Mixtec Mythology: Origin, History, Gods, Myths +32 Facts

Surprise yourself with the legends of Mixtec Mythology. Discover its gods, heroes, myths and origins hidden in history.

Mixtec mythology

Mixtec Mythology

The Mixtec mythology tells us about the culture present in the pre-Hispanic era, which comes from the ancestors of the Mixtec people. The Mixtecs were the indigenous people who inhabited the entire territory that today make up the states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero.

The ancestors of the Mixtecs called themselves “Ñuu Savi”, which means “the people of rain”; after the Spanish invasion, they settled in a large territory of Mexico which they called the country of the Mixtecs. This region was divided into three parts: high Mixtec, low Mixtec of the coast.

The Mixtecs are the second most important culture in the state of Oaxaca; their history is marked mainly by the codices and the different archaeological monuments found, which have influenced their culture even to this day.

Origin of Mixtec Mythology

Mixtec mythology has its origin in the Mesoamerican era, the Mixtecs shared the Mayan belief of living in the era of the fifth sun. And that to reach this era, the world had undergone four other eras of the sun; where the world lived through creation and destruction until reaching its fifth era.

In the beginning of the Mixtec world, the creator spirits flew in the air and created “the two lords”, they were the Mixtec gods Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl; these gods made light and darkness separate, as well as the earth from the water and thus formed the four gods of the Mixtec creation.

These four Mixtec creation spirits created mankind and other deities. After the creation of the world, the Mixtecs settled in the highlands of central Mesoamerica covering more than 40,000 km2.

History of Mixtec mythology

The Mixtecs are one of the oldest indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, appearing since the fifth millennium before the Christian era. They belong to the Otomanguean linguistic family, but are also related to Zapotec and Otomi.

Were divided into three zones along the Mixtec territory; occupying all the territory currently represented by the Mexican states of Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca; the three zones were called: low, high and coastal Mixtec. They had a long formation through time, divided into different periods:

Mixtec zone map

Preclassic Period

It begins in the 16th century before the Christian era, when the first populations of the Mixtec people began to appear. In this period, each Mixtec zone presents a phase in its history; the High Mixtec has the Cross phase, the Low Mixtec has two phases: the Pre-Ñudée phase and the Ñudée phase, and the Coastal Mixtec presents the Charco phase.

The Mixtec groups that appeared in the Preclassic period were small communities that were characterized by being groups dedicated to incipient agriculture. However, there are indications that in this period they began with the practice of international exchanges of their products, such as ceramics with other tribes of Mesoamerica.

It was not until this period that the cultural and social formation of the Mixtec people began; there was no evident difference between their buildings or signs of social rank. It was not until almost the end of the pre-classic period that there was a considerable increase in the Mixtec population.

Especially in the area of the high Mixtec. Most of them came from the areas of Montenegro and Huamelulpan; even from the area of Tiaxaco. Then came the formation of “chiefdom societies”, which led to the formation of states and a political organization within the Mixtec people.

Classic Period

This period comprises between the I and VIII/IX centuries; the differences between the buildings of the Mixtec peoples according to each zone begin to be seen. The Teotihuacan culture begins to have cultural, political and military influence in all the Mixtec zones.

The classic period of the Mixtec people is characterized by the political sphere; political positions ceased to be by succession in most of the regions and political states began to be established.

In this period a better classification and strategy of the Mixtec communities appeared, as well as the “rituals of rain and lightning”. Worship of the god Dzahui, specifically in the high Mixtec.

In the low Mixtec, the practice of sculpture began, where they represented from their gods to their warriors and important heroes. There were many wars for political control, which seriously affected their culture and religion.

Postclassic Period

This period is the best known in the history of Mixtec mythology, and therefore is the most talked about in their oral traditions. In the postclassic period the Mixtec codices were created and although with the arrival of the Europeans many were destroyed; some were recovered and still exist today.

The great flourishing of the military states occurred in this period, making the political sphere more important, which influenced their culture and religion. In this period the cults to the gods of war appeared.

The ñuiñe style was replaced by the iconographic style, which was the original style for the codices. Worship of the “feathered serpent” began. From this period on, the Mixtec population began to increase again; and they began to socialize and trade with other nearby towns.

Knowledge in Mixtec mythology

  • Astronomical knowledge: In Mixtec mythology, the study of lunar cycles is very important. They believed that the phases of the lunar cycle could indicate when they could sow and harvest. Since this influenced in an essential way the quality of their agricultural products.
  • Meteorological knowledge: The study and knowledge of meteorology in the Mixtec culture also plays a fundamental role in agriculture. Their main studies are directed to the direction of the wind, observing the sky, clouds, among other climatic indicators.
  • Knowledge of ethnobotany: Although the main activity of the Mixtecs is agriculture, they are also dedicated to other activities that have to do directly with the study of nature. The different fruit, medicinal and ornamental plants were studied to get the most out of them.
  • Knowledge in ethnozoology: The study of the different animals that existed in the Mixtec area also helped the survival and sustenance of the people. For their sustenance the most outstanding animals were: pigs, chickens, insects and ants.
  • Knowledge of calendars: the realization of Mixtec calendars are different from those known, they are made according to the needs. The hunting ones when they need food or when it is the season of an animal; and the agricultural ones, according to the periods of rain and drought.

