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Aztec Myths, Beliefs and Folklore

By Yona Williams    8/26/10

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In Aztec myths and religious beliefs, gods and goddesses played an important role, as well as powerful entities. Some were intensely feared, while others were looked upon as protectors. In some cases, a deity would become both worshipped and feared depending on the circumstances. In this article, you will learn what the Aztec believed happened to souls of women who died in childbirth, as well as what was referred to as the star demons of darkness.

Cihuateteo

The ancient Aztec keenly recognized the hardships that came with childbirth. They often compared the act with warfare and when a woman died while giving birth, they were honored just like they would a fallen warrior. The Aztec believed that the souls of women who died in childbirth played an important role in the setting of the sin in the western sky. The souls as a collective were referred to as Cihuateteo.

The Cihuateteo were also viewed as night demons that haunted crossroads at night. They were also known to have a knack for stealing children and were blamed for causing seizures and insanity. The Cihuateteo are often depicted with skeletal faces and claws like an eagle on their hands. Out of all the ancient Aztec gods and goddesses, they are associated with the goddess Cihuacoatl and sometimes linked to Mictlan – as envoys for the world of the dead. The Cihuateteo are also servants of Tezcatlipoca and Tlazolteotl – Aztec moon deities.

Tzitzimimeh

Aztec myths also speak of the Tzitzimimeh – star demons of darkness that strike the sun during eclipses and pose threats to earth. In art, the deities were portrayed as skeletal female figures that wore skirts made out of skull and crossbone designs.  They were linked to fertility and had a connection to the Cihuateteo and other female deities, such as Coarlicue and Cihuacoatl.

It was believed that the Tzitzimimeh caused solar eclipses so that they could visit eat and eat humans. They were feared, especially during gloomy times in Aztec history when change was expected to occur. For example, the people feared the wrath of the Tzitzimimeh during the five unlucky days called Nemontemi that represent an unstable period in the calendar year and during the New Fire ceremony (the start of a new calendar).

There were two sides to the Tzitzimimeh. Sometimes, they took on the role of the protectress of women and friends of mankind. On the other end, they possessed a great deal of power and could become dangerous rather quickly – most often when cosmic factors were not stable.

Gods of Excess

The Aztec believed there were gods of excess, who were collectively referred to as the Ahuiateteo. Some of the gods were Macuilcozcacuauhtli (five vulture), Macuilcuetzpalin (five lizard), Macuilmalinalli (five grass),  Macuiltochtli (five rabbit), and Macuilxochitl (five flower), who was also known as the god of games and gambling. Macuilxochitl served as the chief of the Ahuiateteo.

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