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.

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

Since the images on the above cards are so small, here are larger versions of the directional gods:

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.


Aztec Icon #11 – OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

At long last –Aztec Icon #11: OCELOTL, Lord of the Animals.  In the midst of other projects and family stuff, it’s taken me all summer to finish this icon for the coloring book YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS.  Not for lack of effort but the enormous amount thereof.  Actually I’d already done the jaguar rampant a couple years ago, my first drawing directly to digital.  Thanks to my freeware graphics program GIMP, in rendering this boggling Mesoamerican zoo, I’ve discovered almost godlike powers over pixels.  But I try to be a beneficent deity.

The vast amount of effort came first in locating historical images of creatures in the ancient codices for stylistic models. Those I couldn’t find had to be drawn from photographed nature.  Actually, my iconic jaguar is a departure from Aztec style in its naturalistic treatment.  While there are many jaguars in the codices, in my opinion they all look too “cartoonish” to make an impressive deity.  Besides, I liked the challenge of creating the pelt pattern for the little Jaguar Knights in the Chalchiuhtotolin icon.  The regalia indicates the creature’s divine nature, and the wavy fork at its muzzle is the symbol of its howl.

Please note the large “dots” at each corner of the icon. They are the Aztec number four, and this is the calendrical day-name Four Jaguar, the First Sun (World) in the Mesoamerican cosmological sequence.  That very first YE GODS! icon of Atl was the day-name Four Water, the Fourth Sun, and the fifth icon of Ehecatl was the day-name Four Wind, the Second Sun.  You’ll have to wait a bit for the third and fifth Suns later in this series.

Ocelotl is lord of all animals:  those belonging to Huixtocihuatl, Lady of Salt (Goddess of the Sea on the upper left); those belonging to Tlaltecuhtli, the hermaphroditic Lord of the Earth (on upper right); and those of the air ruled by Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent (at top).

The split circle over the deity’s head is the traditional symbol of day and night, showing its lordship over diurnal and nocturnal animals, the jaguar itself being nocturnal. The eagle to the left represents the Aztecs’ main god Huitzilopochtli as the sun at midday, and my very own “batterfly” on the right is Itzpapalotl, Goddess of the Night Sky, who was often depicted as butterfly, bat, and/or bird.

Ocelotl is also lord of the strange animal Man, as can be seen in the vignette at the bottom depicting the legendary creation of man from a primordial tree as shown in Mixtec codices.

By the way, I’ll note that the Aztecs adopted most of their cosmology and “religion” from the peoples living then and earlier in central Mexico like the Mixtec, Zapotec, Huastec, Toltec, etc., etc.—as had they from the even more ancient Teotihuacan and Maya. In the long history of Mesoamerican civilizations, their underlying myths have mostly been related, even inherited.

Ocelotl, the Jaguar, is a mythology from deep in history. The earliest (in Mesoamerica) Olmec famously revered the Jaguar (jaguar-headed babies?), and may have named the day in the calendar for it.  Or maybe not.  Elsewhere I’ve suggested that the Mesoamerican calendar could have come from South America, from the even earlier Chavín civilization, and curiously, the Jaguar-Man was also a prominent feature of that culture.  Just saying…  Deep history.

Some other notes on my Mexican menagerie: I can’t even identify some of the animals or birds, especially the silly little bugs.  That odd creature at the end of the deity’s tail is the salamander called in Nahuatl axolotl.  My Monarch butterfly (center left, just above the stunning Turkey) is geographically appropriate, as are my several other nature drawings of Mexican fauna, including the quetzal birds (top right).  Don’t overlook the Xoloitzcuintli, national dog of Mexico, at the Jaguar’s left foot.  Can you identify any more of the critters in this montage?

(You can still see or download the previous ten icons in the YE GODS! series by clicking on them in the list on the page for the coloring book.)


(Lord of the Animals)

To download this icon as a pdf file with a page of caption and model images from the Aztec Codices, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can also download it in freely sizable vector drawings from the coloring book page.

OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

OCELOTL (Jaguar), Lord of the Animals

OCELOTL {o-se-lotł} (Jaguar) is the Aztecs’ deity of all animals of land, sea, and air. It is a nagual of the god TEZCATLIPOCA who created the First Sun, Nahui Ocelotl (Four Jaguar), a world peopled by giants who were devoured by divine jaguars.  Ocelotl, the 14th day of the month, was usually a lucky day, but anyone born on the day Ce Ocelotl (One Jaguar) was destined for sacrifice to one god or another.  OCELOTL is patron of scouts and warriors, and the elite corps of warriors of the night were known as the Jaguar Knights.  Ever since the Maya, in Mesoamerica jaguar pelts in shades of tawny gold to white were the sacred possessions of priests and royalty.


Huixtocihuatl and Mictlancihuatl, Aztec goddesses

No, I haven’t been on vacation since the middle of May. Well, actually I did go away with family for a week at the beginning of July to a beach house in Galveston.  Just a week though.  Otherwise I’ve been making good progress on the eleventh icon (Ocelotl-Jaguar) for my YE GODS! coloring book and restoring photographs by the dozen for a biography of my mother, which I hope to finish by October and publish under Writing.  As if that weren’t enough of an excuse for no blog postings these three months, I’ve also been dealing with some medical issues I won’t bore you with, except to say they involved surgery and prescription for a blood thinner.  No fun whatsoever.

Meanwhile, I’ve wondered what to write about next. I considered a lament about the current sad climate for dance in Santa Fe, but you don’t want to read about my withering opinion of what they’re calling nightlife and dance music nowadays.  Rants about today’s absurd political situation seemed particularly egregious, and philosophical essays seemed pointless.  I’ve been planning to write about 30 years ago, but that purely autobiographical subject, while formative and somewhat dramatic, isn’t all that exciting.  So I’ll fall back on my eccentric art for a topic.

Sorry about taking so long on the Ocelotl icon, but it demands an exorbitant number of elements. The Jaguar being the Aztec’s main animal deity, lord of the animals, I’ve got to include as many of the animals indigenous to Mexico as I can manage.  It’s been a hoot drawing them:  armadillo, peccary, xoloitzcuintli, quetzal, turkey, iguana, tortoise, coati, etc. There are several yet to go, like pelican and giant anteater. It will present the Mesoamerican biota of creatures of the land, air, and sea.

To show this inclusiveness, I’ve drawn Tlaltecuhtli, the androgynous deity of the earth (the land); Quetzalcoatl, the composite deity of the sky (the air); and Huixtocihuatl, the Lady of Salt (the sea). In addition, in the tenth icon of Mictlantecuhtli I included a new cameo of the Lady of the Land of the Dead, Mictlancihuatl.

Since these two divine Ladies don’t figure in the Aztec ceremonial calendar, they didn’t make it into my batch of illustrations for that 1993 book. So here for your delectation are images of two more Aztec goddesses:

Huixtocihuatl, Lady of Salt, and Mictlancihuatl, Lady of the Land of the Dead

Huixtocihuatl, Lady of Salt, and Mictlancihuatl, Lady of the Land of the Dead


Source of Aztec Calendar

A friend mentioned that the Aztec ceremonial calendar of 260 days might be based on the zenithal passage of the sun at some particular latitude. I calculated:  260 calendar days / 365.25 solar days = 0.7118 of the annual cycle X 93.6 degrees per year (back and forth between the Tropics) = 66.62834 X .5 = 33.3142 degrees – 23.4 from Tropic of Capricorn to Equator = 9.9142 degrees N (9o 54’ 51”).  I was surprised that this latitude runs through Costa Rica.

