Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

Myths

The mythology of the people of Mesoamerica is rich and complex. Whether you take it literally or figuratively, there’s quite a bit of insight we can gather from it about the nature of the gods, man, and life. There tends to be a large amount of variants for each myth, depending on when, where, and from who the story was recorded. These variants sometimes contradict each other in minor or major details, which can make things confusing at times, and transcription problems due to the language barrier between the Nahuatl-speaking Mexica and the Spanish-speaking Europeans muddies the water further. Also, some variation may be due to Catholic influence in writings made several generations after the Conquest, as cultural diffusion and syncretism came into play.

Not only does this section have translations by professional scholars, but it also includes my modern retellings of the ancient myths that are adapted into a lively narrative format. I have tried to stay as true to the original form(s) of these legends while at the same time trying to breathe some sense of the “story-ness” that time, translation, and a radical change in media has stripped from them. If you need scholarly analysis of the original language or phrasing, I recommend looking to the professional translations, but if that’s not your motivation in reading them, then I believe that my retellings will be suitable. Finally, where possible, I have tried to harmoniously blend variants into single composite tale, so if you compare my editions with different scholarly translations, you’ll find that they share details of several variants.

With all that said and done, I invite you to read and enjoy these classic myths of the Mesoamerican peoples.

Collections Of Myths

History of the Mexicans as Told by Their Paintings (Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas)

Also known as the Codex Ramirez. 1883 English edition, translated from the Spanish by Henry Phillips Jr., re-edited by Alec Christensen. Full text with footnotes of this important 16th century collection of Aztec legends.

Index Of Individual Myths — Professional Translations

Yappan: The Story of Xochiquetzal and the Scorpion

This is the tale of Xochiquetzal and the Scorpion, told in the form of a beautiful poetic song. Found in Alarcon’s Treatise on Heathen Superstition, from 1629.

Index Of Individual Myths — Retold By Cehualli

Huitzilopochtli & The Battle Of Coatepec

This is my retelling of the key myth that describes how Huitzilopochtli was born and rescued His mother, Coatlicue, from Coyolxauhqui and the Centzon Huitznahua in the great battle at Coatepec. This legend gives us some valuable insights into the nature of the Hummingbird on the Left and kicks off a series of stories telling of His heroic exploits.

First Steps From Aztlan

This is my retelling of the legend where Huitzilopochtli spoke to His people while they were still wandering Chichimec nomads living in Aztlan, telling them to head south to the site of Tenochtitlan.  I took a fair amount of poetic liberty with this one, since this event generally gets just a couple of lines in the original sources, so I fleshed it out a fair bit with more detail I believe stays true to the spirit of the myths in general.

Leaving Coatepec

This story takes place pretty much simultaneously with “First Steps From Aztlan” above.  In it, Huitzilopochtli bids Coatlicue farewell, and receives a prophecy from Her.  This is another one I took a fair bit of liberty with to flesh out, as the only instance of it I know of in the original sources is actually as a brief reference by Coatlicue in another story altogether.  Still, there was enough there for me to work with and fit into the timeline as it happened.

Malinalxochitl

This entry is the story of how the Aztecs suffered under the tyranny of Huitzilopochtli’s sister, Malinalxochitl, while they were migrating south, and how they escaped from Her.  It explains how the town of Malinalco got its name, and plants the seeds for Malinalxochitl’s quest for revenge and the appearance of her son, Copil.

Quetzalcoatl’s Descent To Mictlan, The Land Of The Dead

This is my version of the famous story of how Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl traveled to Mictlan, the Land of the Dead, to reclaim the ancestral bones so that humans could be reborn in the age of the Fifth Sun. An important creation myth that hints at the relationship between the gods and humans. You can also view a video of a dance performance of this story.

The Origin Of Corn

This is my retelling of the last story in the cycle of creation myths of the Aztecs. This story immediately follows Quetzalcoatl’s Descent To Mictlan, and shows how the gods bring food to humanity, thus completing the recreation of the world. This story is particularly interesting because of the contrasting attitudes the gods display towards humanity.

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