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The Aztecs associated the cycle of rain with agriculture, land fertility, and prosperity. This is why Tlaloc, the god of rain, enjoyed a prominent place within the Aztec pantheon.
Tlaloc’s name means ‘He who makes things sprout’. However, this god didn’t always have a pleasing attitude toward his worshipers, as he was also identified with more hostile aspects of nature, such as hail, drought, and lightning.
In this article, you will find more about the attributes and ceremonies related to the mighty Tlaloc.
Origins of Tlaloc
There are at least two explanations of Tlaloc’s origins.
Created by Two Deities
In one version he was created by Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca (or Huitzilopochtli) when the gods started rebuilding the world, after an enormous flood had destroyed it. In a variant of the same account, Tlaloc wasn’t directly created by another god, but rather emerged from the remains of Cipactli, the giant reptilian monster that Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca killed and dismembered in order to create the earth and the sky.
The problem with this first account is that it’s contradictory, given that according to the Aztec creation myth of the Five Suns, Tlaloc was the Sun, or regent-deity, during the third age. In other words, he had already existed by the time of the legendary flood that put an end to the fourth age.
Created by Ometeotl
Another account proposes that Tlaloc was created by the primal-dual god Ometeotl after his sons, the first four gods (also known as the four Tezcatlipocas) were born.
This second explanation not only remains consistent with the cosmogonic events as they are told in the myth of the Five Sun, but also suggests that the cult of Tlaloc is much older than it might appear. The latter is something that the historical evidence seems to confirm.
For instance, sculptures of a god that shared many of Tlaloc’s attributes have been found in the archaeological site of Teotihuacan; a civilization that appeared at least a millennium before that of the Aztecs. It’s also possible that the cult of Tlaloc began as a result of the assimilation of Chaac, the Mayan god of rain, into the Aztec pantheon.
The Aztecs regarded their gods as natural forces, which is why, in many cases, Aztec deities would show a dual or ambiguous character. Tlaloc is not an exception, for this god was commonly associated with prodigal rains, essential for land fertility, but he was also related to other non-beneficial natural phenomena, such as storms, thunder, lightning, hail, and drought.
Tlaloc was also related to mountains, with his main shrine (besides the one inside the Templo Mayor) being on top of Mount Tlaloc; a prominent 4120 meters (13500 ft) volcano situated near the eastern border of the Valley of Mexico. This seemingly odd connection between the god of rain and mountains was based on the Aztec belief that precipitation waters came from the inside of the mountains.
Moreover, Tlaloc himself was believed to reside in the heart of his sacred mountain. Tlaloc also was considered the ruler of the Tlaloque, a group of minor rain and mountain deities that formed his divine entourage. The five ritual stones found inside Tlaloc Mount’s temple were supposed to represent the god being accompanied by four Tlaloque, although the total number of these deities seems to vary from one representation to another.
Another Aztec account for the origin of the rain explains that Tlaloc always had four water jars or pitchers at hand, each one containing a different kind of rain. The first one would produce rains with favorable effects on the land, but the other three would either rot, dry, or freeze the crops. So, whenever the god desired to send life-giving rains or devastation to humans, he would poke and break one of the jars with a stick.
The figure of Tlaloc was also connected with herons, jaguars, deer, and water-living animals, such as fishes, snails, amphibians, and some reptiles, especially snakes.
Tlaloc’s Role in the Aztec Creation Myth
In the Aztec account of creation, the world had gone through different ages, each of which began and ended with the creation and destruction of a sun. At the same time, in each one of these eras a different deity would turn himself or herself into the sun, to bring light to the world and to rule it. In this myth, Tlaloc was the third Sun.
Tlaloc’s third age lasted for 364 years. This period came to an end when Quetzalcoatl provoked a rain of fire that destroyed most of the world, and took Tlaloc out of the sky. Among the humans that existed in this era only those who were transformed into birds by the gods could survive this fire cataclysm.
How was Tlaloc Represented in Aztec Arts?
Given the antiquity of his cult, Tlaloc was one of the most represented gods in the art of Ancient Mexico.
