Aztec Calendar – Reed Trecena

The fifth trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Reed for its first numbered day, which is the 13th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Reed is Acatl, and it’s known as B’en in Yucatec Maya and Aj in Quiché Maya. For the Aztec, the reed was used to make arrows and darts, whence a military undertone in its significance. The day Reed is the symbol of personal authority and closely associated with rulers and potentates, and the patron of the day is the Black One, Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror, who is one of the most powerful deities. (See my Icon #19.) In the anatomical scheme, the day Reed is identified with the heart (as the seat of the soul and/or power). The symbol for the day Reed varies between a single arrow, a bunch of them, or an ornamented “potted” plant, which can be seen in the various tonalamatls below. One just has to get used to which symbol is being used, and there can be variation within individual codices.


There is total agreement that the patron of the Reed trecena is the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, the Jade Skirt, the deity of flowing water, rivers, streams, and lakes, as well as of youthful beauty and ardor, and her iconography is remarkably consistent. (See my Icon #2.) Every stream or lake had its own local chalchiuhtlicue. As goddess of storms and forces of nature, she’s dangerous, drowning people indiscriminately. With the day-name Ce Atl (One Water), she is patron of the number 3, women in labor, childbirth, children, and motherhood, and the 5th lord of the night.

Chalchiuhtlicue is commonly considered the wife of Tlaloc but also reputed to be the wife of Xiuhtecuhtli. From one or the other of those marriages, she supposedly became the mother of Tecciztecatl and the twins Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl, but keep in mind how dicey the family trees of the Aztec deities are. During the Third Sun, Four Rain, a millennium before the Aztecs, she may have been the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, though I’d personally vote for Xochiquetzal in that role. Meanwhile, Chalchiuhtlicue ruled the Fourth Sun—Four Water—until she ended it by drowning everybody in a flood. Certain of her purification rites struck Spanish clergy as similar to the sacrament of baptism, but that didn’t stop them from considering her a demon.

The Reed trecena possibly has a second patron deity, Tlazolteotl, Goddess of Filth (last seen in the Deer trecena). In Tonalamatl Yoal, she appears like an abstract logo as a surreal head with no eyes, and in Tonalamatl Aubin, Chalchiuhtlicue holds what might be her head. With no evidence of her in the other tonalamatls, who knows how important she really was in this context?


By Marguerite Paquin, author of “Manual for the Soul: A Guide to the Energies of Life: How Sacred Mesoamerican Calendrics Reveal Patterns of Destiny”

Associated with robust growing corn, the B’en trecena is aligned with strong self-determination and tenacious personal authority. Exhibiting great intensity, this trecena tends to generate events associated with significant social or political adjustment, often associated with “cleansing” or “purifying.” Individuals born during this period often have a strong sense of purpose and can become deeply involved with the world at large, with the force of their character or personal convictions forging new directions in terms of world-shifting or world-shaping. This is a good trecena for pushing forward towards one’s goals.

Further how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at Look for the B’en (Reed) trecena.


The Aztec Tonalpohualli, like the ancestral Maya calendar, is counted through the sequence of 20 named days of the agricultural “month” (vientena), of which there are 18 in the solar year. Starting with the 13th day of the current vientena, 1 Reed, this trecena completes it with 2 Jaguar, 3 Eagle, 4 Vulture, 5 Earthquake, 6 Flint, 7 Rain, and 8 Flower, and then starts the next vientena with 9 Crocodile, 10 Wind, 11 House, 12 Lizard, and 13 Snake.

The Reed trecena contains only one culturally significant day that I know of:

One Reed (Ce Acatl) is the birth day-name of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, Lord of the House of the Dawn, who’s a nagual of Quetzalcoatl as the Morning Star and a god of war. Some say he’s the patron of the number 12, though others say this is Ehecatl—which is just more of the nagual confusion. Some say he’s the god of the East, which would make sense—but others say Xipe Totec is the god of that direction. Not that any of that really matters… His greatest quality is having perhaps the longest name of any deity! The light of the morning star was considered very dangerous, and he’s depicted with “lightning eyes” attacking people and places.

