Aztlán The Mexica’s mythical place of origin and home to Huitzilopochtli and his mother, Coatlicue. The land on which they lived was a lush island, and their humble food of corn kept them from ever experiencing illness; indeed, they never died but could move from youth to old age and back again. When their deity Huitzilopochtli led them away from Aztlán, the ground was covered over by briars, and they were wounded by the stones and the prickly trees and bushes. They could never return to their original home once they had left it.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow– Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
Aztlan (White Land) The legendary place of the seven tribes who developed the cultures of the Valley of Mexico, including the Aztec. Aztlan originated at the beginning of the Fifth Sun. Also known as Tulan-Zuiva, the Place of the Seven Caves, Aztlan was a land of plenty where no one suffered, no one went hungry, and no one ever got old. Many myths with varying details tell how the Aztec came to leave Aztlan.
In one version a bird tells the people to leave; in another, it is Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec supreme god, who speaks directly to the priests. Depending on the story, the seven tribes leave one at a time, with the Aztec leaving last, or all leave together. In the following myth, it is a bird that cues the people to leave. (This bird may actually be Huitzilopochtli since the god’s name means “hummingbird of the south.”)
One day a man heard a bird calling to him, saying, “Go now, go now.” When the man told the chief about the bird, the chief was relieved. He had known his people must find a new land, their own land, but had waited for a sign. So the people gathered and began a long march. They followed an idol of Huitzilopochtli that the priests carried. As they went, Huitzilopochtli spoke through the priests and prepared the people for the greatness of their empire to come. He explained that they should travel until they came to a large lake; there, they should look for another sign—an eagle in a cactus.
The journey took 200 years, and the people settled for a while in the Toltec capital of Tollan. Some people stayed in Tollan and some moved on. From time to time, Huitzilopochtli changed himself into a white eagle to inspire the people, and they traveled until they came to Lake Texcoco and saw a great eagle sitting on a cactus, holding a serpent. There they built Tenochtitlán, the city that became the capital and center of the Aztec empire.
The image of the eagle, serpent, and cactus continues as an important symbol to the Mexicans. It is shown in the center of the Mexican flag and on all paper money.
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