Tlaloc - The Aztec God of Rain and Fertility

The Aztec Version of an Ancient Pan-Mesoamerican Rain Deity

Goggle-Eyed Tlaloc, Aztec God of Rain
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 down revivifying rains to the people below.

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. He ruled over the 13-day sequence in the 260-day ritual calendar beginning with the day Ce Quiauitl (One Rain). Tlaloc's female consort was Chalchiuhtlicue (Jade Her Skirt) who presided over freshwater lakes and streams.

Archaeologists and historians suggest that the emphasis on this well-known god was a way for the Aztec rulers to legitimize their rule over the region. For this reason, they built a shrine to Tlaloc on the top of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, just next to the one dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec patron deity.

A Shrine in Tenochtitlan

Tlaloc's shrine at the Templo Mayor represented agriculture and water; while Huitzilopochtli's shrine represented warfare, military conquest, and tribute..

These are the two most important shrines within their capital city.

The shrine of Tlaloc featured pillars inscribed with symbols of Tlaloc's eyes and painted with a series of blue bands. The priest who was tasked with tending to the shrine was the Quetzalcoatl tlaloc tlamacazqui, one of the most highly ranked priests in the Aztec religion.

Many offerings have been found associated with this shrine, containing sacrifices of water animals and artifacts such as jade objects, which were related to water, sea, fertility, and the underworld.

A Place in the Aztec Heaven

Tlaloc was assisted by a group of supernatural beings called Tlaloques who supplied 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 the 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 the Tlaloques. The Tlalocan was also the afterlife destination for those who had 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.

One offering found at the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan included the remains of approximately 45 children sacrificed in honor of Tlaloc. These children ranged in age between two and seven years of age and were mostly but not entirely males. This was an unusual ritual deposit, and Mexican archaeologist Leonardo López Luján has suggested that the sacrifice was specifically to appease Tlaloc during the great drought that occurred during the mid-15th century C.E.

Mountain Shrines

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

Archaeologists investigating on the top of the mountain have identified the architectural remains of an Aztec temple which seem to have been aligned with the Tlaloc shrine at the Templo Mayor.

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

Tlaloc Images

The image of Tlaloc is one of the most often represented and easily recognizable in Aztec mythology, and similar to rain gods in other Mesoamerican cultures. He has large goggled eyes whose contours are made of 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 represents lightning and thunder. His representations are frequently found in the Aztec books known as codices, as well as in murals, sculptures, and copal incense burners.

Updated by K. Kris Hirst

Sources

  • Berdan FF. 2014. Aztec Archaeology and Ethnohistory. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • 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. 2013. The Aztecs. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Van Tuerenhout DR. 2005. The Aztecs. New Perspectives. Santa Barbara, CA:ABC-CLIO Inc.
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Maestri, Nicoletta. "Tlaloc - The Aztec God of Rain and Fertility." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2017, thoughtco.com/tlaloc-aztec-god-rain-and-fertility-172965. Maestri, Nicoletta. (2017, August 27). Tlaloc - The Aztec God of Rain and Fertility. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tlaloc-aztec-god-rain-and-fertility-172965 Maestri, Nicoletta. "Tlaloc - The Aztec God of Rain and Fertility." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tlaloc-aztec-god-rain-and-fertility-172965 (accessed November 23, 2017).