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Aztec God Tezcatlipoca: Myth & Facts

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, students will learn about the Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca. How many different forms can he take? How did Aztecs honor him? What was his role in creating the world? The answers are all here.

Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca was one of the most important gods in the Aztec pantheon. Originally adopted from the Toltecs, Tezcatlipoca is with the horned owl and the jaguar, the latter of which he is known to shapeshift into its form at will. This explains his association with the first day of the thirteen-day Aztec calendar which is represented by a jaguar. In addition to his shapeshifting ability, Tezcatlipoca also appeared as several different gods who were aspects of his identity. Complicated, right? We'll explain that part in a later section. Ultimately, Tezcatlipoca was an omnipresent, able to be in all places at once, god known for his mercurial temperament, bestowing good or bad fortune on a whim.

Tezcatlipoca
Tezcatlipoca from Codex Borgia

Co-Creator of the Fifth Sun

According to the Aztecs, the world has been created and destroyed multiple times. Each of the earth's incarnations was labeled as a ''sun.'' The time of the Aztecs, all the way up to the present day, is called the Fifth Sun. Aztecs believed that the time before ours, the Fourth Sun, was destroyed in a great flood that devoured everything living and every inanimate object, leaving only an endless sea.

Legend has it that Ometeotl, the original creator god, charged his two sons with the important task of remaking the world for the Fifth Sun. The chosen sons were Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. You see, in all the previous incarnations of the earth, they took turns creating the world while the other tried to destroy it. Ometeotl hoped he could get the two to work together and make a world they wouldn't try to destroy.

Tezcatlipoca Mask
Mask

Unfortunately, they had little to work with from the watery void whose only inhabitant was a horrific creature named Tlalteotl. When we say horrific, that is no exaggeration; she was covered with eyes and mouths all over her body and she hungered for any living flesh she could find. It makes you question whether the flood killed everything or whether it just made it possible for her to eat everything.

Ever efficient, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl decided that if they had to kill the beast, they could use her flesh as the substance to make the new world. They turned themselves into snakes and dove into the water after Tlalteotl. When they found her, they tore her in half, but in the battle, she bit off Tezcatlipoca's foot.

Tezcatlipoca with Jaguar Foot
Tezcatlipoca

Still, the brothers threw her lower part into the sky to form the heavens. Her upper part, they turned into mountains, islands, and continents. Thus, she became the goddess of the earth who was sacrificed to make the world. However, she needed to be rewarded with the hearts of sacrificial victims to keep her appeased.

Multiple Identities

Tezcatlipoca was one of four siblings born from Ometeotl, the supreme creator god of the Aztecs. Ometeotl, a god with the ability to be several beings at once, actually parented the four with another incarnation of himself, passing his gift of being multiple beings to Tezcatlipoca. In fact, of the four siblings, Tezcatlipoca is actually two of them in the forms of the Red Tezcatlipoca and the Black Tezcatlipoca. The other two siblings were Quetzalcoatl and either the rain god, Tlaloc, or the war god, Huitzilopochtli.

Though Tezcatlipoca was born as two beings, there are four incarnations of him in Aztec mythology symbolized by the color associations with red, black, blue, and white. Additionally, he also can be Tepeyolohtli, the jaguar god. The four colors of his incarnations are listed below.

Red and Blue Tezcatlipoca
Two Incarnations

Red Tezcatlipoca: Also referred to as the Flayed One, a reference to the god Xipe Totec and god of the Tlaxcaltecans.

Black Tezcatlipoca: Also referred to as the Smoking Mirror, patron of the city of Texcoco.

Blue Tezcatlipoca: Also referred to as the Hummingbird Sorcerer, associated with the sun and the city of Tenochtitlan.

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