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Tlaloc shown with a jaguar helm, Codex Vaticanus B

God of the Month: Tlaloc (1)

Tlaloc, lord of celestial waters, lightning flashes and hail, patron of land workers, was one of the oldest and most important deities in the Aztec pantheon. Archaeological evidence indicates that he was worshipped in Mesoamerica before the Aztecs even settled in Mexico’s central highlands in the 13th century CE. (Written/compiled by Julia Flood/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Tlaloc, Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City
Pic 1: Tlaloc, Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Ceramics depicting a water deity accompanied by serpentine lightning bolts date back to the 1st century BCE in Veracruz, Eastern Mexico. Tlaloc’s antiquity as a god is only rivalled by Xiuhtecuhtli the fire lord (also Huehueteotl, old god) whose appearance in history is marked around the last few centuries BCE. Tlaloc’s main purpose was to send rain to nourish the growing corn and crops. He was able to delay rains or send forth harmful hail, therefore it was very important for the Aztecs to pray to him, and secure his favour for the following agricultural cycle. Read on and discover how crying children, lepers, drowned people, mountaintops and caves were all important parts of the symbolism surrounding this powerful ancient god...

Pic 2: Tlaloc pot, Templo Mayor Museum
Pic 2: Tlaloc pot, Templo Mayor Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

Starting at the very beginning: Tlaloc in Tamoanchan. Right at the beginning of the world, before the gods were sent down to live on Earth as mortal beings, they lived in Tamoanchan, a paradise created by the divine being Ometeotl for his deity children. Tlaloc, among the other Aztec deities, enjoyed the eternal beauty and abundance of this place: Tamoanchan ‘breathed life’. Tlaloc was married to the beautiful young goddess Xochiquetzal (Quetzal Flower) (Pic 3). She represented fertility, sexuality and youth.

Pic 3: Xochiquetzal in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis
Pic 3: Xochiquetzal in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis (Click on image to enlarge)

Because of her beauty the creator deity Tezcatlipoca desired her and, in a flagrant act of disrespect to both Ometeotl and Tlaloc, he carried out a stint not unusual to his deceptive nature: he stole Xochiquetzal for himself. After his loss, Tlaloc did not remain a bachelor for long; he married another goddess called Chalchiuhtlicue who was patroness of earthly waters like rivers and springs. The couple, along with their helpers the Tlaloque, controlled the world of water and the agricultural cycle’s rainy season.

Pic 4: Tlaloc vase, Templo Mayor Museum
Pic 4: Tlaloc vase, Templo Mayor Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

Watery Deaths Aztecs who died from one of the following illnesses or incidents were thought to be sent to the ‘earthly paradise’ of Tlalocan. There, they would meet and live with the family of water related deities: DROWNING, LIGHTNING STRIKE, DROPSY, LEPROSY, SCABIES, GOUT, ACHES AND PAINS, PEOPLE WITH STUNTED GROWTH (they were thought to be small in size like Tlaloc’s helpers, the Tlaloque), THE PHYSICALLY DISABLED.

Pic 5: Sculpture of Tlaloc
Pic 5: Sculpture of Tlaloc (Click on image to enlarge)

Name: Tlaloc or Tlaloc Tlamacazqui; related to the ancient storm god of Teotihuacan and regent of land workers.
Age: Disputed. Some sources indicate that he was one of the four original creator gods made by the supreme being Ometeotl; his brothers were the two Tezcatlipocas (Red and Black) and Quetzalcoatl. Others state that Ometeotl’s four sons were Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec, Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl, and that Tlaloc was created afterwards.
Marital Status: Married to the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, lady of terrestrial waters including rivers, springs, and seas. His first wife was the goddess Xochiquetzal who symbolised youth, beauty and sexuality.
Place of Abode: The fourth level of the heavens; the earthly paradise of Tlalocan. He also dwelled on mountain tops and inside caves. Karl Taube describes these caves as "miraculous treasure houses filled with wealth and prosperity". Tlaloc is also present in rain and lightning.

