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.

Aztec Calendar – Snake Trecena

The ninth trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Snake for its first numbered day, which is also the 5th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Snake is Coatl, and it’s known as Chikchan in Yucatec Maya and Can in Quiché.

For the Aztecs the Snake symbolizes mystical power, and it’s probably no accident that it was associated with the male genitalia. The patron of the day Snake is Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of flowing water (see Reed trecena). Images of the snake are frequent in the codices simply as reminders of divine power. It’s often a manifestation of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, and the core element of the divine weapon wielded by many deities, the Xiuhcoatl or Fire Serpent.


The principal patron of the Snake trecena is Xiuhtecuhtli, the Lord of Fire—or alternatively, of Turquoise (a homonym). As the latter, he is the lord of time and the sacred calendar, the Turquoise Year (tonalpohualli), in which capacity he determines mortals’ day of death and watches over departed souls on their journey to Mictlan. Also lord of the blue sky of day, Xiuhtecuhtli symbolizes the unfathomable, the limitless, unity, and completion. In Aztec astronomy, he’s lord of the Pole Star, the center of all things, and spindle of the universe. In addition, he’s both the Lord of the number 1 (with the Blue Hummingbird as his totem bird) and first Lord of the Night. Historically, Xiuhtecuhtli is a new, younger version of the ancestral deity of fire, Huehueteotl (the Old God). His birth day-name is One Rabbit.

The secondary patron of this trecena is Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Lord of the House of the Dawn), a nagual of Quetzalcoatl representing the planet Venus as the Morning Star. He’s symbolic of re-emergence, of the triumph of life over death. Meanwhile, he’s a dangerous deity, his gaze very destructive for both mortals and gods. Legend has him shooting a dart at the Sun, Tonatiuh, who throws it back at him but hits instead Itztlacoliuhqui (Curved Obsidian Blade), the god of stone and cold, a nagual of Tezcatlipoca. After Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli periodically disappears from the eastern morning sky to descend into the Underworld, he’s replaced in the western evening sky by Xolotl, the Evening Star. The Lord of the number 12 with (logically) the Quetzal as his totem bird, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli’s birth day-name is One Reed.


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

This dynamic trecena’s theme is emergence and liberation. The energies associated with this trecena are strongly aligned with Lifeforce, Fertility, Sacred Authority, Justice, Liberation, Cyclical Regeneration, and the promulgation of higher knowledge. A sense of new vitality or awakening to new ideas often accompanies this time frame, suggesting that transcendent events, possibly of a world-shaping nature, could manifest during this period, opening up the realm of new possibilities.

Further to how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at The Maya equivalent is the Chikchan 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 5th day of the current vientena, 1 Snake, this trecena continues with 2 Death, 3 Deer, 4 Rabbit, 5 Water, 6 Dog, 7 Monkey, 8 Grass, 9 Reed, 10 Jaguar, 11 Eagle, 12 Vulture, and 13 Earthquake.

There are four important days in the Snake trecena:

One Snake (in Nahuatl Ce Coatl) was noted in the Florentine Codex as traditionally a favorable day for merchants/traders (pochteca), travelers, and armies to “set forth to far lands.” In that spirit, the Codex indicates that One Snake was often the occasion for declaring of war. It is significant that in 1521 this was the day the Aztecs surrendered to Hernan Cortés and his conquistadores at Tenochtitlan after being defeated in a fierce battle.

Seven Monkey (in Nahuatl Chicome Ozomatli)is traditionally associated with wealth and prosperity. This day-sign appears on the Aztec Calendar Stone, below the central face.

Eight Grass (in Nahuatl Chicueyi Malinalli), according to some sources, is an alternate birth day-name of the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, generally called One Water (again see Reed Trecena).

Nine Reed (in Nahuatl Chicnahui Acatl) is the birth day-name of the Earth Goddess Tlazolteotl, Goddess of Filth (see Deer Trecena). On this day, gifts of cacao, precious feathers, and flowers are offered to her.


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!

My version of the Snake trecena portrays Xiuhtecuhtli in a wild interpretation of his image in Codex Borbonicus, mixing a fancy snake on his back from the Stone of the Suns with a flaming crest much like Quetzalcoatl’s plumes in the Jaguar Trecena. Obviously, I took the turquoise and fire homonyms to heart in the coloration and wisely incorporated his traditional pendant plaque.  I really should have made the bird totem on his forehead blue, and I have no idea where I got the shield design with the sun motif. Though I hadn’t seen any other images of the deity, I think my fantasy makes a very convincing Lord of Fire.

Aztec Calendar – Snake trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar


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

Aztec Calendar – Snake Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

The Snake trecena page in Codex Borgia is the busiest one in its tonalamatl and raises a huge number of questions, both mythological and iconographic. It definitely begs a narrative.

Let’s start with the primary patron (the big red guy on the right), Xiuhtecuhtli himself enthroned and looking very pensive or stern/aggravated. In the original, his image is quite deteriorated, his regalia blurred and spotty. In their restoration of the Codex Borgia (Dover Publications, 1993), Gisele Diaz & Alan Rodgers have been inventive in restoring his ornaments, some of which I’ve used; another anonymous facsimile made other choices; and I’ve made my own in some places.

