Aztec prince of the Underworld, sorcerer, and king of the witches. The name Tezcatlipoca means “smoking mirror,” in reference to the obsidian mirror that he uses to foretell the future and spy on others. He is also known as Yaomauitl, which means “dreaded one.” According to the Popul Vuh, Tezcatlipoca wears a star on his forehead as a sign that he is the ruler of darkness. He wears a jaguar skin around his hip, the body of a dead bird on his ear, and a snake’s head fixed to one nostril. As a scepter, he carries the amputated arm of a woman who died in childbirth, which he uses in necromantic rites. Tezcatlipoca and his brothers, the tzitzimime, created the world. They were thrown out of paradise, Tamoanchan, when Tezcatlipoca made the mistake of picking the sacred roses of Tamoanchan. Tezcatlipoca entered the underworld by climbing down a giant spider web. There are many stories about this Demon god and his activities. He sentences the newly arrived souls of the dead, who stand before him dressed in ocelot skins with yokes around their necks. He makes them run an obstacle course through Mictlan, a region of hell.
According to lore, the practice of human sacrifice in Mexico began with Tezcatlipoca. He assumed the shape of a rooster to seduce the first woman ever created. Then he killed her, cut out her heart, and offered it to the Sun. Tezcatlipoca is blamed for the disappearance of the Toltecs, a mythical race of beings. The Demon summoned them to a great feast where they danced and sang. A sudden panic gripped them, and they fled across a stone bridge over the river Texcaltlauhco. Tezcatlipoca caused the bridge to collapse, and most of the Toltecs fell into the river and became stones. A few survived but were rendered senseless.
Tezcatlipoca spreads disease and pestilence. He assumes the form of a blob and rolls like a tumbleweed, spreading sickness as he goes. Sometimes, he takes the form of a cock or a coyote and lurks at crossroads in order to ambush travelers. He rides howling winds, especially at night.
– Hyatt, Victoria, and Joseph W. Charles. The Book of Demons. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974.
The Smoking Mirror; Lord of Magic
Tezcatlipoca means “Smoking Mirror.” He is a spirit of magic and chaos, an omniscient, all-knowing, all-powerful somewhat dangerous figure who sees everything in his obsidian mirror. Tezcatlipoca is a divine sorcerer. He is now most famous as the rival of his brother, Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, whose fall from grace was maneuvered by Tezcatlipoca’s smoke and mirrors.
Christian missionaries perceived the tragic Quetzalcoatl as a Christ-figure. They identified his opponent Tezcatlipoca, the unrepentant sorcerer, as Satan. Much Aztec mythology was destroyed. In many of Tezcatlipoca’s surviving myths, he appears threatening and malevolent. It is unclear whether this was always the case or whether his malevolence was emphasized by storytellers.
Tezcatlipoca is Lord of the Crossroads. He presides over the ancient magical art of nahualism, the complex, intense soul relationship between people and animal allies, characterized by transformation. He is a very complex spirit: a destroyer and a creator. His relationship with Quetzalcoatl may be likened to that between Egyptian rival deities Set and Horus. They balance each other. Tezcatlipoca brings disaster but also good fortune, prosperity, and fertility. He is Quetzalcoatl’s partner in creation of this world.
Tezcatlipoca is the master of subterfuge; the ruler of illusion and sleight of hand, especially when these skills are needed for survival, not just for tricks.
Shamans, magicians, witches, sorcerers, occultists, mirror gazers
Tezcatlipoca may be missing one foot. He may limp. He is a shape-shifter. Favored forms include coyote, jaguar, monkey, owl, and skunk.
Night, especially midnight
Material: Obsidian, black volcanic glass used to create ritual knives and magic mirrors
Creature: Jaguar, his nahual
Ursa Major (What we see as a bear, the Aztecs understood as a jaguar.)
Flower: Morning glories
Tezcatlipoca favors the temescal, the traditional Aztec bathhouse. He lives within the Earth’s core in a mirrored realm inhabited by jaguars.
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.
Back to Aztec Mythology
Back to American Mythology