Pic 6: ‘Atlcahualo’ the first ‘month’ of the year, Codex Vaticanus A
Pic 6: ‘Atlcahualo’ the first ‘month’ of the year, Codex Vaticanus A (Click on image to enlarge)

Day Sign: Ce Mazatl or 1 Deer. A male born under the sign of Ce Mazatl was "timid, weak-spirited and faint-hearted" and "could not hear thunder or see lightning without being terrified." (López Austin:1998)
Trecena sign (seventh of twenty thirteen day periods in the 260 day ritual calendar): Ce Quiáhuitl or 1 Rain.
Regency: Tlaloc presided over the Third Sun or Age (4 Rain or Nauhquiáhuitl): During this Sun humans ate aquatic seeds (currently, we live in the Fifth Sun and eat corn). The Third Sun was destroyed by a rain of fire that gave way to the Fourth Sun which was governed by Chalchiuhtlicue.
Festivities: As a god related to water and agriculture, Tlaloc was worshipped in more than one of the twenty day ‘months’ that dominated the 365 day solar calendar. Some of the months he received offerings were Atlcahualo (Pic 6), Tozoztontli, Etzalqualiztli and Atemoztli.

Pic 7: Water symbol, Codex Borbonicus
Pic 7: Water symbol, Codex Borbonicus (Click on image to enlarge)

Come and live in the paradise of Tlalocan (Pic 8)! Plenty of water features, the very best food, beautiful landscapes, a virtual paradise for you and your family*.
*Conditions apply: Those who are interested in moving to Tlalocan must be chosen by Tlaloc (Coordinator and god) or his assistants. They must also plan to die in the near future from a water related illness, accident or condition. Collect a leaflet at a temple near you or call 0800TLALOCTEL.

Pic 8: The Tepantitla mural in Teotihuacan shows scenes from Tlalocan.
Pic 8: The Tepantitla mural in Teotihuacan shows scenes from Tlalocan. (Click on image to enlarge)

Once dead, those who were thought to travel to the land of Tlalocan were not cremated like the majority of people. Instead, they were buried. Seeds were planted on their faces, blue paint covered their foreheads along with carefully placed pieces of paper. Their bodies were dressed with paper, and a digging stick used for sowing seeds was placed in their hands. Their souls went to the watery paradise of Tlalocan where they received nothing but the very best. They could take their pick of food from amongst amaranth, corn, squash, tomatoes, green beans, and flowers.

Pic 9: This sacred box contains images of the Tlaloque. Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City.
Pic 9: This sacred box contains images of the Tlaloque. Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. (Click on image to enlarge)

One’s eligibility to dwell in Tlalocan did not depend on whether you were well behaved during your lifetime. What determined the matter were your personal traits. According to Alfredo López Austin, a devotee of Tlaloc would spend his afterlife in Tlalocan. Similarly, he who hoarded jade stones (these were symbolic of water to the Aztecs) would infuriate the god, be punished by a water related death, and experience a swift transferral to the aforementioned paradise. Gods were allowed to choose their subjects, kill them and whisk them off to their personal realms at will. The solar deity Tonatiuh took warriors and women killed in childbirth to dwell in the paradise that followed the sun across the sky. Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancihuatl chose and took a large amount of Aztecs to the underworld.
Ruled by Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlalocan was also home to their four helpers, the Tlaloque, who were in charge of controlling rain.

Pic 10: A cloud, Florentine Codex, Book VII
Pic 10: A cloud, Florentine Codex, Book VII (Click on image to enlarge)

Meet the family: Unlike the free spirits of Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc doesn’t act alone. He has a rather powerful family that helps him both seasonally and all year round. Meet Tlaloc’s family...
The Tlaloque (Pic 9): Tlaloc could show himself in different guises. Four of these were called the Tlaloque. They were seen both as parts of Tlaloc and deities in their own right. They brewed rain in vats on mountaintops from whence they also sent out lightning and thunder. They were the multiple spirits of mountains and ‘powerful weather phenomena’. Each of them was a different colour: blue, white, yellow or red. They appear in the stone box, in Picture 9, crouching in the position of the earth monster Tlalteotl.

