There are many oversimplifications of Aztec mythology in
the popular imagination, focused mostly on the ritual of human sacrifice. In
fact, the Aztecs had a complicated cosmology that extended far beyond that.
The Aztecs believed in a variety of gods, and also in a
larger supernatural force called Te¯o¯tl, which has been
mistranslated as "god" or "demon. This force permeated
the world, and served as a driver for events that even the gods couldnt
The Aztecs elaborate mythology centered on the figure
of Huitzilopochtli, their Sun God and War God. It was Huitzilopochtli who gave
them the vision of the serpent clutching the snake that led the ancestors of
the Aztec to the Valley of Mexico and gave them the impetus to found their great
central city of Tenochtitlan.
Because the Aztecs borrowed much of their mythology from
the Toltecs and were influenced by other peoples as well, there are many contradictory
stories in their mythology.
According to many of their creation myths, the Original
Being was Coatlique, the Lady with the Skirt of Snakes. She symbolized
the unknown, with her skirt of snakes that represented (for the Aztecs) the
four directions and the central up and down axis.
There are many legends of Coatlique and how her offspring,
which included the stars and the moon goddess, Coyolxanuhqui, came to be; some
say she was impregnated by emeralds, jade, or an obsidian knife. In a later
story, after these children were born, Coatlique placed a ball of feathers in
her bosom; later, she discovered that it was gone and that she was pregnant
with Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent God who was to become so critical to later
Aztec beliefs. Other stories say that the offspring of this pregnancy was Huitzilopochtli,
and that he later fathered Quetzalcoatl after a protracted war for control of
Whatever his origin, Quetzalcoatl became a central figure
in the daily religious practice of the Aztecs. He was seen as the inventor of
books (the Aztecs had an elaborate hieroglyphic system which they used to record
stories in books now called codices) and the originator of the well-known Aztec
calendar. He was also associated with the planet Venus, the morning star, and
was known as the giver of maize (corn) to the people.
Quetzalcoatls influence permeated every segment of
Aztec life, but he was not the only important deity. There were hundreds of
gods, and (as in the creation myth) sometimes one god had several names. The
previously mentioned Huitzilopochtli was central, but there were also rituals
and rites associated with Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of lakes and waters;
Chiconahui - a domestic fertility goddess and her mate Tlaloc, the god of rain;
Acolmiztli, one of the gods of the underworld (called Mictlan); and Itzli, the
god of sacrifice and stone knives.
An interesting aspect of the Aztec pantheon is the presence
of the Gods Of Excess. These five gods represented over indulgence
in drunkenness and other vices, and were associated with the number five. Days
in the Aztec calendar which were associated with the number five were considered
to be under the influence of these gods, and were thought to be days where people
were particularly susceptible to their influence.
Aztec society was a highly organized and complex structure,
as was their mythology. The gods the Aztecs worshipped reflected their environment
and their culture.
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