they made the heavens and space and the water, and then a great fish like the cayman, which is called cipactli, from which they shaped the earth. In order to create the gods of water, all four gods joined together and made Tlaloc and his wife Chalchihuitlicue.

“These gods of water have their place in the four quarters, and in the middle of it was a great court, where there were four tubs of water. One water is very good, and this rains when they grow grain and wheat. And these gods of water have many dwarfish servants in the said house, and these have pitchers, with which they take the water from the tubs, and sticks in the other hand. When the gods of water wish them to go to the boundaries, they take the pitchers and sticks and sprinkle the water as they are told. And when it thunders, they crack the pitchers with the sticks, and when it lightens they break off a portion of the pitcher.

“All the aforesaid things had been made and created without taking any account of the years, and without respect of time. The first man and woman had a son called Piltzintecutli, who desired a wife with whom to live. So the gods made of the hairs of Xochiquetzal a woman, and thus was the first marriage made. This having been done, all the four gods saw that the half-sun which had been created gave but little light. And they saw that they must make another half, because the existing light was not able to illuminate the world.… Then Tezcatlipocâ became the sun-bearer. And the gods created the giants, who were very [50]great men and of much strength.… And they called the age in which Tezcatlipocâ was the sun the age of boasting and of tigers, for the giants gorged and ate and wanted for nothing. And when thirteen times fifty and two years were passed, Quetzalcoatl was the sun. Then Tezcatlipocâ took a great stick and struck upon the water, and turning himself into a tiger, went out to kill the giants. Afterwards he appeared in the sky, for they said that the ursa major sank in the water, because it is Tezcatlipocâ.… During the time Quetzalcoatl was the sun another count went on, which, having ended, Tezcatlipocâ cast out Quetzalcoatl, who became the wind, which, when it blew on the maceguales, turned them into monkeys and apes. And there was for sun Tlaloc, which lasted three hundred and sixty-four years.… During these years Quetzalcoatl rained fire on the sun, and then created as the sun his wife Chalchihuitlicue. She was the sun for three hundred and twelve years.

“In the last year in which Chalchihuitlicue was the sun, it rained so heavily that all the maceguales were turned into fishes. And when it had ceased to destroy, the heavens fell upon the earth and the great rain began, the which year was tochtli. And the gods ordered four roads to be made to the middle of the earth for them, and raised the heavens, and to help them in holding them up they created four men, called Cotemuc, Yzcoadt, Yzmali, and Tenesuchi, who were created by Tezcatlipocâ and Quetzalcoatl. Then they made great trees, Tezcatlipocâ one which was called tazcaquavlt, which is to say “tree of the mirror,” and Quetzalcoatl one which was called queçalhuesuch, and with the help of the men they had made and the trees the gods held up the heavens and the stars and made a road in the sky.

“After the heavens had been raised, in the second year after the flood, which was acatl, Tezcatlipocâ pronounced his name, and there appeared the dumb Mixcoatl, ‘Serpent of the Clouds.’ And they paint him as a serpent. And they drew fire from fire-sticks, which they called heart of the fire. In the seventh year after the flood was born Cinteotl, the first son of the first man, who was a god, and [51]his wife a goddess, and he was made of the hairs of the mother goddess, and it was said that he was not able to die. And in the eighth year after the flood the gods created the maceguales, like those that were before. When the first three years of this group of years had passed, in the first of the next group all the four gods came together, and said that because the earth had no light, and was dark, and that because there was no fire, they would make a sun which would give light to the earth, and which would eat hearts and drink blood. In order to do this they made war, by which they were able to procure hearts and blood. In this time Tezcatlipocâ made four hundred men and a hundred women, and on these the sun lived. In the tenth year, Suchicar, the first wife of Piltzintecutli, the son of the first man, was killed in the war, and was the first so to die.”

If we search for a common factor among these conflicting ideas, we will, indeed, find the task one of difficulty. The nature of the sources from which we obtain them does not permit us to arrange them chronologically, and all that we can found upon in this respect is their subject-matter, which cannot enlighten us much. As has been said, we are probably on safe ground if we accept the version of the several ages hypothetically contained in the so-called Calendar Stone of Mexico. The circumstance, too, that the sun and moon myth, as related by Olmos, agrees for the most part with the version of Sahagun, permits us to regard it as a well-recognized belief. Nor can the variant myth regarding the creation of mankind, which is briefly described in an annotation, shake our confidence in the credibility of Olmos, as it obviously differs more in the names of the actors in the drama of creation than in the circumstances, which are almost identical. But if it is impossible to verify strictly the place of origin of the Olmos myth, although Texcuco was claimed as its home, it is permissible to indicate the universal character of that portion of it which deals with the creation of the heavenly bodies, from its similarity to the analogous passage in Sahagun’s rendering, which proves that that part of it at least must have been more or less widely [52]disseminated throughout Mexico. We know that after the collection of data in any district it was his custom to submit them to experts in other and distant parts of the country for comparison and verification. We may thus be justified in classing the Calendar-stone version of the world’s ages and the Sahagun portion of the creation myth of the luminaries of the last age as among the standard beliefs of Mexican theology. It follows from Sahagun’s general agreement with the Olmos-Mendieta account that the portion of that version which he does not treat of must naturally be within reasonable distance of exactitude. The circumstance that both of these accounts relate the self-immolation of the gods by the sacrificial method of having their breasts opened, seems to prove that the myth was no older than the institution of human sacrifice, which we are perhaps correct in regarding as of no very great antiquity, although arguments of sufficient cogency might be brought against this view.



As Mexican myths of the creation differ, so do those concerning the great deluge which at one period was supposed to have overwhelmed the earth. As we have seen, myths which are concerned with the several ages of the earth dwell upon such an event, but separate myths exist which also tell of a great flood which is almost certainly to be identified with the “Water-sun.” The goddess Chalchihuitlicue (the goddess of water), says one of the interpreters of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, “saved herself in the deluge.” The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A. relates that: “Most of the old people of Mexico say that a single man and a single woman escaped from this deluge, from whom, in course of time, mankind multiplied. The tree in which they saved themselves was called Ahuehuete (the fir-tree), and they say that this deluge happened in the tenth sign, according to their computation, which they represented by water, which on account of its clearness they place in their calendar. They say that during the first age men ate no bread, but only a certain kind of wild maize, [53]which they called atzitziutli. They name this first age coniztal, which signifies the white head; others say that not only did these two who were preserved in the tree escape, but that seven others remained hidden in a certain cave, and that the deluge having passed away, they came forth and restored the population of the earth, dispersing themselves over it: and that their descendants in course of time worshipped them as gods, each in his own nation.”

A similar myth in the Anales de Quauhtitlan or Codex Chimalpopoca, is also worthy of quotation.

“And this year was that of Ce-calli, and on the first day all was lost. The mountain itself was submerged in the water and the water remained tranquil for fifty-two springs.

“Now toward the close of the year, Titlacahuan (Tezcatlipocâ) had forewarned the man named Nata and his wife Nena, saying: ‘Make no more pulque, but straightway hollow out a large cypress, and enter it when in the month of Tozoztli the water shall approach the sky.’ They entered it, and when Titlacahuan had closed the door he said: ‘Thou shalt eat but a single ear of maize and thy wife but one also.’

“As soon as they had finished eating, they went forth and the water was tranquil; for the log did not move any more; and opening it they saw many fish.

“Then they built a fire, rubbing together pieces of wood, and they roasted fish. The gods Citlallinicuc and Citlallatonac, looking below, exclaimed: ‘Divine Lord, what means that fire below? Why do they thus smoke the heavens?’

“Straightway descended Titlacahuan Tezcatlipocâ and commenced to scold, saying: ‘What is this fire doing here?’ And seizing the fishes he moulded their hinder parts and changed their heads, and they were at once transformed into dogs.”26



It is unnecessary in this place to deal at any length with the quite artificial myth given by Siguenza and Clavigero, [54]based on a mistaken interpretation of certain Mexican paintings. Briefly, they state that Coxcox, “the Mexican Noah,” and his spouse Xochiquetzal escaped from the deluge in a boat which grounded on the peak of Colhuacan: “the Ararat of Mexico.” Dumb children were born to them, who received innumerable languages from a polyglot dove. Garcia y Cubas published in his Atlas Geografico a letter from Ramirez (April 1858) in which the then conservator of the National Museum of Mexico showed the fallacy of Siguenza’s interpretation and proved that the pictures in question referred to the wanderings of the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico.

A flood myth which has for its hero one of the giants who were supposed to inhabit the earth in the first age (or rather the first age according to the version which is supported by the Calendar-stone), states that Xelhua, the giant in question, escaped the deluge by ascending the mountain of Tlaloc in the terrestrial paradise, and afterwards built the pyramid of Cholula. The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A says of this story: “In this first age giants existed in that country.… They relate of one of the seven whom they mention as having escaped from the deluge, that, the earth becoming populous, he went to Chululan and there began to build a tower which is that of which the brick base is still visible. The name of that chief was Xelhua; he built it in order that should a deluge come again he might escape to it. Its base is 1,800 feet in circumference. When it had already reached a great height lightning from heaven fell and destroyed it. Those Indians who were under that chief who had escaped from the deluge, named Xelhua, made bricks out of a mountain in Tlalamanalco called Cocotle, and from Tlalamanalco to Chulula Indians were placed to pass the bricks and cement from hand to hand: and thus they built this tower, that was named Tulan Chulula, which was so high that it appeared to reach heaven. And being content, since it seemed to them that they had a place to escape from the deluge if it should again happen, and from whence they might ascend into heaven—[55]a chalcuitl, which is a precious stone, fell from thence and struck it to the ground. Others say that the chalcuitl was in the shape of a toad; and that whilst destroying the tower it reprimanded them, inquiring of them their reason for wishing to ascend into heaven, since it was sufficient for them to see what was on the earth. The base of the tower is at the present day still remaining and its circumference is 1,800 feet.”

This myth has equivalents in the Hindoo story of the manner in which Hanuman, king of the monkeys, built a bridge from India to Ceylon, and in Scottish legend, where Corstorphine Church, near Edinburgh, is the scene of the building, the stones being passed on from hand to hand by the “Picts” from Ravelston Quarry, some considerable distance away. But it bears a more striking resemblance to the story of the tower of Babel, the work of another being of gigantic origin—Nimrod. Xelhua was the mythical ancestor of the people of Tehuacan, and Teotitlan del Camino. It may be that his myth has been sophisticated by the priestly writers who set it down, and in any case it seems to be ætiological or explanatory of the Pyramid of Cholula.



In the literature of ancient Mexican mythology we find persistent vestigial notices of a fall of the gods, or rather of certain deities from “heaven.” Thus in the interpretation of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis we find a divine locality called Tamoanchan described as the “mansion” from which they fell, and “where they gathered roses.” The same paragraph27 relates that Tamoanchan “is the place where these gods were created whom they feared: it signifies the Terrestrial Paradise, and accordingly they relate that those gods being in that place transgressed by plucking roses and branches from the trees, and that on this account Tonacatecutli and his wife, Tonacacigua, became highly incensed, and cast them out of that place, and that some of them came [56]to earth and others went to hell.” One of these, the divinity most frequently associated by the Codices with this event, Ixnextli, is spoken of in the same work28 as “Eve, always weeping and looking at her husband Adam. She is called Ixnextli, which signifies ‘Eyes blind with ashes,’ and this refers to the time subsequent to her sinning by plucking the roses.” In Codex Telleriano-Remensis (Plate VII, Kingsborough) she is associated with a god Ueuecoyotl and is represented as kneeling on a chair with head averted. There is no doubt that the name given her here, and which is supplemented by the name Xochiquetzal, is that of a variant of the latter, who is the goddess of flowers.

In his interpretation of this goddess in his work on the Aubin-Goupil tonalamatl (pp. 118–119) Seler gives it as his opinion that the insignia of the goddess Tonacaciuatl, consort of the creative deity Tonacatecutli, is identical with that of Xochiquetzal, and proceeds to say that this strongly suggests “that the home of the cosmogonic speculations embodied in the names of Tonacatecutli and Tonacaciuatl was to be sought in the region where dwelt the goddess Xochiquetzal, and this was assuredly not Mexico proper, but appears to have been the group which in one place is comprised by Torquemada under the name Chalmeca, Olmeca, Xicalanca, Tepaneca, Xochimilca, and Tlalhuica. Here by Chalmeca are to be understood the dwellers about the volcano, and by Olmeca, Xicalanca, the aborigines of the Tlaxcallan district.… Originally the goddess Xochiquetzal is perhaps nothing more than the deity of one of those mountains from which the life-giving waters flow down from the fields.” It is easy to believe that Xochiquetzal is a variant of Tonacaciuatl; but it is not necessary to infer therefrom that the Olmec-Tlaxcaltec version of the myth relating to her with its cosmogonic speculations was prior in origin to that which found acceptance at Mexico, even although the Olmecs were regarded as an older race. Tonacatecutli and his consort were believed to be Toltec deities, and had thus a greater antiquity behind them than Olmec myth could invest them [57]with. Codex Vaticanus A tells much the same story regarding Ixnextli and was probably inspired from the same source.



No definite account of the Mexican conception of the universe has come down to us, but we are probably founding correctly if we accept the Maya belief as closely approximating to that in general currency in Mexico. An examination of the central design in the Maya Book of Chilan Balam of Mani, given in Cogolludo’s History of Yucatan (1640), shows the earth as a cubical block, by which term it is practically described in the Popol Vuh (“the quadrated castle, four-pointed, four-sided, four-bordered”). This the Maya described as tem (“the altar”), that is, the altar of the gods, the offering upon which was life. Above this cube on four legs is the celestial vase (cum) containing the heavenly waters, rains, and showers, upon which all life depends. Above it hang the rain-clouds which fill it and from it springs the vax che, or Tree of Life, with outspread branches.

A similar illustration from the Codex Cortesiano,29 a Maya MS. which has been described as the “Tableau of the Bacabs” or heavenly supporters, shows the Tree of Life, the Celestial Vase, and the cloud masses. Beneath the tree are seen the two creative deities, and the whole design is surrounded by the twenty day-signs.



The Mexicans divided the universe into five regions. The locus classicus for the representatives of the gods who preside over these regions is the first sheet of the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer. The Fire-god occupies the centre of the picture, for just as fire occupies a space in the middle of the primitive hut, so does Xiuhtecutli maintain the central position in the universal disposition of things. From him four streams [58]of sacrificial blood radiate in the direction of the four cardinal points, east, north, west, south,30 which are situated at each corner of the picture, for he rules over all as well as over the centre, which is known as Tlalxicco. These bands of blood end in the four day-signs—acatl, tecpatl, calli, and tochtli, from which alone the years of the “calendar” or tonalamatl could be named, and which respectively agree with the cardinal points noted above. The four sides of the square are also associated with the four quarters of the universe. Thus the top square in the picture represents Tlapcopa, Region of the Dawn (the East), the right-hand side Uitznauac, Place of Thorns (the South), the bottom Ciutlampa, Region of Women (the West), and the left-hand side Mictlampa, Place of the Dead (the North). Within these squares are seen four species of trees, belonging to the four points of the compass. They resemble the trees seen in sheet 49 of Codex Borgia and sheet 17 of Codex Vaticanus B, from the first of which codices they can be more clearly described.






(Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, sheet 1.)

The Tree of the East is represented as a highly conventionalized tree having two boughs, each with four branches which end in the chalchihuitl (greenstone) symbol. Round branches are twisted two ropes, green and blue in colour, set with golden bells. A quetzal bird perches upon the top and the trunk is decorated with the symbol for war, for the spirits of the sacrificed warriors were believed to dwell in the eastern heavens, where the sun rose. The tree springs from the body of the Earth-goddess, and the ornaments borne by it are symbolic of the rich and fruitful character of the Orient.

The Tree of the North.—This tree is painted half-green, half-blue, but is set with thorns in every part. Bands of blood and darkness issue from the body of the Earth-goddess, in which it has its root, and these wind around its boughs. The eagle stands upon the top, each of its plumes bristling with a sacrificial stone knife.

The Tree of the West.—This has a yellow star, and bears [59]the magic bloom at the end of each branch. It is surmounted by the humming-bird, and its trunk is dotted with the stellar eye, in this case the evening star.






(Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, sheet 1.)

The Tree of the South.—This, too, is thorny, but painted red, and the trunk is sprinkled with symbols recalling that of the “spoken word” which in the Codices is frequently seen issuing from the mouths of gods and men. It may symbolize smoke or fire, thus alluding to the fiery nature of the region to which the tree belongs. A cloud of darkness and a stream of blood wind around the stem. It is surmounted by the arara bird.

These four trees have parallels in Maya mythology, as, for example, on the altar-pieces of the cross from Palenque (Temple II) and elsewhere.

The gods governing the five regions of the universe are31:

  • Centre—Xiuhtecutli.
  • East—Mixcoatl and Tlaloc.
  • North—Itztli and Xochipilli.
  • West—Iztac Mixcoatl and Quetzalcoatl.
  • South—Macuilxochitl and Xipe.

We find from an examination of the codices that the Mexicans believed that the “world” or universe was divided into:

  • Tlalxicco, the centre or “navel” of the Earth.
  • Tlapcopa, “the region of the Dawn” (the East).
  • Uitznauac, “Place of Thorns” (the South).
  • Ciuatlampa, “Region of Women” (the West).
  • Mictlampa, “Place of the Dead” (the North).

These several regions demand a brief description.

Tlalxicco was the dark interior of the earth, which was supposed to be inhabited by an animal-headed god or demon, resembling a badger, to whom no name has as yet been applied, but who seems to possess affinities with sorcery and the darker arts. A good representation of him is to be found on sheet 9 of Codex Vaticanus B.

Tlapcopa, the East, or “Region of the Dawn,” was regarded [60]as a region of prosperity, fertility, and abundant food-supplies. It was the house of the Sun, the region where sacrificed warriors dwelt in bliss, and will be further described when we come to deal with the subject of “heaven and hell.”



Uitznauac or Uitzlampa, “Region of Thorns” (the South), was, as its name implied, a place of rather evil omen, for it was sometimes thought of as inhabited by Mictlan, Lord of the Dead. The Mexicans, dwelling in a plateau country where climatic conditions were temperate, probably regarded the tropics to the south as a region fatal to health, and generally insalubrious in character.

Ciuatlampa, “Region of Women” (the West), was the place to which those women who died in their first childbed (Civapipiltin or Ciuateteô) went after death, and as such falls to be described in the section on “heaven and hell.” But it was also the home of the maize-plant, and of the deities producing it, and also of the Gods of Procreation. It was the Region of the Evening Star, Tlauizcalpantecutli, the planet Venus. In Codex Borgia (sheets 43–46) we seem to see a subdivision of the Western region into North, South, and West. This region may also be collated with Tamoanchan, the paradisaical land of abundant maize, where the maize goddess Tlazolteotl gave birth to her son Centeotl.

Mictlampa, “Region of the Dead,” also falls to be noticed in the section on “heaven and hell.” Symbolically it is the region of drought.



Just as we gain light upon the subject of the Mexican idea of the universe from Maya sources, so do we find a similar correspondence in the beliefs of the two races as regards the conception that the heavens were supported by certain deities. Thus the Maya believed that the heavens were upheld by four gods called Bacabs, and we find pictures in the Mexican Codices which depict certain deities upholding both the heavens and the earth. On sheets 49–52 of Codex Borgia (upper half) are seen the gods of the four quarters and the four supporters of the sky, which last are Tlauizcalpantecutli, [61]the Sun-god, Quetzalcoatl, and Mictlantecutli. On sheets 19–23 of Codex Vaticanus B the four upholders of the heavens are given as Tlauizcalpantecutli, Uitzilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, and Mictlantecutli, and the four terrestrial gods as Xipe Totec, Mictlantecutli, Xochipilli, and Centeotl. The first four are shown upholding the starry firmament, so that we are left in no doubt as regards the existence of such a conception as the support of the heavens by certain gods. The close correspondence between the personnel of the sky-bearers in the two MSS. proves a fairly universal acceptance of the belief, especially as Xipe Totec, and Tonatiuh the Sun-god have much in common.32



According to ancient Mexican belief various destinations awaited the dead. Warriors slain in battle repaired to the region of the sun, where they dwelt in bliss with the deity who presided over that luminary. Sacrificed captives also fared thence. These followed the sun in his daily course, crying aloud and beating upon their shields, and fighting sham battles. “It is also said,” writes Sahagun in his History of the Affairs of New Spain (Appendix to bk. iii, ch. 3), “that in this heaven are trees and forests of divers sorts. The offerings which the living of this world make to the dead duly arrive at their destination, and are received in this heaven. After four years of sojourn in that place the souls of the dead are changed into divers species of birds having rich plumage of the most brilliant colours.” These were known as tzintzonme33 (“little bird which flies from place to place”), and they flitted from blossom to blossom on earth as well as in heaven, sucking the rich fragrance from the tropical blooms of the deep Valleys of Anahuac. This region is the Ciutlampa, and perhaps the Tamoanchan alluded to above.

Tlalocan.—An even more material paradise was presided over by the water-god or deity of moisture, Tlaloc. Sahagun [62]calls this a “terrestrial paradise,” “where they feign that there is surfeit of pleasure and refreshment, void, for a space, of torment.” In that delectable region there is plenteousness of green maize, of calabashes, pepper, tomatoes, haricots, and it is fulfilled with variegated blossoms. There dwell the god Tlaloc and his followers. The persons who gain admittance to this paradise are those who have been slain by lightning or thunderbolt, the leprous and the dropsical—those whose deaths have in any way been caused through the agency of water—for Tlaloc is god of that element. Existence there is perpetual. The paradise of Tlaloc was situated in the east in a climate of eternal summer.

Homeyoca.—The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A states that the abode of the Creator of the Universe, Tonacatecutli, was Homeyoca or Homeiocan, “place of the Holy Trinity.” The etymology is vague, but would appear to apply to duality rather than trinity, a suggestion which is buttressed by the androgynous character of the creative deities. In an accompanying picture he points out the various departments of this heaven as “the Red Heaven,” “the Yellow Heaven,” “the White Heaven.” Young children, he says, went to a specific paradise, but it was thought that they would return to re-people the world after the third destruction. They were nourished by a milk-giving tree round which they were seated, getting suck from the branches.

But we have glimpses here and there in Aztec literature of a much more elaborate series of heavens, thirteen in number. The first contained certain planets, the second was the home of the Tzitzimimê, who included many of the great gods, the third that of the Centzon Mimixcoa, or star-warriors, who were many-coloured—yellow, black, white, red, blue—and provided the sun with food in the shape of blood. The fourth was inhabited by birds, the fifth by fire-snakes (perhaps comets), the sixth was the home of the winds, the seventh harboured dust, and in the eighth dwelt the gods. The remainder were placed at the disposal of the high primal and creative gods Tonacatecutli and his spouse Tonacaciuatl, [63]whose abode proper was in the thirteenth and highest heaven.34



The Hades of the Aztec race was Mictlampa, presided over by Mictlantecutli (Lord of Mictlampa) and his spouse (Mictecaciuatl). The souls of the defunct who fared thither were those who died of disease, chiefs, great personages, or humbler folk. On the day of death the priest harangued the deceased, telling him that he was about to go to a region “where there is neither light nor window,” and where all was shadow, a veritable land of gloom, the passage to which swarmed with grisly forms inimical to the soul. It was a vast, trackless, and gloomy desert, having nine divisions, of which the last, Chiconahuimictlan, was the abode of the lord of the place. Rank and privilege would appear to have been maintained even in this dark realm, although all offerings to the dead must first be inspected by Mictlantecutli himself ere being passed on to their proper owners. Sahagun states that four years were occupied in journeying to Mictlampa, evidently an error for four days, as elsewhere he says that the former period was spent within the regions of the dead. The journey thence was replete with terrors. Says the interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A: “In this region of hell they supposed that there existed four gods, or principal demons, one of whom was superior, whom they called Zitzimatl, who is the same as Miquitlamtecotl, the great god of hell. Yzpuzteque, the lame demon, was he who appeared in the streets with the feet of a cock. Nextepehua was the scatterer of ashes, Contemoque signifies he who descends headforemost; an allusion being made to the etymology which learned men assign to the name of the Devil, which signifies deorsum cadens, which mode of descent after souls they attribute to him from this name and Zon. Yzpuzteque is he whose abode is in the streets, the same as Satan, he who on a sudden appears sideways. It appears that they [64]have been acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, although clearer arguments in proof of this fact are adduced in the course of the following pages. They say that these four gods or demons have goddesses.”

These and other dread beings, according to the same MS., rendered the hellward journey terrible in the extreme, and an attempt was made to mitigate the terrors of the passage between the two worlds by means of passports of much the same character as the spells in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” which franked the soul past the numerous demons and dangers which awaited it. The first paper served to pass him by two mountains which threatened to clash together and crush him. The second saved him from the maw of a huge snake. Others helped him to face the lurking terrors of eight deserts and eight hills, and to avoid the grim crocodile Xochitonal. A wind of sharp flint knives then attacked him. Lastly he came to the river Chiconahuopan (Nine Waters), which he crossed on the back of a red-coloured dog which accompanied him and which was killed for that purpose by having an arrow thrust down its throat. It is not clear whether this dog acted as a guide to Mictlampa, or whether it preceded the soul, but it would seem that its master found it awaiting him when he came to the banks of the river, in the passage of which it assisted him. It kept its vigil on the opposite bank, however, and had to swim the river ere it could reach him.

The deceased then came before Mictlantecutli, to whom he made suitable gifts—cotton, perfumes, and a mantle. He was told to which sphere he must go. It is obvious that Mictlampa was not so much a place of punishment as a place of the dead, a Hades, where the souls of the good and evil were alike consigned. Its locality is partially fixed, for it is “the place where the sun slept,” and, like the Egyptian Amenti, it was therefore antipodean, or occupied the centre of the earth. After a four years’ sojourn in this dark monarchy the soul was supposed to come to a place where, according to the interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus, it enjoyed a measure of rest. [65]

1 Translation in Kingsborough, vol. vi, p. 198. 

2 Op. cit., p. 207. 

3 L. Spence, The Popol Vuh (1908), description of bk. i; Brasseur de Bourbourg, Le Vuh Popol, Paris, 1861. 

4 An important work republished with a Latin translation by Dr. W. Lehmann under the title of Traditions des anciens Mexicains (Jour. Soc. Amer. Paris, n.s., vol. iii. Paris, 1906. pp. 239–298). 

5 Kingsborough’s translation, vol. vi, p. 171. 

6 Chavero’s edition, Mexico, 1892, p. 21. 

7 See the Popol Vuh, bk. i., for a Quiche analogy to this tale of human degradation. 

8 Chavero’s edition, Mexico, 1891, pp. ii ff. 

9 Hist. de Tlaxcala, in Ternaux-Compan’s Voyages, tom. lxxxvi, p. 5; also edition by A. Chavero, Mexico, 1892. 

10 Hist. Antigua de Mexico, bk. i, c. 4. 

11 First Relacion

12 Historia Eccles. 

13 A variant myth makes Quetzalcoatl the god who seeks bones in the underworld from which to make the human race. As he returns, the bones drop to earth and quails gnaw them. Ciuacoatl pounds them into a paste from which men are formed. The Anales de Quauhtitlan makes the gods create man from the cinders of the worlds destroyed in the four epochs. 

14 Probably because of his status as god of twins and of duplicates of all kinds. 

15 Obviously this sacred bundle is in the same category with the “medicine-bundle” of the North American Indian tribes, and it would seem that from such a form certain of the Mexican gods were evolved. 

16 Bk. vii, c. 2. 

17 For further information regarding this incident see Boturini, Idea, section iii, 14, “Tlatocaocelotl.” 

18 These metamorphoses, or at least the first two, are obviously founded upon Xolotl’s dual characteristic as a twin. The resemblance between his name and that of the little amphibious animal axolotl is due to the monstrous character of both. 

19 Hist. du Tlaxcallan in Ternaux-Compan’s Nouvelles Annales des Voyages (tom. xcix, p. 129). 

20 Hist. Antig. de Mexico, tom. i, p. 7. 

21 Storia Antica del Messico, tom. ii, p. 7. 

22 Hist. Eccles, p. 81. 

23 Curtin, Creation Myths of Primitive America, Intro., p. 35. 

24 Relaciones (Chavero’s edition; Mexico, 1891), p. 11. Hist. Chichimeca (Chavero’s edition; Mexico, 1892), p. 21. 

25 Among the American races the soul was thought of as residing in the bones. See Brinton, Myths of the New World, pp. 295 ff., 299, 321. 

26 Anales de Quauhtitlan. 

27 Translation of interpretation in Kingsborough, vol. vi, p. 127. 

28 P. 120. 

29 See Rady y Delgado’s reproduction of this Codex, Madrid, 1892. 

30 The colours associated with the points of the compass were: East, yellow; north, red; west, blue; south, white. 

31 For the further relation of the gods to time and space see the appendix on the tonalamatl

32 See myth of the creation of the four supporters, supra

33 Humming-birds. The warriors seem to have been metamorphosed into the naualli or bird-disguise of Uitzilopochtli, the humming-bird god of war. 

34 Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas. I believe these different heavens to have resulted from the clashing and mingling of rival cults. 






In the section descriptive of the gods, each divinity is dealt with separately. The need for system and orderly arrangement in the study of Mexican Mythology is clamant. In the hope that future students of the subject may be spared the Herculean task of separating the mythology of the Mexican people from their history, I have thought it best to arrange my material in as systematic a fashion as its complex character permits.

The plan employed is a simple one. I have prefaced the description of each god with a table containing the following information concerning him: Area of Worship, Name, Minor Names, Relationship, Calendar-place, Compass-direction, Symbol, Festivals. In some cases where, for example, a god has no festival or no minor names, the item relating to such information is, of course, absent.

The description proper of each deity begins with an account of his Aspect and Insignia, as observed in the several codices and paintings, manuscripts, vases, or statuary.1 A section is devoted to festivals celebrated in his honour, another deals with the priesthood specially attendant on him, and a further paragraph with the temples in which he was worshipped. There follows a précis of all known myths relating to him. In certain instances, too, hymns and prayers offered up to [66]him are quoted. The last section deals with his nature and status, so far as I have been able to elucidate these.



  • Area of Worship: Mexico.
  • Minor Names:
    • Tetzateotl—“Terrible God.”
    • Tetzahuitl—“The Raging.”
    • Ilhuicatl Xoxouhqui—“The Blue Heaven.”
    • Mexitli—“Hare of the Maguey.”
  • Compass Directions: The South; upper region.
  • Festivals:
    • Toxcatl, the fifth month; first of tlaxochimaco, the ninth month.
    • Panquetzaliztli, the fifteenth month.
    • Movable feast ce tecpatl.
  • Relationships:
    • Son of Coatlicue.
    • Brother of the Centzonuitznaua.
    • Brother of Coyolxauhqui.
    • One of the Tzitzimimê.


(From Codex Borbonicus, sheet 34.)

Paynal. “Messenger” of Uitzilopochtli.

Paynal. “Messenger” of Uitzilopochtli.

(Sahagun MS.)

Uitzilopochtli (after Duran).

Uitzilopochtli (after Duran).



Face-paint.—Blue and yellow horizontal stripes, the yellow known as piloechinolli (“face-painting of children”) made of children’s excrement, in allusion, perhaps, to his character of a young or new-born god. He occasionally wears the stellar mask,2 like Mixcoatl and Camaxtli.


Dress.—Usually the humming-bird mantle, pictographic of his name. His head is surmounted by a panache of feathers. On his breast is a white ring made from a mussel-shell, like those of Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipocâ, and Paynal, which is called eteocuitlaanauauh (“his golden ring”) or eltezcatl (“his breast mirror”). Perhaps the best representation of him is in Codex Borbonicus (sheet 34). [67]

Weapons.—Shield (teueuelli), made of reeds, with eagle’s down adhering to it in five places in the form of a quincunx. He carries spears tipped with tufts of down instead of stone points (tlauacomalli), the weapons of those doomed to a gladiatorial death, the fire-snake xiuhcoatl as an atlatl, or spear-thrower, and the bow, which he was supposed to have invented or introduced into Mexico. The flag held by him on some occasions represents the panquetzaliztli festival in Codices Telleriano-Remensis and Vaticanus A.



(See p. 324.)

Variations.—He is frequently to be observed wearing the insignia of the stellar gods of war and hunting (Mixcoatl, Camaxtli).

According to Seler (Commentary on the Codex Vaticanus B, p. 91), Uitzilopochtli figures in that MS. as showing “in a general way the devices and the dress-badges of the fire-god,” differing, however, in colour and painting. When found along with Tezcatlipocâ as Ruler of the Southern Heaven, in Codex Fejérváry-Mayer (sheet 25), he is seated on a jaguar-skin seat, enveloped in a long robe of a light blue colour, with balls of downy feathers. He wears the aztaxelli or forked heron-feather ornament on his head and has the yellow face-paint alluded to above. In the Sahagun MS. (Bib. del Palacio) he is represented as wearing on his back the “dragon’s head” alluded to in the text. In the Duran MS. (2 o, plate 2 a), drawn by a European hand, the humming-bird headdress forms a helmet-mask, and in the Codex Ramirez (Juan de Tobar), in which the figure is Europeanized almost out of recognition, the same is the case, but the shield-marking is incorrect, consisting as it does of seven tufts of down instead of five.

Clavigero (tom. ii, pp. 17–19) says of Uitzilopochtli’s insignia: “Upon his head he carried a beautiful crest, shaped like the beak of a bird, upon his neck a collar shaped like ten figures of the human heart. His statue was of an enormous size, in the posture of a man seated on a blue-coloured bench, from the four corners of which issued four snakes. His forehead was blue, but his face was covered with a golden mask, while another of the same kind covered [68]the back of his head. In his hand he carried a large blue, twisted club, in his left a shield in which appeared five balls of feathers disposed in the form of a cross, and from the upper part of the shield rose a golden flag with four arrows, which the Mexicans believed to have been sent to them from heaven. His body was girt with a large golden snake, and adorned with lesser figures of animals made of gold and precious stones, which ornaments and insignia had each their peculiar meaning.”

Acosta says of his appearance: “The chiefest idoll of Mexico was, as I have sayde, Vitziliputzli. It was an image of wood like to a man, set upon a stoole of the coloure of azure, in a brankard or litter, in every corner was a piece of wood in forme of a serpent’s head. The stoole signified that he was set in heaven. This idol had all the forehead azure, and had a band of azure under the nose from one ear to another. Upon his head he had a rich plume of feathers like to the beak of a small bird, the which was covered on the top with gold burnished very brown. He had in his left hand a small target, with the figures of five pineapples made of white feathers set in a cross. And from above issued forth a crest of gold, and at his sides hee hadde foure dartes, which (the Mexicaines say) had been sent from heaven which shall be spoken of. In his right hand he had an azured staff cutte in the fashion of a waving snake. All those ornaments with the rest hee had, carried his sence as the Mexicaines doe shew.”3

Solis writes of his aspect as follows: “Opposite … sat Huitzilopochtli, on a throne supported by a blue globe. From this, supposed to represent the heavens, projected four staves with serpents’ heads, by which the priests carried the god when he was brought before the public. The image bore upon its head a bird of wrought plumes, whose beak and crest were of burnished gold. The feathers expressed horrid cruelty, and were made still more ghastly by two strips of blue, one on the brow and the other on the nose. Its [69]right hand leaned, as on a staff, upon a crooked serpent. Upon the left arm was a buckler bearing five white plums, arranged in the form of a cross, and the hand grasped four arrows, venerated as heaven-descended.”4

Herrera says that his idol was a gigantic image of stone, covered with a lawn called nacar, beset with pearls, precious stones, and pieces of gold. It had for a girdle great snakes of gold, and a counterfeit visor with eyes of glass.5

Torquemada writes: “In his right hand a dart or long blue pole, in the left a shield, his face barred with lines of blue. His forehead was decorated with a tuft of green feathers, his left leg was lean and feathered, and both thighs and arms were barred with blue.”6

The Sahagun MS. states that “he wears a panache of yellow parrot feathers stuck together, and having a bunch of quetzal-feathers at the tip. His espitzalli is over his forehead. The face or mask is striped in various colours, and the ear-plug is made of the feathers of the blue cotinga. On his back is the fire-snake dress and on his arm he has a quetzal-feather. At the back he is girded with a blue net cloth, and his leg is striped with blue. Bells and shells decorate his feet, and he is shod with sandals of the type usually worn by persons of high degree. His shield is the teueuelli with a bundle of arrows without points stuck in it, and in one hand he holds a serpent-staff.”

Sahagun (c. xxii, bk. iv) describes the insignia employed at the god’s festival of ce tecpatl. These were the quetzalquemitl, or mantle of green quetzal-feathers, the tozquemitl, the mantle made of the yellow feathers of the toztli, a bird of the parrot species, the Uitzitzilquemitl, or mantle of humming-bird’s feathers, “and others less rich.”


The first festival of Uitzilopochtli was the tlaxochimaco, of which Sahagun says: “The ninth month was styled [70]tlaxochimaco. A festival was held on the first day of this month in honour of Huitzilopochtli, god of war, when he was offered the first flowers of the year. The night before this festival everybody killed chickens and dogs with which to make tamalli and other things good to eat. Very soon after the first glimmerings of dawn on the day of the festival, the attendants of the idols adorned the statue of Huitzilopochtli with flowers. The images of the other gods were decked with garlands and wreaths of flowers, and the same was done to all the other idols of the calpulli7 and telpochcalli.8 The calpixque,9 the principal people, and the macehualli10 covered the statues in their houses with flowers. These preparations being completed, the viands prepared during the previous night were partaken of, and shortly after this repast a dance was engaged in, in which the nobles mingled with the women, taking them by the hand, and even going the length of embracing them by placing their arms round their necks. The usual movements of the areyto11 were not performed, the dancers moving step by step, to the strains of the musicians and singers, who stood, some distance away, at the foot of a round altar called momoztli. They sang thus until night, not only in the courts of the temples, but also in the houses of people of rank and of the macehualli, while the aged of both sexes indulged deeply in pulque; but young people were not permitted to touch it, and anyone allowing them to drink it was severely punished.”

Toxcatl.—For this festival see under Tezcatlipocâ, to whom it was also and more especially sacred.

Panquetzalitztli.—The following account of this festival is summarized from Sahagun’s pages: For twenty-four days prior to the incidence of the festival the priests did penitence. They hung branches upon the oratories and shrines of the gods of the mountains, and green reeds and leaves of the maguey-plant. At the end of the quecholli festival everyone [71]took to dancing and singing, especially to the song or hymn of Uitzilopochtli. Nine days before the sacrifice those doomed to die bathed in the fountain called Uitzilotl (humming-bird water) in the village of Uitzilopochco. The old men went to seek nine bunches of the leaves of the tree called aueuetl (“old one of the waters”—the Cupressus distica). The faces of the doomed ones were painted in the colours of the god, yellow and blue in transverse bands, and adorned with his insignia.

After five days of penitential exercises mingled with dancing and singing, and on the day before the festival, the captives rose with dawn and betook themselves to the houses of those who had dedicated them to the slaughter, preceded by a man carrying a vessel full of black ink or red ochre or blue tincture. On arriving at the houses of those who had devoted them to death, they dipped their hands in the vessel and pressed them on the gates and the pillars of the dwelling, so that the imprint remained.12 They then entered the kitchen of the house and walked several times round the furnace. Then they marched in procession to the temple, accompanied by porters bearing rich attire, which the captives donned. The hair was then taken from their heads to be kept “as a relic.” They were then given cylindrical cakes to eat, which must be held on the point of a maguey thorn and not between the fingers. With the dawn of day the god Paynal, the herald of Uitzilopochtli, descended from the temple of Uitzilopochtli. Four captives were then slain, two in honour of “the god Oappatzan.” Paynal, borne by four “necromancers,” then took the road to Tlatelolco, whence he passed to Nonoalco, the priest of the temple there receiving him with the representative of the god Quauitlicac, “his companion” (see “Myths”). The images were then carried to Tlaxotlan and Popotlan, where other captives were slain. Then the procession took its way to Chapultepec, passing the hill of that name and crossing [72]the little river Izquitlan, at the temple of which other captives called Izquiteca (“who eat roasted maize”) were sacrificed. They then crossed to the right under Coyoacan, passing by way of Tepetocan to Acachinanco.

During the time they made this progress the slaves who were about to die engaged in a skirmish. They divided themselves into two parties, the Uitznauatl (“They of the Thorny Wizard”), the other unnamed. The former seem to have been professional soldiers armed with mock weapons; the others slaves, armed with maquahuitls, wooden swords set with obsidian flakes. On Paynal’s return those who watched them from the summit of the temple, seeing the banner of the god (epaniztli), cried out, “Mexicans, cease your strife, the lord Paynal has come.” The warriors in the patrol of Paynal then rushed to the summit of the temple, where they arrived in a breathless condition. They placed their idol beside the paste image of Uitzilopochtli. Their ears were pierced by the priest. They descended again, carrying an image of Uitzilopochtli made of paste, which they divided, each bearing his own portion to his own house, where he made festival with his parents and neighbours. A tour of the temple was then made, the captives walking in front.

A priest then descended from the summit of the temple bearing a sheaf of white papers in his hand, which he held up to the four cardinal points in turn, afterwards throwing them into a mortar called quauhxicalco13 (“cup of the eagles”). He was followed by another holding a very long pine-torch called xiuhcoatl (“fire-snake”), shaped like fire. (This was the fire-snake weapon with which one of Uitzilopochtli’s followers had killed his rebellious sister Coyolxauhqui). This was cast burning into the vessel containing the papers, which were consumed. Paynal reappeared, and the slaves were sacrificed according to rank to the sound of conch-shells. All then returned home, where octli of special strength was drunk, festivities engaged in, and presents of [73]wearing apparel distributed to friends and dependants (bk. ii, c. 34).

This festival took place at the period of the winter solstice, when the sun has removed farthest to the south. The burning of the papers by the xiuhcoatl, and the fact that the fire-festival of the new period of fifty-two years, the making of the new fire, was usually postponed to coincide with it, show it to be a fire-feast; for in his “avatar” of the sun Uitzilopochtli was a fire-god.

Torquemada states that the priest of Quetzalcoatl hurled a dart into the breast of the paste image of Uitzilopochtli, which fell. He then pulled the “heart” out of it, giving it to the king. The body was then divided among the men, no woman being allowed to eat of it. The ceremony was called teoqualo, i.e. “god is eaten.”14


Regarding Uitzilopochtli, Clavigero says: “Huitzilopochtli, or Mexitli, was the god of war; the deity the most honoured by the Mexicans, and their chief protector. Of this god some said he was a pure spirit, others that he was born of a woman, but without the assistance of a man, and described his birth in the following manner: There lived, said they, in Coatepec, a place near to the ancient city of Tula, a woman called Coatlicue, mother of the Centzonhuiznahuas, who was extremely devoted to the worship of the gods. One day, as she was employed, according to her usual custom, in walking in the temple, she beheld descending in the air a ball made of various feathers. She seized it and kept it in her bosom, intending afterwards to employ the feathers in decoration of the altar; but when she wanted it after her walk was at an end she could not find it, at which she was extremely surprised, and her wonder was very greatly increased when she began to perceive from that moment that she was pregnant. Her pregnancy advanced till it was discovered by her children, who, although they could not themselves suspect their mother’s virtue, yet fearing [74]the disgrace she would suffer upon her delivery, determined to prevent it by putting her to death. They could not take their resolution so secretly as to conceal it from their mother, who, while she was in deep affliction at the thought of dying by the hands of her own children, heard an unexpected voice issue from her womb, saying, ‘Be not afraid, mother, I shall save you with the greatest honour to yourself and glory to me.’

“Her hard-hearted sons, guided and encouraged by their sister Cojolxauhqui, who had been the most keenly bent upon the deed, were now just upon the point of executing their purpose, when Huitzilopochtli was born, with a shield in his left hand, a spear in his right, and a crest of green feathers on his head; his left leg adorned with feathers, and his face, arms, and thighs streaked with blue lines. As soon as he came into the world he displayed a twisted pine, and commanded one of his soldiers, called Tochchancalqui, to fell with it Cojolxauhqui, as the one who had been the most guilty; and he himself attacked the rest with so much fury that, in spite of their efforts, their arms, or their entreaties, he killed them all, plundered their houses, and presented the spoils to his mother. Mankind were so terrified by this event, that from that time they called him Tetzahuitl (terror) and Tetzauhteotl (terrible god).

“This was the god who, as they said, becoming the protector of the Mexicans, conducted them for so many years in their pilgrimage, and at length settled them where they afterwards founded the great city of Mexico. They raised to him that superb temple, so much celebrated, even by the Spaniards, in which were annually holden three solemn festivals in the fifth, ninth, and fifteenth months; besides those kept every four years, every thirteen years, and at the beginning of every century. His statue was of gigantic size, in the posture of a man seated on a blue-coloured bench, from the four corners of which issued four huge snakes. His forehead was blue, but his face was covered with a golden mask, while another of the same kind covered the back of his head. Upon his head he carried a beautiful [75]crest, shaped like the beak of a bird; upon his neck a collar consisting of ten figures of the human heart; in his right hand a large blue, twisted club; in his left a shield, on which appeared five balls of feathers disposed in the form of a cross, and from the upper part of the shield rose a golden flag with four arrows, which the Mexicans pretended to have been sent to them from heaven to perform those glorious actions which we have seen in their history. His body was girt with a large golden snake and adorned with lesser figures of animals made of gold and precious stones, which ornaments and insignia had each their peculiar meaning. They never deliberated upon making war without imploring the protection of this god, with prayers and sacrifices; and offered up a greater number of human victims to him than to any other of the gods.”15

Boturini says of this god: “While the Mexicans were pushing their conquests and their advance toward the country now occupied by them, they had a very renowned captain, or leader, called Huitziton. He it was that in these long and perilous journeys through unknown lands, sparing himself no fatigue, took care of the Mexicans. The fable says of him that, being full of years and wisdom, he was one night caught up in sight of his army and of all his people, and presented to the god Tezauhteotl, that is to say the Frightful God, who, being in the shape of a horrible dragon, commanded him to be seated at his right hand, saying: ‘Welcome, O valiant captain; very grateful am I for thy fidelity in my service and in governing my people. It is time that thou shouldest rest, since thou art already old, and since thy great deeds raise thee up to the fellowship of the immortal gods. Return then to thy sons and tell them not to be afflicted if in future they cannot see thee as a mortal man; for from the nine heavens thou shalt look down propitious upon them. And not only that, but also, when I strip the vestments of humanity from thee, I will leave to thine afflicted and orphan people thy bones and thy skull so that they may be comforted in their sorrow, and may [76]consult thy relics as to the road they have to follow: and in due time the land shall be shown them that I have destined for them, a land in which they shall hold wide empire, being respected of the other nations.’

“Huitziton did according to these instructions, and after a sorrowful interview with his people, disappeared, carried away by the gods. The weeping Mexicans remained with the skull and bones of their beloved captain, which they carried with them till they arrived in New Spain, and at the place where they built the great city of Tenochtitlan, or Mexico. All this time the devil spoke to them through this skull of Huitziton, often asking for the immolation of men and women, from which thing originated those bloody sacrifices, practised afterwards by this nation with so much cruelty on prisoners of war. This deity was called, in early as well as in later times, Huitzilopochtli—for the principal men believed that he was seated at the left hand of Tezcatlipocâ—a name derived from the original name Huitziton, and from the word mapoche, ‘left hand.’ ”16

Sahagun says of Uitzilopochtli that, being originally a man, he was a sort of Hercules, of great strength and warlike, a great destroyer of towns and slayer of men. In war he had been a living fire, very terrible to his adversaries; and the device he bore was a dragon’s head, frightful in the extreme, and casting fire out of its mouth. A great wizard he had been, and sorcerer, transforming himself into the shape of divers birds and beasts. While he lived, the Mexicans esteemed this man very highly for his strength and dexterity in war, and when he died they honoured him as a god, offering slaves, and sacrificing them in his presence. And they looked to it that those slaves were well fed and well decorated with such ornaments as were in use, with earrings and visors; all for the greater honour of the god. In Tlaxcala also they had a deity called Camaxtli, who was similar to this Huitzilopochtli.17

The myth of Uitzilopochtli, as given by Sahagun, may be condensed as follows: [77]

Under the shadow of the mountain of Coatepec, near the Toltec city of Tollan, there dwelt a pious widow called Coatlicue, the mother of a tribe of Indians called Centzonuitznaua, who had a daughter called Coyolxauhqui, and who daily repaired to a small hill with the intention of offering up prayers to the gods in a penitent spirit of piety. Whilst occupied in her devotions one day she was surprised by a small ball of brilliantly coloured feathers falling upon her from on high. She was pleased by the bright variety of its hues and placed it in her bosom, intending to offer it up to the Sun-god. Some time afterwards she learnt that she was to become the mother of another child. Her sons, hearing of this, rained abuse upon her, being incited to humiliate her in every possible way by their sister Coyolxauhqui.

Coatlicue went about in fear and anxiety; but the spirit of her unborn infant came and spoke to her and gave her words of encouragement, soothing her troubled heart. Her sons, however, were resolved to wipe out what they considered an insult to their race by the death of their mother, and took counsel with one another to slay her. They attired themselves in their war-gear, and arranged their hair after the manner of warriors going to battle. But one of their number, Quauitlicac, relented and confessed the perfidy of his brothers to the still unborn Uitzilopochtli, who replied to him: “O uncle,18 hearken attentively to what I have to say to you. I am fully informed of what is going to happen.” With the intention of slaying their mother, the Indians went in search of her. At their head marched their sister, Coyolxauhqui. They were armed to the teeth, and carried bundles of darts, with which they intended to kill the luckless Coatlicue.

Quauitlicac climbed the mountain to acquaint Uitzilopochtli with the news that his brothers were approaching to kill their mother.

“Mark well where they are at,” replied the infant god. “To what place have they advanced?” [78]

“To Tzompantitlan,” responded Quauitlicac.

Later on Uitzilopochtli asked: “Where may they be now?”

“At Coaxalco,” was the reply.

Once more Uitzilopochtli asked to what point his enemies had advanced.

“They are now at Petlac,” Quauitlicac replied.

Quauitlicac later informed them that his brothers and sister had arrived at the middle of the mountain. At the moment they arrived Uitzilopochtli was born, attired in full war panoply. He ordered one named Tochâncalqui (inhabitant of our house) to attack his sister with the fire-snake xiuhcoatl, and with a blow he shattered Coyolxauhqui in pieces. Her head rested upon the mountain of Coatepec. The infant god then pursued his brethren four times round the mountain. Several fell into the lake and were drowned. Others he slew, only a few escaped, and these were banished to Uitzlampa in the south.19

Torquemada says of Uitzilopochtli: “Huitzilopochtli, the ancient god and guide of the Mexicans, is a name variously derived. Some say it is composed of two words: huitzilin, ‘a humming-bird,’ and tlahuipuchtli, ‘a sorcerer that spits fire.’ Others say that the second part of the name comes not from tlahuipuchtli, but from opuchtli, that is, ‘the left hand’; so that the whole name, Huitzilopochtli, would mean ‘the shining-feathered left hand.’ For this idol was decorated with rich and resplendent feathers on the left arm. And this god it was that led out the Mexicans from their own land and brought them into Anahuac.

“Some held him to be a purely spiritual being, others affirmed that he had been born of a woman, and related his history after the following fashion: Near the city of Tulla there is a mountain called Coatepec, that is to say the Mountain of the Snake, where a woman lived, named Coatlicue or Snake-petticoat. She was the mother of many sons called Centzunhuitznahua, and of a daughter whose name was Coyolxauhqui. Coatlicue was very devout and careful in [79]the service of the gods, and she occupied herself ordinarily in sweeping and cleaning the sacred places of that mountain. It happened that one day, occupied with these duties, she saw a little ball of feathers floating down to her through the air, which she taking, as we have already related, found herself in a short time pregnant.

“Upon this all her children conspired against her to slay her, and came armed against her, the daughter Coyolxauhqui being the ringleader and most violent of all. Then, immediately, Huitzilopochtli was born, fully armed, having a shield called teuehueli in his left hand, in his right a dart, or long blue pole, and all his face barred over with lines of the same colour. His forehead was decorated with a great tuft of green feathers, his left leg was lean and feathered, and both thighs and the arms barred with blue. He then caused to appear a serpent made of torches, teas, called xiuhcoatl; and he ordered a soldier called Tochaucalqui to light this serpent, and taking it with him to embrace Coyolxauhqui. From this embrace the matricidal daughter immediately died, and Huitzilopochtli himself slew all her brethren and took their spoil, enriching his mother therewith. After this he was surnamed Tetzahuitl, that is to say Fright, or Amazement, and held as a god, born of a mother without a father—as the great god of battles, for in these his worshippers found him very favourable to them.”20

Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas.21—Collecting and summarizing the scattered notices regarding Uitzilopochtli in the above-named work, we find it stated that he was the fourth and youngest son of Tonacatecutli and Tonacaciuatl, his elder brothers being the Red Tezcatlipocâ, the Black Tezcatlipocâ, and Quetzalcoatl. Uitzilopochtli is here also called Omitecatl, “and for another name Magueycoatl (Snake of the Maguey). He was called Ochilobos (the Spanish rendering of Uitzilopochtli) because he was left-handed and was chief god to those of Mexico and their god of war. He was born without flesh but with bones, and thus he remained six hundred years, in which nothing [80]was made, ‘neither the gods nor their father.’ Taking counsel with Quetzalcoatl, they fashioned the sun, then they made a man, Oxomoco, and a woman, Cipactonal, commanding him to till the earth and her to spin and weave, and created other things.”


In the Sahagun MS. the following hymns or songs relate to Uitzilopochtli:—



Uitzilopochtli the warrior, no one is my equal;

Not in vain have I put on the vestment of yellow feathers,

For through me the sun has risen (i.e. the time of sacrifice appears).


The man out of the cold land knew (through him) a baneful omen.

He had taken a foot from the man out of the cold land.


In the place of Tlaxotlan, the feathers were distributed

With which the war chieftains stuck themselves.

My God is named Tepanquizqui (“He who overcomes the people”).


He makes himself feared, the god of Tlaxotlan,

Dust whirls upon the God of Tlaxotlan,

Dust whirls upon him.


Our enemies, the people from Amantlan, assemble; meet me there.

So will in their own house the enemy be. Meet me there.


Our enemies the people of Pipitlan assemble; meet me there.

So will in their own house the enemy be.

This song is probably a chant sung before sacrifice to the god. The line “He had taken a foot from the man out of the cold land” seems to allude to the maiming of one of the gods by Uitzilopochtli, or is symbolic of the punishment of a human enemy by rendering him unfit for war through the [81]amputation of one of his feet. Tezcatlipocâ, one of whose names was Yaotzin, “the enemy,” is frequently represented as having but one foot, and the phrase “the man from the cold land,” i.e. the North, applies almost certainly to him. The rest of the song relates to the peoples with whom the Mexicans were frequently at war.



In his shield of the young wife the great warrior chieftain was born.

In his shield of the young wife (or maid) the great warrior chieftain was born.


He who gained his heroic title on the serpent mountain

In his (warrior) face-painting, (and with the shield) teueuelli.

No one in truth rises.

The earth quakes

As he put on his (warrior) face-painting (and his shield) teueuelli.

The first couplet is obscure to me, and seems to refer to a lost myth, which perhaps stated that the god was born of a virgin. The second strophe, of course, relates to the slaughter by Uitzilopochtli of his brothers the Centzonuitznaua.


The high priest of Uitzilopochtli was called Totec tlamacazque, who also bore the name of Quetzalcoatl (an honorary title, originating out of the belief that the god of that name was regarded as the prototype of all religious orders), and who, along with the Tlaloc tlamacazque, occupied the chief religious office in Mexico. He was selected for his piety and general fitness.22


Acosta describes Uitzilopochtli’s great temple at Mexico as follows: “There was in Mexico this Cu, the famous Temple of Vitziliputzli, it had a very great circuite, and within a faire Court. It was built of great stones, in fashion [82]of snakes tied one to another, and the circuite was called Coatepantli, which is, a circuite of snakes: vppon the toppe of every chamber and oratorie where the Idolls were, was a fine piller wrought with small stones, blacke as ieate, set in goodly order, the ground raised vp with white and red, which below gave a great light. Vpon the top of the pillar were battlements very artificially made, wrought like snailes (caracoles), supported by two Indians of stone, sitting, holding candlesticks in their hands, the which were like Croisants garnished and enriched at the ends, with yellow and greene feathers and long fringes of the same. Within the circuite of this court there were many chambers of religious men, and others that were appointed for the service of the Priests and Popes, for so they call the soveraigne Priests which serve the Idoll.

“There were foure gates or entries, at the east, west, north, and south; at every one of these gates beganne a fair cawsey of two or three leagues long. There was in the midst of the lake where the citie of Mexico is built, four large cawseies in crosse, which did much to beautify it; vpon every portall or entry was a God or Idoll having the visage turned to the causey, right against the Temple gate of Vitziliputzli. There were thirtie steppes of thirtie fadome long, and they divided from the circuit of the court by a streete that went betwixt them; vpon the toppe of these steppes there was a walke thirtie foote broad, all plaistered with chalke, in the midst of which walke was a Palisado artificially made of very high trees, planted in order a fadome one from another. These trees were very bigge, and all pierced with small holes from the foote to the top, and there were roddes did runne from one tree to another, to the which were chained or tied many dead mens heades. Vpon every rod were twentie sculles, and these ranckes of sculles continue from the foote to the toppe of the tree. This Palisado was full of dead mens sculls from one end to the other, the which was a wonderfull mournefull sight and full of horror. These were the heads of such as had beene sacrificed; for after they were dead and had eaten the flesh, the head was [83]delivered to the Ministers of the Temple, which tied them in this sort vntil they fell off by morcells; and then had they a care to set others in their places. Vpon the toppe of the temple were two stones or chappells, and in them were the two Idolls which I have spoken of, Vitziliputzli, and his companion Tlaloc. These Chappells were carved and graven very artificially, and so high, that to ascend vp to it, there was a staire of stone of sixscore steppes. Before these Chambers or Chappells, there was a Court of fortie foot square, in the midst thereof, was a high stone of five hand breadth, poynted in fashion of a Pyramide, it was placed there for the sacrificing of men; for being laid on their backes, it made their bodies to bend, and so they did open them and pull out their hearts, as I shall shew heereafter.”23


Prolonged deliberation upon the nature of Uitzilopochtli has led me to the conclusion that he was originally a personification of the maguey-plant (Agave americana). The grounds upon which I base this hypothesis are as follows: A certain variety of the maguey-plant, or metl, was known to the Aztecâ of Mexico-Tenochtitlan as Uitzitzilteutli, or “beak of the humming-bird,” probably because of the resemblance the long spiky thorns (uitztli) with which it is covered bear to the sharp beak of that bird (the uitzitzilin), which suspends its tiny, web-like nest from the leaves of the plant in question. The connection of Uitzilopochtli with the maguey-plant is also proved by at least two of his subsidiary titles. Thus in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas24 he is alluded to as Magueycoatl, “Serpent of the Maguey,” and he was also known as Mexitli, or “Hare of the Maguey,” a title from which one of the quarters of Tenochtitlan, and later the entire city, took its name of Mexico. At the panquetzaliztli festival held in his honour, the warriors who skirmished on his side in mimicry of his combat with the [84]Centzonuitznaua were said to take the part of Uitznauatl,25 or “Thorn that speaks oracularly.” In certain of the place-names which are hieroglyphically figured in the codices, too, the element of his name is depicted as a maguey-plant. Sahagun further states that the proprietors of the maguey plantations and the publicans who sold octli or pulque cut their plants so that they might yield their juice during the sign ce tecpatl, the movable feast of Uitzilopochtli, in the belief that, were they tapped at this time, they would yield abundantly.26

Etymologically, there is good evidence that Uitzilopochtli originally represented the maguey. The word uitztli means “thorn,” and appears in such compounds as Uitzlampa, “Place of Thorns” (the South), and Uitznauatl, “The Thorn that speaks,” which, as we have seen, was another, and probably an older, title of the god. Uitzoctli, too, as Seler has indicated,27 means “pricking pulque,” newly fermented octli. It would seem, then, that the name Uitzilopochtli, until now generally translated as “Humming-bird-to-the-left,” and rendered by Seler “Humming-bird of the South,” must possess another significance for us. Opochtli certainly means both “south” and “left,” but it also means “wizard,” as in the compound tlahuipuchtli, “wizard who spits fire,” instanced by Torquemada,28 who states that some persons derived the god’s name from that word, combined with uitzilinin, “a humming-bird.”29 It is easy to see how the god came to be associated with the humming-bird, which suspends its nest from the foliage of the maguey. It [85]would appear to the Mexicans to emerge from the leaves of that plant, and would come to be regarded as the form which the maguey-spirit took. Indeed, the humming-bird dress or disguise is that in which Uitzilopochtli is almost invariably represented in the codices. It was in the shape of a humming-bird that the god was said to have led the Aztecâ from their ancient home to the Valley of Anahuac, and his flights would probably be considered ominous and suggestive to augurs, like those of the Latin Picus. But it is possible that a certain degree of confusion arose between the elements uitzilinin (humming-bird) and uitztli (thorn), that this assisted the belief that he took the shape of a humming-bird and that the explanatory myth of the hero-god Uitziton refers to this bird in an anthropomorphic shape.

These facts lead me to infer that the name implies “Humming-bird Wizard,” for Uitzilopochtli was, as Sahagun says,30 “a necromancer and friend of disguises,” and wizards are universally conceived of as “sinister,” which English word means both “on the left hand” and “inauspicious,” and “malign,” as does the Latin word from which it is derived. The same holds good of the Mexican word. The sub-titles of the god, Uitznauatl and Magueycoatl, show—the first, that the ideas of sorcery and oracular speech were connected with him; and the second, that he was of a serpentine or venomous disposition, like the liquor distilled from the plant over which he presided, the intoxicating qualities of which were regarded as inducing prophetic inspiration.

That the maguey-plant entered into Uitzilopochtli’s insignia seems probable from the circumstance that at his festival in the month toxcatl his dough image was surmounted by a flint knife half covered with blood.31 In the codices the sacrificial stone knife is frequently depicted as growing in plant-like bundles out of the ground, this artistic and conventional form bearing a close resemblance to the maguey plant, with the spines of which the Mexican priests pierced their tongues and ears to procure a blood-offering.

His primary character notwithstanding, Uitzilopochtli in [86]later times came to possess a very different significance for the Mexicans of Tenochtitlan—such a significance, in short, as the development of their religious conceptions demanded. Thus we find him at the period of the Spanish Conquest possessing solar characteristics and a place in the Mexican pantheon which, if not the most important, had essentially the greatest local significance in the city of Tenochtitlan, of which he was the tutelary god. His status in the days of the second Motecuhzoma is, perhaps, most clearly illustrated by the circumstances of his myth as given by Sahagun, which is obviously ætiological and exhibits the influences both of priestly contrivance and popular imagination. His mother, Coatlicue, has been elsewhere in this work identified with the earth, but in the myth is euhemerized as a pious widow. That she was originally one of those mountain goddesses, like Xochiquetzal, from whose sacred heights the rain descended to the parched fields of Mexico, seems plain from the name of her abode, Coatepetl (“Serpent Mountain”), the serpents of which her skirt is composed, being symbolical, perhaps, of the numerous streams flowing from the tarns or pools situated on its lower acclivities. That such a mountain actually existed in the vicinity of Tollan is proved by the statement of Sahagun. Uitzilopochtli is the sun which rises out of the mountain,32 or is born from it, fully armed with the xiuhcoatl, or fire-snake (the red dawn), with which he slays his sister Coyolxauhqui, the moon, whose lunar attributes are clearly defined in her face-painting, which comprises half-moons and a shell-motif, a lunar symbol. Her nose-plate is also the half-moon symbol. The Centzonuitznaua, or “Four Hundred Southerners,” are the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. These the new-born god puts to flight with ease.33 If further verification of what is obviously [87]a most artificial and operose myth is required, it is only necessary to indicate that one of the subsidiary names of Uitzilopochtli, as recorded by Sahagun, was Ilhuicatl Xoxouhqui, “The Blue Heaven,” the expanse of the sky, showing that, like many another sun-god, he typified the blue vault of heaven.34 Acosta, too, states that the azure colour of his throne signified “that he sat in the heavens.”35 But the myth possesses an allegorical as well as an ætiological character. Thus Coatlicue, the earth, is fructified by the ball of humming-birds’ feathers, that is, by the humming-bird itself, which, in Mexico, is the means of fructifying the plants, its movements causing the transfer of the pollen from the stamens to the germ-cells.

