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Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, was associated with the sun. His name, which means "hummingbird of the south," came from the Aztec belief that the spirits of warriors killed in battle followed the sun through the sky for four years. After that, they were transformed into hummingbirds. In some myths, the warlike Huitzilopochtli appears in contrast to his brother the god Quetzalcoatl*, who represented life and the gifts of civilization.

According to legend, Huitzilopochtli's mother was the goddess Coatlicue. One day she found a bunch of hummingbird feathers and stuffed them into her breast. She immediately became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli. However, some of her other childrena daughter named Coyolxauhqui and 400 sonswere jealous of the unborn child. They plotted to kill Coatlicue, but when they attacked her, Huitzilopochtli emerged from his mother's womb fully grown. He cut off the head of his sister and killed most of his brothers as well.

The Aztecs believed that to nourish Huitzilopochtli and keep the world in motion, they needed to feed the god human blood every day. For this reason, Aztec priests conducted daily human sacrifices at the Great Temple in their capital city of Tenochtitlán. During these rituals, victims were led up the steps of a pyramid, and while they were still alive, their hearts were cut out of their chests. The victims' bodies were then thrown down the steps of the pyramid onto a stone that featured a carved image of Coyolxauhqui. In this way, the sacrifices reenacted the story about the young god killing his sister.

ritual ceremony that follows a set pattern

Another tale about Huitzilopochtli tells how he led the Aztecs to settle on the island where they built the great city of Tenochtitlán. Originally from the north of Mexico, the Aztecs followed Huitzilopochtli on

* See Nantes and Places at the end of this volume for further information.

a long journey south in search of a new home. The god told them to settle at a place where they saw an eagle perched on a cactus growing out of a rock. As predicted, they saw the sign described by the god and ended their journey. This story echoes some events in Aztec history. In 1345 the Aztecs were driven onto an island in the middle of a lake by a tribe called the Culhua. There they founded Tenochtitlán, which would later become the capital of the Aztec empire.

See also Animals in Mythology; Aztec Mythology; Coatlicue; Quetzalcoatl; Serpents and Snakes.

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Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli (wē´tsēlōpōcht´lē), chief deity of the Aztec, god of war. He is said to have guided the Aztecs during their migration from Aztlán. Usually represented in sculptured images as hideous, he was the object of human sacrifice, particularly of war prisoners. He was also god of the sun, and it was believed that he was born each morning from the womb of Coatlicue, goddess of earth. His temple at Tenochtitlán was a great architectural achievement of pre-Columbian America.

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Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli Chief deity of the Aztec, revered as a Sun god, god of war and protector of the fifth era. He is usually shown in armour decorated with humming-bird feathers. His cult required a daily nourishment of human blood. See also Central and South American mythology

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Huitzilopochtli

HUITZILOPOCHTLI

HUITZILOPOCHTLI ("hummingbird of the south") was the most powerful god in Aztec religion. The tribal god of the wandering Méxica, he became the patron deity of the Aztec ceremonial capital, Tenochtitlán (13251521). Primary sources depict the dual nature of the god, including a human aspect as left-handed warrior hero and a divine aspect as the solar god who kills the powers of the night. Both aspects express a single fact about Huitzilopochtli: He was a terrible, overwhelming warrior who completely dominated his enemies.

At the time of the Spanish conquest in 1521, Huitzilopochtli's shrine was situated, along with that of the rain god Tlaloc, on top of the largest pyramid in the Aztec empire, the Templo Mayor (Great Temple) of Tenochtitlán. His spectacular religious development from a tribal god to the principal god of the imperial capital is reflected in two mythical episodes that were ritually celebrated by the Aztec. The first, telling of the founding of the city, appears in the Historia de la nación mexicana and in the Codex Boturini, which recount how Huitzilopochtli led the Méxica from Chicomoztoc ("place of the seven caves") into the Valley of Mexico. In a second episode, Huitzilopochtli appears in the form of a giant eagle landing on a blooming cactus growing from a rock in the center of Lake Tezcoco in 1325 ce, the date of the founding of the Aztec capital. This event, pictured in the Codex Mendoza, is marked by the construction of a shrine to Huitzilopochtli and the division of the community into five parts.

