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Tlaloc, the Aztec Rain God

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Image of Tlaloc from the Codex Rios

Image of Tlaloc from the Codex Rios

Madman2001

Tlaloc (Tlá-loch) was the Aztec rain god and one of the most ancient and widespread deities of all Mesoamerica. Tlaloc was thought to live on the top of the mountains, especially the ones always covered by clouds; and from there he sent the vivifying rains. The rain god was a pan-Mesoamerican god, whose origins can be traced back to Teotihuacan and the Olmec. The rain god was called Chaac by the ancient Maya and Cocijo by the Zapotec of Oaxaca.

Tlaloc's Characteristics

The rain god was the most important among the Aztec deities, governing the spheres of water, fertility and agriculture. Tlaloc oversaw the crop growth, especially maize, and the regular cycle of the seasons. Archaeologists and historians suggest that the emphasis on this well-known god was a way for the Aztec to legitimize their rule over the region. For this reason they built one of the two most important shrines within their capital, on the top of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, just next to the one dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec patron deity.

The shrine of Tlaloc was painted blue and had pillars with Tlaloc's eyes and series of blue bands painted on them. Many offerings have been found associated with this shrine, containing animals related to water environment and artifacts, such as jade objects, related to water, sea, fertility, and the underworld.

Tlaloc was helped in his job by other supernatural beings called Tlaloques who were his assistants in supplying the earth with rain.

In Aztec mythology, Tlaloc was also the governor of the Third Sun, or world, which was dominated by water. After a heavy rain, the Third Sun ended, and people were replaced by animals such as dogs, butterflies and turkeys.

Tlaloc's Paradise

In Aztec religion, Taloc governed the fourth heaven or sky, called Tlalocan, the "Place of Tlaloc". This place is described in Aztec sources as a paradise of lush vegetation and perennial spring, ruled by the god and his assistants, the Tlaloques. The Tlalocan was the afterlife destination for those who died violently for water-related causes as well as for new-born children and women who died in childbirth.

Tlaloc's Ceremonies

The most important ceremonies dedicated to Tlaloc took place at the end of the dry season, in March and April, and were called Tozoztontli. Their purpose was to assure abundant rain during the growing season.

One of the most common rites carried out during such ceremonies were sacrifices of children, whose crying was considered beneficial for obtaining rain, since the tears of new-born children, being strictly connected with the Tlalocan, were pure and precious.

Apart from the ceremonies carried out at the Templo Mayor, offerings to Tlaloc have been found in several caves and on mountain peaks. The most sacred shrine of Tlaloc was on the top of Mount Tlaloc, an extinct volcano, located east of Mexico City. Research on the top of the mountain has identified remains of an Aztec temple which seems aligned with the Tlaloc shrine of the Templo Mayor. This shrine is enclosed in a precinct where pilgrimage and offerings by the Aztec king and priests where carried out once a year.

Tlaloc Images

The image of Tlaloc is one of the most represented and easily recognizable in Aztec mythology and is similar in other Mesoamerican cultures. He has large goggled eyes whose contours are two serpents which meet at the centre of his face to form his nose. He also has large fangs hanging from his mouth and a protuberant upper lip. He is often surrounded by rain drops and by his assistants, the Tlaloques.

He often holds a long sceptre in his hand with a sharp tip which represented lightens and thunders. His representations are frequent on codices, murals, sculptures, and censer burners.

Sources

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

Millar, Mary, and Karl Taube, 1993, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. London, Thames and Hudson

Smith, Michael, 2003, The Aztecs. Second Edition, Blackwell Publishing.

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

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