Tezcatlipoca: a tricky and complicated Aztec god!

With Halloween on our doorstep, I thought it would be fun to write a piece centring on spooky Mesoamerican folklore. The list is endless. With that fact in mind, let’s take a look at a major Aztec god with several fascinating tales connected to him as well as being connected to  Kukulkán a Maya deity known by the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl, the Maya version being significant in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.



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The next time you get dressed up as a skeleton for Halloween, you might like to consider what the Mesoamerican world would have thought about your attire. Tezcatlipoca was an Aztec god as well as the eternal opposite of his brother  Quetzalcoatl, He is known for divination (telling the future), and that is also reflected in his name which means “Lord of the Smoking Mirror” It translates to this meaning in the Aztec language which is Nahuatl.

The mirror is relevant due to the fact it is in reference to an obsidian mirror which was widely used by Aztec priests in divinity.

There are many stories connected to him, but one I thought would be fitting for Halloween. It is perfect for he is additionally associated with sorcery, darkness, demons and fire. Where he is good in one aspect, he is a destroyer in another. One legend tells of him wandering the land under the night sky in the form of a skeleton. He was known to be a tricky deity hence “trick or treat”  so you could expect the opposite of what he promised.

His ribs were like doors that if you encountered him during the night and were brave enough to reach inside his ribcage and pull out his heart, he would grant you riches. However, he was tricky and could just as quickly destroy you. Anyone want to take that chance and learn what his trick or treat reward would be?

Exploring Tezcatlipoca in history

There is a lot of information associated with Tezcatlipoca so let’s dive in a bit farther.

Who is this multifaceted Aztec god?

Okay, first we need to know about the background.


Though the academic community is somewhat divided about this god, this is what is known thus far. Oh, and please click the link above to learn more about the discrepancies about this god. It is fascinating reading, I assure you.

Who’s Who

The Nahua people known as Aztec believed that their god Ometeotl (a creation god) was both male and female. This god had four children. Now, this is where we find the connections to Quetzalcoatl etc.

The sons are all called Tezcatlipoca‘s; however, each one of them represents different aspects of nature and people or the forces of the universe. They are represented by colours and directional coordinates of North, South, East and West. You can think of them as the four corners of the universe.

 They are as follows: The black Tezcatlipoca of the North AKA “Smoking Mirror” and the only one chiefly referred to as “Tezcatlipoca” he was associated with the night sky, deceit, sorcery, judgment and death and destruction.  West White Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl He was associated with light and wind, Blue Tezcatlipoca Huitzilopochtli Humming-bird of the South or He of the South and he was associated with war and possibly hunting, and the Red Tezcatlipoca Xipe Totec of the East he was associated with gold, springtime and agriculture.

In the legend of the five suns, which is the Aztec creation myth, these four brothers play a significant role. This is the story of who Tezcatlipoca is and from where he came.


Codex Borgia, c 1500 P. 25 (Vatican Library)

The Story of the five suns …

There are several versions of the Aztec creation myth, and they kept changing a bit throughout history because they were oral tales. Additionally, they were modified here and there to accommodate traditions from other tribes that they conquered.

Each world cycle was called a sun, and each new period emerged from the destruction of the prior. In their mythos, they believed their world was created and destroyed four times, and we are in the 5th sun cycle, and this world we currently live in will end in destruction through earthquakes.

They also believed that a different god dominated the earth during each cycle and then destroyed it by giving their life up by jumping into the fire. For this reason, sacrifice runs strong in the Aztec culture, for they believe the gods wanted human blood in return for their sacrifice to build a new world.

The First Sun …

Tezcatlipoca “Smoking Mirror” became the first sun by leaping into the fire. Only he could only handle being a half sun.  His new world named “four-jaguar” had giants as people, and they only ate acorns. Tezcatlipoca’s world lasted 13 52 year cycles or 676 years. (see the sunstone calendar) However, towards the end of the first sun, Tezcatlipoca’s brother  Quetzalcoatl got into a fight with him and knocked him from the sky with a stone club. He won the battle with Tezcatlipoca. However, enraged Tezcatlipoca sent Jaguars (his spirit animal) to kill the giants of that age as well as destroying the first world. 

The Second Sun …

This world was ruled by Quetzalcoatl, for he became the second sun. His world was named “four-Wind” Four-wind was populated by humans who ate only piñon nuts. However, jealous Tezcatlipoca after being knocked out of the sky as the sun by his brother Quetzacoatl still wanted to be sun. However, that is not what caused him to rage against things this time. It was the people as the years passed not being as respectful to the will of the gods; in turn, they became uncivilised. Their disrespect in honouring the gods made Tezcatlipoca very angry, he turned all of the people into monkeys, and his brother seeing this became angry and caused a hurricane to blow all of the people off of the earth and destroyed yet another world. This world also ended after 676 years.

The Third Sun …

The next god to become the sun, in this case, the third sun named four-rain, was Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god. The people of his world ate only seeds. Everything was going well for a while until the terrible Tezcatlipoca seduced the wife of Tlaloc, the fertility goddess Xochiquetzal.  Of course, Tlaloc was infuriated by this development and would not allow it to rain for a long time. The people were worried and asking for rain continuously. This angered Tlaloc more, and he sent a rain of fire that ultimately destroyed nearly everything. The people who managed to survive became turkeys, butterflies and dogs. This world only lasted 7 cycles or 364 years.

