10 Major Aztec Gods and Goddesses
From principal Aztec gods like Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli to minor ones such as Macuiltochtili and Macuilmalinalli, the Aztec people believed in more than 250 gods and goddesses, many of which have very complex origin stories and diverse roles in the Aztec pantheon.
Take the example of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, who was said to wear a mask with big round eyes and elongated fangs. The Aztec people believed that Tlaloc made things grow by showering crops with rain. Tlaloc also had a very vindictive and ruthless side. When angry, he could make the lives of offenders a living nightmare by sending absolutely horrific weather conditions, including severe lightning, drought, snow storms, and floods.
Below World History Edu presents 10 Major gods and goddesses found in Aztec mythology and religion.
In Aztec religion and mythology, the god Huitzilopochtli is praised as the chief patron of the pantheon. As the supreme god, and also known as Mexitl, he fathered many of the Aztec gods and goddesses.
Huitzilopochtli, whose animal spirit (nugual) is the eagle, is said to be an entirely Mexica deity. Thus, there are no equivalents of him in earlier Mesoamerican cultures.
According to the myth, he was born to the Earth Mother Coatlicue. It’s believed the he was conceived when his mother got impregnated with a ball of feathers. Perhaps this is why he was associated with the eagle. It’s been said that he came into this world armed and donning battle gear, a symbolic reference to his other role as the god of war.
Shortly after his birth, a band of evil and devious forces murdered his mother. He would later find out that those evil forces were sent by his own siblings. Out to get revenge, he joined hands with a fire serpent and struck down all those that were responsible for the death of his mother. For example, he crossed oceans and went into the vast cosmos to kill hundreds of his brothers (Centzonhuitznahua) who had taken the shape of stars.
After transforming into the sun, Huitzilopochtli fought with his step-sister Coyolxauhqui, the moon goddess. Both deities battled for control of the sky.
It’s said that Huitzilopochtli’s thirst for retribution made him the kind of war god no being or deity wanted to cross path with.
This Aztec god was believed to be in charge of time, night and ancestral memory. Known as “the smoking mirror”, Tezcatlipoca’s spirit animal was the jaguar.
To the Toltecs, the Nuhau-speaking fierce warriors that hailed from the north, Tezcatlipoca was the chief of the gods.
In some myths, he joined forces with the sun/war god Huitzilopochtli to create the world. While Huitzilopochtli was associated with life and warmth, the god Texcatlipoca was associated with decay, death and cold.
There are many accounts of him waging war against his arch-nemesis Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of life, wisdom, and knowledge.
In an act of sheer altruism, the Aztec god Xipe Totec once flayed his own flesh to feed the race of men who were on the brink of starving to death. It is for this reason why Xipe Totec, a fertility and agricultural god, occupies an important place in the Aztec pantheon.
In reference to the selfless act he took to save humanity, he is often times depicted donning a flayed human skin. The depiction symbolizes the transition from death or decay to life and growth.
Aztec people thanked him for his benevolence by offering human sacrifices, especially during the Festival of Tlacaxipehualiztli (the Flaying of Men festival) in March. During the festival the person selected for sacrifice is tied to a stone and then ordered to fight with an Aztec warrior. The skin of the sacrificed victim would be flayed and then worn by ritual actors, who in turn would be killed. The skins of those reenactors would then be worn by the Aztec priests for about three weeks.
Aztec god of love Xōchipilli was revered been a very kind god who often delighted his worshipers by singing and dancing. It was believed that protected the souls of the dead that had transformed into humming birds.
Depicted as a red and skinless man with flowers, Xochipilli is said to carry a walking stick that when poked at an individual could make the person fall madly in love. His female counterpart and sister is the fertility goddess Xochiquetzal.
Xōchipilli was also known for being the patron deity of male prostitutes, gigolo, male escorts, and homosexuals.
In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl, a god of wisdom and knowledge, was the inventor of books and calendar. In some myths, the planet Venus was seen as his abode.
With epithet such as “The feathered Serpent”, Quetzalcoatl was known among Aztec people as the deity of rain, knowledge, wisdom and winds. He was also a god of self-reflection.
Quetzalcoatl’s spirit animal was a hybrid between a rattlesnake and a bird. When his name is broken down, it translates into “the emerald plumed bird serpent”. Quetzal invokes a meaning of bird, while coatl means serpent.
Quetzalcoatl is believed to have had a many unpalatable confrontations with his old arch-nemesis of Tezcatlipoca.
This Aztec god is believed to be the patron deity of travellers, trade (i.e. bartering), and commerce. Often depicted with a bundle of twigs, Yacatecuhtli is said to keep merchants and salesmen safe from harm, especially when traveling at night from one village to another. To seek his protection, the merhchants (Pochtecas) would erect an effigy of him with walking sticks. To complete the ritual, the merchants would pour drops of blood from their ears on top of the effigy.
Depicted as a woman donning a necklace of hearts, hands, and a skull, the Aztec goddess Coatlicue was worshiped as the deity who brought forth the stars and moon. She is known as the both the mother of gods and human beings.
It’s said she has two fanged serpents as her face. A fierce Aztec goddess, Coatlicue wears a skirt made of several snakes curled around each other. As a result, one of the epithets she earned was “the serpent skirt”.
In the myth, she was impregnated by a ball of feathers that fell from the sacred mountain Coatepec in the sky. She would later give birth to the sun/war god Huitzilopochtli.
Sun god Tonatiuh was believed to feed on the blood sacrificed to him in order to nourish the people every day. His association with the sun is the reason he was depicted with a sun disk .
Whenever a human sacrifice was made to Tonatiuh, it was believed the hearts of victims were what kept the sun shining. Without those human sacrifices, Tonatiuh would be unable to defeat darkness.
Did you know: Many Aztec warrior tribes sacrificed their prisoners of war and other captives to the god Tōnatiuh in order to keep the sun shining every day?
Known as the goddess “who wears a green skirt”, Aztec deity Chalchiuhtlicue was in charge of water and a host of other water bodies. She was also associated with many types of serpents, many of which took residence in the water bodies that fell under her control. In some myths, she was associated with childbirth and fertility.
The Aztec people depicted Chalchiuhtlicue as a woman with either green or blue skirt. The latter color is symbolic of her role as a water deity.
In some myths, she was the goddess of childbirth as well as the deity who kept newborn babies safe. Chalchiuhtlicue is the deity that unleashed a deadly deluge on the human race. She did, however, intervene later and prevented the annihilation of humans on earth by transforming humans into fish.
Like many of her fellow gods and goddesses in the Aztec pantheon, Chalchiuhtlicue could be appeased with a number of blood rituals and human sacrifices.
As mentioned in the introduction paragraph, Tlaloc is the god of rain whose showers make plants grow and other things sprout. For this, he was revered deity among the Aztec people.
However, Tlaloc was not always the blessing-giving god. In some myths, he was feared because of his destructive side. Tlaloc is said to have the ability to dish out punishments to those that wronged him. When the people acted in an arrogant manner, this god often times plagued the people with storms, hail, flood, and drought.
An important member of the Aztec pantheon of gods, Tlaloc came to be associated with springs, caves, and mountains. It was believed that he made his home in sacred mountains. His place of residence, known as the Paradise of Thalocan, is where the people who died of natural disasters and diseases go to.
Like Huitzilopochtli’s shrine, Tlaloc had his shrine placed on top of the pyramid of Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital.
Some examples of his spirit animals are sea creatures and water-dwelling animals such as amphibians, shellfish, and snails. Historians and archaeologists have stated that his cult is one of the oldest in ancient Mexico. His equivalent in the Mayan pantheon is the god Chaac.