How, then, may we reconcile the primitive fetish of the maguey-plant with the later solar deity? In my view the course of development of the concept of Uitzilopochtli is much the same as that of the Hellenic god Apollo, who, originally a spirit of the apple-tree,36 came in like manner [88]to be regarded as the god of the sun. But, to adhere to the Mexican concept, the sun was regarded by the peoples of Anahuac as the great eater of hearts and drinker of blood. These must be obtained for him by war, or he would perish, and all creation along with him. Uitzilopochtli, as the spirit of the maguey-plant, was the tribal fetish of the Aztecâ, and therefore their natural leader in battle. The connection is obvious and does not require to be laboured. Because of his tribal leadership in war, a governance of which Mexican myth and history bear eloquent testimony, he became confounded with the luminary which demanded blood and lived by human strife.

The solar connection of the octli liquor yielded by his plant is also most clear. Says Duran37: “The octli was a favourite offering to the gods, and especially to the god of fire. Sometimes it was placed before a fire in vases; sometimes it was scattered upon the flames with a brush (aspergillum?); at other times it was poured out around the fire-place.” Fire is, of course, a surrogate of the sun, and Seler has already identified Uitzilopochtli as a fire-god in virtue of his status as a sun-deity,38 showing that the drilling of the solar fire before the beginning of the new cycle of fifty-two years was deferred until the panquetzalitztli, the great feast of Uitzilopochtli. Jacinto de la Serna, too, says that the octli ritual invoked the “shining Rose; light-giving Rose, to receive and rejoice my heart before the god.” The “rose,” of course, referring to the fire or sun. It would seem, however, that before he became confounded or identified with the sun, Uitzilopochtli may have possessed a lunar significance, and this may have obtained in the period while yet the calendar was reckoned upon a lunar basis and its solar connection still remained undefined. The name Mexitli, which has already been remarked upon, and which means “Hare of the Maguey” appears to place Uitzilopochtli upon a level with the other gods of octli, if not to class him as one of these. It bears a suspicious [89]resemblance, too, to the name of the Moon-god, Metztli. The hare or rabbit in Mexico was invariably associated both with the moon and the octli-gods, whose chief characteristic, perhaps, is the lunar nose-plate. But among many of the native tribes of North America the hare or rabbit is the representative of the sun or the dawn, under the names of Michabo, Manibozho, Wabos, and so forth, being described in myth as a warrior, hero-god and culture-bringer. Perhaps the Nahua, while still in a more northern region where the agave was unknown to them, worshipped the rabbit of the sun or moon, and on establishing themselves in a region where the maguey was one of the salient features in the landscape, fused his myth with that of a newly-acquired fetish, discarding later the more ancient belief, or retaining but a confused memory of it. But this train of reasoning lacks evidence to support it. Nor need the consideration of Uitzilopochtli’s serpent-form detain us long. I think I see in the myth which recounts how the Aztecâ, on settling in Tenochtitlan, beheld an eagle perched on a cactus with a serpent in its talons, some relation to Uitzilopochtli, but what it precisely portends is still obscure to me. In any case the symbol of the eagle enters into his insignia, as does that of the serpent. We will recall that he was known as Magueycoatl,39 “Serpent of the Maguey.” Again the solar character of the serpent in America, as elsewhere, readily accounts for his later connection with it, and for the prevalence of serpentine forms in his insignia and temple. But I confess that these two points of contact with the serpent do not altogether satisfy me as regards the god’s connection with it, nor does the fact of the serpentine character of his mother commend itself to me as altogether explanatory of this, and I think we must look to Uitzilopochtli’s nature as a wizard or sorcerer to enlighten us upon this point. Jacinto de la Serna40 states that in his time some of the Mexican conjurers used a wand around which was fastened a living [90]serpent, in much the same way as the priests of the Pueblo Indians do at the present day; and as the great invisible medicine man of the tribe, Uitzilopochtli may have been thought of as doing the same. “Who is a manito?” asks the Meda chant of the Algonquins. “He,” is the reply, “who walketh with a serpent, he is a manito.” For the connection of the Indian magicians with the serpent the reader is referred to the pages of Brinton.41

In many lands the serpent is the symbol of reproductive power and has a phallic significance. In Mexico he casts his winter skin near the time of Uitzilopochtli’s first festival, about the beginning of the rainy season. Moreover, this reptile is connected with soothsaying, and in this respect resembles the god.

His myths, as well as his status in Mexico-Tenochtitlan, of which he was the tutelary deity, make it plain that Uitzilopochtli was a tribal god of the Aztecâ, their national god par excellence. The brave Quauhtemoc, the last native defender of the city, imagined himself invincible when armed with the bow and arrows of Uitzilopochtli, and we know that the advice of the oracle of that deity was sought by the Mexicans when hard pressed by the Conquistadores.

Nor is there any dubiety regarding his character as a god of war. This may have arisen from the circumstance that he presided over the liquor which was given to the troops when about to engage in battle, or, as has been said, may have followed his promotion to the rank of sun-god, the deity of human sacrifice, the god who demanded human hearts and blood. A larger number of captives were devoted to him than to any other divinity, and as the waging of war was the only means by which so many victims might be procured, the sun would naturally become the great patron of strife.

As the sun is the great central cause of all agricultural success, so Uitzilopochtli came to be looked upon as one of the promoters of plant growth, as is witnessed by his festivals, which synchronize with the first rainfall of the year, the [91]growth of plant life, and the end of the fruitful season, when, in the form of a paste image, the god was slain. He is thus the sun of the season of plenty, as his “brother” Tezcatlipocâ represents that of sereness and drought. He is the “young warrior” of the South, who drives away the evil spirits of the dry season and causes the land to rejoice.



  • Area of Worship: Nahua territory generally, with extension into Central America (as Hurakan).
  • Minor Names:
    • Titlacahuan—“He whose slaves we are.”
    • Yaotl—“Enemy.”
    • Yaomauitl—“Dreaded Enemy.”
    • Chico Yaotl—“Enemy on one side.”
    • Necoc Yaotl—“Enemy on both sides.”
    • Moyocoyotzin—“Capricious Lord.”
    • Uitznahuac Yaotl—“Warrior in the Southern House or Temple.”
    • Tlacochcalco Yaotl—“Warrior in the (Northern) Spear House.”
    • Telpochtli—“The Youth.”
    • Neçaualpilli—“Fasting Lord.”
    • Itztli—“Obsidian.”
  • Festivals: Toxcatl, teotleco, and the movable feasts ce miquiztli, ce malinalli, and ome coatl.
  • Compass Directions: North and south in different aspects. Guardian of the fifth quarter, “the below and above.”
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the 18th day, tecpatl; ruler of the second tonalamatl quarter, the region of the north; as Itztli, second of the nine lords of the night; ruler of the 13th day-count acatl.
  • Symbol: The smoking or fiery mirror; the obsidian knife.


Codex Borgia.—By far the best representation of Tezcatlipocâ in any of the manuscripts is that to be found on page 17 of Codex Borgia, where he is seen in connection with the insignia of the twenty calendric days. The picture on the lower right portion of page 21 is without these symbols, but is almost identical with the former figure. The god wears the black body-paint of a priest, and his face-painting is similar to that of Uitzilopochtli, that is, it consists of [92]black horizontal stripes upon a yellow ground, the latter having the same origin as in the case of Uitzilopochtli. From his back rises a very large and elaborate bunch of feather plumes, which arches itself over his head. His hair, dressed in a manner which resembles the “night-hair” of Mictlantecutli, is ornamented with feather-balls as indicating his sacrificial character, and in the picture on page 21 several of these depend from his side-locks. He wears the white ring (anauatl) on his breast, and a short tunic, seemingly covered with stellar devices. His right foot ends in the smoking mirror symbolic of his name and in which he was supposed to observe the actions of humanity, and on page 21 he carries the jaguar-skin purse in which the priests placed copal for incense. In his left hand he holds a shield, the field of which is a tawny yellow in colour, traversed by two white stripes, and a paper banner. On page 3 the god is shown in a springing attitude. He wears the face and body-paint characteristic of him, and the warrior’s headdress, with hair tousled on one side, and the blue nasal rod, with square plaque, falling over the mouth. At the side of the head is the fiery mirror which gives him his name. On page 14 he is seen wearing on his breast, and fastened to two strong red leather straps, the white ring teocuitlaanauatl, an ornament resembling a large, round eye. On his back is a feather device known as the “quetzal feather-pot.” The right foot, as in other pictures of him, is replaced by a small fiery mirror and his left by an obsidian knife.



(Codex Borgia, sheet 21.)

Codex Borbonicus.—In this manuscript Tezcatlipocâ is depicted with the yellow-and-black face-painting, but in his form as a black god. At his forehead is the smoking mirror, on his back the large quetzal-feather ornament with a banner, on his breast the anauatl, and round his loins the hip-cloth, with a bordering of red eyes. On his feet he wears sandals showing the motif of the obsidian snake, and his headdress is painted with the stellar symbol, the round white spots on a black ground, which typifies the night sky. Here also we see two bamboo staves attached to his neck—undoubtedly the collar worn by captives or slaves which [93]rendered flight impossible, and which Tezcatlipocâ wears to symbolize his enslavement of the Mexican people and in allusion to his name Titlacauan, which means “He whose slaves we are.” The spear and the net-pouch in this place recall the insignia of Mixcoatl, and seem to indicate that Tezcatlipocâ was a god of the Chichimec or hunting folk of the North Steppes, or perhaps it may merely symbolize the proneness of all stellar, lunar and solar deities in Mexico to the chase.

Tonalamatl of the Aubin Collection.—In this manuscript Tezcatlipocâ appears as the representative of the Moon-god and sits opposite the Sun-god. He is shown with his usual attributes and face-painting, the smoking mirror in the region of the ear, the white ring on his breast, and on his back the quetzalcomitl, the large quetzal-feather ornament in which a banner is stuck. In his right hand he holds several of the agave-spikes which the priests employed for piercing the tongue. In this manuscript the Death-god is also depicted as Tezcatlipocâ, and wears his body-and-face painting and his general insignia, as well as the rosette at the nape of the neck. In this place, however, the snail-shaped shield rises above the forehead, which is also decorated with a row of feather balls and a single arara plume.

(From Codex Vaticanus A, sheet 44 Verso.)

(From Codex Vaticanus A, sheet 44 Verso.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, sheet 3, folio 89.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, sheet 3, folio 89.)


Codex Magliabecchiano.—A good illustration of Tezcatlipocâ will be found on page 89 of this codex. The figure of the god is surrounded by footprints, symbolic, probably, of the circumstance that as the youngest and swiftest of the gods he arrived first at the teotleco festival (coming of the gods) and impressed his footprint on the heap of maize arranged by the priests for its reception in order that they might know of his coming. He wears a large panache of green feathers, consisting of two parts; that immediately above the face being inserted in a tumbler-shaped ornament painted blue, with a red rim, and having six white disks upon its field. To the lower part of this is joined a rainbow-like device in various colours, from which springs the main part of the feather panache. The upper fore-part of the face is painted yellow, the rear portion purple or grey, and [94]the region about the mouth is bright red. He is bearded. The tunic is white, with a white shoulder-knot, and a bunch of maize springs from the right shoulder. On the breast is the god’s mirror, and at the waist an ornament or symbol resembling the Maya Kin (sun) sign, painted blue. The rest of the body-colour is purple-grey. In the left hand he carries an atlatl, or spear-thrower, with a serpent’s head having a brown mane, and bearing a resemblance to some horse-like ornamental motifs found in Guatemala. In the right hand he bears a shield, the field of which is divided into two parts, the right painted blue and bearing what would seem to be the nose-ornament of the pulque-gods, whilst the left resembles the design found on the skirt of the Earth-goddess. The shield is crossed behind by four darts and is surmounted by a befeathered banner. In this place Tezcatlipocâ is undoubtedly represented in his variant of “the young warrior,” as his equipment shows.

Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—The god’s feather crown is set with obsidian knives. His face is barred with horizontal lines of black, and on his back he carries a basket filled with quetzal-feathers. His arm-ring is set with obsidian knives, and one-half of his leg is painted black. On his legs and feet he wears shells and sandals, the latter the so-called “obsidian sandals,” painted with a picture of the obsidian snake. His arms are covered with paper fans. His shield is inlaid with feather balls, and in one of his hands he holds the “seeing” or scrying implement tlachialoni.

Acosta, describing Tezcatlipocâ, says42: “They called this idol Tezcallipuca, he was made of black, shining stone like to Jayel, being attired with some Gentile devises after their manner. It had ear-rings of gold and silver, and through the nether lip a small canon of christall, in length half a foote, in the which they sometimes put a greene feather, and sometimes an azure, which made it resemble sometimes an emerald and sometimes a turquois. It had the haire broided and bound up with a haire-lace of gold burnished, [95]at the end whereof did hang an eare of gold, with two fire-brands of smoke painted therein which did signify the praires of the afflicted and sinners that he heard, when they recommended themselves to him. Betwixt the two eares hanged a number of small herons. He had a jewell hanging at his neck so great that it covered all his stomake. Upon his armes bracelets of gold, upon his navill a rich, green stone, and in his left hand a fanne of precious feathers, of greene, azure and yellow, which came forth of a looking-glasse of gold, shining and well-burnished, and that signified, that within this looking-glasse he saw whatever was done in the world. They called this glasse or chaston of gold irlacheaya,43 which signifies his glass for to look in. In his right hand he held foure darts which signified the chastisement he gave to the wicked for their sins.… They held this idoll Tescatlipuca for the god of drought, of famine, barrenness and pestilence. And therefore they painted him in another form, being set in great majesty upon a stoole, compassed in with a red curtin, painted and wrought with the heads and bones of dead men. In the left hand it had a target with five pines, like unto pine apples of cotton, and in the right a little dart with a threatening countenance, and the arm stretched out as if he would cast it and from the target came foure darts. It had the countenance of an angry man and in choller, the body all painted blacke and the head full of quailes feathers.”

Bernal Diaz says of him (bk. vi. c. 91): “Then we saw on the other side on the left hand there stood the other great image the same height as Huichilobos, and it had a face like a bear44 and eyes that shone, made of their mirrors which they call Tezcat, and the body plastered with precious stones like that of Huichilobos, for they say that the two are brothers; and this Tezcatepuca was the god of Hell and had charge of the souls of the Mexicans, and his body was girt with figures like little devils with snakes’ tails.”

Face-mask.—When Cortéz landed at Vera Cruz, the [96]messengers of Motecuhzoma tendered him, along with other presents, “the ornaments or finery with which Tezcatlipocâ was decorated.” The mask belonging to this costume is still in existence, and is to be seen in the room devoted to American antiquities in the British Museum. It consists of a human skull encrusted with mosaic in alternate bands of black and green, the nasal cavity being set with a red stone and the eyes with pyrites ringed with white.

Statuette.—A statuette of Tezcatlipocâ from the Valley of Mexico, and now in the Uhde collection, shows the god as nude, with the exception of a loin-cloth and a flat headdress, rising in the middle.

Tezcatlipocâ in His Black and Red Forms.—Tezcatlipocâ was regarded by the Mexican people as possessing two definite forms, the Black and the Red. In this paragraph we will deal only with the insignia of these and not with their mythological significance, which we will attempt to explain in its proper place. Perhaps the best and most classical examples of these forms we possess are to be observed on sheet 21 of Codex Borgia, on both halves of which we see the two forms represented as parallel figures, closely resembling one another in nearly every detail. It should at once be stated that the Red Tezcatlipocâ is merely a variant of Xipe, and indeed in one place in Codex Vaticanus B we observe that his loin-cloth forks in the swallow-tail fashion noticeable in the loin-cloth of that god, and, generally speaking, the red colours he wears are those of the roseate spoon-bill, the feathers of which are typical of Xipe’s dress. These pictures in the Codex Borgia are supplemented by two on sheets 85 and 86 of Vaticanus B, where the swallow-tail ends of the loin-cloth and the nasal rod show distinctly that the Red Tezcatlipocâ is only a form of Xipe. The Black Tezcatlipocâ opposite him is, however, represented with the striped body-paint of Tlauizcalpantecutli, the arms being entirely black. In the Borgia paintings the Black Tezcatlipocâ wears the black body-paint of the priest, his face-paint is alternately black and yellow, he has the warrior’s tousled hair, the nasal rod with the square plaque falling [97]over the mouth, the forked heron-feather adornment in his hair, and on his temple the smoking mirror. The foot, too, is torn off and replaced by a smoking mirror—all symbolical of the “standard” character of the god’s sable form. The Red Tezcatlipocâ represented in the upper portion of Borgia (sheet 21) has a yellow face-painting striped with horizontal bands of red and his body-paint is red. On the red bands crossing the face is seen the stellar eye. A brown fillet encircles a red headdress, and the torn-off foot is also replaced by the smoking mirror. On his back is seen the bundle of the merchant, surmounted by the arara bird, two symbols which indicate his southern character. The representation of the Red Tezcatlipocâ in the lower portion of sheet 21 is practically similar to this, save that he wears feather balls and heron plumes in his headdress, is without the merchant’s pack, and holds in one hand the jaguar-skin copal-bag of the priests and the smoking rubber ball used as incense.

These forms of the god have been laid down in myth as distinctly separate deities, especially in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas.45


Toxcatl.—This, one of the most important of all the Mexican festivals, is described by Sahagun substantially as follows: The fifth month called toxcatl and sometimes tepopochuiliztli, was begun by the most solemn and famous feast of the year, in honour of the principal Mexican god, a god known by a multitude of names and epithets, among which were Tezcatlipocâ, Titlacaoan, Yautl, Telpuchtli, and Tlamatzincatl. A year before this feast one of the most distinguished of the captives reserved for sacrifice was chosen for his superior grace and personal appearance from among all his fellows, and given in charge to the priestly functionaries called calpixques. These instructed him with great diligence in all the arts pertaining to good breeding, [98]such as playing on the flute, deportment, conversation, saluting those he happened to meet, the use of straight cane tobacco-pipes and of flowers. He was attended upon by eight pages, who were clad in the livery of the palace, and had perfect liberty to go where he pleased night and day; while his food was so rich that, to guard against his growing too fat, it was at times necessary to vary the diet by a purge of salt and water. Everywhere honoured and adored as the living image and accredited representative of Tezcatlipocâ, he went about playing on a small shrill clay flute or fife, and adorned with rich and curious raiment furnished by the king, while all he met did him reverence, kissing the earth. All his body and face was painted black, his long hair flowed to the waist; his head was covered with white hens’ feathers stuck on with resin, and covered with a garland of the flowers called izquixochitl,46 while two strings of the same flowers crossed his body in the fashion of cross-belts. Earrings of gold, a necklace of precious stones, with a great dependent gem hanging to the breast, a lip-ornament (barbote) of sea-shell, bracelets of gold above the elbow on each arm, and strings of gems called macuextlu winding from wrist almost to elbow, were part of his ornaments. He was covered with a rich, beautifully fringed mantle of netting, and bore on his shoulders something like a purse made of white cloth of a span square, ornamented with tassels and a fringe. A white maxtle of a span broad went about his loins, the two ends, curiously wrought, falling in front almost to the knee. Little bells of gold hung upon his feet, which were shod with painted sandals called ocelunacace.

(From Codex Borgia.)

(From Codex Borgia.)

(From the Sahagun MS.)

(From the Sahagun MS.)

(Pottery figure from the Uhde Collection.)

(Pottery figure from the Uhde Collection.)


All this was the attire he wore from the beginning of his year of preparation; but twenty days before the coming of the festival they changed his vestments, washed away the paint or dye from his skin, and cut down his long hair to the length, and arranged it after the fashion, of the hair of the captains, tying it up on the crown of the head with feathers and fringe and two gold-buttoned tassels. At the same time they married to him four damsels, who had [99]been pampered and educated for this purpose, and who were surnamed respectively after the four goddesses, Xochiquetzal, Xilonen, Atlantonan, and Uixtociuatl. Five days before the great day of the feast, the day of the feast being counted one, all the people, high and low, the king it would appear being alone excepted, went out to celebrate with the man-god a solemn banquet and dance, in the ward called Tecanman; the fourth day before the feast the same was done in the ward in which was guarded the statue of Tezcatlipocâ. The little hill or island called Tepetzinco, rising out of the waters of the Lake of Mexico, was the scene of the next day’s solemnities; which were renewed for the last time on the next day, or that immediately preceding the great day, on another like island called Tepelpulco, or Tepepulco. There, with the four women who had been given to him for his consolation, the honoured victim was put into a covered canoe usually reserved for the sole use of the king, and he was carried across the lake to a place called Tlapitzaoayan, near the road that goes from Yztapalapan to Chalco, at a place where was a little hill called Acaccuilpan, or Cabaltepec. Here left him the four beautiful girls whose society for twenty days he had enjoyed, they returning to the capital with all the people. There accompanied him only those eight attendants who had been with him all the year. Almost alone, done with the joys of beauty, banquet, and dance, bearing a bundle of his flutes, he walked to a little cu, some distance from the road mentioned above, and about a league removed from the city. He marched up the temple steps; and as he ascended he dashed down and broke on every step one of the flutes that he had been accustomed to play on in the days of his prosperity. He reached the top, where he was sacrificed. From the sacrificial stone his body was not hurled down the steps, but was carried by four men down to the tzompantli, to the place of the spitting of heads.




(Museo Naçional, Mexico.)

In this feast of toxcatl, in the cu called Uitznahuac, where the image of Uitzilopochtli was always kept, the priests made a bust of this god out of tzoalli dough, with pieces of [100]mizquitl47-wood inserted by way of bones. They decorated it with his ornaments; putting on a jacket wrought over with human bones, a mantle of very thin nequen, and another mantle called the Tlaquaquallo, covered with rich feathers, fitting the head below and widening out above; in the middle of this stood up a little rod, also decorated with feathers, and sticking into the top of the rod was a flint knife half covered with blood. The image was set on a platform made of pieces of wood resembling snakes, and so arranged that heads and tails alternated all the way round; the whole borne by many captains and men of war. Before this image and platform a number of strong youths carried an enormous sheet of paper resembling pasteboard, twenty fathoms long, one fathom broad, and a little less than an inch thick; it was supported by spear-shafts arranged in pairs of one shaft above and one below the paper, while persons on either side of the paper held one of these pairs in one hand. When the procession, with dancing and singing, reached the cu to be ascended, the platform was carefully and cautiously hoisted up by cords attached to its four corners, the image was set on a seat, and those who carried the paper rolled it up and set down the roll before the bust of the god. It was sunset when the image was so set up; and the following morning everyone offered food in his own house before the image of Uitzilopochtli, incensing also such images of the other gods as he had, and then went to offer quails’ blood before the image set up on the cu. The king began, wringing off the heads of four quails; the priests offered next, then all the people; the whole multitude carrying clay fire-pans and burning copal incense of every kind, after which everyone threw his live coals on a great hearth in the temple yard. The virgins painted their faces, put on their heads garlands of parched maize, with strings of the same across their breasts, decorated their arms and legs with red feathers, and carried black paper flags stuck into split canes. The flags of the daughters of the nobles were not of paper, but of a thin cloth called canauac, painted [101]with vertical black stripes. These girls, joining hands, danced round the great hearth, upon or over which, on an elevated place of some kind, there danced, giving the time and step, two men, having each a kind of pine cage covered with paper flags on his shoulders, the strap supporting which passed, not across the forehead—the usual way for men to carry a burden—but across the chest, as was the fashion with women. They bore shields of paper, crumpled up like great flowers, their heads were adorned with white feathers, their lips and part of the face were smeared with sugar-cane juice, which produced a peculiar effect over the black with which their faces were always painted. They carried in their hands pieces of paper called amasmaxtli48 and sceptres of palm-wood tipped with a black flower and having in the lower part a ball of black feathers. In dancing they used this sceptre like a staff, and the part by which they grasped it was wrapped round with a paper painted with black lines. The music for the dancers was supplied by a party of unseen musicians, who occupied one of the temple buildings, where they sat, he that played the drum in the centre, and the performers on the other instruments about him. The men and women danced on till night, but the strictest order and decency were preserved, and any lewd word or look brought down swift punishment from the appointed overseers.

This feast was closed by the death of a youth who had been during the past year dedicated to and taken care of for Uitzilopochtli, resembling in this the victim of Tezcatlipocâ, whose companion he had indeed been, but without receiving such high honours. This Uitzilopochtli youth was entitled Ixteocalli,49 or Tlacauepan, or Teicauhtzin,50 and was held to be the image and representative of the god. When the day of his death came the priests decorated him with papers painted over with black circles, and put a mitre of eagles’ feathers on his head, in the midst of whose plumes was stuck a flint knife, stained half-way up with blood and adorned with red feathers. Tied to his shoulders by strings [102]passing across the breast was a piece of very thin cloth, about a span square, and over it hung a little bag. Over one of his arms was thrown a wild beast’s skin, arranged somewhat like a maniple; bells of gold jingled at his legs as he walked or danced. There were two peculiar things connected with the death of this youth: first, he had absolute liberty of choice regarding the hour in which he was to die; and, second, he was not extended upon any block or altar, but when he wished he threw himself into the arms of the priests, and had his heart so cut out. His head was then hacked off and spitted alongside that of the Tezcatlipocâ youth, of whom we have spoken already. In this same day the priests made little marks on children, cutting them, with thin stone knives, in the breast, stomach, wrists, and fleshy parts of the arms; marks, as the Spanish priests considered, by which the devil should know his own sheep.

Teotleco.—The movable feasts sacred to Tezcatlipocâ and alluded to in the list of his festivals are only briefly mentioned by Sahagun, and do not appear to have been of any particular importance. As regards the Teotleco Sahagun says: “The twelfth month was called Teotleco, which signifies the arrival of the gods. A festival was celebrated in honour of all the gods who were said to have gone to some country, I know not where. On the last day of the month a greater one was held, because the gods had returned.

“On the fifteenth day of this month the young boys and the servitors decked all the altars or oratories of the gods with boughs, as well those which were in the houses as the images which were set up by the wayside and at the cross-roads. This work was paid for in maize. Some received a basketful, and others only a few ears.

“On the eighteenth day the ever-youthful god Tlamatzincatl, or Titlacauan, arrived. It was said that he marched better and arrived the first because he was young and strong. Food was offered him in his temple on that night. Everyone drank, ate, and made merry; the old people especially celebrated the arrival of the god by drinking wine, and it was alleged that his feet were washed by these rejoicings. [103]The last day of the month was marked by a great festival, on account of the belief that the whole of the gods arrived at that time. On the preceding night a quantity of flour was kneaded on a carpet into the shape of a cheese, it being supposed that the gods would leave a footprint thereon as a sign of their return. The chief attendant watched all night, going to and fro to see if the impression appeared. When he at last saw it he called out, ‘The master has arrived,’ and at once the priests of the temple began to sound the horns, trumpets, and other musical instruments used by them. Upon hearing this noise everyone ran forthwith to offer food in all the temples or oratories, and gave themselves up to renewed rejoicings, to wash the feet of the gods, as we have already described.

“The next day the aged gods were said to come last, because they walked more slowly on account of their age. On that day several captives were doomed to be burnt alive. A great brazier was prepared; young men disguised as monsters danced round about it, and while dancing, hurled the unhappy victims into the fire, in the manner already explained. Other ceremonies took place which will be described in the account of this festival.”


Sahagun says of Tezcatlipocâ that he was invisible and was able to penetrate into all places, heaven, earth, and hell. The Mexicans, he says, believed that he wandered over the earth stirring up strife and war, and setting men against one another. He also remarks that he was the true giver of prosperity, and extremely capricious.51

Acosta calls him the god of drought, famine, barrenness, and pestilence.52

Clavigero alludes to him as the chief of the gods worshipped in Mexico, the god of providence, the soul of the world, the creator of heaven and earth and master of all things. “They represented him as young, to denote that no length of years ever diminished his power. They believed [104]that he rewarded with various benefits the just, and punished the wicked with diseases and other afflictions.”53

The interpreter of Codex Telleriano-Remensis states that “Tezcatlipocâ is he who appeared to the nation on the mountain of the mirror, as they say, and is he who tempted Quetzalcoatl the penitent.” Elsewhere he says: “They do not here paint Tezcatlipocâ with a foot formed of a serpent, since they say that this festival [panquetzaliztli] relates to a time previous to his sinning while still in heaven, and that hence happened the war in heaven, from whence wars sprung below.”

The interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A. says of him: “Tezcatlipocâ, here represented, was one of their most potent gods. They say that he appeared in that country on the top of a mountain called Tezcatepu, which signifies the mountain of mirrors.” Later on he remarks that the god was sometimes painted with the feet of a man and of a cock, “as they say his name bears allusion to this circumstance. He is clothed with a fowl, which seems to cry in laughing accents, and when it crows, Oa, Oa, Oa, they say that it deceived the “first woman, who committed sin, and accordingly they place him near the goddess of pollution.”

A report on the Huaxtec territory, dated 1579, states that: “They relate another fable, that they had two other effigies as gods, one called Ometochtli, who is the god of wine, the other Tezcatlipocâ, which is the name of the most exalted idol worshipped by them, and with these they had painted the figure of a woman named Hueytonantzin, that is ‘our great mother,’ because they said that she was the mother of all these gods or demons. And those four above-mentioned male demons, they related, had killed this great mother, founding with her the institution of human sacrifice, and taking her heart out of her breast, and presenting it to the sun. Similarly, they related that the idol Tezcatlipocâ had killed the god of wine with his consent and concurrence, giving out that in this way he gave eternal life, and that if he did not die, all persons drinking wine must die; but that the [105]death of this Ometochtli was only the sleep of one drunk, that he afterwards recovered, and again became fresh and well.”

Tezcatlipocâ, it will be remembered, is alluded to in the cosmogonic myths of Mendieta and Sahagun, already related in the chapter on Cosmogony. The Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas refers to him as the creator, says that “he made the sun to shine,” and states that he was the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, which “sank in the water.” He also made the Tazcaquavlt, or “tree of the mirror,” fashioned four hundred men and a hundred women as food for the sun, and, along with Quetzalcoatl, constructed “the road in the heavens, the Milky Way.”

Sahagun states54 that after Tezcatlipocâ had succeeded in driving Quetzalcoatl from the country, “he proceeded further guilefully to kill many Toltecs and to ally himself by marriage with Vemac or Uemac, who was the temporal lord of the Toltecs, even as Quetzalcoatl was the spiritual ruler of that people. To accomplish these things Tezcatlipocâ took the appearance of a poor foreigner and presented himself naked, as was the custom of such people, in the market-place of Tulla, selling green chilli pepper. Now the palace of Vemac, the great king, overlooked the market-place, and he had an only daughter, and the girl, looking by chance among the buyers and sellers, saw the disguised god. She was smitten through with love of him, and she began to sicken. Vemac heard of her sickness, and he inquired of the women who guarded her as to what ailed his daughter. They told him as best they could, how for the love of a peddler of pepper, named Toveyo, the princess had lain down to die. The king immediately sent a crier upon the mountain Tzatzitepec to make this proclamation: ‘O Toltecs, seek me out Toveyo that goes about selling green pepper, let him be brought before me.’ So the people sought everywhere for the pepper vendor, but he was nowhere to be found. Then after they could not find him, he appeared [106]of his own accord one day, at his old place and trade in the market. He was brought before the king, who said to him: ‘Where dost thou belong to?’ and Toveyo answered, ‘I am a foreigner, come here to sell my green pepper.’ ‘Why dost thou delay to cover thyself with breeches and a blanket?’ said Vemac. Toveyo answered that in his country such things were not in the fashion. Vemac continued: ‘My daughter longs after thee, not willing to be comforted by any Toltec. She is sick of love and thou must heal her.’ But Toveyo replied: ‘This thing can in no wise be; kill me first; I desire to die, not being worthy to hear these words, who get my living by selling green pepper.’ ‘I tell thee,’ said the king, ‘that thou must heal my daughter of this her sickness; fear not.’ Then they took the cunning god and washed him, and cut his hair, and dyed all his body and put breeches on him and a blanket; and the king Vemac said, ‘Get thee in and see my daughter, there, where they guard her.’ Then the young man went in and he remained with the princess and she became sound and well; thus Toveyo became the son-in-law of the king of Tulla.

“Then, behold, all the Toltecs, being filled with jealousy and offended, spake injurious and insulting words against King Vemac, saying among themselves, ‘Of all the Toltecs can there not be found a man, that this Vemac marries his daughter to a peddler?’ Now when the king heard all the injurious and insulting words that the people spake against him he was moved, and he spoke to the people saying, ‘Come hither, behold I have heard all these things that ye say against me in the matter of my son-in-law Toveyo; dissimulate then; take him deceitfully with you to the war of Cacatepec and Coatepec, and let the enemy kill him there.’ Having heard these words, the Toltecs armed themselves, and collected a multitude and went to the war, bringing Toveyo along. Arrived where the fighting was to take place, they hid him with the lame and the dwarfs, charging them, as the custom was in such cases, to watch for the enemy, while the soldiers went on to the attack. The battle began. The Toltecs at once gave way, treacherously [107]and guilefully deserting Toveyo and the cripples. Leaving them to be slaughtered at their post, they returned to Tulla and told the king how they had left Toveyo and his companions alone in the hands of the enemy. When the king heard the treason he was glad, thinking Toveyo dead, for he was ashamed of having him for a son-in-law. Affairs had gone otherwise, however, with Toveyo from what the plotters supposed. On the approach of the hostile army he consoled his deformed companions, saying: ‘Fear nothing; the enemy come against us, but I know that I shall kill them all.’ Then he rose up and went forward against them, against the men of Coatepec and Cacatepec. He put them to flight and slew of them without number. When this came to the ears of Vemac it weighed upon and terrified him exceedingly. He said to his Toltecs, ‘Let us now go and receive my son-in-law.’ So they all went out with King Vemac to receive Toveyo, bearing the arms and devices called quetzalapanecayutl, and the shields called xiuhchimali.55 They gave these things to Toveyo, and he and his comrades received them with dancing and the music of flutes, with triumph and rejoicing. Furthermore, on reaching the palace of the king, plumes were put upon the heads of the conquerors, and all the body of each of them was stained yellow, and all the face red. This was the customary reward of those that came back victorious from war. And King Vemac said to his son-in-law: ‘I am now satisfied with what thou hast done, and the Toltecs are satisfied; thou hast dealt very well with our enemies, rest and take thine ease.’ But Toveyo held his peace.

“And after this, Toveyo adorned all his body with the rich feathers called tocivitl, and commanded the Toltecs to gather together for a festival, and sent a crier up to the top of the mountain Tzatzitepec, to call in the strangers and the people afar off to dance and to feast. A numberless multitude gathered to Tulla. When they were all gathered, Toveyo led them out, young men and girls, to a place called Texcalapa, where he himself began and led the dancing, playing [108]on a drum. He sang too, singing each verse to the dancers, who sang it after him, though they knew not the song beforehand. Then was to be seen a marvellous and terrible thing. A panic seized the Toltecs. There was a gorge or ravine there, with a river rushing through it called the Texcaltlauhco. A stone bridge led over the river. Toveyo broke down this bridge as the people fled. He saw them tread and crush each other down, under-foot, and over into the abyss. They that fell were turned into rocks and stones; as for those that escaped, they did not see nor think that it was Toveyo and his sorceries had wrought this great destruction; they were blinded by the witchcraft of the god, and out of their senses like drunken men.

“Tezcatlipocâ then proceeded to hatch further evil against the Toltecs. He took the appearance of a certain valiant man called Teguioa, and commanded a crier to summon all the inhabitants of Tulla and its neighbourhood to come and help at a certain piece of work in a certain flower-garden (said to have been a garden belonging to Quetzalcoatl). All the people gathered to the work, whereupon the disguised god fell upon them, knocking them on the head with a hoe. Those that escaped the hoe were trodden down and killed by their fellows in attempting to escape. A countless number was slain. Every man that had come to the work was left lying dead among the trodden flowers.

“And after this Tezcatlipocâ wrought another witchcraft against the Toltecs. He called himself Tlacavepan, or Acexcoch, and came and sat down in the midst of the market-place of Tulla having a little manikin (said to have been Uitzilopochtli) dancing upon his hand. There was an instant uproar of all the buyers and sellers and a rush to see the miracle. The people crushed and trod each other down, so that many were killed there; and all this happened many times. At last the god-sorcerer cried out on one such occasion: ‘What is this? Do you not see that you are befooled by us? Stone and kill us.’ So the people took up stones and killed the said sorcerer and his little dancing manikin. But when the body of the sorcerer had lain in [109]the market-place for some time it began to stink and to taint the air, and the wind of it poisoned many. Then the dead sorcerer spake again, saying: ‘Cast this body outside the town, for many Toltecs die because of it.’ So they prepared to cast out the body, and fastened ropes thereto and pulled. But the ill-smelling corpse was so heavy that they could not move it. Then a crier made a proclamation, saying: ‘Come, all ye Toltecs, and bring ropes with you, that we may drag out and get rid of this pestilential carcass.’ All came accordingly, bringing ropes, and the ropes were fastened to the body and all pulled. It was utterly in vain. Rope after rope broke with a sudden snap, and those that dragged on a rope fell and were killed when it broke. Then the dead wizard looked up and said; ‘O Toltecs, a verse of song is needed.’ And he himself gave them a verse. They repeated the verse after him, and, singing it, pulled all together, so that with shouts they hauled the body out of the city, though still not without many ropes breaking and many persons being killed as before. All this being over, those Toltecs that remained unhurt returned every man to his place, not remembering anything of what had happened, for they were all as drunken.

“Other signs and wonders were wrought by Tezcatlipocâ in his rôle of sorcerer. A white bird called Iztac cuixtli was clearly seen flying over Tulla, transfixed with a dart. At night also, the sierra called Zacatepec burned, and the flames were seen from afar. All the people were stirred up and affrighted, saying one to another, ‘O Toltecs, it is all over with us now; the time of the end of Tulla is come; alas for us, whither shall we go?’

“Then Tezcatlipocâ wrought another evil upon the Toltecs; he rained down stones upon them. There fell also, at the same time, a great stone from heaven called Techcatl; and when it fell the god-sorcerer took the appearance of an old woman, and went about selling little banners in a place called Chapultepec Cuitlapilco, otherwise named Uetzinco. Many then became mad and bought of these banners and went to the place where was the stone Techcatl, and there [110]got themselves killed; and no one was found to say so much as, ‘What is this that happens to us?’ They were all mad.

“Another woe Tezcatlipocâ brought upon the Toltecs. All their victuals suddenly became sour, and no one was able to eat of them. The old woman, above mentioned, took up then her abode in a place called Xochitla, and began to roast maize: and the odour of the roasted maize reached all the cities round about. The starving people set out immediately, and with one accord, to go where the old woman was. They reached her instantly, for here it may be again said, that the Toltecs were exceedingly light of foot, and arrived always immediately whithersoever they wished to go. As for the Toltecs that gathered to the mock sorceress, not one of them escaped. She killed them every one.”

These feats of Tezcatlipocâ against the Toltecs seem to have reference to the various species of charm wielded by the enchanter; the love-charm, the charm by music, by disease, by destruction of victuals. The rain of stone signified barrenness, drought, which was implied by the nature of the god, the deity of obsidian and of tempests.

For other myths regarding Tezcatlipocâ see the chapter on Cosmogony.


In my opinion the early significance of Tezcatlipocâ arises out of his connection with obsidian. This stone had an especial sanctity for the Mexicans, as it provided the sacrificial knives employed by the priests, and we possess good evidence that stone in its fetish form was worshipped even so late as the eighteenth century by the Nahuatl-speaking Chotas, who comprised it in a trinity with the Dawn and the Serpent.56 From a passage in Acosta57 we are justified in assuming that Tezcatlipocâ’s idol was of obsidian, and, like the Quiche god Tohil, mentioned in the Popol Vuh, he wore sandals of obsidian, as is witnessed by one of his representations in Codex Borbonicus, where his footgear is painted with the zigzag line of the obsidian snake. [111]

Tezcatlipocâ was unquestionably the god of the itztli (obsidian) stone, and Seler58 has identified him with Iztli, the stone-knife god, the second of the lords of the night. In certain codices, too, he is represented as having such a knife in place of a foot, and we know that it was a fairly common practice of the Mexican artists to indicate the name or race of an individual by drawing one of his feet in a hieroglyphical manner.59 I believe, too, that the net-like garment worn at times by the god above his other attire is an adaptation of the mesh-bag in which Mexican hunters carried flints for use as spear- and arrow-heads.

This, as well as the fact that he was the god of the sharp-cutting obsidian from which such weapons were made, caused him to be regarded as patron deity of the wild hunting Chichimecs of the northern steppes, a connection which is eloquent of his erstwhile primitive character. It is clear, too, that Chalchiuhtotolin, the jewelled fowl, which is ruler of the eighteenth day-sign, tecpatl (obsidian knife), is merely a variant of Tezcatlipocâ.60 [112]

But another important link connects Tezcatlipocâ with obsidian. Bernal Diaz states that they called this “Tezcat.” From it mirrors were manufactured as divinatory media by the wizard. Sahagun says61 that it was known as aitztli (water obsidian), probably because of the high polish of which it was capable. Another such stone he mentions was called tepochtli, which I would translate “wizard stone,” and from which I think, by a process of etymological confusion, Tezcatlipocâ received one of his minor names, Telpochtli, “the youth.” The name of the god means “Smoking Mirror,” and Acosta62 says that the Mexicans called Tezcatlipocâ’s mirror irlacheaya (an obvious error for tlachialoni) “his glass to look in,” otherwise the mirror or scrying-stone in which he was able to witness the doings of mankind. It is possible that the “smoke” which was said to rise from this mirror symbolized the haziness which is supposed to cloud the surface of a divinatory glass prior to the phenomenon of vision therein.

Thus from the shape beheld in the seer’s mirror, Tezcatlipocâ came to be regarded as the seer. That into which the wizard gazed became so closely identified with sorcery as to be thought of as wizard-like itself; for Tezcatlipocâ is, of all Mexican deities, the one most nearly connected with the wizard’s art. He is par excellence the nocturnal god who haunts the crossways and appears in a myriad phantom guises to the night-bound wayfarer. “These,” says Sahagun, “were masks that Tezcatlipocâ assumed to frighten the people.”

He wears the symbol of night upon his forehead; he is the moon, ruler of the night, the wizard who veils himself behind the clouds; he bears the severed arm of a woman who has died in childbed, as a magical instrument, as did the naualli of old Mexico. From him all ominous and uncanny sounds proceed: the howl of the jaguar (in which we perceive Tezcatlipocâ as the wizard metamorphosed [113]into the wer-animal), and the foreboding cry of the uactli bird, the voc, the bird of Hurakan in the Popol Vuh.

Tezcatlipocâ was undoubtedly connected with the wind, and this leads me to suspect that in the course of his evolution he came to be thought of as among that class of magical stones which in some mysterious manner is considered capable of raising a tempest under the spell of the sorcerer.63 Of such a belief world-wide examples exist. In the Irish island of Fladdahuan such a stone was anointed when the fisher desired a wind64 and was kept in wool wrappings. A piece of pumice-stone drifted to Puka-Puka, says Lang,65 and was regarded as a god of winds and waves, to which offerings were made during hurricanes. Tezcatlipocâ is none other than the original “hurricane,” for he has been identified with the Hurakan of the Quiches of Guatemala alluded to in the Popol Vuh, from whose name the meteorological expression has been borrowed.

Whether or not he came to be looked upon as the wind of night which ravined through the empty streets and deserted countryside by virtue of the train of thought suggested above, many aspects of Tezcatlipocâ are eloquent of his boreal attributes. Thus, he is invisible and capricious, the object of mistrust among the people, who discerned in tempestuous weather a manifestation of his freakish bad temper. The myth in which he was described as pursuing Quetzalcoatl in tiger-form will, in the section which deals with that god, be indicated as an allegory of the clashing of the hurricane with the rain-bringing trade-wind. Lastly, as patron of war, of the warrior’s club and dance-house, he is, as the boisterous storm, emblematic of strife and discord. Seats of stone over-arched with green branches were provided for him throughout the city so that he might rest from his wanderings if he thought good. [114]

In the Aztec mind stone was symbolic of sin. Thus Tezcatlipocâ in his variant, Itzlacoliuhqui, is the just avenger, who punishes evil swiftly and terribly, for obsidian as the sacrificial knife was the instrument of justice.66 The coldness of stone, its hardness and dryness, seem also to have given rise to the conception of him as god of the Toxcatl festival in the fifth month of the year, the dry season, when the sun stood at the zenith above Tenochtitlan. Thus, as the prayers to him eloquently affirm, he was the god of drought, of sereness, and barrenness.

In common with the majority of the greater Mexican deities, Tezcatlipocâ had a stellar connection. He was one of the Tzitzimimê who had fallen from heaven, and the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas remarks of him, “the constellation of the Great Bear descends to the water because it is Tezcatlipocâ, who has his seat there,” thus also indicating that he ruled the northern quarter, out of which, it was considered, no good thing might come. His Tzitzimimê shape appears to have been the spider. In American-Indian myth the stars are frequently regarded as having spider form, and especially so in Mexican myth. In several of the codices, notably in Codex Borbonicus, the Tzitzimimê or star-demons are represented in insect shape. Thus, Tezcatlipocâ, when he descended from heaven to harass Quetzalcoatl, did so by means of a spider’s web, so that we are justified in regarding the spider as his stellar form.

The origin of his conception as the sun of the north and as the setting sun seems reasonably clear and is secondary in character. As the sun sinks in the west its brilliant gold turns to a glassy red, reminiscent of the dull reflex of light in a surface of polished obsidian. The mirror held by Tezcatlipocâ, with its fringe of feathers, obviously represents the sun of evening. But he is also to be thought of as the torrid and blazing orb of the dry season, scorching and merciless.

I regard his several coloured forms as symbolic of various [115]kinds of weather. Thus, in his black form he appears to represent the rainy season; in his red, the torrid and dry period of the year; in his white, cold and frost; and in his striped painting, the embodiment of fair weather. Thus Tezcatlipocâ is the atmospheric god par excellence, ruler of all meteorological conditions. In the prayers offered up to him it is frequently stated that he may, if he so chooses, send rain and plenty, and this aspect of him seems to account for his variously coloured disguises. That these were, indeed, regarded as practically separate divine forms is clear from the first chapter of the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas, which alludes to the Black and Red Tezcatlipocâ as two entirely different gods.

Tezcatlipocâ, at the period of the Conquest, had developed attributes of a more lofty kind than any of those already described. Like Quetzalcoatl, and because he was a god of the wind or atmosphere, he came to be regarded as the personification of the breath of life. In the mind of savage man the wind is usually the giver of breath, the great store-house of respiration, the source of immediate life. In many mythologies the name of the principal deity is synonymous with that for wind, and in others the words “soul” and “breath” have a common origin. It has been suggested that the Hebrew Jahveh (the archaic form of Jehovah) is connected with the Arabic hawah, to blow or breathe, and that Jahveh was originally a wind or tempest god.

Our word “spiritual” is derived from the Latin spirare, to blow; the Latin animus, “spirit,” is the same word as the Greek anemos, “wind,” and psukhe has a similar origin. All are directly evolved from verbal roots expressing the motion of the wind or the breath. The Hebrew word ruah is equivalent to both “wind” and “spirit,” as is the Egyptian kneph. If we turn to the American mythologies, nija in the language of the Dakota means “breath,” or “life”; in Netela piuts is “life,” “breath,” and “soul”; the Yakuna language of Oregon has wkrisha, “wind,” wkrish­mit, “life.” The Creeks applied to their supreme deity the [116]name Esaugetuh Emissee, Master of Breath,67 and the original name for God in Choctaw was Hustoli, the Storm Wind. “In the identity of wind with breath, of breath with life, of life with soul, of soul with God, lies the far deeper and truer reason,” says Brinton, “of the prominence given to wind-gods in many mythologies.”68

But although Tezcatlipocâ was the Giver of Life, he was also regarded as a deity with power to take it away. In fact at times he appeared as an inexorable death-dealer, and in this guise he was named Nezahualpilli (“The Hungry Chief”) and Yaotzin (“The Enemy”). But he was also known as Telpochtli (“The Youthful Warrior”), from the fact that his reserve of strength, his vital force, never grew less and was boisterously apparent, as in the tempest. As the wind at night rushes through the roads with more seeming violence than it does by day, so was Tezcatlipocâ pictured in the Aztec consciousness as rioting along the highways in search of slaughter. Indeed, seats or benches of stone, shaped like those used by the chiefs of the Mexican towns, were placed at intervals on the roads for his use, and here he was supposed to lurk, concealed by the green boughs which surrounded them, in wait for his victims. Should anyone grapple with and overcome him, he might crave whatsoever boon he desired, with the surety of its being granted. The worship of Tezcatlipocâ previous to the Conquest had so advanced, and so powerful had his cult become, that it would appear as if the movement would ultimately have led to a monotheism or worship of one god equivalent to that of the cult of Jahveh, the God of the Old Testament among the ancient Hebrews. To his priestly caste is credited the invention of many of the usages of civilized life, and it succeeded in making his worship universal. The Nahua people regarded the other gods as objects of special devotion, but the worship of Tezcatlipocâ was general. [117]



  • Area of Worship: The Plateau of Anahuac.
  • Minor Names:
    • Chicunaui eecatl—“Nine Wind.”
    • Ce acatl—“One Reed.”
  • Relationship: Son of Iztacmixcoatl and Chimalman or Xochiquetzal; one of the Tzitzimimê.
  • Calendar Place:
    • Ruler of the second day-count, eecatl.
    • Ruler of the second week, ce ocelotl.
    • Ninth of the thirteen day-lords.
  • Festivals:
    • Ce acatl (movable feast).
    • Atlacahualco.
  • Compass Direction: East.


General.—The insignia of Quetzalcoatl is fairly constant in its appearance. He usually wears the Huaxtec cone-shaped hat painted in the design of the jaguar-skin, which is occasionally divided vertically into a black or blue and a red field, having an eye in the middle. The hair is bound by a leather strap set with jewels, which has a conventional bird’s head on the front, and in Codex Borgia consistently shows a black, stepped pattern on a white ground. Elsewhere a bow with rounded ends takes the place of this strap, but in Borgia (sheet 62) the hair is bound up with two intertwined snakes. At the back of the neck a fan-shaped nape-ornament is usually seen, consisting of black feathers, from which rise the red plumes of the quetzal bird, and it seems, from the account of the costume sent to Cortéz by Motecuhzoma, that this nape-appendage was made from grouse-feathers, although the Spanish account states that they belonged to the crow. The god usually wears white ear-pendants of hook-like shape, which, Sahagun states, were made of gold. The necklace is of spirally voluted snail-shells, and on the breast is worn a large ornament, also sliced from a shell. The ends of the loin-cloth are rounded off and are generally painted in two colours—brown, the colour [118]of the jaguar-skin, and white or red. The god’s atlatl, or spear-thrower, is painted with the stellar design of white circles on a black ground, and in his headdress is stuck the agave-leaf spike and the bone dagger, the implements of penance and mortification. The body-paint is frequently black, like that of the priests. Most of these insignia are of Huaxtec origin and show that Quetzalcoatl was usually associated with this coastal people. The snail-shell ornament on the breast, the hook-shaped ear-pendant, the fan-shaped nape-ornament, and the cone-shaped cap, were undoubtedly of Huaxtec origin, and such objects have been taken from Huaxtec graves and are found represented on vases and jugs from the State of Hidalgo. In many representations of him the god is seen wearing a long-snouted mask, usually painted a bright red, through which he was supposed to expel the wind in his guise of Eecatl, the Wind-god. This mask is frequently fringed with a beard.



Quetzalcoatl (right) and Tlauizcalpantecutli. (Codex Borgia, sheet 19.)

Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 75: Quetzalcoatl’s body-paint is a dark colour, and in his hair he wears unspun cotton, as does Tlazoltcotl. Sheet 76: Here his face is painted black and he wears the fillet with the step-pattern and the two-coloured cap, and in his hair are stuck the instruments of mortification. He holds in his hand a snake, which is to be regarded as the agricultural implement with which he tills the ground.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 73: In this place he is set back to back with the Death-god and is surrounded by the twenty day-signs. The body-paint is light blue, and the anterior part of the face has the stellar painting of white circles on a black ground. His conical cap has the parti-coloured painting and the cross, the symbol of the four winds, in the middle. On his breast he wears the snail-shell and in his hand a blue staff. His wind-mask is entirely covered with stellar and lunar emblems. His rattle-staff is light blue, in contradistinction to that of the Death-god, which is sprinkled with blood. Sheet 56: Here he is equipped with the hoe and wears the body-paint of a priest, a necklace of jaguar-skin and teeth, the conical bi-coloured cap, the [119]stepped fillet with conventional bird’s head in front, and the bearded face-mask. Stellar symbols and feather-balls dot his dress and headdress. He stands back to back with the Death-god, and it is clear that here he is intended to represent the heavenly Quetzalcoatl, the giver of breath and life. On sheet 72 we see him as a priest surrounded by day-signs and implements of mortification. Sheet 19: As represented in this sheet he stands opposite the Death-god. He wears a dark-coloured garment, and what can be seen of his face is painted black, with a spiral pattern. His mantle bears the cross-hatchings indicative of rain or water and is ornamented with feather balls. The red wind-mask protrudes beneath a parti-coloured cap with stellar eyes, and a fillet with step-pattern and conventional bird’s head, and he wears the snail-shell breast ornament and carries the implements of mortification. Sheet 16: On the lower right-hand corner of this sheet he is depicted in a precisely similar manner.



Quetzalcoatl (right) and the Death-god. (Codex Vaticanus, 3773, sheet 76.)

Quetzalcoatl’s Dress sent to Cortéz.—When Cortéz landed at Vera Cruz, Motecuhzoma, believing him to be the god Quetzalcoatl returned, sent him “the dress that was appropriate to him.”69 This consisted of four costumes, that of Quetzalcoatl proper, and those of Tezcatlipocâ, Tlaloc, and Xiuhtecutli, the Fire-god, who were regarded as the four deities dominant in the four quarters of the heavens, and had in the higher theology become fused in the conception of Quetzalcoatl, or were regarded as variants of him. The Quetzalcoatl dress proper is said by Sahagun to have consisted of the turquoise snake-mask, now to be seen in the British Museum, and which can be easily identified by the folds of the snake’s body forming the eyebrows, the quetzal-feather adornment, and the turquoise throwing-stick, shaped in the form of a snake. It seems probable, however, that this dress, although it is described as that of Quetzalcoatl, was that associated with the Fire-god.

Codex Magliabecchiano.—Sheet 89: Quetzalcoatl is here represented in a dancing attitude. He wears the Huaxtec [120]hat made of jaguar-skin, the shield with the snail-shell ornament, which is also reproduced on his breast, and the yellow and red face-painting. The bone “reed” for piercing the tongue is stuck in his headgear, and from it depend balls of cotton. He carries an atlatl, or spear-thrower, symbolic of rain or wind, and similar in motif to the nose-ornament of the Maya God B. His mantle is cross-hatched to symbolize rain or water and is decorated with red bows. He wears anklets of jaguar-skin, and a panache of green and yellow feathers.

Quetzalcoatl. (From the Sahagun MS.)

Quetzalcoatl. (From the Sahagun MS.)

Pottery figure of Quetzalcoatl from Tezcuco.

Pottery figure of Quetzalcoatl from Tezcuco.


Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—In the illustration which accompanies his description in this MS. he wears a pointed cap of jaguar-skin, surmounted by quetzal-plumes. The face and body are painted black with soot, and a curved band falls from beneath the hat to the neck. He wears the golden “water-snake” collar, and on his back the wing of the red guacamayo. Over the hips is slung a cloth with a red border. He wears white sandals, and pieces of jaguar-skin are fastened over the foot. On his shield he has the shell which is typical of him, and in his hand a staff with a motif like that of the nose of the Maya God B. Sahagun says of him: “His image was always in a recumbent position and covered with blankets. The face of it was very ugly, the head large and furnished with a long beard.”70

Torquemada states that Quetzalcoatl was a white man, large-bodied, broad-browed, great-eyed, with long black hair and a beard heavy and rounded.71

Acosta says of Quetzalcoatl’s image at Cholula: “They called it Quetzallcoalt. This idoll was in a great place in a temple very high. It had about it gold, silver, jewels, very rich feathers, and habits of divers colours. It had the forme of a man, but the visage of a little bird with a red bill, and above a combe full of warts, having ranks of teeth and the tongue hanging out. It carried upon the head a pointed myter of painted paper, a sithe in the hand, and many toyes of gold on the legs, with a thousand other foolish inventions, whereof all had their significations.”72 [121]

Elsewhere Acosta says: “The greatest idoll of all their gods was called Quezcalcovately.… He never ware but one garment of cotton, which was white, narrow and long, and upon that a mantle beset with certain red crosses. They have certain green stones which were his, and those they keep for relickes. One of them is like an ape’s head.”

Anales de Quauhtitlan.—In this work Quetzalcoatl is described as wearing the turquoise snake-mask and the quetzal-feather ornament—that is, the decorations of the Fire-god: “Lastly in the year one reed they say, when he had arrived on the shore of the sea, then he began to weep and put off the garb with which he was arrayed, his quetzal-feather ornament, his turquoise mask.”



(From a wall-painting at Mitla.)



(From Codex Borgia.)


A statuette of the god from the Valley of Mexico exhibits him in a high cap, ornamented round the lower portion with a serpentine motif, and wearing the sliced snail-shell dress-ornament. A caryatid found in the Calle de las Escalerillas, Mexico City, on the 16th of October 1900, represents him with a long, pointed beard, which might, however, be interpreted as the mouth-mask of the Wind-god lowered down to show the upper part of the face more clearly, and it would seem from this statue that the beard with which Quetzalcoatl is represented in some places in Mexican art is nothing more or less than the mouth-mask pushed down over the chin and neck, although it must be admitted that his mask is frequently depicted with what is undoubtedly a beard. A relief excavated at the Castillo de Teayo shows Quetzalcoatl wearing the feathered-serpent helmet-mask, which in this representation is most elaborate, and the sliced snail-shell dress-ornament. Two figures of Quetzalcoatl found near Texcuco exhibit considerable differentiation from other forms. In both he is seated on the top of a teocalli or temple, and behind him is seen the solar emblem, represented as a large, flaming disc. He wears a high cap which reminds one of the crown of Upper Egypt, as seen in Egyptian representations, except that it is flanked on either side by two large [122]studs or knobs and is surrounded at the base by the serpent-motif, as in the specimen from the Valley of Mexico. He also wears his usual breast-ornament. In a round sculpture found at Puebla we perhaps see Quetzalcoatl as a butterfly, and can only identify this figure as the god because of the wind-mask it wears.


In several of the wall-paintings at Mitla, and especially in those on the north side of Palace I, Quetzalcoatl is depicted as wearing the insignia usually connected with him in Mexico. In one of these he wears the Huaxtec cap with jaguar-skin markings, having the sacrificial implements stuck in it, and the wind-mouth mask, with beard. The snail-shell ornament adorns his shield. In another the facial insignia is less easily seen, but the large nape-fan with which he is frequently adorned is well depicted. Immediately behind this is a figure, which, though partially destroyed, is still interesting because of its high degree of conventionality. We have here the cap and panache of Quetzalcoatl, together with the strip running from brow to eye and from eye to jaw, which is part of the face-painting of the Moon-god. Moreover, in the corner we have the symbol of the moon, a pot-shaped bone, so that here, I think, we have a symbol of Quetzalcoatl as the Moon-god. In the preceding figure, too, we have also the lunar emblem, in this place in shape like the nose-plug of the octli-gods, but containing the stellar eye, and flanked by balls of feather-down. It would thus seem that the symbol has some reference to Quetzalcoatl in his variant of the planet Venus. Moreover the eye appears as gouged out. This eye-gouging is seen in the Maya Books of Chilan Balam, in the case of the god Itzamná. These two latter paintings, Seler thinks, are symbolic of the Uiyatao, or the high-priests of Mitla, who were regarded as incarnations of Quetzalcoatl.73 [123]


The myths concerning Quetzalcoatl are numerous and conflicting. In the first place I shall provide a careful précis of the more important, their prolixity rendering full quotation impossible.

