Aztec Calendar – Flint Trecena

The tenth trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Flint for its first numbered day, which is also the 18th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Flint is Tecpatl, and it’s known as Etz’nab’ in Yucatec Maya and Tijax (Knife-edge)in Quiché.

The day Flint portends great riches and pride but also destruction and punishment. It’s almost logically associated anatomically with the teeth. The usual day-sign (or glyph) for Flint is the sacrificial knife with a face, including teeth (fangs), and sometimes divine ornaments. The flint knife is personified (or deified) as a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, Itztlacoliuhqui,Curved Obsidian Blade, god of stone, cold, sin, and human misery, but also of objectivity and blind justice. (See vignette at top center in Icon #19, and the Blade will be met again soon as a patron of the 12th trecena Lizard.) The day Flint’s patron is Chalchiuhtotolin, the Jade Turkey (See Icon #3), also a nagual of Tezcatlipoca and patron of the power and glory of young warriors, particularly of the famous Jaguar Warriors of the Night. He’ll be seen later as patron of the 17th trecena Water, the “Turkey” in his name relating to the little known, brilliantly colored ocellated turkey.


A patron of the Flint trecena is Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Land of the Dead (Mictlan) the most prominent of several deities of death, 5th Lord of the Night, Lord of Number Six, and patron of the day Dog. (See Icon #10.) Images in Codex Magliabechiano show that the Death Lord’s worship involved ritual cannibalism. Counter-intuitively, in the Aztec view, skulls and skeletons were symbols of fertility, health, and abundance, a sentiment still evident in the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. Souls of those who die normal deaths (i.e., are not ritually commended to some god’s heaven), must climb eight hills and cross nine rivers in four days to reach Mictlan, an empty place of darkness. The owl (as a symbol of sorcery and the night) and vile insects like spiders and millipedes are closely associated with Mictlan.

Another patron of the trecena is Tonatiuh, god of the current Fifth Sun (Four Earthquake), whose visage reputedly glares from the center of the Stone of the Suns. (Also see him in Icon #16 in company with the lunar goddess Metztli.) In the creation of the Fifth Sun, a young god named Nanahuatzin leapt into the cosmic conflagration to become the sun (Tonatiuh). Lord of Number Four with a Quail as his totem bird, Tonatiuh rules the idyllic Fourth Heaven for the souls of heroes, warriors killed in battle, heart-sacrifices to ensure the continuation of the sun, and those dying in childbirth. I assume that means both babies and mothers, so the five warrior spirits, the dangerous Cihuateteo, probably dwell in the Fourth Heaven as well.


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

The theme of this trecena is Sacrifice and Separation. The symbols of knife, knife-edge, and flint represent the opening energies of this period, a time-frame tending to highlight sudden change. The flint’s dramatic sharpness and flashiness can manifest itself through “shocking” events, often involving conflict or dualities between opposing forces, as reflected by the trecena’s patrons (life-sun vs death-darkness). Although separation and difference is a strong theme at this time, these energies can also be the spark to initiate new thoughts or actions.

Further to how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at The Maya equivalent is the Etz’nab’ 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 18th day of the current vientena, 1 Flint, this trecena continues with 2 Rain, 3 Flower, 4 Crocodile, 5 Wind, 6 House, 7 Lizard, 8 Snake, 9 Death, 10 Deer, 11 Rabbit, 12 Water, and 13 Dog.

Again there are several important days in the Flint trecena:

One Flint (in Nahuatl Ce Tecpatl) is the ceremonial day-name of Huitzilopochtli, Hummingbird of the South, the principal god of the Aztec nation. It’s also an alternate day-name for Mixcoatl, the Cloud Serpent, a major deity of the Mixtec who retained much cultural and doctrinal independence from the imperial Aztec. For the official cult, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca were born of the creative pair Ometeotl on other days, but for another they were born on One Flint of the celestial goddess Citlalicue, the Star Skirt, as depicted in Plate 32 of Codex Borgia. As a year-name, in the Aztecs’ deep mythology/history One Flint was the first historic year when the Mexica came into power in Tenochtitlan and thus a symbol of their imperial destiny. In that function it appears near the center on the Stone of the Suns.

Four Crocodile (in Nahuatl Nahui Cipactli) is another of Xiuhtecuhtli’s ceremonial day-names (besides One Rabbit as noted in the Snake trecena).

Five Wind (in Nahuatl Macuil Ehecatl) is the Mixtec day-name of Tlaloc.