The best example is the feathery thing on his back, the top of which in the original is basically blank (or worn away?). Diaz and Rodgers fill it with rows of short lines; the other facsimile intimates a spiral of same. My close study of the blankness found tiny indications of a possible second row of lines, but I’ve left the rest blank. Another problematic motif is that odd thing on his forehead, maybe a bird, which would make sense as his totem, but it looks nothing like any other bird I’ve ever seen in any of the codices.

When we consider the mass of material adjacent to the deity, things get really mysterious, like that slanting bundle of jaguar hide and spotted blue strips (with a surreal bird’s head) running behind Xiuhtecuhtli’s shoulder. We’ll see something similar in the Vaticanus patron panel later. Does it mean something that the water (from above) flows into the bundle and deity, rather than away from him as from Tlaloc in the Rain Trecena and Chalchiuhtlicue in the Reed Trecena? The two arrows in the stream are almost to be expected as power symbols.

However, that ornamental scorpion is a major enigma. Since the scorpion apparently has had obscure connections with the planet Venus ever since Maya times, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli being the Morning Star is probably the key. The scorpion’s sting would be a fine material metaphor for the Morning Star’s divinely destructive gaze. Also, I’m puzzled by the patterns of squared and spiral water flowing at/onto Xiuhtecuhtli.

Briefly, the other major enigma is the central vacant throne, the jaguar pelt indicating that there should be some deity sitting there. Who?

Now let’s talk about the secondary patron with the tongue-twisting name, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, sitting gingerly on the jaguar seat on the left. The only evidence of his identity is the headdress with the long spokes and feathery crown. Otherwise, he’s just an innocent little blond guy with standard Aztec finery. His hands-in-the-air gesture certainly must mean something like, “I know nothing about it!” “What did you expect?” “Who cares?” Or perhaps a hundred other probably dismissive comments relating to the vacant throne or to the flood dousing the Lord of Fire. Between Xiuhtecuhtli’s pout/glower and Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli’s nonchalance, some story is definitely going on in this page, but it would take an Aztec priest to provide an exegesis.

I must confess that I made the personal choice to color the Morning Star’s “mask” in a pleasant light blue as opposed to the depressing grey or brown to be seen in images that follow. The little flag on his nose-piece is actually indicative of Tezcatlipoca, but this might just be a convenient decoration. Meanwhile, his predominantly white body and clothing are most unusual for deities in Codex Borgia. Maybe the artist simply left him unfinished—too busy with Xiuhtecuhtli? In any case, we’ll see more detail in later images of this god.


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

Aztec Calendar – Snake Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

Speaking of detail, the image of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli on the left in this Telleriano-Remensis and Rios vision has them in spades, including a little One Reed identifier hovering overhead. The toothy feathered snake-monster on his back probably underlines his relationship to Quetzalcoatl (whose birth day-name is Nine Wind but sometimes called One Reed). As they will also occur in later images, the tear-drop motifs in his headdress (and in the snake’s) are other identifiers. Note his brown mask and mostly white raiment. Here his hand-gestures seem simply formulaic for his “dancing” or sitting posture on the standard place symbol/glyph.

On the right, Xiuhtecuhtli also “dances” or sits on a place symbol and wears ornate regalia. His headdress is very like that on his bust as Night-Lord (fifth from the left in the top row). The Telleriano-Remensis page with his image is missing, and I’ve had to base this representation on the uninspired Rios copy, supplementing it with details from elsewhere in T-R—like the fiery Xiuhcoatl he wields in his raised right hand. In his image in both T-R and Rios for the Pachtontli (Teotleco) solar vientena, Xiuhtecuhtli wears a flaming serpent on his back, but I thought that would be a little too much here. However, in both of those images one of his feet is the mystical water-fire symbol (atl-tlachinolli), which I’ve inserted as the Fire Lord’s right foot. Note his red and black face-paint as in the Borgia version—and in the following examples.



Tonalamatl Aubin patron panel for Snake Trecena

Once again, the patron panel in Tonalamatl Aubin gives one serious aesthetic pause. It’s got most of the canonical elements, but they seem viewed through a strange (psychedelic?) lens. Of course, there’s fair reason to believe that psychoactive drugs were involved. Here, the patrons of the trecena have switched sides and seats, and the head of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (recognizable by the brown mask and teardrop ornaments in his headdress) is grossly distorted. Borgia’s vast flow of water has now become a mere spurt as part of the Morning Star’s headdress—another instance of the atl-tlachinolli water-fire symbol.

Meanwhile, Xiuhtecuhtli on the left has the standard red and black face and a fire-snake “cape,” and he holds his blue bird totem, which is by no stretch of the imagination a hummingbird. And by the way, I sort of hoped to see an empty throne and miss the scorpion.

Most startling is the fact that Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli has been flayed—sacrificially skinned! (In his Rios copy he is also flayed, but in the T-R original, only his hand shows the red stripes. I chose to ignore those details in Tonalamatl Yoal as too much information.) Here there’s no way around the ritual flaying of this deity. In fact, in several Borgia images of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli he’s been skinned. In Vaticanus there are also many such images, as well as a section of five panels with the flayed deity attacking various people, places, and even a jaguar.  In each of those he wears an odd eyepiece representing his dangerous gaze. (These five panels also appear in Codex Cospi in much different style and similar detail but without the flaying.)

Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli: Borgia (l.); Vaticanus (r.)

The consistent representation of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli as flayed suggests a close relationship with Xipe Totec, the Flayed God, whom we will see later as a patron of the 20th trecena, Rabbit. His virtues of fertility, renewal, and spring are broadly discussed in the “The Flayed God” by Roberta H. and Peter T. Markman (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), who note that several other deities are also shown in the codices as flayed. I’ve found many skinned images of Tlaloc, Mixcoatl, Tlazolteotl, and even some of the Cihuateteo and Ahuiateteo.

