Xiuhtecuhtli

Definition

Mark Cartwright
by
published on 22 August 2013
Xiuhtecuhtli (by bathporeia, CC BY-NC-SA)

Xiuhtecuhtli or ‘Turquoise Lord’ was the Aztec god of fire and also closely associated with young warriors and rulers. To the Maya he was known as Chac Xiutei. Xiuhtecuhtli was the patron of the day Atl (water) and the trecena period 1 Coatl (Snake). He was the 1st Aztec Lord of the Night and 1st of the Lords of the Day. His nagual or animal spirit was Xiuhcóatl or the Fire Serpent and his special number was three because in traditional Mesoamerican homes there were three hearths. In Mesoamerican mythology the fundamental element of fire was thought to run through the entire universe and wherever there was fire, so too was Xiuhtecuhtli.

The name of the god derives from the Nahuatl word for turquoise xihuitl, which also means ‘year’ suggesting the god also represented time. Xiuhtecuhtli was often identified or equated with the older god of fire Huehueteotl (usually portrayed in stark contrast to the youthful Xiuhtecuhtli as a wrinkled old man with no teeth) who was himself a possible reincarnation of the still older Olmec God I. The equivalent fire deity for the Otom╬» was Otontecuhtli. 

Remove Ads

Advertisement

One of Xiuhtecuhtli’s most important roles was as overseer of the Toxiuhmolpilia festival or New Fire Ceremony.

Toxiuhmolpilia

One of Xiuhtecuhtli’s most important roles was as overseer of the Toxiuhmolpilia festival or New Fire Ceremony (also called Binding of the Years). Held once every 52 years on the completion of one full cycle of the Aztec calendar (xiuhmolpilli), the primary function of the festival was to ensure the successful renewal (or re-occurrence) of the sun.

During the festival all fires, from temples to household hearths, were symbolically extinguished and idols were cleansed with water, streets swept and old cooking implements and hearth stones thrown away. Then, atop Mt. Uixachtecatl (or Citlaltepec), near the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, priests gathered at midnight and awaited a precise alignment of the stars. Only when the Tianquiztli (Pleiades) reached the zenith and the Yohualtecuhtli star shone brightly in the very centre of the sky was a sacrifice made to Xiuhtecuhtli by cutting out the heart of a sacrificial victim. Fire was then kindled inside the open chest cavity and if the fire lit successfully then all was well and the fire was taken to re-light all of the city’s fires. If the flame had not lit successfully then it was believed to signal the coming of terrible monsters, the Tzitzimime, who would roam the darkness eating all mankind.

Mask of Xiuhtecuhtli
Mask of Xiuhtecuhtli
by Trustees of the British Museum (Copyright)

Representations in Art

Living up to his name of Turquoise Lord, the god was very often represented in Mesoamerican art using turquoise mosaic and wearing his ruler’s crown (xiuhuitzolli), in particular in the Late Postclassical period (from 1200 CE). Other common features are a xiuhtototl - the turquoise-coloured bird - hanging from his forehead, the xiuhcoatl fire serpent at his back and a butterfly-shaped pectoral, also in turquoise. These elements were also commonly seen in depictions of Toltec warriors, reminders of the god’s close association with that class. One of the most celebrated and striking representations of the god is the 14th century CE turquoise mosaic mask with conch shell eyes, now in the British Museum.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

Editorial Review This article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

Translations

We want people all over the world to learn about history. Help us and translate this definition into another language!

About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His special interests include pottery, architecture, world mythology and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share in common. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at AHE.
Remove Ads

Advertisement

Support Our
Non-Profit Organization

Ancient History Encyclopedia Foundation is a non-profit organization. For only $5 per month you can become a member and support our mission to engage people with cultural heritage and to improve history education worldwide.

Become a Member  

Recommended Books

 

Cite This Work

APA Style

Cartwright, M. (2013, August 22). Xiuhtecuhtli. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Xiuhtecuhtli/

Chicago Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Xiuhtecuhtli." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified August 22, 2013. https://www.ancient.eu/Xiuhtecuhtli/.

MLA Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Xiuhtecuhtli." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 22 Aug 2013. Web. 12 Dec 2019.

Remove Ads

Advertisement

Remove Ads

Advertisement

Powered by Mailchimp

Newsletter

Our latest articles delivered to your inbox, once a week:

Are you a...?




Visit our Shop

Ancient History Merchandising
Remove Ads

Advertisement

Our Videos

You can also follow us on Youtube!