Pic 11: Chalchiuhtlicue in the Codex Tonalamatl of the Pochtecs (Féjervary-Meyer).
Pic 11: Chalchiuhtlicue in the Codex Tonalamatl of the Pochtecs (Féjervary-Meyer). (Click on image to enlarge)

Chalciuhtlicue (Pic 11): was a patroness of birth and her powers lay close to running waters. In Aztec imagery her skirt was made of jade stones from which water often flowed. She presided over the day sign 5 cóatl (5 snake) and the trecena Ce ácatl (1 reed). In her manifestation of Acuecueyotl she was the ocean goddess. As Ahuic she became the tips of breaking waves.
Tecciztécatl, lunar deity, was the son of Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue. Huixtocíhuatl, goddess of salt, was Tlaloc’s daughter.

Pic 12: Tenochtitlan’s main temple. Tlaloc’s chapel is on the left. Tovar Manuscript.
Pic 12: Tenochtitlan’s main temple. Tlaloc’s chapel is on the left. Tovar Manuscript. (Click on image to enlarge)

Pyramids, mountaintops and deep caves: shrines to Tlaloc -
Tenochtitlan’s Main Temple: The second chapel on top of the main pyramid at Tenochtitlan was dedicated to Tlaloc. Both his chapel, and Huitzilopochtli’s next to it, faced west. There was also another temple called Epcóatl dedicated to the Tlaloque. Sacrifices and rites took place in these temples. Nonetheless, the Aztecs believed Tlaloc resided in mountain caves. He was known by his subjects as ‘the provider’ but, depending on how the rains that came forth from within his mountain home went during a certain year, he could be known as a miser too. It is appropriate then, that his chapel in Tenochtitlan’s pyramid was called ‘mountain abode’. Many rich offerings were regularly placed before it, especially those linked to water such as jade, shells and sand.

Pic 13: Tlaloc seated on his mountain throne, Codex Borbonicus.
Pic 13: Tlaloc seated on his mountain throne, Codex Borbonicus. (Click on image to enlarge)

To the west of the main pyramid, on the present day Mount La Malinche, were two giant statues of Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue. Mount Tlaloc, the jewel in the crown of Tlaloc’s places of worship, was situated directly east of the pyramid. It was exactly 44 miles away and a long road connected the two places of worship. On it was a shrine containing stone images of the mountain itself and other neighbouring peaks. The shrine was called Tlalocan, after the paradise. Also to be found inside its walls were four pitchers containing water. Each pitcher would bring a different fate if used on crops: one would bring forth a good harvest, another would rot it, the third would dry the harvest out and the final one would freeze it. Sacrifices that took place here were thought to favour early rains.

Pic 14: The seven caves of Chicomoztoc from which emerged the Aztec nation. Historia Tolteca Chichimeca, fol.16r.
Pic 14: The seven caves of Chicomoztoc from which emerged the Aztec nation. Historia Tolteca Chichimeca, fol.16r. (Click on image to enlarge)

As you might have already noted, Tlaloc did not only dwell in temples and on mountain tops. He lived in moist, fertile, and secluded caves too. According to the chronicler Durán, Tlaloc had the additional name of ‘Path Under the Earth’ or ‘Long Cave’. Investigators such as Doris Heyden suggest that the little passages that lead off of the main caves underneath the Sun Pyramid in Teotihuacan could have been used to house the bodies of children that were sacrificed to this god each year. At an excavation elsewhere, the burial chambers of seven infants placed in a circle inside a cave were found. The centre of the cave roof was open and let in rain. There were also storing facilities thought to have once been grain deposits. The archaeologist who worked on this site, Linda Manzanilla, equated the caves, water, childrens’ bodies and grain with the mythical Tlalocan; the Tlaloque who lived there were small, like children, and it was abundant with both water and grain. Out of Tlalocan’s opening came the rain, seeds and new life and into it came the dead and retreating rain clouds.

Pic 15: Tlaloc in the Codex Ixtlilxochitl
Pic 15: Tlaloc in the Codex Ixtlilxochitl (Click on image to enlarge)

THE TENOCHCA MORNING HERALD: Read our full page spread. The latest news on Tlaloc worship and why you should stay away from water! Nail-bitingly terrifying - the rituals dedicated to Tlaloc according to the 16th. century friar, Bernadino de Sahagún.