I think the flaying of victims and deities must have been a transcendent sign/symbol of holiness—like the ubiquitous western tradition of the halo—and suspect that Xipe Totec, who usually only wears their skins, is the “high priest” of the bloody sect. Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli seems to be the principal flayed god in the pantheon. I wonder why he, the Morning Star, would be chosen for such grisly glory. Maybe because he’s a nagual of the great god Quetzalcoatl?


Codex Borbonicus patron panel for Snake Trecena

That being said, in the tonalamatl of Codex Borbonicus, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (back on the left side) is once again white-skinned in largely white clothes—maybe meaning his Borgia image was in fact completed. He wears his usual brown mask and has teardrop designs in his headdress, appearing in a constellation of motifs: water flowing at/onto the Lord of Fire (with arrows); some kind of a watery link (like the odd item at the center of the Aubin panel) to a throne (vacant but for a pile of ritual offerings); and what looks like a spider but is really a scorpion, both arachnids. Under high magnification one can see a tail/stinger curved up across its body. This is all stuff we already know from the Borgia panel, but I’ve never seen that surreal blue pointy-nose mask-thing on the back of his head before. Might it relate to his dangerous gaze?

With all that symbolic paraphernalia, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli seriously overshadows Xiuhtecuhtli, who sports only that fire-snake on his back (the model for my own trecena above), the beautiful Borbonicus-blue totem bird on his brow and plaque-pendant. The artist apparently didn’t care much about this supposedly primary patron, grotesquely distorting his torso and shrinking his arms and hands—in contrast to complex and careful execution of the secondary patron.

As a post-script to this description, note the snake in the lower left denoting the trecena and the blue creature on the lower right. Whatever its species, it’s the same as the blue animal held by Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli in the Aubin panel. Like the vacant throne and scorpion, such repeated motifs surely must mean something integral to the implied narrative.


Codex Vaticanus patron panel for Snake Trecena

The Codex Vaticanus patron panel for the Snake trecena is obviously badly “weathered,” and I’ve tried to touch it up, restoring most faded and broken lines and filling in some of the color, except for the spotty flow of water. The patrons have switched sides once more, Xiuhtecuhtli in a divinely complex headdress brooding over Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, who’s appropriately flayed now. We’ve again got the main narrative motifs, including Borgia’s strange staff with curls (but no weird bird’s head), the flow of water with scorpion and arrows, and the vacant throne—clearly a retelling of the same old story. The staff and flow of water being placed subtly in the foreground in this panel tells me they’re probably the main theme of the implied narrative.

But here the scorpion- and arrow-laden flood (apparently summoned by Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli) no longer flows at/onto Xiuhtecuhtli, instead getting “swallowed up” by the staff itself. Perhaps that motif is the Fire Lord’s symbolic “spindle of the universe” neutralizing the flood—or maybe the smoke-like staff is a stylized column of his divine fire? If the latter, then we’re again looking at an enormous atl-tlachinolli, which I’m told is a symbol of war. Does that mean the Morning Star is challenging the Pole Star for supremacy (the empty throne) of the sky? Or maybe that’s way too metaphysical.


Let me try another reading: perhaps this is all about Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli trying to take over the primary patronage of the trecena from Xiuhtecuhtli, in the Borgia panel sitting nonchalantly on his modest jaguar seat but ready to jump onto the empty throne, while Xiuhtecuhtli scowls at him and fends off his flood. In the Yoal panel, the Fire Lord is still on the prominent right, but One Reed displays imposing glitz with his serpent-monster cape. The two have switched sides in the Aubin panel, where Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli now sits on the primary throne, with Xiuhtecuhtli on the secondary jaguar seat. Back on the left side in Borbonicus, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli with all his paraphernalia has basically usurped the panel from the battered Xiuhtecuhtli, having physical possession of the throne at least, and in Vaticanus he holds off the Fire Lord with the huge war symbol, the trecena’s throne now his for the taking.

Such are my amateur shots at playing Aztec priest, whether or not either of these stories is true. Either way, the roles of primary and secondary patron of this trecena aren’t exactly clear-cut, not that it makes a great deal of difference.

The flayed Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli is the main evidence I see of Dr. Paquin’s ancient Maya themes for this trecena of fertility, emergence, and liberation. Xiuhtecuhtli’s divinatory significance for authority, justice, and higher knowledge is nebulous. And my tentative readings have little to do with any Maya themes. After the several intervening centuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if the later Aztec iteration of this trecena’s themes might be substantially different than the Maya. Perhaps now it’s about confrontation, ambition, and power. After all, the Snake’s all about power, One Snake’s a great day for a war, and Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli is well known as a very aggressive deity, a holy terror. Maybe Xiuhtecuhtli represents the unified center of reality, and the bellicose Morning Star represents the antithetical force of chaos and anarchy, another elemental dichotomy like water and fire. Maybe not…



The calendar’s tenth trecena will be that of Flint, its patrons being the existential Lord of the Land of the Dead, Mictlantecuhtli, and the mighty Tonatiuh, God of the Fifth Sun. Stay tuned.


