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Tlaltecuhtli

The Aztec Earth Goddess Tlaltecuhtli

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Tlaltecuhtli monoloth in the Museum of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City.

Tlaltecuhtli monoloth in the Museum of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City.

Ivanmartinez

Tlaltecuhtli (Tlal-teh-koo-tlee) is the name of the monstrous earth goddess among the Aztec. Tlaltecuhtli has both feminine and masculine attributes, although more often represented as a female deity, and her name means “The one who give and devours life”.

The Tlaltecuhtli Myth 

According to Aztec mythology, the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca were to create the world at the origin of time, before the First era, or sun. But the earthly monster Tlaltecuhtli was destroying everything they were creating. The gods turned themselves into giant serpents and wrapped their bodies around the goddess until they broke her body in two.

The top part of Tlaltecuhtli's body became the earth, mountains and rivers; her hair became trees and flowers; her eyes caves and wells. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca also gave her the gift of providing humans with whatever they need from her body. However, the Earth Goddess often claims some form of tributes, through human blood, in order to keep producing what humans needs.

Tlaltecuhtli was also believed to devours the sun every night jut to give it back every morning. However, the fear that this cycle could be interrupted for some reason, such as during eclipses, produced instability among the Aztec population and was often the cause of ritual sacrifices.

Tlaltecuhtli Images

Tlaltecuhtli is depicted in codices and stone monuments as a horrific monster, often in a squatting position and in the act of giving birth. She had several mouths over her body filled with sharp teeth, which were often spurting blood. Her elbows and knees are human skulls and in many images she is portrayed with a human being hanging between her legs.

It is interesting to note that in the Aztec culture, many sculptures, particularly in the case of representations of Tlaltecuhtli, were not meant to be seen by humans. These sculptures were carved and then placed in a hidden place or carved on the side that was not visible, indicating that these objects were made for the gods and not for humans.

Tlaltecuhtli Monolith

In 2006, a huge monolith representing the Earth Goddess Tlaltecuhtli was discovered in the excavation area of the Templo Mayor of Mexico City. This constitutes so far the largest Aztec monolith ever discovered, larger than the famous Piedra del Sol (Sun Stone) and the Coyolxauhqui measuring 4 x 3.5 meters and weighting about 12 tons. The sculpture, carved in a block of pink andesite, represents the goddess in the typical squatting position and, it is lively colored in ochre, blue and red. After some years of excavation and restoring, the monolith can be seen in the museum of the Templo Mayor.

Sources

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

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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