The Teotihuacan gods —among which are Tlátol, Huehuetéotl and Xipe Tótec— formed the spiritual basis of the cosmogony of the ancient Mexican peoples, as well as their most fervent beliefs. Teotihuacán was one of the most flourishing pre-Columbian cities, so the deities of this area had wide significance.
When the Olmecs disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico, a kind of void was created in terms of civilization. It was then that small populations settled in the area to populate different regions of Mesoamerica.
Near the Xitle volcano, the first city-state ( altépetl ) was established: the cultural community of Cuicuilco, located exactly south of Lake Texcoco. This lake was drained to avoid pests and diseases that originated from the high temperatures.
Some texts assure that the inhabitants of Teotihuacán were descendants of the Nahuatl culture and that they came from the north, like the Mexica. The Teotihuacán culture was so relevant that the great city of Cuicuilco, in its heyday, competed with Teotihuacán in its early stages.
The gods ruled all spaces and environments, among which the agricultural calendar and rituals to invoke water stand out. Their deities were powerful and magical beings who gave life and also took it away; under this dual notion of life and death the communities traveled with blind faith.
There are several representations of gods in figures and statuettes of big cats, such as the jaguar and the panther. For example, within religious symbology, the jaguar – also known as panthera onca – was considered a magical creature thanks to its extraordinary abilities, and its image was used in the rituals of shamans.
Origin of the worldview
The agricultural sedentary lifestyle marked the beginning of the Mesoamerican tradition (2500 BC), which developed autonomously until the 16th century. There were 4000 years of shared social exchange between different peoples that were linked by a common history.
Despite the radical changes produced by the Colony and the evangelization process, these peoples built their own vision of the cosmos that built traditions with characteristics that have been maintained until the present.
The Mayans reflected in ancient hieroglyphic texts and codices what the indigenous books that were written during the Colony contained. These prayed that the creation of the universe was a cyclical process and man was the central figure.
The process of creating the cosmos has always been related to the intervention of divinities, who decided an order that was transformed into a sacred story.
This story has been told from generation to generation, in writing or orally, through a language loaded with symbols that expresses the values and feelings of these men towards the world.
This creation myth explains the origin of everything, including the behavior of human beings. For the devotees, it is a true story that, together with the other myths of their community, constitutes the code of values and marks the path of their behavior in this world.
Religious elements of the Teotihuacan culture
Rituals and calendars
The ceremonies of celebration were adjusted to the solstices, eclipses and equinoxes. These were the astronomical events with which the construction of pyramids and temples was associated, since it was the gods who governed these calendar dates.
These practices expressed commitment and devotion to their gods when raising a pyramid. They were also made to protect and guarantee abundance in the city.
Enemy warriors and traitors were buried alive, bled, beheaded, or had their hearts removed.
The marvelous buildings built by these peoples to venerate their gods reveal the magnitude of their dedication, adoration and commitment to this superb indigenous pantheon. Teotihuacán became an important and imposing religious center.
Some of these constructions are described below, whose structures expressed the deep religious sentiment that these communities professed for their gods:
Pyramid of the Sun
It is a five-level construction based on a sacred tunnel; Above this there was a small temple. Inside the pyramid there is a 100 meter passageway that leads to a burial chamber.
Pyramid of the Moon
It was built after that of the Sun and has a similar structure, although it does not have internal chambers. At the base you can find offerings to the gods, sculptures of animals in green rock and obsidian rocks can also be found.
It is likely that these constructions were the resting place for human sacrifices. The remains of sacrificed animals have also been found there.
It is a monumental structure decorated with sculptures of the god of water (Tláloc) and the feathered serpent.
There rest men and women sacrificed as a celebration for the culmination of the work. You can also find religious objects and obsidian knives inside.
The works of architecture that were erected within Teotihuacán gave it the position as a symbolic religious space in Mesoamerica; it was known as the city where the gods are born.
The deities were revered and were represented in sculptures, paintings and even in architectural constructions. Their legends and mythological stories reached our days through archaeological traces and even in religious poetry, in addition to previous artistic expressions.
The 11 main Teotihuacan gods
Also known as the Feathered Serpent, he is the main god and represents the duality of man. The physical body and the soul are represented in the serpent and in the feathers, respectively.
These characteristics also represent the strength of the earth and the sky. Its main attribute was the power of transformation and it referred to the perfection of man.
The head surrounded by serpents that emerges from above among the feathers gave it the name of Feathered Serpent.
It is considered one of the most feared and worshiped gods by the Mesoamerican peoples. He was the god of rain, who depended on the cycles of water necessary for the crops of these peoples to grow, which were clearly agricultural.
Tlaloc was also credited with the power of lightning. The territory conferred on this god was Tlalocán, a mythological place that according to the Teotihuacanos was located towards the east of the universe. As described by Teotihuacan cosmology, in Tlalocán there is never a lack of food and it is the origin of all the water sources that the Earth requires for its subsistence.
