Huitzilopochtli (blue hummingbird on the left) In Aztec mythology, a war god associated with the sun. Ritual human sacrifices of prisoners were made to him. Huitzilopochtli was the brother of Quetzalcoatl. His mother, Coatlicue, one day picked up a ball of bright feathers on her way to the temple of the sun god. She placed them in her bosom, and as a result she became pregnant.
When her family discovered her pregnancy they wanted to kill her, but Huitzilopochtli was born fully armed and killed them instead. In a variant myth Huitzilopochtli was a man who was the leader of the Aztecs during their wanderings from home. On his death, or when he returned to heaven, his skull became an oracle and told them what to do.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo, in his Verdadera historia de la conquista de la Nueva España, which gives an eyewitness account of the Spanish conquest, describes the shrine of Huitzilopochtli, in which “the walls of the oratory were black and dripping with gouts of blood” and the floor “stank horribly.” D. H. Lawrence, in his novel The Plumed Serpent, which tells of the reintroduction of Aztec gods to modern Mexico to replace Christ, includes a series of poems in honor of Huitzilopochtli.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
Huitzilopochtli, Lord of War, Spirit of the Sun, and supreme deity of the Aztecs, was the divine child conceived when Coatlique, discovering a beautiful ball of feathers, tucked them into her apron. According to legend, her older children—moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, and the four hundred Star Brothers (Centzon Huitznahua)—emblematic of an earlier pantheon, plotted to kill their mother and her forthcoming child. That’s the rationale given for why Huitzilopochtli’s very first act at the moment of birth was to decapitate Coyolxauhqui and dismember her.
Huitzilopochtli means “hummingbird from the left,” the direction of the realm of spirits in Aztec cosmology. Hummingbirds, although small, were perceived as fearless messengers, little warrior birds, who traveled between different realms.
When the Aztecs conquered Tenochtitlan, they inherited many deities from their predecessors in the region. Huitzilopochtli, however, was their own special deity. According to legend, back when they were still ragged nomads, the Aztecs rested beneath a large tree. Suddenly the tree cracked open and Huitzilopochtli emerged with directions for the Aztecs to set out on their own. He bestowed the named Mexica on them, derived from Mexi, one of Huitzilopochtli’s secret titles. (Aztec derives from Aztlan, their mysterious point of origin.) It is a pivotal moment of national identity: the emergence of a nation. The other tribes with whom they had shared their migrations were left behind with Huitzilopochtli’s sister, Malinalxochitl.
Huitzilopochtli vowed to lead the Mexica to a promised land. He led them to Coatepec Mountain near Tula, ancient capital of the Toltecs, where he was miraculously born to Coatlique. The Aztecs celebrated a New Fire Ceremony there in 1163, approximately the time Toltecs mysteriously abandoned the site approximately forty miles northwest of modern Mexico City. Scholars speculate that the presence of the Mexica may have contributed to that abandonment.
Huitzilopochtli is the lord of literal warfare but also metaphork: he is the patron of those who fight personal and emotional battles, too.
The Mexica spent the twelfth and thirteenth centuries wandering until, in 1345, Huitzilopochtli led them to Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City. The need to provide Huitzilopochtli with human sacrifices fueled the Aztec propensity for warfare. As many as twenty thousand were sacrificed when the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. Human sacrifices were flung down the steps of his pyramid-temple, each one replicating the fall of his sister, Coyolxauhqui. (An image of her decapitated, dismembered body lay at the base of the pyramid.)
Huitzilopochtli wears a helmet shaped like a giant blue-green hummingbird. He wears a belt of golden snakes. There is a black mask dotted with stars around his eyes, and blue and yellow stripes painted onto his face. Huitzilopochtli was born with a lame, withered left leg or possibly with the left leg in the form of a serpent. Aztec warriors were trained to advance with the right foot and retreat with the left, and so Huitzilopochtli is incapable of retreat.
Images of Huitzilopochtli were traditionally rendered in wood, not stone. Very few survive. His primary votive image was smuggled out of Tenochtitlan and hidden in 1519 by Montezuma’s son along with images of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca.
Devotees consumed images of Huitzilopochtli formed from ground amaranth and honey. The ritual reminded the Spanish of the Christian sacrament, and so cultivation of amaranth, an extremely nutritious grain, was forbidden for centuries.
Dart, shield, fire serpent
Huitzilopochtli presides over Tonatiuhcan, House of the Sun, a realm of light, warmth, and love, home to souls of warriors who died in battle. They accompany the sun across the sky from dawn until noon.
The Winter Solstice, his birthday
Turquoise blue, black
Amaranth, nagvioli flowers
Serpent dances were performed for him.
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.