Toltec Religion: Gods, Temples & Symbols

Instructor: Emily Teater

Emily currently is a substitute teacher, and has taught a variety of K-12 courses. She has a master's degree in Mythological Studies.

In this lesson, you will receive a basic overview of the major gods and goddesses in Toltec religion. You will also examine some symbols associated with these gods and goddesses. Some famous temples associated with these deities will also be mentioned.

Gods and Goddesses of the Toltecs

Quetzalcoatl: Perhaps the most important god to the Toltecs, and probably one of the most well-known Mesoamerican gods, was Quetzalcoatl, the creator god. Quetzalcoatl was the god of the winds, rain, agriculture, crafts, science, and the inventor of the calendar. He was associated with the planet Venus and was often depicted as a large serpent with feathers and wings. Together with his brother, Tezcatlipoca, they create the world, though how cooperative they were with each other differs depending on the creation myth. Quetzalcoatl was so popular as a deity, his influence spread as far as the Mayan civilization.

This is one of the more common depictions of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent.

Tlaloc: Tlaloc was the god of rain, water, storms, and agriculture. Tlaloc had a bit of a dual nature. On the one hand, he was a benevolent provider of rain to sustain the land. On the other, he was the creator of storms and destructive natural forces. When Quetzalcoatl and his brother created the world, Tlaloc was born when the two creators killed the ancient monster, Cipactli.

This is a depiction of the god Tlaloc. One of his more common attributes is his feathered headdress.

Tezcatlipoca: Nicknamed the Smoking Mirror, Tezcatlipoca is the god of the night sky, memory, and time. He was also one of the creator gods, along with his brother, Quetzalcoatl. Before they could begin creation, though, they had to rid the world of the ancient sea monster, Cipactli. To lure him out of the water, Tezcatlipoca cut off his own foot to use as bait. After they killed the monster, he replaced this foot with an obsidian mirror or a snake.

Note in this image of Tezcatlipoca his leg is missing and is replaced by a snake-like prosthetic.

Xochiquetzal: Goddess of youth, love, and beauty, Xochiquetzal was no push-over among the Toltec gods. To show off just what kind of power she wielded, she once turned a priest into a scorpion after first seducing him. She was also the creator of humans and was mother to the first generation of gods. She was the wife of Tlaloc, but was known to have an affair with Tezcatlipoca.

Xochiquetzal was often depicted with flowers or other plant life around her. And since she was the mother of gods, she is sometimes shown with children.

Centeotl: Centeotl was the god of maize, or corn, perhaps the most important crop in Mesoamerican culture. While Quetzalcoatl gave the gift of maize to humankind, Centeotl has overseen its continued growth and fertility as Lord of the Maize. In one story, which makes Centeotl the giver of agricultural gifts to humans, he journeys to the underworld and returns with the secrets to growing several crops, not just corn. He taught humans how to grow and cultivate these things.

An image of Centeotl. Note the ears of corn sitting in the sack on his back.

Toltec Temples

Most of the temples of Toltec culture that have been discovered and studied are to be found at the ancient city of Tula, which served as the capital of the Toltec civilization. Interestingly, the city shares a similar design and layout to the Mayan city of Chichen Itza. Since the Mayans were influenced by the Toltecs and even borrowed some of their gods, including Quetzalcoatl, this development comes as no surprise.

Tula had several pyramids, which served as temples to these various gods, however exactly which temples served which gods is still up for minor debate.

Pyramid C is the largest of these temples and has only partially been excavated. Unfortunately, many parts of this temple have been looted, making it difficult to know the full story behind this structure. Like many temples of Mesoamerican cultures, it is built with a specific directional orientation, in this case with an east-west orientation to follow the movements of the sun and moon. Given its size and what little archaeologists have found that was not looted, many believe this pyramid was a temple to Quetzalcoatl.

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