Tlaloc is represented with blinders and a forked tongue like that of a snake. It also has snails and shells, which represent its fertile character.
Its presence is overwhelming and expresses the need for man to receive essential food from the earth. He is a dual god: his other face is represented by the goddess of lakes and streams.
It is the other face of the god of war and water (Tlaloc). This goddess is associated with fertility and is depicted with large ear flaps, a poncho and a jade skirt with geometric patterns. Her body is robust and she wears sandals.
The representation of this deity is dressed in the Teotihuacan manner, with ornaments on the head. It is symbolized in the imposing sculpture that is very close to the Pyramid of the Moon, and that was later transferred to the National Museum located on Moneda Street, in Mexico City.
He is the god of fire and is represented as a toothless, wrinkled, bearded and hunchbacked old man. Archaeological finds place him as one of the oldest gods.
After the city of Cuicuilco was destroyed by a volcanic eruption, figures were found that present the seated god with embers behind him. The god Huehuetéotl was associated with the solar calendar.
The representation of the deity on embers suggests the fury of the Xitle volcano, which caused fire to burst from its mouth and shook the earth, destroying the city of Cuicuilco.
This god then represents the memory of the volcano. The brazier that precedes it is used to place incense or aromatic resins (copal), in order to set them on fire.
The representation of Huehuetéotl is sculpted in stone. On her head there is a rhombus figure and her hands rest on her legs, one clasped and the other with the palm towards the sky.
She was revered as the goddess of darkness and the underworld. It was represented with a headdress with the face of a green bird, similar to an owl or a quetzal.
It is surrounded by spiders and its body is yellowish. In addition, it has a main and very characteristic piece that crosses its nose: it is an elongated bar with three circles.
Just below this bar hang three to five “fangs”; the outer ones curve towards the middle and the one in the center points downwards.
From its head a vegetal form similar to the world tree emerges, and from the drops of water on its branches a quantity of butterflies and spiders sprout. These drops roll down the hands of the goddess.
He was the god of crops (corn and agriculture), disease and goldsmithing. He was considered influential in all aspects of life, death, and resurrection.
Xipe Tótec was a symbol of renewal and detachment, and his actions were focused on regenerating the spirit of the human being.
According to the archaeological and anthropological investigations carried out, this divinity was also the representation of life and death.
His appearance was that of a balanced and elegant man. His face was chubby and serene, with half-open lids and sharp, high cheekbones. Some researchers indicate that this deity was mainly related to death and that it had a funerary function.
God of Pulque
An alcoholic beverage called pulque was used in Teotihuacan religious rituals, and one of its most common representations was that of a rabbit.
According to the Teotihuacan worldview, there was a group of sacred rabbits that met in ceremonies. Some of these responded to the names of Macuiltochtli, Texcatzonatl, Tepoztécatl, Colhuatzincatl and Ometochtli.
This god is compared to Xipe Tótec. He is represented with a bloody knife covered with human skin, as well as with small heads whose eyes are pierced.
He is considered the god of the seasons, vegetation and disease. It is also associated with the eastern direction of the universe, the place where the Sun is born; hence the predominance of red in its representations.
The conception of this god was very peculiar: his relationship with agriculture is given because it was believed that his representation responded to the fact that he himself skinned to provide food for men. This action is symbolically compared to the loss of the outer skin that corn undergoes before germinating.
He was the god of business travelers and merchants, and was represented with a bundle of sticks. The merchants tied their products and sprinkled them with blood from their ears to offer to this god.
This action was to guarantee success in business and, in addition, protected them from the beasts and thieves of the road during their travels.
God of Death
Other sculptures found were associated with death and the underworld. One of these in particular is a red sculpture in the shape of a circle, carved on both sides and with a skull in the middle seen from the front; it also had several pleats around it.
This representation was found in front of the Pyramid of the Sun, located towards the west side. The shape of this sculpture is believed to refer to the path of the fleshy Sun to Xibalbá, also known as the world of the dead.
A tradition that refused to die
The violent establishment of a new political and social order that imposed the colonization of these peoples tried to banish their religious traditions and values, which represented their strongest beliefs.
However, the symbolic force of all that was worthy of respect and sacred to this community transcended despite the profound change, overcoming persecution, torture and deaths.
The powerful men of these communities did not abandon their cultural heritage. They took advantage of the new alphabet imposed on them to write their new texts in that language, and thus document their oral traditions.
These writings were a complement to their ancient codices, where they established their religious traditions, rites, history, festivals and anecdotes related to nature.
Thanks to this, the pantheon of Teotihuacan gods remains unscathed in the collective history of their regions, forming part of the cultural imagination of the countries that treasure and consecrate their spirit to this religious heritage that consolidates and keeps alive the history of their beliefs.
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