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In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli, also spelled Uitzilopochtli ( "Hummingbird of the South (on the Left)", or "Left-Handed Hummingbird", huitzilin being Nahuatl for hummingbird), was a god of war, a sun god, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan.


Huitzilopochtli's mother was Coatlicue, and his father was a ball of feathers (or, alternatively, Mixcoatl). His sister was Malinalxochitl, a beautiful sorceress, who was also his rival. His messenger or impersonator was Paynal.

In one of the recorded creation myth, Huitzilopochtli is one of the four sons of Ometeotl, he made the first fire from which a half sun was created by Quetzalcoatl.

The legend of Huitzilopochtli is recorded in the Mexicayotl Chronicle. His sister, Coyolxauhqui, tried to kill their mother because she became pregnant in a shameful way (by a ball of feathers). Her offspring, Huitzilopochtli, learned of this plan while still in the womb, and before it was put into action, sprang from his mother's womb fully grown and fully armed. He then killed his sister Coyolxauhqui and many of his 500 brothers. He tossed his sister's head into the sky, where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night. He threw his other brothers and sisters into the sky, where they became the stars.

History and myth

Huitzilopochtli was a tribal god and a legendary wizard of the Aztecs. Originally he was of little importance to the Nahuas, but after the rise of the Aztecs, Tlacaelel reformed their religion and put Huitzilopochtli at the same level as Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, and Tezcatlipoca, making him a solar god. Through this, Huitzilopochtli replaced Nanahuatzin, the solar god from the Nahua legend.Huitzilopochtli was said to be in a constant struggle with the darkness and required nourishment in the form of sacrifices to ensure the sun would survive the cycle of 52 years, which was the basis of many Mesoamerican myths. While popular accounts claim it was necessary to have a daily sacrifice , sacrifices were only done on festive days. There were 18 especially holy festive days, and only one of them was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.

Every 52 years, the Nahuas feared the world would end as the other four creations of their legends had. Under Tlacaelel, Aztecs believed that they could give strength to Huitzilopochtli with human blood and thereby postpone the end of the world, at least for another 52 years.

The Great Templemarker of Tenochtitlan was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc because they were considered equals in power. Sixteenth century Dominican Friar Diego Durán wrote, "These two gods were always meant to be together, since they were considered companions of equal power." The Templo Mayor actually consisted of a pyramidal platform, on top of which were twin temples. The left one was Huitzilopochtli's, and the right one was Tlaloc's.

According to Miguel León-Portilla, in this new vision from Tlacaelel, the warriors that died in battle and women who died in childbirth would go to serve Huitzilopochtli in his palace (in the south, or left). From a description in the Florentine Codex, Huitzilopochtli was so bright that the warrior souls had to use their shields to protect their eyes. They could only see the god through the arrow holes in their shields, so it was the bravest warrior who could see him best. From time to time, those warriors could return to earth as butterflies or hummingbirds.

Tenochtitlan mythic origins

There are several legends and myths of Huitzilopochtli. According the Aubin Codex, the Aztecs originally came from a place called Aztlan. They lived under the ruling of a powerful elite called the "Azteca Chicomoztoca". Huitzilopochtli ordered them to abandon Aztlan to find a new home. He also ordered them never to call themselves Aztec; instead they should be called "Mexica." Huitzilopochtli guided them through a long journey. For a time, Huitzilopochtli left them in the charge of his sister Malinalxochitl, who, according to legend, founded Malinalcomarker, but the Aztecs resented her ruling and called back Huitzilopochtli. He put his sister to sleep and ordered the Aztecs to leave the place. When she woke up and realized she was alone, she became angry and desired revenge. She gave birth to a son called Copil. When he grew up, he confronted Huitzilpochtli, who had to kill him. Huitzilopochtli then took his heart and threw it in the middle of Lake Texcocomarker. Many years later, Huitzilopochtli ordered the Aztecs to search for Copil's heart and build their city over it. The sign would be an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a precious serpent. The Aztecs finally found the eagle, who bowed to them, and they built a temple in the place, which became Tenochtitlan.

There are different versions of this encounter, but generally the eagle is told to have been eating a snake. This image is seen on the flag of Mexico.


In art and iconography, Huitzilopochtli was represented as a hummingbird (or with just the feathers of such on his head and left leg), a black face, and holding a scepter shaped like a snake and a mirror. In the great temple his statue was decorated with cloth, feathers, gold, and jewels, and was hidden behind a curtain to give it more reverence and veneration.

According to legend, the statue was supposed to be destroyed by the soldier Gil González de Benavides, but it was rescued by a man called Tlatolatl. The statue appeared some years later during an investigation by Bishop Zummáraga in the 1530s, only to be lost again. There is speculation that the statue still exists in a cave somewhere in the Anahuac valley.


An imaginative European depiction of an Aztec shrine.
The idol of Huitzilopochtli is seated in the background.
Father Duran gave us the description of the festivities for Huitzilopochtli. Panquetzaliztli (7 December to 26 December) was the Aztec month dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. People decorated their homes and trees with paper flags; there were ritual races, processions, dances, songs, prayers, and finally human sacrifices. This was one of the more important Aztec festivals, and the people prepared for the whole month. They fasted or ate very little; a statue of the god was made with amaranth (huautli) seeds and honey, and at the end of the month, it was cut into small pieces so everybody could eat a little piece of the god. Because of its similarities to the Catholic mass, after the conquest the amaranth cultives were outlawed, while some of the festivities were subsumed into the Christmas celebration.

According to the Ramirez Codex, in Tenochtitlan circa sixty prisoners were sacrificed at the festivities. Sacrifices were reported to be made in other Aztec cities, including Tlatelolco, Xochimilcomarker, and Texcocomarker, but the number is unknown, and no currently available archeological findings confirm this.

For the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, dedicated to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed about 20,400 prisoners over the course of four days. While accepted by some scholars, this claim also has been considered Aztec propaganda. There were 19 altars in the city of Tenochtitlan where these sacrifices would have taken place at a breakneck speed. Certainly, the priests would have been very busy to supply that amount of slaughter.

See also


  1. Huitzilopochtli
  2. (Diego Durán, Book of Gods and Rites)


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