Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Huitzilopochtli & The Battle of Coatepec

I’m in a storytelling mood again, so I think it’s time for the legend about Huitzilopochtli’s miraculous birth and His battle at Coatepec against Coyolxauhqui and the Centzon Huitznahua. My version of the tale follows the most common form quite closely, as there don’t seem to be many variants of this one that need to be dealt with. As a bonus, I included a photo of the famous Coyolxauhqui Stone that was located at the foot of Huitzilopochtli’s side of the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan, a structure that retold this particular myth in stone.

The Battle Of Coatepec: Huitzilopochtli Defeats the Moon and Stars

As told by Cehualli

Long ago, before the foundations of Tenochtitlan were laid, the great goddess Coatlicue, “She With The Snake Skirt,” was living peacefully at Coatepec. One day, She was sweeping Her home as She always did, when a peculiar sight greeted her. A little ball of beautiful feathers was drifting down from the sky towards Her.

“What a lovely bunch of feathers!” Coatlicue said as She stopped Her sweeping to pick them up. “Perhaps they are a gift from another god. Either way, I will keep them.” She tucked them into Her clothes for safekeeping and resumed Her sweeping. Later, once She had finished sweeping, She reached for the feathers to take them and put them away, but they were gone. “Where are my beautiful feathers? Did I drop them?” She looked around for the feathers, but they were nowhere to be found.

Coatlicue suddenly stopped Her search and placed a hand against Her belly. “What’s this? I’m pregnant!” She wondered at this miracle. “The beautiful feathers have become a baby — how can this be?” Excited and amazed, She shared this incredible news with the other gods and godesses.

Coyoxauhqui, the Moon goddess, “She Who Wears The Golden Bells,” was not happy for Her mother. Later that night, She gathered Her brothers, the Cenzton Huitznahua, the Four Hundred Southern Stars. “Our mother has no sense of shame! She’s pregnant, and who is the father? We don’t know! She claims it’s a miracle, but I don’t believe Her. No, She’s let Herself be overcome by lust and is acting like a common whore. We’re going to have to kill Her to remove the stain of shame from Our family. Who’s with Me?” she cried out, raising Her shield and shaking Her warrior’s bells.

The Four Hundred Southern Stars all shouted back to Her in agreement. “We’re all with You! For Her disgusting behavior, We will help You kill Our mother!” Then they all began to prepare for war. All of them except one, that is. A single Star, Cuahuitlicac, crept away from the secret meeting and ran for Coatepec.

“Mother!” he cried out. “Mother, your daughter and sons are planning to kill You!”

Coatlicue wept in terror and heartache at the news. “So I will be murdered at the hands of my own children, even though I’m innocent of any immorality!”

Then a strange voice was heard. “Don’t be afraid, Mother. I won’t let Them lay a hand on You. I’m here, and will protect You, no matter what the danger.” It was Coatlicue’s unborn son, Huitzilopochtli, speaking to Her from within Her womb. Cuahuitlicac and his mother were amazed. “I’ve already got a plan for dealing with these murderous kinslayers. Just tell Me when the army gets to the top of Coatepec, and I’ll do the rest.”

So, Coatlicue waited with trepidation in Her home atop Snake Mountain as the only loyal Southern Star watched Coyolxauhqui’s army march slowly towards Them. Even from his vantage point on the peak, he could hear the terrifying war-shouts, jingling of bells, and clashing of spears against shields. Coyolxauhqui marched Her army higher and higher up the slopes, calling out “Coatlicue! Prepare to die for your shameful deeds! We come to avenge Our family’s honor!”

At that time, Cuahuitlicac called out to Huitzilopochtli, “They’re here! And Coyolxauhqui Herself is leading them!”

In an instant, Huitzilopochtli was born. In the blink of an eye, He was a full-grown man, painted for war in blue and yellow. He straightened His warrior’s array and picked up His shield and darts. “See, Mother? I am here to protect you!” He took up His xiuhcoatl, the Fire Serpent, a blazing thunderbolt that flared to life in His hand, and with an echoing shout He raced like a comet towards the very startled Coyolxauhqui. They fought like two fierce jaguars, but in the end, Huitzilopochtli struck off the Moon goddess’s head and threw Her lifeless body tumbling down the side of Coatepec. Some say that He then threw Her severed head into the sky, where it still is to this day as the moon, Her golden bells shining in the night.

Before the Cenzton Huitznahua could react, He was in their midst like a raging fire.

They fought back, but nothing they did could drive Him away. They tried to frighten Him, but He just kept attacking. Finally, the Southern Stars pleaded with Him to spare them. “No!” Huitzilopochtli snarled. “You will all die for betraying your mother so cruelly!” The enraged god chased them, killing them mercilessly. Only a very few Stars escaped to hide in the farthest reaches of the southern sky.

With the army crushed, Huitzilopochtli proudly walked the battlefield and picked up the regalia of one of the Stars. He took it as a trophy, wearing part of it as His own and absorbing the might of the Stars. This great battle at Coatepec was the Hummingbird On The Left’s first victory, His first steps on the long road through the maelstrom of war that would ultimately take Him and His chosen people to Tenochtitlan.

*****

The Coyolxauhqui Stone

The Coyolxauhqui Stone

Photo taken by Thelmadatter & generously placed into the public domain

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2 responses

  1. Xuchilpaba

    >Coyoxauhqui, the Moon goddess, “She Who Wears The Golden Bells,” was not happy for Her sister.

    Isn’t she Caotlicue’s daughter instead?

    I have two photos to show you. To give you an idea how big the two statues of Coyolxauhqui and Coatlicue actually are….

    Coyol: http://www.flickr.com/photos/egyrs/2098356622/

    Coatlicue: http://www.delange.org/ArchMuseum5/Mus9.jpg

    This is one of my fav Aztec stories btw and when they sacrificed to Huitzilpochtli based on this story is one of my fav sacrifice methods. 😀

    April 27, 2008 at 7:39 PM

  2. cehualli

    I went back and checked, and you’re right regarding the relationship between Coyolxauhqui and Coatlicue. I fixed that.

    Cool photos! I like the sense of scale you can get out of those pictures. Now just imagine having been there to see them in Tenochtitlan about 500 years ago..!

    June 19, 2008 at 1:29 AM

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