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

Aztec Calendar – Deer Trecena

The third trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Deerfor its first numbered day, which is the 7th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language Deer is Mazatl, and it’s known as Manik’ in Yucatec Maya and Quej in Quiché Maya. As the only other large food-animal in Mesoamerica (the peccary and turkey being much smaller than either), the deer was important protein for the populations, and their relationship to this timid animal is celebrated in many codices, mostly of slaughtering it. The leg (haunch) of the deer is also a frequent motif. Each of the days (tonalli) represents a specific human body part, and the deer is connected with the right leg. Don’t ask why.


Tepeyollotl (Heart of the Mountain), god of caves and echoes, is the principal patron of the Deer trecena. He causes earthquakes, avalanches, and volcanos, and cures and causes diseases. A deity of witchcraft, he guards the entrance to Mictlan, the Land of the Dead. Possibly God L of the Maya, he may also be the primordial jaguar-man from even deeper in pre-history. As the Jaguar of the Night whose roaring heralds the sunrise, Tepeyollotl is a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, also known as the Lord of Jewels (mines) and 8th lord of the night. (See my Icon #17.)

There is doctrinal disagreement among the codices about the secondary patron of the Deer trecena. In Borgia and Vaticanus, it’s the goddess Tlazolteotl, but in the rest it’s Quetzalcoatl. This may well reflect regional calendar cults. Make of it what you will.

Tlazolteotl (Goddess of Filth) is goddess of fertility and sexuality, motherhood, midwives, and domestic crafts like weaving. On another hand, she is also the patron of witchcraft and fortune-tellers and of lechery and unlawful love, including adulterers and sexual misdeeds. She cures diseases, particularly venereal, and as the goddess of purification and bathing, forgives sins. (Her mouth is usually black from eating all those filthy sins). People confess their sins to her only once in their life, usually at the very last moment, and besides that rite (which Spanish clergy recognized as parallel to their sacrament of confession), her rituals include offerings of urine and excrement. One of several earth-mothers, Tlazolteotl is reputedly the mother of the maize deities Centeotl and Chicomecoatl, though divine genealogy is notoriously nebulous. She is also 7th lord of the night and patron of the number 5. According to some codex images, her day-name may be Nine Reed, which isn’t particularly pertinent to her divinatory significance.

Quetzalcoatl has been discussed at length as the sole patron of the previous Jaguar trecena. There remains little or nothing to add in conjunction with this appearance in a supporting role.


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

Another strongly earth-oriented time period, this trecena is aligned with the general idea of “sacrifice and reconciliation.” It is often a period that calls for “give and take,” negotiation, cooperation, and even “forgiveness” in response to events of a high-stakes nature. The idea of the deer working with the hunter to provide a “giveaway” in order to sustain life is a metaphor that could apply here. Emphasis is on working together towards achieving “sacred balance” and harmony with the earth.

Further how these energies connect with world events, see the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at Note that the Maya equivalent is the Manik’ 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 1 Deer, the trecena continues 2 Rabbit, 3 Water, 4 Dog, 5 Monkey, 6 Grass, 7 Reed, 8 Jaguar, 9 Eagle, 10 Vulture, 11 Earthquake, 12 Flint, and 13 Rain—completing the count before finishing the vientena.

The Deer trecena contains at least two significant days:

One Deer (Ce Mazatl) may be the day-name of Xochiquetzal, the Flower Feather. (Lacking birth certificates, divine birthdays, like genealogies, often depend on cults and are no more certain or verifiable than those of mythical beings in western religious traditions.) She’s the ever-young goddess of love, beauty, female sexuality, and fertility—though her worship involves some surreally gruesome sacrificial rites. Xochiquetzal protects young mothers in pregnancy and childbirth, and is a patron of weaving, embroidery, artisans, artists, and prostitutes. As she’s the patron of the 19th trecena, Eagle, more of her scandalous mythology will be presented there.

One Deer (Ce Mazatl) is also the day-name of one of the Cihuateteo, warrior spirits of women who die in childbirth, who escort the sun from noon to its setting. Demons who cause seizures and insanity, after sunset they go to the crossroads to steal children and seduce men to adultery. Probably a nagualof Xochiquetzal, this one’s area of dangerous influence is beauty, sex, and love. In an image pairing the Cihuateteo with the male Ahuiateteo (gods of pleasure), she’s posed indicatively with Five Lizard (Macuil Cuetzpallin), the deity of sexual excess.

One Deer (Ce Mazatl) is also the day-name in the regional Mixtec tradition for the creative couple, Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl (collectively Ometeotl), likely because of the connection between deer and the sun and provision of sustenance. (See the Crocodile trecena.)

Two Rabbit (Ome Tochtli) is the name-day of the principal god of drunkenness, Izquitecatl, one of the innumerable pulque gods known the centzon totochtin (400 rabbits). Among the other 399 rabbit-children of Mayauel and Patecatl who patronize every form of intoxication, alcoholic and herbal, one can name Tezcatzoncatl, Tlilhua, Toltecatl, and Tepoztecatl.


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! With no awareness of secondary patrons, I created an image of Tepeyollotl out of thin air to be the patron deity of the Deer trecena. Well, not quite: I knew what his name meant and that he was the god of volcanos. Working with motifs from Codex Nuttall, I concocted a fairly Mixtec design of angular and stepped patterns with an eruption in his headdress and an abstract pendant suggesting a “heart of the mountain.” Meanwhile, I must have been channeling deep Maya iconography to come up with his front-on cross-legged pose.