Nine Death (in Nahuatl Chicnahui Miquitztli) I read somewhere long ago was either the day-name of Mictlantecuhtli himself or of another important Death Lord. Whichever…

Thirteen Dog (in Nahuatl Mahtlactli Ihuan Yeyi Itzcuintli) in Maya mythology as 13 Ok was associated with the birth of their Maize God Hun Hunahpu. Even after several centuries, the Aztecs probably associated the day with their own maize god Centeotl. (See the Grass trecena.)


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!

When I made my version of the Flint trecena back around 1990, I didn’t know about Tonatiuh being another of its patrons and simply focused on Mictlantecuhtli. As usual in that uninformed time, I relied heavily on Codex Nuttall for image (and posture), working with regalia from various figures. At least I knew him as patron of the day Dog and invented an appropriately canine headdress. As Death Lords go, I think mine shows a good bit of skeletal glory.

Aztec Calendar – Flint trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar


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

Aztec Calendar – Flint trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

In this trecena, we encounter the sun-god Tonatiuh for the second time: He was the primary patron of the earlier Death trecena on the right side of the panel. There he wears vaguely different regalia and is in the classical “dancing” pose, but in both of these images his red face-paint pattern is the same. The main differences are in their pendants and the thematic flints in this one’s headdress. This one’s odd “flower” on a stalk must mean something about this trecena, and the unusual version of speech symbol (cuciatl) likely does too.

Here Tonatiuh is on the left side of the panel, but I don’t think that means he’s necessarily the “secondary” patron. Though on the right side, Mictlantecuhtli may not be really the “primary” patron. Considering the auguries of this trecena, these two deities probably share primacy, balanced as they are on the flint’s knife-edge of opposing forces.

As the only image of Mictlantecuhtli in the tonalamatl, this one is outstanding in its gruesome glory. I particularly love his medusa-like locks with stars which probably imply that he’s a Night Lord. The pointy thing in his headdress, his usual ornament, is almost irrelevant in view of his standard bare skull (with spots of rot). Besides the surreal eyes in the skull, the detail that really gives me the creeps is that long, pointy tongue! Less disturbing is the fountain of blood rising behind him. We’re all familiar with how bloodthirsty death is…

In general, the iconography of figures in Tonalamatl Borgia is superbly detailed, if often badly obscured by damage to the pages. The lower part of this page has suffered terribly; particularly the original details of Mictlantecuhtli’s jaguar throne are barely discernible. Consequently, this re-creation is improvised from the blurred confusion of splotches and lacunae. I settled on a combination of the Diaz & Rogers imagination and that in the anonymous facsimile, both of which came up with an inexplicable fat fish.

I can only guess at the fish’s significance: Maybe those other artists intended it to relate to the eerily similar stylized human heart in sacrifice scenes like that in Codex Magliabechiano, p. 133:

Heart-sacrifice Scene from Codex Magliabechiano

Viewing the area under high magnification, I can almost see the blur as a skull with gaping jaws like those of the Death Lord above, which would make sense since the Lord often sits on a skull or has one in his “bustle” (like mine above).

Such speculation aside, I won’t even guess at the meaning of the tasseled square figure and flag-like item with patterned piece that hang in front of Mictlantecuhtli. But the central scene is unmistakably a ritual sacrifice by drowning, tying right in with the trecena’s other theme of sacrifice. Both patrons watch with obvious approval of the ritual, but one wonders why.

The soul of the drowned sacrifice won’t be going either to Tonatiuh’s idyllic Fourth Heaven or to Mictlantecuhtli’s desolate Mictlan, but to the joyful Eighth Heaven of Tlaloc, Tlalocan. I suspect that the act of sacrifice itself goes to keeping the Fifth Sun up in the sky as well as to slaking the blood-thirst of Death. In this context, it’s tempting to suggest that as he’s Lord of Number Six, Mictlantecuhtli’s miserable Mictlan might actually be the Sixth Heaven, so to speak…


TONALAMATL YOAL (compiled and re-created by Richard Balthazar on the basis of
Codex Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Flint trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

In Codex Telleriano-Remensis, the left-hand page of the Flint trecena with Tonatiuh is missing, so this image is based solely on the Codex Rios copy which goes wild with his divine regalia. With the major sunburst on his back as an unmistakable identifier, he lacks Borgia’s red face-paint design, likely because in the Rios image his whole body is dark red. I’ve chosen a ruddy flesh tone to avoid losing detail in monochrome darkness and have changed only the awkward length of his arms and angle of his scepter, which may be a version of the Fire Serpent.

However, the right-hand pages with Mictlantecuhtli still exist in both codices, the original and copy being almost identical in detail of regalia, skeletal limbs, and partially hidden skull beneath. But in Telleriano-Remensis, there’s a skull in his “bustle,” and in Rios (as here) it’s a dog’s head to indicate the day of which he’s patron. The circular orange items may intend marigolds, which are still considered a flower related to the Underworld.

