The spirituality of a powerful civilization
Guiding their survival
The Aztecs, also known as Tenochcas or Mexicas, were a civilization that dominated south-central Mexico until the arrival of the conquistadors in the fifteenth century. Its territory included what we know today as Mexico City, Veracruz, Puebla, Guerrero, Oaxaca, the coast of Chiapas, Hidalgo, and part of Guatemala, Tenochtitlan, the capital of the empire.
Their language was Nahuatl, which they imposed on neighboring towns. They exercised control over the commercial routes and the diversity of products in their different towns, which gave them great power. Like many Mesoamerican civilizations, they possessed a very rich worldview, with rites and offerings to the different gods as central elements. Today, we want to share with you the 10 most important Aztec gods, those deities who played a very specific role in the life of this pre-Hispanic culture.
1. Huitzilopochtli: God of Sun and War
For the Mexicas, the supreme god; for the Aztecs, one of the most important deities. He was associated with gold, warriors, and rulers. According to legend, he was the son of the goddess Coatlicue (which we’ll discuss later). They made human sacrifices in his honor, which returned strength to the god.
In art depictions, the god Huitzilopochtli carries a snake-shaped spear, a shield, and arrows of blue feathers.
2. Quetzalcoatl: God of winds and rain
Also known as the feathered serpent, he was linked to science, agriculture, crafts, and art. The Maya knew it as Kukulcán and the Quichés of Guatemala, Gucumatz. Legend has it that Quetzalcoatl participated in the creation of humanity when he descended to the Mictlán (underworld) to extract some bones. Deceiving the rulers of the underworld with his cunning, he transformed them into people by mixing them with corn and his blood.
His name comes from the Nahuatl words “quetzal”, meaning feathered bird, and “coatl”, meaning snake: a mixture between a bird and a rattlesnake.
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3. Yacatecuhtli: God of Travelers
Travelers and merchants are entrusted to this figure. Yacatecuhtli was said to have its origin in Pochtlán, Xochimilco, where merchants typically met. The rituals of sacrifice and offerings for this god were intended to keep the roads where travelers would travel clear and safe. Another ceremony that was used to honor him was washing the merchants’ feet when they arrived from their journeys, accompanied by offerings in the local temple.
Like most Aztec gods, his name is Nahuatl, meaning “the lord of the nose.” He’s depicted as an old man with a cane formed by the union of rods that guide the walkers’ path. His headdress is made of quetzalli feathers and gold earmuffs.
4. Coatlicue: Goddess of earth or fertility
She’s been called “mother of all Aztec gods,” and legend has it that she was the mother of Centzon Huitznáhuac, gods of the southern stars, and the goddess Coyolxauhqui and Huitzilopochtli, from whom she became unexpectedly pregnant. The first felt threatened after that pregnancy and decided to kill their mother. Huitzilopochtli defended her, wiping out her brothers.
She’s depicted as a decapitated woman, showing elements of the earth and supernatural beings in her clothing, as her name means “that of the skirt of snakes”. Also, these characteristics speak of the duality of the earth: kind but insatiable.
5. Mictlantecuhtli: God of Death
The lord of Mictlán (underworld). Their existence responds to the belief that there could be no life without death, so they created Mictlantecuhtli. The Aztecs believed that the same fate awaited all the dead. They didn’t conceive of the existence of an exclusive paradise for those who did well in life. Souls were to descend through the nine layers of the underworld.
His name means “the lord of the mansion of the dead” and is depicted as a skeleton with red dots representing blood.
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6. Xipe Tótec: God of corn, regeneration, and war
He’s considered a fertility god and savior, as he sacrificed himself for humanity. The great legend tells that he shed his skin to feed people. That’s why, during the rituals in his honor, the best warriors were skinned to get a good harvest.
He’s depicted in yellow-tinted fur vestments, with stripes on his face made with quail paint, a conical crown, a skirt of sapote leaves, and also a shield in hand.
7.Ixtlilton: God of Medicine
Healer of diseases and watchman of children’s health. He had the faculty of healing sick children, who came to the temple to ask for their healing through pre-Hispanic dances and concoctions. His parents would offer a celebration in their homes when the child was healed to show their gratitude.
His name means “The one with the black face,” and his representations capture precisely that.
8. Xiuhtecuhtli: God of Fire
Purifier of the earth and renovator of things. In addition, he was also associated with warriors and rulers. The word xihuitl means “year,” “time,” and “fire” in Nahuatl, so some sculptures in his honor have turquoise mosaics (which were buried during rituals).
He’s represented with reeds on his head to handle fire. Moreover, his figure resembles a hunched old man carrying a considerable brazier to symbolize his ancient origin and wisdom.
9. Tlaloc: God of Rain
This deity had power over weather phenomena and was, therefore, crucial to the prosperity of the village’s agriculture. What’s more, they performed rituals to communicate with him and to be able to predict droughts and successful harvests. It’s said that he was the husband of Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of water and love. Also, his children, known as tlalocas, manifest in our world as clouds in the sky.
He’s depicted dressed in jade, gold pectoral, and in his hand a serpentiform stick that symbolizes lightning.
You’re almost done with this list on Aztec gods! You may also love: The major ancient Maya gods.
10. Metztli: Goddess of the Moon
Also known as Ixchel in the Maya culture. Her name means “the black moon.” The lunar observation was of great importance to the Aztecs, as eclipses, comets, and other celestial phenomena could have catastrophic connotations. In addition, these observations allowed them to create a schedule to improve their harvests. Second, she had the power to dominate the water using a snake displayed in her different representations. Finally, she can also be seen wearing a skirt with embroidered crossbones, symbolizing the death caused by inclement flooding.
Religion played a crucial role in the history of the Aztecs. Although we only mention the 10 main gods here, the list is much more extensive, and they even share deities with other cultures. Each god and each goddess has a complex history linked to the cosmos and human fragility. At the same time, these stories are intertwined to create the most magnificent legends. Equally important, they tell us about how they conceived the world and how their spirituality guided their survival. Learning about them helps us preserve the cultural richness and honor the vestiges of their empires, among which the temples stand out for their greatness.
Did you know any of these Aztec gods? Let us know which one was your favorite.
Nacida en el paraíso. Apasionada por contar historias, el teatro, la danza y el arroz con leche de mi mamá.