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Tlaloc, Aztec God of Rain: Mythology, Facts & Statue

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, we explore Tlaloc, the rain god of the Aztecs. Why did the Aztecs sacrifice children to him and what souls were chosen to dwell in his paradise? The answers, and a look at the greatest monolith in Central America, lie within.

Let It Rain, Tlaloc!

To the Aztecs, Tlaloc was one of the most important gods in their pantheon. Ruler of rain and lightning, Tlaloc brought fertility to the crops and the people. Many of his followers referred to him as ''the provider,'' but they also feared his temperamental nature. Unsatisfied with his follower's worship, he could withhold the vital rains, killing many with drought and famine. Another way he showed dissatisfaction was with an overabundance of his talents, sending hail, hurricanes, and floods. For individuals who displeased him, he could strike them down with a bolt of lightning.

Tlaloc
Tlaloc

Appearance

In art, he is often depicted with huge, bulging eyes and long fangs. For clothing, he wears a garment of clouds, sandals, and a heron-feather headdress. In his hand, he holds a magical rattle said to bring the thunder. Around his neck, he wore a necklace of jade beads, his sacred gemstone. In paintings, he is usually surrounded by lightning bolts, and ceramics with such depictions discovered in Veracruz date to the 1st century BCE, 1,400 years before the Aztecs settled in Mexico.

Clearer Image of Tlaloc
Clearer Tlaloc

The most famous sculptural depiction of Tlaloc dates to the 8th century CE, though the artists never completely finished the 23-foot tall statue. The largest monolith in Central America, possibly the largest throughout the Americas, the 152 metric ton basalt statue was officially discovered in a creek bed near San Miguel Coatlinchan in 1964 by construction workers. However, photographs from the 1930s indicate locals knew of the statue even before that date, guiding tourists to marvel at the statue. Today, the statue stands outside the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, but its journey to the capital was accompanied by unusually violent downpours and unseasonable rainstorms, leading some to wonder if moving the statue angered the Tlaloc.

Tlaloc Monolith
Tlaloc Monolith

Tlaloc and the Family of Gods

But who was Tlaloc aside from controlling the rain? He was one of the three biggest gods to the Aztecs, accompanied by the war god Huitzilopochtli and the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl. Some accounts claim Tlaloc was one of the four children of Ometeotl, the supreme creator god, while others claim Xipe Totec was the fourth child. In either case, Tlaloc was a powerful god existing from the earliest times in Ometeotl's paradise of Tamoanchan. His first wife was the goddess of youth, beauty, and fertility, named Xochiquetzal. After Tezcatlipoca stole her for his own bride, Tlaloc remarried, taking Chalchiuhtlicue as his new wife. She was the goddess of rivers and springs. Together, with the help of the four Tlaloque, which we will explain shortly, they guided the rains and waters needed for agriculture.

The Tlaloque

Tlaloc, like several other Aztec gods, was also known to take different forms that were each their own distinct deity, yet manifestations of the central Tlaloc figure. Each Tlaloque corresponds to one of the cardinal directions, has an emblematic color, and represents a different weather pattern.

Tlaloc and Helpers
Tlaloque

  • Western Rain: This embodiment of Tlaloc brought rain from the west and took his color, red, from the setting sun. He was associated with autumn rain showers.
  • Southern Rain: This rain spirit's color was green, representing the summer's green growth of fertile crops.
  • Eastern Rain: This Tlaloc embodiment took the color of golden-yellow and was responsible for bringing the gentle rain of spring to nourish the young crops and return life to the world.
  • Northern Rain: This fearsome rain spirit brought terrible destruction in the form of powerful storms, hail, and even snow in the highland mountains. Associated with the color white, the Aztecs believed the hail and snow were made from the bones of their deceased ancestors.

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