As a historical footnote, One Reed was also the birth day-name of Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl, the mostly mythological ruler of Tollan (Tula) and the Toltec Empire in the 10th century. According to legends, he set sail eastward in a canoe, promising to return someday, which is what underlies the myth of Quetzalcoatl’s return that caused such confusion with the appearance of Cortez. After his reign, new rulers of Tollan used Quetzalcoatl as their name/title to ensure legitimacy.

Another important day in the trecena—significant only for me personally—is Eight Flower. It’s the day-name of my younger daughter. I’ve found out the day-names of everyone in my family so folks can enjoy more than one birthday each year. You can discover your own Aztec ceremonial day-name and a horoscopic reading by going to and entering your month, day, and year of birth. For instance, my own day-name is Two Reed, coincidentally the same as that of the god Tezcatlipoca, for whatever that may be worth.


Several of the surviving so-called Aztec codices (some originating from other cultures like the Mixtec) have Tonalamatl sections laying out the trecenas of the Tonalpohualli on separate pages. In Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin, the first two pages are missing; Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios are each lacking various pages (fortunately not the same ones); and in Codex Borgia and Codex Vaticanus all 20 pages are extant. (The Tonalpohualli is also presented in a spread-sheet fashion in Codex Borgia, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Cospi, but that format apparently serves other purposes.)


As described in my earlier blog The Aztec Calendar – My Obsession, some thirty years ago—on the basis of very limited ethnographic information and iconographic models —I presumed to create my own version of a Tonalamatl, publishing it in 1993 as Celebrate Native America!

For my tonalamatl so long ago, I drew Chalchiuhtlicue based on the only image I knew of her back then—from Codex Borbonicus—using more Nuttall regalia and clearing away the poor drowning victims in her jade skirt. As a nod to her role as a goddess of motherhood, I also gave her a suckling babe, which I lifted from a nursing figure in Codex Fejervary-Mayer, probably Xochiquetzal. Note that I adopted the “potted plant” form of the day-sign for Reed. All in all, if I do say so myself, I think my vision of the goddess is rather elegant.

Aztec Calendar – Reed trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

TONALAMATL BORGIA (re-created by Richard Balthazar from Codex Borgia)

Aztec Calendar – Reed Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

This Codex Borgia vision of Chalchiuhtlicue is by far the most elaborate and intricate of the several images of the Reed trecena. Besides her ornate clothing, she sports a double-serpent nose-piece and an earth-monster headdress frequently seen in other images of this goddess. That odd little head mounted on her forehead is an ancient symbol of divinity inherited from the Maya, a “war-butterfly,” which appears in the headdresses of many Aztec deities. The two green lines on her cheek/jaw are also identifying marks of Chalchiuhtlicue.

Note the curious twin-peaked coiffure on the little guy on the left; it must have some significance because we’ll see other examples below. Like the seductive One House in the Flower trecena, this little woman in the middle is topless. As the Aztecs didn’t believe in brassieres, they were prime candidates for a National Geographic spread on uncivilized natives. Even great goddesses like Tlazolteotl in the Deer trecena and Chalchiuhtlicue here let their breasts swing free. For the most part men wore loincloths, but many also wore skirts over them.

Now I should explain something about this “re-creation” process. Some of the codex images only survived in rough shape, scraped, flaked, torn, and even burnt! Re-creating the images from Codex Borgia meant dealing with lacunae as in this selection of the original Chalchiuhtlicue’s earplug and parts of her headdress, where whole details had to be re-created.

—————–Earplug Section —————————————- Section of Jade Skirt

Here’s my theory about interpreting original colors that have deteriorated over the several centuries. The lower parts of the feather spray on the upper right of the earplug section were originally a green now faded to a brownish gold easily distinguished from the “real” gold of decorative details. Similarly, I’ve assumed that most of the medium-to-lighter greys started out as various shades of blue that have darkened. It’s easy to recognize the “real” blacks.