Aztec Calendar – Deer trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

At this point, I should remark on the layout of the various tonalamatls, about which I had no clue thirty years ago. With the days arranged around three sides of the patron panel, mine was totally unorthodox, resulting in a roughly 3 X 4 height-width ratio. The authentic codices all present their tonalamatls on basically square pages. I’ll explain with each one how that works.

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

Aztec Calendar – Deer Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

The layout of the Borgia tonalamatl creates square pages by stacking two of the rectangular trecenas. The first ten trecenas run along the bottom of the pages, and then the second ten turns around in boustrophedon fashion to run on top back to the beginning. Thus, the 1st trecena (Crocodile) is capped with the 20th (Rabbit), the 2nd (Jaguar) with the 19th (Eagle), this 3rd (Deer) with the 18th (Wind), and so on. The progression of unnumbered days also switches direction with nine running across the bottom of the panel and four up the side.

In this Borgia trecena Tepeyollotl appears as an in-the-flesh jaguar, which is in keeping with his being the Jaguar of the Night. Note the stars in his night-sky throne. The golden squiggles rising from his nose represent his roar. Once more, I can’t remark on the fancy paraphernalia floating around in the middle of the panel, except to point out the striped “power serpent” that lurks significantly at the bottom. I wonder what species of snake has that dark tail section. In some other codices the serpents are clearly the quintessential New World rattlesnake, but in Borgia the tails generally have only this dark point, though some flaunt ornamental plumes for tails.

The figure of Tlazolteotl as secondary patron of the trecena displays her emblematic black mouth, her usual curved nose ornament, and a weaving spindle in her headdress. The crescents on her skirt likely refer to her relationship with the moon (menstrual cycles). I have no idea why she’s holding a shield and handful of arrows, but the uniquely trussed-up figure she’s holding by the hair is presumably a sacrificial offering.

Note that the little guy has two right hands. Speaking of which, Tlazolteotl has two left hands, though her supposed right hand is impossibly contorted even for a left one. While I did nothing to “correct” this egregious example of “ideoplasty,” in the interest of aesthetic transparency, I must admit to some artistic plastic surgery on the goddess’s thumbs. In the original image they were both hugely over-sized, that on her left hand twice as large as anatomically proportional. I seriously doubt there was any deeper significance to the monstrous distortion.

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

Telleriano-Remensis and Codex Rios)

Aztec Calendar – Deer Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

The original two separate pages of Telleriano-Remensis and Rios are essentially square illustrations divided between days five and six, with ten tonalli across the top and three down the side. The lower sections of the separate pages were used for Spanish and Italian commentaries, respectively, with many notes intruding on the images, naming the tonalli, and coding the lords of the night as to good, bad, or indifferent luck. My compilation and re-creation have dispensed with all that archaic clutter.

Observe that the god Tepeyollotl here is in a human form dressed in an entire jaguar pelt, head and claws included. I have greatly refined his face peering from the jaguar’s fanged mouth to reflect his image as 8th lord of the night, second from right on top above the day 9 Eagle. (Note that the third bust from right is Tlazolteotl as 7th lord of the night—with the black mouth and weaving spindles in her headdress.) Again, for transparency, I will admit to giving Tepeyollotl a “correct” right hand with the scepter. Here two left hands were just too jarringly ideoplastic! Otherwise, I strategically adjusted details and made only a few changes to his color scheme.

The figure of Quetzalcoatl as secondary patron is closely related to his image in the Jaguar trecena with outrageous headdress, curious medallion on his forehead, conch-shell pendant, and inexplicable “basket” on his back. Obvious differences are the lack of an Ehecatl-mask and black stripe down the face, the nautilus shell in his left hand (apparently symbolic of eternity), and the sacrificial victim held by the hair in his right hand. While the victim is quite in accordance with the trecena’s theme of sacrifice, it’s disturbing on two counts. Quetzalcoatl is famously opposed to human sacrifice, and the victim seems to be a child—normally sacrificed to Tlaloc.


As the incomplete Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin start with the Deer trecena, I can now offer their patron panels for comparison. Apart from the differing secondary patrons and graphic styles, they’re remarkably consistent theologically.

The pages of Tonalamatl Aubin are laid out in squares with the patron panel in the upper left corner. Reversing the pattern of Borgia, the tonalli range from upper right with four down that side and nine across the bottom in ranks of four blocks. The first contain the numbered tonalli, the second the lords of the night, the third the lords of the day, and the fourth the totem-birds of the numbers. This results in a densely packed page, an effect only exaggerated by an extremely awkward cartoonish style of the images, particularly of the heads of the lords and birds.

Tonalamatl Aubin Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

Here Tepeyollotl is again an actual jaguar (oddly with only three claws on his forepaws). Apart from another “power serpent” (clearly a rattlesnake), the central paraphernalia is different than that in Borgia, though the conch is a frequent motif. Quetzalcoatl is recognizable as the secondary patron by his simplified headdress, black face-stripe, stylized conch-shell pendant, and in particular by the cross symbols on his sandals. The item in his right hand isn’t recognizable as a nautilus shell, but the victim held by the hair in his left is consistent iconography—and may also be a child. It’s amusing to note the blue finger- and toe-nails.