Statues of Tlaloc have been found in the city of Teotihuacan, whose civilization disappeared several centuries before that of the Aztecs came to be. Still, the defining aspects of Tlaloc’s artistic representations remain practically unchanged from one culture to another. This consistency has allowed historians to identify the meaning of the symbols that are most frequently used to portray Tlaloc.
Early representations of Tlaloc from the Mesoamerican Classical period (250 CE–900 CE), were clay figures, sculptures, and murals, and depict the god as having goggle eyes, a mustache-like upper lip, and prominent ‘jaguar’ fangs coming out of his mouth. Even though this image might not directly suggest the presence of a rain deity, many of Tlaloc’s key features appear to be connected to either water or rain.
For instance, some scholars have noticed that, originally, each of Tlaloc’s goggle eyes was formed by the body of a twisted snake. Here the relation between the god and his primary element would be established by the fact that, in Aztec imagery, snakes and serpents were commonly associated with streams of water. Likewise, the upper lip and the fangs of Tlaloc could be also respectively identified with the meeting heads and fangs of the same snakes used to depict the god’s eyes.
There is a Tlaloc figurine from the Uhde Collection, currently preserved in Berlin, in which the snakes featured on the god’s face are pretty noticeable.
The Aztecs also linked Tlaloc to the colors blue and white. These were the colors used to paint the steps from the monumental stairs that led to the shrine of Tlaloc, atop of the Templo Mayor, in Tenochtitlan. Several more recent artistic objects, such as a Tlaloc effigy vessel found in the ruins of the aforementioned temple, also represent the face of the god painted in a bright blue turquoise color, in a clear association with both water and divine luxury.
Ceremonies Related to Tlaloc
Ceremonies related to Tlaloc’s cult took place in at least five of the 18-months ritual Aztec calendar. Each of these months was organized into units of 20 days, called ‘Veintenas’ (derived from the Spanish word for ‘twenty’).
During Atlcaualo, the first month (12 February–3 March), children were sacrificed on mountaintop temples consecrated to either Tlaloc or the Tlaloque. These infant sacrifices were supposed to ensure the supply of rains for the new year. Additionally, if the victims cried during the processions that took them to the sacrificial chamber, Tlaloc would be pleased and would provide beneficial rain. Because of this, children were tortured and horrific injury was inflicted on them to ensure there tears.
Flower tributes, a more benign kind of offering, would be brought to the altars of Tlaloc during Tozoztontli, the third month (24 March–12 April). In Etzalcualiztli, the fourth month (6 June–26 June), adult slaves impersonating the Tlaloque would be sacrificed, to gain the favor of Tlaloc and his subordinate deities just before the beginning of the rainy season.
In Tepeilhuitl, the thirteen month (23 October–11 November), the Aztecs would celebrate a festival to honor Mount Tlaloc and other sacred mountains where, according to the tradition, the patron of rain resided.
During Atemoztli, the sixteenth month (9 December–28 December), statues of amaranth dough representing the Tlaloque were made. These images would be adored for a few days, after which the Aztecs would proceed to take their ‘hearts’ out, in a symbolic ritual. The object of this ceremony was to appease the lesser deities of rain.
The Aztecs believed that the god of rain was the ruler of a heavenly place known as Tlalocan (which was the Nahuatl term for ‘Place of Tlaloc’). It was described as a paradise, full of green plants and crystalline waters.
Ultimately, Tlalocan was the place of resting for the spirits of those who suffered from deaths related to rain. Drowned people, for instance, were thought to go to Tlalocan in the afterlife.
FAQs About Tlaloc
Because Tlaloc was the god of rain and of earthly fertility, with power over the growth of crops and animals, he was central to the livelihoods of the Aztecs.
Tlaloc was the god of rain, lightning, and earthly fertility. He oversaw the growth of crops and brought fertility to the animals, people, and vegetation.
The name is pronounced Tla-loc.
The Aztec assimilated the cult of Tlaloc from previous Mesoamerican cultures and considered the god of rain one of their main deities. The importance of Tlaloc is well asserted by the fact that this god is among the protagonists of the Aztec myth creation of the Five Sun.
Sacrifices of children and other tributes were offered to Tlaloc and the Tlaloque in many parts of the Aztec religious calendar. These offerings were meant to appease the rain deities, in order to guarantee a generous supply of rain, especially during the cropping season.