Religion in Mixtec Mythology

The Mixtec religion was characterized for being animist, even though it shares some beliefs and characteristics with other religions of Mesoamerica; there are two fundamental aspects of the Mixtec religion.

The first characteristic fact of the Mixtecs in their religion is the belief in the two lords, who created the world and humanity at the beginning of everything. The second fact is the belief of the eras of the suns where the world suffered from the creation and destruction of the same.

In the Mixtec codex vindobonensis, it is written that during the first creation all beings were petrified by the sun; however, some managed to escape this destiny by taking refuge in caves. They believed in the incarnation of the elements of nature: fire, air, earth and water. This gave way to the cults of the natural elements.

In the Mixtec religion, cults to the mountains and caves were also born; to worship the gods they took refuge in the caves. And even in the caves they made paintings and a shrine to the goddess of death of the Mixtecs.

Gods of the Mixtec mythology

  1. Dzahui: is the supreme god of the Mixtecs; god of rain and water. For this reason the cult to the rain is the primordial for the Mixtecs, and they even call themselves the people of rain; because Dzahui chose them. Its appearance is originated in the V centuries B.C and II A.C.
  2. Huehuetéotl: he is worshipped in all the tribes of Mesoamerica, he represents fire. There are records of cults to the fire god Huehuetéotl so old that it is believed to be the first cult to appear in Mixtec history.
  3. Cohuy: god of corn and protector of Mixtec crops. The rituals and cults made to the god Cohuy, were mainly linked to animal and human sacrifices. This is because the Mixtecs believed that when mankind was created they were made of corn.
  4. Yozotoyua: god of the merchants, he was the protector of the Mixtecs when they began to make their commercial transactions with other peoples of Mesoamerica.
  5. Nituayuta: he was the deity in charge of guaranteeing the descendants in the families of the Mixtec people; that is why he was called the god of generation.
  6. Tonatiuh: god of the sun, it was fundamental the cults to the god Tonatiuh; because without the help of the sun they could not dedicate themselves to agriculture.
  7. Mictlantecuhtli: he was the powerful lord of the underworld; god of death. His cults were performed in the ceremonial temple of Mitla.
  8. Qhuav: god of hunting and protector of the Mixtec hunters.
  9. Totec: he is the supreme god who created man, animals and also all plants.
Mixtec mythology gods

Myths and Legends of Mixtec Mythology

Myth of the Sun Arrowman

It is said that one day, a Mixtec man called the nine winds shot an arrow at the sun. And in response the sun threw luminous rays at him; it was a long duel that began from sunrise to sunset.

The wounded sun fell dead behind the mountains; nine winds, even with the fear that the sun would appear again, went and called all the Mixtecs. Thus they became the owners of all the territory where the confrontation took place. And they made a whole corn field so that the sun would not return.

Mixtec Arrowman

Creation Myth

The Mixtecs believed that the world was a desolate and dark place, which was like this for the first four eras of the suns. Where the world underwent a process of creation and destruction. Until the era of the fifth sun was the last creation of the world until today.

It emerged from the heavens, the sacred two; which were responsible for dividing everything in the world; darkness and light, earth and sky, fire and water, etc. …. then creating the four gods of the Mixtec mythology that were the creators of humanity, animals and vegetation.

Mixtec creation myth

Legend of the first Mixtec couple

The Mixtec aborigines, had a legend about a couple that was the first to be born in the world. They came from a sacred tree that was found in Apoala, which means “river that starts”; or in their Mixtec language it was better known as “yutsa to’on”.

This legend is clearly described in the Codex Vindobonensis of the Mixtecs; in one of its pages appears a couple emerging from the “axis mundi” or also known as the center of the universe, represented by a tree.

Mixtec Mythology
First Mixtec couple: apaola couple

Legend of the Gentiles

In most of the peoples of Mesoamerica there are legends about the existence of giants; Mixtec mythology is no exception. From one generation to the next, the legend of the gentiles has been an oral tradition.

Before the creation of the world, when there was only darkness and the world was completely filled with water, the gods emerged and created light. At that moment of creation, giants arrived to the Mixtec world and took possession of the Mixtec lands.

These giants had supernatural strength, great intelligence and were called “gentiles”. They were the ones who domesticated the animals, plants and soils. It was believed that they ruled the winds and the rains.

There is still no knowledge of why the gentiles, when theirs died, buried them standing upright. However, legends say that not all of them decided to stay and live in the Mixtec lands; because many of the animals in the area did not let them live in peace.

Mixtec Mythology
Los gentiles, mixtec giants

Mixtec Mythology Beliefs

The Mixtecs had a belief proper to their people in some superstitions; the strongest of them was “nahualism” . This superstition consisted of placing ashes around every hut where there was a woman about to give birth.

