Aztec Gods of the Directions

For the past three weeks I’ve backed off from writing on my next memoir and working on the next Aztec icon (Quiahuitl, God of Rain). Irresponsibly wasting my creative time on a project shelved about thirty years ago, I goofed off by finally wrapping up my Aztec calendar playing cards which I call Tonalli (Days).  Basically, it was a three-week working vacation.

The Aztec Turquoise Year or tonalpohualli (count of days) is based on four sets of thirteen, quite but not quite like the suits of thirteen in a regular 52-card deck.  The difference is that the calendar has eight intersecting suits, which blows standard poker probabilities out of the water.  The other four suits are color-based for the four cardinal directions:  red—East; black—North; white—West; and blue—South.  The four intersecting suits are defined by the patron god of each direction.

Please read the following proposal for a direction-based deck of cards with the understanding that it has now been superseded in my plans by a new more comprehensive system with a slightly expanded design. Someday I may have time to produce it.

The intersection of suits is created by the Aztecs’ curious system of counting the days across the suits. It’s like counting:  One Club, Two Diamonds, Three Hearts, Four Spades, Five Clubs, Six Diamonds, etc.  If that doesn’t compute for you, try laying out a standard deck in those four sequences, and you’ve got four more suits.  If that’s not clear, I’m sorry.  I can’t explain it any better.

The Four Tonalli Aces

Taken from Codex Laud, the twenty day-signs have only been slightly color-adjusted. Aztec numerals are simply the respective number of dots, so the single dot means “Ace.”  The deuce has two dots, etc.  There are no “face” cards, just elevens, twelves, and thirteens.

So, after a mere thirty years it would seem that my work here is done. If anybody out there would like to produce this unique deck of cards and merchandise/market it, grab that ball and run with it.  You’re welcome to it.  I’ve got plenty other Aztec fish to fry (icons to draw).  Just let me know at

Unfortunately, various scholarly sources disagree as the assignment of gods to the directions. However, I’ve arbitrarily chosen one interpretation for this project. Since the images on the above cards are so small, here are larger versions of the directional gods I’m using:

Aztec Gods of the Directions

Tezcatlipoca is in the style of Codex Borgia and only slightly reworked from my earlier version in the book Celebrate Native America. The other three are adapted from Codex Borbonicus.  You can check out the deities’ descriptions in my YE GODS! encyclopedia.

In another way, these directional deities form a sort of divine quartet. Tezcatlipoca, The Black One, was perhaps the ‘greatest,’ as the other three were often seen as his manifestations.  Per the traditional colors of the directions, Xipe Totec was called the Red Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl the White Tezcatlipoca, and Huitzilopochtli the Blue Tezcatlipoca.

Speaking of the White Tezcatlipoca, I’ve taken the liberty of colorizing Quetzalcoatl (image from my Aztec Icon #14) as a blond, bearded individual because there are legendary rumors to that effect. Curiously, beards aren’t all that unusual in Aztec iconography, and in the ancient codices one sees many shades of skin color, including black, and various physiognomies, which may indicate a mix of races in the early Mexican population.  An intriguing proposition.


One thought on “Aztec Gods of the Directions

  1. Hello , mexican here, i appreciate the time you took to take on this subject. i have a few observations: the myth about Quetzalcóatl being a white man was a concept introduced by spanish priests that got to make the codex and the conquest written story as mexicas used to have no written stories and their language was spoken, not wrote, its also believe dthat the concept was introduced to help with the conversion of the locals into christianity , to make Quétzaclcoatl, a god that refused human sacrifices and exchangeable figure with Christ, this was also introduced to make Tonatzin in the the virgin fo Guadalupe.

    The symbols of their heroglyphs worked a bit like kanji, unifying symbol, sounds and concepts into one. Most of their books were burnt by spaniards while the ones we studied today got to be tampered with by the vision of the interloper.

    Its currently believed that when people referred to a white man, they meant chalk white, just like Tezcatlipoca was meant to be charcoal black with yellow stripes. On the other hand, Tezcatlipoca wasn´t the major god, and no, the other Tezcatlipcoas weren´t his other forms of representations, in the Mexica myth, which took a lot from previous legends from Toltects and Teotihuacan stories, took the four gods as brothers, sons of the original god-goddess Ometeotl. Some investigators believe that the four gods share the name Tezcatlipoca because of the nahuatl word: tezcatl- meaning mirror or shinning surface, refering to their capacity of representing structural concepts tied to the 4 direction, like their color, principles and specific days and practices.

    thank you again for all this investigation and artwork and please don´t see my comment as a harsh critique but as a conversation.

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