This shrine (which became the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlán) and much of the ritual activity associated with it were modeled after the myth of Huitzilopochtli's birth recorded in book 3 of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (15691582; also known as the Florentine Codex). The teotuicatl ("divine song") of the god's birth depicts a society of the gods preparing for war at the cosmic mountain, Coatepec ("serpent mountain"), where the mother of the gods, Coatlicue, has been mysteriously impregnated by a ball of feathers. Her four hundred children, enraged at her pregnancy, launch an attack. At the critical moment, Coatlicue gives birth to Huitzilopochtli, fully grown and dressed for war. He takes his xiuhcoatl ("serpent of lightning") and slaughters the attacking siblings. This episode has been variously interpreted by scholars as depicting a historical event or an astral encounter of the sun conquering the moon and stars.

Huitzilopochtli's supreme power was lavishly celebrated at the festival of Panquetzalitzli ("raising of banners"), which involved special human sacrifices following an opening ritual called Ipaina Huitzilopochtli ("the swiftness of Huitzilopochtli"). In the latter ritual, according to Fray Diego Durán in Los dioses y ritos and El calendario (c. 1581), a swift runner carried a dough image of the god through the streets of the capital, pursued by a multitude of "travelers" who never managed to catch him. This signified that Huitzilopochtli was never captured in war, but was always triumphant over his enemies.

Historically, following the formation of the Aztec state with the successful revolution against the empire of Azcapotzalco in 1428, the cult of Huitzilopochtli came to include massive human sacrifices of captured warriors, women, and children, which, the Aztec believed, contributed to the integration of the Aztec state, cosmic order, and Huitzilopochtli's dominance.

Bibliography

Carrasco, Davíd. "Templo Mayor: The Aztec Vision of Place." Religion 3 (July 1981): 275297. This article relates Huitzilopochtli's mythology to the architectural structure of the Aztec Great Temple and utilizes evidence from the excavations that took place in Mexico City between 1978 and 1982.

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo. "El Templo Mayor: Economia e ideología." In El Templo Mayor: Excavaciones y estudios, edited by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma. Mexico City, 1982. A basic description of the complex evidence associated with Huitzilopochtli's cult at the center of the Aztec empire.

New Sources

Boone, Elizabeth H. Incarnations of the Aztec Supernatural: The Image of Huitzilopochtli in Mexico and Europe. Philadelphia, 1989.

Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. "Huitzilopochtli's Conquest: Aztec Ideology in the Archaeological Record." Cambridge Archaeological Journal 8 (1998): 314.

Nicholson, Irene. Mexican and Central American Mythology. New York, 1985.

DavÍd Carrasco (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli, Aztec deity of war, patron of the Mexica. According to native histories, the Mexica brought Huitzilopochtli from their original home at Aztlan to the site of Tenochtitlán, the center of their future empire. The deity guided their journey and their subsequent rise to military power. His cult was a major focus of Aztec state ritual, especially the heart sacrifice of prisoners of war. He was one of the four Tezcatlipocas, gods responsible for cosmic creation and destruction; he was also associated with the sun of the winter dry season. He shared the Great Temple of Tenochtitlán with the rain god Tlaloc, patron of the rainy season. The name Huitzilopochtli, "Hummingbird-Left," alludes to the winter sun's passage through the southern sky (seen as being on the sun's left hand); hummingbirds were also associated with the sun and with the souls of those who died in war and in sacrifice. Huitzilopochtli's birthplace was the mythical Coatepec, "Serpent Mountain," where his mother, the earth goddess Coatlicue, was magically impregnated while sweeping the mountaintop temple. Huitzilopochtli foiled a plot by his elder sister and brothers by emerging from the womb fully grown and armed with the Fire Serpent that encircles the Mesoamerican cosmos.

See alsoAztecs; Indigenous Peoples; Nahuas; Precontact History: Mesoamerica.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Diego Durán, Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calendar, translated and edited by Fernando Horcasitas and Doris Heyden (1971).

