Religion was extremely important in Aztec life. They worshipped hundreds of gods and goddesses, each of whom ruled one or more human activities or aspects of nature. The people had many agricultural gods because their culture was based heavily on farming; also they included natural elements and ancestor-heroes. They believed that the balance of the natural world, the processes that make life possible - like the rain or solar energy -, and that the destiny of people depended on the will of these gods. While some deities were benevolent, others had terrifying characteristics.
The Aztecs thought that the power of the gods should be acknowledged and thanks given to them, so as to avoid the catastrophes that their rage or indifference could cause. For this reason, the monumental ceremonial centers were built and there were so many religious rites. The existence of the gods and their goodwill were maintained by offering up the most valuable human possession, life. This then, was the origin of human sacrifice and the ritual of bearing intense physical pain, which believers intentionally caused themselves.
AZTEC GODS AND GODDESSES
CENTEOTL, the corn god. He was a son of Tlazolteotl and the husband of Xochiquetzal.
CHALCHIUHTLICUE: The goddess of running Water. She was the sister of Tlaloc.
CHANTICO: the goddess of Hearth Fires and Volcanoes.
CHICOMECOATL: the goddess of Corn and Fertility.
CIHUACAOTYL: a goddess whose roaring signaled War.
COATLICUE - She of the Serpent Skirt.
EHECATL, the god of wind.
HUEHUETEOTL, "the old, old deity," was one of the names of the cult of fire, among the oldest in Mesoamerica. The maintenance of fires in the temples was a principal priestly duty, and the renewal of fire was identified with the renewal of time itself.
HUITZILOPOCHTLI, (the war/sun god and special guardian of Tenochtitlan) the deified ancestral warrior-hero, was the Mexica-Aztec patron par excellence.
His temple (next to that of Tlaloc) on the Main Pyramid was the focus of fearsome sacrifices of prisoners captured by Aztec warriors. Victims' heads were strung as trophies on a great rack, the Tzompantli, erected in the precinct below. God of War-Lord of the South-The Young Warrior-Lord of the Day- The Blue Tezcatliopoca of the South-Patron God of the Mexica. Known metaphorically as "The Blue Heron Bird", "The Lucid Macaw", and "The Eagle". The derivation of his name may have come from the ancient Chichimeca "Tetzauhteotl", possibly meaning "Omen-God"
He is considered an incarnation of the sun and struggles with the forces of night to keep mankind alive. Only to have found a place of major worship among the Aztec peoples. Huitzilopochtli is credited with inducing the Aztecs to migrate from their homeland in "Aztlan" and begin the long wanderings which brought their tribe to the Mexico Valley.
According to Aztec legend, Coatlicue, goddess of the earth had given birth to the moon and stars. The moon, Coyolxauhqui, and the stars called, Centzonhuitznahuac, became jealous of Coatlicue's pregnancy with Huitzilopochtli. During his birth, Huitzilopochtli used the "serpent of fire" and the sun's rays to defeat the moon and stars. Every day the battle continues between day and night. The Mexica saw the sunrise as a daily victory for this deity over the forces of darkness.
Huitzilopochtli can only be fed by Chalchihuatl, or the blood of sacrifice, to sustain him in his daily battle. He resides in the seventh heaven of Aztec mythology. The seventh heaven is represented as blue. His temple on the great Pyramid in Tenochtitlan was called Lihuicatl Xoxouqui, or "Blue Heaven". Over 20,000 victims are thought to have been ritually killed at the opening of his great temple in Tenochtitlan during a four day period. Duran relates that the great temple contained a wooden statue carved to look like a man sitting on a blue wood bench. A serpent pole extended from each corner to give the appearance of the bench as a litter. On his head was placed a headdress in the shape of a bird's beak. A curtain was always hung in front of the image to indicate reverence.
Tlacaelel, the Aztec power broker, is thought to have propelled this god into the place of importance that Huitzilopochtli held, some suggest even re-writing Mexica history. Huitzilopochtli's creation may have come from the ancient Mexica god "Opochtli", the Left Handed One, and a leading old Chichimec god of weapons and water. He was called "He Who Divides the Waters", and was principal in worship in the Huitzilopochco area and it's famous waters. Opochtli is thought to have been worshipped in ancient Aztlan.
Huitzilopochtli is said to be a representation of Tezcatlipoca in midsummer as the high sun in the southern sky. His name may have derived with his association with the color blue as when staring at the sun, spots of blue are seen by the eyes after looking away. His association with "on the left", was because when facing in the direction of the sun's path, east to west, the sun passed on the left.
