Itzcuintli – Symbolism and Importance

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In the tonalpohualli, Itzcuintli was the 10th day sign, associated with trustworthiness and loyalty.  It’s represented by the image of a dog and ruled by the Mesoamerican deity, Mictlantecuhtli, who was known as the god of death.

What is Itzcuintli?

Itzcuintli, meaning ‘dog’ in Nahuatl, is the day sign of the 10th trecena in the sacred Aztec calendar. Known as ‘Oc’ in Maya, this day was regarded by the Aztecs as a good day for funerals and for remembering the dead. It’s a good day for being reliable and trustworthy, but a bad day for over-trusting others.

The day Itzcuintli is represented by a colorful glyph of a dog’s head with its teeth bared and tongue protruding. In Mesoamerican mythology and folklore, dogs were highly revered and were strongly associated with the dead.

It was believed that dogs acted as psychopomps, carrying the souls of the dead across a large body of water in the afterlife. They often appeared Maya pottery from as early as the Pre-classic Period, depicted in underworld scenes.

In the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, fourteen human bodies were found in a cave along with the bodies of three dogs. It’s believed that the dogs were buried with the dead to guide them on their journey to the underworld.

The Xoloitzcuintli (Xolo)

Xoloitzcuintli Aztec dog

Archaeological evidence discovered in the tombs of Mayan, Aztec, Toltec, and Zapotec people, show that the origins of the Xoloitzcuintli, a hairless dog breed, can be traced back to over 3,500 years ago.

Some sources say that the breed was named after the Aztec deity Xolotl, who was the god of lightning and fire. He was typically depicted as a man with the head of a dog and his role was to guide the souls of the dead.

Xolos were regarded as guardians by the indigenous people who believed that it would protect their homes from intruders and evil spirits. If the dog’s owner passed away, the dog was sacrificed and buried together with the owner to help guide their soul to the underworld.

The meat of Xolos was considered a great delicacy and was often reserved for sacrificial ceremonies and special events such as funerals and marriages.

The Creation of the First Dogs

According to a famous Aztec myth, the Fourth Sun was wiped out due to a great flood and the only survivors were a man and a woman. Stranded on a beach, they built themselves a fire and cooked some fish.

The smoke rose to the heavens, upsetting the stars Citlalicue and Citlallatonac, who complained to Tezcatlipoca, the creator god. He severed the heads of the couple and attached them to their rear ends, creating the very first dogs.

Dogs in Aztec Mythology

Dogs appear quite often in Aztec mythology, sometimes as deities and other times as monstrous beings.

The ahuizotl was a fearsome, dog-like water monster that lived underwater near the riverbanks. It would appear at the surface of the water and drag away unwary travelers to their watery deaths. Then, the victim’s soul would be sent off to one of the three paradises in Aztec mythology: Tlalocan.

The Purepechas worshipped a ‘dog-god’ called ‘Uitzimengari’ who they believed saved the souls of those who had drowned by carrying them to the Underworld.

The Dog in Modern Times

Today, dogs continue to hold similar positions as they did in the Pre-classic and Classic periods.

In Mexico, it’s believed that evil sorcerers have the ability to transform themselves into black dogs and hunt the livestock of others.

In Yucatan folklore, a large, black, phantom dog called the ‘huay pek’ is believed to exist, attacking anyone and anything it meets. This dog is thought to be an incarnation of an evil spirit known as ‘Kakasbal’.

Throughout Mexico, dogs remain a symbol of death and the underworld. However, the practice of sacrificing and burying dogs along with their deceased owners no longer exists.

The Patron of Day Itzcuintli

Since dogs were associated with death in Aztec mythology, the day Itzcuintli is governed by Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death. He was the ruler of lowest part of the underworld known as Mictlan and was associated with bats, spiders, and owls.

Mictlantecuhtli features in a myth in which the primordial god of creation, Quetzalcoatl, visited the underworld in search of bones. Quetzalcoatl needed the bones of the dead in order to create new life and Mictlantecuhtli had agreed to this.

However, when Quetzalcoatl came to the underworld, Mictlantecuhtli had changed his mind. Quetzalcoatl escaped, but he accidentally dropped some bones on his way out, breaking several of them. This story explains why human beings are all of different sizes.

Itzcuintli in the Aztec Zodiac

According to the Aztec zodiac, those born on day Itzcuintli have a kind and generous nature. They’re always ready to help others and are brave as well as intuitive. However, they’re also extremely shy people who find it difficult to freely socialize with others.

FAQs

Which day is Itzcuintli?

Itzcuintli is the first day of the 10th trecena in the 260-day tonalpohualli (the Aztec calendar).

Do Xoloitzcuintli still exist?

Xolo dogs were nearly extinct by the time the breed was officially recognized in Mexico (1956). However, they’re now experiencing a revival.

How much does a Xolo dog cost?

Xolo dogs are rare and can cost anywhere from $600 to $3000.

How did Xolo dogs get their name?

These dogs were named after the Aztec deity Xolotl who was depicted as a dog.

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