Totems of the Aztec Lords of the Day

In Aztec culture, notions of time are central and perhaps inordinately important in terms of fate. Life was embedded in and permeated by strict divisions of divinatory time, starting with the agricultural and ceremonial calendars, in which respectively the 20 named days of the “month” were counted in 13 numbered days of the “week” (trecena). The basic division of the day was, of course, between day and night (with Cipactonal as god of the daytime and Oxomoco as goddess of the nighttime). This is where things get strange from our modern perspective.

Having no clocks per se, the Aztecs decided there were 13 “hours” in the daytime and 9 in the night. Probably with only an amorphous measure for a “minute,” I doubt they even thought about an Aztec “second.” Their 22-hour diurnal cycle meant their hour was in our terms almost 65½ minutes long. Thus their day lasts 14.18 and night 9.82 of our hours. It would be interesting to compare those figures with average periods of light and dark at the latitude of Mexico City.

Anyway, there’s a deity in charge of each day of the week, 13 gods or goddesses called Lords of the Day. With significant exceptions, most Lords are also considered patrons of their specific numbers, and though I’ve not seen any references to this, I’d bet that the same Lords rule the respective 13 daytime hours.

I say this because the 9 nighttime hours have rulers. The nine Lords of the Night are (in order): Xiuhtecuhtli, Itztli, Piltzintecuhtli, Centeotl, Mictlantecuhtli, Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlazolteotl, Tepeyollotl, and Tlaloc. (You can look them up in my Aztec Pantheon.) Surely the daytime hours were also ruled in order by the Lords of the Day. However, sources disagree about the ruling deities for some of the numbers/days.

What we do know for sure is the totems for the Lords of the Day (whoever they really are) and their connection to specific numbers. These totems are called in the jargon “volatiles” because they’re things that fly: birds and a butterfly. (Apparently other deities also have volatiles, like the bat or vulture of Itzpapalotl, but I’m not all that up on the finer details of Aztec ornithology.) Here are my versions of the volatile totems for the 13 Lords of the Day, days of the week, and I extrapolate, daytime hours—drawn on models from Codex Borgia.

Totems of the Lords of the Day

It could be fun chasing down the exact species of Totems 1 through 4: There are simply scads of hummingbird, hawk, and quail types in Mexico—and several eagles for Totems 5 and 8. I like seeing the Screech and Horned Owls differentiated and the distinctive Turkey, Macaw, Quetzal and Parrot. That Butterfly (Totem 7) has to be the most unusual one I’ve ever seen. Is there a lepidopterist in the house?

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