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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.
The name Ōmeteōtl is derived from the Nahuatl language and is often translated as “Two-God,” combining “ōme” (two) and “teōtl” (god). This name is taken to suggest a dual nature or perhaps a balanced aspect of divinity. 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 night sky, battle, strife, light, and dark.
Tezcatlipoca, known as the “Smoking Mirror,” is a prominent deity in Aztec mythology. He is one of the four sons of the original dual god, Ometeotl, and participates in the creation and destruction of multiple world epochs, or “suns,” alongside his brothers, including Quetzalcoatl.
Tezcatlipoca is not a simple god of darkness or strife; his nature is complex and multifaceted. He is often associated with the night sky, ancestral memory, conflict, temptation, and change.
He is depicted as a powerful force, capable of affecting tremendous change and inciting transformation, which can often bring about periods of strife and discord. Nonetheless, these aspects are viewed as a necessary part of the life cycle and human experience.
Tezcatlipoca’s symbols include an obsidian mirror, indicating his connection to divination and the supernatural, and the jaguar, signifying his lordship over the earth and its creatures. His influence over the destinies of individuals and the turning tides of history make him a respected and feared deity in the Aztec pantheon.
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 water, fertility, benevolence, protection.
Chalchiuhtlicue, also known as Matlalcueye, is an Aztec goddess associated with water, 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 due to her grief over the disbelief of her benevolent nature..
In Aztec mythology, Chalchiuhtlicue is associated with various bodies of water, including streams, lakes, rivers, and seas.
Symbol of beauty, pleasure, protection.
Xochiquetzal, a central figure in Aztec mythology, was a powerful goddess revered for her association with beauty, love, fertility, and feminine arts. Her name, meaning “flower feather,” embodies the luxurious beauty and the delicate balance of nature.
As a goddess of love and beauty, Xochiquetzal was often invoked in matters of love and desire. She was also associated with sensual pleasure and was believed to protect women during childbirth. As a deity of fertility, she was revered for her ability to stir desire and ensure successful reproduction.
She was not only a symbol of sexual power but also the protector of prostitutes. It was Xochiquetzal who granted them the ability to provide their services, which were sometimes employed in sacred rituals as an offering to the gods.
Beyond her roles in love and fertility, Xochiquetzal was also the goddess of feminine crafts. She was the divine patron of weaving, embroidery, and other arts and crafts practiced by women in the Aztec society. This role signifies her broader cultural importance, connecting the creative and artistic facets of civilization with the realm of the divine.
Xochiquetzal was often depicted with features of youthful beauty, accompanied by symbols of nature’s abundance. Her symbols include beautiful flowers, vibrant plants, exotic birds, and butterflies – all of which express the splendor and richness of the natural world.
Symbol of love, pleasure, and creativity.
Xochipilli, also known as the “Flower Prince,” is a fascinating figure in Aztec mythology. He is often associated with his twin sister, Xochiquetzal, and like her, he is a patron of male prostitutes and homosexuals. However, his influence extends beyond these roles.
As a deity, Xochipilli was the god of many aesthetic and recreational activities, encompassing painting, writing, sports, and dance. These elements signify his broad connection to creativity, artistry, and the joyous celebration of life.
There is a unique aspect of Xochipilli in that he was sometimes conflated with Centéotl, the god of corn and fertility. The Aztecs revered Centéotl for his benevolence and vital role in sustaining life. According to some accounts, Centéotl journeyed to the underworld to bring back vital crops such as potatoes and cotton, a testament to his importance in agriculture and survival.
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 clean steams. 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 associated with the maguey (a type of agave) and pulque, a traditional alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant. She is a symbol of fertility and indulgence, often associated with pleasure and intoxication.
In Aztec mythology, Mayahuel is frequently depicted as a young woman emerging from the maguey plant, underscoring her intimate connection with this essential crop. While some interpretations of Aztec artwork suggest she may be portrayed with numerous breasts—symbolizing the abundance of nourishing sap provided by the maguey plant—this is not universally accepted among scholars.
Symbol of warriors and sacrifice.
Tonatiuh was a sun god and a patron of warriors. He ruled the east and required blood and sacrifices in order to to keep moving across the sky and to protect and nourish the people. Tonatiuh demanded ritualistic sacrifices to prevent evil and darkness from entering the world.
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.