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Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca was one of the most important gods of the Aztecs of central Mexico. His name, meaning Lord of the Smoking Mirror, refers to the mirrors made of obsidian, a shiny black stone, that Aztec priests used in divination.

divination act or practice of foretelling the future

deity god or goddess

patron special guardian, supporter, or protector

Tezcatlipoca played many contradictory roles in Aztec mythology. Like other Aztec deities, he could be both helpful and destructive. As a god of the sun, he ripened the crops but could also send a burning drought that killed the plants. The patron god of helpless folk such as orphans and slaves, he was also the patron of royalty, and he gloried in war and human sacrifice. Another of Tezcatlipoca's roles was to punish sinners and cheats, but he himself could not be trusted.

Although associated with the sun, Tezcatlipoca was even more strongly linked with night and its dark mysteries, including dreams, sorcery, witches, and demons. Legend said that he roamed the earth each night in the form of a skeleton whose ribs opened like doors. If a person met Tezcatlipoca and was bold enough to reach through those doors and seize his heart, the god would promise riches and power in order to be released. He would not keep his promises, though.

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

As a trickster god, Tezcatlipoca delighted in overturning the order of things, causing conflict and confusion. Sometimes, these disruptions could also be a source of creative energy and positive change. Tezcatlipoca's ultimate trick was one he played on his fellow god Quetzalcoatl. After introducing Quetzalcoatl to drunkenness and other vices, he used his mirror to show Quetzalcoatl how weak and degraded he had become. Quetzalcoatl fled the world in shame, leaving it to Tezcatlipoca. He did, however, promise to return at the end of a 52-year cycle.

See also Aztec Mythology; Quetzalcoatl.

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Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca (tĕskätlēpō´kä), ancient deity of the Toltec in Mexico. Identified with the night sky, the moon, and the stars, and associated with the forces of evil and destruction, Tezcatlipoca shared dominion over humanity with Quetzalcoatl, the god of light and good. Of the various legends surrounding their continual feud, one of the most important tells of Quetzalcoatl's expulsion from Tula, the Toltec capital.

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Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca One of the great gods of the Aztecs. He appears in many different forms but is best known as the god of the night sky and summer sun. He was a protector, a creator, and a harmful wizard. His cult required human sacrifice.

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Tezcatlipoca

TEZCATLIPOCA

TEZCATLIPOCA ("the smoking mirror") was one of the four Aztec creator gods who arranged the universe and set the cosmic ages in motion through periodic celestial battles. Tezcatlipoca was sometimes cast as the supernatural antagonist of Quetzalcoatl, the deity associated with cultural creativity, urban order, and priestly wisdom. Yet Tezcatlipoca has the most overwhelming power and protean personality of any Aztec deity. Among his aspects were Itztli, a calendar god; Tepeyolotl, an ancient jaguar-earth god; Ixquimilli-Itztla-coaliuhqui, a god of punishment; and Omacatl, the spirit of revelry. His many forms reflect the omnipotent character of numinous forces in Aztec religion. The range of Tezcatlipoca's power is perhaps best represented in his designation as "the enemy on both sides."

As in all pictorial representations of Mesoamerican deities, Tezcatlipoca's costume contains elements crucial to his identification. His primary emblem, a smoking mirror made of obsidian, is often depicted as a circular disk with a shaft through it and two curling forms representing smoke attached to the edges. The mirror emblem is located either in the deity's headdress or in place of one foot. According to one source, his foot was bitten off by an earth monster during the struggle for the creation of the world. On the social level, this emblem of the smoking mirror was intimately associated with the divine power of the Aztec tlatoani (king).

Tezcatlipoca's specific ritual significance was expressed in the great annual festival of Toxcatl. In book 2 of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (compiled 15691582; also known as the Florentine Codex), we learn that for a full year prior to Toxcatl, Tezcatlipoca's ixiptla (deity impersonator) lived in the Aztec capital in complete splendor and honor, treated as a great lord. Usually a captive warrior, the ixiptla had to be physically perfect in size, proportion, skin color, and beauty. By women he was called "tall one, head nodder, handful of stars." He moved regally about the capital dressed in flower headdresses and luxurious ornaments, carrying his smoking pipe and flute and speaking graciously to all who greeted him. Twenty days prior to his sacrifice at the height of Toxcatl, the ixiptla was given four beautiful maidens in marriage. Following his heart sacrifice to the Sun, his head was strung on the public skull rack in the main ceremonial center of Tenochtitlán. Of the dramatic turnabout in the life of Tezcatlipoca's impersonator, the Florentine Codex states: "And this betokeneth our life on earth. For he who rejoiceth, who possesseth riches, who seeketh and coveteth our lord's sweetness, his gentlenessriches and propertythus endeth in great misery. For it is said, 'None come to an end here upon earth with happiness, riches and wealth'" (trans. Anderson and Dibble, vol. 2, p. 69).

