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Ancient Aztec God: Xipe Totec

By Yona Williams    6/21/10

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Xipe Totec was an ancient Aztec deity who was mostly associated with the cycle of life, death and rebirth. In myths, he was connected to fertility, agriculture, vegetation, disease, and the seasons – amongst other things. In this article, you will learn more about the Aztec god, including his attributes and link to human sacrifice.

Xipe Totec is a god who has ties to many different beliefs in Aztec culture. One of the most prominent tales surrounding his existence involves the flaying of himself, which was given to humanity as food. This act was compared to the way maize seeds lose their outer layer before germination and how snakes shed their skin. When the god was without his skin, he was shown as a golden deity.

Artistic Depictions

Artistic depictions of Xipe Totec often showed the god wearing flayed human skin. Many times, the flayed skin of the hands would hang loose from the wrists. His body was painted yellow on one side, while the other was tan. Under the flayed skin, he sometimes was red in color. From his forehead to his chin, vertical stripes usually ran down from his forehead – going across his eyes. In his hand, he would have a vessel filled with seeds or had a yellow shield.

Symbolism

Worshippers of Xipe Totec looked at the emergence from the rotting, flayed skin after a period of 20 days as a representation of rebirth, as well as the renewal of the seasons. It was seen as a time to cast off of the old and to recognize the growth of new vegetation. The flayed skins were also believed to possess curative properties when touched. It was common to see mothers take their children to touch the skins as a way to treat any ailments they may suffer. If people were looking for a cure, they made offerings to the god at Yopico.

Celebrating Xipe Totec

Xipe Totec was celebrated on an annual basis with a festival that paid homage on the spring equinox – just before the rainy season arrived. Clay figures and paintings have been uncovered, which reveal illustrations of the flaying method used during the ceremonies and also show priests wearing flayed skins.

During this celebration, slaves or captives were selected as sacrifices for the god. Following the removal of the heart, the body was carefully flayed to create an almost whole skin that was then worn by the priests for 20 days during the fertility rituals that came after the sacrifice. The skins were often decorated with colorful feathers and gold jewelry.

The festival also started off with and finished with a "gladiator-type sacrifice" ritual that saw a triumphant warrior wearing flayed skins. Mock fights were held by the warriors. As they traveled throughout the city, they begged for donations and blessed anyone who gave them food or another offering. After the 20-day festival was over, the flayed skins were removed and stored in special containers with tight seals. The containers were then stored in a chamber located under the temple.

There are also some accounts say that the flesh from a sacrificial thigh bone was removed and used by the priest to touch onlookers who came for fertility blessings.  

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