Huitzilopochtli

HUITZILOPOCHTLI – (from huitzilin, “hummingbird,” and opochtli, “left”) was the Aztec sun and war god. The Aztecs believed that dead warriors came back to life as hummingbirds and that the south was the left side of the world. Huitzilopochtli’s name, … Continue reading

HUITZILOPOCHTLI – (from huitzilin, “hummingbird,” and opochtli, “left”) was the Aztec sun and war god.

The Aztecs believed that dead warriors came back to life as hummingbirds and that the south was the left side of the world. Huitzilopochtli’s name, therefore, meant the Warrior of the South brought back from the dead. His animal disguise, was the eagle.

Huitzilopochtli’s image, in the form of a hummingbird, was carried upon the shoulders of the priests when the Aztecs invaded, and at night his voice was heard giving orders.

Thus, according to Huitzilopochtli’s command, Tenochtitlan the Aztec capital, was founded in AD 1325 on a small rocky island in the lake of the Valley of Mexico. The god’s first shrine was built on a spot where priests found an eagle poised upon a rock and devouring a snake. Successive Aztec rulers enlarged the shrine until the year “Eight Reed” (1487), when an impressive temple was dedicated by the emperor Ahuitzotl.

Pictures of Huitzilopochtli usually show him as a hummingbird or as a warrior with armour and helmet made of humming bird feathers. His legs, arms and the lower part of his face were painted blue; the upper half of his face was black. He wore an elaborate feathered head dress and waved a round shield and a turquoise snake.

The Aztecs believed that the sun god needed daily “nourishment” (tlaxcaltiliztli) – that is, human blood and hearts – and that they, as the “people of the sun,” were required to provide the sun god with his victims. The sacrificial hearts were offered to the sun quauhtlehuanitl (“eagle who rises”) and burned in the quauhxicalli (“the eagle’s vase”).

Warriors who died in battle or on the sacrificial stone were called quauhteca (“the eagle’s people”).

It was believed that after their death the warriors first formed part of the sun’s brilliant retinue; then, after four years, they went to live forever in the bodies of hummingbirds.

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 myths, Huitzilopochtli is one of the four sons of Ometeotl, and 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 400 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.[1]

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[citation needed], 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 Temple 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.” [2] 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.

In his book “El Calendario Mexica y la Cronografia” by Rafael Tena and published by the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico, the author gives the last day of the Nahuatl month Panquetzaliztli as the date of the celebration of the rebirth of the Lord Huitzilopochtli on top of Coatepec (Snake Hill); December 9th in the Julian Calendar or December the 19th in the Gregorian Calendar.