Sahagun’s account of Quetzalcoatl may be summarized as follows: The arts had their inception with Quetzalcoatl. His houses were made of chalchiuites, silver, white, and red shells, and rich feathers. His folk were nimble and swift in passage from one place to another, and were called tlanquace­milhiyme.74 He gave his commands to the people for a hundred leagues round by means of a crier stationed on the mountain Tzotzitepetl.75 He had wealth in abundance, provision in plenty, and in his time maize was so large in the head that a man might not carry more than one stalk in his clasped arms. Pumpkins were in circumference as great as a man is high, and the stalks of the wild amaranth grew like trees. Cotton grew in all colours—red, scarlet, yellow, violet, white, green, blue, black, grey, orange, and tawny. In the city of Tollan, where Quetzalcoatl dwelt, were many birds of rich plumage and sweet song. The servants of Quetzalcoatl were wealthy and had abundance of all things, and food was plentiful with them. Their master did penance by pricking his legs and drawing blood with the spines of the maguey and by washing at midnight in a fountain. But sorcerers came against Quetzalcoatl and his people, the Toltecs, and these, we are told, were the gods Tezcatlipocâ, Uitzilopochtli, and Tlacuepan. Tezcatlipocâ visited the house of Quetzalcoatl in the guise of an old man, but was told that he was sick, and was at first refused entrance. Later, however, he was admitted, Quetzalcoatl observing that he had waited for him for many days. Tezcatlipocâ then produced a draught of medicine which, he assured the sick king, would intoxicate him, ease his heart, and carry his thoughts away from the trials and fatigues of death and departure.76 This [124]latter phrase roused Quetzalcoatl to ask where he must go, for that he had a premonition of departure seems clear. “To Tollantlapallan,” replied Tezcatlipocâ, “where another old man awaits thee. He and you shall speak together, and on thy return thou shalt be as a youth, yea as a boy.” With little goodwill Quetzalcoatl quaffed the medicine, and having once tasted of it he drank more deeply, so that at last he became intoxicated and maudlin. That which he had drunk was the wine made from the maguey-plant, called teoncetl (“drink of the gods”). And so great a longing to depart came upon him that at length he arose and went from Tollan.77 Ere departing, Quetzalcoatl burned his houses of shells and silver and buried many precious things in the mountains and ravines. He turned the cocoa-trees into mezquites and dispatched all the birds of brilliant plumage in Anahuac, three hundred miles away. On his journey to the coast he came to the hill Quauhtitlan, where he found a great tree, under which he rested. Gazing into a mirror, as he reclined under its shade, he said, “I am very old,” named the place Ueuequauhtitlan after his saying,78 and stoned the tree. The stones he cast at it sank into its trunk, and were to be seen remaining there for long afterwards. Preceded by flute-players, he recommenced his journey, but once more became weary, and rested on a stone by the wayside. Looking towards Tollan, he wept, and his tears pitted the stone on which he sat, and the imprints of his hands and thighs also remained thereon. That place he called Temacpalco. Reaching a great river, he halted until a stone bridge was built over it, and having crossed, he called the place Tepanaoya. Certain sorcerers now met him, and asked him whither he was bound, why he had left his city of Tollan, and who would now do penance there. Quetzalcoatl replied that he must go, that he was called to Tlapallan by the Sun. The sorcerers requested him to leave behind his knowledge of the mechanical arts, the smelting of silver, the working [125]of precious stones, and masonry, painting, and feather-work. These he left with them perforce. But his treasure of jewels he cast into the fountain of Cozcaapan hard by. Another magician whom he met insisted upon his drinking a draught which he could give “to none of the living.” Intoxicated, he slept, and when he awoke, tore his hair. That place was called Cachtoca. Pursuing his journey, he passed between a mountain of snow and a volcano, where his hump-backed and dwarfish servants perished from the excessive cold. Bitterly he bewailed their death in song. Passing on, leaving signs of his progress on every hand, and sliding down the mountains, he tarried here and there, building a tlachtli court at one place, the markings of which were visible in deep gashes on the hills. Once he transfixed a tree with a dart or with another tree, so that it resembled a cross. In other localities he constructed subterranean houses (mictlan­calco), and elsewhere balanced a great rolling-stone, and on all these spots he conferred names. At length he came to the sea-shore, where he commanded that a raft of snakes (coatapochtli) should be constructed for him. In this he seated himself as in a canoe, put out to sea, and set out for Tlapallan.79

Torquemada’s account of the Quetzalcoatl myth somewhat resembles that of Sahagun, due, no doubt, to the circumstance that he had access to the unpublished MS. of that author, from which he borrowed in a wholesale manner. The points of difference are these: Quetzalcoatl was high-priest of Tollan, whence he migrated to Cholula. The ruler of Tollan was one Huemac, but Quetzalcoatl was its chief in spiritual and ecclesiastical matters. In drinking the magic potion of Tezcatlipocâ, Quetzalcoatl desired to render himself immortal. He left the impress of his body on a stone situated on a mountain near the city of Tlalnepantla (or Temacpalco), two leagues from Mexico, as the natives declared to Torquemada himself. Met by the sorcerers Tezcatlipocâ and the others who tried to hinder his going, he refused to stay his progress, and said that he must pass on to the sun-land. [126]Father Sahagun, remarks Torquemada, when at Xochimilco, was asked by the natives, who were keenly desirous of knowledge on the point, where Tlapallan was, and replied that he did not know, as he had then not been long among them. The fountain in which Quetzalcoatl cast his jewels was now called Coaapan, “in the snake-water.” He then passed on to Cholula, where he was adored as a god. When he had resided there for twenty years, he was expelled by Tezcatlipocâ. Setting out once more for Tlapallan, accompanied by four virtuous youths, he embarked at Coatzacoalco. Bidding farewell to his disciples, he assured them that at a future time there would come by way of the sea, where the sun rises, certain white men with white beards, like him, and that these would be his brothers and would rule the land. These disciples became the rulers of the four provinces of Cholula. Quetzalcoatl was god of the air, and during his life on earth was devoted to the careful observance of the older forms of worship, but instituted many new rites, ceremonies, and festivals and made the calendar. Barren women prayed to him. He swept the road, so that the Tlaloque might rain. For a month or so before the rainy season stormy winds blew throughout New Spain. The Cholulans preserved as relics green stones that had belonged to him, on one of which was carved a monkey’s head. A great temple to him was founded at Cholula.80

Elsewhere Torquemada descants on the Quetzalcoatl myth as follows: A body of men came from the north by way of Panuco, dressed in long robes of black linen, cut low at the neck, with short sleeves. They came to Tollan, but finding the country there too thickly peopled, passed on to Cholula, where they were well received. Their chief was Quetzalcoatl, a man with ruddy complexion and long beard. These people multiplied and sent colonists to the Mixtec and Zapotec countries, raising the great buildings at Mitla. They were cunning handicraftsmen, not so good at masonry as at jewellers’ work, sculpture, and agriculture. Tezcatlipocâ and Huemac conceived an enmity to Quetzalcoatl, and as [127]he did not wish to go to war with them, he and his folk removed to Onohualco (Yucatan, Tabasco, and Campeche).81

Motolinia says of Quetzalcoatl that when Iztacmixcoatl, the Mexican Adam, married his second wife Chimalmat, she bore him Quetzalcoatl, who grew up chaste and temperate. He instituted fasting and mortification, and never married. He founded the custom of drawing blood from the ears and tongue in penitence. A certain Chichemecatl fastened a leather strap to his arm, near the shoulder, and from that time this Chichemecatl was known as Acolhuatl, and became the ancestor of the Colhua. Quetzalcoatl was god of the air and many temples were raised to him.82

Mendieta has much to say of Quetzalcoatl, but in a synopsis of his account we retain only such circumstances as have not been already alluded to: Many different traditions regarding Quetzalcoatl existed, some saying that he was the son of Camacotli (Camaxtli), god of hunting and fishing, and of his wife Chimialuna; others that Chimialuna, when sweeping one day, found a chalchihuitl stone, by virtue of which she became miraculously pregnant and gave birth to Quetzalcoatl, who came either from Tollan or Yucatan. The people came to love him, not only because he taught them handicrafts, and desired no offerings but those of bread, flowers, and perfumes. He forbade all war and disturbance. Pilgrims came to his shrine at Cholula from all parts of Mexico, even the enemies of Cholula, and the lords of distant lands built them chapels and idols there. Among all the gods only Quetzalcoatl was called Lord, and men swore by him. The gods thought it well that the people should have some means of writing by which they might direct themselves, and two of their number, Oxomoco and Cipactonal, who dwelt in a cave in Cuernavaca, especially considered the matter. Cipactonal thought that her descendant Quetzalcoatl should be consulted, and she called him into counsel. He, too, thought the idea of a calendar good, and the two addressed themselves to the task of making the tonalamatl. To Cipactonal was given the privilege of choosing [128]and writing the first sign. She painted the cipactli animal, and called the sign ce cipactli (“one cipactli”). Oxmoco then wrote ome acatl (“two cane”), and Quetzalcoatl “three house,” and so on, until the thirteen signs were completed.83

Another form of the Quetzalcoatl myth given by Mendieta is in substance as follows: Tezcatlipocâ let himself down from the upper regions by means of a spider’s web, and coming to Tollan engaged in a game of tlachtli (the native ball game) with Quetzalcoatl, in the midst of which he transformed himself into a tiger. Those who watched the game were panic-stricken, and cast themselves pell-mell into a ravine, and were drowned in a river which flowed therein. Tezcatlipocâ then harassed Quetzalcoatl from city to city, until he drove him to Cholula, and latterly to Tlapallan, where he died, and where his followers burnt his body, thus inaugurating the custom of burning the dead.84

The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis says regarding Quetzalcoatl:

Quetcalcoatl they say was he who created the world; and they bestowed upon him the appellation of Lord of the Wind, because they said that Tonacatecotli when it appeared good to him breathed and begat Quecalcoatle. They erected round temples to him without any corners. They said that it was he (who was also lord of these thirteen signs which are here represented) who formed the first man. They celebrated a festival on the sign of four earthquakes, to the destroyer with reference to the fate which again waited the world; for they said that it had undergone four destructions and would again be destroyed. He alone had a human body like that of men; the other gods were of an incorporeal nature.

“After the deluge the custom of sacrificing commenced. Topilcin Quetcalcoatle was born on the day of seven canes; and they celebrated on this same day of seven canes a great festival in Cholula, to which they came from all parts of the country and the cities and brought great presents to the lords and papas of the temple; and they did the same on [129]the day on which he disappeared or died, which was the day of One Cane. These festivals happened at the expiration of every period of fifty-two years.

“They here fasted the last four days to Quecalcoatl of Tula, who is he who was named after the first Calcoatle; and now they name him One Cane, which is the star Venus, of which they tell the fable accredited amongst them.

“Tlavizcalpantecutli is the star Venus the first created light (Civahteltona) before the deluge. They say that it was a fire or a star: it was created before the sun. This star (Venus) is Quecalcoatle. They say this is the star which we call Lucifer from its light; and they accordingly paint it with the sign of one Cane, which was the day dedicated to it. He took this name on the occasion of his departure or disappearance. Tlavizcalpantecutli is the God of Morning when it begins to dawn: he is also the Lord of Twilight on the approach of Night: he presided over these thirteen days during the four last of which they fasted. It properly was the first light which appeared in the world; it here signifies the light which diffuses itself over things, or the surface of the earth.”

The interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A says:

“They invented dreams, the result of their own blindness, relating that a god of the name of Citallatonac, which is the sign seen in heaven called St. James’s or the Milky Way, sent an ambassador from heaven on an embassy to a virgin of Tulan called Chimalman (a shield) who had two sisters, the one named Tzochitlique and the other Couatlique; and that the three being alone in the house, two of them, observing the ambassador of heaven, died of fright, Chimalman alone remaining alive, to whom the ambassador announced that it was the will of this god that she should conceive a son; and having delivered to her the message, he rose and left the house, and as soon as he had left it she conceived a son without connection with man, who they called Quetzalcoatle, who they say is the god of air, and his temples are round in the manner of churches, although till that time such was not the fashion of their temples. He was the inventor of [130]temples of this form as we shall show. He it was, as they say, who caused hurricanes and in my opinion was the god who was called Citaladuali and it was he who destroyed the world by winds. This painting is here wanting, together with another which represented that as soon as the son of this virgin was born he possessed the use of reason. The son of the virgin, Topilcin Quetzalcoatle, knowing that the vices of men were necessarily the cause of the troubles of the world, determined on asking the goddess Chalchiutlicue (this was the heavenly designation of the virgin Chimalman) who is she who remained after the deluge with the man in the tree, and is the mother of the god Tlaloque, whom they have made goddess of water, that they might obtain rain when they stood in need of and accordingly Quetzalcoatle commenced offering sacrifices to obtain rain, as a period of four years had elapsed since it had rained.

“Quetzalcoatltopilzin does penance and makes offerings of prayers, sacrifice, gold gems, incense, etc., to appease divine wrath against the people; draws his own blood with thorns. After the expiration of a long period during which he continued his penance a lizard appeared scratching the ground giving him to understand that the scourge of heaven was past and that the earth would with joy produce its fruits, which quickly came to pass; and accordingly they relate that on a sudden such abundance followed that the earth, which had remained so many years barren, bore many kinds of fruit and from that even they took four signs.

“Quetzalcoatl’s example teaches men to do penance, make offerings. He founded four temples—the first for the nobles; second, for the people; third, House of Fear or Serpent; fourth, Temple of Shame.

“Of Quetzalcoatle they relate that, proceeding on his journey, he arrived at the Red Sea, which is here painted, and which they named Tlapallan; and that entering into it, they saw no more of him, nor knew what became of him, except that they say that he desired them at the time of his departure to restrain their grief and to expect his return, which would take place at the appointed time; and accordingly [131]they expect him even to the present time: and when the Spaniards came to this country they believed that it was he, and when at a later period of 1550 when the Çapotecas revolted, they alleged, as the cause of their insurrection, the report that their god who had to redeem them had already come. Quetzalcoatle was born on the sign One Cane; and the year of the Spaniards’ arrival commenced on the sign One Cane, according to their ancient Computation: whence the occasion arose of their believing that the Spaniards were their gods; because they say that he had foretold that a bearded nation would arrive in those countries who would subject them. They adored him as a god, as will be seen: for they believed it certain that he had ascended into heaven and was that star which was visible at the north of the sun before the break of day, which is the planet Venus; and they represented him accordingly as has already been shown.

“Quetzalcoatle was the first inventor of sacrifices of human blood, amongst the various other things which they offered to the gods; and this was the manner in which they pierced their tongues, that the blood might flow … and their ears and penis; till at last, as we shall presently mention, the custom of human sacrifices was introduced, when they tore out the hearts of the victims to present them to the face of the idol which they considered the image of their wretched god.

“They declare that their supreme deity Tonacatecotle, whom we have just mentioned, who by another name was called Citinatonali, when it appeared good to him, breathed and begot Quetzalcoatle, not by connection with woman, but by his breath alone, as we have observed above, when he sent his ambassador, as they say, to the virgin of Tula. They believed him to be the god of the air and he was the first to whom they built temples and churches, which they formed perfectly round without any angles. They say that it was he who effected the reformation of the world by penance, since as, according to his account, his father had created the world and men had given themselves up to vice, on which account it had been frequently destroyed, Citinatonali sent [132]his son into the world to reform it.… They assigned to him the dominion over the other thirteen signs, which are here represented, in the same manner in which they assigned the preceding thirteen to his father. They celebrated a great festival on this sign, as we shall see on the sign of four earthquakes, which is the fourth in order here, because they feared that the world would be destroyed in that sign, as he had foretold to them when he disappeared in the Red Sea, which event occurred on the same sign. As they considered him their advocate, they celebrated a solemn festival and fasted during four signs.”

The Anales de Quauhtitlan or Codex Chimalpopocâ states that Quetzalcoatl was born in no natural manner, but was a nine years’ child. He created the four classes of men: the men of the four “suns” or periods of the world were made by him on the day chicome ehecatl, or “seven wind.” The record proceeds to relate the circumstances of his rule at Tollan, the manner in which he discovered the value of precious stones, gold and silver, red and white shells, quetzal feathers, the cotinga and red sparrowbill feathers, the various species of cocoa and cotton. When he had drunk the octli offered him by Tezcatlipocâ, he forgot his chastity in the intoxication and indulged in intercourse with Quetzalpetlatl, for which sin he was forced to quit Mexico. When he was driven from Tollan in the year one reed, he arrived on the sea-shore, wept, and divested himself of his garb and turquoise snake-mask. Then he immolated himself by burning, his ashes became dust and changed into birds and his heart was converted into the morning star. Lastly, it is said of him that when he died he was not visible for four days, during which period he tarried in the Underworld. For a subsequent four days “he was bones.” “After eight days appeared the great star which they called Quetzalcoatl. They said that he thus mounted the throne as a god.”

In its second or historical portion the codex states that Quetzalcoatl discovered maize which was concealed in the mountain Tonacatepetl. Many of the gods searched for it, but Quetzalcoatl, taking the form of a black ant, was guided [133]to the spot by a red ant. As he was unable to lift the mountain, it was split open by the magical prowess of Xolotl in his manifestation of Nanahuatl, and the maize became the spoil of Quetzalcoatl. But it was stolen from him by Tlaloc, the rain-god proper, perhaps an allegorical manner of alluding to the more direct influence of that deity upon growth.

Other myths relating to Quetzalcoatl, chiefly as a creative agency, will be found in the précis of the opening chapters of the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas, in the chapter on Cosmogony.

In Codex Borgia we find a passage (sheets 35–46) which appears to refer to the progress of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipocâ through the infernal regions, and which might be described as the Mexican “Harrying of Hell.” On this passage Seler has briefly commented (see his Commentary on Codex Vaticanus B, p. 119).


Quetzalcoatl is, perhaps, singular among the deities of Mexico in that a number of well-authenticated Central American myths cluster around his name in its forms of Kukulcan, Gucumatz, and Votan. Certain of these must be considered here, for purposes of comparison and analogy.

Nuñez de la Vega: A book in the Quiche tongue, said to have been written by Votan, a local name for Quetzalcoatl, was at one time in the possession of Nuñez de la Vega, Bishop of Chiapas, who included portions of it in his Constituciones Diocesianos de Chiapas, but nevertheless destroyed it in his holocaust of MSS. at Heuheutlan in 1691. Ordoñez de Aguilar had, however, made a copy of it before its destruction, and incorporated it in his Historia de Cielo MS. In this work Votan declared himself “a snake,” a descendant of Imos, of the line of Chan85 of the race of Chivim. Taking Aguilar’s account along with that of Nuñez de la Vega, as both rely upon the same authority, we find that Votan proceeded to America by divine command, his mission being to lay the [134]foundation of civilization. With this object in view he departed from Valum Chivim,86 passing the dwelling of the thirteen snakes, and arrived in Valum Votan, whence, with some members of his family, he set out to form a settlement, ascending the Usumacinta River and ultimately founding Palenque. By reason of their peculiar dress the Tzendal Indians called them Tzequitles, or “men with shirts,” but consented to amalgamate with them. Ordoñez states that when Votan had established himself at Palenque he made several visits to his original home. On one of these he came to a tower which had been intended to reach the heavens, a project which had been brought to naught by the linguistic confusion of those who conceived it. Finally he was permitted to reach “the rock of heaven” by a subterranean passage. Returning to Palenque, he found that others of his race had arrived there, and with them he made a friendly pact. He built a temple by the Heuheutan River, known, from its subterranean chambers, as “the House of Darkness,” and here he deposited the national records under the charge of certain old men called tlapianes, or guardians, and an order of priestesses. Here also were kept a number of tapirs. A quotation of the passage dealing with this temple may be made from Nuñez de la Vega:

“Votan is the third heathen in the calendar (that is the deity who is ascribed to the third division of the calendar), and in the little history written in the Indian language all the provinces and cities in which he tarried were mentioned; and to this day there is always a clan in the city of Teopisa that they call the Votans. It is also said that he is the lord of the hollow wooden instrument which they call tepanaguaste (that is, the Mexican teponaztli); that he saw the great wall, namely, the tower of Babel, which was built from earth to heaven at the bidding of his grandfather, Noah; and that he was the first man whom God sent to divide and apportion this country of India, and that there, where he saw the great wall, he gave to every nation its special language. It is related that he tarried in Huehueta (which is a city in Soconusco), [135]and that there he placed a tapir and a great treasure in a slippery (damp, dark, subterranean) house, which he built by the breath of his nostrils, and he appointed a woman as chieftain, with tapianes (that is, Mexican tlapiani, “keepers”) to guard her. This treasure consisted of jars, which were closed with covers of the same clay, and of a room in which the picture of the ancient heathens who are in the calendar were engraved in stone, together with chalchiuites (which are small, heavy, green stones) and other superstitious images; and the chieftainess herself and the tapianes, her guardians, surrendered all these things, which were publicly burned in the market place of Huehueta when we inspected the aforesaid province in 1691. All the Indians greatly revere this Votan, and in a certain province they call him ‘heart of the cities’ (Corazon de los pueblos).”

In his ninth Pastoral Letter Nuñez says of Quetzalcoatl:

“In most of the Calendars, the seventh sign is the figure of a man and a snake, which they call Cuchulchan. The masters have explained it as a snake with feathers which moves in the water. This sign corresponds with Mexzichaut (Mixcoatl), which means Cloudy Serpent, or, of the clouds. The people also consult them in order to work injury on their enemies, taking the lives of many through such devilish artifices, and committing unspeakable atrocities.”

The Popol Vuh.—The myths relating to Quetzalcoatl under his name of Gucumatz in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiche of Guatemala, are difficult to summarize. In the first chapter he is alluded to as “the serpent covered with feathers, the heart of the lakes, the heart of the sea, master of the sky, master of the blue expanse,” and is connected with the creative gods. Along with Hurakan (Tezcatlipocâ) he creates the world by uttering the word “earth.” The creation of man having been considered, the wherewithal for his sustenance is debated. Gucumatz, who is sometimes alluded to in the plural, like the Hebrew Elohim, succeeds in discovering maize in Paxil by the aid of the fox, jackal, parrot, and crow, and obtains the seeds of other alimentary plants (pt. iii, c. i.) Gucumatz then created man by a [136]“miracle” (c. ii). In c. v, pt. iii, Quetzalcoatl is alluded to as Tohil, a parallel for which we have justification in ver. 19 of c. x, where in the song called Kamucu (“We see”) the first men sing: “Truly Tohil is the name of the god of the Zaqui nation, which was called Yolcuat-quetzalcuat when we separated in the place Tolan in Zuiva.” But the myths relating to this deity are obviously tribal and local, and I am of opinion that they refer to some tribal deity who possessed some of the characteristics of Quetzalcoatl and who was identified with him by the Quiches in rather an arbitrary fashion.87


Atlacahualco.—The festival of Atlacahualco or Quaitl Eloa was, says Sahagun, sacred to Quetzalcoatl, as well as to the Tlaloque. For an account of it see the section which deals with Tlaloc.

Ce Acatl.—Says Sahagun: “On the first day of the sign ce acatl the great folk made a feast to Quetzalcoatl, the god of winds. This was celebrated in the calmecac, and here they offered rich gifts to his idol, perfumes and things to eat. They said it was the sign of Quetzalcoatl.”


The order of priests devoted to the service of Quetzalcoatl88 was called Tlamacazcayotl, and its members Tlamacazque. Of these Clavigero, who was well informed regarding the Mexican priesthood, says: “Amongst the different orders or congregation, both of men and women, who dedicated themselves to the worship of some particular gods, that of Quetzalcoatl is worthy to be mentioned. The life led in the colleges or monasteries of either sex, which were devoted to this imaginary god, was uncommonly rigid and austere. [137]The dress of the order was extremely decent; they bathed regularly at midnight, and watched until about two hours before day, singing hymns to their god, and observing many rules of an austere life. They were at liberty to go to the mountains at any hour of the day or night, to spill their blood; this was permitted them from a respect to the virtue which they were all thought to possess. The superiors of the monasteries bore also the name of Quetzalcoatl, and were persons of such high authority, that they visited but the king when it was necessary. The members of this religious order were destined to it from their infancy. The parents of the child invited the superior to an entertainment, who usually deputed one of his subjects. The deputy brought the child to him, upon which he took the boy in his arms and offered him with a prayer to Quetzalcoatl, and put a collar about his neck, which was to be worn until he was seven years old. When the boy completed his second year, the superior made a small incision in his breast, which, like the collar, was another mark of his destination. As soon as the boy attained his seventh year he entered into the monastery, having first heard a long discourse from his parents, in which they advertised him of the vow which they had made to Quetzalcoatl, and exhorted him to fulfil it, to behave well, to submit himself to his prelate, and to pray to the gods for his parents and the whole nation.”

The high-priest of Quetzalcoatl was stationed at Cholula and was, perhaps, the most venerated ecclesiastic in Mexico.


The principal temple of the cult of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico was the well-known teocalli at Cholula. He had also a shrine in the great temple court at Mexico, built in circular form, and thus typical of the Wind-god.


The latest of the myths concerning Quetzalcoatl are obviously those which regard him as a culture-hero who enters the country as an alien, and, his beneficent work performed, [138]withdraws to the place whence he came, under pressure of malignant opposition. Had the basic outline of his myth been more carefully examined, fewer unsatisfactory hypotheses concerning Quetzalcoatl’s nature might have been ventured upon. The Mexicans themselves recognized Quetzalcoatl as a wind-god, but Dr. Seler has not seen fit to accept their assurance upon this point in toto, and at various times has advanced the hypotheses that Quetzalcoatl represents the wind, the planet Venus, or the moon, latterly confining his personality almost entirely to the lamp of night.89

In my view the physical phenomena which occur in connection with the courses of the winds typical of the Mexican plateau provide by far the most simple and natural explanation of the nature of the god Quetzalcoatl. From April or May to the beginning of October the trade-wind blows from the east coast over the Plateau of Anahuac, bringing with it abundance of rain, and accelerating vegetable growth, thus actually “sweeping the ways for the rain-gods.” Its advance is comparatively slow, the rains beginning three or four weeks earlier in Vera Cruz than in Puebla and Mexico. At the beginning of October, however, it is invariably modified by the local monsoon, which interrupts it over wide areas, or in certain districts invades it in violent cyclonic storms, dissipating its energies and altering its course. Quetzalcoatl represents the gentle trade-wind, which ushers in the growth-making rains. His reign of peace, plenty, and fertility over, he comes into opposition with Tezcatlipocâ, who represents the monsoon and who chases his rival “from city to city,” ravening at him like a tiger, says Mendieta, and at last hustling him out of the country. That Tezcatlipocâ is also a god of wind is certain, as is proved by one of his names, Yoalli Ehecatl, “Wind of Night,” and that he is the monsoon or hurricane is proved beyond all doubt by the circumstance that he is said to have rushed along the highways at night at extraordinary speed, and that Hurakan, his Quiche name, is still employed for the very wind he represented, and has [139]become a generic name for a tempestuous wind in practically all European languages, which have without question adopted it from the American word.90

If this simple elucidation of the original myth be accepted, it will be seen how naturally its later modifications arise out of it or adapt themselves to it. But before we examine the manner in which they crystallized around it, it becomes necessary to disentangle from the whole mass that portion of it which alludes to the advent of a civilizing agency upon the Mexican plateau.

This speaks of the advance of a body of men from the neighbourhood of Vera Cruz to the Mexican plateau, and precisely in the direction whence the trade-wind comes—that is, from the east, the direction of the land of the Huaxtecs, a people of proto-Maya stock.

Quetzalcoatl is dressed in Huaxtec garb, and wears the truncated sugar-loaf hat and shell-ornaments of this people. This may signify nothing more than that he was so attired because he represented a wind which blew from the direction of the land of the Huaxtecs. Yet, it is certain that several of the deities adopted by the Mexicans had undoubtedly a Huaxtec origin, and this is markedly the case with Tlazoltcotl. There seems to be some ground, then, for the hypothesis that Quetzalcoatl was a god of Huaxtec origin. But the acceptance of such a theory will entail the acknowledgment of certain hypotheses which are among the most controverted questions in Mexican archæology. In the first place, it makes Quetzalcoatl the deity of a people of Maya stock, and secondly it would seem to imply a Huaxtec or Maya origin for the much-debated Toltec culture.

A discussion of these points must begin with the question, “Has the myth of Quetzalcoatl’s civilizing mission to the Mexican plateau any historical justification?” Regarding the reality of the civilization known as Toltec there is now no question, although I fully admit that it took me a long time to realize this, thanks principally to my acceptance of Brinton’s well-known theory on the subject, to which I [140]attached far too much weight. But admitting Toltec reality, what proof do we possess that such a civilizing agency as that of Quetzalcoatl gave an impetus to the “prehistoric” culture of Tollan? But little—that is if we are to regard Quetzalcoatl as a man. But in his guise as the gentle trade-wind that ushers in the rains, we have every reason to see in him the founder of the Toltec civilization. Such a culture as the Toltec must undoubtedly have had its origin in agricultural efficiency. Only through agricultural efficiency can the corvée system arise and extensive building become possible. The god whose bountiful patronage of growth assisted the arts in this manner seems in time to have been ‘humanized.’91 Legends of his civilizing prowess clustered around his supposititious memory, he was thought to have been a culture-hero who actually moved and had his being among the people. Kings or rulers were called by his name—a lucky name of happy associations—and the illusion that he actually existed was thereby heightened. These rulers seem to have flourished in Mexico ere yet the offices of king and priest had become separate, so that it is not surprising that Quetzalcoatl was regarded as having been the priest of his own cult, or that the Mexican pontiffs of historical times bore his name. From this point of view, then, Quetzalcoatl was certainly the “founder” of the Toltec civilization. If this theory be accepted, I do not see how the myth of Quetzalcoatl can be regarded as having any basis in actual fact, unless one can find in the rather vague statements of certain early writers on Mexico a further basis for discussion as to his reality. To me the meaning of the myth seems very plain. It may be that Huaxtec influence was brought to bear upon Toltec civilization, but my hypothesis does not seem to me to require assistance from such an admission.


In short, the myth of Quetzalcoatl as recorded by Sahagun is obviously developed from a much older one which referred [141]to a season of plenteous rain—the period of the rule of the gentle and beneficent god representing the trade-wind. As it was connected with prosperous conditions in agriculture, it was naturally brought into connection with the Toltec time, the “good old times of long ago,” when conditions were greatly better, and no mouth knew want. Such a concept was obviously of later origin. The revised myth took on a cultural complexion. In terms of allegory, it tells how the powers of the rain-making priest-god fail him; he becomes sick, and is beguiled and defeated by Tezcatlipocâ, the rival wind-god, who tells him that “another old man” awaits him in Tlapallan. And here we seem to find interpolated a reference to the guardian genius of the fountain of perpetual youth, the reservoir of rain and all refreshment, which Quetzalcoatl must visit if he would be cured of the ills of old age, and he is counselled to speak with its keeper if he would return to Mexico “as a boy.” The destruction of his treasure by the banished god seems to point to a reminiscence of the downfall of the Toltec state, and the concealment of his gold and gems by burial to analogous Toltec practice on the defeat or decline of that civilized folk. With his departure the reign of plenty ceases, the trees wither, the birds migrate, the season of the trade-wind rains has come to an end. History and myth are perhaps combined in this story of the latter days of the Toltec régime and those of the revivifying rains. The priest-god withdraws eastwards to the “flute-playing” of the retreating trade-winds. Nahua sorcerers detain him in order to learn the Toltec arts, perhaps a mythical manner of showing how the Nahua barbarians forced captive Toltecs to teach them the mysteries of stone- and metal-craft. He is given the draught of the dead, “that none of the living can drink,” a mythical episode common in all parts of the world. His dwarfish followers (the rain-gods, the Tlaloque, with whom Sahagun associates him elsewhere) are frozen to death in the cold of the mountains, otherwise the rain is congealed into snow.

Torquemada’s version of Quetzalcoatl’s myth is eloquent of the pre-eminence of his cult at Cholula. The priest-god’s [142]prophecy of his return bears an extraordinary resemblance to that given in the Books of Chilan Balam, a Guatemalan native production, regarding the coming of white men to Central America.92

Motolinia’s story of the fixing of the strap on Quetzalcoatl’s arm is merely a grotesque explanation of the name Acolhua, which in reality signifies “the folk of the great shoulder,” “the pushers,” “the hustling invaders.”

Mendieta, in dwelling upon Quetzalcoatl’s dislike of war, merely retains for us a characteristic of the effeminate people of Cholula. The appearance of Tezcatlipocâ as a spider is typical of the god of the dry season, or of the dry-rot prevalent in that period of the year. As a tiger he symbolizes the fierceness of the hurricane, and the tlachtli game which he and Quetzalcoatl engage in is undoubtedly symbolic of the seasonal strife between the wind-gods.


Summarizing the myths relating to Quetzalcoatl we find:

(1) That all of them have their origin in or refer back to an original nature-myth, in which Quetzalcoatl, the trade-wind, is, at the end of the rainy season, regarded as driven from the Mexican Plateau by Tezcatlipocâ (Hurakan) in his guise of the monsoon, or hurricane.

(2) That this myth in the first place became confounded with traditions of the Toltec civilization, naturally enough, as that civilization was the direct outcome of the agricultural wealth stimulated by the god representing the trade-wind.

(3) That it seems to have been associated with a myth relating to the fountain of youth, that is, the fountain in which the refreshing and revivifying rains were stored, to which Quetzalcoatl must return for rejuvenation and a fresh rain-supply.

(4) That the conception of the god Quetzalcoatl became humanized in the light of the agricultural and other manifestations of Toltec culture, thus bringing about the [143]idea of his existence as a priest-king, and culminating in the establishment of a line of priestly rulers bearing his name, which endured as long as Mexican civilization.

(5) Out of these conceptions there naturally arose other related ideas, as those of:

(a) Quetzalcoatl as inventor of the tonalamatl, the instrument by which the festal days of the rain-cult were originally noted, but which on the adoption of the solar calendar as time-count degenerated into what may be regarded as an astrological table.

(b) The lunar basis upon which the tonalamatl was founded connected Quetzalcoatl with the moon.93

(c) Regarded as inventor of the tonalamatl, he gained a reputation as the possessor of profound hieratic wisdom, and came to be looked upon as the magician or sage par excellence, the patron of education, the rain-maker who knew precisely when the blood shed in penance should be spent in order that it might return to the soil of Anahuac in an abundant rainfall.

(d) Quetzalcoatl as the god of wind was also regarded as the breath of life, a phenomenon encountered in many mythologies, and therefore came to be conceived as the agency by which souls were originally placed in human bodies. From this, too, we may argue his appearance as a creator, or cosmic deity, although it may have been in his character as fertilizer that he came to be regarded in this light.

(e) Quetzalcoatl is the great penitent, the supreme protagonist of the penitential system, because without the blood spent in penitential exercise no rain might fall. The secondary character of this conception is probable.

(f) Quetzalcoatl seems at a later date to have been regarded as the god of the four quarters of the compass, a conception of him indubitably evolved from his status as a wind-god. I think I also perceive signs that from this latter [144]idea was further evolved a conception of him as god of the four elements—fire, air, earth, and water. He is the fire and the flint, because of the lightning which in Mexico accompanies the fall of the trade-wind rain. He is the air in his rôle of Wind-god, and as such is symbolized by the bird, the natural inhabitant of the air, the beak of which he uses as a funnel from which to expel the wind. He is earth, and, his myth says, a builder of subterranean houses, and sometimes bears the earth-staff of agriculture.94 He is water, or rain, in which guise he is typified by the feathered snake.

This conception of him, evidently strongly sophisticated by priestly theological science, is illustrated in the Codex Magliabecchiano, where he is represented on one sheet along with Tezcatlipocâ, Tlaloc, and Uitzilopochtli. This group, in my opinion, represents the four elements: Fire (Uitzilopochtli), as possessor of the tlachinalli symbol, a hieroglyph for water and fire, and as sun-god; Air (Quetzalcoatl); Earth (Tezcatlipocâ), who as Tepeyollotl was an earth-deity; and Water (Tlaloc). The picture may also be descriptive of the four points of the compass over which he rules. But above and beyond this, as Seler has shown, it implies that these deities were later embodied in the idea of Quetzalcoatl. When Cortéz, coming from the East, landed at Vera Cruz, the Mexicans naturally believed that Quetzalcoatl had returned, and Motecuhzoma sent him as an offering “the dress appropriate to him,” four kinds of attire, the ceremonial costumes of Uitzilopochtli, Tezcatlipocâ, Tlaloc, and Quetzalcoatl.


There but remains the etymology of Quetzalcoatl’s name. It is compounded of the element quetzalli and coatl. The first denotes the bright green tail-feathers of the quetzal bird, and coatl = “snake,” so that the whole implies “feathered snake.” The generally accepted belief is that [145]this name applies to the rain-bearing clouds which accompany the trade-wind, although others have seen in it a description of the rain itself, and still others the ripples made by wind on water. But quetzal in a secondary sense means “precious,” and coatl is capable of being translated “twin.” The Mexicans themselves, however, frequently drew and sculptured the god as a feathered serpent, although this may easily have possessed a merely pictographic significance. In any case, after prolonged consideration on the etymology of the name, I do not, so far, see any reason to quarrel with the currently accepted rendering of it. [146]

1 As it has been found impossible to include every illustration from the codices which is mentioned in the text, those pictures not supplied may be consulted in the reproductions of the codices themselves. A full bibliography of the codices will be found at the end. When the letter K appears with reference to a codex, its reproduction in Kingsborough’s “Mexican” antiquities is implied. 

2 This stellar mask is so called from being worn by the stellar deities. It is usually connected with the red-and-white striped painting of the body. The Sahagun Aztec MS. calls it “face-cage marking” and “face-star marking which is called darkness,” the former referring to stripes over the face, the latter to the mask design, which seems to me to symbolize night surrounded by the “eyes” of the stars. 

3 Hist. Nat. Ind., pp. 352 ff., English translation in Purchas his Pilgrimes, bk. v, c. 9. Maclehoses’ edition. 

4 Hist. Conq. Mex., tom. i, pp. 396–398. 

5 Gage’s trans. of Herrera, in New Survey, pp. 116–117; for Spanish text, see Hist. Gen., tom. i, dec. ii, bk. vii, c. xvii. 

6 Monarq. Ind., tom. i, p. 293. 

7 Quarter, district. 

8 House of the youths, where the acolytes or junior priests resided. 

9 Governors. 

10 Vassals, burghers. 

11 Dance. 

12 This custom was in vogue among certain prehistoric races, and is still practised on the death of a relative by African bushmen, who first remove a finger-joint. 

13 More correctly quauhxicalli, a stone vase for the reception of the hearts of victims, from quauh (tli) “eagle,” and xicalli, “cup.” 

14 Monarq. Ind., tom. ii, p. 73. 

15 Hist. Mex., English translation by C. Cullen (London, 1787), vol. i, bk. vi. 

16 Idea de una Hist., pp. 60–61. 

17 Bk. i, c. i. 

18 So Uitzilopochtli addresses his half-brother. “Uncle” among the ancient Mexicans was an honorific title. 

19 Bk. iii, c, i, par. i. 

20 Monarq. Ind., tom. i, p. 294. 

21 See chapter on Cosmogony. 

22 Sahagun, Appendix to bk. iii, c. ix. 

23 Hist. Nat. Ind. in Purchas his Pilgrimes, bk. v, c. xiii. See also Manuel Gamio, Proc. 19th Cong. Amer., Washington, 1915, for account of discoveries when the foundations of this temple were partly laid bare in 1913. 

24 C. i. 

25 Sahagun, bk. ii, c. xxxiv; Uitzilopochtli himself, as we shall see, was oracular. In this case I take it that the octli distilled from the plant conferred the boon of oracular speech. 

26 The first pulque or octli, which was called uitztli, was offered at this festival as first-fruits to Uitzilopochtli. The spirit distilled from the pulque is still known as mexcal or mescal, and is probably identical with the fiery fluid given to the braves in the service of the god before going into battle. 

27 Bull. of U.S. Bureau of Ethnology, No. 28, p. 210. 

28 Monarq. Ind., tom. ii, p. 41. 

29 The Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas calls Uitzilopochtli omitecilt. I think this should be read ome tecitl, “twice-wizard,” but it may read ome tecutli, “twice-lord.” But the latter is certainly a title of Tonacatecutli, the creative deity. 

30 Bk. i, c. i. 

31 Sahagun, bk. ii, c. xxiv. 

32 As does an Egyptian sun-god. 

33 The Centzonuitznaua appear to be the same as the Tzitzimimê, whom Tezozomoc calls the “gods of the air who bring the rains, floods, thunderclaps, and thunders and lightnings and had to be placed round Uitzilopochtli” in order to complete the construction of the great teocalli of Mexico. These “gods of the signs and planets,” in other words the stars, were regarded as demons of darkness, thinks Seler, “only because during a solar eclipse the [87]stars became visible in the day sky.” I think it much more probable that they were looked upon as demons of darkness because they peopled the darkness every night. “These,” says the interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, “are the sons of Citlalicue.” Now, Citlalicue means “Starry-skirt,” and I think that here we are not very far from Coatlicue, “Serpent-skirt.” We know, too, that Citlalicue, like Coatlicue, was connected with the cipactli, the earth-beast, and with Chicomecoatl (“Seven Serpents”). The later fusion of Citlalicue with her husband Citlaltonac or Tonacatecutli, lord of the heavenly vault, as has been shown in the remarks on these gods, would give her stellar attributes; hence the seeming discrepancy between her and Coatlicue. 

34 Appendix to bk. ii. 

35 Hist. de los Indios de la Nueva España, tom. ii, p. 240. 

36 See Rendel Harris, The Ascent of Olympus, passim. In his Ascent of Olympus Dr. Rendel Harris has shown that the sacred oak of Zeus was regarded as “the animistic repository of the thunder, and in that sense the dwelling-place of Zeus … that the woodpecker who nested in it … was none other than Zeus himself, and it may turn out that Athena, who sprang from the head of the thunder-oak, was the owl that lived in one of its hollows” (p. 57).

In the same way, it may be that the maguey plant may have been regarded by the Mexicans as a repository of thunder and the heavenly fire. Octli, its sap, was connected with fire (see octli gods, “Nature and Status”), and Uitzilopochtli was the humming-bird who dwelt among its leaves. He springs from his mother’s body fully armed, as does Athena from the head of Zeus. A similar train of thought appears to be present in both ideas. 

37 Manuel de Ministros, p. 35. 

38 Commentary on Codex Vaticanus B, p. 91. 

39 Maguey is an Antillean word imported into Mexico by the Spaniards, but the use of a post-Columbian word does not exclude the possibility of a synonymous pre-Columbian form. 

40 Manuel de Ministros, p. 37. 

41 Myths of the New World, pp. 129 ff. 

42 Hist. Nat. Ind., c. ix, bk. v (English translation from Purchas his Pilgrimes). 

43 Obviously an error for tlachialoni

44 More probably like a jaguar, one of the forms of the god. 

45 See précis in chapter on Cosmogony. 

46 The Morelosia huañita of the family Styraciñes

47 Inga circinalis. 

48 Paper hand. 

49 Face of the temple. 

50 Young brother. 

51 Hist. Gen., bk. i. c. iii. 

52 Hist. Nat. y Moral, c. ix. 

53 Hist. Mex., English translation, vol. i, bk. vi, p. 243. 

54 Hist. Gen., bk. iii, c. vi–ix. 

55 These both mean the same thing, “shield of precious stones.” 

56 Diccionario Universal, Appendix, s.v. 

57 See ante, Aspect and Insignia. 

58 Commentary C. Fejérváry-Mayer, p. 34. 

59 See the Stone of Tizoc for examples of this practice. 

60 This figure conventionally represents the turkey and strikingly exhibits the large red wattles and lobe of that bird. In most of the MSS. it wears Tezcatlipocâ’s smoking mirror at the temple, the warrior’s headdress of heron-feathers, and in Codex Borbonicus it appears as a naualli or disguise of the god, having his crown painted with stars and his anauatl or ring of mussel-shell. On sheet 6 of Codex Fejérváry-Mayer the bird appears as an image of Tezcatlipocâ and is represented along with the signs of mortification and blood-letting, as it is on sheet 17 of the Aubin tonalamatl, where it wears the bone-piercer in its ears and a red robe edged with blue and brown. Indeed, it represents the blood-offering connected with the worship of Tezcatlipocâ. The turkey-cock’s foot, too, is sometimes symbolic of the god, and the interpretative codices tell us that “of the demons we often see nothing more than a cock’s or eagle’s foot.” The turkey-cock is to be conceived as representative of rain, which was believed by the Nahua to be nothing else than the magically altered blood he shed in penitence or sacrifice. It may be that the red wattles and lobe of the turkey suggested the idea of blood, and that the shades in his plumage were equally suggestive of water. Thus it would come to be regarded as the blood shed by the stone knife of sacrifice. It is also obvious that Tezcatlipocâ’s patronage of slaves, who were strictly regarded as his property, arose out of the idea that those unfortunates, whenever used for the purposes of sacrificial ritual, constituted the “food” of the obsidian knife. 

61 Bk. xi, c. 8, § 5. 

62 Bernal Diaz also states that the eyes of Tezcatlipocâ’s idol were “mirrors.” See ante, “Aspect and Insignia.” 

63 In the myth which recounts his discomfiture of the Toltecs it will be recalled that he rained stones upon them. See also Introduction for identification of obsidian with wind and breath. 

64 Gomme, Ethnology in Folklore

65 Myth, Ritual, and Religion, vol. i, p. 266. 

66 See Itzlacoliuhqui, pp. 341 ff. 

67 See my article on “Cherokee Religion” in vol. iii, Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics

68 Brinton, Myths of the New World

69 Sahagun, bk. xii, c. iv. 

70 Bk. iii, c. ii. 

71 Bk. xi, c. xlvii. 

72 Bk. v, c. ix. 

73 Seler, The Wall-paintings of Mitla, Bull. 28, Bureau of American Ethnology. 

74 “The swift ones who serrate the teeth.” 

75 “Mount of the crier.” 

76 Sahagun’s statement that the draught would make Quetzalcoatl remember those evils is obviously a slip which even his copyist Torquemada is capable of avoiding. 

77 Bk. iii, c. 3 and 4. 

78 The names throughout the myth merely describe the incident which took place at the locality alluded to. 

79 Sahagun, bk. iii, c. xii, xiii, xiv. 

80 Monarq. Ind., tom. ii, pp. 48–52. 

81 Monarq. Ind., tom. i, pp. 254–256. 

82 Hist. de los Indios. 

83 Hist. Ecles., pp. 82, 86, 92–93, 97–98. 

84 Hist. Ecles., p. 82. 

85 A Lacandone Indian tribe near Palenque. 

86 Land of Chivim. 

87 The myths relating to him under the name of Tohil appear to me to identify Tohil more with Tezcatlipocâ. See Brassuer, Le Vuh Popol, passim. 

88 The circumstance that the two high-priests of Mexico, the pontiffs of the cults of Uitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, had the name Quetzalcoatl prefixed to their official descriptions merely indicates that it had passed into a sacerdotal title. They were in no special sense attached to the worship of the god. 

89 He was, of course, all of these, but as regards the two latter, in a subsidiary sense only. 

90 Spanish, hurican; French, ouragan; English, hurricane

91 Sahagun reverses the process by calling Quetzalcoatl “a man who became a god,” bk. i, c. v. 

92 See my article on these books in vol. iii of Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics

93 This, too, accounts for his identification with the planet Venus, which also had a calendric connection, and therefore as the herald of the dawn, and the child of the virgin goddess Chimalman or Chalchihuitlicue in her guise as Moon-goddess. 

94 Votan was likewise a builder of subterranean houses and was worshipped in caves. The god of the rain-cult is, indeed, regarded as master of the streams which flow under the earth. See Brinton, Nagualism, p. 41. 






  • Area of Worship: Mexico; originally Atlantic coastlands, the Olmeca lands and Tlaxcallan. Anciently Toltec.
  • Minor Names:
    • Ometecutli = “Twofold lord.”
    • Tlachinale = “Lord of Creation.”
    • Tlatecque = “Lord of the Earthly World.”
    • Teotlale = “Lord of the Steppe.”
    • Matlaua = “Lord of the Net.”
    • Topeua = “Lord of the Mountains.”
    • Tloque Nahuaque = “Lord of the Close Vicinity.”
  • Relationship: Father of Quetzalcoatl.
  • Calendar Places: Ruler of the first day, ce cipactli, of the first week and of the fourth day-hour.
  • Compass Direction: West.
  • Symbol: The human pair beneath the coverlet.


Codex Vaticanus A.—In the Codex Vaticanus A Tonacatecutli’s body-paint is red and pink. His headdress is bound by a fillet richly encrusted with turquoises, having in front the conventional bird’s head which is so frequently encountered in representations of the Mexican gods in the codices. He wears the nasal ornament of serpentine shape peculiar to the octli- or drink-gods, as to some of the deities of fertility, and his fruitful or life-giving nature is symbolized by a foot-stool composed of maize ears.

Codex Borgia.—In the Codex Borgia (sheet 61, lower half) the lower portion of his face is painted red, but its upper [147]part, as well as the rest of his body which is visible, is coloured yellow. On the cheek is seen a rectangular surface divided into compartments, each of which is tinted a different colour, the distinctive painting of the maize-gods, which, it is believed, symbolizes the maize-field with its many hues. A “gobber” tooth hangs from his mouth as a sign of great age, for as creator he was regarded as one of the most venerable among the gods. Around his forehead is a head-band enriched with precious stones, which recalls that frequently worn by the Sun-god. His necklet consists of a casket of jewels, with lid and feet, on which is represented the symbol of the chalchihuitl jewel.1 On sheet 60 Tonacaciuatl, the female form of this deity, is depicted in the act of handing Tonacatecutli a flower, symbolic of life or blood. Above this figure is the picture of a red snake, also symbolizing blood. The god wears a jaguar-skin and the goddess an eagle’s, thus illustrating their patronage of the military orders who wore those dresses. (For similar readings, see Codex Laud, 34–5 K). In sheet 57 (lower right-hand corner) he is represented as wearing a beard of black eagle-feathers.

Codex Vaticanus B.—In Codex Vaticanus B (sheet 87) Tonacatecutli is represented with Quetzalcoatl’s head and neck ornaments, combined with the jewelled fillet and bird’s head on forehead. He wears a long beard reaching to the feet.



  • Minor Names:
    • Omeciuatl = “Twofold Lady.”
    • Citlalinicue = “Starry Skirt.”
  • Calendar Place: Same as that of Tonacatecutli.
  • Compass Direction: Same as that of Tonacatecutli.
  • Symbol: Same as that of Tonacatecutli.


General.—In Codex Fejérváry-Mayer (sheet 10) the drawn-in angle of the mouth and the female figure point to the inference that here is depicted Tonacaciuatl, who is identified [148]by the interpreters with Xochiquetzal. In Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Vaticanus A we find her standing in front of the male creative god Tonacatecutli. In the latter MS. the first interpreter calls her Tonagacigua, and the third Xochiquetzal, Oxomoco, and Chicomecohuatl. The picture shown under the nineteenth week of Codex Telleriano-Remensis pictures her with precisely the same dress and emblems as Xochiquetzal (q.v.).


These deities were identified by the Mexicans with the Creator, the Tloque Nahuaque, of whom almost every one of the post-Conquest Spanish writers speaks. Indeed the Codex Telleriano-Remensis expressly identifies them with the creative force. The passage runs: “All those epithets (God, Lord, Creator) they bestowed on their god Tonacatecutli, who, according to their account, was the god who created the world; and they painted him alone with a crown as lord of all. They never offered sacrifices to this god, for they said that he did not regard them.” Of the female deity the Codex Vaticanus says: “Tonacacigua was the wife of Tonacatecutle; for, as we have observed, although their gods were not, as they affirm, united together for matrimonial purposes, still they assigned to each a goddess as a companion. They called her by another name, Suchiquetzal and Chicomecoual, which means Seven Serpents, for they say that she was the cause of sterility, famine, and all the miseries of life.”2

In further descriptive passages concerning Tonacatecutli the same Codex says: “This is the representation of Tonacatecotle, which name signifies the Lord of our Bodies; others say that it means the First Man, or perhaps it means that the first man was so called.” “These are the figures which have been mentioned; and the first is that of their greatest god Tonacatecotle. It represented the first god under whom they affirm was the dominion of the world; who, when it appeared good to him, breathed and divided the waters of [149]the heavens and the earth, which at first were all confused together, and disposed of them as they now are; and accordingly they called him Lord of our Bodies; and also of abundance, who bestowed everything upon them; and on this account they paint him alone with a crown. They called him besides Seven Flowers, for they say that he disposes of the principalities of the earth. He had no temple, nor did they offer sacrifices to him, for they say that he did not require them, as if on account of his superior majesty.… They say that Tonacatecotle presided over the thirteen signs which are here marked (the day-signs of the tonalamatl, q.v.). Those above denote the thirteen causes or influences of the sky which are under subjection to him, and the others below are the thirteen signs of their superstition and sorcery. This man and woman represent the first pair who existed in the world; their names are Huehue (very old ones). Between them is placed a knife or razor and an arrow above each of their heads, typifying death, as in them death originated.”

“They called this god Tonacatecotli and by another name Citallatonalli3; and they said that he was the constellation which appears by night in the sky, St. James’s or the Milky Way. They paint these figures and all the others which follow, each of them in its own manner; because as they considered them their deities, each had its peculiar festival. It was necessary to wear in these festivals the habit of the god.”

The Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas regards these deities as appearing at the commencement of creation, but says nothing of their relations to the precise creative act.

The Anales de Quauhtitlan says of them:

And they say

that in the inner heaven

he [Quetzalcoatl] dedicated a cult

and called on them:

her with the star-studded robe, together with the astral Sun-god.

the mistress of our flesh, the lord of our flesh,

who is clothed in charcoal, clothed in blood,

who giveth food to the earth; [150]

and he cried aloft

—as they (the old people) were informed—

to the Omeyocan,

to the heaven lying above the nine that are bound together.

And—as they learnt—

those having their abode there,

those he called upon, those he worshipped.

(See also chapter on Cosmogony for further mythical material relating to these deities.)


In examining the characteristics of these deities we find:

(1) That they were among the oldest of the Mexican divinities. Tonacatecutli is called, among other names, “Lord of the Steppe,”4 which does not necessarily indicate that he was a deity of the Chichimec or hunting tribes, who from generation to generation raided the Mexican valley, but may apply to his stellar or heavenly significance. Reference is also made in the Anales de Quauhtitlan to the circumstance that he and his female counterpart were gods of the ancient Toltecs, and that their cult was founded by Quetzalcoatl, the typical Toltec priest-king.

(2) That these gods were regarded by the Mexican priesthood in more modern times at least, as abstractions, ideal beings who arose out of philosophic speculation. That they had become rather neglected in the popular Mexican faith is clear from the circumstance that they had no temples and that no offerings were made them. Tonacatecutli represented, indeed, that great invisible and intangible figure which at all times and in all religions has loomed behind most pantheons—the great god behind the gods—the principle of causality, that first cause beyond which the speculations of theology cannot proceed.

(3) They presided over the food supply. Although other deities occupied the positions of maize and vegetable gods, the creative deities were in the ultimate the great givers of all food. Thus they were designated “Lords of Food Supplies” and “Lords of Superabundance.” [151]

(4) They must be regarded as the direct creators of the spirit of man. To the Mexican man flesh was merely maize in another form. But apart from this conception the pair typified the first human couple, and as such they are represented in all the MSS. lying side by side and cross-legged under a blanket, in the attitude of procreation. They are, indeed, the great initiators of life, and must be comprehended as sending the human soul to occupy the body made by human procreation, giving warmth and breath to the infant before birth.5

(5) They commence the series of twenty day-signs, and this alone symbolizes their creative and original nature.

(6) They represent the sign cipactli, the animal from which the earth was made.

(7) They are gods of the Omeyocan, the highest or thirteenth heaven, which fact further illustrates their supreme character.


From these facts we may be justified in concluding:

(1) That in the most early times Tonacatecutli and his consort typified the father-sky and mother-earth respectively, but that this aspect of them had been forgotten and they came to have a purely abstract creative significance for both priests and people. That Tonacaciuatl originally represented the earth there is no doubt, and her identification with Xochiquetzal and Chicomecoatl alone would show this to be so. Again, the association with the sign cipactli proves the connection of one of the divine pair with the earth, and from what has been said regarding this sign in the introduction, and by the constant association of goddesses in the Mexican mind with the terrestrial sphere, it is plain that Tonacatecutli, her male counterpart, is not likely to have represented it in early times. The suggestion that he symbolizes the sky is perhaps assisted by the nature of his abode, the uppermost heaven, and from his close identification with Citlallatonac, [152]the god of the night heaven, who was supposed to represent the Milky Way.

(2) That in later times the early concepts of these divinities became fused almost into one, and that in some measure they had come to be regarded as androgynous. This view may be traversed by the circumstance that they are frequently represented separately, but on the other hand their names appear as one in the form Tonacatecutli-Tonacaciuatl in many passages. The same may be posited of their counterparts in the Quiche Popol Vuh, Xpiyacoc and Xmucane.6

Tonacatecutli and his spouse are to be regarded as the parents of Quetzalcoatl, but this is probably a theogonic myth of late origin, brought about by the constant association of Quetzalcoatl with the creative gods as deities of the ancient Toltecs, and the frequent references to him as the founder of their cult.

Ixtlilxochitl states in his fourth Relacion that Tonacatecutli and his wife were the chief gods of the Toltecs, who represented them as the sun and the moon, and he goes on to say that at certain seasons of the year criminals were sacrificed to them by a method called Telimonamiquian, “which is to say grinding between the stones.” Two great stones, he says, were balanced opposite each other, and the victim was crushed between them as they fell—the slain man thus representing the corn-spirit, or, indeed, the corn itself in the process of being ground. [153]

1 A generic name for green precious or semi-precious stones—turquoise, jadeite, nephrite, emerald, etc. 

2 In Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico, vol. vi. 

3 On this identification see also Torquemada, bk. vi, c. xix. 

4 Codex Telleriano-Remensis. 

5 Seler, Codex Vaticanus B, p. 132. 

6 Spence, Popol Vuh. London, 1908. 






So numerous were the manifestations and variants of the Earth-goddess conceived by the Nahua or adopted into their pantheon, that this has been the cause of considerable misconception on the part of students of Mexican religion, who have confounded them in a manner which in the circumstances is scarcely surprising. An attempt will be made here to provide the reader with a list of the most important of these deities, briefly and barely outlining their various origins and attributes, in order that he may be the better able to comprehend what follows when we come to discuss them more fully.

Chicomecoatl (Seven Serpents)—the Mexican name of the Earth-goddess and that of the seventh day of the seventh week of the tonalamatl. She was probably of Toltec origin. The third interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A identifies her with Xochiquetzal, and, perhaps more correctly, with Xumoco and Tonacacigua or Tonacaciuatl. She had two temples dedicated to her, the chicome iteopan and the cinteopan, and seems to have become a variant of Tonacaciuatl on the adoption of an agricultural basis of existence.

Tlazolteotl, Tlaelquani, Teteo innan or Toci—an earth-goddess whose worship had its origin among the tribes of the Atlantic seaboard, where maize grew abundantly. She possessed warlike propensities, as became a goddess to whom human sacrifice was much in vogue, and the myth of her impregnation by Uitzilopochtli was enacted at the ochpaniztli festival in August, typifying, perhaps, the impregnation of [154]the “earth-mother” by the “sky-father.” As Ixcuine she represented a plurality of goddesses. Seler1 believes that Chicomecoatl represents the young maize ear, and Tlazolteotl, the ripe ear of the plant.

Cihuacoatl (Serpent Woman)—an earth-goddess of Xochimilco and Colhuacan.

Coatlicue or Coatlantonan (Serpent Skirt)—a Mexican earth-goddess, mother of Uitzilopochtli.

Xochiquetzal—originally a mountain goddess of the Tlalhuica. An earth-and-maize goddess as well as a deity of flowers and vegetation.

Xilonen—originally a maize-goddess of the Huichol tribes. She represented the young maize-plant.

Cinteotl (Maize-god)—son of Tlazolteotl, originally a god of the peoples of the Atlantic seaboard. He is occasionally alluded to as a female deity, but is always male in the MSS. of the Borgia group, executed by a people of Nahua speech dwelling in the south. He is the equivalent of Xochipilli and had a separate temple, the cinteopan.

Xipe—an earth-god of the Teotitlan district, a god of spring vegetation. His temples were called yopico. His great festival was the Tlacaxipeuliztli, or “flaying of men.”

Only three of these deities, Tlazolteotl, Xipe, and Xochiquetzal, appear as rulers of one or other of the twenty day-signs of the tonalamatl. But Cinteotl figures in the ochpaniztli feast and appears as one of the “Lords of the Night.”

These criteria are perhaps sufficient to identify these figures as separate divinities. We find in Sahagun that Chicomecoatl, Cinteotl, and Xipe had separate temples of their own. In several of the rituals of the great festivals, however, the cults of Tlazolteotl, Chicomecoatl, and Cinteotl appear to have been very closely interwoven, and this leads me to suspect that the worship of the old Toltec goddess Chicomecoatl was in process of fusion with that of the “immigrant” Tlazolteotl at the period of the Conquest. Xilonen, too, according to Sahagun, had a separate festival in her honour, [155]the uei tecuilhuitl. From all this and from considerations still to be advanced we may, perhaps, be justified in assuming:

(1) That at the period of the Conquest the cults of Tlazolteotl, Chicomecoatl, and Cinteotl were very naturally in process of becoming amalgamated, the worship of the two goddesses, Mexican and alien, presenting many features in common.

(2) That Xochiquetzal, originally the goddess of the Tlalhuica, was regarded more properly as the goddess of flowers and of the spring florescence, a hypothesis which is upheld by her myths. Her equation with Tonacaciuatl appears to have been a later concept, due to the connection of both with the earth.

(3) That the Huichol goddess Xilonen came to symbolize for the Nahua the maize plant in its early stages of growth, and in that respect resembles Cinteotl.

(4) That the cult of the southern god Xipe, the grain-deity of a related people, had made great headway among the Nahua of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.

(5) It follows from these conclusions that only one of these deities of growth—Coatlicue—was of Nahua origin, all the others being gods of the aboriginal or settled peoples. The Chichimec Nahua, a hunting people, possessing no official grain-goddess of their own, would naturally come to worship these on their adoption of an agricultural mode of life. As most of these forms hailed from districts of considerable cultural antiquity, I believe their worship to have been of long duration in the land, not much less ancient, indeed, than the cult of Tlaloc.

It is not claimed for these conclusions that they are more than approximate. The data relative to these deities is much too complex to permit of any more precise or dogmatic treatment, in fact at one time or another there was identification between them all; but with the above attempt at simplification in view we shall now endeavour to present the reader with a detailed account of each of these and other less important divinities who were regarded as in any way connected [156]with the personification of the earth or the growth of the crops, their festivals and ritual.

The earth-deities seem to have been prophetic and divinatory and to have been connected with medicine, like similar European and Asiatic goddesses. Some of them, like Itzpapalotl, share the butterfly symbol with the gods of fire, with whom they are frequently connected. They are also closely associated with the deer, a fertility animal, and the eagle, the sun-bird, and their victims were, like those of the sun and war deities, decked with eagle-down.



  • Territory: Huaxtec, Mixtec, Olmec.
  • Minor Names:
    • Tlaelquani = “Filth-eater.”
    • Chicunaui acatl = “Nine Reed.”
    • Teteo Innan = “Mother of the Gods.”
    • Chiquacen acatl = “Six Reed.”
    • Toci = “Our Grandmother.”
    • Naui tecpatl = “Four Flint Knife.”
    • Cocauic Xochitla = “Yellow Bloom.”
    • Tlalli iyallo = “Heart of the Earth.”
    • Iztac Xochitla = “White Bloom.”
    • Ixcuine = “Four Faces.”
    • Tonana Teumechaue = “Our mother, the goddess of the thigh-skin face-painting.”
  • Calendar Places: Ruler of the fourteenth day, ocelotl, of the thirteenth week, ce olin. Seventh of the nine lords of the night.
  • Compass Direction: West.
  • Festivals: Ochpaniztli (“Feast of Brooms”) in the eleventh month.
  • Symbols: A man eating excrement (“Dirt-eater”); a broom.
  • Relationships: Mother of Centeotl; one of the Tzitzimimê.
Broom of Tlazolteotl, the symbol of her festival.

Broom of Tlazolteotl, the symbol of her festival.

Headdress of Tlazolteotl.

Headdress of Tlazolteotl.

(From Codex Telleriano-Remensis, 17 Verso.)

(From Codex Telleriano-Remensis, 17 Verso.)



Codex Borgia.—Sheet 74: Here Tlazolteotl is depicted as naked, and accompanied by a snake. A patch of rubber appears near the mouth, and her head is bound by a fillet of unspun cotton. Behind the neck a feather ornament is seen, made of the blue plumage of the quail, and she also wears the golden nasal Huaxtec ornament usually seen in [157]connection with the octli-gods. In the Codex Vaticanus B her naked body is painted white, with yellow longitudinal stripes, and she has the bifurcated nose-ornament of Xipe. Significantly, perhaps, the shape of her eye recalls that of the god of flaying, whose eye is usually a mere slit in the flayed human skin which he wears, and through the mask of which he is supposed to be looking. She wears the cotton fillet and ear-plug typical of her.

Sahagun MS.—In this place she has a disk of liquid rubber on the face, with which substance her mouth is also painted, an elaborate cotton headdress, crowned with feathers, a tunic of sac shape with a fringe divided into compartments, a skirt with bands joined by diagonal lines, and she holds in her right hand the broom symbolic of her feast, and in her left a shield decorated with four concentric circles.

General.—In the tonalamatl of the Aubin-Goupil collection, wherever she is depicted as seventh of the nine lords of the night, her face is white, its upper portion being surrounded by a yellow band. In the Codex Borbonicus she is occasionally painted all yellow or all white, and this yellow colour symbolizes that of the ripe maize ear. In the song about her given by Sahagun, we observe that she is alluded to as “the yellow blossom” and the “white blossom,” otherwise the yellow or white maize—the maize at different stages of its growth.

