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In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli, also spelled Uitzilopochtli (pronounced: hwitsiloˈpoːtʃtɬi "Hummingbird('s) South", huitzilin being Nahuatl for hummingbird), was a god of war, a sun god, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan. He was a god of tremendous power who commanded terrible fear that had to be assuaged by human sacrifice. Today, he is a "dead god," i.e., he is not believed to be actively worshiped.[1]


The name literally means something like "Hummingbird('s) South" or "Hummingbird('s) Left", yet it has commonly been translated as "Southern hummingbird"[2] or "left-handed hummingbird". Despite the popularity of these latter interpretations, South-Hummingbird's name most probably does not mean "left-handed/southern hummingbird" considering that the Classical Nahuatl huītzilin ("hummingbird") is the modifier of ōpōchtli ("left-hand side") in this compound rather than the reverse;[3] there continues to be much disagreement as to the full meaning of this name.[4]

In the tlaxotecuyotl, a hymn sung in reverence to South-Hummingbird, he is referred to as: the Dart-Hurler, the divine hurler, and a terror to the Mixteca.[5]


According to Aztec mythology, South-Hummingbird's mother was Snake-skirt, and his father was a ball of feathers (or, alternatively, Mixcoatl). His sister was Malinalxochitl, a beautiful sorceress, who was also his rival. His messenger or impersonator was Paynal.

In one of the recorded creation myths, South-Hummingbird is one of the four sons of Bone Lord, he made the first fire from which a half sun was created by Feathered Serpent.

The legend of South-Hummingbird is recorded in the Mexicayotl Chronicle. His sister, Coyolxauhqui, tried to kill their mother because she became pregnant in a shameful way (by a ball of feathers). Her offspring, South-Hummingbird, learned of this plan while still in the womb, and before it was put into action, sprang from his mother's womb fully grown and fully armed. He then killed his sister Coyolxauhqui and many of his four hundred brothers. He tossed his sister's head into the sky, where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night. He threw his other brothers and sisters into the sky, where they became the stars.[6]

History and myth

South-Hummingbird was a tribal god and a legendary wizard of the Aztecs. Originally he was of little importance to the Nahuas, but after the rise of the Aztecs, Tlacaelel reformed their religion and put South-Hummingbird at the same level as Feathered Serpent, Tlaloc, and Smoke-and-mirrors, making him a solar god. Through this, South-Hummingbird replaced Nanahuatzin, the solar god from the Nahua legend. South-Hummingbird was said to be in a constant struggle with the darkness and required nourishment in the form of sacrifices to ensure the sun would survive the cycle of fifty-two years, which was the basis of many Mesoamerican myths. While popular accounts claim it was necessary to have a daily sacrifice, sacrifices were only done on festive days. There were eighteen especially holy festive days, and only one of them was dedicated to South-Hummingbird.

Every fifty-two years, the Nahuas feared the world would end as the other four creations of their legends had. Under Tlacaelel, Aztecs believed that they could give strength to South-Hummingbird with human blood and thereby postpone the end of the world, at least for another fifty-two years.

The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan was dedicated to South-Hummingbird and Tlaloc because they were considered equals in power. Sixteenth century Dominican Friar Diego Durán wrote, "These two gods were always meant to be together, since they were considered companions of equal power." [7] The Great Temple consisted of a pyramidal platform, on top of which were twin temples. The left one was South-Hummingbird's, and the right one was Tlaloc's.

According to Miguel León-Portilla, in this new vision from Tlacaelel, the warriors that died in battle and women who died in childbirth would go to serve South-Hummingbird in his palace (in the south, or left). From a description in the Florentine Codex, South-Hummingbird was so bright that the warrior souls had to use their shields to protect their eyes. They could only see the god through the arrow holes in their shields, so it was the bravest warrior who could see him best. From time to time, those warriors could return to earth as butterflies or hummingbirds.