The footprint of the animal that was found in the ashes on the day of the birth, would be the animal chosen to choose the totem of the newborn. They called it “tona”, that is to say, it would be the animal that would represent the personality of the child.

However, the Mixtec population is related to the other tribes with which they coexisted in Mesoamerica; in this way, they have many shared beliefs. Among them we have:

  1. They believed in several gods that represented the elements of nature.
  2. They created two calendars, a solar calendar for agriculture and a lunar calendar for natural and social events.
  3. Corn was the most sacred food, this is because they believed that the first men were made from corn.
  4. Their religion was animist; that is, they believed that all the components of nature had spirits of their ancestors.
  5. They worshipped death as a god, and thus had a belief in life beyond death.
  6. To worship their gods they built many temples, and ceremonies in honor of their gods were led by shamans or priests; they were called yaha yahui and were highly respected.
  7. They shared the belief in animal and human sacrifices, and self-mutilation was also very common.

Sacred places in Mixtec Mythology

Throughout the history of Mixtec mythology, there are different places that were considered mystical or sacred; however, today there are no traces of these places. But there are some places where they still practice some of their traditional rituals.

The Cerro de la Campana, in the area of the Mixtec coast is considered a sacred place, where rituals are performed to the gods of rain and healing. The hill of San Vicente, in the Tututpec area is also a place of ritual petition for rain.

In the High Mixtec, the sacred places were generally caves; in San Miguel Chicagua, there are caves where rituals were performed “yavi kee yuku”. These rituals were to call for rain and healing for illnesses.

Other caves considered sacred places to worship the rains were: kawa laji, devil’s cave in Apoala; xee kawa, foot of the cave in San Juan Diuxi; we’e dawi, house of water in San Pedro Tiida; and veé lavi, house of water in Santiago Motlatongo.

Codex Vindobonensis of Mixtec Mythology

It was found in the area of the high Mixtec, it is a manuscript made by the Mixtecs in pre-Hispanic times; its content tells the entire genealogy of the Mixtec gods, the creation of the world, the rulers of the Mixtec history, the priests of the rituals and the lunar, religious and solar calendars of the Mixtec people.

Has divided into 10 sections, contains a total of 52 folds, and measures 22cm x 26cm. It has survived the passage of time and still exists today.

It is a long screen, made of tanned deerskin. Stucco was used to trace the icons. All the folds have writings on both sides; this makes it the most extensive codice of greater content in the Mixtec culture.

The Codex Vindobonensis of the Mixtecs describes their history before the arrival of the Spanish through an iconographic language. It is currently in the Austrian National Library.

Mixtec Mythology
Codex Vindobonensis of Mixtec mythology

Ceremonies and rites of Mixtec mythology

The main ceremonies or rites of Mixtec mythology are related to water; cults in worship to the rain deity Ñu’u savi. These are generally performed in caves, since they believed that this is where the original water sprouted from the cracks and subway springs of the earth.

This ceremony to the god of rain, has endured over time even being related to the Catholic celebration of the day of the cross. Every May 3, offerings such as animals, candies, candles, among others, are taken to the caves to ask for rain, and in some cases it is even done in the swamps.

Sacrifices in Mixtec Mythology

Since ancient times, human sacrifice has been practiced in Mixtec mythology, as evidenced by the remains of skulls found in the area of Huamelulpan. The most important rituals of the Mixtecs, included in most cases sacrifices, whether of animal or human origin.

It is believed that these sacrifices were strongly linked to the rituals of the fertility god Xipe Tótec; and also in honor of the patron of the reigning Mixtec lineage, they were performed in a sacred place called “place of the bundle of Xipe”.

These rituals could only be performed by shamans or high priests; they called them “yaha yahui”, which means “fire serpent eagle”. They were highly respected and feared for their abilities; it was believed that they could transmute with animals and travel to the supernatural world.

Songs, music and dances in Mixtec Mythology

Music and dance play a very important role in Mixtec mythology, especially in the Oaxaca area. These elements were present in all Mixtec celebrations. There is evidence of their presence in celebrations of all kinds in ancient times.

Religious, social and political celebrations had the indispensable presence of the music and dance of the Mixtec people. However, at present there is no practice that implements these elements, nor any specific instrument in rain rituals or other celebrations of the Mixtec people.


Mixtec mythology comes from the indigenous peoples that flourished in southern Mexico in Mesoamerica. They were divided into three geographic zones and influenced the culture of the Maya.

They were famous artisans and no people surpassed their work in stone and sculpture. It is the second richest culture in Mexico and their beliefs regarding the creation of the world was a great legacy left to the world today along with other knowledge that they captured in their manuscript called the Codex Vindobonensis Mixtec.

Their religion stood out for being polytheistic and animist, they had the belief in several creator gods; and especially that represented the elements of nature. Each existing natural or animal component had a spirit of their ancestors.

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