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How Did the World Begin?
There are several creation myths on how the world began, including the versions from ancient Egypt, the Maya civilization, and from the major religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This article is on the version from the Aztec civilization of central and ancient Mexico, known for its appetite for mass human sacrifices.
Before we go on to the story of Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl and their role in the Aztec creation story, let’s have a quick look at Aztec beliefs and culture, as well as some preliminary information about their gods.
Aztec Mythology and Religion
The Aztec people, through their tightly intertwined mythology and religion, believed in many varied gods and goddesses. These important deities were also closely associated with events that were important to the Aztec culture, history, language, and the general welfare of the Aztec society.
These beliefs were somewhat similar to earlier Mesoamerican cultures such as those of Mayan mythology. But the Aztec mythology is more interesting as it is highly gripping and filled with fascinating gods, deities, and legends.
In any case, two of the important patron gods of the Aztec pantheon are the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. The rivalry and feud between them were also famous and recounted in several of the Aztec legends. They played important roles in the Aztec creation myth, which describes the world as having been created and destroyed four times prior to the current world.
So, who were Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca?
Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent God of the Aztecs
Quetzalcoatl (pronunciation: keht-zahl-koh-ah-tul), was an important god to the ancient Mesoamericans. The Aztecs regarded him as the god of knowledge, priesthood, an inventor of the Aztec calendar, and the discoverer of maize, or corn.
In some versions of the ancient myths, Quetzalcoatl was the wind god, the rain god that brought rains for crops, and a creator-god who brought back the human bones from the underworld, allowing for the resurrection of human life. Hence, Quetzalcóatl became the symbol of death and resurrection, known for his generosity and bestowing many blessings to the people.
The Four Tezcatlipocas
Quetzalcoatl is often associated and depicted as the half-snake, half-quetzal bird. He was the son of the god Ōmeteōtl (the name referring to the pair of Aztec deities. Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl) and had three brothers, Xipe Totec, Huitzilopochtli, and Tezcatlipoca, also referred to respectively as the Red, the Blue, and the Black Tezcatlipoca. Quetzalcoatl was the White Tezcatlipoca. Together, they were called the four Tezcatlipocas.
He played an important role in the Aztec creation myth and was given several names including the Feathered Serpent and Plumed Serpent, and was Tezcatlipoca’s main rival.
Tezcatlipoca, Aztec God
Tezcatlipoca (Nahuatl pronunciation: Tez-cah-tlee-poh-ka), meaning lord of the smoking mirror in Nahuatl language, referred to the obsidian mirror used during the Aztec divination rites. Human and blood sacrifices that were conducted with the sacrificial obsidian knife were closely associated with Tezcatlipoca.
Tezcatlipoca was the Aztec god of night sky and sorcery and played an important part in the Aztec creation myth. He was also known as Black Tezcatlipoca, was also a vengeful god, and would not hesitate to punish any immorality and vices happening on earth.
So, let’s now move on to the kid’s story on the creation myth.
Aztec Creation Myth for Kids
There are several versions of the Aztec creation myths, mainly because the Aztec adopted and modified the gods and legends of other ethnic groups that they conquered, and these legends were usually passed down by oral traditions.
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For this kids’ story, we will relate the versions telling how the earth was created from Cipactli, how the gods had to sacrifice themselves to bring light, and to create a new age based on the legend of the five suns. This legend tells how the world was destroyed and recreated again four times through the sacrifices of the gods – a story of birth, death, and rebirth.
The Story of Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl: How the World Was Created
In the beginning, there was only Ōmeteōtl, the dual god that was both masculine and feminine. Ōmeteōtl was the first god and nothing existed before him and he lived in the thirteenth heaven, which was the highest heaven. He had no parents and he existed by creating himself, but his body had the male counterpart, Ometecuhtli, and the female counterpart, Omecihuatl.
So, through Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, Ōmeteōtl gave birth to four of the primary gods in Aztec mythology: Xipe Totec, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli. Unfortunately, Huitzilopochtli was born as a skeleton god, without any flesh.
The main responsibility of the brothers was to create the world. But this had to be put on hold, as the brothers would not proceed without Huitzilopochtli. So, they waited for 600 years for his flesh to fully grow and for Huitzilopochtli to be complete.
Finally, Ōmeteōtl's four sons were ready to build the first world and to create the gods that were to oversee this world, to sustain all natural phenomenons and all life forms. All this had to be done without any assistance from their father, Ōmeteōtl as he had done his part of creating them.
Earth Created from Cipactli
When Xipe Totec, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli were born, there was no sun, moon, and world. So, they initially created the primeval oceans and the large sea monster, Cipactli. This asexual sea monster was part crocodile, part fish, and part frog, and because of its gluttonous nature, every part of its body had ravenous mouths.
Food for Cipactli
When the four brothers created the massive ocean, they did not know a huge void was also created over this massive ocean. So, whenever these gods created something, their new creation would fall into the ocean through this void. That became food for the hungry Cipactli.
These gods soon realized their mistake and the only way to solve the problem is to kill Cipactli.
