Tlāloc: God of Rain
Tlaloc is known as the Aztec’s rain god in Aztec mythology.
He is both loved and feared, having both the ability to give life and to take it away. Knowledge and worship of Tlaloc are even older than the Aztecs, and he was a well-known Central American deity.
This article will cover the history of the Tlaloc, his mythology, and how despite his power, he still cared for his people.
Who is Tlaloc in Aztec mythology?
The Aztec god Tlaloc is a rain god, and his name comes from Nahuatl, meaning “He Who Makes Things Sprout.” Tlaloc’s name can be broken down into two words: tlali and oc. Tlali means ‘earth’, and oc means ‘something on the surface’. He began around the 3rd to 8th century AD and continued through the Aztec times of the 14th to the 16th century.
Because he’s so old, he has several names and a number of myths he’s involved in. He is one of the main gods in the Aztec pantheon, on a similar level to one of the sun gods, Huitzilopochtli.
Rain is a necessity for life, especially for agrarian cultures such as the Aztecs and the Mayans. A rain god is praised for the life-giving water they send down to earth that helps the plants to grow. But think also of the destructive nature of water and rain. Tlaloc had to also be appeased to avoid such danger.
Because of his importance to the Aztecs, he was celebrated in five months of their 18-month calendar. Celebrations, feasts, and rituals were done in his name to both revere and to appease him. Not only does Tlaloc send water down to earth. He also controls storm elements such as hail, thunder, and lightning.
He is often credited for droughts and diseases such as leprosy, dropsy, and rheumatism. Tlaloc’s powers were the ability to strike by lightning, kill by drowning, and more. If you were killed by one of these, then you could enjoy a blissful afterlife in Tlalocan. One of the rain god’s other roles is that he rules over this Aztec paradise.
Tlaloc & Other Gods
Tlaloc didn’t always work alone. He was also in charge of the Tlaloque, a group of other storm, rain, and mountain gods. These were sometimes called the ‘little Tlalocs’ or the Tepictoton. They would reside in Tlaloc’s holy mountain together. He was also connected to Chalchiuhtlicue. She is the goddess of earthly water. In some myths, they are married, and in others, they are simply siblings.
However, he is also said to have had two other wives. One was Xochiquetzal, the flower and fertility goddess. The other was Matlalcueitl, who was another rain goddess. Because of his life-giving abilities, Tlaloc was considered the god of earthly fertility. Earthly fertility is considered growth, like in agriculture. His wife/sister Chalchiuhtlicue, was a fertility goddess and the patron of newborns.
His plant representations were corn ears, which people kept in their houses. His animal representations and signs were the eagle, herons, amphibians, and snails.
Tlaloc’s Origin Story
Where did Tlaloc really begin? In Aztec mythology, he was “born” after Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli tore apart Cipactli. Cipactli was a crocodile-like monster that tore down creation as soon as the gods began to build it.
Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli had to seek out and trap the monster. Once they did, they tore it into four pieces. These pieces represent the four cardinal directions. Once Cipactli was torn in pieces, the gods freed the universe. Creation truly began, and Tlaloc sprung to life.
That is why Tlaloc also represents the four cardinal directions. Some images represent him as his power resides in four different sections. From each jar comes something, such as out of one jar comes rain but out of another comes drought and disease.
In some stories, he is also the lord over the third sun. The gods created five suns or five attempts to create the world. This world was unfortunately destroyed by fire, and then the fourth sun was built.
Rituals and Worship of the Aztec’s Rain God
Tlaloc was thought to reside in Mount Tlaloc. Later, some myths state that he resided in caverns. Caverns contain plenty of water and moisture to support the rain god. In Tlaloc’s case, he also was surrounded by wonderful treasures. But he was given a temple or a section of a temple in Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. He shared a temple with Huitzilopochtli. These temples were a part of the Templo Mayor pyramid.
The steps leading to this temple were blue and white, the blue, of course, representing water. Sacrifices could be left at this temple, such as jade, crystals, and human hearts. This temple was also called his ‘mountain abode’. But there was another temple or shrine on top of Mount Tlaloc. This revered mountain was forty-four miles away from Tenochtitlan. Priests could also travel there to make sacrifices. People often made pilgrimages there.
Tlaloc was such an important Central American deity. So much so that he was celebrated in five separate months of the calendar.
These months are:
- Atlcaualo, the first month
- Tozoztontli, the third month
- Etzalqualiztli, the sixth month
- Tepeilhuitl, the thirteenth month
- Atemoztli, the sixteenth month
Sacrifices to Tlaloc and His Festivals
In the first and third months, the priests would make child sacrifices. In Altcaualo, these sacrifices would either be performed on Mount Tlaloc or in Tlaloc’s temple. The children chosen for the sacrifices would be dressed in particular costumes, and then their hearts would be removed by the priests. Similar to other sacrifices to Aztec gods, if the child cried, the tears were a sign that rains would be heavy and would come soon. In Tozoztontli, the child sacrifices took place in caves instead of at the temple or on the mountain.
On the sixth month, the priests would bathe in lakes. They would imitate frogs and waterfowl to help bring rain. They would also often use “fog rattles” or ayauhchicauaztli, to encourage the rain to fall. In the thirteenth and sixteen months, small idols were made out of amaranth paste. They were killed ceremonially, following a similar ritual to human sacrifices. Then, they were eaten.
In Etzalqualiztli, the Aztecs worshipped and made sacrifices to ask for rain and to celebrate the change in seasons. Many made pilgrimages to Mount Tlaloc during this month. Both adults and children were sacrificed during this time.
