Aztec: Creation Myths

This condensed version of the Aztec creation comes from the work of Hubert Howe Bancroft.

Hubert Howe Bancroft was an American historian and ethnologist who wrote, published and collected works concerning the western United States, Texas, California, Alaska, Mexico, Central America and British Columbia.
— Orly

The Mexicans in most of the provinces were agreed that there was a god in heaven called Citlalatonac, and a goddess called Citlalicue; and that this goddess had given birth to a flint knife, Tecpatl. Now she had many sons living with her in heaven, who seeing this extraordinary thing were alarmed, and flung the flint down to the earth. It fell in a place called Chicomoztoc, that is to say the Seven Caves, and there immediately sprang up from it one thousand six hundred gods. These gods being alone on the earth—though as will hereafter appear, there had been men in the world at a former period—sent up their messenger Tlotli, the Hawk, to pray their mother to empower them to create men, so that they might have servants as became their lineage. Citlalicue seemed to be a little ashamed of these sons of hers, born in so strange a manner, and she twitted them cruelly enough on what they could hardly help: Had you been what you ought to have been, she exclaimed, you would still be in my company. Nevertheless she told them what to do in the matter of obtaining their desire: Go beg of Mictlanteuctli, Lord of Hades, that he may give you a bone or some ashes of the dead that are with him; which having received you shall sacrifice over it, sprinkling blood from your own bodies. And the fallen gods having consulted together, sent one of their number, called Xolotl, down to hades as their mother had advised. He succeeded in getting a bone of six feet long from Mictlanteuctli; and then, wary of his grisly host, he took an abrupt departure, running at the top of his speed. Wroth at this, the infernal chief gave chase; not causing to Xolotl, however, any more serious inconvenience than a hasty fall in which the bone was broken in pieces. The messenger gathered up what he could in all haste, and despite his stumble made his escape. Reaching the earth, he put the fragments of bone into a basin, and all the gods drew blood from their bodies and sprinkled it into the vessel. On the fourth day there was a movement among the wetted bones and a boy lay there before all; and in four days more, the blood-letting and sprinkling being still kept up, a girl was lifted from the ghastly dish. The children were given to Xolotl to bring up; and he fed them on the juice of the maguey. Increasing in stature, they became man and woman; and from them are the people of the present day descended, who, even as the primordial bone was broken into unequal pieces, vary in size and shape. The name of this first man was Iztacmixcuatl, and the name of his wife Ilancueitl, and they had six sons born to them, whose descendants, with their god-masters, in process of time moved eastward from their original home, almost universally described as having been towards Jalisco.

Now there had been no sun in existence for many years; so the gods being assembled in a place called Teotihuacan, six leagues from Mexico, and gathered at the time round a great fire, told their devotees that he of them who should first cast himself into that fire, should have the honor of being transformed into a sun. So one of them called Nanahuatzin—either as most say, out of pure bravery, or as Sahagun relates, because his life had become a burden to him through a syphilitic disease—flung himself into the fire. Then the gods began to peer through the gloom in all directions for the expected light and to make bets as to what part of heaven he should first appear in. And some said Here, and some said There; but when the sun rose they were all proved wrong, for not one of them had fixed upon the east.  And in that same hour, though they knew it not, the decree went forth that they should all die by sacrifice.

 

HOW THE SUN WAS PLACED IN THE HEAVENS.

The sun had risen indeed, and with a glory of the cruel fire about him that not even the eyes of the gods could endure; but he moved not. There he lay on the horizon; and when the deities sent Tlotli their messenger to him, with orders that he should go on upon his way, his ominous answer was, that he would never leave that place till he had destroyed and put an end to them all. Then a great fear fell upon some, while others were moved only to anger; and among the latter was one Citli, who immediately strung his bow and advanced against the glittering enemy. By quickly lowering his head the Sun avoided the first arrow shot at him; but the second and third had attained his body in quick succession, when, filled with fury, he seized the last and launched it back upon his assailant. And the brave Citli laid shaft to string nevermore, for the arrow of the sun pierced his forehead.

