General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 May 2019/12 Rabbit
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Professor Guilhem Olivier

Question for October 2015

Which was the most sacred animal for the Aztecs? Asked by St Johns CE Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Guilhem Olivier.

 (Click on image to enlarge)

Every creature - even a flea, of which stone sculptures have survived - was important to the Mexica (Aztecs). Any animal could be the ‘double’ of a human being - in other words, it could share that person’s life and exert influence over his or her character. Gods too had the ability to transform themselves and appear in the form of animals. One of the most important was the jaguar (ocelotl) which the Nahuas (Aztec people) called ‘the king (tlatoani) of animals’. In fact, the jaguar was the animal double of Tezcatlipoca, protector of rulers and also of sorcerers believed to have great powers. Many images of jaguars have survived - sculptures, reliefs, paintings, images in codices - from pre-Classic Olmec times to the arrival of the Spanish, all of which give testimony to the central role played by this great feline in pre-Hispanic thought.

Todos los animales, hasta las pulgas de las cuales existen estatuas de piedra, tenían su importancia entre los aztecas. Cualquier animal podía ser el doble de un humano, es decir que el animal compartía la vida del hombre e influía sobre su carácter. Los dioses también tenían la capacidad de transformarse y de manifestarse en forma de animales. Uno de los más importantes era el jaguar (ocelotl) que los nahuas llamaban “el rey (tlatoani) de los animales”. Además era el doble del dios Tezcatlipoca, quien protegía al rey pero también a los hechiceros dotados de grandes poderes. Muchas imágenes de jaguares se han conservado - estatuas, bajorrelieves, pinturas, imágenes en códices - desde la época de los olmecas en el Preclásico hasta la llegada de los españoles, que dan cuenta del papel central de este gran felino en el pensamiento prehispánico.

Photo of a human face inside a jaguar mask (displayed at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City) by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

Learn more about the jaguar in Mexico...

Professor Guilhem Olivier has answered 2 questions altogether:

Which was the most sacred animal for the Aztecs?

Did the Aztec gods ever make a sign or an appearance?

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