The pages of the tonalamatl section in Codex Borbonicus are also laid out in squares with patron panels in the upper left corners. However, its tonalli range from the lower left with seven across the bottom and six up the right side in ranks of two blocks. In the first blocks are the numbered tonalli with the lords of the night, and in the second are the lords of the day with respective totem-birds. While the style of the relatively large Borbonicus patron panels is ornate and colorful (with a superbly bright shade of blue), the surrounding small figures of tonalli, lords, and birds are so schematic that they’re difficult to distinguish. Nevertheless, the overall effect of the trecena pages is quite dramatic.

Codex Borbonicus Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

The Borbonicus Deer trecena is the third with Quetzalcoatl as secondary patron. Here the figure is very like the deity in Tonalamatl Yoal, including all the usual insignia, conch pendant, nautilus shell, and childlike sacrificial victim, but his face is the tri-color we saw earlier in the Borgia and Vaticanus images of the god in the Jaguar trecena. The principal patron Tepeyollotl is a hugely ornamented living, roaring jaguar with human hands (two lefts!) and right foot; to indicate that he’s a nagual of Tezcatlipoca, his left foot is replaced by a mystical smoking mirror. Generally indicating divinity, Tepeyollotl’s be-ribboned pendant is also worn by Xiuhtecuhtli, Xipe Totec, Chalchiuhtotolin, and many other deities.

The surrounding paraphernalia is mostly familiar, like the conch and serpent, but new are the fat spider and the sacrificial knife on the upper right. The containers of unidentifiable “stuff” are complicated by damage to the one on the lower right. The smudge continued along under Quetzalcoatl’s feet obscuring apparent Spanish annotations, which were also inserted into the border blocks to count the tonalli and name them. (Though I cleaned up that smudge, I held off doing any “repairs” to these images, but it was sorely tempting.)


In the previous Crocodile and Jaguar trecenas, we saw the peculiar, again cartoonish style of Codex Vaticanus, and here it is again in the patron panel for the Deer trecena. Similarly simplistic, the unnumbered tonalli run from the lower right with seven up that side and the remaining six across the top. The resulting square page is dominated by the large patron panel to much the same degree as in a Borgia trecena.

Codex Vaticanus Patron Panel – Deer Trecena

The presence here of Tlazolteotl as secondary patron is more evidence of a close relationship between the Vaticanus and Borgia codices. She is identified only by the black mouth, but she holds the requisite young sacrificial victim. The power serpent in the bundle on her back now seems to be a rattlesnake. Like in Borgia, Tepeyollotl is again a full-scale jaguar without human features. The bluish item above its nose is curiously much the same as that in the Borbonicus patron panel—and disturbingly, the jaguar has five claws on each of its forepaws. Your guess is as good as mine as to what these details might signify.

The extra items are also very similar to some in the Borgia trecena: the shield and arrow bundle and the mysterious beaded loop with bow. The pot harks back to the elegant container in Borgia but now has a fanged face, perhaps relating to the pot in Borbonicus with the skulls for feet.


I can only point out these odd details—not explain them. Let’s leave interpretations to those who would use these images for divination (as they were originally intended). Apropos the doctrinal disagreement about secondary patrons mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, we’ve now checked out these six examples of the Deer trecena, and the vote is three for Quetzalcoatl, two for Tlazolteotl, and one abstention. Why don’t we just call it a tie and let would-be fortune-tellers pick and choose their auguries?

Another outcome of comparing these six tonalamatls is that I no longer feel like a heretic for the unique layout of my old Tonalamatl Balthazar. So what if my tonalli range around three sides? There’s nothing sacrosanct about dividing up the thirteen tonalli or the direction they run. I frankly think my modern trecenas are as authoritative and veracious as any of those ancient tonalamatls—and at least as beautiful.


The next trecena will be that of Flower with its fun-loving patron Huehuecoyotl (the Old Coyote) and a couple other deities of celebration. Stay tuned!


Aztec Calendar – Jaguar Trecena

The second trecena (13-day “week”) of the Aztec Tonalpohualli (ceremonial count of days) is called Jaguar for its first numbered day, which is the 14th day of the vientena (20-day “month”). In the Nahuatl language it is Ocelotl and is referred to as Ix in the Yucatec Maya language and I’x or B’alam in Quiché Maya. Ever since those distant Maya times, jaguar pelts in shades of tawny gold to white have been the sacred possessions of deities, priests, and royalty. For the Aztecs, the nocturnal Jaguar is the patron of scouts and warriors, and the elite corps of warriors of the night is known as the Jaguar Knights.

In Mesoamerica, the Jaguar is deified as Lord of the Animals (see my Icon #11), remarkably including even the human animal. This New World animistic concept contrasts sharply with Old World humanistic notions of homo sapiens as assigned by a divinity to hold dominion over the whole world and all its animal life. (See an enlightening discussion of this profound distinction in the book “Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari.)

In Nahuatl the day Ocelotl is sometimes called teyolloquani (“magician”) as the Jaguar is a nagual (manifestation) of the god Tezcatlipoca, the Black One, god of magic and divination, as well as of much else. The nagual relationship is a widespread phenomenon of exchange, overlap, or confusion of divine identities apparently reflecting an incipient syncretism in the polytheistic religion of Mesoamerica. (Naguals will be encountered again below and later in many instances.)     


The patron deity of the Jaguar trecena is Quetzalcoatl, the famous Plumed Serpent, who was the bringer of culture to mankind in Mesoamerica, including the ceremonial calendar and the staple maize. (See my Icon #14.)  He is the nameless god known in that same capacity from Olmec times, as well as Kukulkan (in Yucatec) or Gugumatz (in Quiché) for the Maya and the so-called “feathered serpent” of Teotihuacan. “Quetzalcoatl” was also the standard name/title of rulers of the later Toltecs of Tula.