Then all was dismay in the assembly of the gods, and despair filled their heart, for they saw that they could not prevail against the shining one; and they agreed to die, and to cut themselves open through the breast. Xolotl was appointed minister, and he killed his companions one by one, and last of all he slew himself also.  So they died like gods; and each left to the sad and wondering men who were his servants, his garments for a memorial. And these servants made up, each party, a bundle of the raiment that had been left to them, binding it about a stick into which they had bedded a small green stone to serve as a heart. These bundles were called tlaquimilloli, and each bore the name of that god whose memorial it was; and these things were more reverenced than the ordinary gods of stone and wood of the country. Fray Andres de Olmos found one of these relics in Tlalmanalco, wrapped up in many cloths, and half rotten with being kept hid so long.

Immediately on the death of the gods the sun began his motion in the heavens; and a man called Tecuzistecatl, or Tezcociztecatl, who, when Nanahuatzin leaped into the fire, had retired into a cave, now emerged from his concealment as the moon. Others say that instead of going into a cave, this Tecuzistecatl, had leaped into the fire after Nanahuatzin, but that, the heat of the fire being somewhat abated, he had come out less brilliant than the sun. Still another variation is, that the sun and moon came out equally bright, but this not seeming good to the gods, one of them took a rabbit by the heels and slung it into the face of the moon, dimming its lustre with a blotch whose mark may be seen to this day.

After the gods had died in the way herein related, leaving their garments behind as relics, those servants went about everywhere, bearing these relics like bundles upon their shoulders, very sad and pensive and wondering if ever again they would see their departed gods. Now the name of one of these deceased deities was Tezcatlipoca, and his servant having arrived at the sea coast, was favored with an apparition of his master in three different shapes. And Tezcatlipoca spake to his servant saying: Come hither, thou that lovest me so well, that I may tell thee what thou hast to do. Go now to the House of the Sun and fetch thence singers and instruments so that thou mayest make me a festival; but first call upon the whale, and upon the siren, and upon the tortoise, and they shall make thee a bridge to the sun.

Then was all this done; and the messenger went across the sea upon his living bridge, towards the House of the Sun, singing what he had to say. And the Sun heard the song, and he straitly charged his people and servants, saying: See now that ye make no response to this chant, for whoever replies to it must be taken away by the singer. But the song was so exceeding sweet that some of them could not but answer, and they were lured away, bearing with them the drum, teponaztli, and the kettle-drum, vevetl. Such was the origin of the festivals and the dances to the gods; and the songs sung during these dances they held as prayers, singing them always with great accuracy of intonation and time.

...

[The event of creation is multiple, there having been various creations before the current one] 

Of the creation which ushered in the first age we know nothing; we are only told by [Lorenzo] Boturini [Benaduci], that giants then began to appear on the earth. This First Age; or 'sun,' was called the Sun of the Water, and it was ended by a tremendous flood in which every living thing perished, or was transformed, except, following some accounts, one man and one woman of the giant race, of whose escape more hereafter.

The Second Age, called the Sun of the Earth, was closed with earthquakes, yawnings of the earth, and the overthrow of the highest mountains. Giants, or Quinamés, a powerful and haughty race still appear to be the only inhabitants of the world.

The Third Age was the Sun of the Air. It was ended by tempests and hurricanes, so destructive that few indeed of the inhabitants of the earth were left; and those that were saved, lost, according to the Tlascaltec account, their reason and speech, becoming monkeys.

The present is the Fourth Age. To it appear to belong the falling of the goddess-born flint from heaven, the birth of the sixteen hundred heroes from that flint, the birth of mankind from the bone brought from hades, the transformation of Nanahuatzin into the sun, the transformation of Tezcatecatl into the moon, and the death of the sixteen hundred heroes or gods. It is called the Sun of Fire, and is to be ended by a universal conflagration.

Connected with the great flood of water, there is a Mexican tradition presenting some analogies to the story of Noah and his ark. In most of the painted manuscripts supposed to relate to this event, a kind of boat is represented floating over the waste of water, and containing a man and a woman. Even the Tlascaltecs, the Zapotecs, the Miztecs, and the people of Michoacan are said to have had such pictures. The man is variously called Coxcox, Teocipactli, Tezpi, and Nata; the woman Xochiquetzal and Nena.

FINIS

Source:  HHB [1]

Culture: Mexica (Aztec)

Language:  Classical Nahuatl was the language of the Aztec empire and was used as a lingua franca in much of Mesoamerica from the 7th century AD until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. The modern dialects of Nahuatl spoken in the Valley of Mexico are closest to Classical Nahuatl.

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