According to the sacred historical traditions of the Aztec, which trace back to the paradigmatic kingdom of Tollan (9001100 ce), Tezcatlipoca, a great sorcerer, drew uncanny powers from his obsidian mirror in a struggle against the Toltec priest-king Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl ("our young prince the feathered serpent"). Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was tricked into drunkenness and sexual incontinence, which led to the utter collapse of his well-ordered city-state. Several primary sources suggest that the conflict between the great king and his magical antagonist was centered on Tezcatlipoca's desire to replace animal and insect sacrifice with human sacrifice.

Bibliography

Brundage, Burr C. The Fifth Sun: Aztec Gods, Aztec World. Austin, 1979. See especially Brundage's insightful chapter, "The Quality of the Numinous" (pp. 5079), and his detailed discussion of the deity in "Tezcatlipoca" (pp. 108126).

Sahagún, Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, vol. 2, The Ceremonies. Translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble. Santa Fe, N. Mex., 1951. This remarkable translation is one of the richest sources for the study of Aztec religion, in that it contains a detailed description, provided by Aztec elders shortly after the Conquest, of the great ceremony of Toxcatl, which was dedicated to Tezcatlipoca. It provides the reader with a vivid example of the complex and contradictory forces symbolized by Tezcatlipoca.

New Sources

Barjau, Luis. Tezcatlipoca: Elementos de una teología nahua (Tezcatlipoca: Elements of a Nahua Theology). Mexico City, 1991.

Miller, Mary and Karl Taube. The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. London, 1993.

Olivier, Guilhem. Moqueries et metamorphoses du'an dieu aztèque: Tezcatlipoca, le "Seigneur au miroir fumant" (Mockeries and Metamorphasis of an Aztec God: Tezcatlipoca, the 'man of the smoking mirror'). Paris, 1997.

DavÍd Carrasco (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca, Aztec deity of rulership, destruction, the night, and the magic arts. The most important deity in Aztec religion, Tezcatlipoca is a complex composite of shifting identities who, like his North American cousin Trickster, defies definition by being himself a principle of disorder. He incited immoral behavior and then punished or pardoned the wrongdoer. He was a shaman, a nahualli or shape-changer whose hidden self was the jaguar, though he had many disguises. As the Big Dipper he ruled the night sky, but lost his left foot to the crocodilian Earth monster when the constellation's end star dropped below the horizon. The serpent-footed God K (Tahil) of the Classic Maya is Tezcatlipoca's analogue.

The name Tezcatlipoca, "Smoking Mirror" or "The Mirror's Smoke," alludes to his practice of divination with torch-lit obsidian mirrors. His other names include Yohualli Ehecatl, "The Night, the Wind"; Titlacahuan, "We are His Slaves"; Necoc Yaotl, "Enemy on Both Sides"; Ipalnemohuani, "By Him One Lives"; and Tloque Nahuaque, "Possessor of the Near, Possessor of the Nigh."

Tezcatlipoca was at once one being and four: the Four Tezcatlipocas, lords of the directions, governed the creation and destruction of the Earth and Sun. In the east was the red Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec; in the south the blue Huitzilopochtli; white Quetzalcoatl in the west; in the north the Black Tezcatlipoca or Tezcatlipoca proper. He and Quetzalcoatl were paired in a cosmic conflict. Tezcatlipoca humiliated Quetzalcoatl and destroyed the mythic city Tollan (Tula). Placing these events in their historic past, the fatalistic Aztecs saw their own age as controlled by capricious Tezcatlipoca; rulers owed to him their tenuous hold on authority.

Spanish friars saw Tezcatlipoca as particularly demonic, and even identified him as Lucifer; therefore, he may appear more malevolent in colonial sources than he had been before contact.

See alsoAztecs; Huitzilopochtli; Quetzalcoatl.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bernardino De Sahagún, Florentine Codex, translated by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles Dibble (1952–1983), esp. Books 3, 5, and 6.