As the god of learning, writing, arts and crafts, priests, and merchants, Quetzalcoatl is opposed to human sacrifice, content simply with the sacrifice of birds and incense. He embodies the planet Venus, with his nagual Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Lord of the House of the Dawn) representing the morning star. (Meanwhile, Xolotl, another nagual of Tezcatlipoca, is considered the evening star.) Quetzalcoatl ruled the Second Sun (Four Wind)—as his main nagual Ehecatl (see below)—and created the current Fifth Sun (Four Earthquake) by using his own blood to give new life to the bones of the people of the Fourth Sun (Four Water)—which were fetched up by Ehecatl from Mictlan, the Land of the Dead. Reflecting another confusing nagual relationship, he’s also called the White Tezcatlipoca but is also irrationally considered the sacred twin of Tezcatlipoca (maybe because of the astronomical relationship with Xolotl), though they were born on different days, and is the sibling of other deities. The divine family tree is a tangled web of parents, siblings, offspring, and naguals.


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

Strongly connected with the powers and mysteries of the Earth, the Jaguar trecena brings into play the enchantment, mystery, and power of the Jaguar in combination with Quetzalcoatl, its “sacred twin,” the embodiment of wisdom, light, and life. This combination of the Jaguar’s association with survival, protection, power, and instinct, with the life-aligned forces of the patron energies provides a time frame is highly aligned with both rulership and transformation. The general theme of “posturing or pushing for power and authority” often plays out during this period, with a certain amount of “jostling for position” to bring about Earth-related change.

Further information on how these energies connect with world events can be found in the Maya Count of Days Horoscope blog at Look for the Ix (Jaguar) 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 1 Jaguar, this trecena proceeds: 2 Eagle, 3 Vulture, 4 Earthquake, 5 Flint, 6 Rain, and with 7 Flower completes the vientena. Starting again on the next one, the count continues with 8 Crocodile, 9 Rain, 10 House, 11 Lizard, 12 Snake, and 13 Death.

The Jaguar trecena contains three very significant days:

Four Earthquake or Movement (in Nahuatl Nahui Ollin) is the day-name of the Fifth Sun created as described above by Quetzalcoatl. The titular god of this current Sun is Tonatiuh, who became the solar deity by leaping into the creative conflagration (as illustrated in my Icon #16). The face of Tonatiuh is at the center of the Stone of the Suns.

Seven Flower (in Nahuatl Chicome Xochitl) is the day-name of Xochipilli, the Prince of Flowers (subject of my Icon #18). He is the god of a great many things including art, music, dance, games, (homo)sexuality, fertility (flowers and agriculture), beauty, peace, ecstasy, sleep, and dreams/hallucinations.  As patron of writing, painting, and song he manifests as his nagual/alias deity Chicome Xochitl, and in some of his roles as other naguals to be encountered later. The Prince is also a patron of the sacred ballgame tlachtli.

Nine Wind (in Nahuatl Chicnahui Ehecatl) is sometimes called the day-name of Quetzalcoatl, inasmuch as it is actually the day-name of his principle nagual Ehecatl, God of the Wind (air, the breath of life, and spirit) and inspiration/intelligence (see my Icon #5). Note that the day-sign is the stylized head of Ehecatl. The relationship between these two deities is even closer than being naguals of each other, more like a split personality. In actual fact, the existential Ehecatl is much more popular in the codices and rituals than the notorious Quetzalcoatl. (More on this below.)    


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 previous 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 the patron deity of the Jaguar trecena, I created an image of Quetzalcoatl with a plumed serpent on his back much like the Codex Borbonicus image of Xiuhtecuhtli in its Dog trecena. In my ignorant enthusiasm, I wisely added items of regalia and symbols I’d read about in my limited sources, like the conical Huastec cap (with jaguar fur), flowering shinbone, fire-serpent weapon, cross symbol on his shield, golden beard, and others. In consequence, he wound up looking remarkably authentic in terms of Aztec iconography.

Aztec Calendar – Jaguar trecena – Tonalamatl Balthazar

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

Aztec Calendar – Jaguar Trecena – Tonalamatl Borgia

This Borgia image of Quetzalcoatl wears only a few identifying emblems: the conch-whorl cutout pendant, the double serpent headdress, and sea-shell ornaments. Borgia also uses the black body with grey markings for other deities, apparently to indicate their supernatural nature. Note the jaguar pelt draped over the seat of the god’s throne and the divine fur on his collar. I should point out that for some dramatic reason Borgia almost always “bloodies” the corners of eyes, including those of the day-signs.

I can’t explain the significance of the temple with the star in its doorway or of the other items, but the small human figure deserves comment, at least for the curious fact of his having two left hands. In her monumental book “Descendants of Aztec Pictography,” Elizabeth Hill Boone (who taught art history at my alma mater Tulane University long after my time there) excuses this startling feature intellectually as “ideoplastic:” an image meant to be understood in intended detail rather than as optically accurate. As a latter-day descendant of Aztec pictography myself, I consider two left hands to be like a childish drawing, the artist simply being careless about verisimilitude, especially since this confusion of hands only occurs occasionally.

