Aztec Gods & Goddesses: Names & Meanings

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we will explore some of the numerous gods and goddesses of ancient Aztec mythology. We will discover the role they played in Aztec life and detail the responsibilities of the most important deities.

Religion

Today, three of the most popular religions in the Western world (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) all share one basic feature: they believe in one, singular god. But in the history of humanity, this was not always the case, and it is still not the case in other parts of the world. Indeed, many ancient cultures did not believe in just one god; they believed in many, each with its own responsibilities, powers, and functions.

In this lesson, we'll explore the gods and goddesses of one such ancient religion, that of the Aztecs of Central and Latin America.

Basics

As mentioned above, the Aztecs believed in hundreds of gods. Each of these gods had their own special functions or powers. Many of these functions centered on the important facets of daily life in Aztec society. For example, there was an Aztec god devoted to corn, a chief crop of Aztec agriculture. Other gods were devoted to war, water, or the sun--if it was important to Aztec society, you can bet there was a god responsible for it. In addition, the Aztec pantheon resembled human society as well; gods had families, married, fought wars, and made peace.

Aztec gods, on the whole, were active gods who played a major role in the everyday lives of Aztec people. If a harvest was poor or a battle was lost or a natural disaster occurred, it was generally believed that the Aztecs had done something to anger the respective god responsible for such things. Aztec gods were an angry and touchy lot when compared to modern deities. Affronts that might cause disaster could range from a god not being recognized enough to an Aztec not being sincere enough when praying to the god or goddess.

The Aztecs believed their gods could only be appeased through regular and virtually innumerable sacrifices. Indeed, Aztec civilization is known for its enthusiasm for sacrifices. Virtually anything was up for sacrifice, though most gods required certain types of sacrifices. Anything from agricultural goods and livestock to humans themselves (often captured foreign warriors) were considered acceptable and worthy of the gods.

Because of the centrality of religious worship and sacrifice, priests were very important in Aztec society. Aside from performing sacrifices, ceremonies, and other religious rituals, they also often ran the large temples Aztec society built to pay homage to their gods.

Deities

The varied and numerous gods of the Aztec pantheon each had their own responsibilities and were all involved in various Aztec myths and legends. Some of the most notable gods and goddesses are listed below.

Tlaloc

One of the most important gods in Aztec civilization, Tlaloc was likely borrowed from the mythology of previous Central American civilizations like the Olmec and the Maya. Tlaloc was the Aztec god of rain, and therefore his happiness was incredibly important to Aztec farmers.

Tonatiuh

Tonatiuh was the fifth and current sun god in the Aztec's mythological history. In Aztec mythology, there were four previous iterations of the world where a different god was responsible for the sun. The Aztecs believed they lived in the fifth era: Tonatiuh's era as sun god. In order to ensure the sun rose each day, the Aztecs believed Tonatiuh required relatively frequent blood and human sacrifices.

Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca was the Aztec god of the night, and as such he was closely associated with death. One of the most powerful gods, he was considered a nefarious force who, according to Aztec mythology, was responsible for the destruction of the first world.

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