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Aztec Creation Myth

Legend of the Fifth Sun

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Aztec Calendar Stone

Aztec Calendar Stone

Xuan Che

The Aztec creation myth which tells how the world originated is called the Legend of the Fifth Sun. Several different versions of this myth exist because the stories were originally passed down by oral tradition, and because the Aztecs adopted and modified gods and myths from other tribes.

The Legend of the Fifth Sun

According to Aztec mythology, their world was the fifth era of a cycle of creation and destruction, during which different gods first governed the earth through a dominant element, and then destroyed it. These worlds were called suns.

The creator of the world was the god Ometeotl, who was both male and female and gave birth to the four Tezcatlipocas of the East, North, South and West. These gods eventually created the world and all the other deities. After the world was created, the gods gave light to humans and in order to do this, one of the gods had to sacrifice himself into a fire. The first god to sacrifice himself was Tezcatlipoca. This First world was inhabited by giants and came to an end when the giants were devoured by jaguars.

The Second world, or sun, was governed by Quetzalcoatl, and the earth was populated by humans. This world came to an end through hurricanes and floods. The survivors fled to the top of the trees and were transformed into monkeys.

The Third Sun was dominated by water and its ruling deity was Tlaloc. People who inhabited this world ate aquatic seeds. This world came to an end when the god Quetzalcoatl made it rain fire and ashes. The humans who didn’t die became birds and the others were replaced by other animals.

The Fourth Sun was governed by the goddess Chalchiuthlicue, sister and wife of Tlaloc. A great flood marked the end of this world and all the people were transformed into fish. A further version of the myth tells that at the end of this epoch the gods gathered at Teotihuacan to decide who had to sacrifice him/herself in order for the new world to begin. The god Huehuetéotl, the old fire god, started a sacrificial bonfire, but none of the most important gods wanted to jump into the flames. Only the old god Nanahuatzin had the courage to jump into the flames and became the new sun.

The Fifth Sun was the world in which the Aztecs lived. Tonatiuh the sun god was the ruling deity. The Aztecs considered themselves “the People of the Sun” and therefore their duty was to nourish the Sun god through blood offerings and sacrifices. Failing of doing this would have caused the end of their world and the disappearing of the sun from the sky. This world is characterized by the sign Ollin, which means movement. According to Aztec beliefs, this indicated that this world would come to an end through earthquakes.

A version of this myth is recorded on the famous Aztec Calendar Stone, a colossal stone sculpture whose images referred to one version of this creation tale linked to Aztec history.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Aztec Civilization, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Adams, Richard E.W., 1991, Prehistoric Mesoamerica. Third Edition. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Taube, Karl A., 1993, Aztec and Maya Myths. Fourth Edition. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.

Van Tuerenhout Dirk R., 2005, The Aztecs. New Perspectives, ABC-CLIO Inc. Santa Barbara, CA; Denver, CO and Oxford, England.

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