Hey all! My friend Megan sent me a sweet guest post!
Erm, fair warning. There’s some cussing in here. And a lot of jerk-hood.
Before I begin, I want to issue a very heavy disclaimer. This myth I’m about to retell, while at least moderately researched, is by no means academic, nor is it written through anything resembling a lens of the original cultural values through which these myths were crafted and refined. My primary intention is to entertain, which means I have handpicked the versions of the myths that (can be easily twisted to) help support my intention the best. There are a number of different tellings and interpretations, as with any myth. If you’re looking to educate yourself (which, if you are… WILL YOU BE MY MYTH BUDDY PRETTY PLEASE?) then I recommend starting here (http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/aztec/index.htm) and getting yourself a copy of the various Codices (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_codices).
Another, more bite-sized disclaimer: there’s an earlier version of this essay floating around somewhere on the internet. This version was revised. Heavily. If you happen to find the other one… uh… I’ll give you a cookie.
Now that I’ve covered my ass all polite-like, let’s talk about Tezcatlipoca. Of course, to talk about Tezcatlipoca, we have to talk about the Five Suns.
The Aztecs believed that, prior to this world, there were four other worlds ruled over by the gods with one chief god acting as the sun, occupied with peoples who were entirely different from us. Each of those worlds were destroyed in various ways: first by jaguars who attacked and ate everyone, then by hurricanes that sowed destruction in their wakes, then fiery rains which scorched everything to death, then a great flood of blood that drowned all the things. This world, the Fifth World, is scheduled for destruction by great earthquakes at some undefined point in the future.
Big deal, right? If there’s one thing that’s commonly accepted nowadays about the Aztecs it’s that they’re all doomy and gloomy and stuff. (And had a thing for blood, hearts, flayed skins, and long, hard-to-pronounce names. But that’s beside the point.)
Well. Let me tell you a thing.
Not only were the four other worlds destroyed, they were destroyed either directly or consciously indirectly because of one god, the ultimate god of being a dick: Tezcatlipoca.
Technically, Tezcatlipoca (pronounced “tess-cat-lee-poke-uh” if you need to educate that voice in your head that speaks the words that you read) is a title which basically means “cosmic king of everything”. Common agreement is there are four Tezcatlipocas, one for each cardinal direction. Quetzalcoatl—you know, the nice, beard-wearing hipster rainbow god just wants everyone to learn all the things and be nice to each other—is known as the White Tezcatlipoca. For clarity’s sake, when I write “Tezcatlipoca”, the guy I’m referring to in particular is known as the Black Tezcatlipoca, the Smoking Mirror. He’s super important: it was because he let a giant crocodile monster nosh on his foot that there’s a world that exists in the first place. He was so important that every year a young man would be chosen to be his living representation to watch over the people in the city, bless their important folks, and hang out with the four women who were chosen to be the living representation of Tezcatlipoca’s wives. He’s got a ton of epithets (like Titlacauan, which means “We are his slaves”) and he’s syncretized with a bunch of different gods but his most common one is just Tezcatlipoca because no one knows his real name. Anyway, he’s the god of—apart from being a dick—nobility, magic, night time, judgment, the earth, and jaguars.
I bet you can already see where this is going.
Tezcatlipoca, along with his brother Quetzalcoatl (“ket-sal-coh-ah-tl”), worked together to create the world out of the corpse of the aforementioned foot-eating giant crocodile monster. Tezcatlipoca claimed rulership to the first world they created and the people who lived in it. Problem was, because Tezcatlipoca was missing his foot, he was only half a sun. Quetzalcoatl, being a mightier sun than his brother, was unhappy with this because he felt that the people of the First World needed something better, so he got himself a stone club and smote the shit out of his brother. (But in a nice way, because he’s a nice god of mercy and education and stuff.)
Well, Tezcatlipoca was understandably angry about this. So what did he do? Sit down and have a serious talk with his brother about how hurtful his actions were? Appeal to the other gods about the injustice of this situation? Grab a stone club to retaliate?