So one day, the war god Tezcatlipoca tricked Cipactli to surface and to swim nearer to him by using his leg as bait. This insatiable sea monster would eat anything; it was immediately hooked when it saw the fleshy leg and swam towards Tezcatlipoca. Cipactli was very fast and before Tezcatlipoca could do anything, the sea monster had already got a huge bite of the juicy leg.
Tezcatlipoca, having lost one of his legs, was even more determined to kill Cipactli. So, together with his younger brother, Quetzalcoatl, they tried to trap Cipactli.
Earth From the Body of Cipactli
Cipactli was not easy to give up and put up a long and difficult fight. After several days of fighting, Cipactli was finally killed. They pulled Cipactli’s body from the ocean and cut it up into four parts. In order for Cipactli to be totally disposed of, they threw the four body parts in four cardinal directions.
So, Cipactli’s body became the universe. His head became the thirteen heavens, and the tails were the nine underworlds known as Mictlán. The midsection of the body became Earth.
That was how Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl created Heaven and Earth from Cipactli.
Human and Blood Sacrifice
Unfortunately, despite being chopped into four pieces and thrown in the four different directions of North, South, East, and West, Cipactli wasn't fully dead and had to be given regular blood sacrifices. Otherwise, it would get hungry and would create more problems.
So, to feed Cipactly, Tezcatlipoca would sacrifice the people that he and Quetzalcoatl created to populate the earth. That’s one of the reasons why the Aztecs had human sacrificial rituals as part of their religious rites.
When the world was created from Cipactli, there was darkness everywhere. So the gods had to create something to give light and brightness to humans.
Legend of the Five Suns: Aztec Sun God
Thus, to complete the world, the four creator gods had to create lights from a powerful source of energy. Since there was none, they had to create one – the sun. But they can’t just create the sun out of nothing. It had to come into being through the sacrifice of another power source – the god.
The First Sun or Jaguar Sun: A Small Sun
The four brothers had to choose who amongst them would be the First Sun.
Finally, they decided on Tezcatlipoca as the first and new sun god, much to Quetzalcoatl’s chagrin, because Tezcatlipoca was the god of night, which is darkness and should not be a sun god.
The Great Fire
But it was already decided, so Tezcatlipoca sacrificed himself by leaping into the great fire. Unfortunately, he had only one leg and with his incomplete body form, he could not create a complete sun.
Thence, Tezcatlipoca turned out to be only a half sun and the world was not brightly lit enough. Despite this, the gods went ahead and created the first human using the ashes from the great fire. These humans that they made were huge and were practically giants. The gods also created acorns for them to eat, but the lights were not bright enough for the acorns to grow well, and the giants can really eat.
Jaguar Sun Warrior
Meanwhile, the antagonism between the two brothers continued and this went on for 676 years. One day, Quetzalcoatl took a stone club and knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky. This angered Tezcatlipoca who then transformed himself into a jaguar and destroyed all the giants that they had created.
This first age lasted only 676 years or thirteen 52-year cycles.
The Second Sun or Wind Sun
With the first sun knocked out of the sky, Quetzalcoatl quickly sacrificed himself and took over as the next sun god.
The Creation of Man
Then they created humans of normal size and not giants as before to populate the earth. These humans lived happily but had nothing to eat except for piñon nuts and they committed crimes and did other unholy things. Tezcatlipoca, being a vengeful god, punished the people by turning them into monkeys.
Enraged by Tezcatlipoca’s action, Quetzalcoatl, without thinking, sent powerful hurricanes and floods that sadly, wiped out the monkeys.
This second age also lasted for 676 years.
The Third Sun or Rain Sun
So, a new sun had to be created. The other two brothers, Xipe Totec and Huitzilopochtli were not keen to jump into the fire and be the sun god.
Tlaloc, who was one of the earliest creations of the creator gods, was the rain god and water god. He was a big-hearted god who provided rain for crops to grow and land to prosper. He can also be merciless by sending storms and drought.
So, he was chosen as the next Sun.
Meanwhile, Tezcatlipoca had other plans and was eyeing the beautiful Xochiquetzal, Tlaloc's wife.
After Tlaloc sacrificed himself to be the next Sun, Tezcatlipoca abducted and married his wife, Xochiquetzal.
Angered by Xochiquetzal and Tezcatlipoca's betrayal Tlaloc destroyed the world in a rage by using his power as the sun god. He bombarded earth with the scorching sun non-stop and allowed no rainfall, resulting in a devastating drought.
Then he sent fire rain that ultimately burned away this version of the world, which lasted for only 364 years. The people that survived the drought and the fire rain were changed into turkeys.
Again, the creator gods had to create a new Earth from the ashes.
The Fourth Sun or Water Sun
After Tezcatlipoca stole Tlaloc’s wife and married her, Tlaloc remarried the goddess, Chalchiuthlicue, who was also his sister. Just like Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue was one of the earliest creations of the creator gods, Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilopochtli.
