Tlaloc Life Giver & Hipster
( Nahuatl: “He Who Makes Things Sprout”)
Aztec rain god.
The rain god was a pan-Mesoamerican god, whose origins can be traced back to Teotihuacan and the Olmec. His characteristic features were strikingly similar as the Maya rain god Chac, Cocijo of the Zapotec of Oaxaca and the more famous Tlaloc of the Aztec. Tlaloc was thought to live on the top of the mountains, especially the ones always covered by clouds; and from there he sent the life giving rains. As the source of water from the sky, his benevolence was essential to successful crop cultivation, and hence to life itself which may explain his existence as central feature of central American iconography.
In the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, one of the two shrines on top of the Great Temple was dedicated to Tlaloc. The high priest who was in charge of the Tlaloc shrine was called "Quetzalcoatl Tlaloc Tlamacazqui." It was the northernmost side of this temple that was dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain and agricultural fertility. In this area, a bowl was kept in which sacrificial hearts placed on certain occasions, as offerings to the rain gods. Although Templo Mayor had its northern section dedicated to Tlaloc, the most important site of worship of the rain god was on the peak of Mount Tlaloc, a 4100-meter-high mountain on the eastern rim of the Valley of Mexico. Here the Aztec ruler came and conducted important ceremonies once a year, and throughout the year pilgrims offered precious stones and figures at the shrine. Many of the offerings found here also related to water and the sea, sources of life.
The evidence points to Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl being the duality that brought civilization to Mesoamerica, as the so called temple of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent) puts both in pride of place. The figurative representation of the two as life and death, with serpent as figurative death is demonstrated by the various iconography of the period.
Quetzalcoatl: from Nahuatl quetzalli, “tail feather of the quetzal bird [Pharomachrus mocinno],” and coatl, “snake”), Feathered Serpent. See:
While Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and his hunger, with his menacing teeth, piercing eyes and fangs, gets major play in the modern consciousness, and is the center of the pantheon as observed by the pyramids such as in Chichen Itza, Tlaloc is similarly transcultural, and has a few peculiarities that make him a fascinating study.
Tlaloc was not only highly revered, but he was also greatly feared. He could send out the rain or provoke drought and hunger. He hurled the lightning upon the earth and unleashed the devastating hurricanes. The Tlaloc, it was believed, could send down to the earth different kinds of rain, beneficent or crop-destroying. Certain illnesses, such as dropsy, leprosy, and rheumatism, were said to be caused by Tlaloc and his fellow deities. Although the dead were generally cremated, those who had died from one of the special illnesses or who had drowned or who had been struck by lightning were buried. Tlaloc bestowed on them an eternal and blissful life in his paradise, Tlalocan.
This is the standard description. The God is associated with the rains. The life-giver. In opposition to Quetzalcoatl. Given that the Aztec and Maya books were virtually all burnt, what we know of both Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc comes to us from the Relaciones, the Spanish documentary record, and the observed surviving archaeological record.
Tlaloc has many representations, with the goggles being the unifying feature which is quite evident in Tlaloc #1 and Tlaloc #2, and which feature is repeated in the Maya and Zapotec cultures. The wearing of goggles is not observed in any other archeological record in the Americas. How and why this feature was observed and depicted remains a mystery. However the idea came into being, the goggles are a universal trans-cultural feature.
Figure 1: This figure has a sort of "hipster" vibe, almost modern. It is a well known representation of Tlaloc in the Aztec pantheon. With goggles. And sedate, pensive, the opposite of menacing.
Figure 2: A more sober and older version of the deity. Again, always with very prominent goggles. And very sedate and sober. The appendages coming from the mouth are almost suggestive of a beard and is also associated with the destructive potential of the deity.
Close Up Of Relief, Chaac Mask Located On South Side Of The Observatory, Mayapan Yucatan. Here we have a vision of a deity with peculiar eyes, which is likewise mirrored in the Zapotec tradition.
Chaac is the Mayan equivalent of Tlaloc.
The Zapotec people flourished in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico; their primary city, or ceremonial site, was Monte Alban. As a rain god in an agriculturally based society, Cocijo was a major deity in Zapotec worship. He can be identified by his melon-shaped eyes, indented square lower eyelids, the band across his nose, and his bifurcated tongue protruding from open jaws. Urns in the form of figures like this are usually described as funerary, but, in fact, their function is unknown. Found in tombs by the thousands, urns as large and fine as this example are rare. The band across his nose is suggestive of eye wear, eyeglasses, the recurring memory of what may have been actual human being.
The fact that Tlaloc is the most universal of deities in ancient Mexico is of particular interest, as is the fact that he can be traced to Teotihuacan directly, suggestive of a very ancient cult indeed that like Quetzalcoatl may represent a memory of an actual human being.
The existence of source civilization that seeded the Americas and other parts of the world can only be inferred from surviving artifacts, observed technologies, or memories of out of place personages passed down to us as Gods who have characteristics of modernity inconsistent with their historical locus. Tlaloc is such a personality.