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Aztec Day Signs: A Closer Look at Tecpatl’s Significance

Tecpatl is the 18th day sign of the tonalpohualli, the sacred Aztec calendar used for religious purposes. The day Tecpatl (also known as Etznab in Maya) means ‘stone knife’. It’s represented by a glyph of a flint blade or a knife, similar to the actual knife used by the Aztecs. 

For the Aztecs, day Tecpatl was a day of trials, tribulations, and grave ordeals. It was a good day for testing one’s character and a bad day to depend on one’s reputation or past accomplishments. This day is a reminder that the mind and spirit should be sharpened like a knife or a glass blade. 

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What is Tecpatl?

The tecpatl was an obsidian knife or flint with a double-edged blade and a lanceolate figure on it. As an important part of Aztec culture and religion, the tecpatl is featured in various sections of the sacred Sun Stone. It is sometimes represented with a red top, which symbolizes the color of human blood in sacrifices, and a white blade, the color of flint. 

The blade was about 10 inches long, and its ends were either rounded or pointed. Some designs featured a handle attached to the blade. Every tecpatl that has survived appear somewhat unique in its design.

The Aztec day sign tecpatl (flint)
The Aztec day sign tecpatl (flint). Public domain
Sun stone
Tecpatl on the Sun Stone

Practical Uses of Tecpatl

Although the tecpatl seemed like any ordinary knife, it was one of the most important and complex symbols in the Aztec religion. It had several uses:

  • Human Sacrifice –  was traditionally used by the Aztec priests for human sacrifices. The blade was used to open up the chest of a living victim and remove the beating heart from the body. The heart was ‘fed’ to the gods in the hope that this offering would satisfy them and that they would bless humankind. It was mainly the sun god Tonatiuh, to whom these offerings were made since he lit up the earth and sustained life. 
  • Weapon – Tecpatl was also a weapon used by jaguar warriors, some of the most powerful fighters in the Aztec army. In their hands, it was an effective, short-range weapon. 
  • Flint – It could be used as flint to start a fire.
  • Religious Rituals – The knife also played an important role in religious rituals.

Governing Deity of Tecpatl

The day Tecpatl is ruled by Chalchiuhtotolin, also known as the ‘Jewelled Fowl’. He was the Mesoamerican god of plague and disease and the provider of Tecpatl’s life energy. Chalchiuhtotolin was regarded as a symbol of powerful sorcery and had the power to tempt humans into destroying themselves. 

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Chalchiuhtotolin, public domain

In addition to being the governing deity of day Tecpatl, Chalchiuhtotolin was also the patron of day Atl, of the 9th trecena (or unit) in the Aztec calendar. He was often depicted in the form of a turkey with colorful feathers, and in this form, had the ability to cleanse humans of any contamination, overcome their fate, and absolve them of their guilt. 

Chalchiuhtotolin was a powerful deity who had an evil side to him. In some depictions, he’s shown with green feathers, hunched over and with white or black eyes which were signs of an evil god. He’s sometimes portrayed with sharp, silver talons, and was known to terrorize villages, bringing disease to the people. 

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.