No. He decided to turn into a jaguar and get all his jaguar buddies to eat every last person in the world. Because if he couldn’t rule over them, then he was going to make sure that Quetzalcoatl couldn’t.
Alright, alright. That’s pretty vindictive, but we can sympathize with the guy, right? His brother beat him up and stole his toys all because he’s an amputee. That’s just not fair.
Hang tight, there’s more.
Now Quetzalcoatl’s no chump. Instead of giving up, he decided he’d try to make the second world better than the first. So he created new people and ruled over that for a while. But, of course, Tezcatlipoca totally didn’t approve of the way Quetzalcoatl was running things. The people were becoming less civilized, he insisted, and honoring the gods less and less. Quetzalcoatl asserted that his people were flawed but they were beautiful and he loved them and who was Tezcatlipoca to judge, anyway? He was probably still butthurt over getting his ass kicked so he should mind his own business.
Naturally, Tezcatlipoca wasn’t keen on letting his name get dragged through the mud by his brother like that, especially not without the people giving him proper honors and restoring the dignity he deserved to his name. So he figured, since the people were acting like monkeys, he’d just cut out the middleman and make them monkeys.
Quetzalcoatl was so upset and hurt by this that he whipped up a hurricane so big that it blew all the monkeys off the planet. (But mercifully so.)
Given just those two worlds, we can surmise that the real problem here isn’t Tezcalipoca but both Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl. Clearly not only do the two of them not get along, but they can’t be trusted to solve their grievances in a mature fashion.
The other Aztec gods figured this out too. They decided that neither of them should be the suns for the third world. Instead they picked Tlaloc (“tlah-loak”), who was next in the line of importance because he was in charge of rain and storms, which allowed plants to grow, which in turn allowed the people to live and worship the gods.
Tlaloc was known for being a pretty stoic and stable guy. After all, he could be relied upon to do his job every season, and do it well. Generally the mortals liked the guy because he provided them with food and beautiful green things. With him around, their survival was guaranteed—and, best of all, he didn’t have an asshole brother who kept trying to get in his way or ruin his things. All in all, a pretty ideal setup, right? Sure, you had to honor Tlaloc with the blood and tears of children, but that’s not such a big deal—you can always make more of those.
Another thing Tlaloc was known for was being a hideous, bug-eyed dude with massive fangs and fighting a constant battle with psoriasis. It’s perhaps no surprise that he was often associated with crocodiles.
What may come as a surprise, though, is that he was married to the bombshelliest of bombshell goddesses, Xochiquetzal (“show-chee-ket-sull”). And when I say “bombshell”, I’m talking no bullshit with a golden apple labeled “for the fairest” causing a massive fight between several goddesses which lead to an all-out war because no one but some chump who herds sheep could decide. I’m talking a goddess so sexy that the most devoted of ascetics the world has ever known broke his vows of celibacy simply because he touched her in the most chaste of manners. I’m talking a goddess of flowers and butterflies and free love without consequences and sheer unadulterated essence of womanhood.
Naturally, Tezcatlipoca wanted to tap that. And, because he was too good to abide by the sanctity of marriage, he seduced her. But this was not some torrid affair that continued for centuries behind Tlaloc’s back, oh no. Tezcatlipoca did away with that from the get-go and straight-up stole Xochiquetzal away for his own.
Tlaloc got really pissed. So pissed that he stuck his hands firmly in his armpits and didn’t bring the thunder when it came time. When the people’s crops started dying, they were like, “Hey, uh, Tlaloc, can you pretty please send a little drizzle our way or something? Look, we’re giving you extra children.” But Tlaloc wouldn’t be moved. Then they were like, “Well, we’d love to give you more children but we’re kind of out right now and we can’t make more because we don’t have any food.” But Tlaloc wouldn’t be moved. Then they were like, “TLALOC, PRETTY PLEASE WITH A CHERRY ON TOP!? WE’RE KINDA DYING HERE.”
This was seriously interrupting his sulking time so he was like, “FINE. YOU WANT RAIN SO BAD? I’LL GIVE YOU YOUR RAIN.”
And then he rained fire upon the entire earth.