In this Yoal image, I’ve changed the Death Lord’s ghastly brown and black visages with skeletal jaws to give him the human face of his bust above (top row, fifth from left) as Lord of the Night since they already share many details of headdress. As I’ve discussed in a blog “The Faces of Death,” this “living” face of the Night Lord is a break with the iconographic tradition of his face being almost everywhere else a skull. Another unusual detail is his blue-peaked cap—for some reason just like that of Xiuhtecuhtli in the first and tenth positions.



Tonalamatl Aubin patron panel for Flint trecena

The patron deities in the Tonalamatl Aubin are the usual suspects—with a few differences from the preceding Flint trecenas. On the left, Tonatiuh has no throne and only a few red marks on his face, and part of the regalia on his back has been omitted, apparently for lack of space on the page. Oddly, he has only one arm… Tonatiuh now wears a recognizable pendant but has no other identifiers—except for the partial sun-symbol below. On the right, this Mictlantecuhtli also has a “living” face as well as fleshed-out limbs, and at least the pointy thing in his headdress is familiar. (I can’t imagine what the Aubin artist had in mind to make his left foot black.)

The central scene of sacrifice presents a curious variation. The victim clings to a “tree” of some ceremonial sort, apparently to eventually sink into the water and drown. I wonder why part of the “basin” was painted green and about that bundle beside it with someone’s hindquarters sticking out—quite puzzling. Even more puzzling are the two snakes, the brown living one with Tonatiuh and the clearly defunct white one under Mictlantecuhtli. But there’s no one to ask…


Codex Borbonicus patron panel for Flint trecena

The patron panel for the Flint trecena in Codex Borbonicus explicitly shows the ordeal nature of the drowning sacrifice. Here the victim clings to a smooth pole, possibly even a greased one, until sliding down into the water to provide an entertaining public spectacle. The attendant patrons “dance” in celebration of the ritual. This short-armed Mictlantecuhtli on the right has both skull and skeletal limbs, as well as a mop of dark hair with stars.

On the other hand, this Tonatiuh on the right isn’t as recognizable; his Fire Serpent scepter is no sure identifier. Rather than a sun-symbol, the semi-circular thing on his back looks more like that strange thing on Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli in the Snake trecena, but this one has an out-of-place skull on it. Even the semi-circle at top center isn’t a sun symbol, but one of the night, relating to the Night Lord Mictlantecuhtli. Apparently, the patrons are considered much less important than the central sacrifice scene.

Meanwhile, the profusion of other items in this panel suggests other considerations. Take for instance the vignette on the upper left of a person half-engulfed in some container, which harks back to the “packaged” body in the Aubin panel. When a motif appears again in separate situations, one has to assume that it has important symbolic significance—and when it’s repeated like the two blue creatures (also seen before) or the two pots of water. Those repetitive blue symbols around the pole of sacrifice surely aren’t there for gratuitous decoration, but I’m at a total loss for their meanings.

Note the little spear-bearer on the lower left. I’d bet he’s there to indicate the Flint trecena with his flint spearhead. However, I can’t explain the presence of that Venus-related scorpion over his head. It’s the same as the one with the Morning Star in the Snake panel. Has the Borbonicus artist gotten his dogmas mixed up? As a grace note, check out the little snake hovering over Tonatiuh’s head—reminiscent of that Aubin snake with him. But there’s no one to ask…


Codex Vaticanus patron panel for Flint trecena

The Codex Vaticanus patron panel for the Flint trecena is a slight rearrangement of what we saw in the Borgia panel, switching sides for the patrons but adding nothing new. The original panel was laid out with much wider spaces, squeezing off parts of Mictlantecuhtli’s regalia like what may have been another “pointy thing” in his headdress. For convenience and aesthetics, I brought the elements closer together and touched up several broken lines and blotched colors. Again, the central ritual sacrifice seems of exceeding importance, and once again the victim’s drowning is being graciously assisted. After all, his death will keep Tonatiuh turning in the sky, and Mictlantecuhtli will be happy to take his bones home to Mictlan.


This survey of the Flint trecena’s patron panels certainly corroborates Dr. Paquin’s main themes of sacrifice and separation and well illustrates canonical (if at times confused) iconography across the various codices. Stylistic differences ultimately don’t really matter all that much.



The calendar’s eleventh trecena will be that of Monkey, its patron being Patecatl, god of medicine as well as of intoxicants like pulque and psychedelic herbs. Stay tuned.


You can view all the calendar pages I’ve completed up to this point in the Tonalamatl gallery.

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