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 55.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 55.)

As Teteô innan. (From Sahagun MS.)

As Teteô innan. (From Sahagun MS.)


Another of her distinguishing characteristics, as has been remarked, is the black colouring in the region of the mouth, which frequently extends to and includes the tip of the nose and chin and, as Sahagun states, this was effected with liquid rubber, as in the case of the Fire-god. The small patch or circle on her cheek is also commented upon by Sahagun, who says, “a hole has she placed on her cheek”—the “hole” being probably a disk of rubber with a perforated centre. As an alternative to this we find in Codex Borgia two broad horizontal lines and in Codex Borbonicus several short, vertical black lines below the eye, and it would seem that the concentric circle on the shield of the goddess in the Sahagun MS. has the same meaning—that is, it is probably [158]a symbol of sex.2 In some representations her skirt is covered with crescent-shaped objects perhaps typical of her symbol—excrement.

When Tlazolteotl appears as ruler of the thirteenth week she often lacks the ripe-maize colour with which she is represented elsewhere. Thus in Telleriano-Remensis she is painted about the mouth with liquid rubber, and in Borbonicus her face-paint is in two colours. A black stroke is seen descending from brow to nose, but she has the yellow skin-colour. In both cases she is, like Xipe, clothed in the skin of a victim. In Telleriano-Remensis and the Aubin tonalamatl her arms and legs are powdered with white chalk and small feathers are affixed to them, probably with ulli gum. In Telleriano-Remensis these cover part of her costume as well. In this codex, too, her Huaxtec nose-ornament is replaced by one having a stepped motif, or a butterfly formed of the spotted feathers of the quail.

The cotton fillet of the goddess is worthy of further remark. It is made from the unspun produce of the plant, covers the top of the head and reaches the shoulders on either side of the face. Spindles are stuck into the mass, which is marked upon its surface with acute-angled figures or groups of parallel lines on a white ground, which may be regarded as hieroglyphic of raw cotton.

In certain of the MSS., for example in the Aubin tonalamatl and in Telleriano-Remensis, Tlazolteotl wears a feather coronal, which in other codices takes the shape of a fan or nape-ring like that frequently worn by Quetzalcoatl. Occasionally, too, it rises from a rubber ball which rests upon the head. In Codex Borgia (sheet 68) the feathers are dark in colour, but are brightened by the red plumes which spring from them in turn. Elsewhere we find white, brown, or yellow feathers, the latter prepared artificially from palm-leaves, which, like the fan-shaped ornament itself, are Huaxtec in character. In the picture in Borbonicus of Tlazolteotl as ruler of the week ce olin (one reed) we see the conical Huaxtec [159]hat, as worn by Quetzalcoatl, peeping above her cotton headdress, and the palm-leaf plume rising from a feather fan, which springs from a ball of rubber. In Telleriano-Remensis Tlazolteotl is seen wearing a string of snail-shells depending from the waist. This is known as citallicue, or “star-skirt,” another Huaxtec article of dress.

In none of the representations alluded to was Tlazolteotl pictured with the broom characteristic of her and of her feast-day, ochpanitztli (“when they sweep the ways”). This was made from hard, stiff, pointed grass, which was cut with sickles in the mountain-forests of Popocatepetl.3 It was bound with a coloured leather strap, and the paper which held it together was flecked with the V-shaped cotton symbol.


Tlazolteotl is described in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis as “the woman who sinned before the deluge, who was the cause of all evil, of all deceit”; but this would appear to be an error for Ixnextli or Xochiquetzal (q.v.). The Anales de Quauhtitlan says of her: “In the same year (8 Rabbit) came the so-called Ixcuiname female demons [to Tollan] and, as they say from the reports of the old people, they came from Huaxteca. And in the place Cuextecatl ichocayan (“Where the Huaxtecs weep”) they summoned these captives whom they had taken in Huaxteca and explained to them what was about to be done, saying—‘We go now to Tollan. We wish to couple the earth with you, we desire to hold a feast with you, for till now no battle offerings have been made with men. We wish to make a beginning of it and shoot you to death with arrows.’ ”


This indicates that the goddess, one of the Ixcuiname, was regarded as the inventress of that especial mode of sacrifice by which the victim was tied to a framework and shot to death with arrows. We have no classical statement that [160]such a proceeding took place at her festival, however, but it is known that it formed part of the ritual at the festival of Xipe (q.v.). The expression, “We wish to couple the earth with you,” when taken along with the straddling attitude of the victim on his frame, has given rise to the assumption4 that such a sacrifice was intended to symbolize a sexual connection between the victim and the earth or earth-mother. It appears to me as more probable that its intention was to draw down rain by sympathetic magic, the dropping blood from the arrow wounds symbolizing the rain, and the tear which the victim sheds in the representation of this sacrifice in the Codex Nuttall and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, combined with the fact that such sacrifices are supposed to have been made in years of drought, strengthens my belief in the soundness of this theory.

Ixcuine means “four-faced,” and may apply to the circumstance that ancient idols of Tlazolteotl were, like those of Janus, provided with more than one face, so that they might look upon every direction whence the rain might come. Later, however, the Ixcuiname were regarded as a fourfold manifestation of Tlazolteotl and as personifying four sisters of different age, Tiacapan, Teicu, Tlaco and Xocoyotzin, who “represented the carnal passions.”5


A song in the Sahagun MS. relating to Tlazolteotl is as follows:

“The yellow blossom has flowered. She, our mother, with the thigh-skin of the goddess painted upon her face, came out of Tamoanchan. The white blossom has burst open, she our mother,” etc.6

This of course symbolizes the yellow and white maize. The thigh-skin of the goddess “is the mask cut from the [161]thigh of the sacrificed girl and worn by the priest” (see “Festivals,” infra). The statement that Tlazolteotl came out of Tamoanchan is important, for another song in the same series tells us that in that paradise was born her son Cinteotl, the Maize-god (q.v.).


Ochpaniztli.—This, the great festival of Tlazolteotl, was held in the opening of the eleventh Aztec month, commencing, says Sahagun,7 about September 14th. Fifteen days before the festival began, those who were to celebrate it danced the sacred dances, which they continued for eight days. In complete silence they ranged themselves in four lines, and danced with their hands full of flowers, keeping time most precisely. At the end of eight days those women who practised medicine, the mid wives, leech-women, and steam-bath keepers probably, divided themselves into two companies and presented themselves before a female victim who represented the goddess and who was destined for sacrifice. Their object was, says Sahagun, to amuse her and to keep her from pondering upon her fate. The victim herself, accompanied by three old women called her “mothers,” headed one of these parties, who pelted each other with the red leaves of the cactus flower. In the whole performance we can see some such concept as survives in a manner in the modern “battle of flowers,” which in certain towns in Southern France ushers in the season of Lent. The victim was then led back to the place of detention, and the ceremony was repeated for several days in succession. Then the “mothers” who guarded her led her through the public market-place for the last time, on which occasion she sowed maize on every side, and on that day she was taken to a place near the teocalli8 where she was to be sacrificed. As it was of importance that she should not mourn, she was informed that she was to become the bride of the king, and for this imaginary honour she was adorned with the full insignia of the goddess Tlazolteotl. [162]

When midnight had arrived, in a dead and unbroken silence, she was led to the summit of the lofty teocalli, where she was placed on the shoulders of a man, as was the custom with brides about to be borne to the houses of their lords, and ere she could be well aware what was about to happen, she was decapitated and immediately flayed. First of all pieces of skin were removed from the broad portion of the thigh and carried to the temple of Cinteotl, the son of Tlazolteotl. The skin of the upper part of the body formed a jacket, which a priest of Tlazolteotl, chosen for his strength and vigour, drew over his own body. Accompanied by two men vowed to his assistance, as well as by other priests, dressed to represent the goddess’s Huaxtec servants, all of whom carried blood-sprinkled brooms which they brandished in a combative manner, he pursued a number of nobles and warriors, who struck their shields and made a threatening display. The priest who personified the goddess rushed upon these with simulated fury, but they fled before him, refusing him battle. This part of the proceedings symbolized the warlike nature of the goddess, and the military significance of her cult. As has been explained, the people of Mexico believed that only by the continued offering up of human sacrifice and blood could an adequate rainfall, and therefore abundant harvests, be procured, and this naturally presumed the upkeep of a considerable standing army and many military guilds or brotherhoods dedicated to the task of securing a large supply of sacrificial victims. The warlike character of the Earth-goddess was assumed as a matter of course.

This chase continued until the priest who personated Tlazolteotl came to the teocalli of Uitzilopochtli, the War-god. Here he lay down and stretched himself out in the female posture for sexual intercourse. Says the Aztec text of Sahagun: “Then she broadens herself [that is the priest personating the goddess], expands, stretches arms and legs out at the feet of Uitzilopochtli, her face turned towards him.” This ceremony undoubtedly had reference to a supposed impregnation of the goddess by the god Uitzilopochtli, and [163]that the myth relating to it was enacted is shown by the symbolic presence of her son, Cinteotl, or a priest dressed to represent that god, who had placed over his face a mask made from the skin of the thighs of the flayed woman which had been sent to his temple, and who was now regarded as the son conceived.9

In addition to the skin-mask, the Cinteotl priest wore a hat or cap, also made of the skin of the sacrificed victim, which had a vandyked edging of the crown, or a crest like the comb of a cock, symbolic of the stone knife of sacrifice.

Together, the priests of Tlazolteotl and Cinteotl now proceeded to the temple of the former, where they awaited the morning. At dawn the chief men of the community, who had been waiting near the teocalli, ran up the steps of the temple bearing offerings. The priest of the goddess was then decorated with her insignia in addition to the dreadful trophy he wore. His head and feet were covered with the white down from the eagle’s breast, the particular ornament of the warrior who had captured a victim in battle. His face was painted red, the colour of the ripe maize, he was clothed in a short tunic which had woven upon it the semblance of an eagle, and he was equipped with other garments for the lower part of the body. Still richer and more elaborate vestments were then placed on him by the priests, after which he went to select the captives who must die. He chose four of these, and placing them upon the stone of sacrifice, dispatched them by taking out their hearts, handing over the others to the priests to deal with similarly. This done, he accompanied the Cinteotl priest to his temple, the Huaxtec servants marching before them, wearing what would seem to be huge artificial phalluses and tassels of untwisted cotton, to symbolize the virile strength and richness of the earth.10 They were also accompanied by the medical women. [164]

Coming to the temple of Cinteotl, the priest of Tlazolteotl placed one foot upon the drum there, and awaited the priest of Cinteotl, who later set out alone in a hasty manner, and accompanied by a large body of warriors, to a point on the frontiers of Mexico where a small hut stood, and at this place he left the mask and cap which he had worn, made from the thighs of the sacrificed woman. Not infrequently the party were attacked or ambushed and fighting ensued. I can form no opinion regarding the significance of this procedure. Was the skin left on the frontier as a gage of war, as would appear to be its most obvious interpretation, or did it possess a deeper and more symbolical meaning? If it did, I am at a loss to supply the elucidation. I feel that this is one of those acts so often encountered in primitive religion, when the temptation is to look for a profound meaning where, perhaps, none exists.

The priest of Tlazolteotl, on the departure of his colleague, proceeded to the temple called Atempan, or “Place of Death,” a favourite muster-place for children and leprous persons about to be sacrificed, which was situated in the precincts of the great temple of Mexico. Here the king took his seat on a throne, his footstool being a nest made of eagles’ skin and feathers, whilst an ocelot-skin was cast over the back of the seat, these articles symbolizing the “knighthoods” of the eagle and ocelot respectively. A military review followed, and the monarch distributed raiment, arms, and insignia to the deserving, who, thus distinguished, were expected to so comport themselves in war that they might eventually die the warrior’s death, the only fitting end for a Mexican brave. The recipients then repaired to the temple of Tlazolteotl, where dancing was engaged in. The scene was picturesque and even magnificent, for all the dancers held flowers in each hand and wore the dazzling insignia of their various ranks and orders.

This spectacle continued for two days, and on the evening of the second day the priests of the goddess Chicomecoatl (q.v.), clothed in the skins of captives slain at the festival of that goddess, ascended a little teocalli known as the “Table [165]of Uitzilopochtli,” and threw broadcast maize and calabash seeds upon the heads of the multitude below, who scrambled for the grain. The young women in the service of Chicomecoatl now advanced, each bearing upon her shoulder seven ears of maize, rolled in a rich mantle, and wrapped in white paper, after being sprinkled with ulli gum. The high-priest of the goddess led the chant, after which he descended from the teocalli and placed in a little cavity between the temple stairs and the temple itself a large basket filled with powdered chalk and feather-down. The warriors at once rushed upon it and scrambled for the contents, which were, of course, symbolical of the goddess’s “make-up.” They were chased by the priests, whom they pelted with the chalk and feathers, even the king taking part in the sport. The priest then betook himself to the temple of the goddess, called Toctitlan (“The Place of our Grandmother”), where he saw the skin of the sacrificed woman properly disposed.

Thus ended the ceremonies of the ochpaniztli, one of the most picturesque and involved, yet gruesome, of the festivals of ancient Mexico.


Tlazolteotl, as we shall find when we attempt our elucidation of her characteristics, was regarded as the goddess of sexual indulgence, a not inappropriate rôle for the wild, wanton, and riotous goddess of earth, so prodigal in her bringing forth and (naturally in the eyes of a primitive people) so bountiful in her favours, for to the barbarian mind productiveness is the outcome of lustfulness. By an easy transition, then, she became the goddess of sexual immorality, the patron of prostitutes, and the archetype of female wantonness. But, rather strangely, although she presided over salacious vice, she alone could pardon it, and once in a lifetime the Mexican adulterer or libertine might approach her to obtain by a full confession remission of his sins. This he generally did late in life, for absolution could not be obtained on a subsequent occasion. The ritual associated with his cleansing was a prolonged and involved one, and is [166]described by Sahagun in the twelfth chapter of his first book.

There is no reason to believe that the account of the ritual as furnished by Sahagun is otherwise than genuine, and he remarks upon the facility with which the native Mexicans embraced the Catholic confession as a proof that the rite was not unknown to them.


We know from the descriptions of the ochpaniztli festivals in the Sahagun Aztec MS., and the illustrations accompanying them, that the temple of Tlazolteotl, the Toctitlan, was a scaffolding of poles on which was set a representation of the goddess.


That Tlazolteotl possessed a priesthood of her own is obvious from the repeated mention of the adolescent youths known as Cuecuesteca (“Her Huaxtecs”), who figured in the festival of ochpaniztli. But that these were only priests ad hoc, or employed temporarily for that celebration, is likely, as Sahagun states (Appendix to bk. ii) that the Atempan teohuatzin, or the Chief of Rites connected with the Atempan, had the task of assembling them, as well as charge of the insignia used at the festival. Tlazolteotl’s priests, according to Sahagun (bk. i, c. xii), were “the augurs who possessed the books with the prognostications and the destinies of the new-born and the spells and the omens and the traditions of the ancients, as they were handed down and came unto them.”


Tlazolteotl has been completely identified with the Teteo innan or Toci of Sahagun and other writers, but though she ranked as the Earth-mother of Mexico par excellence, there is no room for doubt that her worship was originally alien, and assuredly of Huaxtec origin. The Huaxtecs were a people of Maya origin or affinities, isolated from the main [167]body of that race, dwelling on the east coast of Mexico, and retaining many of their peculiar customs; and it is noteworthy that a Huaxtecan goddess should be alluded to in Mexican tradition as coming to Tollan, the city of the Toltecs, the people whom so many writers have tried to identify with the Maya. As has been observed, she was accompanied at the ochpaniztli festival by a band of youths dressed to represent Huaxtecs, who in the Codex Borbonicus picture of the festival are shown as wearing the cone-shaped Huaxtec cap. She herself wears the Huaxtec nose-ornament in common with the octli-gods. She is repeatedly stated to have had her “home” in Cuextlan, the Huaxtec country, and there are good grounds for supposing that its inhabitants, of whose religion we know little, had brought the cult of the Earth-mother to such a pitch of complex perfection as rendered its absorption of the allied Mexican cults merely a matter of time and occasion.

That she was originally a personification of the maize is also clear. In her songs she is alluded to as “the yellow bloom” and “the white bloom,” and the references to her dwelling in Tamoanchan, the western paradise where the maize was supposed to have had its mythical origin, and where she gave birth to Cinteotl, the young maize-god, proves her association with this food-plant. But she was also the Earth, the insatiable, lustful mother, who gives birth to Cinteotl the young maize-god, who is also the obsidian knife of sacrifice, for the Earth is the mother of stone. As Sin, she was also the mother of death, for Cinteotl in this guise was undoubtedly a god of fatality or doom.

Like many other deities of the earth she may have had an almost plutonic significance, for she is called Tlalli Iyallo, “Heart of the Earth.” But I think that Seler (Fejérváry-Mayer, p. 145) has mistaken the true significance of this expression in applying to it the meaning “interior of the earth.” The word “heart” in the Nahua tongue does not necessarily mean “interior.” True, Tepeyollotl, the Earthquake-god, possessed a similar designation, but on the other hand the Quiche Popol Vuh alludes to the god Hurakan as [168]“The Heart of Heaven,” and I take the expression to mean in general “soul, spirit,” rather than “interior.” But, again, deities of grain have very frequently a subterranean association, and, according to Duran’s description of the feast of the goddess, we find that she was supposed to make her coming known by an earthquake shock, and she is ruler of the thirteenth week, ce olin, which some authorities translate as “earthquake” or “earth-motion.”

All this notwithstanding, in later times it was as the goddess of sensuality and lustfulness that Tlazolteotl made her strongest appeal to the Mexican imagination. We have already seen how this transition took place and how this attribute had its inception. In many climes the figure of the fruitful and abundant Earth-goddess has its bestial, revolting, and highly salacious side, and the Mexican earth-deity was no exception to the almost general rule. In several pictures her symbol is shown as a man devouring excrement (sin). She was the patroness of prostitutes, and by a transition, the ethical character of which seems to me obscure, she finally became the great pardoner of sexual misdeeds.

Probably because they forfeited their lives in the act of bringing forth, she came to be regarded as the chieftainess of those women who, dying in childbed, went to inhabit the Ciutlampa, the house of the women in the west. These female spirits were regarded by the Mexicans as the equal of warriors who had died heroically in battle, and issued daily from their paradise to accompany the sun in his afternoon course. It is typical of these Ciuateteô, or deified women, that in their jealousy of living people and their offspring, they exerted a noxious influence upon mortals, especially upon children, at certain seasons, and as the interpreter of Codex Telleriano-Remensis states, they are identified with European witches, flying through the air and meeting at cross-roads. Now the broom is the symbol of the European witch, as it is of Tlazolteotl, and in Codex Fejérváry-Mayer (sheet 17) we have a picture of Tlazolteotl as representative of the Ciuateteô, naked and riding upon a broomstick. In Codex Borgia (sheet 12) and Codex Vaticanus B (sheet 30) [169]beside her is figured a house with an owl standing at the door, while in front hangs a string of dried medicinal herbs, the whole representing the dwelling of a sorceress or medicine-witch, for Tlazolteotl was also patroness of the medical women, who danced at her festival, and Sahagun (bk. i, c. viii) expressly states that she was venerated by the “physicians,” that is, the medicine-men and wizards.

Probably by reason of her fecundity Tlazolteotl was also regarded as a divinity who presided over human birth. She is frequently portrayed as the great parturient and represents the womb11 (Vaticanus B, sheet 51). But she does not breathe the spirit into the newly-born child or transport it from the upper regions as does Quetzalcoatl, her office being the lower one of presiding over the child-bed, a task which she shares with other Mexican deities of vegetation and production.

Like other goddesses who preside over birth she may also have a lunar connection. It is probable that the Huaxtec nose-ornament which she wears in common with the octli-gods is a lunar symbol.12 In Codex Borgia (sheet 55) she is represented as standing opposite the moon, but this may only indicate her connection with night and witchcraft. I am of opinion, however, that Seler’s assumption that she is a moon-goddess is not altogether capable of proof. On the other hand, goddesses of vegetation and childbirth are frequently associated with the moon, and his theory may be perfectly sound. We must remember, however, that in his more recent works, just as the solar school of mythologists was accused of “seeing sun-gods everywhere,” Seler has undoubtedly applied a lunar significance to several deities whose characteristics he formerly elucidated in totally different fashion.

The warlike nature of Tlazolteotl has already been dwelt upon and its reason demonstrated in the section dealing with the ochpaniztli festival. [170]



  • Area of Worship: Mexico.
  • Minor Name: Chicomolotl = “Seven Maize-ears.”
  • Relationship: Sister of Tlaloc.
  • Symbol: The double maize-ear (commaitl).
  • Festivals: Uei tozoztli, the fourth month; ochpaniztli, the eleventh month.
  • Calendar Place: Seventh day of the seventh week; the day chicomecoatl. (Sahagun states that all days containing a seven in their name were regarded as auspicious on her account.)
Chicomecoatl. (From the Sahagun MS.)

Chicomecoatl. (From the Sahagun MS.)

Figure of Chicomecoatl. (Uhde Collection, Berlin.)

Figure of Chicomecoatl. (Uhde Collection, Berlin.)

Chicomecoatl. (From the Sahagun MS., Laurenziana).

Chicomecoatl. (From the Sahagun MS., Laurenziana).



Aubin-Goupil Tonalamatl.—Sheet 7: The goddess is depicted as having a red body and facial painting, and wears variegated raiment in which red is the preponderating colour. On her head is a large square headdress, also red in colour and decorated with rosettes at the four corners—such a headdress, indeed, as Tlazolteotl wears at the ochpaniztli festival. She holds in her hand the double maize-ear, which may be regarded as her peculiar and distinctive emblem.

Codex Borbonicus.—In this codex she is seen wearing red paint and the red garment, holding the double maize-ear, and carrying other maize-ears in a receptacle on her back. Seler thinks that her red colour is that of the granular bunch of the young maize-ear which she represents, and that Tlazolteotl or Teteoinnan, who is painted yellow and white, represents the ripe maize-ear.

Sahagun MS.—The Sahagun MS. states that Chicomecoatl’s face is coloured red and that she wears a paper crown on her head and a collar of green precious stones round her neck. She has an overdress and skirt of spring flowers and wears bells and shells on her feet. Her shield has the emblem of the summer flower painted upon its surface, and she carries the double maize-ear in her hand.


The hymn to Chicomecoatl as given in the Sahagun MS. is as follows: [171]

Goddess of the seven ears, arise, awake!

For, our mother, thou leavest us.

Thou returnest to Tlalocan.

Arise, awake!

Mother, thou leavest us now,

Thou goest to thy home in Tlalocan.

Which may, perhaps, be interpreted thus: The expression “seven ears” is an allusion to the seven ears of maize, sprinkled with rubber oil and wrapped in paper and cloth, which each maiden in a procession of virgins carried to the temple of the goddess, the cinteopan, at the festival of uei tozoztli (April 27th). The maize is now full grown and the goddess’s labours are over for the time being, so that she is enabled to return to Tlalocan, the paradise of her brother Tlaloc.



(Codex Bologna, sheet 13.)


The Uei Tozoztli.—The first festival attributed to Chicomecoatl in the calendar was the uei tozoztli, or the “great watch,” so called because of the watch or wake kept in the houses of the people, accompanied by a general fast. The best accounts of it are those of Sahagun13 and Torquemada.14 In this rite the goddess was associated with Cinteotl. After a four days’ fast, certain rushes were stained with sacrificial blood and placed upon the images of the gods in both house and temple. Branches of laurel and beds or mattresses of hay were placed before the altars, and maize porridge was distributed to the young men. The people walked in the fields cutting stalks of the young maize, which they bedecked with flowers, placing them before the altars of the gods in the calpulli, or common house of the village, along with food-offerings of every kind, baskets of tortillas, or pancakes of chian flour and toasted maize mixed with beans, each surmounted by a cooked frog. On the back of the frog offered up with the tortillas they placed a joint cut from a maize-stalk filled with small pieces of every kind of the food offered up. Thus laden, the frog symbolized the earth, bearing her fruits on her back. All this victual was carried in the afternoon [172]to the temple of Chicomecoatl, and eaten in a general scramble. The ears of maize preserved for seed were carried in procession by virgins to the temple of the goddess, each maiden bearing seven ears of maize, sprinkled with ulli gum and wrapped in paper and cloth. The legs and arms of these girls were ornamented with red feathers and their faces were smeared with pitch and sprinkled with marcassite. To these the crowd were forbidden to speak, but much persiflage was, nevertheless, engaged in. The people then returned to their houses, and the sanctified maize was placed in every granary and corn-crib, was known as the “heart” thereof, and remained there until taken out to be used as seed. It does not appear that human sacrifice accompanied this festival, which seems to have represented ancient rustic rites, the ritual of the family and the village, handed down from very early times.

Ochpaniztli (“Sweeping of Temples”).—In this festival, held about the beginning of September, the goddess played an important although by no means the principal part, and as it is fully described in the pages dealing with Tlazolteotl, it will suffice here to mention that the rites accorded to Chicomecoatl on this occasion appear to have been almost the same as those rendered at her first festival. The nature of her connection with the other deities of maize is indicated in the introduction to the section dealing with the earth and grain gods, and her participation in the rites of the ochpaniztli perhaps exhibits the zealous activity of an ancient cult in rivalry with a later and more popular one. It would certainly seem as if Chicomecoatl had been recognized in the ochpaniztli rites as an afterthought and for the purpose of placating her priesthood, as much as for the honour of the goddess herself, or that it was a protest on the part of the ministers of her cult, who did not desire to see their divinity ignored at a season at which she had probably been worshipped from time immemorial.


That Chicomecoatl had a priesthood specially consecrated to her is manifest from the accounts of her festivals, and this [173]must have been in most respects similar in organization and character to those of Cinteotl (the Cinteotzin), Tlazolteotl, and Xipe. That she had also a corps of priestesses or holy women attached to her worship is equally clear from the same source. But we learn nothing of their precise status or polity from any of the old authorities.


Chicomecoatl appears to have had two temples, both situated within the precincts of the great temple at Mexico. The first was the Chicomecoatl iteopan (“Temple of Chicomecoatl”) and the other the Cinteopan (“Maize Temple”), which, however, must not be confounded with that sacred to Cinteotl.


Chicomecoatl is obviously the ancient and indigenous maize-goddess of the Mexican Valley, whose worship had existed from early times. The statement by the interpreter in Codex Telleriano-Remensis that she caused famines is most certainly an error and much more applicable to Ciuacoatl. The identification of her in the same place with Tonacaciuatl, the female companion of the creative deity, is probably correct, as she seems to have been an agricultural variant of the old earth-mother. Chicomecoatl was the patroness of the food supply, who, says Sahagun, “was the goddess of subsistence,” and “the original maker of bread and victuals and cookery in general,” and whose sign radiated good fortune and happy influences. In this goddess, as viewed through the medium of the observances practised at her festival, we see, perhaps, the old and indigenous earth-goddess as the helper and foster-parent of the younger earth-mother, Tlazolteotl, for the grain of the year before was hers and was placed in the granaries to “help” or form a nucleus to the new grain. Again, it was perhaps natural that the elder earth-goddess should preside over the old grain used for seed, and the younger goddess over the grain which had not yet come to fruition. In many countries two grain-spirits, [174]mother and daughter, appear in the agricultural pantheon. In Breton custom the mother-sheaf—a figure made out of the last sheaf—bears within it a lesser bundle, which is regarded as the unborn daughter; and in Prussia, Malaysia, Scotland, and Greece, this double personification of the corn was or is in vogue.



  • Territory: Totonac; Aztec; Xochimilco.
  • Minor Names:
    • Ce Xochitl = “One Flower” (date).
    • Chicomoltotzin = “Seven Ears.”
  • Relationship: Son of Tlazolteotl; husband of Xochiquetzal.
  • Symbol: The god’s head with maize headdress (as in Bologna tonalamatl).
  • Festivals: Uei tozoztli; ochpaniztli.
  • Compass Directions: North; West.
  • Calendar Place:
    • Fourth of the Nine Lords of the Night.
    • Seventh of the Thirteen Lords of the Day.
    • (Codex Borbonicus, sheet 20.)


Codex Borgia.—Sheet 52: In this place Cinteotl is figured as a male deity of yellow colour and with a peculiar black, angular, longitudinal band on the face and bearing a load of maize-ears on his back. In one hand he carries the rain-staff and in the other the throwing-stick. Sheet 14: In this illustration he is clearly recognized as the Maize-god by the maize-ears and the maize-blooms which he wears in his fillet or on his head. In other respects his insignia resembles that of the Sun-god in its flame-coloured hair, the jewelled head-strap with the conventional bird’s head on the frontal side, the large gold disk on his breast, and on the nape of the neck the rosette painted in the colours of the green jewel chalchihuitl.

Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 20: He wears on his head a notched crown like that of the earth, mountain, and rain gods, except that it is painted green and yellow, the colours of the [175]maize. It is fastened with a tie at the occiput, which adornment is painted in like colours and resembles the knot worn by these deities. As with the Rain-god, it shows the long, dark hair hanging down below it. On his breast he wears, attached to a chain of jewelled beads, an ornament which is painted in the colours of the chalchihuitl and from which hang jewelled thongs. The loin-cloth is in the colours of the maize, showing alternate yellow and green cross-bands.

Aubin Tonalamatl.—Sheet 8: Here he is represented opposite Mayauel. On his back he wears a plumed staff with a heart. In his hand he holds the quetzal feather-flag.


Cinteotl was regarded by the Mexicans as having been born of the goddess Tlazolteotl in the sacred western region of Tamoanchan (the House of Birth), which they looked upon as the original home of the maize-plant. A song sung at the atamalqualiztli festival is as follows:

Born is the Maize-god

In the House of Descent,

In the place where the flowers are,

The god One-flower.

The Maize-god is born

In the place of water and of mist,

Where the children of men are made.

In the jewel Michoacan.

He is also associated with the flower-gods in certain strophes of the song to these divinities:

On the ball-ground the quetzalcoxcoxtli sings;

The Maize-god answers him.

Beautifully sings our friend the quetzal,

In the twilight of the red maize god.

My song shall be heard by the lord of the twilight,

The god with the thigh-skin face-painting.

I came to the place where the roads meet,

I, the Maize-god.

Where shall I now go?

Which way shall I take?


This song I would interpret as follows: The game of tlachtli, a description of hockey, is in some measure associated with the maize-gods. The quetzalcoxcoxtli bird is Xochipilli, the Flower-god, with whom Cinteotl is closely associated, and who is connected with games of all kinds, stone effigies of him being set up in the tlachtli courts. Cinteotl is a god who emanates from the west, and is associated with the twilight. At his festival a piece of skin was stripped from the thigh of the female victim and made into a mask for his priest. The place where the roads meet is evidently the haunting-place of the Ciuapipiltin or Ciuateteô, women who died in childbed, of whom Tlazolteotl, Cinteotl’s mother, was the patroness. The god complains that he has a difficulty in finding his way at the cross-roads. This was the precise reason for which they were made, that the Ciupipiltin or haunting mothers should be puzzled by them, or “wandered,” as the Scottish expression is. Witches all the world over are baffled by cross-roads, and formerly the bodies of suicides were buried beneath them, so that, did their spirits arise, they would be puzzled by the multiplicity of directions and be baffled in their intent to haunt the living.


The first festival with which Cinteotl was associated was the uei tozoztli, held in April. After a four days’ fast, the houses were decked with irises and sprinkled with blood drawn from the ears and the front of the legs, and the nobles and wealthier folk decorated their houses with the boughs of a plant called axcoyatl.15 Search was made in the fields for the young stalks of maize, which were decked with flowers and placed before the gods, along with food. The goddess Chicomecoatl was also revered at this festival. At the ochpaniztli festival, too, in honour of his mother Tlazolteotl, Cinteotl was peculiarly venerated, and a full account of the proceedings will be found in the pages referring to Tlazolteotl. It is necessary, however, to refer in passing to one custom, that in connection with which the thigh-skin of the female [177]victim was stripped off and carried to the temple of Cinteotl, where it was made into a mask which the priest of the god placed over his face.16 He also wore a jacket and hood of feathers, resembling the naualli or bird-disguise of the god—the coxcoxtli, which seems to have represented both Cinteotl and Xochipilli, and to have formed a kind of bond between them. The crest of the hood resembled the comb of a cock, and whilst possibly having the significance of a bird’s comb, was also held to symbolize the sharp-cutting flint knife of sacrifice (see Tlazolteotl). Lastly, the horrible relics of the festival were conveyed by the Cinteotl priest and a picked body-guard to a hut on the frontier, where they were left, for what purpose I am able to form no definite opinion.17


Several temples appear to have been dedicated to the worship of Cinteotl at Mexico, but as the names of these sometimes imply a collective dedication to the maize-gods, it is somewhat difficult to ascertain precisely which of the edifices was peculiar to Cinteotl. However, the Iztac cinteotl iteopan, or temple of the deity of white maize, at Mexico, more probably refers to Cinteotl’s place of worship, as Sahagun states, than to that of any other deity. Here, says the friar, were sacrificed leprous captives, who were slain during the days of fasting in honour of the sun, when that luminary was at its greatest height.18 In the Cinteopan was to be seen a statue of Cinteotl, before which captives were sacrificed on the occasion of his festival.

The temple of Tlatauhqui Cinteotl (red maize) appears to have been the preserve of the maize-gods collectively.


That Cinteotl had a separate and distinct priesthood is manifest from allusions to it in accounts of his festivals. [178]Among the Totonacs two high-priests were especially dedicated to him. These were widowers over sixty years of age, who wore jackets made from the skins of jackals, were not permitted to eat fish, and whose duty consisted in the preparation of manuscripts and the deliverance of oracular messages. The Totonacs thought human sacrifices unnecessary to him, and offered up birds and small animals at his shrine, regarding him as their protector from the more sanguinary deities, says Clavigero.19


It would appear from the data at our disposal that Cinteotl was originally a maize-god of the Totonacs, a people allied in race to the Maya-speaking Huaxtecs of the east coast. It will be recalled that his mother, Tlazolteotl, was of Huaxtec origin. Cinteotl may originally have been regarded by the Maya-speaking coast people as her son, or again the relationship between them may have been symbolic and relatively late in its development. But the myth appears as ancient and well founded, and the corn-mother who has a son or daughter is noticeable in many mythologies.

Although Cinteotl is alluded to as a goddess by Clavigero and other writers, it is abundantly clear that his godhead is of the male order, as the pictures which represent him prove. Seler lays stress upon his absolute identification with Xochipilli and Macuilxochitl, but although resemblances certainly exist, it seems to me that there are as many points of difference between these gods and that the likeness was the outcome of later development. Thus it can be shown by Seler’s own conclusions that, whereas Xochipilli was the patron of gaming and sport and light-hearted amusement, Cinteotl, on the other hand, was symbolic of that death which is the offspring of sin.20 [179]

Cinteotl’s mother, Tlazolteotl, the goddess of lust, undoubtedly typifies sin, and her son symbolizes the death which follows it and is its wages, the sharp knife of sacrifice. The indented cap he wears is typical of this implement, and was known as itzlacoliuhqui (“frost”), an expression which is also translated as “death” and which is occasionally employed of Tezcatlipocâ in his phase of god of justice.

But Cinteotl had another connection with the plutonic, such as is possessed by many grain-gods, and must, like Hades and Ishtar, be regarded as a deity of the Underworld, the place of the dead, the realm in which the seed germinates ere it sprouts above ground. He was the tutelary deity of the goldsmiths of Xochimilco, oddly enough, it seems to us, until we recall the resemblance between the ripe maize-cob and the work of the native jewellers.21

It is, however, as the young maize-god—the maize in its tender and half-ripened condition—that he must be chiefly regarded, and that he was looked upon by the ancient Mexicans. He strongly resembles the Maya god E.



  • Area of Worship: Colhuacan and Xochimilco.
  • Minor Names:
    • Quilaztli = “Obsidian Plant” (?).
    • Quauhciuatl = “Woman-eagle.”
    • Yaociuatl = “Woman-warrior.”
    • Tonantzin = “Our Mother.”
  • Relationship: Mother of Mixcoatl; sister of the Centzon Mimixcoa.
  • Symbol: Obsidian knife.


General.—In Codex Borgia (sheet 60) she appears as one of the two heads, or faces, of Quaxolotl, a female face framed by long, streaming hair, with the fleshless under-jaw and the exposed teeth of a dead person’s skull.

The Sahagun MS. describes her as having a face painted half-red, half-black, with a thick smear of indiarubber round the lips. She wears a crown of eagle-feathers and a [180]golden ear-plug. Her overdress is “the colour of spring flowers” (red), and she also has an undergarment with a fringe, and a white enagua, or skirt. Her costume is adorned with shells and she wears sandals. Her shield is inset with eagle’s feathers.

An ancient song to her states that she carries a rattle-stick. She has a shield-device similar to that of Chantico, with whom she seems to be a parallel.



(From Codex Magliabecchiano, sheet 33.)


In the “Song of the Earth-goddesses,” Ciuacoatl is alluded to as follows:

The eagle Quilaztli is painted with serpent’s blood;

Her crown is made of eagle-feathers.

The high cypresses of the Chalmecâ land shelter her.

The maize has come;

On the fields of the gods

She leans on the rattle-staff.

In my hand rests the agave thorn;

On the fields of the gods

She leans on her rattle-staff.

The broom is in my hand;

On the fields of the gods

She leans on the rattle-staff.

Thirteen eagles is our mother, goddess of the Chalmecâ;

The spear of the prickly plant lays me low;

It is my son Mixcoatl.

Our mother the warrior.

The deer from Colhuacan,

She is stuck with feathers.

Morning has dawned

The order to the warriors has gone forth.

Drag the captives hence,

The whole land shall be destroyed.

The deer from Colhuacan,

She is stuck with feathers.

Those who fight bravely in war

Are painted with eagle-feathers.22


This wild song may be interpreted as follows:

The aspect of the goddess is described. She rests (as do Uitzilopochtli and other gods) under the shade of the cypress trees. The maize is about to be planted, and she bears in her hand the rattle-staff or rain-rattle, carried by all the earth- and rain-gods and their priests, with which she brings down the rain by dint of sympathetic magic and which implement was also symbolic of fruitfulness or sexual union.23 The worshipper takes the agave thorn in his hand wherewith to pierce his tongue and other members, so that the blood thus obtained may produce rain for the growth of the maize. The broom alluded to is a symbol of the earth-goddesses, and was made of hard, stiff, pointed grass, cut with sickles in the mountainous forests of Popocatepetl and Ajusco (see Tlazolteotl). “Thirteen eagles” is a date in the tonalamatl, the last day of the division ce calli. It was connected with the Ciuateteô, the vengeful women who died in childbed, of whom Tlazolteotl is the prototype. The “spear of the prickly plant” (cactus) is the weapon of Mixcoatl, son of the goddess, and is here probably alluded to as the lightning which accompanies the rainfall in Mexico, for Mixcoatl is the “Cloud-Serpent,” “the lightning-god.” Or the worshipper may complain of weakness from loss of blood shed as an offering by his use of the agave thorn. The warlike nature of Ciuacoatl is next alluded to. She was evidently identified at Cuitlauac, and Xochimilco, with the two-headed deer, an animal frequently connected with the worship of the nomadic Chichimecs, as was Mixcoatl, her son. She is stuck with eagle feathers or down, like the successful warrior who had captured an enemy. The warriors must now depart to seek for further victims. The whole song is eloquent of the connection of the earth-cult with war and human sacrifice.

(From the Sahagun MS.)

(From the Sahagun MS.)

Pottery figure. (Uhde Collection.)

Pottery figure. (Uhde Collection.)


Ciuacoatl is spoken of by Duran and Sahagun as a warrior goddess who gave the Mexicans victory over their enemies, [182]and by Torquemada24 as the elder sister of the Mimixcoa, the stellar gods of the steppe. She it was, too, who, according to another myth, pounded the human bones brought by Quetzalcoatl from the Underworld into a paste, from which men were formed—an allusion to the belief current in Mexico that man was made, or at least “built up,” from maize.25 Sahagun says of her26 that she dispensed adverse fortune, poverty, abjectness, and misery. She was wont to appear to men in the guise of a richly dressed lady, such as frequented the court. Through the night she wandered, howling and bellowing. Occasionally she was seen carrying a cradle, and when she vanished, examination showed that the resting-place of what was believed to be an infant contained nothing but an obsidian knife, such as was used in human sacrifice.27 There are also indications that she presided over childbirth.


Ciuacoatl had a temple called the Tlillan Calmecac, or “Black College,” where dwelt those priests devoted to her service.28


The circumstance that Ciuacoatl appears with the skull of a dead person leads to the conclusion that, besides being an earth-deity, she had phantom or underworld characteristics—a common connection for a grain-goddess. From her hymn we gather that she has a magical influence over the plantation and growth of the maize. She is, perhaps, a prototype of the Ciuateteô, the disappointed and vengeful women who had died in their first childbed, and the myth of her cradle containing the sacrificial knife is eloquent of the connection of the Earth-goddess with human sacrifice. Her martial character, also, is apparent and is a concomitant [183]of her agricultural and sacrificial significance. From her association with Mixcoatl, the Mimixcoa, the Chichimec gods, as from her name, Quilaztli, and her symbol it is evident that she is connected with the Chichimec or native Indian cult. Her connection with childbed is clear from one of the addresses given by Sahagun, who states that the midwife exhorted the woman in childbed to be strong and valiant as was Ciuacoatl. “Who first bore children,” in allusion to a myth mentioned by Gama (pt. i, p. 39), who says that she gave birth to two children, male and female, whence sprung the human race—a story I have failed to trace elsewhere, except in Clavigero.



  • Area of Worship: Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
  • Minor Name: Coatlantonan = “Our Serpent Mother.”
  • Relationship: Mother of Uitzilopochtli by Mixcoatl; mother of Coyolxauhqui and the Centzonuitznaua; wife of Tezcatzoncatl or Izquitecatl.
  • Festival: Feast of the flower-sellers in the second month, tlacaxipeuliztli.
  • Symbol: The eagle’s foot.


Sahagun MS.—The face of the goddess is painted with white infusorial earth of the kind known as tiçitl. She wears a crown of eagle-feathers and a white overdress. Her skirt is formed of serpents, as her name implies. On her feet she wears white sandals and shells. Her shield is inset with eagle-feathers, and she bears a serpent-staff in her hand.


Much argument has circled around the colossal statue of Coatlicue (see Introduction) which formerly adorned one of the entrances to the great temple of Mexico, and which was evidently supported by upright stones, so that it formed the key-stone of a gateway where it could be seen by all who passed in and out of the temple. It has been assigned to more than one goddess, and when it was disinterred amongst [184]other relics in the course of making new drains in the Plaza Mayor of Mexico in August 1790, it was placed in the court of the university and there worshipped by the Indians, who decked it with flowers. The Mexican antiquaries, relying on a statement by Boturini29 in which he states that Uitzilopochtli was accompanied by the goddess “Teoyaomiqui,” regarded the two-faced idol as being bi-sexual and as a composite figure of both gods, and this notion was perpetuated by Gama in his Dos Piedras. Payne, in his History of the New World, appends a long and very “sane” note to his description of it, sneers at the conclusions of the Mexican antiquaries, and states, somewhat dogmatically, that it must be regarded as a representation of Chicomecoatl. But it is undoubtedly Coatlicue. In the first place that goddess had a right to a position in the temple of Uitzilopochtli as his mother, secondly the idol wears the skirt of serpents which is implied in her name. But this notwithstanding, the stone figure has obviously a symbolical meaning as illustrating the whole circumstances of human sacrifice. The head is formed by the junction of the heads of two serpents, which symbolize the two streams of blood welling out from a decapitated body. The flayed skin of the victim is hung in front and is shown knotted behind as in the statue of Xipe found at the Castillo de Teayo. The cups from which octli was drunk are stuck in front of the flayed human skin, and a skull adorns the serpent-skirt before and behind. Through all these attributes, however, the personality of the serpent-woman goddess can be sensed as much as observed.30

Other statues and paintings of Coatlicue uphold the theory that she is represented by this idol. One found in the Calle de las Escalerillas, and others recovered from the Calle de Coliseo in Mexico City, show her as having the face of a skull. In the latter she wears a peculiar flat headdress with maize-like motifs depending from the back, and her hair recalls the ruffled “night-hair” of Mictlantecutli. Around her body are strange step-motifs which constitute the ends of parallel lines; and from her ears depend large cotton plugs. [185]She wears a girdle of skulls with serpentine noses. Another relief of her found in the Calle de las Escalerillas is, however, much more enlightening than the foregoing. In this spirited work she wears what is evidently a panache of stone knives or malinalli grass, the face is that of a skull, she has the claws of a jaguar, and the skirt of entwined serpents is noticeable. Be all this as it may, however, the insignia of the goddess is by no means a fixed quantity, and considerable research is necessary before anything like certainty can be arrived at.


Sahagun (bk. iii, c. i) related of this goddess that near the ancient city of Tulla or Tulan rose the mountain of Coatepec (“Serpent Mountain”), where lived a woman named Coatlicue, mother of certain “Indians” called Cenzonuitznaua. She had a daughter called Coyolxauhqui. Coatlicue, who was a widow and very devout, climbed each day to the mountain of Coatepec to do penance, and on one occasion, as she reached its summit, a little ball of feathers resembling a roll of thread or twine fell upon her. Picking it up, she placed it in her bosom, and later was unable to find it. Shortly afterwards she became enceinte. Her children, observing her condition, were indignant, and Coyolxauhqui advised her brothers to slay their mother for the shame she had put upon them. Her unborn infant whispered to her to be of good cheer. But one day her sons armed themselves and prepared to slay her. One of them, however, called Quauitlicac, whispered to the supernatural child that treason was toward, and at the moment when, headed by Coyolxauhqui, Coatlicue’s children came to dispatch her, Uitzilopochtli was born, fully armed. Falling upon his brothers and sister with his terrible weapon, the xiuhcoatl, or fiery serpent, he speedily dispatched them all.31


Tlacaxipeuliztli.—Sahagun (bk. ii, c. 22) relates that on the second day of this month the people of the temple quarter [186]of Coatlan offered flowers in the temple and made music during the entire day in honour of Coatlicue. These flowers were the first-fruits of the year, were offered up by the master florists, who had a great devotion to the goddess, and none of the blossoms in their gardens might be smelt until these bouquets had been offered up in the temple of Coatlicue. They made for this feast tamallis called tzatzapaltamalli (“sharp-tasting herb cakes”).


Coatlicue is, in one of her aspects, undoubtedly the flower-covered earth of spring, from whom, as it were, the sun (Uitzilopochtli) is reborn. Her serpent-skirt is probably symbolic of the circumstance that, at the season which she represents, the earth is clothed with the rain as with a garment. The myth which makes her a pious widow is obviously of late, and probably of hierophantic, origin. In my view Uitzilopochtli is chiefly her son in his naualli or disguise of a humming-bird. The humming-bird sucks from the breasts of earth as a child from its mother’s. But the myth is highly conglomerate, and, as we possess it, is obviously the result of the fusion of several varying conceptions of the two principal figures. Coatlicue’s appearance as a serpent in her great statue which has been described above, and her name of Coatlantonan, “Our Serpent Mother,” in my view tend to identify her with the earth in its form of dragon, serpent, or cipactli, regarding which hypothesis the reader is referred to my remarks in the Introduction.

It is not improbable that, like Xochiquetzal, Coatlicue is one of those mountain goddesses from whose sacred heights the rain descended upon the parched fields. This seems likely from the name of her abode, Coatepetl (“Serpent Mountain”), the serpents of which her skirt is composed being symbolical, perhaps, of the stream flowing from the tarns or pools situated on its lower acclivities. That such a mountain actually existed in the vicinity of Tollan is proved by the statement of Sahagun. Uitzilopochtli (q.v.) is thus the sun which rises out of the mountain, or is “born” from it, armed with the [187]xiuhcoatl, or fire-snake, the red dawn, with which he slays his sister Coyolxauhqui, whose insignia show her to represent the moon, and puts the stars to flight.



  • Area of Worship: Plateau of Anahuac; Tlaxcallan; Tlalhuica.
  • Minor Names:
    • Ce atl = “One Water.”
    • Ce Mazatl (Calendar date) = “One Deer.”
    • Mazateotl = “Deer Goddess.”
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the twentieth day (xochitl) and of the nineteenth “week” (ce quauhtli).
  • Compass Direction: West.
  • Festivals:
    • Tepeilhuitl (Tlalhuica).
    • Quecholli (Tlaxcallan).
    • Chicome xochitl (Mexico).
  • Relationship: The first woman, and thus companion of Piltzintecutli (the Sun-god); otherwise, wife of Tlaloc, abducted by Tezcatlipocâ.


Codex Borgia.—Sheet 9: Here the goddess is represented as wearing an upper garment of diversified pattern, finished with a variegated edging. Her shawl is painted in the chalchihuitl colours, and from it depend two strings or ribbons of a dark shade, completed with a flower. Her nose-plate is blue and is formed rather after the fashion of the butterfly design, while her helmet-mask represents a quetzal-bird. In sheet 58 she is vis-à-vis with the Death-god and is garbed like an earth-deity with a many-coloured robe. Her hair is dressed like that of the Zapotec women, that is, two tresses are twisted up like horns and secured with parti-coloured bands. On the same sheet (next picture) she confronts one of her servitors or priests (tlamacazque), and her garments in this place are very similar to those already described. In the next illustration the only addition to her costume is a wreath of flowers, but under her arm she holds a quetzal-bird and sits opposite a red Tezcatlipocâ. On sheet 59 she is represented in the first place opposite the tlamacazque, [188]and in the following picture confronts a naked prostitute. Between these figures is her servitor, surprised in the act of pressing the courtesan’s breasts. This female is characterized by her wearing of Xochiquetzal’s shawl, hair-dressing, and the hieroglyph of the warrior caste (shield and spears) shown above her head. In the lowest row of the same sheet the goddess is seen opposite the Vulture-god, Tlacacozcaquauhtli. In the following sheets of the codex her aspect and garb are practically similar to those described above, with the exception of sheet 60, where she appears in the act of parturition, with the double head and certain of the insignia of Quaxolotl, being delivered by Quetzalcoatl in the character of Xolotl. In the region of her mouth is an angular line of red.



(Codex Borbonicus, sheet 19.)

Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 42: Here Xochiquetzal is adorned by a wreath of flowers and faces her servant. On sheet 41 we observe that her cheek is painted with a round red spot, like that of the Sun-god, whilst her head is adorned with quetzal-feathers, and the quetzal-bird is held under her arm. She is ensconced on a jaguar skin, and on her head is the wreath of flowers with two feather tufts, which is especially characteristic of her. On her face is depicted a red, angular line. Opposite is the figure of her priest, and between them is a headless woman, whose head is replaced by a flowering tree. On sheet 39 she is shown as wearing a quetzal-bird mask and a blue, step-shaped nose-plate, while her face-paint is elaborately executed. In this picture is seen issuing from her body a quetzal-feather ornament, symbolic of a newly-born child. In one hand she holds a jewelled ornament, and in the other an ear of maize, and she wears the opossum wristlets applied to women in travail. Her new-born twins are seated beside her. In another part of this codex she is represented as facing various male deities in characteristic positions, which are evidently more typical of her personality than any insignia.

Codex Laud.—Sheet 38: She is here represented facing the tlamacazque in a kneeling attitude, with her hair dressed in a peculiar manner. Sheet 35 shows her similarly represented [189]to her picture in Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 39. Her twins are seated one on the instep curve of each foot.

Pottery Figures.—Various pottery figures of the goddess found in the Valley of Mexico are to be seen in the Uhde Collection, Berlin. In one of these she is represented holding an infant, and her general attire agrees with the manuscript representations of her. Her hair is dressed in the Zapotec style, rising up in two horns and secured with plaited bands. The shawl or tippet with a V-shape in front is a constant factor, and in one example is scalloped, in another plain, while in the third it ends in the chalchihuitl ornament and a bead or ball-fringing. In the Seler collection is a curious little statuette from Cholula, in which the goddess is again represented as carrying a child. She wears a flat cap, almost like that of a cook or chef, the precise significance of which escapes me, unless it be a local headdress, as some other examples in the same collection would seem to prove. In a relief found at Zanja de la Piedra Labrada, near Castillo de Teayo, she is represented opposite Tlaloc, as if to show her connection with rain. Her headdress in this place would seem to be a compromise between the Zapotec hairdressing and a motif representative of florescence. She wears the same V-shaped tippet, which is here adorned with three tassels, and she has the stepped nose-ornament. In her right hand she carries a sceptre of water-rushes, the same as that held by Tlaloc, and in her left the staff commonly seen in the representation of gods in the Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio), and which seems to me to be a development of the chicaunaztli, or rain-rattle.

Xochiquetzal and Tonatiuh.

Xochiquetzal and Tonatiuh.

(From a wall-painting at Mitla.)

Stone figure of Xochiquetzal.

Stone figure of Xochiquetzal.

(Uhde Collection.)



Perhaps the most important of these is that found in the Sahagun collection of songs or hymns (the ninth item):

Out of the land of the rain and the mist

I, Xochiquetzal, come.

Out of Tamoanchan.

The pious Piltzintecutli weeps;

He seeks Xochiquetzal.

To the land of corruption I must go.


The goddess here declares that, like other fertility goddesses, she comes from the fruitful supernatural country of Tamaonchan, the home of the maize. Piltzintecutli, the Sun-god, seeks her, but, like Ishtar in Babylonian myth, she must betake herself to the Underworld, until it is once more time to resume her growth-assisting labours. We have here good grounds for positing the existence of a popular myth which would seem to have recounted how the divine lovers dwelt happily in Tamoanchan until Xochiquetzal was forced to quit the blest abode or was carried off, and was sought for by the Sun-god, a myth like that of Proserpine or Orpheus. It may refer to the sun seeking the flower, or may have a bearing upon the myth of Ixnextli, a variant of Xochiquetzal, who was expelled from Paradise, and of whom the interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A says: “Ixnextli, who is the same as Eve, is always weeping, her eyes dim with ashes, a rose in her hand, emblematical of her grief, being in consequence of her having gathered it. And accordingly they celebrate a fast every eight years on account of this calamitous event; the fast was on bread and water. They fasted on the eight signs preceding the entrance of the rose, and when that sign arrived, they prepared themselves for the celebration of the festival. They affirm that every series of five days comprised in this calendar was dedicated to this fall, because on such a day Eve sinned. They were accordingly enjoined to bathe themselves on this night in order to escape disease.” Regarding this myth the interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis says: “They represented her as Eve always weeping and looking at her husband, Adam. She is called Ysnextli, which signifies ‘eyes blind with ashes’; and this refers to the time subsequent to her sinning by plucking the roses. They accordingly declare that they are still unable to look up to heaven, and in recollection of the happy state which she lost, they fasted every eight years on account of this fall.” It is significant that the goddess pictured beside this statement is called “Suchiquezal.”

(From Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.)

(From Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.)

(From Codex Borgia.)

(From Codex Borgia.)




(From the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.)

Diego Muñoz Camargo, in his Historia de Tlaxcala, equates Xochiquetzal with Venus and states that: “She dwells [191]above the nine heavens in a very pleasant and delectable place, accompanied and guarded by many people and waited on by other women of the rank of goddesses, where are many delights of fountains, brooks, flower-gardens, and without her wanting for anything, and that where she sojourned she was guarded and sheltered from the gaze of the people, and that in her retinue she had a great many dwarfs and hunchbacks, jesters, and buffoons, who entertained her with music and dancing and whom she sent as her confidants and messengers to the other gods, and that their chief occupation was the spinning and weaving of sumptuous artistic fabrics, and that they were painted so beautifully and elegantly that nothing finer could be found amongst mortals. But the place where she dwelt was called Tamohuanichan Xochitl ihcacan, Chicuhnauh-nepaniuhcan, Itzehecaya, that is, ‘the house of the descent or of birth, the place where are the flowers, the ninefold enchained, the place of the fresh, cool winds.’ And every year she was honoured with a great feast, to which many people from all parts were gathered in her temple.” He continues: “They say that she had formerly been the spouse of the Rain-god, Tlaloc, but that Tezcatlipocâ had abducted her, and brought her to the nine heavens, and made her the goddess of love. And then there was another goddess, Matlalcuêyê, the goddess to whom were attributed witchcraft and soothsaying. Her Tlaloc had made his consort after Tezcatlipocâ had carried off his wife Xochiquetzal.”32

Another myth, given by Boturini, recounts her temptation of the holy ascetic Yappan, who dwelt in a desert place in order to lead a continent and solitary life, so that he might win the favour of the gods. He took up his abode on a rock called Tehuehuetl, but the gods conceived a doubt of his piety, and sent an enemy of his, Yaotl (enemy), to watch his movements. Even this bitter foe found nothing to cavil at in his conduct, and women sent by the gods to lead him from the paths of rectitude were sternly repulsed. The divine beings were about to consider his apotheosis, when [192]Xochiquetzal, feeling that her reputation as a tempter of men was at stake, angrily assured them that she was able to effect his seduction. Descending to earth, she sought out the hermit, whom she assured of her admiration and esteem, and asked by what path she might ascend to his rocky seat. All unsuspicious of her intent, Yappan descended from his place on the rock and assisted her to climb the rugged eminence. Yappan forgot his vow of chastity, and when the goddess had departed, found himself deserted by the angry gods to the mercies of his enemy, Yaotl, who slew him out of hand. The gods transformed the slain man into a scorpion, and Yaotl having also slain Yappan’s wife, Tlahuitzin, whom he had abandoned for the life ascetic, she was transformed into an animal of the same species, and crawling under a stone, found her husband there. But the gods, wrathful at Yaotl’s excessive cruelty, changed him into a locust.33


Chicomexochitl (“Seven Flower”).—In the sign ce ocelotl, on the day chicomexochitl, the artists united to hold festival to the goddess, and the laundresses, says Sahagun,34 fasted forty days. “They joined together, twenty or more, to obtain a better quality of pictures and weaves and to this end offered up quails and incense.” This was one of the movable feasts.

In an illuminating passage in his disquisition upon the Aubin tonalamatl (p. 123) Seler says: “As I have remarked at the opening of the section, the goddess Xochiquetzal is properly the expression of the day-sign xochitl. But owing to the transference of the series of rulers of the day-signs to the weeks in the peculiar way affected by the calendar-makers, that is, by a general shifting of one member,35 [193]Xochiquetzal has been brought into association with the sign ce quauhtli (one eagle). But in Telleriano-Remensis at this week the hand-mark36 which indicates the feast-day proper of the ruler of the week stands at the first day itself—the sign ce quauhtli, that induced the calendar-makers to effect the above-described dislocation in the second half of the list of rulers. For more than one reason the day ce quauhtli must really have seemed to the priestly savants specially appropriate to the goddess Xochiquetzal, and above all, because this day was one of the five which fell at the beginning or western quarter of the tonalamatl disposed in columns of five members. Hence these five days were collectively regarded as dedicated to the earth-goddesses, and as the days in which the ghostly women dwelling in the west, the Ciuateteô, swooped down upon earth, striking the children with epilepsy and beguiling the men to lust and sin.” These Ciuateteô were stregæ, witches, succubi, and their characteristics, which are touched upon in the section dealing with Tlazolteotl, will be more fully outlined elsewhere.

Quecholli.—The people of Tlaxcallan held a festival to Xochiquetzal in the month quecholli, when the Mexicans celebrated the feast of Mixcoatl. At the Tlaxcaltec feast numbers of young women were sacrificed to the goddess, “to the honour of love,” and the prostitutes were also in the habit of offering themselves for immolation, we are informed by Torquemada,37 first haling the “honest” women through the mire and subjecting them to the foulest abuse. The Tlalhuica, who lived in the hot lands south of Mexico, themselves, like the Tlaxcaltecs, a people of Nahua race, held a festival in honour of Xochiquetzal in the month tepeilhuitl, which the Mexicans dedicated to the Tlaloque, gods of rain, as is related by the interpreter of the Codex Magliabecchiano. Torquemada, too,38 states that the Tlaxcaltecs sacrificed many children to Xochiquetzal and to the mountain-gods (Tlaloque) evidently at this season. Xochiquetzal was also connected with the festival of the atamalqualiztli, [194]celebrated every eight years. In the picture of that feast in the Sahagun MS. we observe her seated at a loom. From these considerations it is manifest that the verdurous and “watery” attributes of the goddess connected her with the Tlaloque, but that she was not actually of their company.


In Tlalhuica, not far from Cuernavaca or Quauhnauac, stands the pyramid of Xochicalco, one of the most perfect specimens extant of Nahua architectural skill. There is reason to believe that Xochiquetzal was originally the local deity of one of these mountains the waters from which irrigate the fields below,39 and it seems probable that the teocalli of Xochicalco typified this eminence. We know that the teotlalpan, or “Place of Divine Earth,” in the sacred precinct at Mexico, was sacred to Mixcoatl, a deity who was perhaps of Otomi origin, and that it was probably symbolic of a mountain in the Otomi country of which he was the presiding deity, so that the probability is borne out by analogy. In the country of the Tlaxcaltecs stood the heights of Xochtecatl, “Goddess of the Flowery Land,” a mountain, according to Torquemada, about six miles in circumference, which was the nucleus of a settlement, and was surrounded by graves hewn out of the solid rock. This, perhaps, provides a fuller illustration of the theory advanced above.


The original home of Xochiquetzal seems to have been among the Tlalhuica and Tlaxcaltecs. But as the latter were closely connected with the Mexicans racially, there is good reason to believe that she was also an original member of their pantheon. In any case she had a place in the metropolitan calendar, and the contention of the compilers of both interpretative codices, as well as of the native author of the picture writings in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas, that she is to be equated with Tonacaciuatl, the [195]female member of the creative pair, seems to have been a later development.

But Xochiquetzal is more especially the goddess of flowers, the female counterpart of Xochipilli-Macuilxochitl. As has been mentioned, she was probably at first the goddess who presided over some lofty mountain whose streams watered the sun-dried plains beneath and clothed them in abundant florescence, perhaps that very mountain of Xochtecatl to which allusion has been made, and which stood in Tlaxcaltec territory. As the “feminine” of Xochipilli, however, she certainly partook of his festive and frivolous character, and thus presided over the song, the dance, and all sportive amusements. By a further slight effort of imagination she came to be regarded as the goddess of illicit love, or of the sensuous side of intercourse between the sexes, not so much a goddess of degraded animal passion, like Tlazolteotl, as a figure bearing a close resemblance to the Apsarasas of Hindu myth, lovely and voluptuous, and, like them, addicted to the game of throwing the dice (patolli). A further step established her as the patron goddess of the prostitutes who existed for the pleasure of the unmarried warriors and who resided with them in the great common house of the bachelors. From this circumstance arose the obscene character of the feast of Quecholli among the Tlaxcaltecs and the Tepeilhuitl festival among the Tlalhuica.

Xochiquetzal was also in some measure the patroness of pregnant women, according to the interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A, and these worshipped and sacrificed to her in order that they should not give birth to girls. She is herself figured in Codex Borgia as the great parturient, and in Codex Vaticanus B (sheet 39) as has been indicated above.

She had also, like Xochipilli, an artistic significance, as the patroness of weavers and artists. She was revered by the women who practised the former art, the invention of spinning and weaving was attributed to her, and many kinds of craftsmen paid her honours. She had, moreover, a magical side to her character; in the Aubin tonalamatl she is seated opposite the dancing wizard, and she is furthermore one of [196]the Tzitzimimê, or deities of the darksome night, among whom she is symbolized by the spider.



