Mesoamerican Myths

Mesoamerican Mythology of the Cosmos and the Creation of Humanity

Myths stress the reality and events of the world’s beginnings and foundations, humans, staple foods, and supernatural beings—gods and cultural heroes. The many-core textual sources for Mesoamerican mythology of the pre-Hispanic period have frequently persisted in broken form. In terms of contemporary Mesoamerican peoples, most academics rely on anthropological evidence gathered by anthropologists in the twentieth century.

Mesoamerica shares a shared cosmovision and Mesoamerican Mythology with a wide range of civilizations. The texts that depict aboriginal civilizations were generally published in Spanish in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly regarding Central Mexico; others were written in Nahuatl by the conquerors themselves, friars who began to evangelize or convert indigenous peoples. While a few complete manuscripts exist, such as Teotihuacan’s creation of the sun and moon and the narrative of Quetzalcoatl, the majority of these books contain just parts of mythology.

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The Popol Vuh is a large, well-structured Mayan cosmogonic tale composed about 1551. This narrative was written in Quiché in Roman letters to be recited during their secret ceremonies (a tradition still alive among the present indigenous peoples).

The ethnographic data cover a broader range of topics, although they share some mythological aspects and pre-Hispanic stories. There are also many Christian syncretisms because many saints and virgins are blended with previous deities.

Many symbols from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican Mythology are popular and appear in archaeological artefacts, such as the cosmic tree, the earth monster, and the jaguar. The notion of duality dominated Mesoamerican thinking. Ometeotl, the Nahua Supreme God, depicts a union of opposites. He-she resides in Omeyocan, which is associated with Tamoanchan and Xochitlicacan and above the thirteen heavens. When Ometeotl transforms into Omecihuatl and Ometecuhtli, they produce four gods—the creators of the rest of the gods and the world:

  • Fire
  • The calendar
  • The ruler of the death realm
  • A large sea
  • Aquatic gods
  • The earth monster
  • Twelve more heavens
  • Omecihuatl and Ometecuhtli created a man and a woman, the first sorcerers and human parents.

According to one version of Mesoamerican Mythology folklore, the lovely goddess Xochiquetzal resided there in bliss and plenty until she was captivated by Tezcatlipoca. In another version of the narrative, the gods rip the tree’s branches off, severing its blooms in the process. Finally, the supreme gods Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl chastise them for their transgression and cast them to earth and the underworld.

Alfredo López Austin wrote about Tamoanchan and the events there, drawing on folklore and Nahuatl poetry. López Austin concludes that the gods created sex, other space, other creatures, and other times due to their misdeeds for which they were punished. For example, death had polluted the gods, yet they could now breed.

According to Michel Graulich, the major motif in the beginnings of Mesoamerican tales is the passing from one period to another. It is caused by a breach between the sky and the ground due to a transgression. When the gods are expelled from Tamoancham, Tollan, Tlalocan, and Aztlan—places mentioned as paradises or ideal regions representing the marriage of opposites—a state of unity and harmony is attained in which the primordial couple and their progeny live in perfect peace. When the creators chastise the gods, they are sent to the underworld. They do, however, return to light after a sacrifice.

Myths of the Cosmogonic Realm

The concept of cyclic time and cosmogonic ages (or “suns”) is founded on the premise that the gods created the cosmos so that humanity may serve, adore, and feed the gods. This belief arose due to a cyclical process of creation and destruction in which the entities (humans) that the gods desired to serve them grew gradually.

According to the Mayan tradition and Mesoamerican Mythology, the gods created the animals initially, but the animals did not glorify the gods; instead, they wept, croaked, or shrieked. The gods then created some men from mud, but they were destroyed by water, creating men from wood and women from reeds. These creations, too, are unable to serve the gods and were destroyed by the revolt of their domestic animals, household goods, and a flood. The remaining humans evolved into monkeys.

Finally, the gods produced four men who were so brilliant and had such excellent eyesight that they could see everything that existed. However, the gods recognized that they had failed yet again; if humans were flawless, they would be equal to the gods and not reproduce. As a result, “Heart of Heaven” blew into the four men’s eyes, blurring their vision and preventing them from seeing anything beyond what was closest to them. As a result, their wisdom was obliterated. Unfortunately, this belief is still prevalent among the Lancands.