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

Louise M. Burkhart, The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Barjau, Luis. Tezcatlipoca: Elementos de una teología nahua. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1991.

Carrasco, David, ed. Aztec Ceremonial Landscapes. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1999.

Olivier, Guilhem. Mockeries and Metamorphoses of an Aztec God: Tezcatlipoca, "Lord of the Smoking Mirror." Trans. Michel Besson. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2003.

                                    Louise M. Burkhart

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Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca

Nationality/Culture

Aztec

Pronunciation

tehs-cah-tlee-POH-cah

Alternate Names

Titlacauan

Appears In

Aztec creation myths

Lineage

None

Character Overview

Tezcatlipoca was one of the most important gods of the Aztecs of central Mexico. His name, meaning Lord of the Smoking Mirror, refers to the mirrors made of obsidian, a shiny black stone that Aztec priests used in divination, or attempts to predict the future. Tezcatlipoca played many contradictory roles in Aztec mythology. Like other Aztec deities, he could be both helpful and destructive. As a god of the sun , he ripened the crops but could also send a burning drought that killed the plants. The protector of helpless people, such as orphans and slaves, he was also associated with royalty, and he gloried in war and human sacrifice. Another of Tezcatlipoca's roles was to punish sinners and cheats, even though he himself was often portrayed as untrustworthy.

Although associated with the sun, Tezcatlipoca was even more strongly linked with night and its dark mysteries, including dreams, sorcery, witches, and demons. Legend said that he roamed the earth each night in the form of a skeleton whose ribs opened like doors. If a person met Tezcatlipoca and was bold enough to reach through those doors and seize his heart, the god would promise riches and power in order to be released. He would not keep his promises, though.

Major Myths

As a trickster god, Tezcatlipoca delighted in overturning the order of things, causing conflict and confusion. Sometimes these disruptions could also be a source of creative energy and positive change. Tezcatlipoca's ultimate trick was one he played on his fellow god Quetzalcoatl (pronounced keht-sahl-koh-AHT-1). After introducing Quetzalcoatl to drunkenness and other vices, he used his mirror to show Quetzalcoatl how weak and degraded he had become. Quetzalcoatl fled the world in shame, leaving it to Tezcatlipoca. He did, however, promise to return at the end of a fifty-two-year cycle.

Indeed, the battles between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca led to the creation and destruction of the five different worlds in Aztec mythology. In the first world, Tezcatlipoca created himself as the sun, but Quetzalcoatl defeated him, so he then transformed into a jaguar. Tezcatlipoca led other jaguars in the destruction of all people, which ended the world of the first sun. After that, Quetzalcoatl became the second sun, and ruled his people until Tezcatlipoca turned them all into monkeys for not respecting the gods. This fight between the two gods continued until the establishment of the world of the fifth sun, which is what exists today.

Tezcatlipoca in Context

Tezcatlipoca reflects the Aztec belief that change—especially change through conflict or disorder—is an essential part of life. Tezcatlipoca is an instrument of change throughout Aztec creation mythology, and while these changes are sometimes positive and sometimes negative, they ultimately reflect the progression of people to their current civilized state. Tezcatlipoca changes all the people into monkeys when they become complacent; this again reflects the importance, in the eyes of the Aztecs, of a human culture that always changes and progresses.

Key Themes and Symbols

Like many tricksters, Tezcadipoca was a symbol of disorder and mischief He often tried to interfere with the actions of the other gods, such as when he shamed Quetzalcoatl. One of the main themes running throughout the Aztec creation myths is the conflict between Tezcadipoca and Quetzalcoatl, and how this leads to the creation of each of the different worlds.

Tezcatlipoca in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Tezcatlipoca was often depicted with yellow and black stripes across his face, and with his right foot replaced by a snake or an obsidian mirror. Sometimes Tezcatlipoca was depicted in the form of a jaguar, a reference to the myth of the world of the first sun. In modern times, Tezcadipoca has appeared in the 2001 science fiction novel Smoking Mirror Blues by Ernest Hogan. The book tells the story of how a version of the god, created by computer programmers, becomes conscious and takes over the body of a human.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research the use of obsidian by Aztec and other early Central American tribes. Where did they get it? What was it used for? Why do you think it played a part in Aztec mythology?

SEE ALSO Aztec Mythology; Quetzalcoatl

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