Table of Contents
The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people who lived in Mexico from the years 1300-1500. The Aztec empire consisted of various ethnic groups, cultures, and tribes, and was rooted in mythology, spirituality, and ritualistic practices. The Aztec people typically expressed their beliefs and traditions through the form of symbols.
Symbols permeated all aspects of Aztec life, and could be found in writing, architecture, artwork, and clothing. But Aztec symbolism was predominantly found in religion, and their gods and goddesses were represented through plants, animals, and natural elements.
In this article, we will be exploring various Aztec gods and goddesses, their symbolic representations, and their meaning and significance to the Aztec people.
Symbol of life, creation, and duality.
Ōmeteōtl is the term used to refer to the dual gods, Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl. For the Aztecs, Ōmeteōtl symbolized life, creation, and duality. Ōmeteōtl represented all the binaries of the universe, such as man-woman, good-evil, confusion-order, love- hate, and movement-stillness, to name a few. Life on earth was created by Ōmeteōtl, who sent infant souls from heaven to earth.
In Aztec mythology, Ōmeteōtl is accompanied by sheaves of maize, which is the most important crop in Mesoamerican community.
Symbol of battle, strife, light, and dark.
Tezcatlipoca is the offspring of the creator God, Ometéotl. For the Aztecs, Tezcatlipoca was predominantly a symbol of battle and strife. Tezcatlipoca’s fiercest battle was with his brother, Quetzalcoatl. The battle between the brothers was waged to obtain the position of the sun god. Tezcatlipoca was opposed by his brother, who felt that Tezcatlipoca was more suitable as a god of darkness, than of fire and light. During the battle, an enraged Tezcatlipoca, destroyed the world with all its life forms.
In Aztec mythology, Tezcatlipoca is represented by an obsidian mirror and a jaguar. The jaguar, lord of all animals, aided Tezcatlipoca in his destruction of the world.
Symbol of wind, boundaries, civilizations.
Quetzalcoatl is one of the most important deities of Aztec beliefs. He’s the brother of Tezcatlipoca. His name means “feathered” or “plumed serpent”. For the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl symbolized wind, borders, and civilizations. Quetzalcoatl had a conch that resembled a swirling breeze and symbolized his power over the wind. He was the first god to create definitive boundaries between the skies and earth. He is also credited with the creation of new civilizations and cities on earth. Several Mesoamerican communities trace their descent to Quetzalcoatl. He was also one of the only gods who opposed human sacrifice.
In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl is represented by a wide range of creatures, such as, dragons, serpents, crows, and spider monkeys.
Symbol of water, rain, and storms.
Tlaloc is an Aztec god of water, rain, and storms. For the Aztecs, he symbolized both benevolence and cruelty. Tlaloc could either bless the earth with gentle rains or wreak havoc through hail and thunderstorms. Tlaloc was enraged when his wife was seduced and taken away by Tezcatlipoca. His anger resulted in a drought on earth, and when people prayed to him for rains, he punished them by showering the earth with a fire rain.
In Aztec mythology, Tlaloc is represented by sea animals, amphibians, herons, and snails. He often features multiplicity, and according to Aztec cosmology, four smaller Tlalocs mark the boundaries of the universe, and serve as a regulator of time.
Symbol of fertility, benevolence, protection.
Chalchiuhtlicue, also known as Matlalcueye, is a goddess of fertility and protection. Her name means “she who wears a jade skirt”. Chalchiuhtlicue aided in the growth of crops and plants, and was also a patron and protector of women and children. In Aztec cultures, newborn babies were given the holy waters of Chalchiuhtlicue, for a strong and healthy life. Chalchiuhtlicue was often criticized, and her benevolent demeanour was disbelieved. As a consequence of this, Chalchiuhtlicue wept, and flooded the world with her tears.
In Aztec mythology, Chalchiuhtlicue is represented through, streams, lakes, rivers, and seas.
Symbol of beauty, pleasure, protection.
Xochiquetzal was an Aztec goddess of beauty, enchantment, and sensuality. She was the Aztec goddess who promoted fertility for the sake of sexual pleasure. Xochiquetzal was the protector of prostitutes, and she oversaw women’s crafts such as weaving and embroidery.
In Aztec mythology, Xochiquetzal was associated with beautiful flowers, plants, birds, and butterflies.
Symbol of love, pleasure, and creativity.
