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Huitzilopochtli: Huitzilopochtli, God of War & Supreme Deity in Aztec Religion,


Huitzilopochtli, God of War & Supreme Deity in Aztec Religion

Huitzilopochtli, God of War & Supreme Deity in Aztec Religion

Image Source: Library of Congress

Name and Etymology:

Huitzilopochtli, "Blue Hummingbird of the Left (South)"
Huichilobos (Spanish)

Religion and Culture of Huitzilopochtli:

Aztec, Mesoamerica

Symbols, Iconography, and Attributes of Huitzilopochtli:

Statues of Huitzilopochtli were usually made out of wood rather than stone, so few survive. From what we can tell, Huitzilopochtli is typically portrayed with a headdress of hummingbird feathers or even as a hummingbird. His faced was marked with yellow and blue stripes and he carries around the fire serpent Xiuhcoatl with him. There was an important statue of him in his temple at Tenochtitlan, covered with gold and hidden by a curtain. The fate of this statue remains a mystery.

Huitzilopochtli was God of:

Warriors and Young Men
Supreme God of Tenochtitlan
Protector of the Aztec nation

Equivalents in Other Cultures:

There doesn't appear to be any precedents for Huitzilopochtli in Mesoamerican religion — he's unique to the Aztecs. Huitzilopochtli was the supreme god of Aztec culture and it was in his name that the infamous Aztec heart sacrifices were performed.

Story and Origin of Huitzilopochtli:

Huitzilopochtli's mother Coatlicue became pregnant when a ball of feathers (the soul of a warrior) fell from the sky and hit her. He later leapt fully formed from his mother's womb and killed his siblings who were, in turn, about to kill Coatlicue for presumably having been promiscuous. Huitzilopochtli may have roots in a historical warrior early in Aztec pre-history.

Family Tree and Relationships of Huitzilopochtli:

Son of of Coatlicue, Earth Goddess
Brother of Coyolxauhqui

Worship and Rituals of Huitzilopochtli:

Huitzilopochtli was worshipped during the Aztec yearly festival Panquetzaliztli. Slaves were killed during fake battles to commemorate a new military season. Victims were dragged up the temple steps, stretched across the stone altar, their chests cut open with an obsidian knife, and hearts ripped out. The corpse was skinned, dismembered, and the pieces sent down to the rulers and nobility for consumption. The heart was consumed by the priests or burnt as an offering to Huitzilopochtli.

Art and Temples of Huitzilopochtli:

Huitzilopochtli was the supreme god at the temple area of Tenochtitlan. His temple occupied the most prominent site at Tenochtitlan, aside from perhaps the temple dedicated to Tlaloc. Together their temples constituted the Hueteocalli, the "Great Temple," a double pyramid which was the central focus of Aztec religious ritual. Huitzilopochtli's temple was painted read for war; Tlaloc's was painted blue and white for water.

Mythology and Legends of Huitzilopochtli:

It appears that Huitzilopochtli was originally worshiped by the Mexica Aztecs, the last Aztec tribe of move into the Basin of Mexico from the north and the Aztec tribe responsible for creating the Aztec empire known to people today. It is through them that Huitzilopochtli became such an important god for the Aztecs generally.

According to Aztec legends, Huitzilopochtli led the early Mexica Aztec people away from their original home in a cave on the island of Aztlan, some time in the early 12th century, in order to seek out a new home. They gathered together for a while in Chicomoztoc, the origin of all Mesoamerican peoples in the legends, and eventually Huitzilopochtli chose to lead the most virtuous away. This may describe a real event when early Aztec tribes split up.

Huitzilopochtli led his followers to the Coatepec, "Hill of the Serpent," a legendary place for the Aztecs which they recreated in their capital of Tenochtitlan. It was here that he was born (or reborn, it's confusing how he could lead the Aztecs here and only afterwards be born) fully-formed from his mother's womb, slaying his brothers and sending his sister's body tumbling down to the bottom of Coatpec. The ritual heart sacrifices for which the Aztec became infamous for were thus recreations of the mythic story in which Huitzilopochtli kills his sister Coyolxauhqui.

Warriors and died in battle and women who died in childbirth would serve Huitzilopochtli in the afterlife. Huitzilopochtli was so bright and radiant, though, that it was difficult to see him at all — warriors would have to use their shields to protect their eyes, only glancing through the holes left by arrows. Eventually, some would be allowed to return to the earth as butterflies.

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