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QUESTION: Who was Huitzilopochtli?


Huitzilopochtli (or “hummingbird”) was the chief god of the Aztecs and was called their god of war. According to legend, it was Huitzilopochtli that urged them to leave their original homeland and led them to the Mexico Valley region. It is believed that when they left the area of what is now the southwestern U.S., they nomadically migrated south and reached the region where they built the city of Tenochtitlan. On this site, they made and artificial island that now stands in the center of today’s Mexico City.

When they first arrived in the area, they saw an eagle perched on top a cactus, eating a snake. This sighting fulfilled a prophecy indicating that this is where they should stay. It was a sign from the god Huitzilopochtli. The famous vision is still depicted on the national seal of Mexico.

Huitzilopochtli was a fierce god who used the “serpent of fire” (the sun’s rays), to destroy his enemy siblings, the moon and stars. So as the battles of day and night continued, the Mexica (Aztec people) recognized his victories over darkness with each new sunrise. However, to keep this warring god appeased in their behalf, they had to continually feed his insatiable appetite for the hearts of human sacrifices. This was believed to sustain him for each new day’s battle.

The Mexica built a great temple on the Pyramid in Tenochtitlan in his honor. At its completion ceremonies, it is said that more than 20,000 human sacrifices were offered in a four day celebration. The victim’s heads were strung as trophies on the ‘great rack’ (called Tzompantli) in the village below the temple.

As he was the most elevated and celebrated of all Aztec gods, Huitzilopochtli was deified in every aspect of their daily lives. An image was carved of wood, portraying Huitzilopochtli with a blue forehead and a gold headdress shaped like the long narrow beak of a hummingbird. The headdress was decorated with long beautiful feathers of green. He carried four arrows and a serpent -- like blue staff. The entire image was covered with jewels of jade, turquoise, and gold, while his wrist and feet were adorned with countless gold bracelets. His face was painted with blue stripes and his hair was made of eagle feathers.

The legend of Huitzilopochtli tells the story of his mother being shamefully impregnated with him by a ball of feathers. This is why his siblings were determined to kill their pregnant mother; instead, the story says Huitzilopochtli was born full-grown and came out fighting. He was born to battle and became revered as the national god of the Aztecs. He was a god of war, the sun god, the god of death, and a fearsome guide for all journeys of the Mexica.

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