Tenochtitlan mythic origins

There are several legends and myths of South-Hummingbird. According the Aubin Codex, the Aztecs originally came from a place called Aztlan. They lived under the ruling of a powerful elite called the "Azteca Chicomoztoca". South-Hummingbird ordered them to abandon Aztlan to find a new home. He also ordered them never to call themselves Aztec; instead they should be called "Mexica." South-Hummingbird guided them through a long journey. For a time, South-Hummingbird left them in the charge of his sister Malinalxochitl, who, according to legend, founded Malinalco, but the Aztecs resented her ruling and called back South-Hummingbird. He put his sister to sleep and ordered the Aztecs to leave the place. When she woke up and realized she was alone, she became angry and desired revenge. She gave birth to a son called Copil. When he grew up, he confronted Huitzilpochtli, who had to kill him. South-Hummingbird then took his heart and threw it in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Many years later, South-Hummingbird ordered the Aztecs to search for Copil's heart and build their city over it. The sign would be an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a precious serpent. The Aztecs finally found the eagle, who bowed to them, and they built a temple in the place, which became Tenochtitlan.

There are different versions of this encounter, but generally the eagle is told to have been eating a snake. This image is seen on the flag of Mexico.


In art and iconography, South-Hummingbird was represented as a hummingbird (or with just the feathers of such on his head and left leg), a black face, and holding a scepter shaped like a snake and a mirror. In the great temple his statue was decorated with cloth, feathers, gold, and jewels, and was hidden behind a curtain to give it more reverence and veneration.

According to legend, the statue was supposed to be destroyed by the soldier Gil González de Benavides, but it was rescued by a man called Tlatolatl. The statue appeared some years later during an investigation by Bishop Zummáraga in the 1530s, only to be lost again. There is speculation that the statue still exists in a cave somewhere in the Anahuac Valley.


Diego Duran described the festivities for South-Hummingbird. Panquetzaliztli (7 December to 26 December) was the Aztec month dedicated to South-Hummingbird. People decorated their homes and trees with paper flags; there were ritual races, processions, dances, songs, prayers, and finally human sacrifices. This was one of the more important Aztec festivals, and the people prepared for the whole month. They fasted or ate very little; a statue of the god was made with amaranth (huautli) seeds and honey, and at the end of the month, it was cut into small pieces so everybody could eat a little piece of the god. After the Spanish conquest, cultivation of amaranth was outlawed, while some of the festivities were subsumed into the Christmas celebration.

According to the Ramirez Codex, in Tenochtitlan circa sixty prisoners were sacrificed at the festivities. Sacrifices were reported to be made in other Aztec cities, including Tlatelolco, Xochimilco, and Texcoco, but the number is unknown, and no currently available archeological findings confirm this.

For the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, dedicated to Tlaloc and South-Hummingbird, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed about 20,400 prisoners over the course of four days. While accepted by some scholars, this claim also has been considered Aztec propaganda. There were 19 altars in the city of Tenochtitlan.

See also


  2. aunque el término ha sido traducido habitualmente como 'colibrí zurdo' o 'colibrí del sur', existe desacuerdo entorno al significado ya que el ōpōchtli 'parte izquierda' es el modificado y no el modificador por estar a la derecha, por lo que la traducción literal sería 'parte izquierda de colibrí', ver por ejemplo, F. Karttunen (1983), p. 91
  3. In Nahuatl, as in English, compound nouns are composed of a head preceded by modifying nominals, and thus Huītzilōpōchtli does not mean "Hummingbird of the South/Left" any more than the English word "hummingbird" means "humming of the bird".
  4. Karttunen, Frances (1992). An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 91. ISBN 0-8061-2421-0. 
  5. Brinton, Daniel (1890). Rig Veda Americanus. Philadelphia. pp. 16. 
  6. South-Hummingbird
  7. (Diego Durán, Book of Gods and Rites)


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External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Huitzilopochtli. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.