Chicomoztoc, the Mythical Aztec Origins

Chichemec drawing of people inside Chicomoztoc.
A Chichemec version of Chicomoztoc, drawn ca 1550. Michel Wal

Chicomoztoc (“The Place of the Seven Caves” or “The Cave of the Seven Niches”) is the mythological cave of emergence for the Aztec/Mexica, the Toltecs, and other groups of Central Mexico and northern Mesoamerica. It is frequently depicted in Central Mexican codices, maps, and other written documents known as lienzos, as a subterranean hall surrounded by seven chambers.

In the surviving depictions of Chicomoztoc, each chamber is labeled with a pictograph that names and illustrates a different Nahua lineage that emerged from that particular place in the cave. As with other caves illustrated in Mesoamerican art, the cave has some animal-like characteristics, such as teeth or fangs and eyes. More intricate renderings show the cave as a lion-like monster out of whose gaping mouth the original people emerge.

A Shared Pan-Mesoamerican Mythology

Emergence from a cave is a common thread found throughout ancient Mesoamerica and among groups living in the area today. Forms of this myth can be found as far north as the American Southwest among cultural groups such as the Ancestral Puebloan or Anasazi people. They and their modern descendants built sacred rooms in their communities known as kivas, where the entrance to the sipapu, the Puebloan place of origin, was marked in the center of the floor.

One famous example of a pre-Aztec emergence place is the human-made cave under the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. This cave differs from the Aztec account of emergence because it has only four chambers.

Another constructed Chicomoztoc-like emergence shrine is found at the site of Acatzingo Viejo, in the State of Puebla, central Mexico. It more closely parallels the Aztec account due to its having seven chambers carved into the walls of a circular rock outcropping. Unfortunately, a modern road was cut directly through this feature, destroying one of the caves.

Mythical Reality

Many other places have been proposed as possible Chicomoztoc shrines, among which is the site of La Quemada, in Northwest Mexico. Most experts believe that Chicomoztoc was not necessarily a specific, physical place but, like Aztalan, a widespread idea among many Mesoamerican people of a mythical cave as a place of emergence for both humans and gods, from which each group materialized and identified itself within their own sacred landscape.

Updated by K. Kris Hirst


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Maestri, Nicoletta. "Chicomoztoc, the Mythical Aztec Origins." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Maestri, Nicoletta. (2020, August 26). Chicomoztoc, the Mythical Aztec Origins. Retrieved from Maestri, Nicoletta. "Chicomoztoc, the Mythical Aztec Origins." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).