  • Area of Worship: Tehuacan, Cozcatlan, Teotitlan del Camino, Oaxaca, Mexico.
  • Minor Names:
    • Auia teotl = “God of Pleasure.”
    • Mazatl = “Deer.”
    • Auiatl = “The Jovial.”
  • Symbol: The sign five-flower.
  • Calendar Place:
    • Ruler of the eleventh day-sign, ozomatli.
    • Seventh of the thirteen day-lords.
    • Ruler of the twentieth day-count, xochitl.
  • Festival: The Xochilhuitl (“Feast of Flowers”), one of the movable feasts.
  • Compass Directions: South; West.
  • Relationship: Brother of Ixlilton; son of Piltzintecutli.



(In the Uhde Collection, Berlin.)

ASPECT AND INSIGNIA (as Macuilxochitl)

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 15: In this place the god wears as breast-ornament a human lower jaw, which, combined with the green band to which it is tied up, may possibly express the day-count malinalli. He has a large feather nape-ornament. The upper part of his face is white, with a dark band over the nose and cheek, and white painting over the mouth, in the semblance of an outspread hand. He wears a cap with vertically projecting bands painted in the colours of the green jewel chalchihuitl.

Sahagun MS.—Here he is represented with a white hand painted on his mouth and a feather crown surmounted by a crest.

General.—Like the other gods of dance and sport, Macuilxochitl wears the four balls of the toualli emblem on his shield and sometimes carries the staff with the heart. Like Ixtlilton, he had probably once a bird’s-head mask, which in the course of his evolution degenerated into a feather crest and a wing [197]on his back. The deterioration of this feature can be observed in the stone effigies of his counterpart Xochipilli.



(In the Uhde Collection, Berlin.)


A stone figure of Macuilxochitl found in Cuernavaca represents the god seated in a squatting attitude, and it is evidently intended to show him as an onlooker at the ball-game. He wears a pointed headdress or mitre, on the top of what would seem to be a cotton head-covering. A head of the god in stone is included in the collection of the Natural History Museum at Vienna. In this the nose-plug is prominent and he wears round earrings. The wing-ornament stands well out behind the head and the face seems to look out of a bird helmet-mask, on both sides of which are large, circular holes, through which feathers or cotton ear-plugs fall. The difficulty of working in stone has evidently restrained the sculptor from representing the upper and lower portions of the bird’s beak, and the helmet-mask bears a strong resemblance to that of Xochipilli in the Codex Magliabecchiano, if the beak in that representation were removed. A statue of the god found in the Calle de las Escalerillas in Mexico City on December 13, 1900, is almost identical with the first of those two statues, and agrees with the second in that here we have the circular holes at the side of the headdress with the dependent feathers or cotton plug. The best known of the representations of this god, however, is the clay model found by Seler at Teotitlan del Camino. It represents Macuilxochitl in a sitting position and is brilliantly coloured. The face of the god looks out of a bird helmet-mask, highly conventionalized, and which has practically lost all its birdlike characteristics. The two circular holes below the ear are, however, still represented. The upper part of the face is painted yellow, but under each eye is an oblong patch painted in variegated colours, such as appears on the faces of the gods of grain. Around the mouth is a large white patch, in which we may see the white hand motif conventionalized. The body-paint is red and the garment white, except that portion at the neck, which is blue. Small golden [198]bells adorn the necklace and wristlets. In this statuette we have evidently a very late and highly developed figure of the deity, showing a considerable departure from the earlier drawings and statues of him. In the Anthropological Museum at Berlin is a stone statue of Macuilxochitl, also in a squatting attitude, in which the circular motif above the ear, with its accompanying plug, is strongly in evidence. A number of stone statuettes of the god were found at Tepeaca in the state of Puebla and are now housed in the Natural History Museum at Vienna. These do not differ from the examples already described, save that in one of them the Greek fret-pattern takes the place of the circular ear-plug motif. A stone figure of the god was found amid the ruins of the Castillo de Teayo, a teocalli, or pyramid, in Vera Cruz. In this, which is also a squatting figure, the god is covered by a mantle which is surmounted by the bird’s comb, as seen in Magliabecchiano and elsewhere. Around the head are three of the circular holes above mentioned, one above each ear and one at the back of the head, from which depend a double strip of cotton or other textile.

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 15.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 15.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 16.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 16.)



Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 26: In this MS. the god is painted a light yellow colour. His light hair is bound with a jewelled strap ornamented on the frontal side with a conventional bird’s head. Round his head he also wears the fillet of the Sun-god, ornamented with a feather tuft. As a breast ornament he has a large gold disk suspended from a broad gold chain, hung with bells. His right hand clasps a bundle of grass, and in his left he bears a staff embellished with turquoise mosaic and flowers, probably intended for a rattle-stick. Above the twilight symbol of the west in the water are instruments of mortification. On sheet 32 he is represented as of a blue colour with a jewelled chain in front of his mouth.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—The description of the god in this MS. is similar to that just given. In his hand he supports [199]a dish with ornaments, a bangle for the upper arm, a feather tuft and a neck-chain.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 13: In this codex he is seen seated on a royal throne. His body and the lower part of his face are coloured red, the upper facial region is painted yellow, but contains a small, rectangular field, half-red and half-white, while round the mouth is executed a butterfly design, after the manner of Tonacatecutli and the maize-gods. His blue ear-plug has a jewelled thong dependent from it, and his nose-plug is reproduced in the colours of the chalchihuitl jewel. On his head he wears the strap decorated by two large jewelled disks. On the frontal side is the stereotyped bird-ornament, while from the whole, four ends branch off. Surmounting this representation is the symbol of the night-sky, the dusk-enveloped eye. His nape-ornament consists of red and white feathers blended together. On his breast is a large disk of gold, secured by strings of greenstone beads. His loin-cloth is adorned with jewelled disks, and to the back-bow is fastened a coxcoxtli bird’s head, which serves as a “mirror-tail,” or back-mirror. A portion of the ends of his loin-cloth is coloured like the chalchihuitl jewel. In front of his mouth is a flower from which two jewelled thongs project.

Codex Magliabecchiano.—The mantles worn by Xochipilli are alluded to in the MS. which accompanies the paintings in this codex as “mantas de un selo señor o de Cinco Rosas y manta de Cinco Rosas” (see sheets 5 and 6). There is also a picture of him on sheet 47. The figure on the red quemitl which he wears is similar to that worn on sheet 20 of Codex Borbonicus by the god Cinteotl, and is, perhaps, a butterfly motif.

(From the Sahagun MS.)

(From the Sahagun MS.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, folio 35.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, folio 35.)



Stone effigies of Xochipilli were set up in the tlachtli courts. In the Museo Naçional at Mexico there is a stone statue of the god which represents him as sitting cross-legged, as if watching the ball-game. He wears the mask of a player or dancer. By the aid of such statues of Xochipilli, which are [200]found in considerable numbers all over the eastern Mexican slope, the transition from the bird-helmet to the rudimentary crest may be studied.40



(Found at Teotlan del Camino.)


The only mythical matter of importance concerning Macuilxochitl or Xochipilli is the nineteenth song in the Sahagun collection, which is as follows41:

Song of the God of Music and Games

Out of the place of flowers I come,

Priest of the Sunset, Lord of the Twilight.

I come even now, my granddam,

Thou of the thigh-skin face-painting,

Lady of the Sunset,

I, priest of the Sunset, Lord of the Twilight.

The god of evil omens,

The lord Tezcatlipocâ,

Shall answer to me, the Maize-god.

In the temple of the octli-god

The rabbit has come to life again.

It runs about.

By my god was it created.

I will bring down the fire-drill, fire will I twirl

On the mountain of Mixcoatl in Culhuacan.

Raising my voice, I strike the little mirror;

The little mirror has grown weak

In the temple of the octli-god.

The white hair grows moist,

Ripe has the octli become.

I will endeavour to elucidate the above strophes, the obscurity of which is apparent. The god declares that he comes from Tamoanchan, the mythical paradise of flowers and vegetation in the west, and that he is the priest of the sunset and lord of the twilight, both of which are characteristic of that region. He invokes his mother, or grandmother, Tlazolteotl, by names with which her worshippers were familiar. [201]He warns Tezcatlipocâ that he has the power to avert his evil omens, probably by means of merriment and carousing. The rabbit was the Mexican symbol of intoxication by octli. This strophe regarding it comes, as it were, from the worshipper, who states that his god Macuilxochitl or Xochipilli has created or re-created the rabbit, or spirit of the octli beverage. Sahagun calls Xochipilli a god of fire, and we know that he was associated with the sacrificial fire-drill, which was also the symbol of sexual union and licence. Seler thinks that this song shows “the relation which exists between the pulque (octli) gatherings, the deity of feasts and the fire-drill.”42

Statues of Xochipilli in Museo Naçional, Mexico.

Statues of Xochipilli in Museo Naçional, Mexico.

(From Codex Laud.)

(From Codex Laud.)



Xochilhuitl.—Of the feast of flowers over which this god presided Sahagun says: “The great folk made a feast, dancing and singing in honour of this sign, decorating themselves with their feathers and all their grandeur for the areyto. At this feast the king bestowed honours upon warriors, musicians, and courtiers.” He states (Lib. II, Appendix c, xix): “They made each year in his honour a feast called xochilhuitl.… During the four days which preceded this feast all those who were to take part in it, men as well as women, observed a rigorous fast; and if during that period a man had commerce with a woman or a woman with a man, they held that the fast was soiled; that the god held it for a high offence, and that he would visit the offenders with maladies in their privy parts.… Before the feast everyone deprived himself of the use of chilli pepper. They fed upon a kind of broth called tlalcuilo­latolli, which is to say, ‘broth decorated with a flower in the middle.’… Those who fasted without the use of chilli or other savoury things, ate only once a day at midday.” Those who did not fast ate fermented bread. The people ornamented themselves with the symbols of the gods “as if they aspired to represent their images,” and danced and sang to the sound of the drum. [202]

At midday they beheaded a great number of quails and made offerings of their blood before the image of the god. They also pierced their ears in his presence. Others pierced the tongue with the spines of the maguey, and passed through it a great number of osier reeds. Another ceremony consisted of making five tamalli (cakes) of maize, which they called “fasting bread.” These were placed beneath an arrow called xochimitl (“flower-dart”) and were offered to the idol as from the whole community. Those who wished to make a separate offering gave the god five tamalli upon a wooden platter, and chilmolli soup in a vase. Maize in all shapes and forms was also offered up. On the same day all the great folk in Mexico who lived near the frontiers of an enemy brought the slaves whom they had captured to the capital for sacrifice.


This god appears to have had a highly developed cult among the peoples of Tehuacan, Cozcatlan, and Teotitlan del Camino. He is primarily a god of flowers and food, that is of abundance, and as such he equates with the god Cinteotl, with whom some of the sacred hymns even seem to confound him. But there are strong reasons why he should not be wholly identified with Cinteotl, as Seler attempts to do, and as the Mexicans certainly did not do, unless in later times. (See Cinteotl.) It may be, however, that he was originally a god of vegetation, who later became more especially a god of flowers, the cult of which was one particularly favoured by the people of Mexico. However this may be, there is no doubt that the joyous and sportive side of the god developed at the expense of all others, and we find Sahagun speaking of him under his two names as “the god of those who served for the amusement or pastime of the great.”43 He is, indeed, the god of merriment, of dance and sport, of the ball-game, the jester or buffoon, and moreover presides over the gambling game of patolli, which he is seen patronizing in the Magliabecchiano MS. According to Jacinto de la Serna, he is the [203]god of the great gamblers who frittered away their substance. As the god of sport he is frequently represented by the ape, the beast of mimicry and diversion.

But he had also a more worthy side, for to artists of all kinds, painters, weavers, and musicians in especial, he stood as the patron of all artistic effort, and those engaged in it celebrated their worship of him at the xochilhuitl festival. Several of the mantle designs in the Codex Magliabecchiano indicate that as a flower-god he was not forgotten by the weavers’ caste.

He has associations with several other gods besides Cinteotl, especially with Ixtlilton (q.v.), who is spoken of as his brother, and with the Ciuateteô, or deceased warrior women, probably because as a food-god he was supposed to come from the west, the place of plenty, where they resided, or, more likely, because of the hunger for earthly excitement displayed by these pleasure-starved dead women, debarred from the sensuous delights of earth. His connection with the octli-gods as the god of merriment and abundance of victuals and festive good things is plain; and he is very naturally the male counterpart of the goddess Xochiquetzal (q.v.). As hailing from a locality where planetary mythology was in an advanced condition, and where the worship of the morning star was practised, he may have had an astronomic significance, but what this was precisely is by no means clear. We probably assess his nature correctly if we allude to him as a god of pleasure, feast, and frivolity.



  • Area of Worship: Plateau of Anahuac, Zapotecs, Yopis.
  • Minor Names:
    • Tlaltecutli = “Lord of the Earth.”
    • Anauatl yteuc = “Lord of the Seaboard.”
    • Tlatauhqui Tezcatlipocâ = “The Red Tezcatlipocâ.”
    • Itztapaltotec = “Our Lord of the Flat Stone.”
    • Youallauan = “Night Drinker.”
  • Symbol: In Codex Borgia a quail with its head torn off seems symbolical of this god. [204]
  • Calendar Place: Lord of the fifteenth day, quauhtli, and of the fourteenth week, ce itzcuintli; with the Fire-god, lord of the twentieth tonalamatl division, ce tochtli.
  • Festival: Tlacaxipeuliztli.
  • Compass Direction: West.
(From Codex Borgia, sheet 49.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 49.)

(From the Sahagun MS., Bib. Laurenziana.)

(From the Sahagun MS., Bib. Laurenziana.)



Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 92: Xipe is depicted in this codex as clothed in the flayed skin of the sacrificed human victim, which, after the dreadful rite, was drawn over the priest’s body and worn for a number of days. The slit eyes of the mask he wears shows that this also is composed of human skin. He wears a nasal rod and plate having the general appearance of the peculiar peaked cap with which he is sometimes represented. The ends of his loin-cloth are slit and coloured white and red. Sheet 62. As ruler of the fourteenth tonalamatl division and god of the fifteenth day-count, Xipe is represented on this sheet as a red Tezcatlipocâ. The limbless body is red, the costume of the same colour, but with a face-mask of yellow, tinted to represent dead human flesh, with the chapfallen jaw of the dead, narrow slit eyes, as on sheet 92, and a red streak running over the eye, the full length of the face, indicative, perhaps, of the place where the operation of flaying was commenced. Here the nose-cap is also reminiscent of Xipe’s peculiar peaked cap, its ends especially resembling those of that headdress. Two red and white bands, the colours of the roseate spoonbill, depend from the ear. The hair is bound by a fillet on which are twin ornaments of dull gold, and above this rise two rows of quetzal feathers.

Codex Vaticanus A.—Plate xiv, Duc de Loubat’s reproduction: As a back-device he wears the three banners which are also shown of him in the picture in Duran’s collection. As god of the fourteenth tonalamatl division, he holds a shield, banner, and a bundle of spears, while half of his shield is painted in dark and light red rings.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 49: In the Codex Borgia, Xipe is shown in his character of the patron god of the warrior’s death by combat, or the stone of sacrifice. He wears a [205]wig made from the downy feathers of the eagle, which, however, does not altogether conceal his flame-coloured hair, two forelocks of which recall the hairdressing of Tlauizcalpantecutli, the god of the planet Venus. Underneath is shown his small petticoat or apron of green zapote leaves. From his mouth protrudes a double-jewelled string, which, perhaps, signifies the fertilizing rain, for as god of human sacrifice he has a connection with the gods of fertility. He is similarly represented on sheet 25, where he is also shown as ruler of the fourteenth tonalamatl division, and the picture indeed bears a close resemblance to that in Codex Vaticanus B, except that his breast-ornament, carved from a snail-shell, is attached to his variegated feather necklace. In this place he also wears a feather wig with a red crest made of the plumes of the roseate spoonbill, alternating with chalchihuitls on leather and the heads of rattle-sticks.






Image of Xipe found at Castillo de Teayo, showing him dressed in the skin of the sacrificed victim.

Codex Borgia Group Generally.—In this group generally Xipe stands as the representative of the sign of the day quauhtli. His insignia are the same as those of the red Tezcatlipocâ, with striped face-painting, but executed in red and yellow without the human skin, or other special characteristics, and decorated only with the warrior’s headdress and Tezcatlipocâ’s ring-shaped breast-ornament. The head and neck are covered with cloth, on which are stuck downy feather-balls. He holds in some places a severed arm, which he appears to be smelling or about to devour.

Codex Borbonicus.—In this codex Xipe is represented as Tezcatlipocâ, and has the face-painting of the red phase of that god, with the smoking mirror at his temple, the characteristic white ring, and the peculiar form of feather back-ornament, which is to be seen in some other Tezcatlipocâ pictures of this codex. But he wears on his head-fillet, instead of jewelled disks, an ornament of beaten gold, the crown of roseate spoonbill feathers, the ends of the bands shaped in swallow-tailed fashion, and other insignia pertaining to his own regular dress. The quetzalcomitl on his back carries a banner painted in light and dark red, his especial colours, and he also bears a shield painted in light and dark red concentric [206]circles. In this codex he holds a fire-pan, painted with large patches of rubber gum, in which is inserted the rattle-stick with Xipe’s bands and loops coloured red and white, or light red and dark red with bifurcated ends.

Vienna Codex.—Xipe is represented here in the flayed human skin and designated by the date “Seven Rain.”

Codex Nuttall (Zouche).—Sheet 83: In this codex there is a good representation of the god, especially as regards his headdress. He is depicted as the warrior secured to the stone of combat, whose eye sheds tears at the thought of approaching death, and he bears in his hands the bâtons with which the military victims defended themselves against their adversaries (see Festival).

Sahagun MS.—This describes him as having a brown face covered with the feathers of the quail, and with open lips (chapfallen jaw?). His crown has parted ends, and he wears a wig of curled feathers. He has golden ear-plugs. Round the hips he has a woman’s short skirt of zapote leaves, and shells decorate his feet. His shield is red, with concentric circles, and he carries a rattle-staff.


The well-known mask of Xipe in the British Museum represents the mask of the sacrificed victim. On the back or inside, the carving of the god shows him wearing his full insignia, with the peculiar headdress and rattle-staff. Another mask of Xipe in the Bauer collection is of a most individual character. It was found near Tezcuco, and bears both wind and serpent symbols. On a stone at Cuernavaca is incised a good representation of the shield, darts, and flag of Xipe, with date ce ocelotl (“one ocelot”). On a cup in the Aldana collection Xipe is seen wearing the flayed skin, with a necklace, evidently of intestines. His hair is dressed in a manner resembling that affected by the warrior caste, and he carries the rattle-staff.


Representations of Xipe in statuary are considerably numerous. Several found in the Valley of Mexico are housed [207]in the Uhde collection, Berlin. Two of these represent the god as wearing the victim’s flayed skin and one of them is pitted with marks, evidently indicative of blood-spots. The crown with feathers of the roseate spoonbill is well exemplified in one of these, but in the other a mitre-like headdress superimposed upon a circular crown, from which depend large ribbons or paper ornaments, is noticeable. In another of these figures the headdress is a sort of barret-cap with knobs or studs. Still another figure of the same class shows the god with a very large stepped nose-ornament. All carry a rattle-staff and three bear a shield. A most striking statue of Xipe was discovered at the Castillo de Teayo site, at Vera Cruz. The head, which is round and bullet-shaped, bears an extraordinary resemblance to that of the well-known Egyptian figure of the Sheik-el-Beled in the Boulaq Museum. In this statue the god wears the skin of the victim, and the manner in which it was tied on to the priest is well illustrated by the knotting at the back. The faces, of course, are masks of the sacrificed victim.


Although Xipe is so frequently portrayed as possessing the outward characteristics of a red Tezcatlipocâ, few of the Mexican deities possess insignia so individual, or so rich in manifold elements. The Xipe dress was a favourite one with Mexican kings and military chieftains, and, in the Codex Vaticanus A, King Motecuhzoma II is represented as wearing the costume on the occasion of his victory over Toluca. Tezozomoc also states that Axayacatl wore this dress,44 and on the eve of a fierce engagement Tlacauepan, brother of Motecuhzoma, donned it at the latter’s special request. The elements of Xipe’s costume are as follows45:

(1) The painted crown of feathers of the roseate spoonbill, with bifurcated ends.

(2) The gilded timbrel. [208]

(3) The jacket of spoonbill feathers.

(4) The petticoat or apron of zapote leaves, overlapping each other like tiles.

(5) The jaguar or ocelot-skin scabbard.

(6) The round shield covered with red spoonbill feathers, showing concentric circles of darker tints, sometimes noticeably bisected, one-half of which is again subdivided obliquely into a smaller upper portion containing a chalchihuitl on a blue field, and a larger lower portion, covered with jaguar or ocelot-skin.

Xipe’s dress has three forms:

(1) That of the red god, of the colour of the roseate spoonbill.

(2) That of the blue god, of the colour of the blue cotinga.

(3) As a jaguar or ocelot.

(From the Sahagun MS.)

(From the Sahagun MS.)

Pottery Figure found near Tezcuco.

Pottery Figure found near Tezcuco.

Pottery figure. (Valley of Mexico.)

Pottery figure. (Valley of Mexico.)



The interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A says of Xipe: “Amongst those who began to follow the example of Quetzalcoatl and his austerities by their own acts of penance, Totec is very famous, who, on account of his having been a great sinner, first stood in the house of sorrow called Tlaxipuchicalco, where, having completed his penance, he ascended the mountain Catcitepulz (‘the mountain which speaks’), which mountain was covered with thorns. There continuing his penance, he cried from thence very strongly, reproving his people of Tulan, calling to them to come and do penance with him for the enormous guilt which they had incurred in forgetting the services and sacrifices of their gods and having abandoned themselves so much to pleasure. They say that Totec was accustomed to go about clothed in a human skin and so it has been the custom till those times. In the festivals, likewise, which they celebrated to Totec, men clothed themselves in the skins of those whom they had slain in war and in this manner danced and celebrated the festival of the sign dedicated to him (for from him, they say, wars originated), and accordingly they paint him with these insignia, viz. a [209]lance, banner, and shield. They hold him in the utmost veneration, for they say that he was the first who opened to them the way to heaven; for they were under this error amongst others; they supposed that only those who died in war went to heaven, as we have already said. Whilst Totec still continued doing penance, preaching and crying from the top of the mountain which has been named, they pretend that he dreamed this night that he beheld a horrible figure with its bowels protruding, which was the cause of the great abomination of his people. On this, praying to his god to reveal to him what the figure signified, he answered that it was the sin of his people, and that he should issue an order to the people, and cause them all to be assembled, charging them to bring thick ropes, and to bind that miserable spectre, as it was the cause of all their sins, and that, dragging it away, they should remove it from the people, who, giving faith to the words of Totec, were by him conducted to a certain wild place, where they found the figure of death, which, having bound, they dragged it to a distance, and drawing it backwards, they fell all into a cavity between the two mountains, which closed together, and there they have remained buried ever since; none of them having effected their escape, with the exception of the innocent children who remained in Tulan.”

A few lines farther on the interpreter says: “The two masters of penance were Quetzalcoatle and Totec, who was called by another name, Chipe; who, having taken the children and the innocent people who remained in Tulan, proceeded with them, peopling the world, and collecting along with them other people whom they chanced to find. They further add that, journeying in this manner with these people, they arrived at a certain mountain, which not being able to pass, they feign that they bored a subterranean way through it and so passed. Others say that they remained shut up and that they were transformed into stones, and other such fables.”

The first part of this myth is, of course, merely ætiological of the practice of making vows to Xipe to capture and immolate [210]an enemy in his honour, as, we shall see in the paragraph dealing with his festivals, was done on that occasion. But I would point out that it possesses some importance as providing further evidence regarding the existence of the ascetic life in Mexico, most of the myths dealing with which, like that under discussion, are connected with the Toltecs, the people of Quetzalcoatl. Xipe, who plays the part of the Toltec Jeremiah, is here the subject of a tale which is also recounted of Tezcatlipocâ, with whom he is frequently confounded or identified, perhaps because both were great gods of the sacrificial stone, or for the reason that practically all Mexican cults tended to gravitate towards Tezcatlipocâ in late times.

That portion of the story which details the burial en masse of the Toltecs is, of course, the widespread tale of the disappearance of the old hero-race underground—the fate which overtook Charlemagne and his peers, King Arthur and “the auld Picts” at Arthur’s Seat, near Edinburgh, Barbarossa and his men, and many another group of paladins. The whole may allude, in the ultimate, to mound-burial. It is strange too—or quite natural, as we believe in, or doubt, the penetration of America by alien influences—to find in Mexico an incomplete variant of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I should not be surprised to find that Xipe piped the Toltec children into the Underworld, for Tezcatlipocâ, with whom he was identified, or at least the captive who represented that god at the Toxcatl festival, and who had a year of merriment in which to prepare himself for his fate, went through the city at intervals, playing upon a flute. This almost universal myth may allude to the ancient belief that the souls of the dead travelled with the wind, and were the cause of its sighing and whistling.46 We know, too, that the whistling of the night wind through the mountains was regarded by the Mexicans as of evil omen, and that Yoalli Eecatl (The Wind of Night) was one of the names of Tezcatlipocâ.47 [211]

The following song from the Sahagun MS. is in celebration of Xipe:

Wherefore dost thou disguise thyself, O Night-drinker?

Put on thy golden garment.

O my god, thy rich sacrificial water descended;

The lofty cypress tree has become a quetzal;

That which was a serpent has become a quetzal.

The fire-serpent, the famine, has left me.

It may be that I shall go thence to perish,

I, the young maize-plant.

My heart is like a chalchihuitl;

But I shall yet see gold in that place.

I shall be satisfied when I can say

The warrior chief is born.

Let the maize be ready in abundance, O my god.

I look towards thy mountain, I, who worship thee.

I will be satisfied

When the maize ripens,

When the warrior chief is born.

I believe the god to have been called “Night-drinker” from the circumstance that, in the belief of certain barbarous peoples, vegetation is more greatly assisted in its growth by night than by day, that it “drinks,” or is saturated by, the mists and vapours of the night season, which are believed to emanate from the moon.48 Indeed, dew is believed to be caused by the moon,49 which is regarded as the great source of all moisture, as the sun is the great source of all heat.50

Xipe is here entreated by the young maize-plant to don his golden garment, the rain, as, indeed, one translation of this song states it to be, taking a reasonable liberty with the original. When the rain comes the cypress glitters like a quetzal-feather, a Mexican euphuism for a glittering gem, or anything very precious. The xiuhcoatl, or fire-serpent, is the terrible weapon of Uitzilopochtli, with which he slew his rebellious brothers and sister, the enemies of his mother Coatlicue, [212]as Indra slew those of his mother, both of these events occurring immediately after the birth of the gods thus compared. (In the case of Indra the weapon was a thunderbolt.) The fire-serpent in this place evidently symbolizes the scorching, torrid heat which brings about famine. If the rain continues not, the maize-plant, the young heart of which is green as jadeite, and from which the golden maize will emerge later, may perish. Finally the worshipper (?) states that he will remain unsatisfied until the plumed and full-grown plant, symbolic of the warrior and all that he fights for, has come to fruition.

My reading of this song differs considerably from those of other authorities, but I may, perhaps, be pardoned if I say that I prefer my own elucidation as at least more circumstantial and more in line with the facts of Mexican belief.


Tlacaxipeuliztli.—The best description of this festival is that of Sahagun (bk. ii, c. xxi) who tells us that on the last day of the month of that name the Mexicans celebrated a solemn festival to Xipe and Uitzilopochtli. On the afternoon of the day prior to that on which the feast was to take place they held a solemn areyto, or dance, and they watched all the night in the temple called calpulco51 with those who were to be sacrificed on the morrow. They shaved the hair from the tops of their heads, at the same time drawing blood from their own ears to offer to the gods. When daybreak had come, they conducted the captives to the temple of Uitzilopochtli, where they were sacrificed and flayed, from which circumstance the feast took its name. Many of the victims were called Xipeme or Tototectin (plurals of the god’s name). The masters of the captives, or those who had captured them in war, formally handed them over to the priests at the foot of the teocalli, and these took them by the hair of the head to make them mount the steps more quickly. If they refused to walk to the stone of sacrifice they were dragged thence. When their hearts had been withdrawn they were offered [213]up to the gods, and the body cast down the steps of the teocalli, where other priests received it for flaying. The hearts of the unfortunates thus slaughtered were thrown into a tub of wood and took the name of quanochtli, or “nopal wood,” of which the tubs were made.

The flaying process was undertaken by a caste of elderly and probably inferior priests, the quaquacuilton.52 Before the bodies of the sacrificed were so treated they were carried to the temple, where the “master” of the captive had made his vow to capture and consecrate a victim to the god. The body was broken up at this place, and a leg was dispatched to court for the table of the king, the remainder being divided among the great, or the master’s parents. The dreadful repast was usually partaken of in the house of him who had taken the captive prisoner in war. They cooked the flesh with maize and gave a little to each in a small porringer. The dish was called tlacatlaolli, or “man and maize.” After having eaten, the feasters became intoxicated on octli. On the following day, having watched all the night, they went to amuse themselves by examining the other captives, and in watching them being baited on the stone of combat. These latter were known as uauantin, “the pierced,” with reference to the wounds they received.53

Before the sacrificial rites took place the captors of the victims gathered together, and when the victims had been dispatched the captors, or certain priests (it is not clear which), drew on the skins of the flayed victims, and took up positions on hillocks of hay or heaps of chalk or rubbish. Others approached them, and defied them to combat by words and pinches. A skirmish ensued, and those who were captured did not escape scot-free, being rather roughly handled. This mock combat over, the real business of the day began in terrible earnest. The wretched captive [214]was secured by one ankle to the temalacatl, or stone of combat, and wooden bâtons on which eagle-down had been stuck, in imitation of a maquahuitl, or obsidian-edged sword, were placed in his hands. Four warriors now came against the victim, two of the ocelotl corps of knights and two of the quauhtli or Eagle Corps, and having raised their shields and weapons to the sun, one of them attacked the captive tied to the stone. If he defended himself with address, two or even three of his opponents attacked him, and if he still made good his resistance, all four fell upon him, “intermingling their blows with dances and numerous poses.”

Prior to the combat a solemn procession was formed to the temalacatl. A body of priests, dressed in the insignia of one or other of the gods in whose honour the festival was held, issued from the yopico (“in Yopi land”), the temple of Xipe, followed by the tecutlis, or knights, already alluded to, who flourished their weapons and made a martial show. Arrived at the temalacatl, they marched round it, and seated themselves on carven stools called quecholicpalli (“perch of the strong bird”). The priest who took charge of the proceedings was called Youallauan (Night-drinker), one of the names of the god, and when all were seated, an orchestra of trumpets, flutes, and conch-shells struck up, mingled with whistling and singing. The performers wore on their shoulders streamers of white feathers mounted on long staves, which, as we have seen, was part of the Xipe dress, and sat between the priests and the stone of combat.

When the frightful overture had concluded, a captive was placed on the stone by the person who devoted him to sacrifice, and a beaker of octli was given him to hearten him to fight well. This he presented to the four points of the compass, and then sucked its contents through a reed. A priest then took up his stand in front of the doomed man, and holding a living quail before him as before a god, tore off its head. Another priest clad in a bear-skin secured the captive to the stone and handed him his weapons, and then his captor danced before him, as before a divinity. The combat then took place, and in the unusual event of a victim [215]overcoming the four well-appointed warriors who opposed him, a fifth, who must be a left-handed man, rushed in, raised the exhausted victor in his arms and threw him to the ground, where he was dispatched by the Youallauan.

The victim’s heart was then thrown into the wooden tub before alluded to, after it had been held up to the sun. Another priest now took a hollow reed and introduced it into the opening from which the heart had been removed. Having drawn off a sufficient quantity of blood, he went to offer it up to the sun. The master of the captive who had been slain then filled a bowl with the blood of his victim, which vessel was gaily decorated with feathers and which contained a tube, similarly ornamented. With this he went the round of the temples, smearing the blood upon the lips of the idols with the feathered tube. He next divested himself of the gay feather cloak he wore for the occasion and carried the flayed corpse of his captive, or what remained of it, to his house, after royal and other requirements had been met. As has been said, he feasted his family and friends on the body, but did not himself partake of it, as he was regarded as the ritual father of the deceased. “The skin of a victim also belonged to his captor, and this he gave to those who dressed themselves in skins (in consequence of a vow), and so attired, paraded the streets of the town. Others wore the heads of wolves.”54

“When the captive had been slain, all who were present, priests, warriors and others, began to dance the areyto round the temalacatl, the captors of the victims carrying the heads of the slain. This areyto, or dance, was called motzontecomaitotia (dance with decapitated heads). The cuitlachueue (old jackal55), godfather of the captives, took in his hands the cords which had held them to the temalacatl and raised them to the four cardinal points in sign of adoration. After that ‘he groaned, he wept for the dead.’

“The foreigners with whom Motecuhzoma was at war [216]came to assist secretly at the spectacle. These were the men of Uexotzinco, Tlaxcallan and Nonoualco, Cempoallan, and many other places. The Mexicans pretended not to see them, and they were thus able to behold the fate reserved for captives in Mexico. When all was over, everyone ate a tortilla called uilocpalli, or pigeon-seat, a kind of little paté made with uncooked maize. Next day everyone assisted at an areyto of great solemnity, which was commenced in the royal palace. All were dressed in their best and carried tamallis and tortillas of roasted maize, called momochtli, which they wore instead of collars and garlands. They carried also red feathers and stalks of maize. The areyto ceased at midday, and the nobles ranged themselves three and three in the royal palaces. The king appeared, having upon his right the King of Tezcuco and on his left the Lord of Tacuba. A solemn dance then took place, which lasted until the sun went down, after which they commenced another dance, in which everyone took hands and danced in a serpentine figure. The old soldiers and recruits came to this dance, bringing with them female partners and even public women. This lasted also on the place where the captives had been slain till nearly midnight, and they continued to celebrate these feasts for nearly twenty days, until they had arrived at the kalends of the month which they called tozoztontli.”

Twenty days after the festival those who wore the skins of the slain removed them, but it would seem, from what Sahagun says, that certain devotees wore these from the festival of tlacaxipeuliztli at the end of that month to the beginning of the following tlacaxipeuliztli. Persons afflicted with skin diseases or weak sight frequently made a vow to be present at this ceremony. The devotees then performed ceremonial ablutions in a bath in the temple, in which water was mixed with maize flour, or, more strictly speaking, they were bathed by others. They then shampooed their heads and did penance for the death of the captive. After this the captor erected a tripod in the court of his house, on the top of which was a petlatl, or mat rolled into a ball, on which he placed [217]all the paper ornaments which the captive had worn at his sacrifice. “He then chose a courageous young man who wore those papers, and who took a shield in one hand and a cudgel in the other, and went through the streets as if looking for an evil-doer. Everyone was afraid, and cried, ‘Behold the telzompac (noble one) comes!’ If he caught anyone he took his mantle, and all the spoil he took he brought back to the captor. The captor then placed in the middle of the court of his house a joist in the form of a column, which indicated that he had made captives in war, and which was the blazon of his honour. Then he took the thigh-bone of the captive, ornamented it with the papers, and attached it to the top of the column in his courtyard. He then invited his parents, friends, and the men of his quarter, in presence of whom he hung the bone up, and then he gave them to eat and drink. Family songs were sung. All these things were done in the twenty days before they arrived at the uei tozoztli.

The goldsmiths, of whose caste Xipe was the patron, probably because the yellow human skin in which he was represented as being clad typified an overlay of gold-foil, held a festival during tlacaxipeuliztli in the yopico temple sacred to the god, sacrificing and burning victims to him, and covering a human representative of him with ornaments and precious stones, a crown of feathers, golden necklaces and earrings, and scarlet sandals. They then placed him upon a throne and offered him the first fruits and flowers of the season, together with bunches of maize-seed.

The mode of sacrifice by shooting to death with darts or arrows was employed in connection with Xipe as well as in the case of Tlazolteotl (q.v.). A captive was secured to a scaffold and shot with darts, so that his blood might fall upon the ground. This usage may be regarded as of the nature of sympathetic magic to secure rainfall.


At least three buildings were erected to the honour of Xipe at Mexico.56 The first of these, known as yopico (“in Yopi [218]land”), has already been alluded to, and was probably the principal place connected with his worship. It was at this temple that the ceremonies of the tlacaxipeuliztli festival took place. The second, called yopico calmecac, appears to have been situated in the quarter of Tlatelolco, and, as its name implies, was evidently a monastery or place of instruction. At another edifice, the yopoci tzompantli, the heads of the victims slain at the festival of the god were exhibited. In front of the first of these stood the temalacatl, the stone to which the captives were secured when they fought with the Mexican warriors before they were finally sacrificed.


The Xipe yopico teohua, or priesthood dedicated to the service of Xipe, is enumerated among the various classes of priests charged with the service of the gods,57 and held in their keeping Xipe’s insignia and the accessories for his festival. They resided in the yopico calmecac or monastery.


Xipe is pre-eminently a god of seed-time and planting.58 He is the Tlaltecutli, or “Lord of the Earth,” and in a secondary sense, the god of the warrior’s death on the stone of combat, because of the association between the food-supply and military service for the purpose of gaining captives. There can be no question that Xipe was of Zapotec origin; indeed, that is manifest from the name of his temple, Yopico, which means the “land of the Yopi” or Tlappeneca, a people of Zapotec affinities, and his cap was known as yopitzontli, “the Yopi head.” One of his names was Anauatl itecu, or “Lord of the Coastland,” and we know from Herrera59 that he was especially worshipped in the district of Teotitlan, [219]which commands the road to Tabasco. Both Sahagun and the interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A uphold his alien origin.

Just as the Egyptian priests of Ammon at Thebes once a year killed a ram, flayed it, and clothed the image of their god in the skin, just as the Celtic priest wore the skin of a bull at certain festivals, so the Mexicans slew and flayed a man, in whose skin they clothed their priests and those who desired to be closely associated with the god. The idea underlying this practice would appear to be the renewal of the life of the deity. It seems to have some bearing on the phenomena of the system known as “totemism,” regarding the real significance of which we know so little, despite the seeming erudition which has of late years been lavished upon its consideration, for, as we have seen, the captor of the slain victim was not permitted to eat of his flesh, although that may only have been taboo to him because he stood to the doomed man in the relation of a sponsor. Xipe represents the earth “flayed,” that is bare, and ready for sowing. The flaying of the captive and the dressing of the god’s representative in the skin may have been of the nature of sympathetic magic, as a suggestion to the earth to rehabilitate itself in its covering of yellow maize.

It is precisely the agricultural god whom in Mexico we must expect to find clothed in all the attributes of the warrior, and truly Xipe does not disappoint us in this respect. He is armed cap-à-pie, and his dress was the favourite harness of Mexican royalty when it went forth to battle, as witness the Spartan suggestion of Motecuhzoma to his brother on the eve of a great combat.60 The Codex Vaticanus A calls him “il guerreggiatore attristato.” Thus at his feast the sacrifice takes the form of a combat. Indeed, he represents the warrior caste, by the efforts of whom the altars of Mexico were supplied with human victims, and the maize-crop was consequently secured.

Xipe is in some measure associated with that sacred bird [220]the quail, which has been connected with sacrifice in many lands. This bird frequently takes refuge in the last sheaves of grain in a harvest-field, and thus, perhaps, came to symbolize the corn-spirit driven from its last stronghold. In Normandy in the harvest-field the reapers pretend to catch a quail and dispatch it.61 The quail was sacrificed to the Tyrian Baal,62 and is associated by Robertson Smith with the god Eshmun-Iolaos.63 The bird-like character of Xipe’s dress may assist us in the belief that he was partially evolved from some bird of the quail species commonly found in the maize-field. He bears a strong resemblance to the Maya god F.

Xipe was probably a maize-god of the Yopi who came to partake of the character of an Aztec grain-and-sacrifice deity, his own type of immolation, the shooting by arrows, being partially superseded by the warrior’s death upon the temalacatl. It would seem that, as the god of a people of Nahua race, but older in their occupation of the land than the Aztecâ and Chichimecs, he probably took much the same line of development after his worshippers settled in the Yopi country as Tezcatlipocâ and Uitzilopochtli took in a more northern environment, that the resemblance was recognized by the Aztecâ (as is shown by his affinity with Tezcatlipocâ, with whom, indeed, he is identified as Tlatlauhqui Tezcatlipocâ, or “the Red Tezcatlipocâ”), and that under their guidance his festival took a similar form to that of the gods in question. His festival is certainly a mytho-dramatic performance explanatory of the preparation of the earth for the sowing of grain, the soil being rehabilitated by the death of the captive warrior. [221]



  • Area of Worship: Originally Huichol tribes; later, Valley of Anahuac.
  • Festival: Uei tecuilhuitl, in the eighth month.


Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—The face is painted half red, half yellow, and the goddess wears a crown of paper decorated with quetzal-feathers. Her collar is of green precious stones and her overdress is “the colour of spring flowers” (red). Her skirt is of the same hue. She wears sandals, and carries a shield with horizontal lines. In her hand she holds a red rattle-board.


The Uei tecuilhuitl.—The festival to Xilonen was the uei tecuilhuitl, or “great festival of the chiefs,” which lasted eight days and was celebrated when the maize-plant had almost reached maturity. Our chief authorities for its events are Sahagun64 and Torquemada.65 The former states that at this period of the year (June–July) the women wore their hair unbound, in order that the maize might be prompted to grow in equal luxuriance. During the days of the festival such persons as visited the temple were permitted to drink abundantly of chian pinolli (a beverage manufactured from the seed of the chian tree, mingled with maize-flour and aloe honey) and as much maize-porridge as could be grasped in the hand, to symbolize the plenty which would follow the ripening of the grain. The food thus supplied was the gift of the chiefs, from which circumstance the festival took its name. Dancing commenced each night at sunset, and was accompanied by singing, the scene being illuminated by the glare from burning pine-torches.

The dancer around whom interest chiefly centred was the xalaquia (“she who is clothed with the soil”), a slave girl who represented the goddess, wearing her red face-paint, [222]large square headdress and variegated raiment. She was constantly guarded by three old women called her “mothers,” and was sedulously instructed in the dancing-school for the part she had to play. In all likelihood she was kept in complete ignorance of her impending fate. Day after day she danced, surrounded by the women of the community, who shook their long hair, and it was believed that the maize-crop would be vigorous or the reverse as her terpsichorean exertions were spirited or listless. On the last day of the rites, the priestesses of the Maize-goddess, attired in her insignia, gathered together in the teopan, or temple-precinct, and accompanied the victim in a performance which lasted throughout the night. When day broke, the chief nobles and warriors of Mexico joined the women and danced a solemn areyto, the men dancing in front and the women behind them. In this manner they danced to the foot of the teocalli of the goddess, which they ascended, the victim being carried on the back of one of the priests, after the manner of a bride being borne to her husband’s house. Arrived at the summit, she was decapitated and her heart offered to the goddess. Until she was sacrificed no one might eat of the new maize, lest it should fail to ripen.



(From Codex Borbonicus, sheet 15.)



(From Codex Telleriano-Remensis, sheet 18, Verso.)


The Cinteotzin (Lord of Maize), says Sahagun, had charge of affairs at the festival of Xilonen (see Cinteotl).


Xilonen appears to be nothing more than a deification of the young, tender ear of the maize-plant. Her name, the season at which her rites took place and the youth of the xalaquia who represented her would seem to bear this out. She was originally a goddess of the Huichol tribes, and, by some circumstance of evolution or imagery, came to symbolize for the Nahua the maize in the earlier stages of its ripeness, thus to some extent resembling Cinteotl. Payne and also Seler in some places seem to confound her festival [223]with that of Chicomecoatl, and offer no reasons for thus traversing the statements of the older authorities, which are definite enough and which in this instance I prefer to follow.



  • Area of Worship: Originally Chichimec tribes; Mexican Plateau.
  • Relationship: Associated with Mixcoatl and the Centzon Mimixcoa; one of the Tzitzimimê.
  • Symbols: The butterfly; Mixcoatl’s stone knife.
  • Compass Direction: Earth (?).
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the sixteenth day, cozcaquauhtli; of the fifteenth “week,” ce calli.



(Stone of Aristides Martel.)

XILONEN. (Sahagun MS.)

XILONEN. (Sahagun MS.)

See p. 228.



See p. 228.


Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 92: In this representation and on the sheet devoted to the fifteenth tonalamatl division and its ruler, Itzpapalotl is depicted as furnished with human teeth, but is predominantly animal in form, retaining, however, certain peculiarities which indicate the intention that she should be regarded as an insect. She displays a kind of butterfly wing, edged round with stone knives. Above her is figured the flowering tree broken in the middle from which blood flows. This symbol denotes the Tamoanchan, or House of Descent, the region of the mythical west, home of the maize-plant and seat of the primeval gods, where the wandering tribes were said to have made a long sojourn. In sheet 63 she is represented as standing upon a platform, which seems to be covered with a symbolic leaf—perhaps that on which butterflies are most usually found. She has a dark body edged with white, and the claws and face are flecked with ulli rubber gum. The head is an adaptation of that of Tlaloc, and a short, wheel-shaped wing occupies the back from nape to tail-root.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 11: In this place the goddess is depicted as a woman with jaguar claws on hands and feet. The facial painting is like that of Tlauizcalpantecutli, but the [224]features are those of the Death-god—a skull with a stone-knife nose. She wears a collar with the form and colouring of a butterfly’s wing, and her dress is set with stone knives at prominent points. She is accompanied by an animal of rapacious aspect, perhaps a jaguar or ocelot.

Codex Telleriano-Remensis.—A butterfly with antennæ and wings acts as a naualli, or disguise (a kind of helmet-mask), to a female figure which has death’s-head teeth, animal claws on the hands and feet, and a blue-coloured disk on the cheek. As in Codex Borgia, this face has a stone knife on the nose, a collar studded with stone knives, and on the head the warrior’s forked heron-feather ornament. The crown is of dark feathers, the sombreness of which is lightened by quetzal plumes and a loin-cloth like that of the Ciuateteô or Ciuapipiltin, the dead women who had perished in childbed, and who were regarded as partaking of the nature of warriors. The end of the loin-cloth and skirt is trimmed with a hem of teeth. As a back-mirror she wears a death’s-head, below which hangs a “star-skirt,” to the plaited thongs of which rattling snail-shells are attached.

Aubin-Goupil Tonalamatl (15th Division).—Here the goddess looks out of a butterfly helmet-mask. Her face is painted a red colour and she is decorated with dark plumage on arms and legs. She has a snail-shell before her face, and wears a gold disk on the breast. Opposite her are a broken tree and a beheaded captive, whose body spouts two streams of blood in the shape of snakes’ heads. She is seated on a throne ornamented with small disks.

Codex Borbonicus.—Here the goddess is pictured as a demon of darkness, tzitzimitl, who descends from heaven in the form of an eagle.

Bas-relief.—A bas-relief, known as the stone of Aristides Martel, represents the goddess as in the act of flight, and agrees with the representations of her in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis and the Codex Borbonicus. The face is intended to represent that of an insect with round eyes and almost reptilian mouth, and the headdress is flat and covered with feather balls. The hands and feet are furnished with long [225]claws. In this place the feather-marking of the goddess presents a distinctly serpentine appearance and she is surrounded by serpent motifs, between the folds of which is seen the cross-hatching symbolical of these reptiles.


The interpreter of Codex Telleriano-Remensis regards Itzpapalotl as a male deity, probably because, like the Ciuateteô or women who died in childbed, who were regarded as the equals of the warriors, she wore a male loin-cloth. He says: “He was called Xounco and after he sinned Yzpapalotle. The sign of this name is a Knife of Butterflies, and accordingly he is surrounded with knives and wings of butterflies; for they say that he sometimes appears to them, and that they only see feet resembling those of an eagle. Yzpapalotle was one of those who fell from heaven with the rest, whose names are the following: Queçalcoatle, Ochululuchesi, Tezcatlipoca, Caleteotle, and Hatzcanpantecoatl.”

The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A also labours under a misapprehension regarding Itzpapalotl’s sex. He states: “Yxpapalotl signifies a knife of butterflies. He was one of those gods who, as they affirm, was expelled from heaven; and on this account they paint him surrounded with knives and wings of butterflies. They represent him with the feet of an eagle, because they say that he occasionally appears to them, and they only see the feet of an eagle. They further add that, being in a garden of great delight, he pulled some roses, but that suddenly the tree broke and blood streamed from it; and that in consequence of this they were deprived of that place of enjoyment and were cast into this world because Tonacatecutli and his wife became incensed, and accordingly they came some of them to the earth, and others went to hell. He presided over these thirteen signs; the first of which the house (calli) they considered unfortunate, because they said that demons came through the air on that sign in the figure of women such as we call witches, who usually went to the highways, where they met in the form of a cross.” [226]

In the song to Tlazolteotl, the fourth of the Sahagun series, we find the following strophes relating to Itzpapalotl:

The stone-knife butterfly

Who hovers over the cactus.

Her food is on the Nine Plains,

She was nurtured on the hearts of deer,

Our mother, the Earth-goddess.

The reference to the Nine Plains alludes to the circumstance that Itzpapalotl is a goddess of the Chichimec, or hunting people. The two first lines of this song are translated by Seler as follows:

“O, she has become a goddess of the melon cactus,

Our mother Itzpapalotl, the Obsidian Butterfly.”

The inference in these lines seems to be that whereas Itzpapalotl was formerly the goddess of a hunting tribe who sacrificed deer to her, she has now become the deity of the cultivated field and a settled agricultural community. This hypothesis would appear to gain strength from the text of the Anales de Quauhtitlan, where Itzpapalotl is spoken of as the foundress of the oldest Chichimec kingdom in Nequameyocan, “Place of the Wild Agave.” Camargo states66 that the tribes issuing from Chicomoztoc, “The Seven Caves,” first came to Mazatepec, “The Deer Mountain,” then to the province of Tepeueuec, where a victim was sacrificed to Itzpapalotl by shooting him with arrows, a circumstance which in itself proves the goddess to have been associated with the earth.


Like Mixcoatl, with whom she is closely associated, Itzpapalotl appears to have been originally one of the ancient stellar and lightning deities of the Chichimec or nomadic tribes of the northern plains. Later, on the abandonment of the hunting mode of subsistence and the acceptance of a more settled and agricultural mode of life by the tribes who worshipped her, Itzpapalotl would appear (as the allusion to [227]her in the song to Tlazolteotl seems to show) to have become a goddess of the food-supply, the melon-patch, and the maize-crop. She was one of the Tzitzimimê, or demons of darkness, and as such symbolically took insect shape (cf. Xochiquetzal as a spider), but beneath her butterfly form there lurks the symbol of the old, fierce earth-mother with claws and merciless, protruding teeth, which were originally evolved from those of the cipactli, or earth-monster. It seems to me also that she bears about her the marks of the deer, and at this I am not surprised, as I am convinced that in many lands the deer is regarded as a surrogate of the dragon, and is thus frequently associated with fire and water. Indeed, in places, Itzpapalotl is tacitly identified with the mythical deer Itzcuêyê,67 the captive and wife of Mixcoatl.

That Itzpapalotl is associated with fire is probable, and we know from the song that she was nurtured on the hearts of deer. From her association with the obsidian cult and the fact that she is closely connected with Mixcoatl, whose obsidian knife is her symbol, I should not be surprised to find further evidence that she is in some manner identified with the lightning, the heavenly fire, or the stars. Again, we know that the butterfly was in some measure associated with the Ciuateteô, the women who died in childbed. We know, too, from Sahagun’s account that at the festival of the Ciuateteô the people offered cakes stamped with a butterfly and S-shaped cakes to these spirits, to represent the lightning. In Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Itzpapalotl wears the male loin-cloth, like the Ciuateteô, and in Codex Vaticanus B (sheet 92) there is represented near her a flowering tree broken in the middle and spouting blood, the glyph or symbol of Tamoanchan, the paradise of the west, where dwelt the Ciuateteô. In the Mexican mind the gaudy hues of the butterfly may have become associated with the brilliance of the western sky at sunset, and this may account for the connection which undoubtedly exists between Itzpapalotl and the western home of the Ciuateteô. Again, the insect may [228]typify the frivolous nature of these dead women.68 However, the precise significance of this goddess is by no means easy to arrive at, and in any case is composed of elements of considerable obscurity and diversity.69

Tezcatlipocâ, it may be recalled, is “the obsidian snake.” His obsidian sandals in some MSS. bear the zigzag lines of the snake and, as has already been said, the footgear is frequently eloquent of the name or character of a person or divinity in Mexican painting. In Itzpapalotl we seem to see another deity of the obsidian cult. Certain of her pictures as a butterfly are, as has been indicated, of dragon-like aspect, and we know that the butterfly is in some countries a surrogate of the dragon. Is obsidian to be regarded as the “bones” of the cipactli, the earth-beast or dragon?



  • Area of Worship: Mexico; Zapotlan.
  • Symbol: The eagle-feather.


Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—Behind the region of the chin and on the front part of the neck the goddess has a black, almost beard-like painting. She wears a crown of paper flecked with ulli gum, and decorated at the top with quetzal-feathers. Her collar is of chalchihuitl stones and she wears a plain overdress and skirt edged with horizontal bands, connected by slanting strips. Her feet are sandalled, and her shield has the insignia of the eagle-feather. In her hand she carries the rattle-staff of the Rain-god.


Sahagun states (Appendix to bk. ii) that Zapotlantenan had a special high-priest, the Zapotlan teohuatzin, who was charged with making all the necessary arrangements for the [229]festival of that goddess, such as procuring a supply of paper, copal, ulli, and odoriferous plants for incense. Clavigero says that she was annually honoured with the sacrifice of human victims and with particular hymns composed in her praise.70


Sahagun states71 that she was said to have been the inventor or discoverer of turpentine, which was used in Mexico for medicinal purposes, and it seems probable that she may have been revered as a goddess of medicine. Clearly she is also an earth-goddess of the people of the populous valley of Zapotlan, on the other side of the Otomi country, adopted into the Mexican pantheon, but having no place in the calendar.



  • Area of Worship: Tehuacan (?); Cozcatlan (?); Chichimec.
  • Minor Names:
    • Citlallinicue = “She of the Starry Skirt.”
    • Cozcamiauh = “Necklace of Maize.”
  • Calendar Place: Thirteenth of the lords of the day-hours.
  • Compass Direction: The Middle.
  • Festival: Tititl (“stretching of limbs”) in the seventeenth month.
  • Relationship: Spouse of Iztac Mixcoatl; variant of Tonacaciuatl or Ciuacoatl.


Codex Borgia.—Sheets 9, 11: In this representation the goddess is shown with hair composed of heron-feathers and wearing a white garment. In the pictures of this codex the contracted corners of her mouth, due to old age, are indicated by a ring-shaped ornament worn below the upper lip.

Codex Borbonicus.—She has a skeleton’s head, which differs from that of the Death-god in that it is coloured yellow, with red lines instead of black, but shows a similarity to it in the ruffled “night-hair” with which it is covered. In most of the pictures of her in this codex her blue dress is dotted with [230]circular white spots which are perhaps intended for stars. This garment is completed with thongs, from which depend snail-shells, a decoration also seen in the rattling girdle ornaments (citlalicue) characteristic of the Earth and Underworld goddesses.


According to the myth related by Motolinia,72 Ilamatecutli or Ilancuêyê, as he designates her, was the wife of Iztac Mixcoatl (q.v.), with whom she dwelt in Chicomoztoc, “the land of the seven canes,” the mythical officina gentium of the Mexican tribes, whence the aboriginal ancestors of the several races of Mexico were supposed to have had their being. By a second wife, Chinamatl, or Chimalmat, Iztac Mixcoatl became the father of Quetzalcoatl.


Tititl (“Stretching of Limbs”).—This festival was held in the Kalends of the seventeenth month, probably about December 19.73 A female slave was bought by the authorities and dressed as follows: She wore an upper garment or peplum of white stuff and a skirt of the same colour, beneath which showed the citlalicue, or star-skirt, of the goddess, a dress sprinkled with stars, cut at the ankles in the shape of many thongs, from each of which hung a small shell, so that when she walked these came together and made a rattling sound. Her sandals were white and she bore a shield whitened with chalk, having a design of eagle’s feathers in the centre. Fringes of heron’s feathers terminating in eagle’s plumes hung from the lower edge of the shield. In the other hand she carried the tzotozopaztli, a wooden knife, used for pressing cloth. Her face was painted black and yellow. Her hair was dressed in the form known as tzompilinalli, or “hair tied at the temples,” and eagle’s plumes fell from it behind.

Before the victim was dispatched they made her dance to the sound of instruments played by old men, which mingled [231]with the chanting of the priests. The wretched woman wept and sobbed as she danced, and as evening approached she was taken to the temple of Uitzilopochtli, accompanied by all the priests wearing their insignia and the masks of their gods, one of which was that of Ilamatecutli. On arriving at the summit of the teocalli, or pyramid-temple, she was immediately slain, her heart was torn out and she was decapitated. The head was given to the priest attired in the insignia of the goddess, who held it in his right hand by the hair, and engaged in a dance, raising and lowering the horrid trophy, and in this solemn measure he was accompanied by the priests who represented the other divinities. They then descended the steps of the teocalli in procession, and sought their quarters.

The priest of Ilamatecutli carried a great cane, the stock of which had three roots. The mask of the goddess which he bore had two faces with “great mouths, bulging eyes, and surmounted by a crown of paper cut into sharp points.” The priests, disguised as gods, having entered the calpulli, or priests’ quarters, a priest descended from the teocalli dressed as a young exquisite, wearing a splendid cloak, his head decorated with white plumes and wearing in place of sandals the hoofs of a deer. He carried in his hand a leaf of the maguey, surmounted by a little paper banner. He proceeded to the quauhxicalco, a place of sacrifice principally associated with human offerings to Tezcatlipocâ, where there was a small cage made of pine-wood and covered with paper, and known as “the granary of Ilamatecutli.” The priest laid the maguey-leaf in this receptacle and then set the whole on fire. Seeing this, the other priests rushed to the summit of the teocalli. This ceremony was known as the xochipayna, or “flower-running.” Placing on high a flower called teoxochitl, or “blossom of the god,” the first who gained the eminence seized upon it and cast it upon the quauhxicalco where the “cage” burned. Upon the following day the men and boys made little sacks, which they filled with flowers or paper, and with these they skirmished with one another and beat the young girls who chanced to pass by. [232]

The purpose underlying this celebration is obscure. The costume worn by the victim is, of course, that of the goddess herself, and we may, perhaps, infer that the wooden knife she carried, the purpose of which was to press cloth, was symbolical of one of the domestic duties of the older women, whom she appears in a measure to have represented. The exercise of dancing to which the victim was subjected seems to bear reference to the name of the festival, tititl, the “stretching of limbs,” and its purpose was probably to ensure vigour and “liveliness” in the earth or soil, for it was about this period that the winter solstice occurred and the labours of the field were renewed. The Earth-mother must, therefore, stretch her limbs ere she once more took up the great task of growth.74

The decapitation of the slave girl was probably a dramatic-mythical representation of the reaping of the maize. The “great cane” borne by the priest of Ilamatecutli was, of course, the magic rain-rattle, so prominent an adjunct to many Mexican religious ceremonies. The “young exquisite” we must surely explain as a representative of vegetation, his deer’s-hoofs sandals having, perhaps, a pluvial significance, or else indicating the swift growth of the maize-plant, which takes but four months to ripen. The burning of the maguey-leaf in the granary would seem to indicate the end of the season of vegetative luxuriance and the commencement of that of domestic fires, and the casting of the sacred blossom into the flames probably possessed a similar significance.


Ilamatecutli was unquestionably a goddess of the primeval time, as her aged appearance in the manuscripts, her association [233]with Iztac Mixcoatl, the old Chichimec god, and her connection with fire would lead us to suppose. She is primarily a goddess of the earth and of maize. Her stellar connection and her name Citlallinicue (Star Skirt) are eloquent of her Chichimec derivation, and she may represent the starry night sky, or possibly the Milky Way, just as does her mythical husband, and in this she connects with Tonacaciuatl. As an earth-goddess she has also a plutonic significance and can be equated with Mictecaciuatl, mistress of Hades, in this resembling many other earth-goddesses. Again, she is the “old goddess” par excellence, patroness of old women, and worker at the metate, or stone on which the maize cakes were, and still are, made by Mexican women. Her connection with fire proves her relative antiquity. The circumstance that her mask is described as being two-faced leads me to believe that her idol or image had been evolved from the “Kirn-baby,” or doll made at harvests out of the last sheaf of grain and furnished with a face and hands, frequently with two faces, in order that it should not prove of bad omen to those following the image in procession. In this respect Ilamatecutli is similar to Chicomecoatl (q.v.). [234]

1 Tonalamatl of the Aubin-Goupil Collection, 1900–1901. 

2 This circular patch with the centre punched out is worn by the women of more than one Asiatic country. 

3 Sahagun, Bks. viii and x. 

4 By Seler, in Commentary on Aubin Tonalamatl, p. 93. 

5 Sahagun, bk. i, c. xii. 

6 As regards these translations of hymns throughout the work, some have been translated by me from the Mexican originals, others have been translated from the German of Seler. Like that authority I have not received any enlightenment from Brinton’s “translations” in his Sacred Chants of the Ancient Mexicans

7 Bk. ii, c. xxx; see also Torquemada, bk. x, c. xxxv. 

8 Pyramid temple. 

9 Seler, Commentary on Vaticanus B, p. 262, believes the ceremony to refer to the parturition of the goddess, who gives birth to Cinteotl, although he at first elucidated the ceremony as here indicated. Seler confounds the postures of sexual intercourse and parturition. 

10 See picture in Codex Borbonicus

11 As do Aphrodite, and other goddesses of love. 

12 It is equally the symbol of the fertility-pot. 

13 Bk. ii, c. xxiii. 

14 Lib. x, c. xiii. 

15 A species of wild laurel. 

16 The custom of wearing a mask of the deity worshipped (in this case the slain woman represented the goddess) is widespread. 

17 Sahagun, bk. ii. 

18 Appendix to bk. ii. 

19 Who, like several of the older Spanish authorities, regarded Cinteotl as a goddess, a belief now exploded. See vol. i, bk. vi (English translation). 

20 It might be quoted against this view that the lewd life of pleasure of which Xochipilli and Macuilxochitl are the representatives results in that death which is the child of sin, and that these gods are therefore “brothers” to Cinteotl in this especial connection. Seler, Comm. Codex Fej.-Mayer, p. 66; Comm. Codex Vat. B, pp. 207–208. 

21 Sahagun, bk. ix, c. xvii. 

22 Sahagun MS. 

23 At the festival of Demeter, with whose worship the serpent was connected, the earth was struck with rods by the priest who called upon the goddess. This is also done during the act of divination among the Zulus, when they call upon spirits. See Callaway, Izinyanga Zokubula, p. 362. 

24 Lib. ii, c. ii. 

25 Brasseur de Bourbourg, Hist. Nat. Civ. du Mex. (quoting a Cakchiquel MS.), vol. i, p. 248. 

26 Bk. i, c. vi. 

27 Sahagun, bk. i, c. vi. 

28 Idem, bk. 2, Appendix. 

29 Idea, p. 27; vol. i, pp. 419 ff. 

30 See Introduction, pp. 14, 16. 

31 See Uitzilopochtli, pp. 73 ff. 

32 Bk. i, c. xix. 

33 Idea, pp. 63–66. This myth seems to me to show vestiges of a belief in the theory of the transmigration of souls, and to indicate that the ascetic, almost on the borders of what is known in Buddhistic belief as “arahatship,” or promotion to a higher life, was condemned for his lapse to recommence existence once more under a low form of life. 