The Fourth Sun …

The next Sun was the water goddess Chalchiuthlicue, and she was the new sister wife to Tlaloc. Her world was called four-water. She was kind to her new humans who only ate maze; however, the trouble maker Tezcatlipoca started more turmoil once again by fighting with the goddess.

According to lore, a great flood came, and all the people were turned into fish. The fourth sun lasted for 676 years or 13 52 year cycles.

However, at the end of this fourth sun, the gods gathered at Teotihuacan to decide who the next sacrificed god would be to create the fifth sun. It was a humble god Nanahuatzin who jumped into the flames to become the fifth sun. the proud god Tecuciztecatl jumped in after him and they became two suns. Well, two suns burned too hot for the earth, so the gods threw a rabbit at Tecuciztecatl and he became the moon. The remaining sun was blown into motion by Ehecatl the god of wind.

The Fifth Sun …

Now that there was a fifth sun in place and in motion this new world was ruled by the sun god Tonatiuh and called four-movement The Aztecs characterised the fifth sun by the sign Ollin which means movement and according to the Aztecs, it means the world will be destroyed by earthquakes. This is why the fifth sun is also called the “Earthquake Sun” additionally we are in the age of the fifth sun.

Interesting tangible fact:

You can find a version of the myth on the Calendar Stone which is based on one of the versions of this myth linked to the Aztec beliefs. You can also watch a lovely video about the Aztec Sun Stone AKA The Calander Stone.

The Sun Stone (or The Calendar Stone), Aztec, reign of Moctezuma II (1502-20), discovered in 1790 at the southeastern edge of the Plaza Mayor (Zocalo) in Mexico City, stone (unfinished), 358 cm diameter x 98 cm depth (Museo Nacional de Antropología)
Speakers: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Steven Zucker and Beth Harris.

Codex Borgia, c. 1500, p. 23 (Vatican Library), note: the Vatican Library watermarks digital images

The Borgia Codex

I have always been fascinated by ancient languages, art and writing. This codex is a goldmine of information and also the way these little knowledge banks are created is additionally fascinating. Of course, my article drew information from this codex. Let’s learn more about these works of art.

Through ancient history, you will find many codices on the culture if you are lucky and they were not destroyed. In the case of the many cultures populating Mexico, central and south America the Spanish invasion destroyed many of these precious books that give us valuable information about the various tribes.

In the case of the Aztec, there is a fabulous codex by the name of the Borgia codex and it is a wonderful account of these warrior people. Here is more about this fascinating item

This particular one has drawn scholars to study it for centuries. Unfortunately only 12 manuscripts of this type survived. They are owned privately and bear the name of their respected owner. The Borgia Codex for one example is so named for its owner Cardinal Stefano Borgia, who enjoyed collecting coins and manuscripts. Ever wonder how they were made? It is a true art as well as educational.

Making a Screenfold Manuscript

To make one of these manuscripts you would have to glue strips of leather even paper. As you did this it became longer and longer so you would fold it back and forth accordion style.

The Mesoamerican style

It has been called the “front obverse” and “back obverse” This is a totally different style and is strictly mesoamerican. By comparison, The European manuscripts are bound on the left side and not folded. The pages were prepared with white gesso and for this one, it is believed they used gypsum before they painted it.

Studying the Codex Borgia

Codex Borgia, c. 1500, p. 28 (Vatican Library), note: the Vatican Library watermarks digital images.

The above page from the Borgia Codex is page 28. It features five square areas one on each corner and one rectangular in the centre. The images are showing a consistent pattern of a male hovering over a female.

The females are naked but are wearing headdresses. Additionally, each couple is by a maze plant. Even more interesting is below each compartment is three rectangles containing glyphs. The below images is an example of how the compartments are deciphered.

Glyphs for the days and year, Tlaloc (god) wearing the costume elements of Xiuhtlecuhtli (Fire Lord) and a goddess wearing the headdress of Chalchitlucue, Codex Borgia, c. 1500, p. 28 (Vatican Library)
Tlaloc (detail), Codex Borgia, c. 1500, f. 28 (Vatican Library)

Of course, you can learn more at the above link on the Codex Borgia heading link. I will add to this article as I have time. This is Halloween night and I am currently pressed for time! Parties and what not! Enjoy the links and the article I shall return very soon!

Also, check out the below videos on versions of the Aztec Creation Myth.

The following video is a slightly different version of the commonly told story. However, it follows the same central thought. It is a beautifully created video, colourful and well explained. I enjoyed watching it and wanted to share it.

This video follows the story I used a little closer and is quite interesting the way they approached the subject matter. I enjoyed the lightheartedness of it. Enjoy

Explore the World!


Non-Wikipedia Sources













Note: I mentioned (non-Wikipedia) simply because I have been asked many times through the years why I nearly never cite work by that source. In a few words, it is not considered a viable source, and I have had many of my professors say they will not accept work cited by Wikipedia in general based on a high level of inaccuracy. I have run into this fact before. I have seen instances where my textbooks and other reliable sources are entirely different from what the inaccurate Wikipedia page displayed. Off in years, names, locations etc. So, I will kindly say it is not my “go-to” source, and I stay away from it as much as possible. My apologies to those who enjoy the Wikipedia content.

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