They may not be common household names, but the gods of Aztec mythology are a colorful lot, giving us an insight into a complex and great civilization. The Aztecs’ polytheistic religion included several figures, many of which were adapted and incorporated from previous Mesoamerican civilizations. Here are some of the major deities.
The patron deity of the Aztecs, Huitzilopochtli guided them from their homeland Aztlan to their final destination in the Mexico Valley. Huitzilopochtli represented the sun that battles daily against darkness to keep the human race alive. To sustain him, nothing less than sacrificial blood would do. Victims were ritually slain over four days at the inaugural of his temple at Tenochtitlan, the city which lies beneath modern Mexico. He is a warrior-leader with the motifs of a hummingbird and serpent tail woven into his iconography.
So deeply did the Aztecs fear the god of rain and fertility – he could destroy humanity with floods or droughts – that they offered him their children’s lives. He was a frightening figure with bulging eyes and fangs, clad in red with a headdress of green feathers. Tlaloc ruled over Tlalocan, a green heaven and final abode of those died from water-related causes like drowning, lightning or waterborne ailments.
The god of culture, arts and learning. Inventor of science, lord of healing, corn and all that is good. Quetzalcoatl is typically associated with a plumed snake. The feathers belong to the beautiful Quetzal bird, native to Mexico, whose name means “most cherished”. The god is said to emerge from the feathered snake – a sight as beautiful as Venus rising in the east. When Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador marched into their land, the Aztecs took him to be an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl who, it was prophesied, would one day return from the east to reclaim his land.
Quetzalcoatl’s equal and his mirror opposite, Tezcatlipoca presides over darkness. He is the god of temptation, the dark arts, war and beauty. He promotes discord, but also punishes evildoers with poverty and disease. Tezcatlipoca presides over human destiny; Aztec parents attributed the looks of their newborn to his whims. Associated with the jaguar, Tezcatlipoca typically has a blue eye mask and an obsidian mirror instead of a right foot. Sometimes, he wears a deer hoof, proof of his swiftness