Reading the book “Cycles of the Sun, Mysteries of the Moon” by Vincent H. Malmström (University of Texas Press, 1997), I was even more surprised that the professor of geography announced the latitude as 14.8 degrees N, without showing calculations. He then identified the pre-Olmec site of Izapa as where the calendar was probably invented.  By my count, at 14.8 degrees N, the southern lap of the sun’s cycle lasts about 297 days.  That’s way off.

Let’s assume that the invention of the calendar happened 1400—1100 BC to allow time for it to get to Izapa and, as Malmström so reasonably proposes, cross over the Isthmus of Tehuantepec into the early Olmec area. But there were pre-Olmec cultures all along the Pacific coast from Mexico through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and down into Costa Rica.  As a matter of fact, in Costa Rica the Las Mercedes site (from 1500 BC) lies on the slope of the (active) Turrialba volcano at 10.167 degrees N.  It’s worth noting that Turrialba’s peak is at 10.01 degrees N, so Las Mercedes is directly east, which would make for a huge gnomon.

Now I read in “The Art of Mesoamerica” by Mary Ellen Miller (Third Edition, Thames & Hudson, 2001) that the unworkable Izapa proposition has survived in scholarship for at least four more years. But this author proposes the human nine-month birth cycle as more likely.  I calculate 9 x 30 days = 270—close but no cigar, and too variable.  Miller argues that a zenithal source of the ceremonial count “seems an unlikely basis for a calendar first recorded to the north of the 15-degree latitude.”  Given the astronomical bent of the ancients, I’d say it’s an exquisitely likely basis for a calendar, whenever or wherever first conceived or recorded.

IF the 260-day ceremonial calendar was based on the sun’s zenithal passage, THEN it must have been invented at a latitude where that time period obtained—approximately 9.9 degrees.  That latitude also runs along the Caribbean across the northern sections of Colombia and Venezuela, but there don’t seem to be any significant culture sites in those areas from appropriate times.

If not in Costa Rica, then how about at 9.9142 degrees South? That imaginary line runs across the Amazon basin just slightly north of the Beni region in Brazil and Bolivia —which by the way hosted an enormous hydrological culture from 4000 BC to 1300 AD(!).  Though they built canals, causeways, raised fields and living sites, we essentially know nothing about them.

That latitude also crosses the Andes in Peru, running right through Chavín de Huantar in the Ancash valley. It was the main site of the earliest South American civilization (1200—400 BC), which occupied many other sites in the region and along the coast.  Other sites were even older though, like El Paraíso (2500—1100 BC).  But the Chavín culture was the first to produce distinctive art and ceremonial architecture, specifically truncated pyramids.  Chavín de Huantar lies directly east of an Andean peak which again could serve as a magnificent gnomon.

Significantly, there are many obelisk– and slab-shaped stelae/gnomons at the site, the main one being the Lanzon stela, a 15+-foot stone spire with wonderful decorative carvings. It stands within a pit in the “temple” and extends up through a hole in the roof, a foolproof way to demonstrate the exact zenithal passage of the sun.  By the way, the figure carved on the stela points eloquently upward with one hand and downward with the other.  Of course, this site’s 260 days between the sun’s passages are on its northern lap between the Tropics.

I propose that Chavín de Huantar was the birthplace of the 260-day calendar, which probably was what caused its rise in ceremonial importance around 1200 BC, turning it into the cultural and religious hub of that first civilization and a destination for pilgrimages and rituals. Even though no archaeological traces of a 260-day calendar have been found amongst these non-literate Andean civilizations, they may well have observed it religiously alongside the solar calendar, which is precisely how it worked later in Mexico.  And it got to Mexico by sea.

The Chavín and other even earlier Pacific coastal cultures were accomplished sea-faring folk using balsa-wood rafts and boats. (Balsa trees grow all along the coasts of South and Central America.)  There was a lot of maritime activity, trade, and exchange among the various cultures long before the Chavín.  In the dim past maize was brought from Mexico to the Andes, and the art of metal-working passed in the opposite direction. The Pacific coast from western Mexico down to northern Chile was one enormous “economic zone” of productive ecologies between sea and mountains.  The Chavín were the first efflorescence of those cultures (fertilized by contacts with the Beni?), and wherever they went, they understandably preached their religious calendar.

