• Tue. Mar 21st, 2023

Tlaltecuhtli: Fearsome Fertility Goddess of the Aztecs


Oct 29, 2022

Tlaltecuhtli was a Mesoamerican earth goddess predominantly worshiped by the Aztec folks. In most religions, fertility goddesses are depicted because the tradition’s epitome of magnificence, like Aphrodite of historical Greece or Venus of historical Rome. The Aztecs took a distinct method, nevertheless. Tlaltecuhtli was a horrible monster that was chargeable for all life, however paradoxically, may solely be satiated by human sacrifice.

Tlaltecuhtli and the Aztec Creation Fantasy

The Aztec creation myth just isn’t a fairly one. The creation fable that includes Tlaltecuhtli dates again to the Late Submit-Basic interval (Thirteenth-Sixteenth century AD). In Aztec mythology , 4 worlds had existed earlier than ours, every worn out by a great flood . It was believed that ours was the fifth and last world.

Tlaltecuhtli was an excellent sea monster deity that lived within the oceans created by the fourth nice flood. She was described as having the pores and skin of a crocodile, large sharp fangs, and gaping mouths at her elbows and knees. Tlaltecuhtli floated within the ocean crying out for flesh to devour. Sadly for her, being between rounds of creation meant there have been no tasty mortals to snack on.

A large Tlaltecuhtli monolith was found on the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan in 2018. Roughly 13.1 x 11.8 toes (4 x 3.6 meters) and almost 12 tons, it is likely one of the largest Aztec monoliths ever found. This annotated picture notes Tlaltecuhtli’s typical options. (Alliegiordano / CC BY SA 4.0 )

Someday, the gods Quetzacoatl (a creator deity) and Tezcatlipoca (one other main deity) got here down from the heavens within the type of snakes. They quickly got here throughout Tlaltecuhtli and realized that the fifth cosmos would by no means prosper with such a horrible monster in existence. So the 2 gods determined to destroy her.

To coax Tlaltecuhtli out of the water, Tezcatlipoca used his foot as bait. When the goddess got here out of the water and bit down on his foot, an excellent battle ensued. Through the ensuing melee, Tezcatlipoca misplaced his foot and Tlaltecuhtli misplaced her jaw, stopping her from retreating into the waters.

Finally, Quetzacoatl and Tezcatlipoca prevailed, ripping Tlaltecuhtli in two. From her higher half, the sky was fashioned, and her decrease half grew to become the earth. It needs to be famous at this level that Tlaltecuhtli was not killed by her dismemberment.

The opposite gods weren’t happy. As monstrous as she appeared, Tlaltecuhtli was nonetheless a god, they usually have been sad with how she had been handled. They decreed that none of Tlaltecuhtli would go to waste.

The options of the brand new world have been crafted from her mutilated physique elements. Her crocodile pores and skin grew to become grass, flowers, and herbs. Her eyes remodeled into springs and wells. From her nostril have been created lesser mountains and valleys. Her shoulders grew to become the tallest mountains, and cave and rivers have been born from her mouth.

Being ripped in half, dismembered, and molded right into a planet nonetheless wasn’t sufficient to kill Tlaltecuhtli. It solely served to anger her. She demanded human blood as fee for her sacrifice. The Mesoamericans believed any unusual sounds coming from the earth have been Tlaltecuhtli both calling for blood or wailing in agony.

The Worship of Tlaltecuhtli

The Mesoamericans believed that Tlaltecuhtli’s starvation for human blood and hearts was insatiable. Regardless of her monstrous nature, Tlaltecuhtli was additionally believed to be the supply of all life on earth. They feared that if Tlaltecuhtli’s starvation weren’t happy, she would withdraw her nourishment from the earth, inflicting mass famines.

It was additionally believed her limitless starvation brought about her to swallow the solar each night, earlier than regurgitating it each morning. The Aztecs feared that if she was angered she would interrupt the cycle of day and night time by refusing to swallow the solar. In Aztec mythology, any disruption of the cycle spelled doom.

To maintain Tlaltecuhtli pleased, the Aztecs supplied her a wholesome provide of human hearts . Occasions like photo voltaic eclipses would trigger uneasiness and lead to a rise within the quantity and frequency of sacrifices being made to Tlaltecuhtli.

Not all the things to do with Tlaltecuhtli was all blood and gore. By way of her position as a life-giver, she was additionally seen as a fertility goddess . A troublesome start was believed to be the results of an ‘toddler warrior’ trying to kill his mom throughout labor. Midwives would pray to Tlaltecuhtli throughout such births, asking for her assist.

After several years of excavation and restoration, the Tlaltectuhtli monolith can be seen on display at the Museum of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City. (Public Domain)

After a number of years of excavation and restoration, the Tlaltectuhtli monolith may be seen on show on the Museum of the Templo Mayor in Mexico Metropolis. ( Public Domain )

The Tlaltecuhtli Gender Debate

Through the years, there was an excessive amount of debate as as to whether Tlaltecuhtli was even feminine. The confusion comes from her identify. Tlaltecuhtli may be damaged down into two elements. Tlal- merely means earth whereas -tecuhtli straight interprets as lord. Put the 2 collectively and the interpretation is “Earth Lord”, which might point out that Tlaltecuhtli is a male identify.

Nevertheless, -techutli is definitely an ungendered phrase. Lord is only a tough translation; a greater translation could be ‘noble’. Which means whereas the identify can seem masculine, it is probably only a results of tough translation and confusion ensuing from how some phrases have been gendered.

Tlaltecuhtli is mostly proven with feminine traits and sporting female clothes. The Aztecs usually portrayed her as a feminine, and a number of other sources seek advice from Tlaltecuhtli as a goddess. She can be incessantly depicted able referred to as the hocker (birth-giving squat).

Feminine anthropomorphism of Tlaltecuhtli in the Codex Tudela (circa 1540), wearing a women's huipil tunic (Pestocavatappi / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Female anthropomorphism of Tlaltecuhtli within the Codex Tudela (circa 1540), sporting a ladies’s huipil tunic (Pestocavatappi / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

So as to add to the confusion, Tlaltecuhtli was generally depicted as a person sporting masculine garments. Some students have additionally claimed that the hocker squat is only a male Tlaltecuhtli squatting below the earth, ready to feed on the lifeless.

Masculine anthropomorphism of Tlaltecuhtli found in Tenochtitlan (ca. 1500), wearing a male maxtlatl facemask (Pestocavatappi / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Masculine anthropomorphism of Tlaltecuhtli present in Tenochtitlan (ca. 1500), sporting a male maxtlatl facemask (Pestocavatappi / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Most proof factors to Tlaltecuhtli being a feminine deity that sometimes had a male facet. This has led some students to argue that Tlaltecuhtli was dual-gendered, like another primordial Mesoamerican deities. We’ll most likely by no means know, for positive however this interpretation is smart.


Tlaltecuhtli was probably the most vital deities within the Aztec pantheon . With out her, there may very well be no life on earth and the fifth cosmos would have by no means existed. That is mirrored in the way in which the Mesoamericans made human sacrifices to her. But regardless of being chargeable for all life on earth, Tlaltecuhtli was by no means seen as a mom determine. It appears probably the midwives’ prayers to her most likely fell on deaf ears.

The Aztec folks had bloody relationships with their gods, and that is completely mirrored of their worship of Tlaltecuhtli. The Greek and Roman gods demanded sacrifice as a present of affection and adoration, however Tlaltecuhtli demanded human sacrifice as a result of she was hungry.

High Picture: A contemporary depiction of the Aztec fertility goddess Tlaltecuhtli. Supply: Public Domain

By Robbie Mitchell

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