34 Bk. i, c. xix, appendix. 

35 See Appendix in the Tonalamatl, “Day-signs.” 

36 A diacritical point. 

37 Bk. x, c. xxxv. 

38 Bk. x, c. xxxi. 

39 Seler, Commentary on Aubin Tonalamatl, p. 119. 

40 Seler, Commentary on Codex Vaticanus B, p. 161. 

41 But see the song to Cinteotl in the portion dealing with that god, which in a manner refers to Xochipilli. 

42 Commentary on Aubin Tonalamatl, p. 87. 

43 Bk. i, c. xiv. 

44 Cronica Mexicana. See picture of Axayacatl in Boban’s catalogue of the Goupil collection, Paris, 1891, pp. 14, 15. 

45 The best authority on Xipe’s costume is Sahagun (Mexican MS.). 

46 Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, pp. 417 ff. 

47 Sahagun, bk. v, c. xiii. 

48 Werenfels, Dissertation upon Superstition, p. 6 (London, 1748). Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States, vol. ii, pp. 719 ff. 

49 Roscher, Über Selene und verwandtes (Leipzig, 1890), pp. 49 ff. 

50 Pliny, Nat. Hist., vol. ii, p. 223; Payne, Hist. New World, vol. i, p. 495. 

51 Or calpulli, a muster-place at several festivals. 

52 “They who seize the head,” alluding to the custom of taking the victims by the hair. 

53 Sahagun states that the “hair” of the uauantin was kept as a trophy. This seems to me analogous to the North American Indian custom of scalping, which is sometimes spoken of as “losing one’s hair,” a phrase which, through its use among American border fighters, has passed into slang. 

54 Tezcatlipocâ took the form of a coyote and lay in wait for travellers. Sahagun, bk. v, c. xiii. 

55 Or coyote. 

56 Sahagun, bk. ii, Appendix. 

57 Sahagun, bk. ii, Appendix. 

58 Seler, Commentary on Codex Vaticanus B, p. 175. 

59 Decade iii, lib. iii, c. xv. 

60 Tezozomac, Cronica Mexicana, c. xci. 

61 J. Lecœur, Esquisses du Bocage Normand, vol. ii, p. 240. 

62 Athenæus, vol. ix, 47, p. 392 d. 

63 Religion of the Semites, new edition, 1914, p. 469. 

64 Bk. ii. c. viii. 

65 Bk. x, c. xix. 

66 Hist. de Tlaxcallan, c. v. 

67 This deer is two-headed; so is Quaxolotl a variant of Chantico, the Fire-goddess, with whom Itzpapalotl seems to have many points of resemblance. 

68 See Xochipilli. 

69 In some myths of the Old World the butterfly is the soul or ghost. This would explain her connection with the Ciuateteô, or dead women. 

70 Vol. i, bk. vi (English translation). 

71 Bk. i, c. ix. 

72 Hist. de los Indios de la Nueva España (Epistola Proemial). 

73 Sahagun, bk. ii., c. xxxvi; Torquemada, bk. x, c. xxix. 

74 It occurred to the writer that the expression tititl may have had reference to the act of sexual impregnation, as in the case of Tlazolteotl (q.v.), who “widens herself, stretches herself out” at the foot of the teocalli of Uitzilopochtli, when she is impregnated by that deity. This consideration scarcely seems to apply to the present instance, however, and that indicated above appears preferable. 






The gods of rain proper are clearly to be distinguished from the gods of grain and growth, although they were regarded by the ancient Mexicans as stimulating vegetable plenteousness. That they were paramount in the practical theology of the rain-cult1 is evident, for, whereas Quetzalcoatl was regarded in one of his phases as the deification of the rain-making priest, Tlaloc and the Tlaloquê possessed the entire disposition of the rainfall. Sahagun’s remarks upon Quetzalcoatl make it clear that in this connection he was regarded as a wind-god who swept the way clear for the rain-gods, or ushered in the rains. Myth related how Quetzalcoatl, the first discoverer of the maize, was robbed of his find by Tlaloc, who afterwards had the governance over its growth and distribution. Although the high-priest of the Mexican hierarchy was called by the name of Quetzalcoatl, the prelate next in importance to him bore the name of Tlaloc.

Although Quetzalcoatl was above all regarded by the Aztecâ as a god of wind, evidence is not lacking that to some extent he was looked upon as a rain-god, or at least a rain-bringing god. But the overwhelming superiority of the Tlaloquê in this cult is witnessed to by the fact that out of eighteen great seasonal festivals, no less than five were dedicated to them.2

Those of the Tlaloquê, or gods of rain, whose names are [235]known were: Tlaloc, the father of all, Chalchihuitlicue, his wife and sister, Nappatecutli, god of the mat-makers, who used aquatic reeds in their work, Atlaua, “Lord of the Beaches” or lake shores, Uixtociuatl, goddess of salt, and Opochtli, god of fishers and fowlers, and inventor of the net.

Concerning the Tlaloquê Sahagun remarks: “The Mexicans take for gods all those high mountains from which the rain comes in the rainy season, and for each of these they imagine an idol.… They also believe that certain maladies proceeding from cold have their origin in the mountains and that these gods have the power to visit them upon them. Those who were attacked by such complaints made a vow to this or that mountain, whichever chanced to be in the neighbourhood, or that for which they entertained the most devotion. A similar vow was made by persons on the point of being drowned in the rivers or in the sea. The maladies for which they made these vows were gout in the hands, feet, or any other part of the body, impotence in any member, or in the entire body, rheumatism, the contraction of the members or cramp. Those who were visited with these maladies made a vow to raise a statue to the following gods: to the idols of the volcano called Popocatepetl in the Sierra Nevada, to a mountain named Poyauhtecatl, or any other to which the feeling of devotion inclined them. When they proposed to offer up to the mountain or gods, they made an image in human form, a mass called tzoalli.”3 These the people did not make themselves, but called in the offices of those priests skilled in the making of idols, who moulded them out of the paste and gave them teeth of calabash pips and eyes of haricot beans. The rest of the process of manufacture is as described in the account of the festival of the atemoztli (see Tlaloc). These small figures were known as tepictoton, and, like the sacrificial victims to the rain-gods, their hair was dressed in two horns or whorls.



  • Area of Worship: Plateau of Anahuac.
  • Minor Names: Chicunaui Ocelotl = “Nine Jaguar” (or ocelot). [236]
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the seventh day-count, mazatl (deer), and of the seventh tonalamatl division, ce quiautl (one rain).
  • Compass Direction: The four quarters in his several aspects.
  • Festivals: Atlacahualco, tozoztontli, etzalqualiztli, tepeilhuitl, atemoztli.
  • Symbols: His head, with serpentine motif and tusks; the day-sign nine ocelot.
  • Relationship: Husband (1) of Xochiquetzal; (2) of Matlalcuêyê or Chalchiuhtlicue. Father or brother of the Tlaloquê.
(From Codex Magliabecchiano, 3 fol., sheet 89.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, 3 fol., sheet 89.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, 3 fol., sheet 34.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, 3 fol., sheet 34.)



The evolution of the familiar and characteristic face of Tlaloc is perhaps best exemplified in a stone statuette included in the Uhde collection in the Royal Ethnological Museum, Berlin. In this striking example of the Mexican sculptor’s art a representation of the face of the god is skilfully contrived by the arrangement of two snakes or serpents, the tails of which form eye-orbits and a species of nose, the reptiles’ heads meeting in the region of the mouth, their fangs thus serving the god for teeth. It is rarely in aboriginal art that a conception so individual and striking is encountered, and great imaginative ability must be conceded the sculptor who conceived it. It is not known whether the later pictures and carvings of Tlaloc were evolved from this effigy, but it is not unreasonable to suppose that either from it or similar representations the later conception of him came into being. We observe in the examples shown in the illustrations that the custom of representing divine beings in profile resulted in his case in the survival of a mere ring about the eye and a spirally convoluted band forming the upper lip and depending from it for some distance. These are painted blue in the MSS. More faithfully preserved are the long tusk-like teeth, which in certain stone effigies, however, degenerate into several straight, downward strokes. This head of the Rain-god is almost invariably reproduced as the symbol for the day-sign atl (water).

Representations of Tlaloc in the codices of the Borgia group occasionally show a development of the lip-band, which rises upwards and includes the nose, thus, perhaps, [237]indicating a transition form. In the Vatican B, Fejérváry-Mayer, and Laud Codices the prolongation of the lip-band and its serpentine character are apparent, the snake’s teeth and eye being clearly visible.

(From Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, sheet 14.)

(From Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, sheet 14.)

(From Codex Vaticanus A, sheet 20.)

(From Codex Vaticanus A, sheet 20.)


Codex Borgia.—Sheet 14: In this place the body-paint of Tlaloc is green, although, as a rule, it is black elsewhere. The face is half-black, half-yellow. The eye and lip-bands are blue. The head is crowned with white heron-feathers, such as are worn by the octli gods. A fillet surrounds the forehead, and from this spring four rosettes, which may symbolize the four quarters from which the rain falls. The headdress and its accompanying ornaments are painted in alternate stripes, green and white, sprinkled with liquid rubber. A paper tie adorns the shoulder, such as was used for the decoration of offerings, or in the ceremonial arrangement of the dead. The ear-plug is square, to indicate, perhaps, the four quarters. It is in this codex (sheet 12) that we obtain the best evidence of the reflection of the various points of the compass upon the character of the great god of rain.

But the most important pictures in Codex Borgia relating to Tlaloc are those on sheet 27, which illustrate the cycle of fifty-two years, and show in the four corner compartments the four days which form the initial days of the four quarters of the cycle. They do not, however, commence with ce acatl, “one reed,” ce tecpatl, “one flint,” ce calli, “one house,” ce tochtli, “one rabbit,” as might be expected,4 but with ce cipactli, “one earth-beast,” ce miquiztli, “one death,” ce ozomatli, “one monkey,” and ce cozcaquauhtli, “one vulture,” for the reason that the tonalamatl signs here shown are hieroglyphic of the four quarters of the heavens, rather than allusive to the dates of the grand cycle of fifty-two years. The middle or fifth region, which is without a hieroglyph, is ascribed to the central figure. The lower to the right represents the east. To it belongs the first division of the calendar, as well as the first day of the great cycle. Tlaloc in this picture is painted a dark colour, and wears the cipactli head of the first [238]calendar division as a helmet-mask. The sky above him is figuratively drawn to represent a cloudy firmament holding rain about to fall, and he stands upon the cipactli, or earth-beast, which symbolizes the fruitful earth, from whose body springs the maize-plant, represented as a tiny head or mask, on each side of which sprout leaves. The god empties his jar upon the soil, and its contents are seen to be a renewed supply of maize-ears, indicating the bounteous nature of the eastern Tlaloc.

The figure on the upper right shows the deity in his northern aspect. The second division of the tonalamatl and of the cycle are indicated in its dating and on its helmet-mask. The yellow colour of the god in this picture is supplemented by the symbolism of a bright atmosphere sending down sharp rays of light, shown in conventional form by V-shaped emblems stabbing downwards from aloft. Beneath the god are shown three vessels filled with the brown-coloured water which falls when the Rain-god is unpropitious. Indeed, it bears within it the symbols of death, the death’s-head eye and bony nasal spine. The artistic effort is to portray water which has been sucked up by the parched and cracked soil of a Mexican June—water which has been insufficient in quantity, or has fallen too late. There are present, too, in the picture, the vampire shapes of such insects as devour the maize, each decorated with the death’s-head. But, more fatal sign than all, from the pitcher of the god descends the lightning-axe, wrapped in symbolic fire. The northern Tlaloc, then, is no deity of plenty, but obviously represents the Rain-god in his most deadly and terrible aspect. The god in his western complexion is painted blue, and wears as a helmet-mask the sign of the third calendar division. A cloudy sky flecked with rain shows the partial descent of the serpent-like showers, and the maize-plants beneath him stand in heavy puddles of water. The southern aspect of Tlaloc (that on the lower left) is painted red, and the helmet-mask is in vulture form, as in consonance with the sign of the fourth calendar division. From a cloudless sky dart the conventional sun-rays as described in the second picture, but [239]beneath the foot of the divinity are representations of the maize-plant run to seed. Small animals, the faces of which bear some resemblance to a death’s-head, devour them. Once again the lightning-axe falls from the jar held by the god, accompanied by its bright, symbolic flame. The central figure represents the influence of the Rain-god from the zenith. The Tlaloc who presides over this situation is striped red and white (the colours of night and twilight) and he is represented in the normal insignia of the Rain-god. He is accompanied by the signs for day and night, and the earth-goddesses cluster around his feet. From the jar he holds are poured all manner of warlike implements—the atlatl, javelin, shield, and banner.

The similar fivefold representation of Tlaloc on sheet 28 is believed by Seler to illustrate his connection with the Venus period.

Codex Vaticanus A.—Sheet 20: Here Tlaloc is represented with the body painted black, the fore-part of the face black and the hinder portion yellow. His chin is bearded and the lip-band is prolonged, as described above. In front of his mantle is a stone knife, from which fire issues. His attire is painted in alternate stripes of black and green, flecked with melted rubber. He wears the fillet of Tonatiuh, the Sun-god, and the strips of hide which fall from the panache of feathers on his head are also part of the Sun-god’s insignia. He holds a burnt offering of firewood and rubber in his hand, enveloped in a covering painted black and green, flecked alternately. The type of the tarns or pools into which such offerings were cast is depicted in front of him, in the depths of which are seen fishes and snails.

Codex Magliabecchiano.—Sheet 92: Here he is represented in female costume and, as in the Sahagun MSS., a white circular spot or patch with black dots is visible on the god’s cheek, which, the text implies, was made of the crushed seed of the Mexican prickly poppy (Argemone Mexicana).

General.—Other details in the costume of the Rain-god are eloquent of his nature and characteristics. In the Borgia group of codices his garment and headdress are dark [240]green, flecked with melted rubber, whilst in those codices from the Mexican country proper we find them painted blue, bespotted with the same unpleasant incense. His robe, the anachxecilli (“dripping-garment,” “cloud-garment”), is said to be “set with green gems,” and in his ear is a broad plate with a dependent band on which are worked smaller figures made of chalchihuitl stones. On his breast he wears a wide collar of plaited stuff (reeds?) also enriched with the precious green stone typical of water, and a large gold disk.

(From Codex Laud.)

(From Codex Laud.)

Stone figure (from Castella del Teayó.)

Stone figure (from Castella del Teayó.)


In Codex Vaticanus A, the Codex Magliabecchiano, and the Sahagun MSS. we find him wearing at the nape of his neck a large crescent-shaped loop which projects on each side of the head and is secured in the middle by a rosette, as well as his crown of heron-feathers. In the Codex Vaticanus B a large fan-shaped object painted dark green and white projects behind the head of the god. In Codex Borgia (sheet 14), too, he wears the headdress of Mayauel, the goddess of the agave plant, but the colours in which it is painted (dark green and white with rubber flecking) are his own and not the blue and white of the female divinity.

In the Codex Magliabecchiano (sheet 77) and on a stone relief in the Trocadero Museum, Tlaloc is represented as holding a jug in one hand and a staff in the other, the latter of a blue colour and having serpentine bands in its length. In Codices Vaticanus B and A he also holds this serpentine wand and in the other the incense-pouch marked with a cross, to symbolize the four quarters of the heavens. Occasionally he is seen holding the agave thorn or spike and the omitl bone, the implements of mortification, as in Codex Borbonicus and Codex Borgia (sheet 67).

Gama (Dos Piedras, pt. i, p. 101; pt. ii, pp. 76–79) states that in Tlaloc’s left hand was a shield ornamented with feathers. In his right were thin, wavy sheets of gold, representing his thunderbolts, or sometimes a golden serpent, representing either the thunderbolt or moisture. On his feet were a kind of half-boots, with little bells of gold hanging therefrom. Round his neck was a band or collar set with gold and gems, while from his wrists depended strings of [241]costly stones. His dress was an azure smock, reaching to the middle of the thigh, cross-hatched all over with ribbons of silver forming squares, and in the middle of each square was a circle of silver, while in the angle thereof were flowers, pearl-coloured, with yellow leaves hanging down. His shield was similarly decorated, with feathers of yellow and green, flesh-colour and blue, each colour forming a distinct band. The body was naked from mid-thigh down, and of a grey tint, as was also the face. This face had only one eye, of a somewhat extraordinary character: there was an exterior circle of blue, the interior was white with a black line across it, and a little semicircle below the line. Either round the whole eye or round the mouth was a doubled band or ribbon of blue. In the open mouth were three grinders. The front teeth were painted red, as was also the pendant with its button of gold that hung from his ear. He wore an open crown of white and green feathers, from which depended red and white plumes.

Ixtlilxochitl represents him in the month etzalli pictured with a cane of maize in the one hand, and in the other an instrument with which he is digging the ground, in which he places maize-leaves and a kind of food, like fritters, called etzalli.

Sahagun MS.—This states that the god’s face was entirely black with a few spots of salvia chia. The body was also of a dark colour. He wears a “mist” or “cloud” shirt without sleeves, in the Toltec fashion, falling to the knee, and a cloth is rolled round the hips. The crown is of heron-feathers, and the sandals symbolize the foam of water. The shield is inset with water-flowers or rushes, and the god carries a white rush staff.


As has been said, the vases in the Uhde collection and in the Anthropological Museum at Berlin show the Tlaloc face, probably in its earlier state of development. In both of these a serpentine motif arches over the eyes and meets in a knot or twist which forms the nose, while a separate serpent [242]pattern forms the mouth in a moustache-like manner, the long teeth jutting out from underneath it. Another found in the Calle de las Escalerillas, Mexico City, is identical with these last. A stone slab found at Cerro de Zapotitlan, near Castillo de Teayo, and resembling a tombstone, shows the face of Tlaloc very clearly, the characteristic feather crown and the long tusk-like teeth being especially noticeable. Another stone figure found at Teayo is fully illustrative of the god’s facial characteristics, but the two serpents twining together to form the nose spring upwards and, after traversing the position of the eyebrow, end with their tails above this in a flourish. The back-fan is well represented in this figure, which has also a mantle and a waist-belt. In a relief found at Teayo in which Tlaloc is represented along with Xochiquetzal, we see once more the manner in which the serpentine motifs around the mouth and eyes have become unified through the exigencies of representation in profile. The usual insignia are represented here, such as the necklace, the back-fan, and the short tunic; but certain knots or bows on the dress lead me to think that what have been commonly taken for sprinklings of indiarubber gum (ulli) may be small ornamental knots of some textile material. Vases found at Tlaxcallan and in the Mixtec country show precisely the same characteristics.


The myth explanatory of the Tlaloquê is found in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas (c. ii),5 which tells how the rain-gods lived in four chambers surrounding a great court in which stood four immense water-casks. In one of these good water was stored, which descended upon the grain when it was in process of growth. Bad water stood in the next, which produced fungus growth, causing the maize to turn black. When rain and frost came together it was thought that the third cask had been drawn upon, and the fourth was filled with such rain as was followed by no [243]growth, or by such growth as grew sere and withered. Tlaloc, we learn from this account, had created for the purposes of rain-making a number of dwarfs who made their homes in the four chambers of his house, and who carried sticks in their hands, and jars into which they drew water from the great casks. When Tlaloc commanded them to water a certain tract of country they poured water from the jars they held, and the lightning-flash was supposed to proceed from the cracking or breaking of their vessels. This myth is represented in the Codex Borgia, p. 27, as already described.

Another piece of mythic information is found in the Song of the Rain-god, the fourth canticle in Sahagun’s collection, which has been translated as follows:


Oh, Mexico has done service with the gods,

The paper flags fly over the four corners of the heavens,

It is no more a time of mourning.


Oh, Tlaloc (the Rain-god) has been created

(I.e. my statue has been set on the temple),

My God has become a dark red colour from the blood of the sacrifices.

The whole day they took, with the making of rain in the temple court.


O my Chieftain, the maize-prince,

In truth it is your produce;

You created it first;

And yet they only do insult to you.

They can have nothing against you;

Distribute thou no offering.


But they abuse me (abstain from sacrifice),

I am therefore not satisfied,

My father, my old priest,

The Jaguar-serpent.


Out of the Tlalocan the turquoise house (the blue house)

Came thy father, Acatonal.



O go, go down on the mountain Poyauhtlan

With the mist rattle-board;

Water will be sent from Tlalocan,

The country of the rain-gods.


O my elder brother Toxcuecuex!

I will go; it is enough to make him weep.


O send me to the place that no one knows.

Down came his word;

I spoke to him, Tetzauhpilli,

I will go; that is enough to make him weep.


After four years he will be placed over us.

Of thee it was said,

The place of the fallen,

The quetzal feather-house, the place of plenty,

And yet he becomes distributer for the Kingdom.

It would be rash to attempt any precise elucidation of this obscure song. Briefly and doubtfully, I may say, it seems to me that its tendency is as follows: The song evidently refers to one of the festivals of the Rain-god, probably the atemoztli, when much time was occupied in “rain-making” ceremonies, as the canticle indicates. The pious maker of the song had evidently in mind the myth which told how Tlaloc stole the maize from Quetzalcoatl, an assertion to which he objects (verse iii), and advises the god to withhold his produce. This myth, which is given in the Anales de Quauhtitlan (Codex Chimalpopocâ), the second or historical portion, states that Quetzalcoatl discovered maize in the mountain Tonacatepetl. To do so, he took the form of a black ant and was led to the spot by a red ant. As he was unable to lift the mountain, it was split open by the magical prowess of Xolotl in his phase of Nanahuatl and the maize was secured by Quetzalcoatl, but was stolen from him by Tlaloc. In verse iv of the song under discussion Tlaloc replies in agreement with his servant, whom it is, perhaps, that he [245]addresses as Jaguar-serpent, Jaguar (Balam), being a common designation of priests among the Maya-Quiche.6 Or it may have reference to the god himself, one of whose names is “Nine Jaguar.”

The god would seem to refer to some unknown myth relating to his own parentage in verse v. The name Acatonal (“Reed of the Sun”) given to his father seems to have a calendric significance. The ceremony of the mist rattle-board, the rattling of which was supposed to bring rain by sympathetic magic, was one of the ceremonies connected with rain-making at more than one of the festivals of the Tlaloquê. Poyauhtlan (“Place of Mugwort”) is a district of Tlalocan, as well as the name of his temple, and Toxcuecuex is Uitzilopochtli. The last verse seems to allude to the myth mentioned in the interpretation of Codex Vaticanus A, where it is stated that, as no rain had fallen for a period of four years, Quetzalcoatl began to make sacrifices to obtain it, and, the worshipper or priest hints, will receive the consequent honour.

According to Boturini, quoting Gemelli Carreri (tom. 6, p. 83), Tlaloc was the deity who at the behest of Tezcatlipocâ raised the earth out of the waters of the universal flood, and who counsels men by his divine messages written in the lightning and the thunderbolt to live wisely and morally. Like most of the theories of this writer, this is pure allegory. Following the analogy of the calendar stone, we seem to see Tlaloc as the sun during the period of Naui Quiauitl, or “Four Rain,” which ended in a universal conflagration. The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A alludes to Tlaloc as feminine, speaks of him as “goddess of water,” and explains Tlaloquê as signifying “fine weather.” Farther on he states that “on the 21st of December they celebrated the festival of this god through whose instrumentality they say the earth became again visible after it had been covered with the waters of the deluge; they therefore kept his festival during the twenty following signs, in which they performed sacrifices to him.” [246]

The abode of Tlaloc was in Tlalocan, the heights on the road from Texcuco to Huetzotzinca and Tlaxcallan, a high and shady place.7 This locality remained verdant and moist because of its proximity to the snowy peaks above it even when the plains beneath languished in drought under merciless sunshine, and it seems natural that it should have appealed to the ancient Mexicans as a fitting abode for the god of rain. Of Tlalocan in its more mythical sense, Sahagun (c. ii, Appendix to bk. iii) says that there was abundance of all refreshments, green maize, calabashes, and other vegetables and fruits. Here dwelt the Tlaloquê, who resembled the priests who ministered to their idols in that they wore their hair long. The folk who went to that paradise were those who had been killed by lightning, the leprous, gouty, and dropsical—any such, in fact, who had died from a “watery” complaint. In Tlalocan they enjoyed a perpetual summer.


Quaitl eloa.—The first annual festival to the Tlaloquê was the quaitl eloa, of which Sahagun says: “In the first days of the first month of the year, which month was called in some parts of Mexico quavitleloa, but generally atlacahualco, and begins on the second of our February, a great feast was made in honour of the Tlalocs, gods of rain and water. For this occasion many children at the breast were purchased from their mothers; those being chosen that had two whorls in their hair, and that had been born under a good sign; it being said that such were the most agreeable sacrifices to the storm-gods, and most likely to induce them to send rain in due season. Some of these infants were butchered for this divine holiday on certain mountains, and some were drowned in the Lake of Mexico. With the beginning of the festival, in every house, from the hut to the palace, certain poles were set up, and to these were attached strips of the [247]paper of the country, daubed over with indiarubber gum, these strips being called amateteuitl; this was considered an honour to the water-gods. And the first place where children were killed was Quauhtepetl,8 a high mountain in the neighbourhood of Tlatelulco; all infants, boys or girls, sacrificed there were called by the name of the place, Quauhtepetl, and were decorated with strips of paper, dyed red. The second place where children were killed was Yoaltecatl,9 a high mountain near Guadalupe. The victims were decorated with pieces of black paper with red lines on it, and were named after the place, Yoaltecatl. The third death-halt was made at Tepetzingo, a well-known hillock that rose up from the waters of the lake opposite Tlatelulco; there they killed a little girl, decking her with blue paper, and calling her Quezalxoch,10 for so was this hillock called by another name. Poiauhtla,11 on the boundary of Tlascala, was the fourth hill of sacrifice. Here they killed children, named as usual after the locality, and decorated with paper, on which were lines of indiarubber oil. The fifth place of sacrifice was the whirlpool or sink of the Lake of Mexico, Pantitlan.12 Those drowned here were called Epcoatl,13 and their adornment epuepaniuhqui.14 The sixth hill of death was Cocotl,15 near Chalcoatenco; the infant victims were named after it and decorated with strips of paper, of which half the number were red and half a tawny colour. The mount Yiauhqueme,16 near Atlacuioaia, was the seventh station; the victims being named after the place and adorned with a paper of tawny colour.

“When the procession reached the temple near Tepetzinco, on the east, called Tozoacab, the priests rested there all night, watching and singing songs, so that the children could not sleep. In the morning the march was again resumed; if the children wept copiously those around them were very glad, saying it was a sign that much rain would fall; while [248]if they met any dropsical person on the road, it was taken for a bad omen and something that would hinder the rain. If any of the temple ministers, or of the others called quaquavitli, or of the old men, broke off from the procession or turned back to their houses before they came to the place where the sacrifice was done, they were held infamous and unworthy of any public office; thenceforward they were called mocauhque, that is to say, ‘deserters.’ ”17

Tozozontli.—The second festival to Tlaloc was tozozontli, of which Sahagun says:

“The third month was designated toçozontli, the first day of it being consecrated to the festival of the god Tlaloc, who is the divinity of rain. Many children were slain on the mountains and offered in sacrifice to this god and his colleagues, in order to obtain water. The first fruits of the flowers of the year were offered in the temple called Yopico, no one daring to smell a flower until this offering had been made. The gardeners, who were designated xochimanque, held a festival in honour of their goddess called Coatlicue, also known as Coatlan tonan.

“It was likewise during this month that those who had been wearing the skins of the dead since the month previous, now stripped them off and threw them into the basin of the temple styled Yopico. This was done in procession and with great ceremony. They smelt like rotten dogs; and after disrobing they performed devotional ablutions.

“Sick people made vows to take part in this procession in the hope of being cured of their infirmities, and we are assured that many of them were thus restored.

“The masters of the captives and the people of their houses performed penance for twenty days, neither bathing nor washing until the skins of their victims had been carried to the basin of the temple above mentioned, and alleging their penance was in honour of their captives.

“The period of penance being over, they bathed and washed, and invited their neighbours and friends to banquets, performing elaborate ceremonies with the bones of their dead [249]slaves. These twenty days until the following month were entirely spent in singing in the buildings called cuicacalli, everyone being always seated, without dancing, and incessantly chanting the praises of their deities. Other rites were performed, an account of which will be given in the chapter dealing with them.”18

Etzalqualiztli.—The third festival to the Tlaloquê generally was the etzalqualiztli. Concerning this feast Sahagun relates:

“On the first day of this month a festival was held in honour of the gods of rain. The priests of these divinities fasted for four days prior to the festival, these days consequently being the last four of the previous month. On the occasion of these celebrations the attendant satellites of the idols repaired to Citlaltepec to pull the rushes which grow very high and very beautifully in a pond called Temilco. From thence they carried them to Mexico, to decorate the temples. No one was to be seen on the road which they traversed; everyone took care to hide in case they should meet them. But if, unfortunately, the priests encountered anyone on the road, they stripped him of everything, leaving him naked as a worm, and should he dare to defend himself, he was maltreated and left for dead upon the highway. Even had he carried the treasure of Moteuhçoma and been robbed of it, it is quite certain that no punishment would have fallen upon them, for, in their capacity as priests of the idols, they were at liberty to do such things and worse without fear of consequences.

“On the day of the festival of etzalqualiztli, everyone prepared cakes or a broth called etzalli, which was considered as a delicacy among them, everybody partaking of them at home, and sharing the repast with visitors. A thousand follies were perpetrated on that day.

“On the occasion of this festival those priests of the idols who had committed faults in the exercise of their functions were terribly punished on the waters of the lake. They were maltreated to the point of being left for dead on the [250]banks of the lake, whither their parents or relatives repaired to take them home almost lifeless.

“Death was also inflicted on a great number of captives and slaves dressed in the trappings of the god Tlaloc, in whose temples they were slain in their honour; the hearts of those unfortunates were then thrown into the gaping hole in the middle of the lake, which was at that time quite visible.19 Many other rites were performed as well.”20

Tepeilhuitl.—The fourth festival to the gods of the water-giving mountains was the tepeilhuitl. Sahagun says of this:

“During this month festivals were held in honour of the high mountains which were the point of departure of the clouds, and which are very numerous in this land of New Spain. To each of these a statue in human form was erected out of a paste called tzoalli, and offerings were made to these idols in honour of these mountains.

“Serpents were also made in their honour out of wood or the roots of trees, which were so carved as to terminate in an adder’s head. Long pieces of wood of the size of a fist were also made, which were called ecatotontin (“little winds”). They were smoothed on the surface with a lump of tzoalli, and were baptized as mountains, being placed upon men’s heads.

“Images were also made in memory of people who had been drowned, or of those who had died such a death as entitled their bodies to be buried instead of being burnt.

“Having placed the statues just described upon the altars with great ceremony, tamalli and many other foods were offered to them; hymns were chanted, and wine drunk in their honour.

“The day of the mountain festival having come round, four women and a man were slain. One of the women was called Tepexoch, the second Matlalque, the third Xochitecatl, the fourth Mayauel; the man bore the name of Milnauatl.21 These women, as well as the man, were decked with paper [251]anointed with ulli gum, and certain females, richly dressed, carried them in litters upon their shoulders to the place where they were to be killed.

“After they were slain and their hearts torn out, they were taken slowly away, being dragged down the temple stairs to the bottom, where their heads were cut off and placed upon wooden pikes, while their bodies were taken to the calpulli22 and there divided for eating. The papers with which the statues were decorated were hung up in the temples, after the statues had been broken up for food.”23

Atemoztli.—On the sixteenth month, atemoztli, the people celebrated the Rain-god’s festival in right good earnest. Says Sahagun24:

“The sixteenth month was called atemoztli, that is to say the rain month, when the thunder and heavy rains began to display themselves. The people said, ‘Now the Tlaloquê come.’

“At this time the priests began to pray earnestly for rain, doing penance the while. Taking their censers of serpent-headed brass, they threw the incense called yiauhtli, they rang little bells attached to the censer, and censed all the statues of the gods and all the quarters of the town. As on another occasion, they made images of the mountains during the time they fasted, and prepared the paper usually used in these ceremonies. During five days when they bathed themselves they permitted no water to fall upon the head or to go above the neck. They also abstained from women. The night which preceded the atemoztli, which they celebrated on the twentieth day of the month, they occupied in cutting the paper, which they gummed with ulli, and which was then called teteuitl. These they attached to long poles, which they planted in the courts of the houses, where they remained during the day of the feast. The paste images they made represented the mountains surrounding the valley of Anahuac. These were placed in the oratory of the house, where they were offered food, and people sat in front of them, serving them in tiny vessels full of food, little pots and [252]vessels of cocoa and food, which were offered four times a night. Nor was an offering of pulque forgotten. They sang all night before these images, and played on the flute. At daybreak the priests asked the people of the house for a tzotzo paztli, or weaver’s bodkin, with which they opened the stomachs of the images. They also beheaded them and drew out their hearts, which they handed to the master of the house in a green porringer. They then stripped them of the paper with which they were decked, which they burned in the court of the house along with the viands offered to the images.”25

Camargo, who had witnessed the festivals to Tlaloc thirty years before writing his book, states that26 when the rain failed and the land was parched with drought, great processions were made in which a number of the hairless edible dogs of the country were carried on decorated litters to a place of sacrifice and there killed and their hearts cut out, after which the bodies were eaten with much festivity. This, of course, related to a period subsequent to the Conquest, when human sacrifice was forbidden. He further states that old Aztec priests had informed him that the hearts of the human beings sacrificed to Tlaloc were first held up to the sun, then to the remaining three cardinal points, after which they were burned. Tlaloc was held in high respect, and priests alone had the right to enter his temple. Whoever dared to blaspheme against him was supposed to die suddenly by a thunderbolt, no matter how clear the sky may have been. The priests, he adds, took good care to retard his festivals until they saw indication of coming rain.


The earliest recorded place of worship of this deity is that spoken of by Clavigero27 in one of the few enlightening passages which he permits himself, as follows: [253]

“The native historians relate, that the Acolhuas having arrived in that country in the time of Xolotl, the first Chichimecan king, found at the top of the mountain of Tlaloc, an image of that god, made of a white and very light stone, in the shape of a man sitting upon a square stone, with a vessel before him, in which was some elastic gum, and a variety of seeds. This was their yearly offering by way of rendering up their thanks, after having had a favourable harvest. That image was reckoned the oldest in the country; for it had been placed upon that hill by the ancient Toltecas and remained till the end of the XVth or beginning of the XVIth century, when Nezahualpilli, King of Acollhuacan, in order to gain the favour of his subjects, carried it away and placed another in its stead, of a very hard, black stone. The new image, however, being defaced by lightning, and the priests declaring it to be a punishment from heaven, the ancient statue was restored, and there continued to be preserved and worshipped, until the promulgation of the gospel, when it was thrown down and broken by order of the first Bishop of Mexico.”

The principal seat of the worship of Tlaloc was the great temple of Uitzilopochtli at Mexico, which is fully described in the section which deals with that god.

Sahagun speaks (Appendix to bk. ii) of a temple within the sacred precinct of Mexico which was especially dedicated to the Tlaloquê. This was the epcoatl (“pearl serpent”), so called, perhaps, from the circumstance that the victims immolated therein were known by the same name. It was in this place that the priests fasted and did penance for forty days before the feast in honour of their gods. The Mexico Calmecac was a school or junior monastery, where those who were destined to become priests of the god received their training. At the acatla yiacapan uei calpulli (“chief flowery hall”) the slaves intended for sacrifice to the god were assembled, and here their bodies were prepared for the horrid banquet which concluded his festival. [254]


The Tlaloc Tlamacasque, the second in rank in the Mexican priesthood, stood at the head of the ministers of the god. The acolnauacatl acolmiztli (“he of the puma shoulder” or “dress”) made all arrangements for the festivals of the god, and kept the vestments worn by the king on these occasions. It is also clear from many passages that the priesthood of Tlaloc composed a large and considerable body.


Sahagun28 gives at great length a most striking prayer to Tlaloc made in time of drought by the priests in hope of rain. It asks for compassion from the Tlaloquê, who, along with their sister, Chalchiuhtlicue, have withdrawn their faces from mankind. It describes the wretchedness of the people, tells how they perish of thirst, and draws a harrowing picture of the sufferings of the children. It requests Tlaloc to assist the god of earth with rain, so that the vegetables and plants may grow and not perish. It also asks that the rain may be of the kind which assists growth, and that it be not accompanied by hail or lightning, the usual manifestation of the wrath of the Tlaloquê. “You who are gods of the water, who dwell at the east, west, north, and south of the world, who inhabit the subterranean places, the air, the mountains and the profound caverns, hasten to the consolation of man.”


There is less doubt concerning the character of Tlaloc than that of any other Mexican deity. The representations of him in the manuscripts, the prayers offered up to him, the myths which seek to explain him, all make it clear that he is the god of the rain-cult par excellence, to whom even Quetzalcoatl, the deified rain-maker, in time becomes merely “a sweeper of the ways.” The etymological derivation of the name has been frequently essayed. Tlaloc, says [255]Seler, is a noun derived from the verb tlaloa, “to hasten,” which in its reflexive sense means “to shoot up,” “to sprout,” so that the name really conveys the sense of “He who makes things sprout,” “He who hastens growth.” He is, indeed, the god of rain, of moisture, who dwells on the mountain peaks, and manifests himself in the lightning and the thunder, both of which are symbolized in the serpentine folds of his countenance and in its darksome hues. His progeny are the Tlaloquê, who dwell on every mountain top, dwarfish servants who pour forth the rain out of the great jars which stand in his courtyard. “When they beat these with the sticks they carry, it thunders, and when it lightens a piece of the jug falls.”29

The name Tlaloc was specially given by the Mexicans to a mountain to the east of Tezcuco, near the pass which led to Huetzotzinco, and here it was that his most ancient idol was found by the immigrant tribes. The mountains Popocatepetl and Teocuinaui were also especially sacred to him. He possessed, as will have been observed, both beneficent and terrible aspects, and was the striker, the slayer, as well as the giver of bounteous food-supplies. That his cult was an ancient one in Mexico is proved by the numerous finds of his images among remains of pre-Aztec date at Teotihuacan, at Teotitlan in the Huaxtec country, at Quiengola in the Zapotec district, and at Quen Santo in Guatemala.

Tlaloc denotes the four quarters from which the rain comes, as his symbolism abundantly shows, and the learned priests of Mexico undoubtedly regarded him as the personification of the tlequiauitl, or fire-rain, the disaster which closed one of the epochs of the prehistoric world. He is further analogous to the Maya Chac and God B.

His chief significance for the ancient Mexicans was as the great god of the rain-cult, the rain itself, and the thunderstorm which brings the rain. In his serpentine form we may, perhaps, see a reminiscence of the mythical beast of dragon or serpentine form known to many mythologies as the “water-provider,” which must be slain by the sun-hero ere the rain-flood [256]is released to assist the growth of the crops. None of the myths relating to him serve to assist such a hypothesis; but certain paintings in the codices appear to relate to some such myth, and page 74 of the Maya Dresden Codex, which relates to the deluge caused by the water-sun, shows a great serpent vomiting water upon the earth, showing that in Central America the rain was supposed to emanate from a monster of this description.30

It is significant that Tlaloc wears Toltec dress, and from this and from his name “Nine Jaguar” we may be justified in concluding that he is in a sense to be regarded, like Quetzalcoatl, as the Toltec priest. Balam, the Maya-Quiche word for jaguar, signifies also “priest,” and that the title was superadded to the serpentine conception of him is shown by the expression “Jaguar-serpent,” by which he is alluded to in the hymn quoted above. The Poyauhtlan was not only his temple, but a district of Tlalocan, where he was supposed to hold sway. This I would translate “Place of the Mugwort,” or “Absinthe,” and it is clear that he, as well as Chalchihuitlicue, his spouse, has some mysterious connection with this plant, which has been shown by Dr. Rendel Harris to have been the especial medicine-plant of the Greek Artemis. It is strange, too, to find both the god and his victims, like the dragon-gods of China, connected with the pearl.

Tlaloc is also god of the four quarters or four “weathers.” The seventh day-sign, mazatl (“deer”), which he takes, is appropriate, as the deer symbolizes the quest for water and vegetation. His association with the dog, the lightning-beast, is also significant. Indeed in Codex Bologna Tlaloc is frequently symbolized by the lightning-flash alone.



  • Area of Worship: Mexico (worshipped at Tlaxcallan as Matlalcuêyê, “She of the Blue Robe”). [257]
  • Minor Names:
    • Acuecueyotl = “Water which makes Waves.”
    • Apoçonallotl = “Foam of the Water.”
    • Ahuic = “Motion of Water.”
    • Aiauh = “Fog.”
    • Atlacamani = “Storm.”
    • Xixiquipilihui = “Rising and Falling of the Waves” (Clavigero).
    • Macuilxochiquetzalli = “Five times Flower-feather” (Boturini).
  • Calendar Places:
    • Ruler of the fifth day (coatl).
    • Ruler of the fifth week (ce acatl).
    • Lord of the sixth night.
  • Compass Direction: West.
  • Festivals: Atlcahualco; ce atl (movable feast).
  • Relationship: Wife of Tlaloc, sister of the Tlaloquê; mother of the Centzon Mimixcoa.
  • Symbol: The chalchihuitl stone.


General.—In Codex Borgia (sheet 14) she is depicted wearing a blue, stepped nose-ornament and a serpent helmet-mask. In the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer is seen a jaguar’s ear behind the serpent’s eye in more than one representation of her helmet-mask. In Codex Borgia she wears a large golden disk (teocuitla-comalli) suspended by a jewelled band. Her robe has a broad hem, in which the colours of the hieroglyph chalchihuitl, green and red, with a white fringe, are reproduced, thus forming a kind of pictograph of her name. The same purpose is served by a large blue disk in the middle of the skirt.31 In Codex Vaticanus B she holds the bone-dagger and agave spike for ceremonial blood-letting. She stands on foaming water, on which floats a burnt-offering of firewood and rubber.

In the Aubin tonalamatl she is pictured as standing in a stream, down which swirl away a jewel-box, an armed man, and a woman.

Variations.—The representations of Chalchihuitlicue in the Codex Borgia group, where she is dressed in the snake-helmet, [258]are substantially different from her appearance in the Aubin tonalamatl, the Codex Borbonicus, and elsewhere.

In the Codex Borbonicus (sheet 5) the insignia of the goddess is heavily spotted, the significance being by no means plain.32 The representation in the Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio) also differs, and in this the goddess is seen holding a rattle and wearing what seems to be an interesting variant of the jewel hieroglyph.



Stone figure from the Christy Collection.

In Codex Borgia (sheet 57) she is represented along with her spouse Tlaloc, the chalchihuitl jewel in the form of a two-handed pitcher separating them. The gods hold chains of jewels representing the four kinds of maize—yellow, blue, red, and green—and a naked human being issues from the pitcher, symbolizing the growth of the maize.33

Other interesting variations in connection with this goddess are those found in Codex Vaticanus B and Codex Borgia (sheet 17), in both of which she is seen suckling a human being. In the former she wears on the head two bunches of quetzal-feathers, usually part of the insignia of Xochiquetzal, and she is only to be recognized by the symbol beside her, a variant of the element chalchihuitl.

Sahagun describes her as follows in the Biblioteca del Palacio MS.: “The face is yellow, with a red pattern superimposed. She wears a collar of green precious stones, and a crown of paper adorned with a quetzal-feather. The tunic and skirt are painted with water lines, and she wears shells. Her sandals represent the foam of water. On her shield is painted the emblem of a water flower, and she carries the “mist rattle-staff.” Statuettes of Chalchihuitlicue are fairly common. One found in the Valley of Mexico agrees to some [259]extent with her appearance in the Aubin tonalamatl, but not with that in Codex Borgia. She wears the tasselled shawl and the chalchihuitl emblem adorns her dress. Two other stone figures of her in the Uhde collection at Berlin and one in the Christy collection at London are eloquent of her insignia. In all of these she wears the tasselled shawl, and in the Christy example and one of the Uhde figures the large back-bow is well exemplified, as are the two plaits of hair descending at the back. In the other Uhde specimen the plates are shown as part of a knot of the cotton headdress, which is in all cases fringed with balls. In all three figures large, full bands of some material descend over the ear. A stone figure of her, found at the Castillo de Teayo in Vera Cruz and now in the National Museum at Mexico, depicts her with a square headdress, from which radiate what are evidently the feathers of aquatic birds. She wears the V-shaped shawl or tippet and a skirt, on each side of which the chalchihuitl emblem is shown and which is fringed with shells. Teobert Maler reproduces another stone figure of her wearing a high headdress of feathers and a necklace and wristlets of chalchihuitls.



(From Codex Bologna, sheet 9.)


The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis states that “Chalchiuhtli, who presided over these thirteen days, saved herself in the deluge. She is a woman who remained after the deluge. Her name signifies the ‘Woman who wears a dress adorned with precious stones.’ They here fasted four days till death. They paint her holding in one hand a spinning-wheel, and in the other a wooden instrument, with which they weave; and in order to show that of the sons which women bring forth some are slaves and others die in war, and others in poverty, they paint her with a stream as if carrying them away, so that whether rich or poor all were finally doomed.” The interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A says that she is the same as the virgin Chimalman, who was the mother of Quetzalcoatl. The myth to which this passage alludes is dealt with in the section relating to [260]Quetzalcoatl. Sahagun (bk. i, c. ii) calls the goddess the sister of the Tlaloquê.


Chalchihuitlicue was adored at the etzalqualiztli festival to the Tlaloquê (see Tlaloc) and at the feast ce atl (“one week”), when, says Sahagun, “her festival was celebrated by all who in any way dealt in water, or had any connection with it, water-sellers, fishers and the like. These dressed and ornamented her image and made adorations in the house named calpulli. The great lords and rich merchants at the birth of one of their children paid the greatest attention to this sign, and the day and hour at which the child was born. They at once inquired of the astrologers what fortune the child might expect to encounter, and if the sign was propitious, they had the infant baptized without delay, whereas if it were the opposite they waited until the nearest day which had a propitious sign. Food and drink were distributed freely to all.”



(From Codex Borgia, sheet 17.)



(From the Sahagun MS.)



(From the Sahagun MS.)


Veytia34 states that King Nauhyotl instituted a college of priests expressly for the service of this goddess. These were celibate and wore long and ample robes of a sombre colour. They went bare-footed in the sanctuary, fasted frequently, and were given to penitence and contemplation. Their high-priest was called Achcauhtli,35 and the entire cult was modelled on that of Quetzalcoatl. This did not prohibit them, however, from the sacrifice of human beings.


Chalchihuitlicue was the female counterpart of Tlaloc, and the goddess of water and moisture. Sahagun (bk. i, c. ii) says of her: “She was supposed to have her existence in the sea, the rivers and lakes, and had power to take the lives of those who ventured upon them, and to raise tempests.” [261]

The name means “She whose raiment consists of green gems,” or “She of the jewelled robe,” and is allegorical of the brilliant surface of flowing rather than stagnant water. She is, says Seler, “an appropriate representative of the sign ‘Snake.’ For the moving, flowing water has everywhere and at all times been likened to the serpent. In cultural centres which are dedicated to the Water-goddess—the Pilon de Azucar, for instance, which has been explored by Hermann Strebel—the ground swarms as well with images of snakes as of frogs.”36

In Codex Borgia she is seen with a bunch of dried herbs above her, evidently indicating that she had a medicinal side to her character. Certain pictures of her—that, for instance, in the Aubin tonalamatl already described—seem to point to her as the goddess of change in human affairs, of speedy ruin, and this conception was, no doubt, brought about by the ever-changing character of the element she symbolized. She is, indeed, the goddess of water in its mutable and kaleidoscopic form.

There is, however, every reason to believe that she had a still more profound significance in Mexican theology, and this is made clear if we examine the prayer to her preserved by Sahagun in which she seems to represent the purifying and cleansing influence of water as an agency to wipe away the original sin with which it was thought man came into the world.

That the goddess had also a lunar significance is plain from the allusion to her as the mother of the Centzon Mimixcoa, or stars of the Northern Hemisphere, and the great importance attached to the prayers offered up to her in connection with child-bearing. As has been hinted, she had also a medicinal aspect. The child sacrificed to her at the etzalqualiztli festival was slain at the hill known as Yauhqueme (“covered with mugwort”), and, as instanced in the case of Tlaloc, this plant is the especial medicine-herb of the Greek Artemis. In Codex Borgia, indeed, she is associated with a herb which may possibly be the mugwort or wormwood, and [262]Seler thinks she is to be regarded as the giver of “healing draughts of physic.”



(See p. 263.)



(See p. 264.)



(See p. 266.)


(From the Sahagun MS.)



  • Area of Worship: Originally the eastern sea-coast.
  • Relationship: Elder sister of the Tlaloquê.


Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—The goddess is painted yellow and wears a crown of paper or cotton, adorned with quetzal-feathers and a golden ear-plug. Her overdress and skirt are painted with wavy lines of water and she wears sandals. Her shield is entirely white and she bears a rush staff in her hand, from which depend strips of cotton or paper.


Tecuilhuitontli.—“The seventh month” (says Sahagun, bk. ii, c. vii) “was designated tecuilhuitontli, the first day of which was dedicated to the goddess of salt, who was styled Uixtociuatl. She was termed the elder sister of the god Tlaloc. A woman was slain in her honour, robed with the same ornaments as were worn by the images of this divinity.

“The night preceding this festival, the women, old, young, and children, gave themselves up to singing and dancing, marching in a ring, linked by cords which they each held by an end, which they called xochimecatl, and which were garlanded with the absinthe flowers of the country, called iztauhyatl. Old men led the songs and dances, while in the midst of the ring stood the poor woman doomed to death, richly dressed in the manner of the image of the goddess. All the women, in company with her who was to die, watched, sang and danced the whole of the night preceding the festival. Day having dawned, all the priests assumed their ornaments, and partook in a solemn dance, all those who assisted carrying in their hands flowers called cempoalxochitl. Dancing all the way, they brought several captives to the temple of Tlaloc, in the midst of whom walked the woman who was to die, [263]dressed as the image of Uixtociuatl. Before she was sacrificed, the captives were first put to death.37

“Several other ceremonies were conducted during this festival and there were frequent scenes of debauchery.”


The interpreter of Codex Telleriano-Remensis states that Yxcuina, as he names the goddess, was the protector of adulterers and “the goddess of salt and of dissolute persons.” He further relates that they put adulterers to death before her image. The interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A adds that she was the wife of Mictlantecutli, lord of the realm of the dead. One of the women given as consorts to the victim sacrificed at the principal feast of Tezcatlipocâ was called after the goddess.

The salt-supply was regarded as an indispensable alimentary feature in Mexico, and the relative importance of the worship of Uixtociuatl can readily be gathered from this circumstance. Her connection with lustfulness had probably a physiological basis, and perhaps owed its existence to the saline odour which emanates from the excretions of the privy parts. There is a distinct resemblance between her name and that of the absinthe plant.



  • Area of Worship: Chinampanecs of Cuitlauac.


The lower parts of his extremities are striped blue, like those of Uitzilopochtli. In the Sahagun MS. (Palacio) he wears the domino mask edged round with small white circles (the “stellar face-painting”) and the mouth and chin are blackened or reddened. The headdress resembles the flag used as Uitzilopochtli’s symbol for the panquetzaliztli festival. [264]He carries the shield of Uitzilopochtli, with the five balls of eagle’s down, one half of the weapon being coloured red, like blood, and in his right hand he holds an instrument which, from comparison with another Sahagun MS. (Bib. Laurenz.) we know to be a rattle. In this picture symbols expressive of singing flow from his mouth.


He was a god of the inhabitants of the floating gardens of Lake Xochimilco, the tribe known as the Chinampanecs, and from the “stellar face-painting” he wore he must at some time have been identified by one of the early hunting tribes with one or other of the stars. His possession of Uitzilopochtli’s shield is perhaps further proof of his stellar association. He may have been one of the Centzonuitznaua (see Uitzilopochtli—“Myths”).



  • Area of Worship: Shores of Lake Texcuco.
  • Relationship: One of the Tlaloquê.


Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—The body-paint is black, but a plaster of salvia chia is worn on the face underneath the eyes. The god wears a paper crown sprinkled with rubber gum, and a tuft of paper at the back of the head, from which quetzal-feathers depend. Two long strips of paper hang from under the crown down the back of the neck, and these are also sprinkled with rubber gum. Across the right shoulder is slung a band of paper, and an underdress of the same material surrounds the hips, and these are also sprinkled with gum. Sandals are worn, and the shield is decorated with the water-rose motif. A rush staff is carried in the hand, from which strips of paper hang, daubed with melted indiarubber.


Sahagun says that Napatecutli “was the god of men who make mats out of aquatic reeds, and was one of the Tlaloquê. [265]He was the inventor of mat-making, and was adored by those who made the low chairs called icpalli, and the hurdles of reeds which are called tolcuextli. He made the reeds to grow and caused the showers that made them spring, and they prayed him for rain and reeds. When they sacrificed a slave to him they dressed him in the god’s garments, placing in his hands a green vase filled with water, with which he besprinkled all with the aid of a branch of willow, as if he were blessing them. Then, in the course of the year, whenever one of this trade wished to feast this divinity, he acquainted the priests with his intention, who chose a priest, dressed him in the attributes of the god, like his image, and conducted him, asperging him on the way, with a branch of willow dipped in water. Arrived at the house, they prayed him to extend his favours to the dwelling, and the feast was celebrated, the ‘god’ eating and drinking with the rest. This was done with the desire to recompense the god, and when they had spent all they had, they said: ‘I care not if I am without means, so long as my god is satisfied with this feast. He may grant me more, he may leave me in misery, so long as his will is accomplished.’ So saying, they covered the representative of the god with a white mantle, who returned with his companions. The householder then feasted privately with his parents. The mat-makers plenished and ornamented the temple of their god with reeds and plants, and anything they placed in the temple was of the best workmanship.”



(Variant of Chalchihuitlicue)

  • Area of Worship: Tlaxcallan.
  • Relationship: Second consort of Tlaloc.


She is recognized by her tasselled head-band and cape, and often by a stepped nose-ornament. [266]


A variant of Chalchihuitlicue. She was believed to preside over a mountain near Tlaxcallan. One of the women sacrificed to Tlaloc at the great festival to the mountain-gods was called after this goddess.



  • Area of Worship: The shores of Lake Texcuco.
  • Relationship: One of the Tlaloquê.


The Sahagun MS. describes the insignia of this god as follows: He is painted black and has a patch or spot made from crushed seeds on his face. His crown is cut out of paper, and from it rise plumes of heron-feathers, mingled with those of the quetzal bird. He has a band made of paper round his shoulders, a loin-cloth and white sandals. His shield bears the solar emblem and he carries a rattle-staff in his hand.


Sahagun (bk. i, ch. 17) says of Opochtli, that he is one of the Tlaloquê. To him was attributed the invention of fishing-nets and of the minacachalli, or three-pronged harpoon, an instrument recalling the classical trident, which was also used for spearing birds. He it was who originally contrived the nets used by the fowler to ensnare the aquatic birds which frequented the banks of Lake Texcuco, and the paddle was likewise his invention. Of all the Tlaloquê he appears to have been the most practical, as well as the most closely identified with human pursuits, and naturally he figured as the patron of the fisher, the fowler, and those generally who plied their occupation on the water of the lake or on its shores. Upon the occasion of his festival they offered him food and octli, the ears of maize, flowers, and burned tobacco before him as an incense, as well as copal and the [267]absinthe herb. They also placed before him toasted maize. The older priests chanted his praises and filed before his idol in procession. As we have seen in the case of Uitzilopochtli, the word opochtli may signify “wizard,” and I believe that the net, which would appear to a primitive people an apparatus of the most ingenious kind, would be regarded by them as the invention of a magician. Opochtli would almost inevitably come to be connected with the Tlaloquê because of the employment of his invention to catch fish and snare the aquatic birds which rested on the shores of Lake Texcuco. [268]

1 See remarks upon the Tlaloc cult in the Introduction. 

2 See my remarks upon Quetzalcoatl in the section which deals with him, and where he is identified with the trade-wind which brings the rain. 

3 Bk. i, c. xxi. 

4 See Appendix, the Tonalamatl and the Solar Calendar. 

5 See digest of the passage in chapter on Cosmogony, p. 49. 

6 See Spence, The Popol Vuh. London, 1908. 

7 Sahagun (bk. x, c. xxviii, § 10) states that Tlalocan was in the Olmec or Mixtec country; but Camargo (Hist. de Tlaxcallan, Nouvelles annales des Voyages, 1843, tom. 99, pp. 135–137) is a better authority on this particular subject. 

8 Wood-mountain. 

9 Place of Might. 

10 Flower-feather. 

11 Place of Darkness. 

12 Beside the stalle (or banner). 

13 Pearl-serpent. 

14 Rows of pearls. 

15 Servant. 

16 Covered with mugwort. 

17 Bk. ii, c. xx. 

18 Bk. ii, c. iii. 

19 The Pantitlan = “Near the Stake.” 

20 Bk. ii, c. vi. 

21 All of the deities known by these names were octli-gods. 

22 Temple precinct. 

23 Bk. i, c. xiii. 

24 Bk. ii, c. xxxv. 

25 Ixtlilxochitl, Relaciones, p. 41, states that girls were sacrificed by the Toltecs to Tlaloc and buried. 

26 Hist. de Tlaxcallan, in Ternaux-Compan’s Nouvelles annales de Voyages, 1843, tom. 99, pp. 133, 135–7. 

27 Vol. i, bk. vi, p. 251 (English translation). See also Torquemada, bk. vi, c. xxiii; Veytia, vol. i, p. 27; Velasquez de Leon, Nevadade Toluca, Bd. Inst. Nac. Geog. Estad. Mex., 1850. 

28 Bk. vi, c. vii. 

29 Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas, c. ii. 

30 Förstemann, Die Maya-Handschrift-zu Dresden, Leipzig, 1880. Second edition, 1892. 

31 Codex Borgia, sheet 14, and Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, sheets 1 and 3. 

32 Unless the costume be spotted like that of her spouse Tlaloc, with ulli rubber-gum, to represent rain. 

33 This picture of Tlaloc and Chalchihuitlicue is reminiscent of the Japanese myth of Susa-no-o and his sister Ama-terasu, the Sun-goddess, who, desirous of progeny, stood one on either side of a “river” (the Milky Way), dipped jewels into the “river,” crushed them into dust and “blew them away”; gods were born from the dust so breathed upon. See Kojiki, translated by Basil Hill Chamberlain, in supplement to vol. x of Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 1882, pp. 47–49. The Mexican picture has probably a similar generative significance. 

34 Hist. Antig. de Mej., tom. i, c. xxviii. 

35 “Chief Eagle.” 

36 Commentary on the Aubin Tonalamatl, p. 56. 

37 The resemblance of this festival to the uei teciulhuitl, the feast of Xilonen, is obvious. (For a fuller description, see Sahagun, bk. ii, c. xxvii.) 






  • Area of Worship:
    • Mexico.
    • Toltec.
  • Minor Names:
    • Tzoncaztli = “The Yellow-haired.”
    • In Xiuhtetzaqualco maquitoc = “He who enters the Blue Stone Pyramid.”
    • Yei itzcuintli = “Three Dog.”
    • Cuezaltzin = “The Flame.”
    • Chicunaui tecutli = “Nine Lord.”
    • Ueueteotl = “The Old God.”
    • Tlatic paque = “Lord of the Earth’s Surface.”
    • Tota = “Our Father.”
    • Tloque Nahuaque = “Lord of the Close Vicinity.”
    • Tlalxictentica = “Dweller in the Navel of the Earth.”
    • Ixcoçauhque = “The Yellow-faced.”
  • Calendar Place:
    • Ruler of the ninth day-count, atl (water).
    • Ruler of the ninth tonalamatl division, ce coatl.
    • Ruler of the twentieth tonalamatl division, ce tochtli.
    • First of the nine lords of the night.
    • First of the thirteen lords of the day.
  • Festivals:
    • Xocohuetzi, in the tenth month.
    • Izcalli, in the eighteenth month.
    • The day ce itzcuintli (“one dog”) (movable feast).
  • Compass Direction: Lord of the Middle and of the four quarters.



Xiuhtecutli (left) and Tlauizcalpantecutli. (From Aubin Tonalamatl, p. 9.)


Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 19: In this place he is represented standing before a temple with a bundle of firewood and a rubber ball in his hand. The temple contains implements [269]of war. He is painted red, with the lower part of the face blackened by melted rubber and a black cross, the foot of which rests on a level with his eye. The fillet round his head is a strap set with jewelled disks. On the necklace is seen a blue bird (cotinga, or humming-bird). That part of his face which is not black, and which in the Codex Borgia is painted a red colour like the rest of the body, is on sheet 89 painted yellow, with slender thread-shaped longitudinal stripes of red. On sheet 57 he is seen as in the ninth day-count—red, and with red and black face-painting and flame-coloured hair, with the cotinga bird flying down on the frontal side of the fillet, and with arrow-shaft feathers in the crown. At the nape of the neck can be seen a short crest of red points enclosing three tufts of red feathers, which, perhaps, originate in the xiuhcoatl, or fire-snake worn in the Mexican MSS. proper by the Fire-god on his back as a disguise (cf. Codex Borbonicus). He has here the scorpion and atltlachinolli “spear-throwing and fire” sign, and is seated on a royal throne, with an abundance of food before him, which probably symbolizes wealth. He also wears a breast-ornament of blue turquoise mosaic with golden bells. He sometimes wears the priest’s tobacco-calabash as a sign of wealth or abundance.

Aubin-Goupil Tonalamatl.—Sheet 20: He holds the copal bag in one hand and in the other two agave-leaf spikes with flowers (blood) at the upper end. Before the face of the Fire-god we see a sea-snail’s shell, which is, perhaps, symbolic of fire shut up or enclosed in the house. Before him, too, is a vessel with offerings or sacrificial balls. Below is an agave spike with the flower-emblem of blood. Beside it are the symbol of midnight, the eye enveloped in darkness, and a tuft of quetzal-feathers—all symbolic of the midnight penance.



(From the Codex Borgia.)

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 14: In this codex the representation of the Fire-god is in many respects similar to that in Vaticanus B. The face and body-paint are red. The jewelled fillet is ornamented with the conventional representation of a cotinga bird in the attitude of flying down such as may be [270]observed in the figures allied with the Fire-god, and which is also seen in reliefs at Chichen-Itzà, Yucatan. In the fillet are placed two arrow-shafts, which represent the two wooden fire-disks—an ornament that is called “arrow-wig” or “spear-wig.” Above this is seen a tiara, which broadens as it rises upwards. Xiuhtecutli wears attached to a long pendant necklace a square plate of blue colour, made of turquoise mosaic. In some places he wields the “shooting implement,” the throwing-stick, or the blue throwing-stick, xiuhatlatl, fashioned in the form of a snake. The scorpion is frequently placed beside the god, symbolizing, perhaps, the stinging character of fire.

Codex Telleriano-Remensis.—He holds in one hand the xiuhatlatl, the throwing-stick painted blue, decked with turquoise mosaic and having a figure on the top, probably intended for a snake. In the other hand he has a staff, which at the upper crutch-like end shows an animal’s head, and the lower a snake’s tail-rattles.

