An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aztec Deities

by Richard Balthazar

 Click here to view or download THE AZTEC PANTHEON.

Or click here for THE AZTEC ICONS, new icons inspired by the codices.

Or click here for THE AZTEC CODICES, an illustrated commentary on the Aztec Picture-Books

The Aztec pantheon is probably larger, more diverse, and flat-out scarier than that of any other culture in the world. Indeed, the Hindus have a few dozen deities, including fairly weird ones, and the Egyptians kept a veritable divine zoo, but the Aztecs worshipped hundreds of divinities, many right up there with your worst nightmares. In that pinnacle civilization of the pre-Columbian Americas, the uniquely human propensity to personify (whether singly or multiply) the natural, the divine, the ineluctable, and/or the supernatural, ran hog wild.

For the Aztecs, almost every aspect of the world, nature, and human life had a deity in charge of it for good or ill, and usually for both. They saw the dichotomy of what we call good and evil as more of a balancing act not of opposites, but of complementary parts in the whole, like yin and yang. That cosmic balance had to be maintained by propitiating the deities with sacrifices, human or otherwise, and some gruesome penitential practices I haven’t the intestinal fortitude to mention. Squeamish they were not.

The Aztec deities, whom they largely adopted from the broad Mexican mythology, are a fascinating crowd of inter-related, extreme personalities involved in a violent soap-opera of creation/destruction, love/strife, and life/death that makes the gods of Olympus look like total wimps. Perhaps the confusing dramas, frequent aliases, and surreal images are due to the fact that the Mexicans and their deities indulged in psychoactive drugs like alcoholic pulque, peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and many other psychedelic herbs.

About those aliases, many of the deities often represented different manifestations of each other, not unlike the notion of the bodhisattva, a phenomenon they called the nagual {na-gwal} embodying specific aspects of divine influence.

To pronounce the tongue-twisting names, here are some general pointers about the Nahuatl language:

1) The stress is always on the penultimate (next to last) syllable.

2) The letter ‘h’ is much more heavily aspirated than in English.

3) The letter ‘x’ is pronounced ‘sh’ as in ‘show.’

4) The letter ‘tł’ is a ‘t’ released laterally (at the sides of the tongue like an ‘l’)—and rather noisily.  For instance, the Aztec word ‘atł’ (water) is only one syllable.

5) The letter ‘c’ before ‘i’ or ‘e’ is an ‘s;’ ‘ch’ is like English ‘ch;’ and otherwise it’s a ‘k.’

The illustrations in this deity-based encyclopedia of Mexican mythology (as well as culture and history) are cited from the relatively few (15) surviving Pre-Conquest codices (picture-books). Some come from the Mixtec and other cultures and share deities and religious traditions inherited from the distant past of the Toltec, Teotihuacan, and the Maya.  They are our only documentary evidence from that lost world.  Everything else, all their graphic arts and literature, including the royal library of the poet-king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, was piously burnt by Fray Juan de Zumarraga as “devil-books.”

These fifteen historical documents can be viewed in entirety online thanks to the British Museum and to an organization called Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies (FAMSI):

Codex Becker: FAMSI:

Codex Bodley: FAMSI:

Codex Borbonicus: FAMSI:

Codex Borgia (reconstruction):  British Museum:

Codex Borgia (original):  FAMSI:

Codex Cospi: FAMSI:

Codex Fejervary-Mayer: FAMSI:

Codex Laud: FAMSI:

Codex Magliabechiano: FAMSI:

Codex (Zouche-)Nuttall: British Museum:

Codex Rios (Codex Vaticanus 3738 A): FAMSI:

Codex Selden: FAMSI:

Codex Telleriano-Remensis: FAMSI:

Codex Tonalamatl Aubin (facsimile):  FAMSI:

Codex Vaticanus 3773 b: FAMSI:

Codex Vindobonensis: British Museum:

Several of the deities listed in the encyclopedia were only attested in the post-Conquest Florentine Codex (“General History of the Things of New Spain”) by Bernardino de Sahagún and his contemporary informants in 1577. Many may be alternate or regional spellings, and specific images may not be identifiable in the pre-Conquest codices.  An English/Nahuatl version with b/w illustrations is available online, digitized by Google from the University of Michigan Library at:

For its vast wisdom and the occasionally questionable advice of some of its sources, I’m tremendously grateful to Google Images for identification of many of the deities.





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