Huitzilopochtli (pronounced Weetz-ee-loh-POSHT-lee) was one of the most important Aztec gods, and was the deity who, according to the tradition, led the Mexica people from Aztlan, their homeland, to Central Mexico. According to some scholars, Huitzilopochtli could have been an historical figure, probably a priest, who became a god after his death.
Huitzilopochtli was also the god who indicated to the Aztecs the location where to found their capital, Tenochtitlan. He appeared in dreams to the priests and told them to settle on an island, in the middle of lake Texcoco, where they would see an eagle perching on a cactus. This was the divine sign.
Birth of Huitzilopochtli
According to a Mexica legend, Huitzilopochtli was born on Coatepec, or Snake Hill. His mother was the goddess Coatlicue, whose name means “She of the Serpent Skirt”. Coatlicue was attending the temple on Coatepec, when a ball of feathers fell on the floor while she was sweeping and impregnated her. According the myth, when the 400 stars, who were Coatlicue’s sons and daughters, knew that she was pregnant, they led by their sister Coyolxauhqui, decided to kill her. As the 400 gods reached Coatlicue, Huitzilopochtli suddenly emerged fully armed from her mother’s womb and killed Coyolxauhqui by dismembering her. Then, he threw her body down the hill and proceeded to kill his 400 siblings.
The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan is the most important shrine dedicated to the god and symbolizes a replica of Coatepec. At the bottom of its stairs, a huge sculpture portraying the dismembered Coyolxauhqui was found during some electric works in 1978. The Great Temple, a twin shrine dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, was among the first structures to be built after the founding of the capital. The temple was also the center of the crossing of the four main causeways that connected the city to the mainland.
Images of Huitzilopochtli
Huitzilopochtli is typically portrayed with a dark face, fully armed and holding a snake-shaped scepter and a mirror. Hummingbird feathers cover the body of his statue on the great temple, along with cloth and jewels.
December was the month dedicated to Huitzilopochtli celebrations. During these festivities, called Panquetzalitzli, the Aztec people decorated their homes and many ceremonies with dances, processions and sacrifices took place. A huge statue of the god was made with amaranth and a priest impersonated the god for the duration of the ceremonies.
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. Sanata Barbara, CA; Denver, CO and Oxford, England.