Eva Hunt, The Transformation of the Hummingbird (1977).

Elizabeth H. Boone, "Incarnations of the Aztec Supernatural: The Image of Huitzilopochtli in Mexico and Europe," in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 79, pt. 2 (1989).

Additional Bibliography

León Portilla, Miguel. La filosofía náhuatl. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1983.

                                    Louise M. Burkhart

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Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli

Nationality/Culture

Aztec

Pronunciation

wee-tsee-loh-POCH-tlee

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

Aztec oral mythology

Lineage

Son of Coatlicue

Character Overview

Huitzilopochdi, the Aztec god of war, was associated with the sun. In some myths, the warlike Huitzilopochtli appears in contrast to his brother, the god Quetzalcoatl (pronounced keht-sahl-koh-AHT-1), who represented life and the gifts of civilization. Huitzilopochtli was also recognized as the founder of Tenochtidan (pronounced teh-nowch-TEE-tlan), the capital of the Aztec empire.

Major Myths

According to legend, Huitzilopochtli's mother was the goddess Coat-licue (pronounced koh-aht-LEE-kway). One day she found a bunch of hummingbird feathers and stuffed them into her breast. She immediately became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli. However, some of her other children—a daughter named Coyolxauhqui (pronounced koh-yohl-SHAW-kee) and 400 sons—were jealous of the unborn child. They plotted to kill Coatlicue, but when they attacked her, Huitzilopochtli emerged from his mother's womb fully grown. He cut off the head of his sister and killed most of his brothers as well.

Another tale about Huitzilopochtli tells how he led the Aztecs to settle on the island where they built the great city of Tenochtitlan. Originally from the north of Mexico, the Aztecs followed Huitzilopochtli on a long journey south in search of a new home. The god told them to settle at a place where they saw an eagle perched on a cactus growing out of a rock. As predicted, they saw the sign described by the god and ended their journey. This story echoes some events in Aztec history. In 1345 the Aztecs were driven onto an island in the middle of a lake by a tribe called the Culhua. There they founded Tenochtitlan, which would later become the capital of the Aztec empire.

Huitzilopochtli in Context

The name Huitzilopochdi, which means “hummingbird of the south,” came from the Aztec belief that the spirits of warriors killed in battle followed the sun through the sky for four years. After that, they were transformed into hummingbirds. In Aztec mythology , the south represented both the sun and paradise. Therefore, Huitzilopochtli was considered to be a warrior reborn from the paradise of the sun.

The Aztecs believed that to nourish Huitzilopochtli and keep the world in motion, they needed to feed the god human blood every day. For this reason, Aztec priests conducted human sacrifices at the Great Temple in their capital city of Tenochtitlan. During these rituals, victims were led up the steps of a pyramid, and while they were still alive, their hearts were cut out of their chests. The victims' bodies were then thrown down the steps of the pyramid onto a stone that featured a carved image of Coyolxauhqui. In this way, the sacrifices reenacted the story about the young god killing his sister.

Key Themes and Symbols

In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochdi represented the power of the sun. An important theme in the myth of Huitzilopochtli is the struggle against darkness; the sun god was always fighting to prevent the fall of eternal darkness, which would mark the end of the world according to the Aztecs. Another related theme was sacrifice , since the Aztecs believed that Huitzilopochtli could be strengthened if he was given human blood as a sacrifice, and could therefore hold off the darkness.

Huitzilopochtli in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Huitzilopochdi appears in works of art created during the height of the Aztec empire, as well as the many books created just after the conquest of the Aztecs by Spanish colonists. He is usually depicted as wearing hummingbird feathers and holding a mirror. Like many Aztec gods, in modern times he is primarily found in decorative art rather than as a mythological character in literature or film.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

In modern times, the idea of human sacrifice is horrifying, yet the ancient Aztecs believed it was necessary to maintain order in their world. Do you think this type of human sacrifice is fundamentally different than the use of the death penalty, which is a tool used by modern American society to maintain order? Why or why not?

SEE ALSO Animals in Mythology; Aztec Mythology; Coatlicue; Quetzalcoatl; Serpents and Snakes

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