On the other hand, you will note here with Quetzalcoatl and the little guy, as well as later on everywhere (including in my own Tonalamatl and most other codices) a lack of distinction between figures’ right and left feet. Perhaps this physical discrepancy can appropriately be called ideoplastic because of the pronounced difficulty, if not impossibility, of rendering the toes in proper perspective. One easily gets used to understanding the intended detail.             

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

Aztec Calendar – Jaguar Trecena – Tonalamatl Yoal

Unlike Borgia’s “plain” image of Quetzalcoatl, this one in Tonalamatl Yoal is loaded with symbols and emblems of the deity, lacking only the double serpent in his stupendous headdress. Like the black body in Borgia, here the unnatural bluish-mauve body indicates his divine nature. The “mound” on which he’s standing/dancing is the symbol of a physical location, often (as in Codex Nuttall) adorned with the emblem of a specific place or town.  I’m unable to explain the apparent basket on his back or the items he holds in his hands, but I should point out that he’s wearing the mask of his nagual Ehecatl. This is in fact the schizoid deity Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl with emblematic elements of the Wind God’s headdress added to his own. The oddity is the mask’s many teeth—usually Ehecatl has only a single fang as in the day-sign.

Now I should show you what was involved in “compiling” and “re-creating” the images of Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl from these two codices:

Telleriano- Remensis Comparison with Rios Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl

To be kind, I can only call the original T-R image on the left crude and its Italian copy in Rios on the right imprecise, if slightly more realistic. By adjusting proportion and orientation and refining detail and color, my work was to turn these primitive sketches into a finished work. The large part of that (here and in most other cases) was correcting the position of the arms. Perhaps reasonably, Dr. Boone cites the distorted connection of limbs to figures’ torsos as another instance of ideoplastic art, but as a contemporary descendant, I’m offended by the contortion. By moving the arms to their natural positions, I can also reveal the profile detail of the face. (In this connection, note that as a stylistic rule, Aztec figures are almost exclusively drawn in profile, which is coincidentally a strict convention shared with ancient Egyptian paintings.)

Now let us consider the attendant figure, which I’ve adapted directly from T-R as more refined and dramatic (more blood!) than the Rios copy. The blood aside, you’ll observe that he has two right hands and misshapen feet, one with six toes! So much for ideoplasticity! Folks indoctrinated in Old World cults would call what this patently human figure is doing–piercing his tongue–doing “penance,” making retribution or punishing himself for inherent and inherited sinfulness, but it’s not.

In the Mesoamerican ethos, he’s sacrificing his sacred life-blood to the deity. Ceremonial blood-letting through the tongue or genitals was practiced since time immemorial to incur the good will of deities or to express gratitude for blessings. Heart sacrifice was a prayer to the gods that they continue the current Sun (world), and through the sacrificial ritual the donor experienced apotheosis with the subject deity. After the rite, quite like any other food animal, the donor’s body was consumed by the animistic population as sacramental communion. (If I might be permitted a personal comment here, I believe that the death of all beings, whether or not eaten afterwards, is apotheosis, the deceased merging with that deity in which they believed.)              


Since Codex Borbonicus and Tonalamatl Aubin also lack the Jaguar trecena, I can only offer the patron panel from Codex Vaticanus for comparison.

Codex Vaticanus Patron Panel for Jaguar Trecena

The elements of this image are a stylistically different restatement of those in the Borgia panel, lacking only the elegant night-day symbol. Note the close similarity of the bowl of offerings and arrow bundles, including that odd shield-like item pinned to one of them. The attendant figure kneels in exactly the same position; his hands, here now two right ones, are also held in the same position, probably a worshipful gesture (like a salute?) but not overtly suggesting sacrifice as in Yoal. (The position of figures’ hands is apparently symbolic, though poorly understood.)

The figure of Quetzalcoatl is even plainer than in Borgia with only the double serpent in his headdress and a few seashell ornaments, lacking even the conch-shell pendant and divine jaguar pelt accoutrements. He shares the supernatural black body and tri-color face but differs in boasting a beard—a puzzling genetic phenomenon for “native American” males. Another puzzle is the little tag on his nose-bar which is normally emblematic of the god Tezcatlipoca.

I can’t leave this image of Quetzalcoatl without complaining about his arms—and two left hands. Their connection with the deity’s torso is beyond distorted—almost like two left arms. The choice of how to “excuse” this glaring feature is yours: extreme ideoplasty, artistic ineptitude, or proto-Cubism? (In the original Borgia image, the distinction between his arms is unclear against the god’s black body, but it required only a tiny adjustment of the gray outline to line up the figure’s appropriately right and left hands.)

In any case, it’s evident that Codex Borgia and Codex Vaticanus must have been products of the same priestly school. I find it disturbing that in her great book Dr. Boone does not discuss these outstanding examples of pictography, except to dismiss them as “codices of the Borgia group, from the Puebla-Tlaxcala-Mixteca areas south of the valley of Mexico” and merely to include them among “the Mixtec genealogical histories and the divinatory manuscripts of the Borgia Group.” Nor does she even mention Tonalamatl Aubin. Within her very narrow geographic parameters of “Aztec” pictography, she includes much detail on the late Borbonicus, Telleriano-Remensis, Rios, and other codices and refers generously to the much later Magliabechiano, Mendoza, and Tudela manuscripts. However, as an artistic descendant of this fascinating pictography, I would argue that those parameters should embrace a much broader historical period and the wider geographical area of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.              


The next trecena will be that of Deer with scandalous and mysterious patrons: the Goddess of Filth and the Heart of the Mountain. Stay tuned!