Thanks to a group of university students in San Luis Potosí, our attention has been drawn to the god Tlahuelmictlanpantecuhtli - ‘Great Lord of the Place of the Dead’. Please keep them coming...!
Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli - The god with the longest name?
Could Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli be the Aztec god with the longest name? He features on our Contact page, and his name - which means ‘Lord of the House of Dawn’ - consists of 7 syllables (equivalent to saying ‘Lord God Almighty in Heav’n’). It takes me around 8 seconds just to type his name, which you can hear pronounced below. We’ve decided to give him a full ‘profile’... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)
Picture 1: Venus, seen from the Galileo spacecraft (NASA)
Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was the twin/dual deity of the planet Venus, as Morning Star (Quetzalcóatl) and Evening Star (Xólotl). Worshipped throughout the Mesoamerican region for centuries even before the Aztecs, he represented first and foremost the bright star that appears with its own unique brilliance very early in the morning in the Eastern sky.
Picture 2: Aztec astronomer, Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) (Click on image to enlarge)
Venus is very similar to Earth in size and mass - and so is sometimes referred to as Earth’s sister planet. It’s usually the third brightest body in the sky after the sun and the moon*. The ancient Mexicans, being expert astronomers (Pic2), could predict precisely on which days and at which times the star would appear and disappear. Not only were they were well aware of its 584 day cycle round the sun, they even knew that its exact cycle is actually 583 days, 22 hours, 6 minutes and 40 seconds - and they allowed for the difference to be made up in their calculations every 88 years!
What’s more, the ancient Mexicans had calculated accurately that the orbits of the earth (c.365 days), the moon (c.260 days) and Venus (c.584 days) come together only once every 104 years (two Aztec ‘bundles of years’ or centuries’). Their knowledge of time and its cycles was truly stunning.
Picture 3: Venus the Morning Star, Codex Cospi (Click on image to enlarge)
It had always been believed throughout Mesoamerica that Venus’s rays, rising as the planet does immediately before the sun - whose daily re-birth was ‘announced’ by the Morning Star - were both deadly and immensely powerful. They came directly from the spirit world ‘... and carried with them the awesome power associated with that realm’ (‘The Flayed God’, p. 289). In many codices Venus is depicted as one of the fiercest of the gods in the sky, where cosmic battles - the most obvious being between day and night - were fought out daily. In the Codex Cospi (Pic 3) the Morning Star can be seen (in the fourth of the 5 periods of the Venus cycle) using his átlatl or spear-thrower to hurl a dart or powerful ray of light at a (rather small) sun sitting on an ‘icpalli’ (royal thrown).
Picture 4: Venus the Morning Star, Codex Cospi (Click on image to enlarge)
This recalls part of the Aztec legend of the creation of the Fifth Sun: initially the sun and the moon are motionless in the sky. Tonatiuh (sun god) demands obedience and sacrifice from the other gods before he will move. ‘Infuriated by this arrogance, the god of the morning star known as Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Lord of the Dawn, shoots a dart at the sun. However, the dart misses its mark, and the sun throws his own back at the morning star, piercing Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli through the head. At this moment, the Lord of the Dawn is transformed into the god of stone and coldness, Itztlacoliuhqui, and for this reason it is always cold at the time of the dawn...’ (Aztec and Maya Myths, pp.42-44).
Picture 5: Venus the Morning Star, Codex Vaticanus (Click on image to enlarge)
In the second part of the Venus cycle, again in the Codex Cospi (Pic 4) Venus - again with a skull mask, only white this time - hurls darts at Chalchiuhtlicue (water goddess - see our feature on her noseplug, below). Notice how the dart pierces the goddess’s heart. The same scene is shown in another of the Borgia group of codices, the Vaticanus, Chalchiuhtlicue on the left and Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli on the right (Pic 5). Notice the sequence of day signs around the scene - 13, all with the sign cóatl (snake); the numbers run (from top left): 11, 4, 10, 3, 9, 2, 8, 1, 7, 13, 6, 12, 5. These are a tiny part of several complicated astronomical tables, shown in a number of Borgia group codices, predicting the cycles of Venus over 104 years (see above).
The 5 periods of Venus are always shown with the 13 days associated with each; 13 x 5 = 65 and 65 x 4 = 260, the number of days in the most ancient Mexican calendar. When you open the long sacred calendar of 260 days in the Codex Cospi, you find 5 rows of 13 days on each double page (pic 6). Each quarter of 65 days was associated with a compass point (N,S,E,W). Wow!
Picture 6: One of the 4 double-page sacred calendar sections of the Codex Cospi, showing 65 days in 5 rows of 13; top and bottom are more associations for each column of days! (Click on image to enlarge)
Picture 7: Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, illustration by Phillip Mursell based on the image in the Codex Borbonicus (see Pic 10) (Click on image to enlarge)
How to recognise Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli? He’s usually shown with a sharply peaked feathered crown consisting of a red headband sporting two (or more) almond-shaped decorative flashes, often painted red-and-white (Pic 7).
Picture 8: Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Codex Borgia (Click on image to enlarge)
In the Borgia group of codices he is often depicted (see Pic 9, e.g.) with 5 white rings or discs spaced around his forehead, nose, cheeks and chin - these probably represent the 5 signs associated with the Venus calendar cycle (Alligator, Snake, Water, Reed and Movement).