In another Maya account of Mesoamerican Mythology, Hurakan and the other gods made thirteen males and twelve women by combining maize bread with the blood of a serpent and a tapir. Many current Mayan cultures still believe in the numerous cosmic periods and the various creatures. However, these beliefs have grown to include Adam, Eve, Jesus, and Mary in modern-day. Unfortunately, these organizations have also lost sight of humans’ creations to worship and support gods.

The Deluge Wrath and Creation of Humankind

Olmec- Mesoamerican mythology
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Water annihilated the final creation. The story of the flood and the birth of the new humanity is told in pre-Hispanic variants, but it is also well recognized among many current ethnic groups. Tezcatlipoca picked a couple, Tata and Nene, to be spared from the deluge in the pre-Hispanic version of the narrative. He instructed them to build a boat out of a hollow tree and save themselves. They grilled a fish when the flood receded, but the smoke reached heaven, angering the gods. So Tezcatlipoca arrived and turned Tata and Nene into dogs.

According to the popular ethnographic version of Mesoamerican Mythology, a man escaped the deluge on the counsel of a supernatural figure. The man brought maize and a bitch on his boat. When the floodwaters retreated, he went to work in the field. Every time he came home, he discovered that food had been prepared. The man once concealed and discovered that the bitch was a lady without her bitch skin. So the guy burnt the skin and married the lady, and descendants of that pair repopulated the world.

Humans are also produced from the bones of individuals from past eras in several pre-Hispanic beliefs. López Austin defined this origin myth as the general genesis of human beings instead of the differentiated birth of human tribes from Chicomoztoc (Seven caves). When the world was rebuilt, the gods gathered and questioned themselves, “Who will occupy the world?” They agreed to send Quetzalcoatl to the underworld to get the bones used to make the new people. (According to another version of the narrative, Xolotl was transported to the underworld.) Quetzalcoatl travelled to the underworld and inquired for the Lord of the Dead’s bones. The bones were handed to Quetzalcoatl, but the Lord altered his mind at the last minute. Quetzalcoatl eventually recovered the bones and carried them to Tamoanchan, where the goddess Cihuacoatl Quilaztli crushed them and mixed the powder with Quetzalcoatl’s penile blood. This substance was used to build the new humankind.

Myths about Other Creations of Humankind

The first four gods formed by the primordial couple were Oxomoco and Cipactonal, tasked with tilling the land and spinning and weaving. They were then given corn kernels to divide with. The children of Oxomoco and Cipactonal produced early humanity. According to the Historia de Los Mexicanos por las Pinturas, when the sky collapsed and Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca restored it, they needed to make four men assist them.

Another story of Mesoamerican Mythology holds that when the original four gods created a sun to illuminate the earth and fed it hearts and blood to make it move, war was established; humankind was created to fight that battle. Camaxtli, the hunting and fighting God, struck a large rock with his staff, and four hundred Chichimecs came forth to populate the country, according to Tlaxcala legend. Camaxtli and the rock were both considered mythical ancestors by the Chichimec, who eventually changed their name to Otom.

According to Tetzcoco’s claims in Historia de México (1964), an arrow launched from the sky landed near Tetzcoco and made a large hole through which a man and a woman emerged. They were, however, in the shape of busts with half-bodies. This guy and lady produced offspring who colonized Tetzcoco by copulating with their tongues. According to another story, Citlalicue (“skirt of stars,” i.e., the Milky Way) sent sixteen hundred sons and daughters to Teotihuacán, but they all died there. Citlalicue gave rise to a flint knife, according to Mendieta. It terrified her other children, and they flung the knife into the sky, where it fell at Chicomoztoc in Acolman, near Teotihuacan.

The sixteen hundred sons and daughters given by Citlalicue (or who magically appeared from the flint knife) were more divine than humans; they requested that their mother supply them with servants.

The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars

Mesoamerican Cosmology
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The story of the Fifth Sun (the current period) is one of the most well-known in Mesoamerican Mythology. When everything was dark, the gods assembled at Teotihuacan (historically connected with the glorious city of Teotihuacan) to create a new sun. Two gods volunteered to be sacrificed: the wealthy Tecuciztecatl, who conducted penance with expensive goods, and the impoverished and sick Nananhuatzin, whose sacrifices were merely reeds, grass balls, maguey spines, and paper. Both gods were escorted to a holy fire after four nights of penance. Tecuciztecatl was horrified by the might of the fire and withdrew, at which point Nanahuatzin flung himself into the flames, purifying him and transforming him into the sun.

