Mesoamerican and South American Mythologies: Maya, Aztec, Inca

The Toltec and Aztec

What was the Aztec creation myth?

There are several Aztec creation myths—some from the Mexica themselves, some filtered down from earlier Mesoamerican cultures, especially the Toltec. According to one myth, a goddess, Omecihuatl, gave birth to a sacrificial knife, which fell to earth and became the Mexica and their gods. This story suggests the origins of the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. In another myth there was an original self-created dual-gendered deity, Ometeotl (made up of the male Ometecuhtli and the female Omecihuatl, or Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl). The male and female sides of this deity mated and gave birth to the most important of the Aztec solar deities: Blue Huitzilopochtli, White Quetzalcoatl, Black Tezcatlipoca, and Red Xipe-Totec. These four deities can be seen as one and are sometimes called the “Four Tezcatlipocas.” Huitzilopochtli was also the “Blue Tezcatlipoca,” and Quetzalcoatl was the “White Tezcatlipoca.” Some scholars have suggested that this concept represents a tendency towards monotheism.

The best known Aztec creation myth is that of the “Five Suns,” a myth of creation in stages, which resembles the creation myth of some of the southwestern Native North Americans. The first “sun” world was said to have been ruled by Tezcatlipoca, god of the north and darkness. It was eaten by tigers. The second “sun” world was that of Quetzalcoatl, god of the west and magic. It was destroyed by Winds, and its human survivors became monkeys. The third “sun” world was that of Tlaloc, here the god of fire as well as of rain. It was lost to a rain of fire and its human survivors became birds. The fourth “sun” world belonged to Chalchihuitlicue, goddess of the east and water, Tlaloc’ s consort. It was destroyed by a great flood. The present “sun” world of the Aztecs, the fifth, is that of the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli. Earthquakes will be its end. Still another Aztec myth reports that Quetzalcoatl and his opposite, Tezcatlipoca (“Smoking Mirror”), created the fifth world, which was ruled by Huitzilopochtli.

The existence of the various “sun” worlds is based on a numerological system and a complex “Divine Calendar” (tonalamatl). The overall theme of the Aztec creation myths is the constant struggle of the sun against the forces of darkness, a struggle related to the practice of sacrifice. In one depiction of an early story, the sun god Tonatiuh sticks out his tongue, waiting for blood. In another depiction the sun is threatened by the dark Tezcatlipoca. Quetzalcoatl, an old man heading back to the west, is the setting sun. In still another rendition, the bright sun is Huitzilopochtli (“Hummingbird of the South”), depicted as the victorious warrior.


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