Cihuacoatl, divine snake woman, is a native of the Valley of Mexico long before it was known by that name. The Mexica, also known as the Aztecs, discovered her there when they arrived in the region. They loved her and claimed her as their own.
Cihuacoatl is a midwife spirit with a martial nature. Women in childbirth were considered the equivalent of soldiers in battle; hence Cihuacoatl carries a warrior’s weapons. Women were encouraged to call out her name during childbirth for courage, fortification, and blessings. Cihuacoatl guards the souls of women who died during childbirth, as well as souls of those not born or prematurely dead: abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths. Premature babies who live briefly, then die are also under her protection.
Cihuacoatl’s myths feature abandoned children. She left her son, Mixcoatl, at the crossroads. When she returned, she found a ritual knife in his place and began to wail.
Cihuacoatl appears as a harbinger of disaster. The Florentine Codex describes her roaming at night, “weeping and wailing,” a dread phantom who foretells war. She may be the spirit at the root of Llorona, the wailing woman of modern urban myth. Initially, there was no doubt regarding the identity of the wailing woman: in 1502, not long before the Spanish invasion, Cihuacoatl in the form of a beautiful woman dressed in white wandered the streets of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, as well as other Aztec cities compulsively wailing, “Oh my children, your destruction has arrived! Where can I take you?” She would then plunge into the river or transform into mist.
Cihuacoatl would appear in the marketplace dressed as a noblewoman in white with her hair twisted up to form two horns. She would ask a shopkeeper to watch her heavily swaddled baby while she shopped. When she never returned, eventually someone would examine the baby, only to find an obsidian knife wrapped within the swaddling clothes. (This apparition is interpreted as a warning to mend one’s ways or else.)
She appears as a beautiful young woman or a fierce old one with a skeletal head. Her face may be painted half-black and half-red. She wears golden earplugs and has an extensive wardrobe, including a headdress of eagle feathers. She may wear a cradleboard with a baby (or without one) on her back.
Warrior’s shield and weapons; turquoise weaving stick (shuttle); obsidian knife
Talpa, now home to Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.