Chalchiuhtlicue - Aztec Goddess of Lakes, Streams, and Oceans

Aztec Water Goddess and Sister of the Rain God Tlaloc

Statue of the Aztec Goddess Chalchiuhtlicue at the National Museum of Anthropology (INAH) Mexico City
A statue of the Aztec goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of running water, newborns, marriage and innocent love and the sister/wife of the oldest god, the rain god Chac), in the National Museum of Anthropology (INAH), Mexico City. Richard I'Anson / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images Plus

Chalchiuhtlicue (Chal-CHEE-ooh-tlee-quay), whose name means "She of the Jade Skirt," is the Aztec goddess of water as it collects on the earth, such as rivers and oceans, and so was considered by the Aztecs (1110–1521 CE) as the patroness of navigation. She was one of the most important deities, as protector of childbirth and newborns.

Fast Facts: Chalchiuhtlicue

  • Alternate Names: She of the Jade Skirt
  • Culture/Country: Aztec, Mexico
  • Primary Sources: Codex Borbonicus, Florentine, Diego Duran
  • Realms and Powers: Streams and standing water, marriage, new borns, presides over the 4th Sun
  • Family: Consort/Sister/Mother of Tlaloc and the Tlaloques

Chalchiuhtlicue in Aztec Mythology

The water goddess Chalchiuhtlicue is somehow linked to the rain god Tlaloc, but sources vary. Some say she was the wife or feminine counterpart of Tlaloc; in others, she is Tlaloc's sister; and some scholars suggest she is Tlaloc himself in a separate guise. She is also associated with the "Tlaloques," Tlaloc's brothers or perhaps their children. In some sources, she is described as the wife of the Aztec fire god Huehueteotl-Xiuhtecuhtli.

She is said to reside in the mountains, releasing her water when it is appropriate: different Aztec communities associated her with different mountains. All rivers come from the mountains in the Aztec universe, and the mountains are like jars (ollas) filled with water, that spring from the womb of the mountain and wash down to water and protect the people.

Appearance and Reputation

Two sculpted images of the Aztec water goddess, Chalchiuhtlicue, on display in Amsterdam's Tropenmuseum
Two sculpted images of the Aztec water goddess, Chalchiuhtlicue, on display in Amsterdam's Tropenmuseum. Daniel Farrell

The goddess Chalchiuhtlicue is often depicted in pre-Columbian and colonial period books called codices as wearing a blue-green skirt, as her name illustrates, from which flows a long and abundant stream of water. Sometimes new-born children are portrayed floating in this water flow. She has black lines on her face and usually wears a jade nose-plug. In Aztec sculpture and portraits, her statues and images are often carved out of jade or other green stones.

She is occasionally shown wearing Tlaloc's goggle-eyed mask. The allied Nahuatl word "chalchihuitl" means "drop of water" and, it refers to the green stone jade, and also used in connection with Tlaloc's goggles, which may themselves be a symbol of water. In the Codex Borgia, Chalchiuhtlicue is wearing a serpent headdress and dress ornaments with the same markings as Tlaloc, and her half-moon nose ornament is the serpent itself, marked with stripes and dots.

Myths

According to the Spanish conquistador and priest Fray Diego Duran (1537–1588), who collected Aztec lore, Chalchiuhtlicue was universally revered by the Aztecs. She governed the waters of the oceans, springs, and lakes, and as such she appeared in both positive and negative guises. She was seen as a positive source who brought full irrigation canals for growing maize when she was associated with the corn goddess Xilonen. When displeased, she brought empty canals and drought and was paired with the dangerous snake goddess Chicomecoatl. She was also known for creating whirlpools and big storms making water navigation tricky.

The main myth involving Chalchuihtilcue reports that the goddess ruled over and destroyed the previous world, known in Aztec mythology as the Fourth Sun, which ended in the Mexica version of the Deluge Myth. The Aztec universe was based on the Legend of the Five Suns, which said that before the current world (the Fifth Sun), the various gods and goddesses made four attempts to create versions of the world and then destroyed them in order. The fourth sun (called Nahui Atl Tonatiuh or 4 Water) was ruled by Chalchiutlicue as a world of water, where fish species were marvelous and abundant. After 676 years, Chalchiutlicue destroyed the world in a cataclysmic flood, transforming all the humans into fish.

Chalchiuhtlicue's Festivals

As the partner of Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue is one of group of gods who supervised water and fertility. To these deities was dedicated a series of ceremonies called Atlcahualo, which lasted the entire month of February. During these ceremonies, the Aztecs performed many rituals, usually on the mountain tops, where they sacrificed children. For the Aztec religion, the tears of children were considered good omens for abundant rain.

The festival month of February dedicated to Chalchiuhtlicue was the sixth month of the Aztec year called Etzalcualiztli. It took place during the rainy season when the fields were beginning to ripen. The festival was conducted in and around the lagoons, with some objects ritually deposited within the lagoons, and events involved fasting, feasting, and auto-sacrifice on the part of the priests. It also included the human sacrifice of war captives, women, and children some of which were dressed in the costume of Chalchiuhtlicue and Tlaloc. Offerings included maize, the blood of quail birds and resins made of copal and latex.

Children were regularly sacrificed to Chalchiuhtlicue at the height of the dry season just before the rains were due; during the festivals dedicated to Chalchiuhtlicue and Tlaloc, a young boy would be sacrificed to Tlaloc on a mountaintop outside of Tenochtitlan, and a young girl would be drowned in Lake Texcoco at Pantitlan, where whirlpools were known to occur.

Edited and updated by K. Kris Hirst.

Sources

  • Brundage, Burr Cartwright. "The Fifth Sun: Aztec Gods, Aztec Worlds." Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983. Print.
  • Carlson, John B. "The Maya Deluge Myth and Dresden Codex Page 74." Cosmology, Calendars, and Horizon-Based Astronomy in Ancient Mesoamerica. Eds. Dowd, Anne S. and Susan Milbrath. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2015. 197–226. Print.
  • Dehouve, Danièle. "The Rules of Construction of an Aztec Deity: Chalchiuhtlicue, the Goddess of Water." Ancient Mesoamerica (2018): 1–22. Print.
  • Garza Gómez, Isabel. "De Calchiuhtlicue, Diosa De Ríos, Lagunas Y Manantiales." El Tlacuache: Patrimonio de Morelos (2009): 1–4. Print.
  • Heyden, Doris. "Water Symbols and Eye Rings in the Mexican Codices." Indiana 8 (1983): 41–56. Print.
  • Leon-Portilla, Miguel, and Jack Emory Davis. "Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind." Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963. Print.
  • Miller, Mary Ellen, and Karl Taube. "An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya." London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. Print.