Codex Magliabecchiano.—The Fire-god is here seen in a dancing or fighting attitude. The dragon-mask lies behind the neck, and he wears a yellow and red hat resembling an inverted cone, with a serpent motif in front. The face-paint is yellow for the upper part of the face, the mouth-region red and the lower posterior part black. His tunic is white, with a blue sash or centre-piece, and he wears the yellow breast-ornament. In one hand he carries the atlatl, or spear-thrower, and in the other a white, unpainted shield.

Sahagun MS.—Sahagun, describing Xiuhtecutli under his minor name of Ixcoçauhque (“The Yellow-faced”), says that he is painted red and black, and is smeared with indiarubber on lips and chin. He wears a headband set with precious stones and a paper crown with a plume of quetzal-feathers. He carries on his back his fire-snake dress and round his shoulders is slung a band of bark paper. On his feet he wears bells and shells. His shield is ornamented with precious stones, and in one hand he carries an instrument the use of which is apparently divinatory. [271]


A song given by Sahagun has reference to the Fire-god.

Song of the Yellow-faced

(The Fire-gods)

O, in Tzommolco my father shall I dishonour Thee? (i.e. withhold the sacrifice);

In Tetemocan shall I dishonour Thee?


O my master, in the Temple of Mecatlan the yucca Tree shakes (the kettle-drum made out of wood from the Yucca tree);

In Chicueyocan in the house of the masked, the masked dancers have come.


In Tzommolco they have begun to sing,

In Tzommolco they have begun to sing;

Why do they not come here?

Why do they not come here?


In Tzommolco men shall be given (sacrificed);

The sun has risen,

Men shall be given.


In Tzommolco song now comes to an end.

Without trouble he has become rich;

He has become lord.

His mercy is wonderful.


O, little woman, hold speech (give warning),

Mistress of the mist house, from the door hold speech.

Sahagun says of him1:

“He had other names—Ixcozauhqui, ‘Yellow-face,’ and Cuezaltzin, or ‘Flame.’ They called him also Ueueteotl, or ‘Very Old God,’ and they said that the fire was his father. They celebrated his feast at the end of the month called [272]izcalli, and dressed the idol in his robes and ornaments. He wore the robes of a king.”



(From Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 67.)

In the Sahagun Mexican MS. he is described as “the mother of the gods, the father of the gods, who dwells in the navel of the earth, who enters the Turquoise Pyramid … the Old God, the Fire-god.”2

Sahagun3 also alludes to the god in the prayer of the merchants, which says: “Sit still on thy throne, noble Lord, thou that in the navel of the earth hast thy seat, Lord of the Four Quarters.”

In this prayer he is also frequently addressed as “Lord of the With and the By” (the contiguous neighbourhood), “the Lord of Heaven, the Lord of the Surface of the Earth.”

Sahagun in a prayer to Tezcatlipocâ alludes to Xiuhtecutli as “the ancient god, who is father and mother to thyself, and is god of fire, who stands in the midst of flowers, in the midst of the place bounded by four walls, who is covered with shining feathers that are as wings”4; and in another prayer to Tezcatlipocâ, speaks of Xiuhtecutli as “the ancient god, the father of all the gods, the god of fire, who is in the pond of water among turrets surrounded with stones like roses, who is called Xiuhtecutli, who determines, examines, and settles the business and law-suits of the nation and of the common people, as it were washing them with water.”5

Clavigero says of Xiuhtecutli:

“Xiuhtecutli (master of the year and of the grass) was among these nations the god of fire, to whom they likewise gave the name of Ixcozauhqui, which expresses the colour of fire. This god was greatly revered in the Mexican empire. At their dinner they made an offering to him of the first morsel of their food, and the first draught of their beverage, by throwing both into the fire; and burned incense to him at certain times of the day. In honour of him they held two fixed festivals of the most solemn kind, one in the tenth, and another in the eighteenth month; and one movable feast, at which they created the usual magistrates and renewed [273]the ceremony of the investiture of the fiefs of the kingdom. He had a temple in Mexico, and some other palaces.”


Xocohuetzi.—Sahagun’s account of this festival is substantially as follows6:

A great tree of five and twenty fathoms long was cut down and the branches lopped off except a few at the top. The tree was then dragged by ropes into the city, great precautions being taken against damaging it. The women met the procession, giving those who had helped cocoa to drink. The tree, which was called zocotl, was received into the court of a teocalli with acclamation, and there set up in a hole in the ground and allowed to remain for twenty days. On the eve of the festival they lowered the tree gently to the ground by means of ropes and trestles made of beams lashed together. It was dressed until quite smooth, and where the branches had been left, near the top, a cross-beam of five fathoms long was secured by ropes. On the summit of the pole a statue of the god Xiuhtecutli was set, made out of the dough of wild amaranth seeds, and decorated with white papers. To the head of the image were affixed pieces of paper instead of hair, bands of paper crossed the body from each shoulder, on the arms were pieces of paper like wings painted over with figures of sparrow-hawks, a maxtli of paper covered the loins, and a kind of paper garment covered all. Great strips of paper, half a fathom broad and ten fathoms long, floated from the feet of the image, and into his head were stuck three rods with a tamalli, or small cake, on the top of each. Ten ropes were then attached to the middle of the tree, and the structure was reared into an upright position and there secured with great uproar.

Those who had captives to sacrifice came decorated for dancing, the body painted yellow (the colour of the god), and the face vermilion. They wore the red plumes of the parrot arranged to resemble a butterfly, and carried shields [274]covered with white feathers. Each danced side by side with his captive. These had the body painted white, and the face vermilion, save the cheeks, which were black. They were adorned with papers, and they had white feathers on the head and lip-ornaments of feathers. At set of sun the dancing ceased, the captives were shut up in the calpulli and watched by their owners, not being permitted to sleep. About midnight every owner shaved away part of the hair from the scalp of the head of his captive, which, being fastened with red thread to a little tuft of feathers, he put in a small case of cane and attached to the rafters of the house, that everyone might see that he was a valiant man and had taken a captive. The knife with which this shaving was accomplished was known as the claw of the sparrow-hawk. At daybreak the captives were arranged in order in front of the tzompantli, where the skulls of the sacrificed were spitted in rows. A priest walked along the row of captives, taking from them certain little banners that they carried and all their raiment or adornment, which he burnt in a fire. While they stood naked and waiting for death, another priest, carrying in his arms the image of the god Paynal and his ornaments, ran up with this idol to the top of the teocalli known as Tlacacouhcan, where the victims were to die. He descended, then returned to the summit, and as he went up for the second time, the owners took their slaves by the hair and led them to the place called Apetlac, where they left them. The priests who were to perform the sacrifice then descended from the teocalli bearing bags of a narcotic incense called yauhtli (absinthe, wormwood, or mugwort), which they threw by handfuls into the faces of the victims to mitigate their death-agonies. Each captive was then bound hand and foot and carried up to the top of the teocalli. On the summit a great fire burned. Upon this the priests cast the captives, who, when half-roasted, were dragged out with the aid of grappling-hooks and sacrificed by having their hearts torn out. The statue of Paynal was then carried away to its own temple and all returned home. The young men and boys with the women began at midday to dance and to [275]sing in the courtyard of Xiuhtecutli. Suddenly they made in a body for the place where the tree already described had been raised. At a given signal all might attempt to scale the pole to reach the dough image at the top. The first youth at the top seized the idol of dough, took the shield and the arrows, the darts and the tamalis from the head of the statue, then threw the crumbs with the plumes of the image down into the crowd, who fought and scrambled for them. When the successful youth descended from the pole with the weapons of the god, he was received with acclamations and carried up to the teocalli Tlacacouhcan, to receive jewels and a rich mantle which no one else might wear, and the honour of being carried to his house by the priests, amid the music of horns and shells. Then the people seized the ropes fastened to the tree and dragged it down.

Izcalli.—The following is a digest of Sahagun’s description of this festival7:

Another feast of the god of fire was held in the month yzcalli, the eighteenth month; it was called motlaxquiantota, that is to say, “our father the fire roasts his food.” An image of the god of fire was made, by tying a frame of hoops and sticks together and covering them with his ornaments. On the head of the image was placed a mask of turquoise mosaic, banded across with rows of green chalchihuitls. Upon the mask was put a crown fitting to the head below, wide above, and covered with rich plumage. A wig of reddish hair was attached to this crown so that the locks flowed from below it, behind and around the mask. A robe of feathers covered the front of the image and fell over the ground before the feet. The back of the image was probably left unadorned and was concealed by a throne covered with a jaguar-skin. Before this statue new fire was made at midnight with the fire-stick. The spark obtained was put on the hearth and a fire lit. At break of day boys and youths came with game and fish that they had captured on the previous day. Walking round the fire, they gave it to certain old men that stood there, who, taking it, threw it into the [276]flames before the god, giving the youths in return certain tamalis made for this purpose by the women. To eat these tamalis it was necessary to strip off the maize-leaves in which they had been wrapped and cooked; these leaves were not thrown into the fire, but were all put together and thrown into water. After this all the old men of the quarter in which the fire was drank octli and sang before the image of Xiuhtecutli till night. This was the tenth day of the month, and completed that part of the feast which was called vauquitamal­qualiztli.

On the twentieth and last day of the month was made another statue of the Fire-god, on a frame of sticks and hoops. They placed on the head a mask with a ground of mosaic with small pieces of the shell called tapaztli, composed below the mouth of black stones, banded across the nostrils with black stones of another sort, and the cheeks made of a still different stone called tezcapuchtli. As in the previous case, there was a crown on this mask, and over all and over the body of the image costly and beautiful decorations of feather-work. Before the throne on which this statue sat there was a fire, and the youths offered game to and received cakes from the old men with various ceremonies, the day closing with the drinking of octli by the old people, though not to the point of intoxication.



(From Codex Magliabecchiano.)



(From Codex Borbonicus, sheet 23.)



(From Sahagun MS.)
(See p. 280.)

The festivals of this month were usually without human sacrifices, but every fourth year was an exception to this. In such a year, on the twentieth and last day of the month, men and women were slain as images of the god of fire. The women who had to die carried all their apparel and ornaments on their shoulders, and the men did the same. They were decorated to resemble the god of fire; they ascended the teocalli, walked round the sacrificial stone, and then descended and returned to the place where they were to be kept for the night. Each man had a rope tied round the middle of his body, which was held by his guards. At midnight the hair of the crown of the head of each was shaven off before the fire and kept for a relic, and the head itself was covered with a mixture of resin and hen’s feathers. After this the [277]victims burned their clothing, or gave it away to their keepers, and as the morning broke they were decorated with papers and led to the place of sacrifice with singing and dancing. These festivities went on till midday, when a priest of the temple, arrayed in the ornaments of the god Paynal, came down, passed before the victims, and then went up again. They were led up after him in the order in which they had to die. There was then a grand dance of the nobles, led by the king himself, each dancer wearing a high-crowned paper coronet, a kind of false nose of blue paper, earrings of turquoise mosaic, or of wood wrought with flowers, a blue, flowered jacket, and a mantle. Suspended from the neck of each was the figure of a dog made of paper and painted with flowers. In the right hand was carried a stick shaped like a chopping-knife, the lower half of which was painted red and the upper half white. In the left hand was carried a little paper bag of copal. The dance was begun on the top of the teocalli, and finished by the dancers descending and going four times round the courtyard of the temple, after which all entered the palace with the king. This dance took place only once in four years, and none but the king and his lords could take part in it. On this day the ears of all children born during the three preceding years were pierced with a bone awl, and the children themselves passed near or through the flames of a fire. There was a further ceremony of taking the children by the head and lifting them up, “to make them grow,” and from this the month took its name, yzcalli, meaning “growth.”

Ce itzcuintli.—Of this movable feast Sahagun says8:

“They said that the sign ce itzcuintli was the sign of fire, and on it they made a great feast to Xiuhtecutli, god of fire, to whom they offered copal incense and numbers of quails. They decked his image with paper of different kinds and many rich ornaments. Then the great made high celebration of the event in their houses. It was under this sign that they made election of the king and the consuls, which was celebrated in the fourteenth temple by banquets, dances, [278]and great liberality. It was at those feasts that war upon enemies was proclaimed.”



(From the Sahagun MS.)



(From Codex Telleriano-Remensis, fol. 21, Verso.) (See p. 280.)


Sahagun states9 that the tzommolco was the temple of Xiuhtecutli. At the foot of the steps of this temple was a terrace to which several steps gave access, and upon this certain female slaves were occasionally sacrificed.


The Ixcocauhqui Tzommolco teohua appear to have been the especial priests of Xiuhtecutli.10


Although Xiuhtecutli undoubtedly appeared to the Mexicans as the personification of fire, it was more as that element in its primeval and original form, its chaotic and elemental shape. He is, indeed, the pre-solar fire which existed before the creation of the sun or moon, and just as the gods of water ruled over moisture wherever it was to be found, so was Xiuhtecutli imagined as holding sway over fire, whether it came from the heavens above or the earth beneath. Thus we find him spoken of by Sahagun as dwelling in the navel of the earth, where the volcanic fires have their origin, and as having his place above in what appears to be a species of cloud-castle, for the Mexican word for “embattlement” is derived from that for “cloud.”11 He is also called “He who entereth the blue stone pyramid,” which is, of course, the sky.

He corresponds to the hour before sunrise, which makes it clear that his prehistoric precedence to the sun was insisted upon in the list of the day-hours. The texts dwell upon his antiquity, for he is, indeed, the Old God, the god who existed before the foundations of the world, father and mother of [279]the gods, and in this I think I see a reference to the shaping nature of fire, its moulding or creating influence, as observed in many mythologies. But in most pantheons fire-gods undertake the work of the smith, and this seems to have given rise to the idea of their creative capacity. That particular craft, however, was unknown in Mexico, and I am therefore at a loss to understand this particular phase of Xiuhtecutli, unless it be that as fire was regarded by the Mexicans as a symbol of renewal or rebirth (from the fact that fresh fuel was capable of adding renewed life to a dying fire), and that the idea of creation had no place in their minds except as a renewal of the universe, it may have been that they regarded that element as a vehicle or a symbol of recreation. Out of this conception, too, arose the belief that Xiuhtecutli renewed the year, from which circumstance he takes his title “Lord of the Year.Izcalli, too, the name of one of his festivals, means “growth,” or perhaps “continuance,” and seems to be connected in some manner with this belief.

His rulership of the ninth day and the ninth week, of which the symbol is atl, water, seems directly opposed to all our ideas of his character, but, as Seler points out, the Mexicans thought of water “primarily as a derivative concrete element, which originally means something like ‘the shooting thing,’ derived from the verb a, which was in fact used in the sense of ‘to shoot, to throw the spear.’ ” It is also connected with the symbol tlachinolli, which Seler12 states means “spear-throwing and firebrand,” that is, “war.” In the Codex Borgia group, too, where the Fire-god is pictured as ruler of the ninth day, we find equivalents to this symbol, which undoubtedly connect him with the destruction which follows upon war, and there are also pictorial indications, such as the throne with the jaguar-skin covering, which associate him with the idea of justice, of law-giving, and, again, with that of sustenance.

As Lord of the Middle, of the Centre, too, he is undoubtedly ruler of the domestic hearth, which in the houses of the [280]Mexicans was situated in the middle of the dwelling. He was also thought of as the “Lord of Wealth,” especially that hoarded in the house by careful housekeeping and foresight, and diligent workmanship in the fields.13



  • Area of Worship: Xochimilco.
  • Minor Names:
    • Quaxolotl = “Two-headed.”
    • Chicunaui itzcuintli = “Nine Dog.”
    • Papaloxaual = “Butterfly Painting.”
    • Tlappapalo = “She of the Red Butterfly.”
    • Yei Cuetzpalin = “Three Lizard.”
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the eighteenth tonalamatl division, ce eecatl.
  • Compass Direction: The west.
  • Festival: Chichunaui itzcuintli, the day “nine dog.”
  • Symbol: The eagle’s foot.


Sahagun MS.—The lower half of her face is black, daubed with rubber, and the upper half is red. She has a golden ear-plug. She wears a red garment and her hair is bound up in a fillet of cotton rags. On her back she wears the arrow-like device meiotli. Her overdress is “the colour of spring flowers.” In one hand she holds a feather staff, the paper covering of which is painted with the acute-angled figure which denotes cotton, and in the other she bears the shield with the device of the eagle’s foot. Sahagun says her priest had to keep in readiness for her festival red and black pigments, a robe, white sandals, and small shells.

Codex Borgia.—In this MS. she is represented with a yellow face and a yellow body. She wears a red tippet, white skirt, and a step-shaped nose-ornament, while her head is wrapped round with a red cloth edged with white shell disks, a feather decoration surmounting the cloth. [281]

Codex Vaticanus B.—Here she has a yellow face with two red cross-lines like the narrow black stroke on the face of the Fire-god.

Codex Telleriano-Remensis.—Her face is painted yellow, disposed in a number of fields, each containing a ring in the centre. She has the long tusk of a carnivorous beast. She wears golden pendants in nose and ears, possibly a symbol of the solar pictograph, and on her head she wears the water-and-fire symbol tlachinolli. She wears the maxtlatl of the men, to symbolize her warlike nature, with a death’s-head behind her girdle.

Codex Borbonicus.—The lower half of her face is painted black, and the upper red, like that of Xiuhtecutli. She wears a blue nose-plug, the decoration of the dead warriors. On her head she has the water-and-fire symbol.


The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis regards Chantico as a male god, and states that:

“Chantico or Cuaxolotle presided over these thirteen signs and was lord of Chile, or of the yellow woman. He was the first who offered sacrifice after having eaten a fried fish; the smoke of which ascended to heaven, at which Tonacatecotle became incensed and pronounced a curse against him that he should be turned into a dog, which accordingly happened, and they named him on this account Chantico, which is another name for Miquitlantecotle. From this transgression the destruction of the world ensued. He was called Nine Dogs from the sign on which he was born.”

The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A deals with Chantico in almost the same words:

“Chantico, they say, was the first who offered sacrifice after having eaten a fried fish, and that in consequence of the presumption of offering sacrifices without having fasted, Tonacatecutli became incensed and pronounced a curse against him that he should be changed into a dog, which is an animal of a very voracious nature; and accordingly they named him Nine Dogs.” [282]

This myth should be compared with that of Nata and Nena in the chapter on Cosmogony.


Chicunaui itzcuintli (“Nine Dog”).—Sahagun14 states that the lapidaries of Xochimilco who cut precious stones adored, among others, this goddess and made a feast to her on the above sign. They attributed to her the articles of feminine toilet, and ornamented her with golden earrings and a butterfly nose-plug of the same metal. At her festival four captives represented Chantico, Naualpilli,15 Macuilcalli,16 and Cinteotl, and were dressed in their insignia. Duran (who confounds Chantico with Tlazolteotl) states that at this feast these captives were cast into a fire exactly as at the xocohuetzi festival to Xiuhtecutli (q.v.), and that after the offering the priests mortified themselves by letting the resin from burning copal torches drop on their limbs.


The idol of Chantico was kept in close confinement in the dark Tlillan, and was not visible to the vulgar gaze. Sahagun states that she had a temple in Mexico called Tetlanman, and priests who lived in the Tetlanman Calmecac,17 and that the office of these priests, the tecamma teoua, was the furnishing of paint, feathers, and other necessaries for the feast of the goddess.


Like Xiuhtecutli, the character of Chantico is expressed by a watery sign, that of quiauitl (rain). This, however, is really connected with the old mythic fire-rain at the end of the water-sun age, when fire fell from heaven and “the foam-stones foamed up and the rocks became red.”

The goddess must be regarded as the consuming fire, as [283]is proved by an account of her image by Duran, representing her with open jaws and hungry fangs. It is because of this, too, that she came to be connected with the dog,18 the biting animal, and that her festival is held on the date chicunai itzcuintli, “nine dog.”

She is further the volcanic fire which is hidden in the centre of the earth, and which was symbolically represented by the fire shut up in the tlillan temple or sacred edifice, and this plutonic significance is perhaps the reason why the interpreters speak of her as having the characteristics of Mictlantecutli, the god of Hades; but they speak of her as well as the “Yellow Woman.” Her butterfly names also have reference to the flitting shapes seen in flame.

She is the patroness of chilli pepper, which was naturally associated with the fiery element and was therefore connected with the end of a period of fasting, the Mexicans regarding abstinence from this condiment as equivalent to a fast. The myth which speaks of her as having been punished for eating fish before a sacrifice is also eloquent of this relationship, and also by its reference to her transformation into canine form connects her further with the dog and makes her a patroness of the nanualtin, or wizards, who on the day itzcuintli (“dog”) had especial power to transform themselves into animals.

Her name “In the House” alludes, of course, to her character as a goddess of the domestic hearth. She was also the patroness of the goldsmiths and jewellers of Xochimilco, who of all crafts required the assistance of her element.



  • Relationship: A variant of Chantico.
  • Festival: Ce xochitl, “one flower.”


She is so called because she wears Xolotl’s decoration on her head. The double face of Xochiquetzal in Codex Borgia (sheet 60) is regarded by Seler as that of Quaxolotl—[284]the goddess parting into two heads. She is also the goddess who has borne twins.


Quaxolotl is a variant of Chantico. The name, which signifies “split at the top,” seems to signify the kind of flame which bifurcates or splits into two tongues. She is thus connected with things double, and is the goddess who has borne twins. Sahagun, who calls her Quaxolotl-Chantico,19 thereby identifies her with that goddess, and states that she was housed in the twenty-ninth temple in the great court at Mexico, the Tetlanman, which he distinguishes from that of Chantico proper, the Tetlanman Calmecac, the twenty-seventh. He states that slaves were sacrificed here on the sign ce xochitl, “one flower,” and perhaps this fixes the date of the festival of the goddess. [285]

1 Bk. i, c. xiii. 

2 Bk. vi, c. xvii. 

3 Bk. ix, c. iii. 

4 Bk. vi, c. iv. 

5 Bk. vi, c. ix. 

6 Bk. ii, c. xxix. 

7 Bk. ii, c. xxxvii. 

8 Bk. ii, c. xix. 

9 Bk. ii, Appendix. 

10 See Sahagun, bk. ii, Appendix. 

11 Seler, Commentary on Tonalamatl of the Aubin Goupil Collection, p. 73. 

12 Commentary on the Tonalamatl of the Aubin Collection, p. 71. 

13 See also T. L. Preuss, Die Feuergötter als Ausgangspunkt zum Verständnis der Mexikanischen Religion (“Mittheilungen der Anthropologische Gesellschaft in Wien,” vol. xxxiii, Vienna, 1903, pp. 129–233). 

14 Bk. ix, c. xvii. 

15 “Wizard-prince,” evidently a patron of sorcerers and cunning workmanship. 

16 “Five House.” 

17 Bk. ii, Appendix. 

18 Sahagun states that the dog is the symbol of fire (bk. iv, c. xxii). 

19 Bk. ii, Appendix. 






  • Name: Centzon Totochtin = “Four Hundred Rabbits.”
  • Area of Worship: Mexico generally.
  • Festival: The day ome tochtli (“two rabbit”) in the sign ce mazatl (“one deer”), a movable feast.


The constituent elements of the insignia of the octli-gods may be generally described as follows:

(1) A two-coloured face-painting, the front half of the facial profile (i.e. the middle part of the face) being painted red in its entire length, both sides at the temples black (or dark green), or else black with longish yellow spots.

(2) A nasal plate, handle-shaped, the ends involuted outwardly, or crescent-shaped, the golden Huaxtec nose-ornament, yaca-metztli. It is usually marked on all articles dedicated to the octli-gods.

(3) A four-cornered ear-pendant, which agrees substantially with that of the Rain-god.

(4) A neck-ornament falling far down, loose in texture, made of malinalli grass fibre.

(5) A crown of heron-feathers, such as is worn by the Rain-god, but here combined with the cuecaluitoncatl, Quetzal’s neck-ornament made of dark feathers, with some projecting arara plumes.

(6) A stone axe as a weapon.

The most striking of these objects are the first two. So characteristic are they of the octli-gods, that a juxtaposition of red and black lines on a tilmatli is explained in the Codex [286]Magliabecchiano as “manta de dos conejos,” or shoulder-covering of the Two-rabbit octli-god.1


Sahagun, speaking of the octli-gods,2 says that Tezcatzoncatl3 was the parent or brother of the rest, who were called Yiauhtecatl, Izquitecatl, Acolua, Tlilhua, Patecatli, Toltecatl, Papaztac, Tlaltecayoua, Ome tochtli, Tepuztecatl, Chimapaleuecatl, and Cohuatzincatl.

One of the hymns in Sahagun’s collection alludes as follows to the octli-gods:

In Colhuacan in fear

Fear has his home.

The God in the Palace, Tezcatzonco,

He was dealt with, therefore he wept (the fire wept?).

Not so, not so (shall it be) (saith he)

The God was dealt with, therefore he wept.

The God in the Palace Axalaco,

He was dealt with, therefore he wept.

Not so, not so (shall it be) (saith he)

The God was dealt with, therefore he wept.

I have followed Seler’s translation of this hymn, but, like him, can glean little from it. It seems to me to allude vaguely to the cutting of the agave-plant, and the consequent withdrawal of the sap from which octli is made.

A report on the Huaxtec territory dated 1579 evidently relates to the octli-gods. It states that:

“They related another fable, that they had two other effigies as gods, one called Ometochtli, who is the god of wine; the other Tezcatlipocâ, which is the name of the most exalted idol worshipped by them, and with these they had painted the figure of a woman named Hueytonantzin, that is, ‘our great mother,’ because they said she was the mother [287]of all those gods or demons. And those four above-mentioned male demons, they related, had killed this great mother, founding with her the institution of human sacrifice, and taking her heart out of her breast and presenting it to the sun. Similarly, they related that the idol Tezcatlipocâ had killed the god of wine with his consent and concurrence, giving out that in this way he gave him eternal life, and that if he did not die, all persons drinking wine must die; but that the death of this Ometochtli was only like the sleep of one drunk, that he afterwards recovered and again became fresh and well.”


The principal festival of the octli-gods was ome tochtli (“two rabbit”), and this calendrical name became in a measure deified as a separate god, who was the same as Tepoxtecatl.4 Sahagun says of this festival:

“In the sign ce maçatl, on the second day called ome tochtli, they made a great feast to the god Izquitecatl, who is the second god of wine, and not only to him, but to all the gods of wine, who were very numerous. They ornamented his image in the temple, offered him food, and made songs and played on instruments in his presence. They placed a great jar of octli in the court of the temple, and whoever wished drank from it. The duty of replenishing the jar was given to the men who cut the maguey. They carried to the house of the god the first-fruits of the first sap, which they drew from it.


When a man was intoxicated with the native Mexican drink of octli, a liquor made from the juice of the Agave Americana, he was believed to be under the influence of a god or spirit. The commonest form under which the Drink-god was worshipped was the rabbit, that animal being considered [288]as utterly devoid of sense. This particular divinity was known as Ometochtli. The scale of debauchery which it was desired to reach was indicated by the number of rabbits worshipped, the highest number, four hundred, representing the most extreme degree of intoxication. The chief octli-gods apart from these were Patecatl and Tequech­mecauiani. If the drunkard desired to escape the perils of accidental hanging during intoxication, it was necessary to sacrifice to the latter, but if death by drowning was apprehended, Teatlahuiani, the deity who hurried drunkards to a watery grave, was placated. If the debauchee wished his punishment not to exceed a headache, Quatlapanqui (The Head-splitter) was sacrificed to, or else Papaztac (The Nerveless). Each trade or profession had its own Ometochtli, but for the aristocracy there was one only of these gods, Cohuatzincatl, a name signifying “He who has Grandparents.” Several of these drink-gods had names which connected them with various localities; for example, Tepoxtecatl was the octli-god of Tepoztlan. The calendar day Ometochtli, which means “two rabbit,” because of the symbol which accompanied it, was under the special protection of these gods, and the Mexicans believed that anyone born on that day was almost inevitably doomed to become a drunkard. All the octli-gods were closely associated with the soil and with the Earth-goddess. After the Indians had harvested their maize they drank to intoxication, and invoked one or other of these gods. On the whole it is safe to infer that they were originally deities of local husbandry who imparted virtue to the soil as octli imparted strength and courage to the warrior.

Many of the titles of these deities are derived from place-names, as Acolua, Calhuatzincatl, Chimalpanecatl, etc., and this widespread denomination would seem to show that their worship must have been established at an early period, and that each seems to represent a section of the population of Mexico. Their relation with the moon is plain—a rabbit dwelt therein, and they were rabbit-gods.

They seem to have been connected in a measure with the [289]cult of fire. Vetancurt states that the natives in his day, when they had brewed the new octli, and it was ready to be drunk, first built a fire, walked round it in procession, and threw some of the new liquor into the flames, chanting the while an invocation to Tezcatzoncatl to descend and be present with them.5 Duran says that “the octli was a favourite offering to the gods, and especially to the god of fire.” Sometimes it was placed before a fire in vases, sometimes it was scattered upon the flames with a brush, at other times it was poured out around the fireplace.6 Sahagun also states that the liquor was poured on the hearth at four separate points.7 Jacinto de la Serna describes the same ceremony as current in his day.8 The invocation ran: “Shining Rose, light-giving Rose, receive and rejoice my heart.”

May not this connection with fire have arisen out of some such train of thought as connected the lightning with the sacred oak of Zeus? In his Ascent of Olympus, Dr. Rendel Harris has shown that the oak was regarded as the “animistic repository of the thunder,” and therefore of the heavenly fire. May not the ubiquitous and overshadowing maguey-plant, from which the octli sap was taken, have had a like significance for the Mexicans?

The principal octli-gods may now be examined more particularly.



  • Area of Worship: Chichimec territory.
  • Relationship: Husband of Coatlicue.


A stone figure of this god from Tacubaya shows him in the recumbent position often observed in the statues of the octli-gods, and holding a large octli jar on his stomach. A headdress resembling that of an Arab covers the head, and from underneath it descend the strands of what seems to [290]be a wig. What appears to be a serpent motif, the ends of which are square in form, encircles the eyes almost like a pair of spectacles, and he wears the usual lunar nose-plug of the octli deities. An elaborate necklace, wristlets, and leg-pieces of precious stones are worn, and the underside of the statue is incised to represent the ripples of water and is covered with representations of marine animals and shells.


A passage in a report on the Huaxtec territory, dated 1579, states that Tezcatzoncatl was killed and revived by Tezcatlipocâ, by which act the drunkard’s sleep became harmless in the future for men. The passage runs:

“They related that the idol Tezcatlipocâ had killed the god of wine with his consent and concurrence, giving out that in this way he gave him eternal life, and that if he did not die, all persons drinking wine must die; but that the death of this Ometochtli was only like the sleep of one drunk, that he afterwards recovered and again became fresh and well.”


Allusion is made to Vetancurt’s mention of a special ceremony to Tezcatzoncatl on the preceding page.


Sahagun says9 that a priest called by the same name as the god was charged with the preparations for the festival of tepeilhuitl, in which four victims, one of whom bore the name of Mayauel, an octli-goddess, were slain. (See Tlaloc—Festivals.)


Tezcatzoncatl appears to have been the god of intoxication par excellence, father of the other octli-gods, to whom special invocation was made when the new liquor was brewed. [291]



  • Area of Worship:
    • Chichimec quarter of Amantlan, Mexico.
    • Tepoxtlan in Cuernavaca.
  • Symbol: The copper axe.


In the Codex Magliabecchiano, Tepoxtecatl is pictured as wearing the peculiar nose-plug of the octli-gods, the motif of which reappears on his shield. He is crowned with a panache from which leaves sprout, and lunar and stellar symbols appear here and there in his insignia. He carries the copper axe symbolical of the octli-gods, and wears the malinalli herb necklace.


The best-known temple of Tepoxtecatl is that at Tepoxtlan so fully described by Seler (see Bulletin 28 of U.S. Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 341 ff.), and Professor Marshall H. Saville (Proc. of Amer. Assoc. for the Advancement of Sciences, vol. viii of the Bulletins of the American Museum of Natural History).


Tepoxtecatl was the octli-god of the Chichimec people of the quarter, or barrio, of Amantlan, in the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. His idol was placed beside that of others in the holy place of that quarter, which boasted another octli-god, Macuil tochtli. One of the captives slain in the month tepeilhuitli, at the temple called Centzon totochtin inteopan, was named after him. The interpreter of the Codex Magliabecchiano, speaking of Tepoxtecatl, says: “This is the representative of a great iniquity which was the custom in a village named Tepoxtlan; namely when an Indian died in a state of intoxication the others of this village made a great feast to him, holding in their hands copper axes, which were used to fell wood.” [292]

The question arises: in what manner was the axe connected with the octli-god? The axe is, of course, the implement of the Tlaloquê, or rain-gods, and of the Chac, or rain-gods of Yucatan. Therefore, I take it, the axe of Tepoxtecatl gives him a certain pluvial significance, which the octli-gods as strengtheners of the soil, the deities who gave “courage” to the earth, undoubtedly possessed.



  • Area of Worship: Originally the Huaxtec country.
  • Relationship: Husband of Mayauel.
  • Calendar Place:
    • Lord of the twelfth day, malinalli.
    • Lord of the eleventh “week,” ce ozomatli.




(From Codex Magliabecchiano, 1 fol., sheet 37.)


Codex Borgia.—Sheet 57: He sits opposite Tlazolteotl and wears a crescent-shaped Huaxtec nasal ornament, and on his breast a remarkable comma-shaped curved ornament which is, perhaps, a piece of a large spiral snail’s shell, and which is peculiar to Patecatl and Tlazolteotl. He has the half-black, half-light face of the octli-gods. He wears Quetzalcoatl’s fan-like nape adornment, the fillet of unspun cotton distinctive of Tlazolteotl, and an ear-plug of the same material. He holds a stone hatchet, which is the symbol and weapon of the octli-gods, painted blue to indicate nephrite or some such stone. Sheet 13: He wears a fillet which affects the form of the Mexican royal crown, consisting of white fur with an ape’s head set on the frontal side, evidently a barbaric ornament peculiar to the district whence he came.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 35: Here he wears a wedge-shaped Huaxtec cap, painted blue and red, and a disk-shaped shell on his breast. His earring is formed of a trapeze-and-ray motif, like those on the stone head of Coyolxauhqui. The ends of his loin-cloth are rounded like Quetzalcoatl’s. Sheet 90: He wears a breast-ornament consisting of a black, leaf-shaped, obsidian knife. [293]

Aubin Tonalamatl.—He holds in his left hand some spikes of the agave-leaf, and in his right hand Quetzalcoatl’s throwing-stick, which is involuted snail-fashion at the end and painted with a stellar design. An eagle and jaguar stand before him holding paper flags, these symbols of the warrior signifying the courage-giving nature of octli drink. They are in sacrificial array, with the sacrificial cord round their necks and the sacrificial flag in their claws. The half-night and half-day symbol is above them, signifying the time of the octli orgies.

Codex Magliabecchiano.—Instead of the stone axe he holds in his hand Quetzalcoatl’s throwing-stick, and also wears his shell breastplate.



Patecatl with Octli Emblems. (From Codex Borbonicus, sheet 11.)


The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A says: “Patecatl was the husband of Mayaguil (Mayauel), the woman with four hundred breasts, who was metamorphosed into the maguei plant or vine, and was properly the root which they put into the water or wine which distils from the maguei in order to make it ferment. And the unhappy man to whose industry the art of making wine by causing fermentation by means of this root was due, was afterwards worshipped as a god.”

The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis states that: “Patecatle was the god of these thirteen days, and of a kind of root which they put into wine (the opactli or peyote); since without this root no quantity of wine, no matter how much they drank, would produce intoxication. Patecatle taught them the art of making wine, for wine was made according to his instructions; and as men when under the influence of wine are valiant, so they supposed that those who were born during this period would be courageous. They considered these thirteen days all as fortunate, for Patecatle, the god of wine, the husband of Mayaquel, who was otherwise called Cipaquetona, he who was saved from the deluge, ruled over them. They placed the eagle and the lion near him as a sign that their sons would be valiant men.” [294]


Patecatl was originally a Huaxtec god. Tradition said that the tribal ancestor of this people was the first drunkard. In the Sahagun MS. Patecatl is called “the finder of the stalks and roots of which octli is made,” that is those roots which were added to the octli to enhance its intoxicating or narcotic strength. Motolinia states that those roots were called oc-patli or octli-medicine, and the interpreter of the Codex Magliabecchiano confirms the passage, as do the interpreters of the Codex Vaticanus A and the Codex Telleriano-Remensis.

I fail to find corroboration elsewhere of the interpreter’s statement that Patecatl was “saved from the deluge.” He seems to me to bear a general resemblance to Apollo, as recently explained by Dr. Rendel Harris,10 that is, he seems to have been named in accordance with some conception of him in which he was thought of as coming from a “Land of Medicines” (in his case the Huaxtec country, which was also the Tlillan Tlapallan, the “Land of Writing” or of Civilization). The herbal conception of many Greek and other deities—that is, their actual development from plants, the evolution of the god from the medicinal herb—is now well authenticated, as can be seen from a perusal of Dr. Harris’s remarkable work. Nor is the proven development of many deities from mineral substances any less remarkable.



  • Minor Names:
    • Ce Quauhtli = “One Eagle.”
    • Cipactonal = “Cipactli Sun.”
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the eighth day, tochtli; of the eighth week, ce malinalli.
  • Symbols: The agave-plant; the octli jug or vase.
  • Compass Direction: The lower region, or south.
  • Relationship: One of the octli-gods and the Tzitzimimê; wife of Patecatl.



Codex Borgia.—Sheet 12: She is painted yellow, the women’s colour, and is seen issuing from an agave-plant. In sheet 16 she has the general aspect of Tlazolteotl, and her hair is bound up with a band of unspun cotton, a plug of which also hangs from her ear. About the mouth she is painted with black rubber, and as a nasal ornament wears the golden crescent. Her face is white, and her tippet and skirt are painted in the semblance of water and both garments have a fringe of snail-shells. She suckles a fish. Sheet 68: In this place she is represented as ruler of the eighth week. She has a two-coloured face-painting, the upper half yellow, and the lower green or blue. The octli colour is represented in her garments, which are white. In the pictures of the Borgia group generally she is shown wearing the blue indented nose-plate which is assigned to Xochiquetzal. In Codex Borgia generally she wears as a back-device a quemitl after the style of Tlaloc, but coloured white and blue or green. On her flame-coloured locks she sometimes wears a jewelled chain with a conventional bird’s head decorating the front of it, while the feather-tuft on her head resembles that worn by the Sun-god in Codex Borgia (sheet 15), and is intended to symbolize the fiery nature of the octli liquor.

Aubin Tonalamatl.—Sheet 8: She is painted the colour of the Maize-goddess and her maidens—red. As a headdress she wears a bandage with a neck-loop formed and coloured like that of the goddess Chalchihuitlicue, and connected with a high crown. She bears a copal incense bag.

Codex Vaticanus A.—She is shown with the upper half of her face yellow and the lower blue, thus depicting the typical two-coloured face-painting of the octli-gods. On her head she wears the characteristic octli-god’s headdress, also worn by Tlaloc, and holds a drinking-vessel brimming with octli.

Codex Borbonicus.—Her face is blue with a few oblique lines after the style of the warrior’s face-paint. She wears as a headdress a bandage of unspun cotton (usually the characteristic of Tlazolteotl), spindles in her hair, a quail’s wing and long plumes of a yellow colour. In her hand she [296]bears a bunch of octli-wort, a root which, if added to the agave liquor, makes its powers of intoxication more potent.

Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheets 31 and 89: She is represented wearing the headdress typical of Tlaloc and of the octli-gods—a bandage coloured white and blue, with knots to the right and left, which leaves these tips or tippets sticking out. Two large white and blue rosettes with similarly coloured tassels depend by strings from the right and left of this bandage.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 28: Clothed in a yellow-striped tippet like that of Chalchihuitlicue, with a border painted in the colours of the jewel, she lies in her agave-plant. She is crowned with a wreath of flowers and wears a blue skirt.

Codex Laud.—Sheet 9: The agave-plant rises from a turtle resting upon a dragon. Adjacent to this lie a copper hatchet and a throwing-weapon, while in her hand she holds an octli bowl ornamented with gems and flowers.

Secondary Aspects.—She is very often suggested by the octli jug, which in the Borgia group is represented as a big two-handed vessel standing on serpentine coils, while to it are attached votive papers of the type frequently offered to the Tlaloquê, and bannerets are placed on the sides, on which the V-shaped point is depicted. The night-and-day symbol surmounts the whole. Though she is spoken of as having many breasts, the goddess is very rarely depicted in this manner.


The interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A says of her:

“They feign that Mayaguil was a woman with four hundred breasts, and that the gods on account of her fruitfulness changed her into the maguei, from which they make wine.”

He also speaks of her as the mother of Cinteotl, remarking that all the gods had their origin from the vine which bears the grape (the maguey-plant).

The third interpreter of Codex Telleriano-Remensis calls [297]her “Mayaquel, who was otherwise called Cipaquetona” (Cipactonal), and wife of Patecatl.


Mayauel, as her name implies, is primarily a deity of the maguey-plant. But evidence is not wanting that she also partakes of the nature of the Earth-goddess, as her occasional appearance in the insignia of Tlazolteotl and her wearing of the colours of the Maize-goddess would seem to show. As the wife of Patecatl, the god “from the land of medicines,” she bears the ropes which symbolize the octli-wort, the plant which gave a narcotic quality to the octli drink, and which was thought of as strangling or choking the drunkard. Her bounteousness of fertility was symbolized by the possession of four hundred breasts, and in this she resembles the old mother-goddess of Asia Minor. She has also affinities with Xochiquetzal and Cipactonal.



  • Relationship: One of the octli-gods.


Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—The deity wears a paper crown surmounted by a panache of heron-feathers and a nose-plug like that worn by the other octli-gods. His wig or hair falls over his shoulders. The upper part of his body is nude, but he wears a red-bordered cloth round the head. His shield is a peculiar one, and Sahagun calls it a “shield of the boat.” In shape it is almost like a modern door, and from it depends what seem to be paper strips. He wears bands of some textile material, which are tied behind with knots round the leg, and he is shod with sandals. In his hand he carries the obsidian axe typical of the octli-gods. He seems to have been a drink-god of the Toltecs.



  • Area: Mexico.
  • Compass Direction: West. [298]
  • Symbol: Five tochtli sign.
  • Relationship: One of the Uitznaua.
Mayauel. (From Codex Borgia, sheet 16.)

Mayauel. (From Codex Borgia, sheet 16.)

Macuiltochtli. (From Sahagun MS.)

Macuiltochtli. (From Sahagun MS.)

(See p. 297.)

Totochtin (From Sahagun MS.)

Totochtin (From Sahagun MS.)

(See p. 298.)



General.—In both Codex Vaticanus B and Codex Borgia he is painted a yellow colour, but in Borgia very deep yellow, almost brown, to distinguish the rectangularly bordered yellow field which is seen in the neighbourhood of the eye, and is characteristic of all the gods of the “Macuil” series. In Codex Vaticanus B this process is reversed, the yellow field being painted a darker, greyer shade. In this MS., too, the god resembles Macuil Cozcaquauhtli, but has a bundle of stone knives before his mouth, and he wears at the frontal side of the head-fillet a flower, from which stone knives project. On his breast is seen the eye, the original form of Tezcatlipocâ’s white ring, and on his upper arm he has a large armlet, painted a blue colour.

Sahagun MS.—The Sahagun MS. describes him as having the hand motif in the region of the mouth. On the head is a feather helmet surmounted by a comb of feathers, and he wears a necklet of animal claws. A red-bordered cloth is twisted round the hips. The sandals are white. The shield, which is described as a “sun-shield,” is red, and has claw ornaments. The god carries an obsidian axe, and a staff with a heart inset and painted with quetzal-feathers.


From his possession of the hand-symbol in the region of the mouth, Macuiltochtli, the “Five Rabbit,” seems to me to be in some measure equated with the gods Macuilxochitl and Xolotl, and thus partakes with them of the quality of a deity of pleasure and conviviality.




Sahagun MS.—The face is painted in two different colours, and the head is surmounted by a crown of feathers. The god [299]wears the half-moon nose-plug of the octli-gods, and an ear-plug made of paper. On his back he wears the wing of the red guacamayo, and he has a feather collar. A net cloth decorated with the figures of scorpions is hung round his hips. On his feet he wears bells and shells, and the sandals peculiar to the octli-gods. The shield common to the octli-gods hangs on his arm, and he carries in his hand the obsidian or copper axe with which they are usually represented.


Sahagun (bk. i, c. xii) alludes to Totochtin as “the god of wine.” He seems to me to be a personification of the Centzon Totochtin (four hundred or “innumerable” octli-gods), a figure in which the entire body of drink-gods seem to have become merged in the Aztec mind.



(From Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 90.)



(From Sahagun MS.)



(From Sahagun MS.)





Sahagun MS.—The god is painted black and on his face is a plaster of salvia chia. He wears a crown of paper and another of heron-feathers, variegated with plumes of the quetzal. Around his shoulders is cast a band of paper, and his loin-cloth is of the same material. On his feet he wears shells and white sandals. His shield is decorated with a water-rose, and in his hand he bears a rush-staff.


This god was connected with the flowering of the maize, on which occasion, during the month tepeilhuitl, octli was drunk and his festival celebrated. (See Sahagun, Appendix to bk. ii.) [300]

1 The locus classicus for representations of the octli-gods is the Codex Magliabecchiano, which presents a most valuable series of them, pp. 49–59. 

2 Bk. i, c. xxii. 

3 “Mirror covered with Straw.” 

4 See Seler, “Temple-pyramid of Tepoxtlan,” Bulletin 28, U.S. Bureau of Ethnology, p. 349. 

5 Teatro Mexicana, tom. i. 

6 Hist. de los Indios, tom. ii, p. 240. 

7 Bk. i, c. xiii. 

8 Manuel de los Ministros, p. 35. 

9 Bk. i, Appendix. 

10 In The Ascent of Olympus






  • Area of Worship: Plateau of Anahuac.
  • Minor Names:
    • Piltzintecutli = “Young Prince.”
    • Totec = “Our Chief.”
    • Xipilli = “The Turquoise Prince.”
  • Calendar Place:
    • Third of the nine lords of the night.
    • Ruler of the nineteenth day-count, quiauitl.
    • Ruler of the day-sign ce xochitl.
  • Compass Direction: Upper region; the heavens; lord of the east.
  • Symbol: The sun-disk, which he usually wears as a back-ornament.
  • Festivals: The fourth day, nauollin, in the sign ce ocelotl (movable feast).
(From Codex Borgia, sheet 70.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 70.)

(From Codex Borbonicus, sheet 10.)

(From Codex Borbonicus, sheet 10.)



Codex Borgia.—Sheet 9: His nose-plug has the colours of the chalchihuitl. The ornament attached to the nape and back is a large rosette or disk painted in the chalchihuitl colours, as is the wrap which falls over the back. The ends of the loin-cloth also show the elements of this hieroglyph, and such a loin-cloth painting was usually indicative of the rank of the wearer in ancient Mexico. On his breast is a large gold disk. From his hollow ear-plug depends a jewelled band, and his collar consists of a solar disk (?). Sheet 70: in this picture he is seated on a platform covered with a jaguar-skin. His face-paint and body-paint are yellow, with a rectangular stripe from the end of the nose-plug and above the eye across the forehead. His hair or wig is yellow, and is held by a jewelled band ornamented with a bird’s head. His [301]headdress is further equipped with eagle’s feathers, and three tasselled cords edged with cotton hang from it. On his breast lies the solar disk. The head of a grey parrot protrudes from his back, and on the face is a small red disk. Sheet 14: Here he is depicted as a red Tezcatlipocâ with the face-paint of the Sun-god, but is without the small red disk on the face, having instead the small, four-cornered white-and-red patch characteristic of the Maize-god, of Xochipilli and Tonacatecutli.

Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 20: Here he is painted with flame-coloured hair, bound by a fillet, on the front of which is the usual bird’s-head ornament. His panache consists chiefly of two eagle’s feathers, from which hang two long bands, one side of which is hairy as if formed of skin, and this may be taken as a characteristic sign of him in the MSS. of the Codex Borgia group. His nose-plug has a plate depending from it, which falls over the mouth, as in some representations of Tezcatlipocâ, and on his breast he wears an ornament which recalls that worn by the Fire-god in this codex. In this MS., as in Codex Borgia, he is represented as standing before a temple, with a burnt-offering of wood and rubber in his hand, and here the temple is painted in the chalchihuitl colour-elements, and its roof covered by jewelled disks. Sheet 94: In this picture he is shown as wearing a long, flame-like beard, which strongly resembles that worn by Quetzalcoatl and Tonacatecutli in some MSS., save that it is the colour of fire.

Aubin-Goupil Tonalamatl.—Sheet 10: In this manuscript the upper portion of the face is light red, and the lower a darker red. The outer corner of the eye is encircled by three red lines, which are rounded. He wears a jewelled fillet, feathered crown, collar, breast-ornament, butterfly’s wing neck-ornament, the net-pouch of the hunting tribes, and the sword-fish pattern sword.



Codex Telleriano-Remensis.—The face is yellow with no lines. He wears the fillet with turquoise jewels, and a wheel-shaped ornament at the nape of the neck, probably symbolic of the solar disk. Elsewhere in this MS. he is red, wears the [302]solar disk on his back, and holds the cotinga bird in one hand and a shield and a bundle of spears in the other.

Codex Borbonicus.—The face is half yellow, half red, and is surmounted by a flame-coloured wig bound by the jewelled fillet with its usual ornament. Elsewhere in this codex he represents the sun by night, with the body and upper part of the face dark, no nasal rod, but a crescent like that of the Earth-goddess and the octli-gods. The sea-snail’s shell is above him, and the symbol of the eye in a dark patch.

General.—As second member of the third row in Codex Borgia, Vaticanus B, and Fejérváry-Mayer, he is recognized by his red body and face-painting, and flame-coloured hair bound up by a jewelled chain or strap, with the conventional bird figure on the frontal side.


Several lively paintings decorate the friezes executed on the walls of the palaces at Mitla, where the insignia of the god are given in the manner familiar throughout Mexico. The fillet with the bird’s-head frontal ornament, the peculiar disposition of the panache, and the necklace typical of the deity are all reproduced, and here serve to prove the widespread character of his worship.


The myths dealing with the origin of the sun and the several epochs in which he reappeared under different forms have already been given in the chapter on Cosmogony, and in the précis of the opening chapters of the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas. The myths relating to his paradise have also been dealt with in that chapter.

The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A says:

“It was Tonatiuh they affirm who conducted to heaven the souls of those alone who died in war; and on this account they paint him with these arms in his hands. He sits as a conqueror, exactly opposite to the other who is near him, who is god of hell. They allege that the cause of winter being [303]so disagreeable is the absence of the sun, and that summer is delightful on account of its presence; and that the return of the sun from our zenith is nothing more than the approach of their god to confer his favours on them.”


Nauollin.—One of the feasts of the Sun-god was held at the ceremony known as nauollin (the “four motions,” alluding to the quivering appearance of the sun’s rays) in the Quauh­quauhtinchan (House of the Eagles), an armoury set apart for the military order of that name. The warriors gathered in this hall for the purpose of dispatching a messenger to their lord the sun. High up on the wall of the principal court was a great symbolic representation of the orb, painted upon a brightly coloured cotton hanging. Before this copal and other fragrant gums and spices were burned four times a day. The victim, a war-captive, was placed at the foot of a long staircase leading up to the stone on which he was to be sacrificed. He was clothed in red striped with white and wore white plumes in his hair—colours symbolical of the sun—while he bore a staff decorated with feathers and a shield covered with tufts of cotton. He also carried a bundle of eagle’s feathers and some paint on his shoulders, to enable the sun, to whom he was the emissary, to paint his face. He was then addressed by the officiating priest in the following terms: “Sir, we pray you go to our god the sun, and greet him on our behalf; tell him that his sons and warriors and chiefs and those who remain here beg of him to remember them and to favour them from that place where he is, and to receive this small offering which we send him. Give him the staff to help him on his journey, and this shield for his defence, and all the rest that you have in this bundle.” The victim, having undertaken to carry the message to the Sun-god, was then dispatched upon his long journey.

Ome acatl or Toxiuhilpilia.—This great solar festival was celebrated once in fifty-two years only, and signified the “binding of the years,” the end of the solar cycle, when, it was believed, the “old” sun died and a new luminary [304]would take its place, or the world would be plunged into darkness. Says Clavigero:



(From a wall-painting at Mitla.)

Mexican idea of the moon.

Mexican idea of the moon.

Metztli, the Moon-god.

Metztli, the Moon-god.

(From the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, sheet 24.)


“The festival, which was celebrated every fifty-two years, was by far the most splendid and most solemn, not only among the Mexicans, but likewise among all the nations of that empire, or who were neighbouring to it. On the last night of their century, they extinguished the fire of all the temples and houses, and broke their vessels, earthen pots, and other kitchen utensils, preparing themselves in this manner for the end of the world which at the termination of each century [sic] they expected with terror. The priests, clothed in various dresses and ensigns of their gods and accompanied by a vast crowd of people, issued from the temples out of the city, directing their way towards the mountain Huixachtla, near to the city of Itztapalapan, upwards of six miles distant from the capital. They regulated their journey in some measure by observation of the stars, in order that they might arrive at the mountain a little before midnight, on the top of which the new fire was to be kindled. In the meantime the people remained in the utmost suspense and solicitude, hoping on the one hand to find from the new fire a new century granted to mankind, and fearing on the other hand the total destruction of mankind if the fire by divine interference should not be permitted to kindle. Husbands covered the faces of their pregnant wives with the leaves of the aloe, and shut them up in granaries; because they were afraid that they would be converted into wild beasts and would devour them. They also covered the faces of children in that way, and did not allow them to sleep, to prevent their being transformed into mice. All those who did not go out with the priests mounted upon terraces, to observe from thence the event of the ceremony. The office of kindling the fire on this occasion belonged exclusively to a priest of Copolco, one of the districts of the city. The instruments for this purpose were, as we have already mentioned, two pieces of wood, and the place on which the fire was produced from them was the breast of some brave prisoner whom they sacrificed. As soon as the fire was [305]kindled they all at once exclaimed with joy; and a great fire was made on the mountain that it might be seen from afar, in which they afterwards burned the victim whom they had sacrificed. Immediately they took up portions of the sacred fire and strove with each other who should carry it most speedily to their houses. The priests carried it to the greater temple of Mexico, from whence all the inhabitants of that capital were supplied with it. During the thirteen days which followed the renewal of the fire, which were the intercalary days, interposed between the past and ensuing century to adjust the year with the course of the sun, they employed themselves in repairing and whitening the public and private buildings, and in furnishing themselves with new dresses and domestic utensils, in order that everything might be new, or at least appear to be so, upon the commencement of the new century. On the first day of that year and of that century, which, as we have already mentioned, corresponded to the 26th of February, for no person was it lawful to taste water before midday. At that hour the sacrifices began, the number of which was suited to the grandeur of the festival. Every place resounded with the voice of gladness and mutual congratulations on account of the new century which heaven had granted to them. The illuminations made during the first nights were extremely magnificent; their ornaments of dress, entertainments, dances, and public games were superiorly solemn.”1


In my view the sun-god Piltzintecutli is merely a personification of Tonatiuh, the sun. As has already been said, solar worship in Mexico seems to have been developed at a comparatively late period. In the myths regarding the origin of the sun given by Olmos and Sahagun, it is clear that he is regarded more as a luminary than as a god. The name Tonatiuh, indeed, means nothing more than “sun,” and although one of the sacrificed gods was believed to have [306]given him life, and he afterwards acts as a living being, he does not seem to possess the same qualities of personality as his later form, Piltzintecutli. The expression “Tonatiuh” seems to have been regarded as a divine place-name, a paradise to which those warriors fared who died in battle.

Tonatiuh was known as the Teotl, that is as the god par excellence, but this does not by any means imply that the Mexicans regarded him as the highest form of deity known to them. I think it rather means that the priests, having arrived at the conclusion that the tonalamatl and the calendar hinged, so to speak, upon the solar periods, came very naturally to regard the sun as the centre or hub of the intricate system which they had built up through generations. The very name Teotl, too, shows that, in later times at least, the sun was regarded as a deity, perhaps because he occupied the vault of the sky “where the gods live.

But above and beyond this we have to regard Mexican sun-worship from an entirely different point of view. There is abundant evidence that the hunting tribes of the northern steppes, the Chichimec immigrants, possessed a primitive sun-worship of their own. It may be, indeed, that it was from this that the worship of Tonatiuh sprang, and not from the consideration of calendric science; but the criteria we possess regarding this part of the question is at present much too scanty to permit of more precise statement. But if we know that sun-worship obtained among the nomadic tribes of northern Mexico, we are somewhat ignorant of the precise form it took. One thing, however, seems certain, and that is that it was founded on the belief that the sun existed on the blood of animals, preferably deer, and that when these were scarce, on the blood of human beings. If blood-offerings to the sun were to cease, it was thought that the luminary would grow weak, fail, and become extinguished, or else would visit his wrath upon humanity in some such manner as we read of in those myths which recount the recurrent catastrophes of fire, wind, deluge, and earthquakes which the wrathful luminary brought upon mankind. I [307]would, therefore, date the introduction of the solar worship proper into Mexico, and consequently that of human sacrifice, from the period of entry of those northern Chichimec peoples, who, entering the Valley of Mexico at an epoch shortly after the disintegration of the Toltec civilization, adopted an agricultural existence, and finding the supply of wild animals insufficient to meet the requirements of sacrifice, instituted the occasional immolation of human beings. This custom seems, indeed, to have already obtained in the case of the ritual of some of the native gods, for example, Tlaloc and the Earth-mother, and it may be, indeed, that the northern nomads drew the inspiration which prompted them to this evil practice from their more civilized neighbours. But it is even more probable that, as the various Mexican peoples were for the most part of cognate origin and contiguous civilization, the practice of human sacrifice had been common to all of them in a more or less modified form for some generations, and only received an impetus after the Chichimec immigration. Against this view may be quoted the myth which refers the introduction of human sacrifice to a group of Huaxtec earth-goddesses, Tlazolteotl and her sisters. But it seems to me that this Maya people were by no means so prone to the custom, and that in this instance Tlazolteotl has been confounded with some of her Mexican forms. The process by which blood was thought of as being transformed into rain has already been fully described, and it but remains here to indicate that Tonatiuh is, in places, closely identified with the sign atl, water, and is indeed one of the four rulers of the week beginning with the day “one rain,” probably because of the early belief that on one occasion the sun “drank up” all the water on earth and later disgorged it in floods.

For the reason that he was regarded as existing on blood, the sun was thought of as the great patron of warriors, and has an intimate connection with both Uitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipocâ. But if we seek for evidence which would seem to exalt him above the greater gods in Mexico, and place him in a central and pre-eminent position in the pantheon, [308]we will be disappointed.2 At the same time we must recollect that the two deities just mentioned, and even Quetzalcoatl in a measure, possessed a solar connection, and in the offering of the hearts of all victims to his glowing face we may probably see a survival or a reminiscence from a period when he was perhaps the central figure in the pantheon of the Chichimec nomads.

There is also plenty of evidence that the sun must be classed with Xiuhtecutli and the other gods of fire, as is shown by the great fire festival which took place every fifty-two years. But the lack of data regarding the sun as a personalized deity rather than a divine luminary places us at a disadvantage in attempting to assess his precise nature and status in the Mexican pantheon, and considerable research is required before this can be essayed with any degree of confidence.



  • Symbol: Bone-surrounded disk set in the night-sky, containing a rabbit.
  • Calendar Place:
    • Ruler of the sixth day-count, miquiztli.
    • Ruler of the sixth tonalamatl division, ce miquiztli.
    • Ruler of the fifth night-hour.
  • Compass Direction: South.


Codex Borgia.—In this codex he is shown as a female, old, with the gobber tooth or lip contraction indicative of extreme age. He is painted yellow, the colour of women. The white of the clothing expresses the relatively dull hue of the luminary when compared with the sun.

Codex Vaticanus B.—Here he is old and white-haired, and is pictured as a priest with the marine snail’s shell on his brow. The body-colour is blue, as is the face, on sheet 30, but on sheet 88, half-blue, half-red, as in the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer [309]picture of Mixcoatl. On sheet 30 he is figured with a long beard and wears Xochipilli’s ornaments.

Aubin Tonalamatl.—In this place he is represented by Tezcatlipocâ.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 24: Here he is pictured as an old god with a long beard. The body-colour is blue, and the face half-blue, half-red, like that of Xolotl in the same MS. He wears the sea-snail shell on his fillet.


The principal myths relating to the origin of the Moon-god have already been given in the chapter on Cosmogony.

The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A states that:

“They believed that the moon presided over human generation, and accordingly they always put it by the side of the sun. They placed on its head a sea-snail, to denote that in the same way as this marine animal creeps from its integument or shell, so man comes from his mother’s womb.”

The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis says:

“Meztli was otherwise named Tectziztecatl; because in the same way that a snail creeps from its shell, so man proceeds from his mother’s womb. They placed the moon opposite to the sun, because its course continually crosses his; and they believed it to be the cause of human generation.”


Tecciztecatl is “the Man in the Moon,” the spirit who dwells in or animates the luminary of night. He is frequently depicted as an old man or priest, with staff in hand, and is the wizard, or naualli, who lurks within the moon-cave, or house, for so the moon seems to have appeared to the Mexicans. It seems also to have been regarded or symbolized as a snail-shell, and it is probable that the curved shape of it in its earliest phase, no less than its gradual growth, brought about this conception. This in turn created the train of thought which resulted in its being regarded as the symbol of conception and birth—its growth and gradual rotundity, as [310]well as its symbolic connection with the snail assisting the idea. As the wizard of night concealed within his cavern, Tecciztecatl was identified with Tezcatlipocâ, the sorcerer par excellence, the magician who held sway over the dreaded hours of darkness. The moon had also a connection with Chalchihuitlicue and the octli-gods, which is dealt with in the sections relating to those deities.



  • Area of Worship: Chichimec country; Mexico-Tenochtitlan; Tlaxcallan.
  • Minor Names:
    • Iztac Mixcoatl.
    • Camaxtli.
  • Relationship: One of the Tzitzimimê; father of Uitzilopochtli; husband of Itzcuêyê.
  • Festival: Quecholli, the fourteenth month.
  • Compass Direction: North.
(From Codex Borgia, sheet 25.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 25.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, 3 folio, sheet 42.)

(From Codex Magliabecchiano, 3 folio, sheet 42.)



Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 25: In this manuscript Mixcoatl’s almost nude body is striped with white, as in the case of some of the stellar deities, and he has the half-mask stellar face-painting about the eye. His hair curls up above the brow, is covered with downy white feathers, and he wears a forked heron-feather tuft on the head. On sheet 37 his effigy is accompanied by the symbolical weapons of war.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 50; right-hand corner, lower portion: The representation in this place is almost identical with that in Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 25. On sheet 15 the god has the implements of war and a small hand-flag, and wears a blue metal breast-plate set in gold, from which depends a chalchihuitl jewel.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 41: Mixcoatl is here depicted with body-colour half-blue, half-red, the black domino-stellar painting about the eye, his hair puffed up above the brow and surmounted by the warrior’s adornment. The body-painting in this place is merely a variant [311]of the striped colour, perhaps indicating the twilight. As god of the hunting tribes, he is naked like the hunter, and has an ear-plug made from a deer’s foot. He is armed with a throwing-stick (atlatl).

(From a wall-painting at Mitla, Palace I.)

(From a wall-painting at Mitla, Palace I.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 80.)

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 80.)

(From Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 70.)

(From Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 70.)

Iztac Mixcoatl. (From Codex Borgia.)

Iztac Mixcoatl. (From Codex Borgia.)