Tecuciztecatl, inspired by this transformation, jumped into the flames as well. But it had faded and no longer blazed brilliantly, so he transformed into a lesser light. Finally, he was transformed into the moon (Heyden, 1987). When the moon appeared, one of the gods struck it in the face with a rabbit, leaving a visible mark. Following this, the sun remained stationary and refused to move unless the gods were sacrificed. (R. Barlow documented a version of this tale in Tepoztlan, Morelos, in 1949, and another version is still popular among the Huichol people.)

The Popol Vuh contains the Maya version of the sun creation story, which tells of the exploits of the twins, Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu. One hunter’s sons were both intelligent men, artists, and diviners. The twins loved to play ball, and the noise they created irritated the Lords of Xibalba. These lords took on the form of various illnesses. They summoned the twins to their domain and subjected them to trials until they were sacrificed and buried. Hun Hunahpu’s head was put in a gourd tree. Ixquic, the daughter of one of Xibalba’s Lords, approached the tree and the head of the serpent. One hunter spat on her hand, causing her to get pregnant.

Ixquic was sentenced to death due to this, but she escaped with the assistance of her would-be executioners, two owls. Ixquic returned to the earth’s surface and gave birth to another set of twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, cared about by their grandmother. After various adventures, including transforming their half brothers into monkeys, they begin playing the ball game; they are summoned to Xibalba again, but this time they pass the trials, tricking the rulers of the underworld. However, Hunter and the Deer jaguar eventually burn themselves, transforming themselves into the sun and moon.

Venus was also created as a consequence of the sacrifice of Quetzalcoatl, the ruler of Tollan, who left his city after being duped by his rival gods, Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli, and went to a country named Tlillan Tlapallan, the land of red and black. He burns himself here and becomes the morning star.

Origins of the Maize and Other Edible Plants

Because maize was Mexico’s principal crop, much of ceremonial life was centred on its cultivation. It led to several myths about it, both pre-Hispanic and modern, most of which are anthropological.

According to the pre-Hispanic tradition, Quetzalcoatl spotted a red ant carrying a corn kernel and repeatedly questioned the ant where she got it. The ant eventually told him that she got it from Tonacatepetl. As a result, Quetzalcoatl changed himself into a black ant and obtained the kernels, which he brought to Tamoanchan, where the gods chewed them and placed the kernels in people’s mouths to strengthen them. They then dispatched Nanahuatl to destroy Tonacatepetl, while the tlaloque gathered four-coloured corn and other edible seeds to make them available to humanity.

According to another tale of Mesoamerican Mythology, maize and edible plants originated from the body of the deity Cinteotl. The story of the ants concealing the maize kernels still exists in various anthropological accounts.

Maize Mesoamerican mythology Deity
Credit: Word History Encyclopedia

Ethnographic representations of a maize kid may be seen all across Mexico. His name might be Oxchuk, Dipak, Piltontli, or any of several other names. George Foster uncovered the tale where two ancient folks discover an infant with golden hair inside an egg in it. The infant has amazing abilities and good and terrible relationships with animals. After a while, the old couple attempt to murder and devour him, but he learns their plot and kills them first. The boy later has several adventures, one of which involves defeating Hurakan, a sea deity and thunder.

The father’s child is slain in the Totonac version because he enjoys playing the violin. Shortly after birth, the boy dies and is buried by his mother, and a maize plant emerges from his tomb. She chops some kernels and tosses some grains into the river. A turtle retains one on her shell, and the maize child is born anew from that grain. The youngster then embarks on a series of adventures, including the creation of thunder and rain clouds.

Maguey was a highly significant plant in Central Mexico, where it was used to make the intoxicating drink octli or pulque, among other things. According to legend, Quetzalcoatl journeyed to heaven searching for a virgin deity named Mayahuel. Instead, he discovers her among other maidens cared for by their grandmother, a tzitzimitl (a monster). Quetzalcoatl awoke Mayahuel, telling her that he was bringing her to earth, which he accomplished, converting them into a tree having two branches.

One of them branches represented Quetzalcoatl, while the other represented Mayahuel. When the tzitzimitl realized Mayahuel had gone missing, she rushed after her, located the tree, broke Mayahuel’s branch, and ate her up together with the other tzitzimitl. Quetzalcoatl took Mayahuel’s bones and sowed them, and the first maguey sprang from these bones.


The Mesoamerican Mythology listed above is a collection of creation myths attributed to numerous pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures and civilizations and Mesoamerican literature.

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