Ollin – Symbolism and Importance

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Ollin (meaning movement), is the 17th day of the sacred Aztec calendar, represented by the symbol of the concept Nahui Ollin. Governed by two deities, it’s regarded as an auspicious day for taking action.

What is Ollin?

The ancient Aztec pictorial manuscript known as the Codex Borgia contains the tonalpohualli, a calendar with 260 days divided into separate units, each with 13 days. Each unit was called a trecena, and each day was represented by a specific symbol.

Ollin is the first day of the 17th trecena in the tonalpohualli.

In Nahuatl, the word ‘ollin’ means ‘movement’ or ’motion’. In Maya, it’s known as ‘Caban’.

The day Ollin was regarded by the Mesoamericans as an auspicious day for taking action, not for being passive. It also signifies disorder, transformation, and seismic changes.

The Concept of Ollin

nahui ollin
Nahui Ollin symbol. PD.

The day sign Ollin is the symbol of the Nahui Ollin concept in Aztec cosmology. It features two, differently colored interlaced lines, each with two central ends. The symbol also features an eye in the center.

The concept of Ollin has been popularly used as an educational framework in ethnic and social justice studies.  It alludes to four preceding ages or suns in history.

Nahui means four and Ollin, as already discussed, means movement or motion. Together, this phrase represents the cyclical movement of nature in the four directions. It’s described as the fifth sun (or the fifth sol), in its four movements, over the current world.

According to various ancient sources, the Aztecs believed that the fifth world will be destroyed either by a series of earthquakes or a single, large earthquake that will result in a period of darkness and famine.

Nahui Ollin is described as referring to movements that are chaotic or orderly. It’s composed of the four Nahui concepts: Tloke, Nahuake, Mitl, and Omeyotl. Tloke is the concept of what is near, Nahuake what is closed, Mitl the principle of displacement, and Omeyotl dual essence.

The Nahui Ollin concept is fundamental in Aztec cosmology and is used as a guide for daily life and decisions. Its objective is to strive for balance, even in times of struggle.

The Governing Deities of Ollin

The day Ollin is protected by the two Mesoamerican deities: Xolotl and Tlalchitonatiuh.

Xolotl was the canine deity of monstrosities and was often described as dog-like, with ragged ears and empty eye sockets. He was a sinister god, identified with physical deformity and ailments.  He was also known as the god of twilight, twins, monsters, and misfortune.

Xolotl’s role in Aztec mythology was to guide the souls of the dead. There are several myths surrounding Xolotl, some of which explain his empty eye sockets and others that describe his journey to the land of the dead. Xolotl ruled the 17th trecena together with Tlalchitonatiuh, the god of the setting sun.

Tlalchitonatiuh was a highly revered deity among most Mesoamerican cultures. He was depicted as a young man with the sun over his shoulders, with darkness at his feet to represent the sunset. Not much is known about this deity except for his origins which can be traced back to the Toltec civilization.

FAQs

What does the Ollin symbol mean?

Ollin is a symbol of movement, disorder, seismic change, and transmutation. It is also a symbol of the Nahui Ollin concept.

What is the Ollin eye?

The eye in the center of the Ollin symbol signifies the cosmos.

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