Tlaloc was also worshipped during the Huey Tozotli festival. It is a festival and a celebration of the maize harvest. Even though Tlaloc was not the maize god, he was also often worshipped during this festival. This is mentioned in the Codex Borbonicus. Sometimes, priests would also travel to Mount Tlaloc during this time to provide him with sacrifices. Maize needs rain to grow and prosper, so appeasing the rain god was essential.
Journey to Tlalocan
If you died from one of the deaths that would grant you access to Tlalocan, then you would be buried. Cremation was the usual practice for the Aztecs. A piece of wood was placed in the burial space. Once you reached Tlalocan, it was thought that this piece of wood would bloom with flowers and leaves.
Mount Tlaloc: Where the Aztecs Worshipped the Aztec God of Rain
Mount Tlaloc is the highest peak in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It makes sense that the rain god was worshipped here. Much of the rain in the area was affected by this mountain range. At the top of this 4,100-meter mountain was the main shrine to Tlaloc. It was miles away from the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan. But even so, people made pilgrimages to this mountaintop a few times a year.
Human sacrifices were made and placed at this shrine. So were other sacrifices related to water. For example, precious stones or sea-related items. There are only certain times per year that the mountain is safe enough to climb. The Aztec ceremonies coincided with these times of the year.
Tlaloc’s Representations in Art
Some early artwork portraying Tlaloc shows him holding a lightning bolt. In other representations, he is paired with snakes. He has googled eyes, fangs, and his mouth may look like a corn cob. Even though he is a life-giving god, his image is a little bit fearsome. A stone Tlaloc statue stands at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. It might also be Chalchiuhtlicue, but it’s unclear.
The Tlaloc vessel is one discovery that portrays a similar image of Tlaloc. It is a painted clay jar, bluish and brown in color. He has wide eyes, fangs, and is wearing a mask. The fangs were intended to be similar to those of a jaguar. The Aztecs believed that the Jaguar’s growl sounded like thunder, thus they were given to the rain god.
In some images and descriptions of Tlaloc, he is said to have four jars at his disposal. Each jar represents the four directions. They could represent the Tlaloque as well and were said to be filled with different elements of a storm. This vessel could be the representation of one such jar.
Tlaloc’s Related Gods: The Aztecs Weren’t the First
Tlaloc is an Aztec name, and yet the god wasn’t originally Aztec. Just like the Romans had taken concepts and ideas from Greek mythology, so did the Aztecs. Tlaloc was one of the most commonly worshipped Central American deities.
Tlaloc could have been ‘taken’ from the Mayan god Chaac. A Mayan vessel was found which had images of Tlaloc on it. This vessel was thought to have been used to collect and hold sacrifices to the Mayan god of rain. It’s similar to others found in Tenochtitlan, excavated from Templo Mayor.
The Mayans linked their rain god, Chaac, to war and bloodshed, not just life-giving rain. Tlaloc’s images were also found on many of the Mayans ’ war-related art and other items. Other related gods to Tlaloc were Dzahui, a rain god for the Mixtec people, and the Olmec god IV.
Let’s sum up the main points about Tlaloc, the powerful rain god:
- Tlaloc is the Aztec god of rain. His Nahuatl name means, “He Who Makes Things Sprout”.
- He is well-known across Central America. He had similar representations in other Mesoamerican cultures and religions.
- He is one of the most prominent gods in the Aztec pantheon.
- He was born after Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilpochtli killed Cipachtli. That was the reptilian monster that kept tearing the earth apart.
- Tlaloc controlled the rain, and rain was a necessity for agrarian cultures. Because of this, the Aztecs worshipped him in five months out of their 18-calendar year.
- Both human and other sacrifices were made to Tlaloc throughout the year. Often, Tlaloc was worshipped through child sacrifices, and a child’s tears were evident that good rain was to come that year.
- Tlaloc had a shrine on Mount Tlaloc, forty-four miles away from Tenochtitlan. However, he also shared a temple in Templo Mayor along with Huitzilopochtli.
- Tlaloc was in charge of the Aztec paradise Tlalocan. If you died of water death or a disease related to Tlaloc such as leprosy, your soul would go to Tlalocan. You also weren’t cremated.
- In art, Tlaloc appears with wide eyes, jaguar fangs, and a corn cob mouth. The Tlaloc vessel is a perfect image of this, painted in blues and browns.
- Tlaloc is closely linked to the Mayan rain god Chaac as well as any other Mesoamerican gods. Their attributes and images are similar.
It makes sense that for the Aztecs, their rain god was one of the most important in their pantheon. It’s not every god that gets worshipped so many months out of the year. Rain was necessary for life and survival. If Tlaloc wasn’t happy, the whole of the Aztec people would have suffered as a result.
Therefore, sacrifices were made and celebrations were had in his name. Tlaloc has a confusing backstory with many different details depending on the myth one reads. But one thing is clear. Tlaloc brings rain and thus life with it.
He rules over the other storm gods and sends down water to the world below when it’s needed. He has one of the most important jobs of all the Aztec gods. His artistic representation is a little frightening, but it makes sense. He held much power. Behind Tlaloc is the power of the storm. He can give life, yet he can also take away.
And yet, this powerful god is also the lord of Tlalocan. Tlalocan was a peaceful paradise for those who die because of water or any of the diseases that are under his domain. This shows the image of a kind god who wants to bring prosperity and peace to his people.