Huitzilopochtli was certainly the most celebrated of the Mexica deities and came to embody the aspirations and accomplishments of the Aztec. His cult could have been considered the "state cult" and was a focus of the powerful economic and political system. Also known as "The Portentous One", as he directed the Mexica on their nomadic trek into the Valley of Mexico through a series of signs and omens. It was Huitzilopochtli who sent the eagle to perch on the nopal cactus to indicate the site of the Mexica's final resting place. His elevation to the rank of a major deity coincided with the formation of the triple alliance between Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. At this formation of the alliance his recognition as the god of war was complete and total.
As the power of Tenochtitlan grew his image was incorporated into the new lands and regions coming under Mexica control and he assumed new prominence and attributes even to the point of usurping the more traditional sun god, Tonatiuh. His main temple in the great temple of Tenochtitlan, (the Temple Mayor), was set alongside Tlaloc, god of rain, the symbolism of these two deities elevated above all others was a reflection of the economic status of the Mexica empire, (agriculture and war-tribute). Of interest many pictures and statues have survived of Tlaloc and other major deities but relatively few of Huitzilopochtli.
Images of Huitzilopochtli may be found in the Codex Borbonicus in which he is depicted standing in front of a small temple in his honor, in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, in his capacity as symbol of the month of Panquetzaliztli, and in a dual painting with Paynal, (messenger god), in Sahagun's Primeros Memoriales. His image further adorns the Codex Boturini in his guidance of the Mexica on their wanderings.
In the Codex Azcatitlan he is represented as a combination hummingbird and serpent tail being carried in what might be thought of as a backpack. In the Codex Florentine his birth is recorded as well as his famous battle with the stars. In all painted images his adornments are different, some with a shield of turquoise mosaic, others with a shield of white eagle feathers. The central image in all drawings is that of a warrior and a leader. He is often depicted as a seed dough image or "teixiptla" which was often made and prized during feasts.
Although Huitzilopochtli was worshipped greatly during the entire Mexica year he was of particular importance during the feast of Toxcatl, Dry Thing, Tlaxochimaco, Giving of Flowers, Teotleco, Arrival of Gods, and Panquetzaliztli, Raising of Banners. The feast honoring the raising of banners is generally thought to be his major yearly feast. Nowhere was Huitzilopochtli more honored than in his main temple atop the great pyramid in Tenochtitlan in the Temple Mayor. His main cult statue stood in the southernmost corner of the twin shrines to him and Tlaloc. The shrine to this deity is described in detail by Duran as well as accounts by several of the soldiers with Cortes, namely Andres de Tapia and Bernal Diaz as well as Cortes himself.
Duran claims to describe the statue based on reports from native informants and from direct interviews with surviving conquistadors. He describes the image as a wooden statue carved to look like a man seated on a blue wooden bench in the form of a liter. The liter poles contained images of serpents long enough to be carried on the shoulder of men. The bench was in the traditional Huitzilopochtli "sky blue" color. The image itself had a blue forehead with a blue band reaching from ear to ear also blue.
The image had a headdress shaped like a hummingbird beak made of gold. The feathers adorning the headdress were a beautiful green. In his left hand he held a shield, white, with five bunches of white feathers in the form of a cross. Four arrows extended from the handle of the shield. In his right hand he held a staff in the image of a serpent which was also blue. Gold bracelets were on his wrists and he wore blue foot sandals. This image was covered from view with a type of curtain adorned with jewels and gold. Bernal Diaz also relates an account and it is certainly worth reading.
Huitzilopochtli shared the top of the great temple with Tlaloc in Texcoco as well as in Tenochtitlan and is described in detail in Pomar's book. Pomar's Huitzilopochtli was an image of a standing young man, made from wood adorned with a cloak of rich feathers and wearing an ornate necklace of jade and turquoise surrounded by golden bells. His body paint was blue with a blue striped face. His hair was of eagle feathers and had a headdress of quetzal(*46) feathers.
Oh his shoulder was a form of a hummingbird's head. His legs were adorned and decorated with gold bells. In his hand was held a large spear, a spearthrower, and a feathered shield covered with a lattice work of gold stripes. There was no greater worshipped image to the Mexica and the stone idol that was atop the pyramid in Tenochtitlan that was removed under the eyes of Cortes. The idol was entrusted to a man called Tlatolatl. Tlatolatl successfully was able to hide this image of Huitzilopochtli as was uncovered during an investigation by the Bishop Zummaraga during the 1530's. The statue has never been found and is probably resting and waiting today in a cave somewhere in northern Mexico.