Acting on this intuitive theory, I’ve re-imagined items seen in other contexts, and reviving the greens and blues certainly makes an impressive difference in her Jade Skirt. Meanwhile, the cochineal red (made from insects!) has only faded a bit. It would be interesting to learn the vegetable and mineral sources of the Aztec colors, especially of that splendid Borbonicus blue, but I’m content with re-visioning what they once were. Besides, someone somewhere knows.

TONALAMATL YOAL (compiled and re-created by Richard Balthazar on the basis of

Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Reed Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

In Tonalamatl Yoal, we find the most explicit evidence of Tlazolteotl as the secondary patron of the Reed trecena. I’ve used the facial outline from Rios. In the original Telleriano-Remensis, her head is only a free-floating mouth and nosepiece with the headdress.

This image of the Jade Skirt gets more explicit about the drowning danger, and here she holds a threatening blade of sorts in her right hand. In her left is a spindle of thread for weaving like those in Tlazolteotl’s headdress, which I take as corroboration of their connection for this trecena. After all, they sit side by side in the lords of the night sequence. I won’t ask why Chalchiuhtlicue’s face is red. But I will share my sneaking suspicion that these patron figures were made by a different artist than those in the preceding Yoal trecenas. Besides the intense abstraction of the head, the mouths are unusual with clenched teeth, and the Jade Skirt’s whole figure is stylistically much different. Though orthodox in her iconography and monumental in her own way, she’s not as dynamic or profusely ornate as other deities in Tonalamatl Yoal.


Tonalamatl Aubin patron panel for Reed trecena

As might be expected, the Aubin Chalchiuhtlicue is an awkward restatement of the Jade Skirt theme with two little folks being swept away in the flood. The item between them recalls the beaded band held by the woman in the Borgia panel, but it’s no more decipherable here. My guess is that the head she’s holding belongs to Tlazolteotl, and I’ll note that the floating items bear motifs like the head’s headband that recall the abstract head in Tonalamatl Yoal. The lack of ornamentation and symbolic items in the deity’s regalia is disappointing.


Codex Borbonicus patron panel for Reed trecena

This Borbonicus image of the Jade Skirt, while lacking the earth-monster headdress, does the goddess full justice with exuberant detail and that striking blue. Note her perfectly divine raiment in the Borgia panel as opposed to an entirely different style here. This Borbonicus goddess is arrayed in the kind of costume worn by a ceremonial impersonator of the deity—made largely of folded blue paper (origami!) with black spots of liquid rubber representing drops of water. The object in her lower left hand is most likely a rain-stick.

Again there are two little folks being washed away, one of whom has that twin-peaked coiffure noticed in Borgia, which must indicate a certain class. The shield probably intimates that she’s also a danger for soldiers. Again, my best guess is that the object in her skirt with a handle and feather-crest, also appearing in the upper right corner, must relate to Tlazolteotl. Note that here, as in the Yoal and Aubin images and in the following one from Vaticanus, Chalchiuhtlicue’s face is red. Maybe she’s angry?


Codex Vaticanus patron panel for Reed trecena

This Vaticanus image has lost a lot of the paler blue in the Jade Skirt, but it ties in closely with the Borgia image with the little woman and roped box, a string of beads, and the guy standing on the end with another twin-peaked hairdo! (Maybe he’s a priest?) I can’t make out what the item in the flood under her throne might be, but I’m happy to see the goddess wearing the typical earth-monster headdress. The box-like item at top center seems to be another version of the inexplicable plumed item in Borgia.

In summation, Chalchiuhtlicue is the undisputed patron of the Reed trecena, vague references to Tlazolteotl notwithstanding. The many stylistically consistent items in her panels must surely have a much larger story to tell, but I’m no divinatory authority to unpack it.



The next trecena will be that of Death with a pair of astronomical patrons who have a lot of dramatic back-story. Stay tuned!


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