Coyolxauhqui: Aztec Goddess of the Moon

Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec goddess of the moon and the stars, is usually depicted with bells on her cheeks and surrounded by lunar symbols. According to some scholars, Coyolxauhqui may have represented a much earlier, female fertility cult.

 

Name and Etymology

  • Coyolxauhqui
  • "Bells of Gold"

 

Religion and Culture of Coyolxauhqui

Aztec, Mesoamerica

 

Symbols, Iconography, and Art of Coyolxauhqui

Coyolxauhqui is depicted with bells on her cheeks and surrounded by lunar symbols.

Although thought of as a young goddess, sometimes her images show her as very old with sagging breasts. A massive statue of her unearthed in 1978 shows her with severed head and hands, just after Huitzilopochtli finished with her.

 

Coyolxauhqui was Goddess of...

  • Moon
  • Milky Way

 

Family Tree and Relationships of Coyolxauhqui

  • Sister of Huitzilopochtli, Warrior God
  • Daughter of Coatlicue, Earth Goddess

 

Temples, Worship and Rituals of Coyolxauhqui

When the Aztec sacrificed prisoners to Coyolxauhqui, they cut off their heads, cut out their hearts, and threw the bodies down Coyolxauhqui's temple. Thus the ritual heart sacrifices for which the Aztec became infamous for are recreations of the mythic story in which Huitzilopochtli kills his sister Coyolxauhqui.

 

Mythology and Legends of Coyolxauhqui

Coyolxauhqui died when her brother, Huitzilopochtli, leapt from their mother's womb and killed all his siblings, possibly because she got pregnant but claimed to still be a virgin.

No one asked how she could be a virgin with more than 400 children, they just considered it shameful.

Some legends say that she tried to warn her mother that her sons were about to kill her, other legends say that she was participating in the murder — even leading the way. Either way, she died and Huitzilopochtli threw her head up into the sky where it became the moon (so that their mother, Coatlicue, would be comforted by always seeing her in the sky) then her body down the hill of Coatepec.

Some scholars think that Coyolxauhqui may have represented a much earlier, female fertility cult in the region. Her death at the hands of her brother, Huitzilopochtli, would be then the mythical representation of a warrior cult assuming political and social control of the Aztec population. With Coyolxauhqui representing the moon and her brother, Huitzilopochtli, representing the sun, it's also possible that the conflict between them represents the continuous conflict between day and night.

Some scholars believe that the entire system of human sacrifice which underlies Aztec religion is, in some way, a recreation of this event because human sacrificial victims typically had their heads cut off an their bodies thrown down the steps of the temple.