Besides the calendar, the Chavín spread other concepts of their culture and art all along the coast. Their pyramids and intricate figures and motifs of jaguars, caimans, and serpents bear a distinct resemblance to the architecture, themes, and imagery of the later Maya and other Mexican cultures.  The Chavín anthropomorphic jaguar and truncated pyramid must surely have accompanied the ceremonial calendar across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to inspire the Olmec—and subsequent Mesoamerican cultures.



­An Outrageous Coloring Book

Icons of Aztec Deities and Commentary

By Richard Balthazar


For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”

ATL, Aztec God of Water

ATL, Aztec God of Water

ATL {atł} is the deified element of water, and is a nagual (manifestation or bodhisattva) of TLALOC, the ancient God of Storms (Rain).  In the tonalpohualli or ceremonial count of days, also called the Turquoise Year, Atl is 9th of the 20 named days in the month, a lucky day.  As above, Nahui Atl (Four Water), the 4th of the 13 numbered days in one of the weeks, is the day-name of the Fourth Sun, a previous world ruled by CHALCHIUHTLICUE and destroyed by Water.  Its humans were turned into fish.  The four dots are the Aztec numeral 4.  The extended upper lip (harelip?) has been traditional for Mesoamerican water deities ever since the Olmec.


 Rather long ago for my book CELEBRATE NATIVE AMERICA, I originally drew the Aztec deities for the ceremonial calendar.  Now I’m redrawing in the digital medium and expanding them into full-scale icons.  And believe it or not, the YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS coloring book is offering you these amazing neo-Aztec icons for FREE.  That’s right—at no risk—not even any postage.

Color them in as you wish with my compliments.  The wrinkle is that this coloring book will be posted serially as each icon is completed.  That could well take the next couple years—a good reason to keep checking back with me.  At the moment only one is available, but there are four more almost ready for posting, and a sixth is well on the way.

The Aztec deities are a fascinating crowd of inter-related personalities involved in a soap-opera mythology of creation/destruction, love/strife, and life/death that makes the gods of Olympus look like wimps.  Perhaps the confusing dramas, frequent aliases, and surreal images are due to the fact that the Aztecs and their deities indulged in psychoactive drugs like alcoholic pulque, peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and other psychedelic herbs.  So hold on to your hats for some challenging images to color, such as the current posting above.

Using only a bit of my artistic license, I’m basing YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS on extant Aztec artifacts and their surviving picture-booksYou can use these almost authentic Aztec icons as cartoons for large-scale murals, smaller-scale tattoos, needlepoint patterns, and other design or illustration needs.

YE GODS!  THE AZTEC ICONS should also be seen as a free and unique teaching tool for classes not only in art, but also in cultural and historical studies.  In addition, YE GODS!  THE AZTEC PANTHEON is an illustrated encyclopedia of Aztec deities that comprises a crash course in Aztec cosmology, mythology, ritual, society, and history.

Don’t be shy.  Make lots of copies to experiment on.  You’ll need to.




An Aztec Book of Days

By Richard Balthazar (Five Flower Press, 1993, out of print)

CNA cover

For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” 

I recently announced  that I’ve put my old out-of-print book on the Aztec ritual or ceremonial calendar up for free download.  Anyone with interest in art, mythology, history, or horoscopy will find it an unusual experience.  You’ll learn some weird stuff you never ever imagined, money-back guarantee.

The book presents the 260-day sacred Turquoise Year, which was used for divination and prophesy, in color plates of their 13 ‘months’ of 20 days spread over 20 ‘weeks’ of 13 days.  My weekly illustrations also include their patron gods or goddesses in images based on surviving Aztec books, primarily the Codices Borbonicus, Borgia, Nuttall, Fejervary-Mayer, Kingsborough, and Vindobensis.