After all the past problems, the gods decided that maybe a goddess would make a better Sun god for the new world. So, they choose Chalchiuthlicue who was also the water goddess who governed the oceans, rivers, and lakes, and the patron goddess of the newborns and the sick.
When Chalchiuhtlicue became the fourth sun, she was kind and cared for her people by providing enough water to turn the land rich and fertile.
Tezcatlipoca, the one god who had always been unkind, jealous, and spiteful of every god that was the sun since his time, called her a liar. He claimed she faked her kindness for her people just to gain and crave their love and adoration.
This sun god was a super-sensitive goddess and was saddened by the accusation. She cried non-stop for 52 years until the tears even turned to blood. The sky that had been holding onto these tears could not hold it any longer and one day burst open. It resulted in a great flood that drowned and destroyed the world. The people had to become fish to survive the blood flood.
So, Chalchiuhtlicue, the only goddess to have been the sun, ruled as the fourth sun for only 676 years.
Now the world was in darkness again and all the humans had perished since those that survived became fishes. New humans had to be created for the new world and the only way was to resurrect the dead from the underworld of Mictlan.
Underworld of Mictlan
Mictlan consists of nine different levels and the journey between each level is filled with ghastly challenges. To reach the dead, you have to travel to the ninth level. Only one of the gods could do this.
Quetzalcoatl volunteered to go into the underworld of Mictlan to find and bring back the bones in order to create humans. It was a terrifying journey to Mictlan but after several attempts, Quetzalcoatl succeeded and brought back the bones, albeit all mixed up. Hence, the humans that were created were of different sizes, heights, and shapes.
In order to complete the process, Quetzalcoatl had to mix his blood and corn with the bones to bring life to the first group of humans of the fifth world. According to the Aztec beliefs, these are the people of our generation now.
As usual, the next new sun had to be created.
The Fifth Sun or Earthquake Sun
Thus, the creator gods gathered again to bring the next Sun, the fifth sun, and according to the Aztec myth, it will be the last Sun.
After all the previous sun gods were wiped out either from jealousy, attack by a jaguar, by flood, or fiery rain, there were no takers for the fifth sun.
Nanahuatzin and Tecuciztecatl
After much thought, Tecuciztecatl offered himself. He was a proud god of slimy status and he desired immortality. But the other gods preferred the diseased and ugliest of the gods, Nanahuatzin, because he could be spared.
Tecuciztecatl was not happy with the gods' decision and insisted on being the fifth sun god. Finally, the other gods relented and when the time came for Tecuciztecatl to jump into the sacrificial fire, he lost his nerve and could not jump into the fiery flame.
This went on four times and after the failed fourth attempt, the small and diseased Nanahuatzin decided to take action. This humble god, thinking that he had nothing to lose and immortality to gain, quickly jumped into the sacrificial flames and became the fifth sun.
This took Tecuciztecatl by surprise and, as he was a proud and arrogant god, he closed his eyes and quickly jumped into the fire so as not to lose face. However, by this time the fire was primarily ashes.
Two Sun Gods
When the weak Nanautzin jumped into the fire, it was a huge powerful fire. So, Nanautzin shone as the bright and resplendent sun. Sadly, the wimpy and arrogant Tecciztecatl jumped into hot ashes and he could hardly shine as the sun god.
The gods will not have two suns for the earth that they had painstakingly created even if the second sun was dim and not hot enough. However, it will still be hot and too much for humans to bear.
Created a Moon
They had to do something. There were too many rabbits up in heaven and so they picked and threw a rabbit at Tecuciztecatl to dim the brightness further.
Thus, Tecuciztecatl became the wimpish moon and can only be seen at night. On a bright full moon, you can actually see this rabbit’s outline!
Legend of the Fifth Sun
With the final sacrifice of the gods, the fifth sun was set into motion. Hence, the start of our time and history.
The creation of this fifth sun was the end of the Aztec creation story and is the period that we are living in today.
End of the World
The Aztec believed that this period or this present world will come to an end with a mighty earthquake.
Aztec Mythology Creation Story Explained in Animation
Sources and Further Reading
- The Aztec Creation Myth | AncientWorlds.net
Describes how the four Tezcatlipocas created our world from the sea monster, Cipactli.
- Aztecs: Empire, Culture & Facts | History.com
The Aztecs, who probably originated as a nomadic tribe in northern Mexico, arrived in Mesoamerica around the beginning of the 13th century. Learn about the entire lifespan of this culture.
- Aztec Civilization | National Geographic Society
In just a century, the Aztec built an empire in the area now called central Mexico. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors brought it to a sudden end.
- Tezcatlipoca: Aztec God of Night and Smoking Mirrors | ThoughtCo.
Tezcatlipoca was the vengeful Aztec god of light and dark and the patron deity of Aztec kings, associated with jaguars, obsidian mirrors, and sacrifice.
- Legend of Quetzalcoatl | Universidad Internacional
The story of Aztec's god, Quetzalcoatl.
- The Legend of the Fifth Sun | ThoughtCo.
In the 16th century, the Aztecs believed their world had been created and destroyed in violence four times before and had reason to expect it again.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Mazlan A