Xochipilli, known as the flower prince, or the corn-flower prince, was the twin brother of Xochiquetzal. Like his sister, Xochipilli was a patron of male prostitutes and homosexuals. But more importantly, he was the god of painting, writing, sports, and dance. According to some Aztec beliefs, Xochipli was used interchangeably with Centéotl, the god of corn and fertility. For Aztecs, Centéotl was a benevolent god who went into the underworld to bring back potatoes and cotton for the people on earth.
In Aztec mythology, Xochipilli is represented with a tear-drop shaped pendant, and Centéotl is depicted with sheaves of corn.
Symbol of filth, sin, purification.
Tlazolteotl was the Aztec goddess of filth, sin, and purification. She was the patroness of adulterers and believed to encourage vice, but could also absolve her worshippers of sin. She punished sinners, cheaters, and morally corrupt individuals, by making them ill and diseased. These individuals could only be purified by making sacrifices, or by bathing in a clean steam. For the Aztecs, Tlazolteotl is symbolic of both dirt and purity, and she is worshipped during harvest festivals as the earth goddess.
In Aztec mythology, Tlazolteotl is symbolized with ochre colors around the mouth and nose, as a consumer of dirt and filth.
Symbol of human sacrifice, the sun and war.
Huitzilopochtli was an Aztec god of war, and the son of Ōmeteōtl, the creator. He was one of the most important and powerful deities in Aztec beliefs. Born on mount Coatepec, this warrior god was adorned with a powerful fire serpent and was viewed as the sun. The Aztecs offered regular sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli, to keep the world free of chaos and instability. Huitzilopochtli, as the sun, chased his siblings, the stars, and his sister, the moon who conspired to kill their mother. According to Aztec beliefs, the division between night and day resulted out of this pursuit.
In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli is represented as a hummingbird or an eagle.
Symbol of death and the underworld.
Mictlantecuhtli was the Aztec god of death and the underworld. Almost all mortal beings had to encounter him on the journey to heaven or hell. Only the individuals who had a violent death could avoid meeting Mictlantecuhtli and reach parts of heaven that he couldn’t reach. Mictlantecuhtli’s greatest challenge came in the form of Quetzalcoatl , who attempted to take bones from the underworld and renew life on earth.
In Aztec mythology, Mictlantecuhtli was represented through owls, spiders, and bats. In illustrations, he was depicted as a gaunt god who was adorned with blood spots, a skull mask, and an eyeball necklace.
Symbol of stars and constellations.
Mixcoatl, also known as the cloud serpent, was the god of stars and galaxies. Mixcoatl could change his shape and form to resemble moving clouds. He was known as the father of constellations, and Aztec people used him interchangeably with god Tezcatlipoca.
In Aztec mythology, Mixcoatl was depicted with a black face, a red and white body, and long hair.
Symbol of nourishment, femininity, creation.
Coatliecue is one of the most significant Aztec goddesses. Some Aztecs believe that she is none other than the female counterpart of the god Ōmeteōtl. Coatliecue created the stars and moon and nourished the world through her feminine aspects. She is believed to be the mother of the powerful god, Huitzilopochtli. Coatliecue is one of the most revered and respected Aztec goddesses.
In Aztec mythology, Coatliecue is represented as an old woman, and she wears a skirt intertwined with serpents.
Symbol of war, disease, and healing.
Xipe Totec is the god of disease, healing, and renewal. He was akin to a serpent and shed his skin to feed the Aztec people. Xipe Totec is known to be the inventor of war and battle. For the Aztecs, Xipe Totec was an emblem of renewal as he was able to heal and cure the diseased.
In Aztec mythology, Xipe Totec is represented with a golden body, a staff and hat.
Symbol of fertility and excessiveness.
Mayahuel is an Aztec goddess of maguey (a cactus) and pulque (alcohol). She symbolized pleasure and drunkenness. Mayahuel was also known as “the woman with 400 breasts”. This phrase reflected her affiliation to the Maguey plant, with its several, milky leaves.
In Aztec mythology, Mayahuel is depicted as a young woman emerging from the maguey plant. In these images she has several breasts and holds cups of pulque.
Symbol of warriors and sacrifice.
Tonatiuh was a sun god and a patron of warriors. He ruled the east He required blood and sacrifices in order to protect and nourish the people. Tonatiuh demanded ritualistic sacrifices to prevent evil and darkness from entering the world. His many warriors brought war prisoners to be sacrificed.
In Aztec mythology, he is depicted as a sun disk, or as a man with a sun disk on his back.
Aztec gods and goddesses played an important part in the daily lives of the people. They were worshipped and feared, with many human sacrifices given to these gods. Today they remain a significant part of the cultural heritage of the Mesoamerican people.