published on 21 August 2013
Tláloc (pron. Tla-loc), one of the most important and formidable gods in the Aztec pantheon, was considered the god of rain, water, lightning and agriculture. He was seen as both a benevolent god providing life-giving rain but also as an unforgiving and destructive deity when he sent storms and drought. In the Aztec Creation myth Tláloc was ruler of the 3rd Sun, he was linked to Mázatl (Deer) the 7th day, his calendar equivalent was 9 Océlotl - the Jaguar, he was number 8 of the 13 Lords of the Day and ninth Lord of the Night and his animal sign was the eagle.
The name Tláloc derives from the Nahuatl words tlali meaning ‘earth’ and oc meaning ‘something on the surface’. However, the origins of the god are probably much earlier as he shares many similarities with the Olmec God IV and the Mayan God B or Chac. In the various Mesoamerican cultures Tláloc appears as Dzahui for the Mixtec, Tajίn for the Totonac, Chupithripeme for the Tarascan and Cocijo for the Zapotec.
Born during the Creation when Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilpochtli (or in some versions Tezcatlipoca) dismembered the reptilian monster Cipactli, Tláloc was associated with any meteorological conditions connected with water such as rain, clouds, storms, floods, lightning, snow, ice, and even droughts.
Tláloc also had four particular manifestations as the four colours and the four cardinal directions, collectively known as the Tlálocs who included Nappatecuhtli, the creator of trade tools and hunting weapons and Opochtli, the patron of Chalco. In a colourful image, Tláloc was believed to have close at hand four giant jars, each one representing the cardinal directions. From the jar of the East Tláloc gave out the rains so essential for life whilst from the other jars the god dispensed the terrible scourges of drought, disease and frost so deadly for mankind and crops. Alternatively, rain was thought to come when the Tlálocs used sticks to smash the water jars which were inside mountains. Indeed, the sound of thunder was believed to be the noise made when these water jars were smashed.
Associated with mountains, Tláloc was also considered the ruler of the Tlaloque - a motley group of rain, weather and mountain gods (the latter known specifically as ‘little Tlálocs’ or Tepictoton) - along with his sister Chalchiúhtlicue (or in some versions his wife or mother), herself a goddess of rivers, oceans and floods. Tláloc also had two wives: first Xochiquetzal the flower and fertility goddess but when she was abducted by Tezcatlipoca he took a second, Matlalcueitl, another rain deity.
Worship & Ritual
At the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán two twin temples were set up on the Templo Mayor pyramid, one dedicated to the great god Huitzilopochtli (representing the dry season) and the other to Tláloc who was given equal status. The monumental steps leading to Tláloc’s temple were painted blue and white, the former colour representing water, the element so strongly associated with the god. The god’s temple was on the north side of the pyramid and marked the summer solstice and wet season. Inside the pyramid offerings have been found connected to the sea such as coral, shells and sea-life. Tláloc also had a mountain temple outside Tenochtitlán impressively situated on the top of the 400 metre plus Mt Tláloc.
The god was especially worshipped in the months of Atlcahualo (the 2nd or 1st month in the Aztec solar calendar), Tozoztontl (4th or 3rd) and Atemoztli (the 17th or 16th) when he was offered flowers. More sinister offerings to appease the god and win his favour were sacrificial victims, including children, whose tears were seen as a favourable sign and linked to drops of rain from Tláloc himself. Corn ears and stalks were also kept in private homes and revered as representative of Tláloc in his guise as a fertility god.
Tláloc was also believed to rule the other-worldly paradise of Tlalocán where victims of floods, storms and diseases such as leprosy were received after death. The deceased were buried rather than the customary cremation and interred with a piece of wood which was believed to sprout leaves and flowers once the person had entered Tlalocán. In later Postclassical Mexico Tláloc was believed to live in caves which were suitably damp for a rain god but also filled with magnificent treasures.
Representations in Art
The earliest representations of Tláloc in art belong to 1st century BCE vases from Tlapacoya where the god wields a lightning bolt. The earliest depictions in architecture date to the 2nd and 3rd century CE at Teotihuacán. At the great Pyramid of Quetzalcóatl at Teotihuacán stone images of Tláloc alternate with that of Quetzalcóatl along the tiers on several levels. One of the most imposing representations of the god (although it may also be his sister Chalchúhtlicue) must be the gigantic stone statue now residing outside the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
As with many of the most important Mesoamerican deities Tláloc is commonly depicted in the company of snakes. He most often has goggled eyes and large fangs like a jaguar as, for example, in the famous 15th century CE vase now in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. In sculpture, especially stone, Tláloc’s mouth may be in the form of a volute or a corn cob symbolising how important the god’s life-giving rain was to Mesoamerican agriculture.
- David Jones. Mythology of Aztec & Maya. Southwater, 2007.
- Kay Almere Read. Mesoamerican Mythology. Oxford University Press, USA, 2002.
- Mary Ellen Miller. An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. Thames & Hudson, 1997.
- Mary Ellen Miller. The Art of Mesoamerica. Thames & Hudson, 2012.
- National Geographic. National Geographic Essential Visual History of World Mythology. National Geographic, 2008.