Tlaloc - The Aztec God of Rain and Fertility

The Aztec Rain God Tlaloc was Based on a Pan-Mesoamerican Deity

Stone brazier with traces of color depicting Tlaloc, Templo Mayor, Mexico City, Mexico, Aztec civilization, ca 1500
Stone brazier with traces of color depicting Tlaloc, Templo Mayor, Mexico City, Mexico, Aztec civilization, ca 1500. De Agostini / G. Dagli Orti / Getty Images

Tlaloc (Tlá-lock) was the Aztec rain god and one of the most ancient and widespread deities of all Mesoamerica. Tlaloc was thought to live on the top of the mountains, especially the ones always covered by clouds; and from there he sent the revivifying rains.

Rain gods are found in most Mesoamerican cultures, and the origins of Tlaloc can be traced back to Teotihuacan and the Olmec. The rain god was called Chaac by the ancient Maya and Cocijo by the Zapotec of Oaxaca.

Tlaloc's Characteristics

The rain god was among the most important of the Aztec deities, governing the spheres of water, fertility, ​and agriculture. Tlaloc oversaw crop growth, especially maize, and the regular cycle of the seasons. Archaeologists and historians suggest that the emphasis on this well-known god was a way for the Aztec to legitimize their rule over the region. For this reason, they built one of the two most important shrines within their capital, on the top of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, just next to the one dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec patron deity.

The shrine of Tlaloc was painted blue and had pillars with Tlaloc's eyes and a series of blue bands painted on them. Many offerings have been found associated with this shrine, containing animals related to the water environment and artifacts such as jade objects, which were related to water, sea, fertility, and the underworld.

A Place in the Aztec Heaven

Tlaloc was helped in his job by other supernatural beings called Tlaloques who were his assistants in supplying the earth with rain. In Aztec mythology, Tlaloc was also the governor of the Third Sun, or world, which was dominated by water. After a great flood, the Third Sun ended, and people were replaced by animals such as dogs, butterflies, and turkeys.

In Aztec religion, Tlaloc governed the fourth heaven or sky, called Tlalocan, the "Place of Tlaloc". This place is described in Aztec sources as a paradise of lush vegetation and perennial spring, ruled by the god and his assistants, the Tlaloques. The Tlalocan was also the afterlife destination for those who died violently of water-related causes as well as for new-born children and women who died in childbirth.

Ceremonies and Rituals

The most important ceremonies dedicated to Tlaloc were called Tozoztontli and they took place at the end of the dry season, in March and April. Their purpose was to assure abundant rain during the growing season.

One of the most common rites carried out during such ceremonies were sacrifices of children, whose crying was considered beneficial for obtaining rain. The tears of new-born children, being strictly connected with the Tlalocan, were pure and precious.

Apart from the ceremonies carried out at the Templo Mayor, offerings to Tlaloc have been found in several caves and on mountain peaks. The most sacred shrine of Tlaloc was on the top of Mount Tlaloc, an extinct volcano located east of Mexico City. Research on the top of the mountain has identified remains of an Aztec temple which seems aligned with the Tlaloc shrine of the Templo Mayor.

This shrine is enclosed in a precinct where pilgrimage and offerings by the Aztec king and priests were carried out once a year.

Tlaloc Images

The image of Tlaloc is one of the most represented and easily recognizable in Aztec mythology and is similar in other Mesoamerican cultures. He has large goggled eyes whose contours are two serpents which meet at the center of his face to form his nose. He also has large fangs hanging from his mouth and a protuberant upper lip. He is often surrounded by raindrops and by his assistants, the Tlaloques.

He often holds a long scepter in his hand with a sharp tip which represented lightning and thunder. His representations are frequently found on codices, murals, sculptures, and copal incense burners.

Sources

  • Millar M and Taube KA. 1993. The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. London: Thames and Hudson
  • Smith ME. 2003. The Aztecs. Second Edition, Blackwell Publishing.
  • Van Tuerenhout DR. 2005. The Aztecs. New Perspectives. Santa Barbara, CA:ABC-CLIO Inc.

Updated by K. Kris Hirst