Tezcatlipoca

QUESTION: Who was the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca?

ANSWER:

According to Aztec mythology, Tezcatlipoca (tes-cat-lee-poh-ka) was considered the god of magic and darkness. He was labeled the god of the nocturnal sky, temptation, sorcery, and war. In addition, he was known by several other names with meanings like Sower of Discord, Night, Wind, and He by whom we live.

The Aztecs believed he was a god of discord and deceit, often inciting riots and wars between peoples. He carried an obsidian smoking mirror to bewilder Aztec enemies, then leading them on a path to evil. It is told that his mirror gave off a smoke that could kill his enemies (bad people) or sometimes punish them with results of illness and poverty. On the flip side, this allowed the good people rewards of wealth and fame. The Aztecs said that at one’s birth, Tezcatlipoca determined and prophesied which destiny they would receive. It was also believed this god decided a child’s physical looks.

Tezcatlipoca was a strange looking being himself. He is shown with very black hair, and usually drawn or painted with a large black or black and yellow stripe across his face. He carried four arrows (signifying the four directions) for the punishment of man’s sins, a shield, and battle weapon, and wore twenty gold bells around his ankles. On his right foot he wore the hoof of a deer representing his great speed and agility. However, one myth claims Tezcatlipoca, along with his twin brother Quetzalcoatl, created the earth. In this myth of creation, it is said that he lost one of his feet to a sea creature; so many representations show him with only one foot. He is most often shown with much black while his twin is called the White Tezcatlipoca.

Tezcatlipoca was an all-important god to the Aztec people. One of his most revered attributes was the ability to shape-shift, usually into a jaguar. In celebration of this god, the Aztec held a feast each year to honor Tezcatlipoca during which a specially chosen young man would climb the stairs of the temple and then be sacrificed by the priest. To be chosen for such a task was considered to be a great honor.

Today a turquoise mask representing Tezcatlipoca can be seen in the British Museum. It is made of obsidian and greenstone mosaic on a human skull. It is believed to date between 1400 AD and 1521 AD. It reportedly came from Mexico and was donated to the museum by Henry Christy in the 1860s.

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