Picture 9: Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Codex Fejérváry-Mayer (Click on image to enlarge)
Being a representation of Quetzalcóatl, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli was a brother of the two Tezcatlipocas and Huitzilopochtli, and firmly linked to the group of Creator Gods. Associated with the West, his companion spirit was a white hummingbird, and the colour white always featured in some aspect of his ‘disguise’ - usually the loincloth.
Picture 10: Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (facing Xiuhtecuhtli), Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)
His hair, on the other hand, was coloured yellow, his body often grey/black, and his arms and legs frequently bore the distinctive red-and-white stripes (‘huahuantin’) of gladiatorial victims (see Pic 8, e.g.). Indeed symbols of war, such as darts/spears & shield, were never far from him in the codices - you can see the great Aztec war symbol ‘atl tlachinolli’ (water-and-burnt-earth) all around him in the Codex Borbonicus (Pics 7 & 10). Notice the darts flowing through the stream of water! And notice how the belt of burnt earth flows from under the god up into a divine throne, on top of which are a series of symbols of war sacrifice - soft down feather tassles, an ‘eagle bowl’ containing human hearts, a bone, a cactus thorn, and a straw for sipping blood...
Picture 11: Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli - the parts, part 1! (Click on image to enlarge)
Here’s your chance to see how Aztec scribes assembled the figure of a god or goddess. Our illustrator, Phillip Mursell, has dissected Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli for you [with grateful thanks to the illustrations in Salvador Matos Higuera’s volume ‘Los Dioses Creadores’, part of the Enciclopedia Gráfica del México Antiguo]. We’ve given you most of the more interesting part ‘names’ in Náhuatl and English...
Picture 12: Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli - the parts, part 2! (Click on image to enlarge)
Key to Picture 11:-
aztaxelli = forked feather headdress
cuezalhuitóncatl = feathered crown
chalchiuhnacochtli = nose/face mask [typical of Quetzalcóatl]
tezcacuitlapilli = feathered tail mirror
cózcatl = necklace
anáhuatl = (sea)shell ring, tied by a red leather belt
iztac máxtlatl = white loincloth
iztac cactli = white sandals
One school’s creative attempt to portray Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Click on image to enlarge)
Key to Picture 12:-
atl = water
tlepapálotl = ‘fire butterfly’
huitztli = thorn [associated with the beak of a hummingbird]
ómitl = bone
yólotl = heart
cuauhxicalli = ‘eagle bowl’
teoicpalli = throne/seat of a god
tlachinolli = ‘scorched earth’.
Aztec and Maya Myths by Karl Taube, British Museum Press, 1993
Mythology of the Aztecs and Maya by David M Jones, Anness Publishing, 2003
The Flayed God - the Mythology of Mesoamerica by Roberta H Markman and Peter T Markman, HarperCollins Publishers, 1992
Los Dioses Creadores by Salvador Mateos Higuera, Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, 1993
The sun, moon and Venus? (Click on image to enlarge)
*Some have suggested that this delightful sculpture, in the Museum of Anthropology of Xalapa, Veracruz, depicts a family of deities representing the sun, the moon, and Venus: which do you think is which?!
5 At 9.37am on Tuesday February 23 2016, sTEVIE j wrote:
4 At 11.11pm on Friday September 12 2014, Kylee Smalley wrote:
So I’m having trouble telling what’s the ‘actual’ tale. How was Xolotl related to Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli and Quetzalcoatl? Not just blood relations either, anyway that they’ve made contact please.
Mexicolore replies: Think of Xolotl as the destructive, ‘dark’ twin of Quetzalcoatl. It was Xolotl that helped Venus through the underworld as the Evening Star.
3 At 11.41am on Wednesday May 27 2009, Luís Gonçalves wrote:
Dear friends, I have a doubt on the meaning of T.’s name. According to a Nahuatl dictionary that I own, the origin of this god’s name would be: “tlahuizcalli” (light of dawn) + “calpan” (in the house(s)?) + “tecuhtli” (lord), or “Lord of the House of Dawn”, but I’d like to be really sure about this. Could you please confirm if this is true? Thank you for your precious work and help. Luís, from Portugal.
Mexicolore replies: Thanks for writing in, Luis. Yes, basically you’re right. “Tla(h)uizcalli” means dawn/light of dawn, “calli” means house, “Tla(h)uizcalpan” means at/with the dawn, “Tecuhtli” means Lord. As always with classical Náhuatl names, variations of meaning abound - Salvador Matos Higuera gives T’s name as Lord of the Dawn, Lord of the House of Dawn, Lord of the House of Light, Lord of the Pink House, Ruler of the Dawn, Lord of the Morning Light, etc...
2 At 1.41am on Monday May 18 2009, Mario Chavez wrote:
I got some artefacts very similar to this that my brother give to me he purchase this items over 40 yr and they are from 300bc , how can i found out the value??
Mexicolore replies: Very tricky this, Mario! If you lived in London we could take you to see a curator in the British Museum, but it’s impossible to do this electronically, we fear...
1 At 5.13pm on Sunday May 11 2008, Hernán wrote:
Can I take your article to show it in my space? I want to translate it, but only if you let me do it. Very interesting. Greetings from Colombia.
Mexicolore replies: ¡Con gusto, Hernán! Feel free - but please give a link to our website; and let us in return put your translated version onto these pages...!