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Tezcatlipoca, adapted from Codex Borgia

God of the Month: Tezcatlipoca

For the Aztecs Tezcatlipoca represented celestial creativity and divine paternalism. He was the soul of the world, the creator of sky and earth, the lord of all things, both powerful and arbitrary. He was also the patron of all men who were rich - nobles, leaders, warriors and merchants - and probably the most ‘important’ god in the Aztec pantheon... (Written/compiled by Julia Flood/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Turquoise and obsidian mask, thought to represent Tezcatlipoca, British Museum
Pic 1: Turquoise and obsidian mask, thought to represent Tezcatlipoca, British Museum

...However, this didn’t mean that he was always good and loyal to his people. He was willful, in a second giving or taking away riches, terrible illnesses and poverty. The Aztecs had to make sure that they pleased him, regularly praying, holding fasts, rituals, ceremonies and banquets in his honour. They did not want to see Tezcatlipoca in a bad mood!

Pic 2: Tezcatlipoca in the Codex Féjérvary-Mayer
Pic 2: Tezcatlipoca in the Codex Féjérvary-Mayer (Click on image to enlarge)

Name of God: Tezcatlipoca, "Smoking Mirror".
Parents: The original creator, the dual god Ometeotl "Two God", also known as Omecihuatl, "Two Lady" and Ometecuhtli "Two Lord".
Siblings: Ometeotl had four offspring, two of which were different aspects of the same god: Red Tezcatlipoca and Black Tezcatlipoca. The other two were Quetzalcoatl "plumed serpent" and, according to experts, either Tlaloc (rain god) or Huitzilopochtli (Aztec patron and war god).
Current abode: Luckily for him, Tezcatlipoca can be everywhere at one time, on earth, the heavens and in the underworld.
Favourite colours: Black and red. The title of "Smoking Mirror" linked Tezcatlipoca to obsidian, a black, volcanic stone whose shiny surface could be used as a mirror. The darkness of the obsidian mirror symbolised the black/dark aspects of his being. Tezcatlipoca’s bellicose [warlike] nature related him to red.


Pic 3: Tlalteotl portrayed in the Codex Borbonicus
Pic 3: Tlalteotl portrayed in the Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)

Tezcatlipoca was a creator... According to the Aztecs, the world as we know it was created at the beginning of an age called the ‘Fifth Sun’. The beginning of the Fifth Sun followed a catastrophic deluge that destroyed all things, both living and inanimate, belonging to the previous age of the ‘Fourth Sun’. After the flood there existed only a vast expanse of water, and in it swam a monstrous being, Tlalteotl, or ‘Earth God’ (Pic 3). She was covered in eyes and mouths and hunted throughout the vast ocean for living flesh.

Pic 4: Tezcatlipoca, whose foot has been taken by Tlalteotl, earth goddess. Codex Féjérvary-Mayer
Pic 4: Tezcatlipoca, whose foot has been taken by Tlalteotl, earth goddess. Codex Féjérvary-Mayer (Click on image to enlarge)

Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, his brother, were chosen to create the new world of the Fifth Sun, so they turned into snakes and sought Tlalteotl in her watery depths. Upon finding her they tore her in two. However during the battle she bit off one of Tezcatlipoca’s feet (Pic 4). Defeated nonetheless, Tlalteotl had her bottom half thrown upwards by the brothers, thus forming the heavens. Her top half became the earth; her back was the mountains, and rivers ran down her sides. Tlalteotl, earth goddess, was sacrificed for the good of mankind, who lived from her body: the earth and sky. Therefore, it was understood that she must be rewarded with sacrifice: the blood and hearts of men.
 

Pic 5: Tezcatlipoca as a jaguar or ocelot in the Codex Borbonicus
Pic 5: Tezcatlipoca as a jaguar or ocelot in the Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)

TEZCATLIPOCA FACT FILE
Thirteen day calendar sign: Ce Ocelotl (1 Jaguar). This birth sign brought little but bad luck. Men born under Ce Ocelotl were likely to become war prisoners in foreign lands, womanisers or slaves, whilst women would commit adultery and suffer a life of hardship.

Pic 6: Ce Miquiztli (One Death), Codex Borgia
Pic 6: Ce Miquiztli (One Death), Codex Borgia

Sahagún’s informers also attributed power to Tezcatlipoca in the thirteen day period of Ce Miquiztli (1 Death). This was an auspicious sign to be born under if you were a dutiful and devout subject to Tezcatlipoca. If you weren’t, however, a life of bad luck lay in store.
The Ce Miquiztli thirteen day period was the perfect time for great leaders, nobles, warriors and merchants to pray that Tezcatlipoca did not take away their fortunes. Commoners who begged humbly to Tezcatlipoca were equally as likely to gain favour from him, and be presented wealth and good health.