Pic 16: The ‘raising of the poles’ and the sacrifice of children in the month of Atlcahualo. Primeros Memoriales, f.250r.
Pic 16: The ‘raising of the poles’ and the sacrifice of children in the month of Atlcahualo. Primeros Memoriales, f.250r.  (Click on image to enlarge)

The water gods required constant worship. They controlled the waters of the world and the all important seasonal rains. To try and secure plentiful rain, great ceremonies were held and sacrifices took place in honour of these gods several times a year. Here are the summarised descriptions of some of the ceremonies that were practised during three 20 day periods (‘veintenas’) in the solar calendar.
The first was called ‘Atlcahualo’ (see above, Pic 6) and was celebrated from the 12th of February until the 3rd of March. Dedicated to the Tlaloque, this ‘veintena’ involved the sacrifice of many children on sacred mountaintops (Pic 16). The children were beautifully adorned, dressed in the style of Tlaloc and the Tlaloque. On litters strewn with flowers and feathers; surrounded by dancers, they were transported to a shrine and their hearts would be pulled out by priests.
If, on the way to the shrine, these children cried their tears were viewed as signs of imminent and abundant rains. Children who did not weep could have their fingernails torn off in order to achieve this effect. Every Atlcahualo festival, seven children were sacrificed in and around Lake Tetzcoco in the Aztec capital. They were either slaves or the second born children of nobles.

Pic 17: Drowing, Florentine Codex, Book XI.
Pic 17: Drowing, Florentine Codex, Book XI. (Click on image to enlarge)

Similarly the festival of Tozoztontli (24th March - 12th April) involved more child sacrifice. Additionally, offerings were made in caves. The flayed skins of sacrificial victims that had been worn by priests for the last twenty days were taken off and placed in these dark, magical caverns. The winter ‘veintena’ of Atemoztli (9th December- 28th December) was also dedicated to the Tlaloque. This period preceded an important rainy season and so statues of them were made out of amaranth dough. Their teeth were pumpkin seeds and their eyes, beans. Once these statues were adorned, offered copal and fine scents and prayed to, food was presented before them. Afterwards their doughy chests were opened, their ‘hearts’ taken out and, finally, their bodies cut up and eaten. The ornaments with which they had been adorned were taken and burned in peoples’ patios. On the final day of the ‘veintena’ people celebrated and held banquets.

Pic 18: Drowing, Florentine Codex, Book XI.
Pic 18: Drowing, Florentine Codex, Book XI. (Click on image to enlarge)

All the swimming lessons in the world won’t get you out of this mess!
According to the Aztecs, if you drowned, it wasn’t by chance…
Whoever died a watery death did so for one of two reasons: either they were such devout subjects that the Tlaloque gods, assistants to Tlaloc, selected them as worthy inhabitants of their earthly paradise Tlalocan, or they had hoarded precious jade stones, an action which angered the Tlaloque gods enough to kill them with one of the afflictions mentioned in the ‘watery illnesses’ section. No one dared to touch the body of a drowned man because only Tlaloc’s priests were worthy of having contact with such a divine entity (divine because it now belonged to a god). On touching a body that was on its way to Tlalocan, a normal person could guarantee he would be ‘drowned or stricken with gout’. A deceased person who had been carried off to Tlalocan and wanted a relative to join him could get him drowned or hit by lightning. Because of this, some relatives took ‘great care to avoid bathing.’

Pic 19: Watery elements depicted in the Florentine Codex, book VII.
Pic 19: Watery elements depicted in the Florentine Codex, book VII.

Investigators believe that Tlaloc’s power extended beyond what appeared to be the merely willful acts of killing humans and controlling the weather. His power was a unique substance that took possession of whatever it impregnated. In other words, those who came into contact with Tlaloc’s domain, like he who touched a drowned person, the relatives of someone killed by his acts, or a person who treasured his precious jade stones: all these people would be subject to the fate that Tlaloc allocated them. They were touched by and saturated with his power. Only Tlaloc’s priests, who usually control this power, were free from the threat of his will - and only provisionally.

Pic 20: Water symbol, Codex Borbonicus
Pic 20: Water symbol, Codex Borbonicus

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This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Aug 20th 2007

emoticon Ode to the rain deity (Aztec Limerick no. 14):-
In the Aztec world built on duality
Life and death underlay all reality;
By casting down hail
So the maize crop would fail
Tlaloc’s rain could be spiced with brutality.

Learn how to recognise Tlaloc in the codices...

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Mexicolore replies: Many thanks, Carl, for these insights.