Listed in the Codex Boturini, the sacred bundle of Huitzilopochtli carried during the wandering years was born by four "bearers", named Tezacoatl, (Mirror Serpent), Chimalma, (Shield Hand), Apanecatl, (Water Headdress), and Cuauhcoatl, (Eagle Serpent). The Codex Azcatitlan shows only two god bearers. Duran agrees that there were four bearers but does not name them. Juan de Torquemada in his "Monarquia indiana also confers the four god bearers. Hernando Alvarado Tezozomoc keeps the bearer Cuauhcoatl but replaces the other three with Quauhtlonquetzque, Axoloa, and Ococaltzin. To further confuse this issue the Cronica Mexicayotl replaces Cuauhcoatl, (Eagle Serpent), with Iztamixcoatzin, (White Cloud Serpent).
ITZPZPALOTL: a goddess of Agriculture.
IXTLILTON: the god of Healing, Feasting, and Games.
MACUILXOCHITL: the god of Music and Dance.
METZTLI: the Moon god.
MICTLAN: the underworld and home of all the dead except warriors and women who died in labor.
MICTLANTECIHUATL: the lady and goddess of Mictlan and the Realm of the Dead.
MICTLANTECUHTLE, god of the dead.
OMETECUHLTI and his wife OMECIHUATL created all life in the world the god of Duality.
PATECATLl: the god of Medicine.
PAYNAL: the messenger to Huitzilopochtli.
QUETZALCOATL, (the god of civilization and learning) "quetzal (feather) serpent," had dozens of associations.
It was the name of a deity, a royal title, the name of a legendary priest-ruler, a title of high priestly office. But its most fundamental significance as a natural force is symbolized by the sculpture of a coiled plumed serpent rising from a base whose underside is carved with the symbols of the earth deity and Tlaloc. The image of the serpent rising from the earth and bearing water on its tail is explained in the Nahuatl language by a description of Quetzalcoatl in terms of the rise of a powerful thunderstorm sweeping down, with wind raising dust before bringing rain.
The Creator God-The Feathered Serpent-The Founder of Agriculture- Precious Feather Snake- The Road Sweeper - Often portrayed with a black beard to represent age or as an old man. Covering his mouth there is often a red mask in the form of a bird's beak. His mask identifies him as the god of wind and he was worshiped under the name of Ehecatl, or wind. One of the greatest gods, god of wind, light, and Venus.
God of twins and monsters. Legend has Quetzalcoatl and his twin brother Xolotl, descending to hell and retrieving human bones. By dripping his blood onto the bones, human resurrection began. Men therefore, are the children of Quetzalcoatl. He is always presented as benevolent. He wears about his neck a "Wind Jewell" made from a conch and his head was adorned with a jaguar bonnet or sometimes a small cap. A sharp bone protrudes from the headgear which flows the blood that nourishes his nahualli, the Quetzal bird.
He taught men science and the calendar and devised ceremonies. He discovered corn, and all good aspects of civilization. Quetzalcoatl is a perfect representation of saintliness. His cult transformed into a type of nobility cult and only special sacrifices selected from the Nobel classes were made to him, and then only in secret.
Quetzalcoatl is a very ancient god known to the Mayas and ancient Teotihuacan ruins. Quetzalcoatl was said to be the son of Camaxtli and Chimalma and he was born in Michatlauhco, "Fish Deeps". His mother died during his birth and he was raised by his grandfathers. The multiplicity of Quetzalcoatl's roles attest to the antiquity of his cult following and his adoration. He is credited with allowing the Spanish and Cortes to march into the Aztec lands. The Aztec people thought Cortes was an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl returning from the East to retake his lands as told in legend.
It was not uncommon for a hundred years after the conquest for merchants in smaller towns to work and save for twenty years just to throw a large banquet to this most revered god. Before the conquest slaves would have been bathed and sacrificed for this feast.
The "Ehecailacacozcatl" or the winds that proceed a rain downpour were associated with Quetzalcoatl. Lightning as it contains a serpentine shape was also associated with this god in the name xonecuilli. Also considered to be worshiped under the names Tlilpotonqui, "Feathered in Black", and possibly as Ecacouayo Mixtli, "A Twister", in association with his capacity as God of the Wind. In the Codex Magliabechiano, pl. 34, Quetzalcoatl was refered to as Tlaloc.
The Codex Cospi pls. 9-11 contain references to his association with the planet Venus and it's destructive powers as well as the Codex Borgia, pl. 53f. In the Vienna Codex this god is depicted as an alert youth sitting at the feet of the "Old Ones", The dual divinity. Could also appear as "Yacateuctli, Lord of the Vanguard, or one who goes forth, Yacacoliuhqui, "He with the Aquiline Nose", and as Yacapitzahuac, "Pointed Nose". May have been worshiped under the name of "Our Reverend Prince", and Ocelocoatl in his black or night form.