Pic 7: Obsidian mirror, late postclassic (Aztec), Mexico City
Pic 7: Obsidian mirror, late postclassic (Aztec), Mexico City

Day sign: Acatl or Reed
Festive Month: Toxcatl or ‘Dryness’. This twenty day ‘month’ took place throughout May and involved a number of rituals that, in the most part, were dedicated to Tezcatlipoca. The ceremonies started once the Ixiptla or ‘live image’ of the god, in the form of a young man, was sacrificed. Over the next few days a statue of Huitzilopochtli, made out of dough, was worshipped and people made special offerings to this Aztec patron in their homes, killing quail in his honour. Later on, young women, holding cane and paper in their hands, went, along with priests, and performed many dances, among which was Tlanaua, in which Huitzilopochtli was symbolically ‘embraced’ by them. To end the twenty days, another young man was killed, this time the live image of Huitzilopochtli, although he was considered to be far less important than Tezcatlipoca’s counterpart.

Pic 8: Tezcatlipoca depicted in the Florentine Codex
Pic 8: Tezcatlipoca depicted in the Florentine Codex

Mischievous or mean? Tezcatlipoca was hell-bent on destroying Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs.
Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, being ‘creator’ gods and direct sons of the original deity Ometeotl, constantly struggled against each other for power. Alternating as regents of each of the five Ages, it was Quetzalcoatl who had become the solar deity during the Fifth Sun. In one of many episodes concerning the two brothers’ rivalry, Tezcatlipoca came down from the heavens on a rope made of spider webs, chased and ousted Quetzalcoatl, now an old priest, from his home in Tollan Xicocotitlan (Tula). Using his great art of disguise, Tezcatlipoca targeted the inhabitants of Tollan for their loyalty to his brother. The Florentine Codex recounts the many harmful acts the deity inflicted upon the Toltecs, Huémac (their king) and Quetzalcoatl. In one, Tezcatlipoca, disguised as an old man, tricked Quetzalcoatl into drinking a potion to cure him of his oldness and infirmity. After consuming the liquid, Queztalcoatl realised, too late, that it was teómetl, an alcoholic drink from the Maguey plant, and he became drunk, breaking his religious vows and thus provoking his exile and downfall.

Pic 9: The preparation of Tezcatlipoca’s live image or ‘Ixiptla’ shortly before sacrifice. Raúl Cruz, Arqueología Mexicana, no. 34
Pic 9: The preparation of Tezcatlipoca’s live image or ‘Ixiptla’ shortly before sacrifice. Raúl Cruz, Arqueología Mexicana, no. 34

Luxury, women, and god-like status... why not become Tezcatlipoca’s ‘live image’ or Ixiptla? Only one hitch though...
Tezcatlipoca’s Ixiptla was a young attractive man with not a scar on his body. He was chosen to be the god’s own image and representative on earth for the space of a year from amongst the captives caught in Aztec campaigns abroad. His abilities to learn music were remarkable, and during his time as Tezcatlipoca’s ‘living image’ he was constantly accompanied by eight page boys. Together they would roam the streets of Tenochtitlan at night, playing melancholy tunes on the flute. He would attend ceremonies and banquets laid out by nobles, and all those that met him in the street would prostrate themselves before him in reverence.

Pic 10: The Aztec glyph for Toxcatl
Pic 10: The Aztec glyph for Toxcatl

So where was the flaw in this idyllic lifestyle? A year after the Ixiptla was chosen, he was sacrificed to mark the beginning of the spring Toxcatl festivities. Twenty days before this date, he was wed to four maidens representing goddesses. His sacrifice would take place without spectators, in a neglected temple far from the city centre. The Ixiptla slowly climbed to the temple’s top of his own free will, breaking one of his flutes with each step upwards (Pic 11). Once with the priests, he was held, spread eagled, by four of them while their leader cut open his chest and pulled out his heart.
So you see, for us, being Tezcatlipoca’s Ixiptla was not worth all the banquets in the world. Nevertheless, to be chosen for this role was considered by the Aztecs to be a great honour.

Pic 11: Toxcatl sacrifice scene, Florentine Codex (Book 1)
Pic 11: Toxcatl sacrifice scene, Florentine Codex (Book 1) (Click on image to enlarge)

Tezcatlipoca’s different names:
As Titlacauan or ‘We his Slaves’ Tezcatlipoca represented a source of universal power, just like his identity as Moyocoyatzin or ‘Maker of Himself’. In this role, the deity did everything that he wanted to as nobody, mortal or immortal, could stop him. Nahua belief in Tezcatlipoca’s potential to destroy and pull down the sky, killing all living things, served to gauge his position as possibly the most powerful of all Aztec deities. Other names such as Nécoc Yaotl, ‘Enemy’, confirm his position as the ‘sower of discord’. Telpochtli or ‘Male Youth’, classed him as patron of the Telpochcalli, school for commoners. Additionally, he was called Yohualli Ehécatl, ‘Night Wind’, Ome Acatl, ‘Two Reed’, and Ilhuicahua Tlalticpaque, ‘Possessor of Sky and Earth’.