On the west side of the court of Palace I at Mitla are certain fragments, some of which undoubtedly represent Mixcoatl in his different phases. In the first of these he is represented as wearing a white wig surmounted by tufts of down in which arrows are stuck. On his face he has the familiar “domino-painting,” he is bearded, and his nose-plug is of a peculiar character, somewhat unfamiliar and expressing a serpentine motif. He wears a collar with sharp stellar edges. The fifth figure to the right from this once more represents him in the same guise, only that in his left hand he holds the atlatl, or spear-thrower. His peculiarly stellar character has not been lost upon the artist who executed these paintings, as the stellar eye-motif decorates the top of the frieze on which they appear. Not far away is seen the deer usually associated with him.


An interesting stone figure of Mixcoatl was discovered in the ruins of the Castillo de Teayo, to the west of the pyramid. It is made of sandstone, and the frontal aspect shows the god wearing a high panache of feathers, a headdress flanked by tufts or puffings of some textile material from which feathers depend, and an elaborate necklace. The skirt, the upper part of which is V-shaped, hangs down to the ankles, and is tied up behind in a double knot. In his left hand he carries the bag which holds obsidian arrow-heads, his invariable symbol, and in the right the S-formed lightning symbol, with which he is often represented, as in the Codex Magliabecchiano. Another relief from the same site shows him carrying the same symbols. His hair is decorated with feather-balls, as in the Codex Magliabecchiano and Duran’s [312]illustration. In a painting from Teopancaxo he wears a peculiar headdress from which falls behind a large panache of feathers, and which seems to be decorated with down; a horizontal band crosses the face beneath the eye and covers the whole of the nose. In one hand he carries the lightning symbol, from which spring serpentine streaks of lightning, and in the other a small shield like a sunflower and three arrows with blunt ends.



  • Minor Names: Ce eecatl = “One Wind.”
  • Relationship:
    • Husband of Ilancuêyê and progenitor of the Xelhua national ancestors, Tenoch, Ulmecatl, Xicalancatl, Mixtecatl, Otomitl.
    • Husband of a second wife, Chimamatl, by whom he had a son, Quetzalcoatl.
  • Compass Direction: Upper region.


Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 32: He has the head of a deer. He carries for a staff the neck of a long-billed, white bird, a heron. Before him stands a dish containing an eye and a feather ornament, reproducing in form and colour the warrior’s forked heron-feather adornment. Sheet 6: He is painted a yellow colour, thin and with wrinkled skin, his face looking out of the open throat of a bird, which has a feather crest curling up and a variegated rosette on its beak. In one hand he holds a bone dagger, in the other a staff tied round with a white-fringed cloth. As hieroglyph is shown beside him the day ce eecatl, “one wind.”

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 60: Here he is represented as having heron-feather hair and beard, and a ring-shaped appendage below the upper lip indicative of age. He is dressed as a priest, with tobacco-calabash on back and red patch on temple. He holds in one hand a staff bent like a heron’s neck, and in the other a bunch of malinalli grass. Sheet 24: The representation here is almost identical, except that the staff has a heron’s head and that a bone piercer [313]is worn behind the ear. In both pictures he wears a curious back device, recalling that on the rattle-staff of Quetzalcoatl. In some places he wears a helmet-mask like the head of a deer.



  • Area of Worship: Tlaxcallan and Huexotzinco.
  • Festival: Ce tecpatl (movable feast).
  • Relationship: Brother of Uitzilopochtli, and probably a local variant of him.


Face-paint.—He wears the domino face-paint, like Uitzilopochtli and Mixcoatl, and a nose-plug.

The body is striped with red and white, in which circumstance he agrees with Mixcoatl and Tlauizcalpantecutli, the morning star. He wears a headdress seemingly of feathers, and in Duran his hair is long and he wears a knitted loin-cloth. A dead rabbit, or its skin, is slung across his breast. In the Humboldt MS. (Roy. Lib. of Berlin) his headdress perhaps represents the symbol of hieroglyphic expression for the phrase atl tlachinolli (water and fire) used in the sense of “war.”

Weapons, etc.—He carries the atlatl, or spear-thrower, and net-bag of the wild hunting tribes, bow and arrows, sometimes tipped with down, also a bag or pouch, in which he carries his arrowheads of obsidian. Like Mixcoatl he is sometimes clothed in the device of the two-headed deer, in which he went to war.


Mixcoatl has already been alluded to in the précis of the early chapters of the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas given in the chapter on Cosmogony, where the circumstances of his birth are touched upon. In chapter x of the same work he is identified with Amimitl, another Chichimec deity, seemingly without reason. The Anales de Quauhtitlan speaks of him as one of the three who “sought [314]the hearth-stone,” and as one of the priests of the Fire-god. As Iztac Mixcoatl, according to Motolinia,3 he dwelt with his wife, Ilancuêyê, in Chicomoztoc, the “Land of the Seven Caves,” the primeval land of the tribes, and from them sprang the forefathers of the natives. By a second wife, Chimamatl, he begot the god Quetzalcoatl. In the Tlaxcaltec legend reproduced in the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas,4 mention is made of a two-headed deer which fell from heaven and was honoured as a god by the people of Cuitlauac, and it is told how, clothed in its form or disguise, Camaxtli or Mixcoatl subdued the surrounding tribes.

Iztac Mixcoatl was, indeed, the Chichimec Adam, the father of the tribe. A hymn to the gods of the hunt, of whom Mixcoatl was the chief, is as follows:

Song of the Cloud-serpents


Out of the seven Caverns he sprung (was born).


Out of the land of the prickly plant he sprung.


I came down (was born)

I came down

With my spear made of the prickly plant

I came down

I came down

With my spear of the prickly plant.


I came down

I came down

With my net bag.

I seize him

I seize him

And I seize him, and he is seized.



The great festival of Mixcoatl was the hunt-drive in the month quecholli. Sahagun says of this observance5:

Quecholli was the name of the fourteenth month, Mixcoatl being honoured with festivals. Arrows and darts for use in war were made, and many slaves were slaughtered in honour of this god. During the five days spent in making the arrows, everyone slit their ears and rubbed their temples with the blood thus drawn. Penance was supposed to be thus performed before the deer-hunting commenced. Those who did not slit themselves were deprived of their cloaks as tribute. During these days no man cohabited with his wife, and the aged abstained from the use of pulque, as penance was being performed. The four days employed in the making of arrows and darts being ended, smaller arrows were made and tied in bundles of four to which were added four pine torches. These were placed as offerings upon the graves of the dead, besides two tamalli to each bundle. These remained for a day upon the tombs and were then burned during the night, other ceremonies being held as well in honour of the dead.

“On the tenth day of this month the Mexicans and the Tlatelulca resorted together to the mountain of Cacatepec, which they called their mother. On reaching it they constructed thatched huts, lighted large fires, and spent the day in absolute idleness.

Next morning they breakfasted and went out together into the country. There they spread themselves out in a circular line, in which were enclosed a large number of animals—deer, rabbits, and others; they gradually approached them so as to enmesh them in a small space, and the hunt then began, each one taking what he could.

“After the hunt, captives and slaves were slaughtered in the temple called Tlamatzinco. They were bound hand and foot and were carried up the temple stairs in the same fashion as a deer is carried by its four legs when taken to the butcher. They were put to death with great ceremony. The man and the woman who represented the image of [316]Mixcoatl and his companion were slain in another temple, which was called Mixcoateopan. Several other rites were performed.”

Of this festival Acosta gives a slightly different version:

“The feast they made was pleasant and in this sort: They sounded a trumpet at break of day, at the sound whereof they all assembled with their bows, arrows, nets, and other instruments for hunting; then they went in procession with their idol, being followed by a great number of people to a high mountain, upon the top whereof they had made a bower of leaves, and in the middest thereof an altar richly decked, whereupon they placed the idol. They marched with a great bruit of trumpets, cornets, flutes and drums, and being come unto the place they environed this mountain on all sides, putting fire to it on all parts: by means of which many beasts flew forth, as stags, conies, Hares, foxes and Woolves, which went to the top flying from the fire. These hunters followed after with great cries and noise of divers instruments, hunting them to the top before the idol, whither flew such a great number of beasts, in so great a press, that they leaped one upon another, upon the people, and upon the altar, wherein they took great delight. Then took they a great number of these beasts, and sacrificed them before the idol, as stags and other great beasts, pulling out their hearts as they use in the sacrifice of men, and with the like ceremony: which done they took all their prey upon their shoulders, and retired with their idol in the same manner as they came, and entered the city laden with all these things, very joyfully with great store of music, trumpets, and drums until they came to the temple where they placed their idol with great reverence and solemnity. They presently went to prepare their venison wherewith they made a banquet to all the people; and after dinner they made their plays, representations and dances before the idol.”


Mixcoatl’s temples in Mexico were the Mixcoapan tzompantli and the Mixcoateopan. In the first were preserved the heads [317]of the victims sacrificed to the god. The ceremony of quecholli was commenced in the latter.


Mixcoatl was primarily the great god of the Chichimecs and the Otomies, a god of the wild hunting tribes of the plains to the north. Numbers of these had settled in Mexico City and elsewhere within Anahuac, to which they had carried his worship with them. The tribal legends connected with him seem to imply that he was regarded in one of his phases, that of Iztac Mixcoatl, as the Chichimec Adam or Abraham, and he is even alluded to as the “father” of Quetzalcoatl and “brother” of Uitzilopochtli. The probabilities are that he was the god of a section of the Nahua who entered Mexico proper before the advent of the worshippers of Uitzilopochtli, and as he had similar characteristics to the latter deity, he became connected with him in the popular imagination.

Mixcoatl seems to me one of that large class of conceptions which recur so frequently in all mythologies—the rain- and lightning-bearing cloud, which in the mind of the savage takes the form of a great monster, a dragon or serpent, vomiting fire and discharging water. The name Mixcoatl means “Cloud-serpent” and serves to substantiate this conception of him. But in the eyes of a hunting people he came, like other deities of the kind, to be regarded as the great hunter who casts the thunderbolt, the lightning-arrow, and therefore as the god-like prototype of the savage sportsman. Mixcoatl’s possession of the obsidian arrow-head, which became personified in Itzpapalotl, gives further weight to this idea.

Because he partook of the attributes of a sky-god, Mixcoatl almost inevitably became identified with the stellar deities dwelling in the heavens above. He is, indeed, Chief of the Centzon Mimixcoa, which has been translated “The Four Hundred Northerners,” the host of stars to the north of the Equator, in contradistinction to the Centzon Uitznaua, or “Four Hundred Southerners,” who were scattered by Uitzilopochtli immediately after his birth. But here a question of some difficulty arises. Uitznaua may correctly [318]be translated “southerners,” whereas Mimixcoa can scarcely be rendered otherwise than as the plural of “cloud-serpent.” The insignia of these latter deities, however, are certainly stellar. They wear the stellar face-mask and are in every way to be connected with the stars. It is clear, too, that Mixcoatl in one of his manifestations must be connected with the morning star. But I take this connection, as in the case of Quetzalcoatl, to have arisen at a period comparatively late. Again, we frequently find in Mexican myth that the stars are regarded as serpentine in character, and indeed, as in the case of the Tzitzimimê, partake of insect characteristics.

“Mixcoatl” is the expression in use at the present time among the natives of Mexico for the tropical whirlwind6—obviously a much later conception of his nature, and one more intimately connected with that of Tezcatlipocâ, as I have attempted to show in the passages relating to that god, and to Quetzalcoatl. There is, indeed, a strong resemblance between Mixcoatl and Tezcatlipocâ, both of whom are connected with obsidian, and carry the hunter’s bag of obsidian darts.

Mixcoatl’s festival is obviously one of considerable antiquity. As practised in Mexico-Tenochtitlan it was obviously a reminiscence of the great communal hunt. Its sacrifice of women in the place of deer, the victims being “carried up the temple stairs in the same fashion as a deer is carried by its four legs when taken to the butcher,” is obviously a substitution in more civilized times of human for deer sacrifice, either because the animals of the hunt were not so easily obtained or for the reason that the idea of human sacrifice had so thoroughly interpenetrated Mexican religious usage as to render the older form unacceptable, merely retaining its broader characteristics. It has also a strong resemblance to those medicine-hunts until recently practised by the Indians of North America, and in the Zuñi mysteries of to-day, a procuring of magical virtue for the arrows which were made during the first five days of the festival, and smaller models of which were offered up on the graves of the dead. Mixcoatl’s [319]wife Itzcuêyê is a deer and, as we have seen, the deer was the disguise of his surrogate, Camaxtli. The deer is the animal connected in the barbarian mind with the quest for water or food. Where the deer migrated in search for these the savage must follow. The animals which compose the staple food-supply of savages are frequently regarded as their gods. In America, on the introduction of later anthropomorphic deities, the animal forms are frequently conceived of as the mates of these—perhaps one explanation of the belief in descent from animal forms.

Because of his connection with the lightning Mixcoatl was also god of the fire-twirler, the apparatus with which fire was made, and he appears in this character during the fire festival.



  • Area of Worship: Mexico; Toltec (?).
  • Calendar Place: With the Fire-god, lord of the ninth week, ce coatl. Twelfth of the thirteen lords of the day-hours.
  • Compass Direction: West.
  • Relationship: Variant of Quetzalcoatl.


General.—In the Codex Borgia (sheet 25) he is painted as having a white-and-red-striped body, and the black face with white-spotted quincunx peculiar to him in his special form as evening star. The hair is yellow, the locks rising in curls above the brow, and bound by a red fillet. We can probably recognize him in the figure seen in sheet 19 of Codex Vaticanus B, which bears a strong resemblance to that found on sheet 57 of the same MS., confronting the Fire-god; but in the first instance he is not shown with the black “half-mask” painting about the eye. He has, however, the same warlike implements—shield, spears, and atlatl—as in Codex Borgia, as well as a pouch for obsidian arrow-heads and a small sacrificial flag. He is, however, almost universally represented with a white or white-and-red-striped body and [320]face-painting, and the deep black “half-mask” edged with small white circles which is usually shown in the pictures of Mixcoatl, Paynal, and Atlaua, and which is described as “the stellar face-painting called darkness.” He frequently wears long, tapering oval ornaments attached to red leather thongs in place of the chalchihuitl jewels which so often depend from the dress of the other gods, and the band which supports these has four diverging ends terminating in a bunch of feathers, as with Tonatiuh, Ueuecoyotl, and Xochipilli. The crown is generally composed of black feathers having white spots, alternating with longer yellow or red plumes. On the breast is seen an ornament like that of Tezcatlipocâ. In Codex Borbonicus and Borgia he is accompanied by the insignia of those warriors who died by sacrifice, the blue crown with the three-cornered frontal plate, the axe-shaped blue ear-plug, the blue nose-plug, the white paper shoulder-tie, and the small blue dog which accompanied the dead man on his way to the region of Mictlan.

Tlauizcalpantecutli piercing Chalchihuitlicue.

Tlauizcalpantecutli piercing Chalchihuitlicue.

(From Codex Borgia, sheet 53.)

(From Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 37.)

(From Codex Vaticanus B, sheet 37.)


On the five sheets of Codex Vaticanus B which indicate the periods of the planet Venus we observe Tlauizcalpantecutli depicted five times, and have thus a most favourable opportunity for studying his various attributes. All of these pictures represent him in the form of the evening star, with the quincunx of white spots on the dark background of his face. He is depicted as half-black, half-white, the body, upper arms, and knees being black, but the forearms, thighs, and lower part of the legs white and striped with yellow longitudinal lines, like the striping on Uitzilopochtli’s body. Under the eye is a motif which recalls the blue snake-band round the mouth of Tlaloc, but it is yellow in colour, and forms a kind of coil in the middle of the face over the nose. A tassel or other ornament falls from it, the whole recalling certain Maya types. The hair is flame-coloured, curls upward, and is bound with the usual fillet studded with white slicings from mussel-shells, and the black, white-tipped feathers, previously alluded to, and intermingled with eagle-plumes, crown the head. The breast is covered with the white eye-ring, also described above, and which is characteristic [321]of Tezcatlipocâ. Accompanying the picture is the emblem of the stellar eye, which in this place is almost certainly intended to depict the planet Venus. The god holds in one hand the atlatl, or spear-thrower, and in the other a bundle of darts, to symbolize his nature as a shooting god.



(From Codex Borgia, sheet 19.)

In those pictures in Codex Borgia where the god is represented as casting his spear at various mythological figures, his insignia is in agreement with that portrayed in Codex Vaticanus B. But of the five figures in which he is shown as the spear-thrower, in one only is he depicted with white, red-striped limbs, the remaining figures being coloured green, yellow, brown, and blue. Nor has the face the characteristic painting known as “stellar” and frequently described on those pages, but is skull-shaped, and represented as swallowing blood and a human heart. He holds, however, the usual spear-thrower, shield, hand-flag, and the hunter’s net-bag. The Codex Borgia pictures show, too, the incidence of the god’s other attributes, the oval, egg-shaped ornaments and the white-tipped black feathers, which, however, are here considerably shorter, and spread over the crown of the head only. Here also the first of the five figures is red-striped, the others being blue, red, and yellow, and red-striped. Like the figures in Codex Bologna, the first has the head of a skull painted with the face-paint of Tlauizcalpantecutli, with the quincunx of five disks on a dark ground. The other four figures wear masks, that part of their faces which is visible being coloured like the body and having the quincunx of five white disks. The second figure wears an owl naual, or mask, the third that of a dog, the fourth a rabbit-mask, and the fifth, like the first, a dead man’s skull, which, however, is portrayed in its natural colour and has no face-paint. The owl-mask of the second figure and the skull-mask of the fifth show that they represent the sequence of five periods of the planet Venus, five time-counts based on its period of visibility, and that, moreover, these figures are to be referred respectively to the compass directions, east, north, west, south, below. The Codex Fejérváry figure differs from the other representations, the face being painted white [322]with yellow stripes, like the rest of the body and limbs. But that this figure is in reality identical with those of the other manuscripts is proved by the quincunx of white spots disposed in the same manner as in the Codex Vaticanus B figure, by the three curly locks on the brow, and by the star-like eye worn by the god on his breast. In Codex Borgia are shown a sacrificial cord and two small paper flags. In Codex Fejérváry we see a shield with feather appendage, and one paper flag, which is evidently intended to appear in the ritual of the death by sacrifice. Tlauizcalpantecutli was for the Mexicans an indication of the warrior’s death, that is, sacrificial death.

In Codex Telleriano-Remensis the hair is plastered with white downy feathers, and round the neck is slung the aztemacatl, the heron-feather cord, the whole indicating the insignia of the victim about to be sacrificed after ceremonial combat. He wears a skull as helmet-mask in this MS. In the Aubin-Goupil tonalamatl Tlauizcalpantecutli wears a rod-shaped nose-plug and the blue breast-plate of the Fire-god.


This god, as Seler indicates,7 is a variant of the planet Venus, the morning star, who was regarded as the shooting god and who was perhaps identical with Mixcoatl. The Anales de Quauhtitlan says that: “When he appears he strikes various classes of people with his rays, shoots them, sheds his light on them,” and these several types of people thus shot are clearly to be seen in Codex Borgia, and in the corresponding places of the other manuscripts, where their sequence is, however, varied. That they stand in relation to the quarters of the heavens there can be no doubt, but these quarters vary with the several codices. Thus in Codex Borgia we find the jaguar occupying the north, while in Vaticanus B and Bologna we find it occupying the fifth or downward direction, and in this varying arrangement we probably see differences [323]of local conception. The deities or figures at which the god hurled his spear are the jaguar, or Tezcatlipocâ, Chalchihuitlicue, the black Tezcatlipocâ (probably as Tepeyollotl), Cinteotl, the Tlatouani, or King, and the Yayotl, or the symbol of war; but these do not agree with the “classes of people” shot by the god as given by the Anales de Quauhtitlan, which states “that in the sign cipactli he shoots old men and women, in the sign coatl he shoots the rain, for it will not rain, in the sign atl, the universal drought, in the sign acatl, kings and rulers, and in the sign olin, youths and maidens.”

This seems to me to indicate not so much that the god was identical with Mixcoatl, as Seler states, although he may have had connections with this deity, but that he typifies in some manner the evil influences of the rays of the planet Venus at certain times of the year. We know that the Mexicans, like many other peoples, believed that the stars emanated influences good and bad, and as Seler himself states in his essay on “The Venus Period in Picture-Writing,”8 “it is possible that we have on these pages simply an astrological speculation arising from superstitious fear of the influence of the light of this powerful planet. By natural association of ideas the rays of light emitted by the sun or other luminous bodies are imagined to be darts or arrows which are shot in all directions by the luminous body. The more the rays are perceived to be productive of discomfort or injury, so much the more fittingly does this apply. In this way the abstract noun miotl or meyotli with the meaning ‘ray of light’ is derived from the Mexican word mitl, ‘arrow’ … thus miotli is the arrow which belongs by nature to a body sending forth arrows, a luminous body.… When the planet appeared anew in the heavens, smoke-vents and chimneys were stopped up lest the light should penetrate into the house.… It is hardly possible to see anything else in these figures struck by the spear than augural speculations regarding the influence of the light from the planet suggested by the initial signs of the period.” Seler also points out that we possess the analogy of the periods in which [324]the Ciuateteô, or “spectre women,” send down similar baleful influences from above.



  • Relationship: Daughter of Coatlicue, sister of Uitzilopochtli and the Centzonuitznaua.


Stone-head from Great Temple of Mexico.—This represents her as having on both cheeks the sign for “gold” and “bells,” hence the face of this head is really painted (xauhqui) with bells (coyolli). As a nose-ornament she has a peculiar pendant, consisting of a trapezoidal figure and a ray, the motif of which is partially repeated in her earrings. Her headdress is a small, close-fitting cap, the front of which is embroidered in a downy feather-ball pattern.


The myth which describes her enmity to her mother, Coatlicue, and her slaughter by her brother Uitzilopochtli, has already been recounted in the section dealing with the latter god.


Coyolxauhqui’s insignia, as seen in the stone head of her from the great Temple of Mexico, is unquestionably that of a lunar goddess. Moreover, the terms of the myth referred to above make it plain that she represented the moon, who is “slain” by the first blow of the xiuhcoatl, or fire-snake (the dawn). The fact that she was the only sister of the four hundred stars, Centzonuitznaua, probably implies her lunar significance.



  • Minor Name: Petlacotzitzquique = “Upholders of the Cane Carpet.”



Certain wall-paintings at Mitla afford a good representation of the Tzitzimimê, who are represented as pulling the sun out of his cave by a rope. In this case their character as stellar deities or demons is well exemplified. The face often resembles that of a death’s-head and the hair is puffed up in wig fashion. In Codex Borgia the Tzitzimimê are represented as female figures with death’s-heads and jaguar-claws.

The insects pictured in the Codex Borbonicus are unquestionably representations of the Tzitzimimê gods in their demon forms.


The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A equates them with the gods of Mictlampa, or Hades, but his contemporary who edited the Codex Telleriano-Remensis says of them:

“The proper signification of this name is the fall of the demons, who, they say, were stars; and even still there are stars in heaven called after their names, which are the following: Yzcatecaztli, Tlahvezcal pantecuvtli, Ceyacatl, Achitumetl, Xacupancalqui, Mixauhmatl, Tezcatlipocâ, and Contemoctli. These were their appellations as gods before they fell from heaven, but they are now named Tzitzimitli, which means something monstrous or dangerous.”

Tezozomoc mentions them in his Cronica Mexicana in connection with the building of the great temple at Mexico. He states that their images were at one period still necessary for the completion of the building, and alludes to them as “angels of the air, holding up the sky,” and “the gods of the air who draw down the rains, waters, clouds, thunders and lightnings, and who are placed round Uitzilopochtli.” He further says that these “gods of the signs and planets” were brought to the sacred edifice and placed round the idol of Uitzilopochtli.


The Tzitzimimê are obviously stellar deities. A myth [326]seems to have existed that they had been cast out of heaven, and may perhaps be equated with that relating to Xochiquetzal. I think, too, that it had a connection with the myth which told how Uitzilopochtli routed the Centzonuitznaua, his brothers, who were also stellar deities or demons of darkness. That the Tzitzimimê were so regarded was probably because they were seen during the night, or perhaps during eclipses. The list of them includes many of the great gods, especially those who had an uncanny significance, as Tepeyollotl, Mictlantecutli, Tlazolteotl, Tezcatlipocâ, and Itzpapalotl. The Tzitzimimê are equated by Seler with the Sky Supporters.9 [327]

1 See Sahagun, bk. vii, cs. x–xiii, for a much more detailed description. 

2 See Sahagun, bk. iii, Appendix, c. iv. 

3 Historia de los Indios de la Nueva España, Preface, in Izcazbalceta, vol. i, 1858, pp. 7, 10. 

4 Izcazbalceta, vol. iii, 1891, p. 237. 

5 Appendix to bk. i, c. xiv. 

6 Brinton, Myths of the New World, p. 190. 

7 Commentary on Codex Vaticanus B, p. 287. 

8 Bulletin 28 of U.S. Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 355 ff. 

9 See Commentary on the Codex Vaticanus B, p. 90. It seems to me that, as Tezozomoc says, these were gods of the “signs and planets,” i.e. of the tonalamatl in its augural or astrological sense. If so, the definitely astrological nature of the tonalamatl might be argued therefrom. 






  • Area of Worship: Mexican Plateau.
  • Calendar Places:
    • Lord of the tenth day-count, ce tecpatl, and of the tenth week.
    • Eleventh of the thirteen lords of the day and fifth of the nine lords of the night.
  • Symbol: Skull, or bunch of malinalli grass.
  • Compass Direction: North.
  • Relationship: Husband of Mictecaciuatl; one of the Tzitzimimê.


Codex Borgia.—Sheet 14: This is one of the most striking representations of the Death-god which has come down to us. Here he is depicted as a skeleton with a skeleton’s thorax and a skull for head, the arms and legs painted white with yellow spots picked with red, to symbolize the bones of a newly flayed person. He has a large rosette at the occiput and a flag, both painted in alternate white and red cross-bands, and this motif is carried out in the ends of the loin-cloth, and in the extremities of other bands and stripes. He presents a burnt-offering. The symbolic crossways and the owl are figured before him, the death-bird being surrounded with paper flags, the decoration of corpses prepared for cremation. Sheet 15: On this sheet he wears the death-symbols. At the nape of the neck he has a paper rosette, decorated with red and white cross-bands, the paper flag painted in the same way, broken in the middle and bent, and an ear-plug consisting of a human hand. His symbol in this place [328]is a bunch of malinalli grass. Sheet 79: In this representation of the Death-god we find the invariable skeleton head, but the body is painted, like that of the priests, in black. The nape-ornament is of paper, and the ear-plug is a human hand. The screech owl’s wing also appears. Opposite him is a corpse wrapped up in a cloth and corded with strings, a paper flag, used in the decoration of corpses prepared for cremation, and a cross, apparently made of knotted sheets of cloth or paper. His hair or wig is black and curly, some of the curls ending in eye-like circles with red centres. In this picture he sits opposite Tonatiuh, the Sun-god, and thus, perhaps, represents night in its black aspect, the eyes in his wig, as elsewhere, symbolizing the stars. Sheet 57: Here he is placed opposite the Death-goddess and wears the usual insignia. The ground on which their seats are placed is not simply yellow, as in the other sections, but consists of alternate fields of malinalli grass and fragments of skulls in the style of the hieroglyph of arable land. Both present each other with a naked human figure, symbolic of human sacrifice. Between them stands a receptacle painted black and studded with eyes, with red bands in the middle and yellow border. On the left of this stands a dish filled with blood and smoking hearts, on which the goddess is pouring fire from a vessel. On the right projects the body and tail of a dragon, which is seized by the god. In the centre is seen a skull swallowing a man who is falling headforemost into its throat, and above all is pictured the moon, without, however, the usual rabbit appearing in its circumference.



(From Codex Borgia, sheet 13.)



(From Codex Nuttall, sheet 70.) (See page 332.)


(See also under Quetzalcoatl, facing p. 119.)

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 37: Here Mictlantecutli is placed opposite the Death-goddess. He has the usual insignia, but wears black garments, decorated with eyes and crossbones. His seat is made of ribs and a piece of skull, and he holds a dragon in both hands. Between him and his mate a man sinks into the yawning jaws of the earth, and above it is a dish with a stone sacrificial knife.

Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 21: He has the usual skeleton head, but in the arms and legs the bony structure is merely [329]indicated by a yellow colour and a black design. He is clothed with a jacket of green malinalli blades and wears in his ear a strip of unspun cotton. He has as back-device a pot, in which three flags are stuck. Sheet 34: In this sheet he is represented much as in Codex Borgia, sheet 15. Sheet 58: Here he is pictured as a black god, with a skull for head and seated on a chair made of blood, bones, and malinalli grass. He has the nape-shield and the flag inclining forward, and a nose like a sacrificial stone knife.



Found near Vera Cruz.

Codex Magliabecchiano.—Mictlantecutli is represented more than once in this codex, importantly on pages 73 and 79. In the first instance he is depicted with blue-grey body and enormous claws on hands and feet, the head plastered with the yellow patches and bloodstains he frequently shows. The head is that of a skull, with protruding yellow nasal-bone, but the ground-colour is blue, not bone-colour. He wears the “night-hair” occasionally associated with him, and his coiffure is decorated with small, black, festal bannerets, interspersed with what appear to be stellar eye-motifs. His maxtli appears to consist of a rope or twisted piece of cotton, and he wears wristlets and anklets of bright red cotton. The necklace is reminiscent of that worn by several of the Maya deities. He sits in the portal of a temple, and before him squat a number of men and women, regaling themselves on human flesh from several earthen vessels containing a head, a leg, and an arm. The second picture exhibits the penance done before him. In this place he is painted brown, with the same enormous talons, the death’s-head face, “night-hair” and bannerets (yellow), without, however, the accompaniment of the stellar eye-ornaments. These, however, appear to be reproduced upon the wrists, knees, and one ankle, and, perhaps, make this phase of the god a parallel to the Greek Argus, the “eye-spotted” night. On the breast depends an ornament which is not sufficiently clear to justify its description. On page 82 the god is depicted as wearing a garment covered with crosses, and on page 88 as standing on the skull-altar (see Tezcatlipocâ). His wavy hair is surrounded by a red and yellow cotton fillet, [330]and he is being anointed by a priest from a vessel of blood, whilst other priests stand before him with pots full of blood and human hearts. He wears a curious blue necklace almost of the “masonry” type seen in Egyptian, Greek, and Asiatic deific ornaments, and a cotton garment with red bows. A cotton web depends from his blue ear-plug.


The interpreter of Codex Vaticanus A says of Mictlantecutli: “He descends for souls as a spider lowers itself with its head downwards from the web.” Later on he states that “he is the great lord of the dead below in hell, who alone after Tonacatecutli was painted with a crown.… They painted this demon near the sun, for in the same way as they believed that the one conducted souls to heaven, so they supposed that the other carried them to hell. He is here represented [that is in the codex] with his hands open and stretched towards the sun to seize on any soul that might escape from him.” Later he states that Ixcuina, “the goddess of salt, dirt, and immodesty,” was the wife of Mictlantecutli. The commentator of Codex Telleriano-Remensis seems to regard Mictlantecutli as rescuing souls from the realm of the dead. He says: “They place him opposite to the sun to see if he can rescue any of those seized upon by the lord of the dead.” The two interpretative codices were almost certainly edited, if not copied one from the other, by the same hand, and it is such passages as this which show the great dubiety existing in the minds of the priestly commentators regarding the precise nature of the Mexican deities.

Sahagun in the Appendix to his third book, the first chapter of which treats of burial, gives a prayer or address to the dead which mentions Mictlantecutli, and which states that he and his wife Mictecaciuatl await the deceased, who goes to dwell among the shadows, “where there is no light or window.” It is further explained that when he arrived in the realm of the god of the dead (which has already been described in the chapter on Cosmogony), he makes him an offering of the papers which he carries, of faggots or torches [331]of pinewood, and of perfumed reeds, cotton, mantles, and costly apparel.

Boturini and Brasseur give a great deal of matter regarding this god which is absolutely worthless, as does Leon y Gama, and the deity has been in some manner confounded with a god Teoyaomiqui, who seems to be quite supposititious in character and never to have had no other existence in the minds of Gama and his copyists.


Mictlantecutli, it would seem, is neither more nor less than a god of the dead, that is, his original conception was probably that of a prince of Hades, a ruler of the realm of the departed, who in time came to possess the terrific aspect and the punitive attributes of a deity whose office it was to torment the souls of the erring. The fact that he presides over the eleventh hour—the hour of sunset—shows that he was in a measure identified with the night, as certain aspects of his insignia would appear to show. In a manner he must be regarded as the earth, which in its form of the grave, yawns or gapes insatiably for the bodies of the dead. (See Mictecaciuatl.) He appears to have analogies with the Lords of Xibalba, or the Place of the Dead, alluded to in the Popol Vuh, of the Quiches of Guatemala.1



  • Area of Worship: Mexican Plateau.
  • Minor Name: Chicunaui cipactli = “Nine Earth-monster.”
  • Relationship: Wife of Mictlantecutli.
  • Calendar Place:
    • Ruler of the tenth day-count, itzcuintli.
    • Fourth of the four guardians of the Third Venus Period, denoting the north.


Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 90: She has a skull for head, with round eye and marked supraciliary arch, tousled, dark [332]hair studded with eyes symbolizing night and stars. The skull and body are painted yellow, and one breast is showing. Her wig has eyes for ornaments, and she wears the nape-ornament of paper usually placed on corpses. Her earring is also fashioned after the eye-motif. The feather balls at her wrists are set with eye-like jewels. She is engaged in thrusting a mummy-pack into the yawning jaws of the earth.

Codex Bologna (Cospi).—Sheet 27: The date “nine earth-monster” (chicunaui cipactli) stands here beside Mictecaciuatl as her hieroglyphic name.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 57: Here she is represented opposite Mictlantecutli. She has a wig decorated with stars. The face is human, but the fleshless lower jaw resembles the sign malinalli. Her nape ornament of paper is painted red and white, and her costume is red with white cotton borders and an upper border of variegated white and yellow.


See Mictlantecutli.



  • Area of Worship: Tierras Calientes.
  • Relationship: One of the Tzitzimimê.
  • Symbols:
    • A cave (see Codex Borgia, sheet 2).
    • A marine shell (Codex Borbonicus). See also Seler, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, vol. i, p. 606, for glyph in Codex Bologna (Cospi).
  • Calendar Place: Eighth of the lords of the night; ruler of the third day, and of the third week, ce mazatl.
  • Compass Direction: South.


In Codices Fejérváry-Mayer and Vaticanus B the face-paint of this god is red, and in the latter MS. has the alternate red and yellow cross-bars of the red Tezcatlipocâ. In Codex Borgia the body is painted black, but in this MS., as well as in the Aubin tonalamatl, the upper part of the face resembles that of Quetzalcoatl in its decoration, the profile being of a [333]light colour, while the temporal region is painted differently, these colours in the Aubin tonalamatl being separated by a black line. But whereas the temporal colouring in the Vienna MS. is green, in Codex Borgia it shows the alternate black and yellow of Tezcatlipocâ’s face-paint. In Codex Borgia, sheet 14, a beard is worn and a plug is in the nostrils. The region of the mouth has the painting of a jaguar’s skin. The hair is puffed up in two pads, symbolic, perhaps, of the mountainous region with which the god is connected. In Codex Telleriano-Remensis he wears the broad necktie of the rain-gods, only painted in green and not in blue, and in Codex Borgia shows Tlaloc’s colours in the loin-cloth, fillet, and neck-ornament. In this MS., too, he is represented as blowing the conch-shell, and here, as well as in Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, he stands before a building which has the cone-shaped, high-pitched straw roof of the houses in the tierras calientes, crowned with a jagged motif. As ruler of the third day-sign and third week he is represented as a jaguar pure and simple in the Aubin tonalamatl, Telleriano-Remensis and Borbonicus codices, which is merely a disguise for the personality of Tezcatlipocâ, as is shown by the face of that god looking out from the jaguar’s head in Telleriano-Remensis.

In Codex Borbonicus he is more unmistakably represented as Tezcatlipocâ, for the hands and feet projecting from underneath the jaguar skin are striped like those of that god, and one of the feet wears Tezcatlipocâ’s sandal, the itzcoatl (or obsidian snake), whilst the other is torn off and replaced by his smoking mirror. The jaguar of Codex Borbonicus has other portions of the insignia of Tezcatlipocâ about him, such as the aztaxelli, or feather head-ornament, and the anauatl, or white mussel-shell ring. In the Codex Borbonicus a large marine shell or conch-shell appears to be symbolical of Tepeyollotl. The god is alluded to by Sahagun as among the unlucky symbols. He figures as one of the faces of the double-headed Quaxolotl.


The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A says: [334]

“They considered Tepeyolotli the lord of these thirteen signs in which they celebrated his festival, during the four last of which they fasted, out of reverence, on account of the earth’s having remained after the deluge. But as its conditions were disordered or filthy, they did not consider the sacrifices of these signs as good or clean, but, on the contrary, as unclean, and they applied to them an appellation which in common phraseology we might explain by the term ‘sacrifices of filth.’ These last four signs in which they fasted were likewise out of reverence and in honour of Suguequezal (Xochiquetzal), the wife of Tonacatecotle, whose name signifies the lifting up or raising up of the Roses, for they say that goddess caused the earth to flourish. This proper name might be written Tiscuelutli, which is the Heart of the Mountain, which means the echo.”

The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis says:

“The name refers to the manner in which the earth was preserved after the deluge. The sacrifices of these thirteen days were not deemed good; they might be interpreted in Spanish ‘sacrifices of dung.’

“The sign under which number one is written caused paralysis and evil humours. Two was appropriated to drunkards; and three was applied to the earth. Tepeolotlec presided over those thirteen days in which they celebrated a festival; and during the last four days of which (where the hands are marked) they fasted. Tepeolotlec means Lord of Animals.

“The four days of the fast were in honour of Suciquecal, who was the man who remained in the earth which we now inhabit. Tepeolotlec is the same as the echo of the voice when it reverberates in a valley from one mountain to another. They bestowed the appellation of the tiger on the earth because the tiger is a very courageous animal, and they say that the deluge ceased at the reverberation caused by the echo in the mountains.”


The commentators of the Interpretative Codices briefly [335]explain Tepeyollotl as “echo” and “earth.” As Seler states,2 it is most probable that he is a cave-god, an alien barbaric deity, perhaps identical with the god whom the Maya tribes of Chiapas called Votan or “heart.” Seler also believes him to be Tezcatlipocâ in his form as an apparition.3 It is strange that it is only in the works of the interpreters that he is mentioned at all, and we can discover no precise locality where his worship was celebrated. The interpreters also designate him “Lord of the Animals,” and add that the name of jaguar is given to the earth, because the jaguar is the wildest of beasts. It may be as Seler declares, that “in order to understand and explain this figure we have to start from the jaguar (ocelotl).” The Indians of the Vera Paz district in Guatemala, when they met this beast, instead of attacking him or running away, knelt down and began to confess their sins,4 and it is probable that some such species of worship was paid Tepeyollotl, who by his mouth-painting, and as ruler of the third day-sign and third week, in the Codex Borgia, is certainly depicted as a jaguar. But it seems possible, too, that this beast, perhaps because it dwelt in caves, and because of its terrible nightly roaring, may have symbolized for the Mexicans the earth itself in its dangerous aspect of earthquake.5 The Nagualists, a politico-religious secret society of post-Conquest origin, paid especial reverence to the jaguar, whom they regarded as a beast-patron or totemic guardian. It is clear that their conception of him arose out of that of Tepeyollotl. [336]

1 See L. Spence, The Popol Vuh. London, 1908. 

2 Commentary on Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, p. 43. 

3 See Section on Tezcatlipocâ. 

4 Las Casas, Apologetica, c. cxcix; Herrera, 4, 10, c. xiii. 

5 Seler (Commentary on Codex Vaticanus B, p. 102) sees in a passage in Sahagun (bk. v, c. 1) an association between the omen of a jaguar roaring in the mountains by night and the echo thereof and Tepeyollotl. 






  • Area of Worship: Mexico.
  • Calendar Place: Second of the nine lords of the night.
  • Compass Direction: East.


(From the Sahagun MS.)

A tepitoton or model of Tlazolteotl.

A tepitoton or model of Tlazolteotl.

Itzcoliuhqui. (From Codex Bologna, sheet 12.)

Itzcoliuhqui. (From Codex Bologna, sheet 12.)



Codex Vaticanus B.—Sheet 19: He looks out from the open jaws of a stone knife, which is designed with teeth and the socket of an eye above them. Otherwise he is pictured as a black Tezcatlipocâ with the yellow cross-bands on his face. The smoking mirror, the badge of Tezcatlipocâ, is clearly to be discerned. The clouds of incense reach a great height, and are set with feather-work. He wears the blue nose-rod from which a little plate falls over the mouth, and he has a white breast-ring.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 14: In this place he is represented with his hair brushed up on one side, over the brow, the warrior’s hairdressing, and the forked heron-feather ornament in his hair, part of the warrior’s dancing attire. The smoking mirror at the temple is given with great clearness.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 2: The one foot exhibited as missing or torn off is stuck in the throat of a stone knife. The body-paint has perhaps been forgotten here, and the facial painting differs from Tezcatlipocâ’s usual adornment, being perhaps reminiscent of that of Tezcatlipocâ-Itzlacoliuhqui. The head and neck are wrapped in a cloth with a fringed hem, and which must be regarded as decked with feather balls on the surface as in the picture of the red [337]Tezcatlipocâ in Borgia (sheet 11). He is associated with the crossway in all MSS.


This deity is a surrogate of Tezcatlipocâ in his guise of the obsidian knife of sacrifice, and as such is, of course, representative of the paramount connection of that god with the obsidian cult alluded to in the Introduction. He is, indeed, nothing more or less than a personalization of the obsidian knife; his name implies this and the picture of him in Codex Vaticanus B (sheet 19), where he is seen looking out of the jaws of an obsidian knife disguise, affords absolute proof, if more were required, of the identification.



  • Area of Worship: Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
  • Minor Names: Cipactonal.
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the thirteenth day, acatl; and of the twelfth week, ce cuetzpalin.
  • Compass Direction: South.
  • Relationship: Variant of Cinteotl: son of Tlazolteotl.


Codex Borgia.—The god is indicated by a bundle having a peculiar object with two black, longitudinal stripes for a head. At the eye-level a bandage is worn, and the whole is crowned with a hair wig and bound with a double-jewelled fillet. The crown of the “head” is also indicated by two longitudinal stripes which terminate in an involuted peak, curving backwards. Two malinalli (grass) stripes are worn as a breast-ornament, and the lower extremities are draped with a flowing cloth.

General.—The head is more elaborately shown in the Mexican MSS. proper. Through the peak is thrust a carefully inserted arrow and its anterior edge is evenly notched. In Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Borbonicus the face of this personage, who is called by the interpreters “the curved [338]sharp stone,” Itztlacoliuhqui, is decorated with the gold crescent nasal ornament of Tlazolteotl and the octli-gods. That this figure is the god of avenging justice is indicated by its bandaged eyes, which recall the appearance of Tezcatlipocâ-Ixquimilli, or Tezcatlipocâ as god of the thirteenth day-count. The stone and club were used for punitive purposes, so the figure symbolic of “justice” was thus represented as a hard stone.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Itztlacoliuhqui is shown here as of a blue colour, and his face is painted with blue and white cross-bands instead of yellow and black, like Tezcatlipocâ. He wears Tezcatlipocâ’s breast-ornament, while in his hair is the forked adornment of heron-feathers.


The interpreter of the Codex Vaticanus A says:

Ytzlacoliuhqui signifies the lord of sin or of blindness, and for this reason they paint him with his eyes bandaged. They say that he committed sin in a place of the highest enjoyment and delight, and that he remained naked; on which account his first sign is a lizard, which is an animal of the ground naked and miserable. He presided over these thirteen signs, which were all unlucky. They said likewise that if false evidence should be adduced on any one of these signs it would be impossible to make the truth manifest. They put to death those who were taken in adultery before his image if the parties were married; as this not being the case, it was lawful for them to keep as many women or concubines as they pleased. Ytzalcoliuhqui is a star in heaven which as they pretend proceeds in a reverse course; they considered it a most portentous sign, both as concerned with nativities and war. This star is situated at the south.”

The interpreter of the Codex Telleriano-Remensis says:

“Ytzlacoliuhqui, the lord of sin. Ytzlacoliuhqui was the lord of these thirteen days. They say he was the god of frost. They put to death before his image those who were convicted of adultery during these thirteen days; this was the punishment of married persons both men and women, [339]for, provided the parties were unmarried, the men were at liberty to keep as many concubines as they pleased.

“Ytzlacoliuhqui was the lord of sin or of blindness, who committed sin in paradise; they therefore represented him with his eyes bandaged, and his day was accordingly the lizard and, like the lizard, he is naked. He is a star in heaven which … proceeds in a backward course with its eyes bandaged. They considered it a great prognostic.

“All these thirteen days were bad, for they affirmed that if evidence should be adduced in these days it would be impossible to arrive at justice, but they imagined that justice would be perverted in such a manner that unjust condemnations would ensue, which was not the case in the days immediately following, when if evidence was adduced they supposed that justice would be made apparent. They believed that those who were born on the sign dedicated to him would be sinners and adulterers.”


This deity is a variant of Tezcatlipocâ in his character of the obsidian knife, the god of the stone and therefore of blood, avenging justice, of blinding, of sin, of cold. The obsidian stone was regarded as the instrument of justice, as has already been stated in the section on Tezcatlipocâ. The figure became a general symbol of all things hard, and is therefore explained by the authors of the Interpretative Codices as “the god of cold.” Frost, ice, or low temperature is in the Sahagun MS. symbolized by a man wearing the headdress of this deity, which was also worn by Uitzilopochtli at the ochpanitztli festival, when the knife of sacrifice had such free play. The manner in which the god is represented in Codex Borbonicus as blindfolded is probably a late conception of him as the god of justice. But he seems also to have had a stellar connection which is a little vague.



  • Area of Worship: Mexico, Tlaxcallan.
  • Relationship: Precursor or forerunner of Uitzilopochtli.



Sahagun MS.—He has the stellar face-painting, and wears a many-pointed crown of yellow feathers, the lower part of which is white. The front of this white portion ends in three small globes or bells. At the back is a bow, and he is furnished with an ear-plug and nose-plug of turquoise. On the head he wears a shell ring like Uitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl, and he holds a narrow striped banner ending in a sort of fleur-de-lis motif. The shield is blue, inlaid with turquoise mosaic. He has a peculiar skirt with a train marked with cross-hatchings. The banner he carries is a golden one, and he also bears the fire-drill. On his face is painted a chaffinch, which composes his face-mask.


See Uitzilopochtli.


Seler identifies the god with the morning star. Sahagun calls him “the messenger” or “page” of Uitzilopochtli. He acted as “forerunner” of that god at the panquetzalitztli festival, thus perhaps signifying the manner in which the morning star precedes the sun. But I think the chaffinch painted upon his face and his general birdlike appearance may justify us in concluding that he was developed from some such form. The myth which alludes to Uitzilopochtli as a “little bird” which led the Aztecâ into Mexico may be a confused form of an older story in which a hero of the name of Uitzilopochtli may have been spoken of as accepting the augury and following the flight of a little bird.



  • Area of Worship: Plateau of Anahuac (worshipped by Mexican merchants while at home and when travelling).
  • Festival: Panquetzalitztli.
  • Symbol: The merchant’s staff.



Sahagun MS. (Biblioteca del Palacio).—The ground of the face-painting is white, but portions of the face, especially the forehead, nose, and chin, and the region in front of the ears, are brilliantly coloured. The hair is puffed up and is bound with bands of quetzal-feathers. The ear-plugs are of gold. The large mantle which almost covers the body is decorated with the cross-hatching symbolic of water and has the red rim of the eye-motif. The shield bears the Greek key motif, such as is seen in the tribute-lists of the Codex Mendoza. In his hand the god bears the bamboo staff of the merchant or traveller, which typifies his nature and which was worshipped, as being symbolic of him, by all traders.


Panquetzalitztli.—Yacatecutli, says Sahagun,1 was the first merchant and prototype of traffickers, so was chosen by the merchants as their god. They dressed his statue with paper and greatly venerated the staff he carried, which was of massive wood, or else of dark cane, very light, but strong, such as the merchants carried on their journeys. He had four brothers and a sister, also reverenced by traders. He was usually depicted as a man on a journey, equipped with such a staff as has been mentioned.

Arrived at the place where they were to pass the night, the merchants laid their staves in a heap and drew blood from their ears and limbs, which they offered to it, burning incense before it, and praying for protection from the dangers of the road. At the festival of panquetzalitztli, thousands of members of the powerful Pochteca, or merchant guild, proceeded to the vicinity of Tochtepec, where they invited the Tlatelolcans of that place to a festival in honour of Yacatecutli. They decorated his temple and spread mats before his image. Then they opened the bundles in which they had brought presents and ornaments for the god, and placed them, along with their staves, before his idol. If a merchant laid two [342]staves at the feet of the god, that signified that it was his intention to sacrifice two slaves, a man and a woman, in his honour; if four, he would devote two wretched creatures of either sex. These slaves were covered with rich mantles and paper. If the staff represented a male slave, it was also equipped with the maxtli, or loin-cloth, but if a female, the uipilli, or chemise, and the cueitl, or skirt.

The Mexican merchants then accompanied their Tlatelolcan confrères to the villages, where they feasted, drank cocoa, and smoked. Quails were then decapitated, their heads thrown into the fire, and incense was offered to the four cardinal points. An address was delivered by one of their number practised in oratory. The magnificence of this festival, with its richly jewelled accessories, was probably unsurpassed in Mexican ritual, as on this occasion the Pochteca employed their entire stock of trinkets and ornaments for the temporary decoration of the victims. Yacatecutli was also associated in worship with Coyotlinauatl, god of the guild of feather-workers of the quarter of Amantlan.


Bancroft2 connects Yacatecutli with the Fire-god, with whom, indeed, Clavigero would seem to equate him, and in describing the return of the gods in the twelfth month, Sahagun makes both deities arrive together. Xiuhtecutli was certainly the god who was believed to settle disputes at law, but I am unable to connect Yacatecutli with him in any satisfactory manner. Yacatecutli, “the lord who guides,” seems to me a mere deification of the merchant’s staff, an artificial deity invented as the patron of a caste in an environment where it was not difficult to invent gods. By this I do not mean to convey the impression that the staff was necessarily his earliest form, but that, whatever his primitive shape, the merchant’s stick came to symbolize him.

The names of Yacatecutli’s brothers and sister seem to me to allegorize the circumstances of the travelling merchant’s [343]career in the same manner as the names of the companions of a folk-tale hero may have a bearing upon his story.

Thus Chiconquiauitl (“Seven-rains” or “All-weathers”) may portend the varied climatic conditions which the chapman has to face; Xomocuitl (“Caught-drake”) the kind of fare he may expect in an unfrequented country; Naxtit (“Four-feet”) may typify endurance in walking; Cochimetl, (Sleeping-maguey) may apply to the leaves of the maguey-plant which shaded the traveller from the heat during his noonday siesta, or from the wind if he used them to construct a temporary shelter, as was often done; Yacapitzanac (“Sharp-nose”) needs little explanation in connection with the peddler’s calling, and the name of the one goddess of the series, Chalmecaciuatl, is evidently that of a tribal deity of the Chalmeca, with whom the Mexicans traded. [344]

1 Bk. i, c. xix; bk. ix, passim. 

2 Nat. Rac. Pac. States, vol. iii, p. 417, note. 






  • Area of Worship: Plateau of Anahuac.
  • Minor Names:
    • Chicuei Mazatl = “Eight Deer.”
    • Chicunaui Coatl = “Nine Serpent.”
  • Calendar Place: Ruler of the seventeenth day-count, olin; of the sixteenth tonalamatl division, ce cozcaquauhtli.
  • Compass Direction: East.
  • Relationship: Twin brother or variant of Quetzalcoatl.



With sacrificial and fire-making symbols.

(From Codex Borbonicus, sheet 16.)


Codex Borgia.—In the picture of Xolotl on the left side of the middle lower part of sheet 55 a resemblance to Quetzalcoatl is noticeable. On his head is the peculiar wedge-shaped Huaxtec hat, painted half-red and half-blue, which is one of Quetzalcoatl’s characteristics. The bone dagger symbolic of self-torture and penance, and the snail-shell armlets he wears, are also reminiscent of Quetzalcoatl’s insignia. His face-painting, however, differs from that usually worn by Quetzalcoatl in Codex Borgia, as the front portion of his face is blue and the part near the ears red. His body-paint is blue. Nor does he have a large beard or fan-shaped nape-ornament, but is shown wearing the Wind-god’s breast-ornament made from a sliced snail-shell. He also shows a likeness to Quetzalcoatl in the manner in which his loin-cloth and fillet are rounded off. As a travelling god, Xolotl is depicted in Codex Borgia as holding a fan similar in its three-flapped wedge-shape to that of the other peripatetic deities, except that it has a handle shaped like a bird’s head [345]and is seemingly composed of blue cotinga-feathers. His travelling pack is symbolized by a flowering tree, which he bears on his back, while his travelling staff is painted turquoise colour, is decorated with the chalchihuitl ornament, and is completed with a flower. In the picture to the right of sheet 36 Xolotl presents almost a new aspect, although certain of his attributes bear some resemblance to those which we have already observed as being peculiar to him. He still carries a travelling-staff with a jewelled head, but in this representation its general character is more that of the rattle-stick. His body-paint remains the same and he retains his blue feather fan. His pack is distinguished by a flower to serve as a connection with the florescent tree carried by him, as described elsewhere. In this sheet he is represented as wearing a long beard and his face-paint in the region of the mouth is white. His face is altered by a peculiar type of nose, which gives him a disfigured appearance. The god of monstrosities on sheet 10 of Codex Borgia has a similar patch of white about his mouth, resembling in shape a human hand, a symbol which also characterizes the face-painting of Macuil Xochitl. Elsewhere in this MS. he is represented as crooked-limbed and blear-eyed.

Codex Vaticanus B.—In this MS. Xolotl is represented as having a dog’s head and again appears in the garb and ornaments of Quetzalcoatl. In Codex Borgia his ears have a rim of yellow, evidently intended to represent dead flesh, while in Codex Vaticanus the canine character is indicated by the cropped ears. In the nostrils is a blue plug, the ornament of the deceased warrior, denoting that this is the dog which accompanies his master to Mictlampa, Place of the Dead, and assists him to swim the river which encircles it. This distinguishing plug is seen in Codex Vaticanus, but not in Codex Borgia. The rest of the god’s attire is exclusively that worn by Quetzalcoatl, as described in the space devoted to that god.

Ixtlilton. (From the Sahagun MS.)

Ixtlilton. (From the Sahagun MS.)

(See p. 349.)

Omacatl. (From the Sahagun MS.)

Omacatl. (From the Sahagun MS.)

(See p. 352.)

Xolotl. (From the Codex Borgia.)

Xolotl. (From the Codex Borgia.)


Aubin Tonalamatl.—In this MS. he again takes on a canine appearance and is clothed in many respects like Quetzalcoatl. This frequent similarity in dress between the gods may have [346]its origin in the diverse meaning of the word coatl, which, besides meaning “snake,” also denotes “comrade” or “twin.” This dog-like creature is usually portrayed as of a dark colour, black, with the distinctive cropped ear, while in Codex Borgia he is depicted with jaguar-claws. Xolotl has the face-painting of Quetzalcoatl in the Mexican MSS. proper, that is in the middle front it is yellow and black at the sides. He wears the two-coloured white and brown (jaguar-skin) head-loop with rounded-off ends, which latter form is also continued in the loin-cloth. Both these articles of dress he has in common with Quetzalcoatl.

Codex Telleriano-Remensis.—Here he is depicted with Tlazolteotl’s spindles in his hair and an ichcaxochitl of unspun cotton, as well as the head-loop previously described. Only in this MS. is he so adorned. The instrument of self-mortification, the bone dagger, juts out from above his forehead, whence issues a trickle of blood, sometimes delineated symbolically as a feather-ball string completed with a flower, and at others represented as real blood. He grasps an obsidian knife, which implement also projects from his mouth along with a flower, while a copal bag is portrayed in front of him. In some MSS., as in Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Vaticanus A, he is represented as wearing a mask on his girdle.


Xolotl seems to be represented on one of the wall-paintings at Mitla, where he is characterized by the physiognomy of an animal with projecting upper teeth. He wears Quetzalcoatl’s conical cap of jaguar-skin and his necklace of snail-shells. The dog’s ears seem in this place to be merged into tufts of feathers.


Two small pottery figures of Xolotl found in the Valley of Mexico insist strongly upon his animal character, but in neither of these is the precise bestial type ascertainable. [347]The first shows a face ending in a blunt snout and surmounted by a kind of wig, with ear-pieces rising on either side. What seems to be a collar of feathers surrounds the neck. In the other he is represented as a little bear, or dog, without clothing, but having Quetzalcoatl’s sliced snail-shell breast-ornament. A stone head of him found in the Calle de las Escalerillas in Mexico City on 29th October 1900 shows a blunt, almost ape-like animal face with large powerful molar teeth, dog-like canines, and large, sharp fangs, not unlike those with which Tlaloc was usually represented. Incised lines represent powerful muscular development in the region of the nose and jaws. The type is only generally and not particularly bestial, and it would seem that it was the aim of the sculptor to represent a ferocious animal countenance without laying stress upon the peculiarities of any one species.


The most important of the myths relating to Xolotl are those given by Sahagun and Olmos, which have already been described at length in the chapter on Cosmogony. The Codex Vaticanus A says of him: “They believe Xolotle to be the god of monstrous productions and of twins, which are such things as grow double. He was one of the seven who remained after the deluge, and he presided over these thirteen signs which they usually considered unlucky.” The Codex Telleriano-Remensis describes him in verbiage almost identical.

Juan de Cordova in his Zapotec Grammar writes: “When a solar eclipse occurred then they said that the world is coming to an end, and that the Sun-god wanted war, and that they would kill one another, whoever was first able to do this. Likewise they said that the dwarfs were created by the sun, and that at the time (that is during the eclipse) the Sun-god wanted the dwarfs as his property. And therefore wherever dwarfs or undersized persons were found in a house the people fell upon and killed them, and they hid themselves in order not to be killed, so that during that time few escaped from their fate.” [348]

One of the hymns or songs given in the Sahagun MS. says of Xolotl:

Old Xolotl plays ball, plays ball

On the magic playing-ground.


The Mexican game of tlachtli symbolized the movements of the moon (but more probably of both sun and moon). This, perhaps the favourite Mexican amusement, was a ball-game, played with a rubber ball by two persons one at each end of a T-shaped court, which in the manuscripts is sometimes represented as painted in dark and light colours, or in four variegated hues. In several of the MSS. Xolotl is depicted striving at this game against other gods. For example, in the Codex Mendoza we see him playing with the Moon-god, and can recognize him by the sign ollin which accompanies him, and by the gouged-out eye in which that symbol ends. Seler thinks “that the root of the name olin suggested to the Mexicans the motion of the rubber ball olli and, as a consequence, of ball-playing.” It seems to me to have represented both light and darkness, as is witnessed by its colours. Xolotl is, indeed, the darkness that accompanies light. Hence he is “the twin” or shadow, hence he travels with the sun and the moon, with one or other of which he “plays ball,” overcoming them or losing to them. He is the god of eclipse, and naturally a dog, the animal of eclipse. Peruvians, Tupis, Creeks, Iroquois, Algonquins, and Eskimos believed him to be so, thrashing dogs during the phenomenon, a practice explained by saying that the big dog was swallowing the sun, and that by whipping the little ones they would make him desist. The dog is the animal of the dead, and therefore of the Place of Shadows.1 Thus also Xolotl is a monster, the sun-swallowing monster, like the Hindu Rahu, who chases the sun and moon. As a shadow he is “the double” of everything. The axolotl, a marine animal found in Mexico, was confounded with his [349]name because of its monstrous appearance, and he was classed along with Quetzalcoatl merely because that god’s name bore the element coatl, which may be translated either “twin” or “snake.” Lastly, as he was “variable as the shade,” so were the fortunes of the game over which he presided.

At the same time he seems to me to have affinities with the Zapotec and Maya lightning-dog peche-xolo2 and may represent the lightning which descends from the thunder-cloud, the flash, the reflection of which arouses in many primitive people the belief that the lightning is “double,” and leads them to suppose a connection between the lightning and twins, or other phenomena of a twofold kind. As the dog, too, he has a connection with Hades, and, said myth, was dispatched thence for the bones from which man was created.

He is also a travelling god, for the shadows cast by the clouds seem to travel quickly over plain and mountain. As the monstrous dwarf, too, he symbolized the palace-slave, the deformed jester who catered for the amusement of the great, and this probably accounts for the symbol of the white hand outspread on his face, which he has in common with Xochipilli and the other gods of pleasure. He bears a suspicious resemblance to the mandrake spirits of Europe and Asia, both as regards his duality, his loud lamentation when as a double-rooted plant he was discovered and pulled up by the roots, and his symbol, which may be a reminiscence of the mandrake.



  • Minor Name: Tlaltetecuin = “He who strikes the Earth.”
  • Area of Worship: Mexican Valley.
  • Relationship: Brother of Macuilxochitl.
  • Symbol: The toualli, the four balls or beads, seen in the Sahagun MS. and in the Codex Magliabecchiano (sheet 63) as a shield-device.
  • Calendar Place: Day ome tochtli.
  • Compass Direction: South.



Codex Fejérváry-Mayer.—Sheet 24: Here the god is represented opposite Macuilxochitl. He wears on his head a white-fringed cloth, such as is worn by Tezcatlipocâ, having on the top a bunch of downy feathers with a crest of four plumes ending in white tips. He has a collar made of vertebræ or animals’ claws, and on the upper arm a ring, furnished on one of its sides with a projection tapering to a point. The body is white and the face is painted black and white round the mouth. Seler in his Commentary on this MS. (p. 127) thinks that the white ball or disk covered with a radial design, and held by the god in his right hand, is perhaps a symbol for ilhuitl (“day,” “feast”), and should be compared with the parti-coloured, whorl-like disk which the dancer in Codex Telleriano-Remensis (sheet L, verso 1) holds in his hand, and which represents the sign of the eighth annual feast, the ueitecuilhuitl. The crest worn by him, which is composed of black feathers, is the crest embellished with quetzal-feathers and stone knives, as in the Sahagun MS. and the Codex Magliabecchiano.

Codex Borgia.—Sheet 62: In this representation he faces the goddess Xochiquetzal. He wears the face- and body-paint of a priest, with a white angular patch about the mouth, sprinkled with ulli gum. His crest is similar to that described above. The breast-ring seems to be imbedded in a motif bearing a resemblance to the tlachinalli fire-and-water symbol, and its significance in this place is hard to define. From the wrists droop elaborate feather ornaments, depending from a bracelet of stone knives. We seem to see the Dance-god in this place in his ceremonial condition, as the ruler of the dance which preceded human sacrifice. Sheet 64 shows him similarly attired, but without the priest’s body-paint. He seems about to enter the dance-house of the warriors, and a courtesan bears him company.

Codex Borbonicus.—Sheet 4: Here he is shown opposite Ueuecoytl, the coyote god, engaged in the motions of the dance. Perhaps this position is more eloquent of motion than any other in the Mexican MSS. In this place he appears [351]to be almost identified with Macuilxochitl (q.v.), to whose statuettes in the Museo Nacional de Mexico, the figure bears a strong resemblance.

Sahagun MS.—The face-paint is black and the god wears a feather comb set with flint knives. He has a collar of ani