General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Oct 2020/4 Flower
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The 13 Aztec (Mexica) heavens and 9 underworlds

The 13 heavens and 9 underworlds

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Tezozomoc: What were the 13 levels of the heavens and the 9 levels of the underworld called? Are there any descriptions about them? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

There is a good outline of these ‘overworlds’ and ‘underworlds’ in Handbook of Life in the Aztec World by Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (on our Panel of Experts), which we’re happy to reproduce here. Somewhere we’ve come across the names for the levels in Náhuatl: when we find them we’ll include them...!

‘The lowest heaven was the place where the Moon traveled and from which the clouds were suspended. The second heaven was the place of stars, which were divided into two large groups: the 400 stars of the north (Centzon Mimixcoa) and the 400 (countless) stars of the south (Centzon Huitznahua). The heaven of the Sun was the third region. Tonatiuh traveled over this heaven in his journey from the region of light to his home in the west. The fourth heaven was the place where Venus could be seen. In the fifth heaven the comets or smoking stars, traveled. In the sixth and seventh of the celestial levels only the colors green and blue could be seen, or according to another version, black and blue - the heavens of day and night. The eighth heaven was apparently the place of storms, and the three heavens above this - the white, yellow and red - were reserved as dwelling places for the gods. Most important of the 13 levels were the last two, which constituted Omeyocan, the dwelling place of the dual supreme deity, generator, and founder of the universe.

The 13 ‘heavens’ and 9 underworlds, Codex Vaticanus-Latinus 3738, pls 1&2
The 13 ‘heavens’ and 9 underworlds, Codex Vaticanus-Latinus 3738, pls 1&2 (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Under the celestial column of the gods, forces, colors, and dualities floated the four-quartered Earth in the sacred waters. Below the terrestrial level were the nine levels of the underworld, realms that the souls of the dead had to cross: the place for crossing the water, the place where the hills are found, the obsidian mountain, the place of the obsidian wind, the place where banners are raised, the place where people are pierced with arrows, the place where people’s hearts are devoured, the obsidian place of the dead, the finally, the place where smoke has no outlet (Mictlan).’

Picture sources:-
• Illustration of the overworlds and underworlds (‘Diagram showing the Nahua cosmology’) by Abel Mendoza, scanned from our own copy of Firefly in the Night by Irene Nicholson (Faber & Faber, London, 1959)
• Image scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition of the Codex Vaticanus-Latinus 3738, Graz, Austria, 1979.

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Awfully sorry, but we can’t quite work out what your question is asking!
Mexicolore replies: We’ll have to work on this one! Sorry, in middle of heavy teaching term, so very little time for additional research. Will do our best...
Mexicolore replies: Half correct! Topan simply means ‘above us’ in Nahuatl. According to Alfredo López Austin, probably the leading world expert on this, Mexica cosmovision consisted of a ‘triple division of the cosmos’: Chicnauhtopan (‘The nine [uppermost heavens] that are above us’), Tlalticpac (‘Above the earth’), ie the intermediate four levels, and Chicnauhmictlan (‘The nine places of death’) - ie, the nine underworlds below us. So the first two of these formed the thirteen heavens combined.
Mexicolore replies: Thanks, Leroy - at least an early death for an infant meant going to one of the gentlest of heavens...