Aztec myths are made up of crazy, bloody and unique stories. If Aztec mythology reveals much about the culture that produced them, then it should come as no surprise that Aztec religion, and like the ancient Aztec civilization, incorporated elements of blood and violence.
Aztecs Famous Myths
The Aztecs were famous for their use of blood sacrifice during religious, civic and political rituals. Given these violent practices, Aztec myths range from the peculiar to the gory. These strange Aztec myths employ a cast of some of the most important gods in their universe.
As with the wacky and disturbing Greek myths, the bloody Aztec myths present a pantheon of gods, jealous and vengeful gods who adopt crazy rivals, take various forms and use humans as playthings.
The Aztec people, like other civilizations, had their own creation story; however, in their version, the gods repeatedly built and destroyed the world, and humanity suffered.
These stories were not just for entertainment, but also had a purpose in explaining the world, extolling culturally specific virtues and values, teaching particular lessons, and even imagining a mythical history of the Aztec people.
These violent Aztec myths demonstrate how complex and culturally rich that world was, especially since each story had several versions.
1. Drunken Quetzalcoatl
One of the most popular and virtuous gods was Quetzalcoatl in Aztec myths. Despite his status, the god Quetzalcoatl could also have suffered the worst morning in the world.
One night, his brother and rival Tezcatlipoca got Quetzalcoatl to drink ridiculously from the pulque, the drink of the Aztecs. While his brother was drunk and senseless, the god Tezcatlipoca proceeded to trick Quetzalcoatl into having sex with his sister, the goddess Quetzalpetlatl.
When he awoke the next morning, Quetzalcoatl was understandably upset and embarrassed by the incestuous turn of events, so he set sail on a raft of snakes. The Aztecs believed that Quetzalcoatl would return to them someday, so they anticipated his second coming.
2. The Aztec myth of Huitzilopochtli and the heart
During the Aztecs’ continuous journeys in search of a homeland, they were supposedly guided by their god Huitzilopochtli. However, tensions in the wandering tribe erupted when Huitzilopochtli’s sister, the goddess Malinalxochitl, made things uncomfortable by practicing witchcraft.
Under Huitzilopochtli’s orders, the Aztecs abandoned Malinalxochitl and her followers in the night, covering their trail so they could not be followed. Years later, Malinalxochochitl’s son, the demi-god Copil, bent on avenging his abandoned mother, tracked down Huitzilopochtli and his followers. Although they began to fight, Huitzilopochtli was a great warrior and could not be defeated.
Therefore, when he reached Copil, he tore the boy’s still beating heart from his chest and threw it into the nearby lake, where it landed on an island. A cactus sprouted from the blood of Copil’s heart and an eagle with a snake in its mouth perched on the cactus.
The great Aztec city of Tenochtitlan was built on this, the site of Copil’s spilled blood, the cactus and the eagle chewing the serpent, which is now the symbol of the flag of Mexico thanks to this Aztec myth.
3. Huitzilopochtli and the princess’s fur sack
According to mythology, the Aztecs were initially a wandering people without a home and spent many years in search of one. Huitzilopochtli was one of the most revered deities of the Aztecs, as he was the god who led them to Tenochtitlan, their capital city.
In the midst of his travels according to Aztec myths, Huitzilopochtli and his followers arrived at the city of Culhuacan. King Achitometl was delighted to have a god in his court. But Huitzilopochtli, being a god of war, wanted to start trouble with the peaceful Culhuacans. So, he decided to play a cruel trick on the king.
Huitzilopochtli offered to marry the king’s daughter so that she would become a goddess. Achitometl could not believe his good fortune and accepted with enthusiasm, he immediately sent the princess away with the god. Huitzilopochtli took her to the temple; but instead of marrying her, he sacrificed her, skinned her and gave her skin to a priest to wear.
When the Aztecs invited Achitometl, who was expecting a wedding, to the temple, saw his daughter’s skin hanging loose from the priest, he ran away from the horrible scene and ordered his troops to attack the Aztecs.
4. The kidnapping of Xochiquetzal
Like the Greek myths, the Aztecs had their own disturbing myth that revolved around a goddess of fertility, the underworld and a brutal rape. In fact, she was so beautiful that the god Tezcatlipoca became obsessed with Xochiquetzal the moment he saw her.
Although he tried to woo her, she politely refused, as she was in love with her husband, the god Tlaloc. Tezcatlipoca would not take no for an answer; he grabbed Xochiquetzal and took her to the underworld, where he brutally raped her. While Tezcatlipoca rested after the terrible act, Xochiquetzal managed to escape and return to earth.
5. Tlaloc unleashed a rain of death to destroy the world.
According to Aztec myths, the world was created and destroyed several times. During the so-called “third sun” or third world, Tezcatlipoca kidnapped Xochiquetzal the wife of the rain god Tlaloc. Tlaloc was so devastated that he did not give rain to the earth; instead, he rained fire on the earth, destroyed the world once again and forced the gods to create a new world.
6. Xipe Totec hid in the flayed skin of a dead person.
Xipe Totec was probably one of the most grotesque gods in the sight of anyone. According to Aztec myths his characteristic appearance was based on being wrapped in the flayed skin of dead people.
The gesture was supposed to symbolize rebirth and spring, as in the case, stripping the old to anticipate the new, and this meant that important Aztec priests wore the flayed skin of a sacrificed victim for a whole month to honor this god.
7. Tezcatlipoca and the thief of hearts
In Aztec mythology, the god Tezcatlipoca is the main rival of Quetzalcoatl, he was very powerful and destructive. He was also said to roam the earth at night in various forms, like a jaguar.
According to one story, one of his earthly forms was like a wandering skeleton with a beating heart. He would meet passersby and challenge them to pull his heart out of his chest. If they succeeded, he promised to grant them riches and fame.
8. A crocodile bit Tezcatlipoca’s foot.
An Aztec creation myth tells that the rival gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlicopa joined together for the greater good: to create the earth in a world covered with water.
They knew that the only way to do this was to create the land of Cipactli, a giant crocodile. To lure her into their trap, Tezcatlipoca dangled his foot in the water to lure her, and she promptly bit him. The two gods then captured the crocodile and created the land.
9. The creation of the sun
The Aztec creation myth tells that at the beginning of the world, the gods held a meeting to create a new sun. A god would have to throw himself into the flames to be reborn as the sun, so it was obviously a risk and a sacrifice.
Nanahuatzin, the humblest of the gods with a face covered with scabs and sores, offered himself to the flames, and was reborn as the sun. But his sacrifice had a problem and that was that he could not move.
He lacked the energy he needed to move through the sky. So the gods offered his own blood and hearts to the fire, hoping that his sacrifice would give him the energy he needed to do his work in heaven.
10. Tezcatlipoca and the Dance of Death
According to Aztec myths, the mischievous god Tezcatlipoca existed on earth in many forms, including a strong and virile warrior. After his people tried to trick and kill him, he came up with a creative and terrible way to act as revenge.
He gathered the townspeople for a banquet and demanded that everyone dance in time to a song he sang. So they danced to the beat, struggling to keep up as he sped up the song.
He kept them dancing vigorously, even as the horde of dancers came closer and closer to the edge of a cliff, finally falling to their deaths.