Pic 12: A family of slaves, Florentine Codex
Pic 12: A family of slaves, Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)

A good time to be a slave...
During the thirteen day period of Ce Miquiztli, those families that owned slaves took them out of their bindings, washed, clothed and bestowed gifts upon them. They were looked upon as the children of Tezcatlipoca. If anyone treated a slave badly during this period, it was thought that he or she would be punished, losing all wealth or becoming sick with either leprosy, tumours, gout, scabies or dropsy.
If slaves went missing, became free and prosperous, or a slave owner lost his fortune, it was all down to Tezcatlipoca. It was seemingly simple: humility would help achieve greatness or appease the deity and arrogance could secure his anger and, therefore, one’s downfall. Tezcatlipoca wasn’t anybody’s faithful friend; he was just looking for a reason to wreck and ruin, or create and lavish. That was his nature.

Pic 13: Tezcatlipoca in the guise of a turkey or ‘huexólotl’, Codex Borbonicus
Pic 13: Tezcatlipoca in the guise of a turkey or ‘huexólotl’, Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)

Did Moctezuma really own a zoo?
The last of the Aztec emperors, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, housed a large collection of live animals, said by some to form a zoo, within the luxurious confines of his palace. Some investigators, however, think that these animals represented ‘nahualtin’, the gods’ animal representatives on earth. According to their theory, the animals would have been religious symbols, not mere amusements for the emperor and his entourage. Tezcatlipoca, himself, was represented in various animal forms, as a coyote, lobster, monkey, turkey and vulture. In his regal form of jaguar, he represented darkness, earth and femininity. At the end of the First Sun or age, of which Tezcatlipoca was regent, Quetzalcoatl defeated him in one of their many battles, by turning him into a jaguar (then considered to be the most powerful animal in Mesoamerica).
 

Pic 14: The Plumed Coyote (Cóyotl Ináhual) was the patron of feather workers. He is carrying the glyph ‘two reed’ on his chest linking him to Tezcatlipoca. One of his animal forms was the coyote.
Pic 14: The Plumed Coyote (Cóyotl Ináhual) was the patron of feather workers. He is carrying the glyph ‘two reed’ on his chest linking him to Tezcatlipoca. One of his animal forms was the coyote.

Tezcatlipoca’s statue:
Tezcatlipoca was always represented as a young god and some important elements of his human form can be found in the statue dedicated to his worship. Made of obsidian, it was adorned with rich robes, earrings of gold and silver, and from its lip hung a crystal with a feather inside it. He wore a gold ornament with smoke curls etched on it, the smoke representing the pleas of suffering people. Another interesting feature was on his left hand: a gold ornament as shiny as a mirror. It was called ‘itlachiaya’ or ‘his lookout’, which meant that he saw all that happened in the world. Tezcatlipoca also symbolised justice, and in this guise he was portrayed sitting down by a cloth with small skulls and shin bones on it. His left hand held a shield and his right hand grasped four spears and a dart that was lifted up as if ready to be thrown forward in punishment.

 

SOURCES:-
Magazines:
"Los animales en el México prehispánico", Arqueologóa Mexicana No.35, 1999, Mexico City, Mexico.
"Rocas y minerales del México Antiguo", Arqueología Mexicana No.27, 1997, Mexico City, Mexico.
"Costumbres funerarias en Mesoamérica", Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, Arqueología Mexicana, No.40, 1999, pp. 11-19, Mexico City, Mexico.
"Dioses y escritura pictográfica", Luis Reyes García, Arqueología Mexicana, No.23, 1997, pp.24-33, Mexico City, Mexico.
"El panteón Mexica", Dúrdica Ségota, Arqueología Mexicana, No.15, 1995, pp.32-41, Mexico City, Mexico.
"Las cuevas de Teotihuacan", Doris Heyden, Arqueología Mexicana, No.34, 1998, pp.18-27, Mexico City, Mexico.
 

Books:
León Portilla, Miguel, "La visión de los vencidos", UNAM, DGSCA, Coordinación de Publicaciones Digitales, 2003, Mexico City, Mexico.
Miller, Mary and Karl Taube, "The gods and symbols of ancient México and the Maya: an illustrated dictionary of Mesoamerican religion", 1st edition, Thames and Hudson, 1993, London, UK.
Molina, Fray Alonso de “Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana”, preliminary study by Miguel León Portilla, 4th edition, Editorial Porrúa, 2001, Mexico City, Mexico.
Sahagún, Fray Bernadino de “Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España”, Prologue by Angel María Garibay, 6th edition, Editorial Porrúa, 1985, Mexico City, Mexico.
Smith, Michael E. “The Aztecs”, 2nd edition, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK, 1996.

Codices:
Codex Borbonicus, Codex Féjérvary-Mayer, Florentine Codex, Codex Magliabecchiano.
*Images from a text by Dr. Alfredo López Austin "Los ritos: un juego de definiciones", p.10, Arqueología Mexicana, No.34.

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Mexicolore replies: Crikey! Let’s just hope the goodies win against the baddies. Personally, thank god I will be long dead and gone by 2039... If you happen to know Quetzalcoatl’s address here in London, do pass it on: I’d be happy to drop him a postcard in the post pointing out what a meanie he’s been...