As you can probably guess, that was the end of the Third World.
Okay. In terms of overall dickery, stealing another dude’s wife is pretty run of the mill. Heck, it’s probably one of the most key yes/no questions on the “Is this god a dick?” survey. You don’t get special asshole accolades for doing that kind of thing.
Well, my friends, we are about to reach the absolute crowning achievement of Tezcatlipoca’s wankerisms.
The Fourth World needed a ruler. And it was clear that this ruler would not only need to not tend towards apocalyptic family disputes but also would need to not have an ultra-hot wife and need to not be prone to stubborn anger full of fiery death for the poor mortals who were just trying to survive and give the gods their sweet, sweet worshipjuice (and by “worshipjuice” I mean blood).
Who would you choose?
The Aztec gods chose Tlaloc’s new wife, Chalchiuhtlicue (“chal-chee-oot-lee-cue”). She was the beautiful, gentle goddess of rain, streams, rivers, and the sea. And she was a sweetheart. The gods loved her. The people loved her. And she loved everyone. On top of that, she was not too beautiful that she would strike people with an uncontrollable lust by giving them a big hug (which is especially good, because she was probably the hugging sort). Sure, she got wilder as one got further and further out to sea, but that was easily avoidable and everyone knew that going out to sea was a stupid idea anyway. If Xochiquetzal was the sexiest of the group, Chalchiuhtlicue was the most loving.
Clearly she was the best choice. Not only was she married to a dude, but he was an ugly one at that, so there would probably be no spouse stealing. She had never done nor would she ever do anything to hurt any of the other gods so no one had any reason to try and get back at her. She loved Tezcatlipoca so if he did anything to hurt her out of sheer malice (like seduce her husband) she could be trusted to work through her feelings and try to resolve the matter with him peacefully. And even if she wasn’t able to resolve anything, she loved the people too much to even dream of hurting them, much less for something that was entirely out of their control.
And the people were happy, and civilized, and honored the gods properly.
Of course, our hero Tezcatlipoca just didn’t like the Fourth World. Presumably because he wasn’t ruling over it.
So he sneaked over to Chalchiuhtlicue and whispered to her that he thought she wasn’t really the nicest, most sweetest goddess ever. That she was just being nice so that she would fool the mortals and the gods into loving her. That at heart she was just a petty, selfish person who knew she had no redeeming qualities so she sought affirmation through the falsely-born love of others. But he wasn’t fooled, oh no, and he wouldn’t let her fool herself.
How can you even prove that kind of thing wrong? What sort of evidence can you offer against those kinds of words? And she cared so much about being good to her people that she couldn’t just ignore what Tezcatlipoca was saying. And so poor Chalchiuhtlicue started to believe that maybe he was right.
This thought devastated her so much, broke her heart so thoroughly in two, that she wept tears of blood for fifty-two years straight. Fifty-two years. Predictably, her tears flooded the Fourth World, destroying it utterly. (It’s worth noting that she was able to get over herself enough to see that they were suffering probably among the worst deaths that a person could suffer and decide that, regardless of whether she was doing it because she loved them or because she couldn’t stand the thought of losing those that loved her, she would give them an opportunity to continue living and pursue happiness by turning them into fish. Mad props, Chalchiuhtlicue. You can come over here and drown me with your tears anytime.)
So here we are now, in the Fifth World, ruled by Huitzilopochtli (“weet-zee-low-poked-lee”), the guy who literally sprang from his mother’s womb fully armed and armored, the guy who started killing his brothers and sisters mere minutes after being born. (To be fair, though, this was because they were after his mom for getting herself knocked up by a ball of feathers. That seems super unfair. I mean, I’d agree that should win the award for most bizarre way to get pregnant, but I don’t agree that the death penalty is a suitable prize. But I digress.) Him being the sun was so upsetting that the very stars themselves war against him every night such that he needs a constant stream of sacrifices to be able to keep everything functioning properly.
If you ask me, that’s pretty fertile ground for Tezcatlipoca to really shine, to outdo himself in doing the world.
So keep an eye out for those earthquakes, people.