General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Feb 2019/9 Jaguar
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Tezcatlipoca or Tezcatilpoca?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Nick: I’d like to know why some refer to Tezcatlipoca and some refer to him as Tezcatilpoca. Graham Hancock, Author of Fingerprints of the Gods refers to him as Tezcatilpoca as do [several websites]. All the information refers to what seems to be exactly the same person yet the spelling of the name is different dependant on where you search. At first I thought the Tezcatilpoca spelling was Mayan and Tezcatlipoca was Aztec but I’m unsure now. I hope you can provide an answer to this mystery. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Tezcatlipoca turquoise mosaic skull mask, British Museum
Tezcatlipoca turquoise mosaic skull mask, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

It’s TEZCATLIPOCA! In your search on the internet, you’ll notice that if you google ‘Tezcatilpoca’ you get some 4,000 results, whereas if you google ‘Tezcatlipoca’ you get 217,000! This proves little, of course, except for the small fact that every authoritative source spells it Tezcatlipoca. One suspects that Graham Hancock and others have not made efforts to double check the correct spelling. Read on to find out why there can only be one right answer here...

The name of this powerful Aztec god, meaning ‘Smoking Mirror’, is Náhuatl in origin (the lingua franca of the Aztec empire). Though there are some lingering questions about the exact etymology of the name (relating to the study of the origin of the word(s) involved), no-one disputes that the key word in Náhuatl for ‘mirror’ is tezcatl. According to the British Museum, Tezcatlipoca comes from the Náhuatl word tezapoctli meaning ‘shining smoke’, [we think there should be a ‘c’ after the ‘z’] and, in their words, ‘representations of Tezcatlipoca are typically characterised by distinctive black stripes on the face and a smoking mirror generally displayed in his headdress, at his temple or in place of a torn-off foot.’

The generally accepted view is that poca is a ‘stem’ either from the Náhuatl noun poctli (‘smoke’) - or alternatively from the verb popoca (‘to smoke’) - think of the famous Mexican volcano Popocatépetl which means ‘Smoking Mountain’. Some scholars believe the name has roots in 3 Náhuatl words: tezcatl (mirror), tliltic (black) and (po)poca (smoke).

Whichever way you look at it, the I comes after the L...

Picture: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

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Mexicolore replies: That’s what we like to hear! Cheers, Phaedrus.