For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” 

If you don’t want the book itself, all its illustrations are up for individual free download from my galleries of godsdays, and weeks on this site.  Do whatever with them with my blessing.

The Turquoise Year was an evolution of the earlier Mayan calendar of similar structure with roots among the even earlier Olmec.  It was the ancient Mesoamerican horoscope.  The birth day-name was a person’s ceremonial and official name, and the deities who ruled the numbers, days, weeks, and months, each with light and dark sides, controlled individual and societal fates.

By the way, you can quickly find out your Aztec name by going to, and while there, you can even pick up your Aztec horoscope, which I admit will be much more detailed than what you’ll find in my old book.

For free download as a pdf file, right click here and select “Save Target (or Link) As.” 

READERS: Please disregard the final chapter and its mind-boggling concordance.  My hubristic attempt to start up a new Sixth Sun at the fall of Tenochtitlan was at best poetic, but that calendar has now run out anyway.  Forget about it.

Another note:  I exercised my artist’s license on the 20th week, One Rabbit, naming as its patron a far more appetizing deity, Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers.  The actual patron was a quasi-deity called Tecpatl (Flint—the sacrificial knife).  Feeling like a nagual (or bodhisattva) of Xochipilli, I’ve dared to use his image in the banner on this website.

Setting It Free

Someone somewhere once advised us that if we love something, we should set it free.  Then there was something else about if it comes back, it’s yours—if not, it never was.   With what I have in mind, those conditions are meaningless.  As I most recently remarked in Potlatch, I’m setting my writings and artworks free to fly like birds whither they will across the ether of the Internet.  I certainly love them, they’re mine to do with what I will, and there’s not much way they’ll be coming back.

It was a great pleasure that in a mere day and a half I managed to convert all the items in the Public Library to pdf files and link them for free downloads.  Besides the two short stories, the plays and poetry are also linked.  Enjoy.

And there’s more, a true windfall.  Happily, when I looked in the right place, I found the original pdfs for two of my nonfiction books.  The first is the really old one on the Aztec calendar, CELEBRATE NATIVE AMERICA.  Using it and a wonderful site called, you can learn your ceremonial Aztec name and compute your own personal Aztec horoscope.

Also I found the old file for my language book GETTING GET, which is super news for all you ESL people out there.  For learners (or teachers) of English as a second or foreign language, this book is the key to the unconscious, secret code of American English speakers, a grammar never taught in schools or defined in dictionaries.  Now it’s yours for free.  Get it on!

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the files on my two other books, the nonfiction REMEMBER NATIVE AMERICA  on Indian mounds or the novel DIVINE DEBAUCH.  Lord knows where they went.  Probably on floppies and therefore lost to posterity.  Oh, well.  I can probably scan the mound book to post it for you, but the novel is something I’d totally want to rewrite before setting it free.  And I’m not sure that’s something I can afford to spend my time on at this point.  Meanwhile, it’s what it is, a work of my youth.

And know what?  I’d truly love it if someone wanted to take some of this stuff and run with it.  Have fun!  The more the merrier.  I’d particularly love to hear about someone wanting to do one of my plays.  Or dare I dream, a movie?  Of course, I dare dream.  Just wait till you get a load of my upcoming novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND when I start posting its chapters soon.

Meanwhile, this is as good a place as any to mention a reasonable concern I’ve got about setting my works free out into the wide world of the web.  Is mine just another voice crying in the wilderness?  Or in a less scriptural way, is there anyone out there?  Anybody home?  In the year and some that this website has been up, I’ve gotten no real comments from anyone.

I see that usually there’s a valiant few who visit various Aztec deity illustrations, and some occasionally check another page or blog posting.  I’d love it if someone would start a conversation with me about this esoteric stuff, but I don’t know how the site’s comment thingie works.  So I’ve cryptically (to avoid spam contacts) given my email address in several places with my signature (for anyone who can read cursive anymore), like at the bottom of the home page (click on banner) or here below.