In Boone's translation of the Magliabechiano Codex, Quetzalcoatl is mentioned as being the son of Miclantecutli, Lord of the Place of the Dead. Boone relates in her translation an interesting story concerning Quetzalcoatl as having washed his hands and then touched his penis and caused semen to drop on a rock). A bat grew from this union of semen and rock who other gods sent to bite the flower goddess Xochiquetzal. This bat bit off a piece of her vagina while she was sleeping and took it to the gods. They then washed it and from the water that was spilled came forth flowers that smelled bad. This same bat took the flesh to Mictlantecuhtli where he washed the piece of flesh and the water that he used brought forth sweet smelling flowers the indians called xochitrls. Often depicted holding a thorn used to let blood. He created auto-sacrifice, a forerunner to human sacrifice. He is said to have let blood in honor to Camaxtli (Mixcoatl), who the Aztec believed to be Quetzalcoatl's father.
Quetzalcoatl's priests would bang a drum in the morning and in the evening in reverence to Quetzalcoatl. At that time merchants could leave the city and visitors could enter Tenochtitlan. The drum of Quetzalcoatl may be compared with the flute of Tezcatlipoca. The drum separated night from day. The flute was heard at night. The sound of the flute was shrill and anxiety followed it's music. According to Sahagun, Quetzalcoatl's temple was high with a narrow staircase with steps so narrow that feet had a hard time holding. The image was covered with tapestries with an ugly and bearded face.
This deity is depicted on a statue, currently in the British Museum, with ocelot claw ear-rings. The roar of this animal was believed to help bring the sun into the sky. This statue also holds a studded club in the right hand and in the left a skull, the sign of his twin brother Xolotl. The statue venerates the rising from the jaws of the feathered serpent as the morning star Venus rises to announce the sunrise. The statue further bears a collar symbol of the sun. According to Burland's book, this statue commemorates a transit of Venus in the year 1508.
Lord of Healing and magical herbs, known as a symbol of thought and learning, of the arts, poetry, and all things good and beautiful. Lord of Hope and Lord of the Morning Star. He has been likened to England's King Arthur, both a real person and myth. According to the Vienna Codex a series of nine different Toltec kings succeeded the original man/god all calling themselves Quetzalcoatl. In the Codex Laud, Quetzalcoatl is seen as wind blowing in the waters. Sitting on the water, displaying her genitals, was a tempting Tlazoteotl. The wind of Quetzalcoatl is the breath of life and will fertilize her. Quetzalcoatl was the god of life and gave penitence, love, and exemption from rituals of sacrifice and Autosacrifice.
His association with the feathered serpent is an interesting story. The quetzal bird, native to the western area of Guatemala and Mexico, was regarded as the most beautiful bird and called Quetzaltotolin, meaning "most precious". The symbol of the feathered serpent was Quetzalcoatl, meaning not just feathered serpent, but "most precious serpent". Quetzalcoatl is not the feathered serpent but the one who emerges from the serpent as Venus rises from the morning horizon.
He has been depicted occasionally on statues showing him as a great priest, the Lord of Penitence, with a painted black stripe beside the eyes and a red ring surrounding the mouth and blue areas on the forehead. As Ehecatl, Lord of the Winds, he is depicted wearing a mask with a pointed snout covering his lower face. This is known as his "wind mask", and is usually painted bright red. According to Burland this was derived from the Mexican whistling toad, Rhinophryne dorsalis. It's shape suggested the earth monster, a cross between an alligator and a toad. Temples to Ehecatl were circular as the god of wind could blow or breath in any direction. In the Vienna Codex, Quetzalcoatl is depicted holding the heavens with his hands, symbolic of holding the rain clouds and sky in place.
The Spanish missionaries early adopted the myth of Quetzalcoatl and thought that he was actually St. Thomas the Apostle, who had come to Mexico to help convert the Aztec Indians to Christianity and that the spirit of St. Thomas was in Cortes. Today the figure of Quetzalcoatl can be seen in department store windows in Mexico City replacing a traditional Santa Claws figure. This figure wears a garland of feathers and a representational mask of the old venerated god and symbolizes the bringing of life and gifts. According to the Treatise by Alarcon, Quetzalcoatl was also known as "Matl", which meant "hand" in Nahuatl. Often depicted as a white skinned god with a black beard. Recent scholarly theories suggest that the man-god may have been a wandering Viking who had lost his way.
(used with permission from http://www.crystalinks.com/aztecgods.html)