General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno

Question for February 2009

Did the Aztecs like symmetry? Asked by Emmer Green Primary School. Chosen and answered by Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno.

‘Movement’: calendar sign no. 17 - beautiful symmetry!
‘Movement’: calendar sign no. 17 - beautiful symmetry! (Click on image to enlarge)

Yes, the Aztecs liked symmetry. It can be seen for example in religion. They had a creating god called Ometeotl, that means “god of duality”. It manifested itself as a couple with male and female identities: Ometecuhtli (Lord of Duality) and Omecihuatl (Lady of Duality). In addition there were other coupled deities, such as Mictlantecuhtli (Lord of Death) and Mictlancihuatl (Lady of Death), Tlaloc (rain god) and Chalchiuhtlicue (Lady of lakes and rivers), Tlaltecuhtli (Lord of the Earth) and Coatlicue (mother goddess and goddess of the earth). These couplets were used to show that all forces of nature exist as a symmetry of dual principles: male or female, or more metaphorically the balance of the universe depended on the interaction of dual opposite principles, such as high and low, day and night, light and dark, hot and cold, life and death, etc.

The symmetry of Twin Towers atop the Great Temple, Tenochtitlan
The symmetry of Twin Towers atop the Great Temple, Tenochtitlan (Click on image to enlarge)

In architecture we can see the use of symmetry in the construction of dual temples: the main temples of Tenochtitlan, Tlatelolco, Tenayuca, Teopanzolco, Sta. Maria Acatitlan, etc. are two temples together forming one. At the top there are two shrines: the one on the left was dedicated to Tlaloc (life-giving water and agricultural fertility) and the one on the right was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli (blood, solar energy, sustenance of the universe). This means that human life depended on two elements to survive: water and blood. Those elements depend on the reciprocal relationship of gods and humans (this itself represents another kind of symmetry).

Twin gods: Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue, Codex Borbonicus p. 35
Twin gods: Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue, Codex Borbonicus p. 35 (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources:-
• Movement sign: painted for Mexicolore by Mexican artist Felipe Dávalos
• Twin Towers: illustration by Miguel Covarrubias, from ‘The Aztecs: People of the Sun’ by Alfonso Caso, University of Oklahoma Press, 1958, p. 86
• Twin gods: scanned from our facsimile copy of the Codex Borbonicus, Siglo XXI, Mexico City, 1979

Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno has answered 3 questions altogether:

Did the Aztecs mark the landscape in any way (like our cemeteries) when someone died?

Did the Aztecs like symmetry?

Did the Aztecs carve eagles and jaguars on their drums as messengers (like the owl): the eagle as messenger to the sun, the jaguar as messenger to the underworld?

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