Xochiquetzal (pronounced Show-chee-ket-zal) was the Aztec goddess of fertility, sexuality, pregnancy, and traditional female handicrafts such as weaving. She was also heavily associated with the moon and the various lunar phases.
Xochiquetzal’s name was a combination of the Nahuatl words xochitl, meaning “flower,” and quetzalli, meaning either “Quetzal bird,” or the highly desirable tail feathers of that bird.1 Taken altogether, her name was often interpreted as “Flower Quetzal Feather.”2
Xochiquetzal was also occasionally referred to as Ichpochtli, meaning “maiden” or “young girl.” Though this term did not originally imply anything beyond age, it took on a virginal connotation following the Spanish conquest.3
Xochiquetzal is unique amongst Aztec goddesses in that she was always portrayed as a young woman. Her peers, like Coatlicue, were usually shown as matrons. In artistic renderings, Xochiquetzal was usually adorned with flowers and shown wearing rich garments.
The link between Xochiquetzal, flowers, and sexuality was not an arbitrary one. Like many other cultures, the Aztecs drew parallels between flowers and the clitoris or vulva.
Xochiquetzal’s familial ties are somewhat mysterious, as her parentage was lost to the historical gaps left by time and conquest. Nevertheless, she did have several important relations. Her twin brother Xochipilli was the god of art, beauty, and dance. Like his sister, Xochipilli has been interpreted as a god of erotic love. Unlike his sister, Xochipilli represented male prostitutes and homosexuality.
Xochiquetzal played wife to many different Aztec gods. Such gods included:
Piltzintecuhtli – god of the rising sun, healing, and hallucinogenic drugs4
Tlaloc – god of rain
Tezcatlipoca – one of the four creator deities who served as omnipresent god of the night sky and knower of all thoughts
Centeotl – god of maize
Xiuhtecuhtli – god of fire and heat
Though Xochiquetzal is one of the oldest Aztec gods, her origin story remains unclear. She was an important member of the Aztec pantheon and one of several literal and figurative mothers to the Aztec people. A recurring element in Xochiquetzal’s legends was her relation to the moon. Such relations changed depending on the myth being told, however, as she would reflect different aspects of the lunar cycle in each tale.
While many Aztec gods had explicit origin stories, Xochiquetzal did not. While it was possible that the Aztecs lacked an origin story for her, it is more likely that it has simply been lost to time and conquest. Xochiquetzal was said to have come from Tamoanchan, the ancestral origin place of the Aztec gods.5 Her connection to Tamoanchan hinted at her enduring status in Mesoamerican religion; Tamoanchan was not a Nahuatl word, but a Mayan one.
The Mayan equivalent to Xochiquetzal was Goddess I, a deity that represented fertility, procreation, erotic love, and weaving. Like Goddess I, Xochiquetzal was associated with a lunar cult, though there is some ambiguity as to which phase of the moon she represents.
The goddess of the moon moves swiftly across the sky...seemingly visiting different planetary lovers along the way, before returning to stay with her solar husband for several days each month. - Susan Milbrath6
Xochiquetzal and the Creation of the Second Woman
During their quest to create the universe, Xipe Totec, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, and Huitzilpochtli created the first man and woman. When their son Pilcetecli came of age, however, there was no one for him to marry. Seeing that this problem needed to be remedied, the gods “made of the hairs of Suchiquecar [Xochiquetzal], a woman with whom his first marriage took place.”7
Flowers for the Land of the Dead
One Aztec legend described the risqué origins of bats and how they, along with an unwitting Xochiquetzal, were responsible for Mictlan’s foul odor.
The first bat was born when Quetzalcoatl’s semen dripped onto a rock while he was washing. The gods sent the bat to bite out the vulva of the young goddess Xochiquetzal, from which they grew nasty-smelling flowers to present to Mictlantecuhtli.8
In some Aztec stories, Xochiquetzal was the wife of the sun, which would spend the night traveling through Mictlan before returning the next day. This connection could explain Xochiquetzal’s involvement in this odd tale.9
Pregnancy, Erotic Love, and Weaving
At first glance, the conjunction of pregnancy, erotic love, and weaving seem like a relatively random assortment of concepts. However, these relations make more sense when one considers Aztec symbolism.
Pregnancy and weaving were connected through the idea of a spindle. As a weaver worked, the spindle gradually became more round. As a pregnancy progressed, the mother-to-be’s belly would grow rounder as well. As a lunar deity, Xochiquetzal had an additional link to pregnancy; the moon also grew rounder over the course of its cycle.
Weaving and erotic love were also connected. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, weavers had a reputation for being loose women. Xochiquetzal had something of a reputation for being a seductress—seducing the virtuous Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl among others.10
The Festival of Hueypachtli
Hueypachtli, sometimes called Tepeilhuitl, was an annual festival held primarily to honor Tlaloc; Xochiquetzal’s cult also partook in the celebrations.11 During this festival, Xochiquetzal was “honored with flower offerings, drinking, and ‘fornications.‘”12 As was common in Aztec festivals, an ixiptlatli or impersonator was chosen to represent Xochiquetzal.
The ixiptlatli was a young woman who would be decapitated and flayed. A man was selected to wear her skin and weave (an act typically reserved for women) in a representation of “the gender ambiguity embodied in the cult of lunar deities.”12
Xochiquetzal, Yappan, and the Origin of Scorpions
Much like the Biblical Eve, Xochiquetzal was the first woman to sin in Aztec mythology. In line with her licentious reputation, Xochiquetzal seduced her brother Yappan, who had taken a vow of chastity. Xochiquetzal went unpunished for her actions while Yappan was turned into a scorpion for his insolence.13
The Mexican artist Rurru Mipanochia named her 2017 art exhibit Xochiquetzal: Erotismo y Procreation after Xochiquetzal. Her work embraced the “gender and sexual emancipation of millennial Mexico City,” and the freedom to choose one’s own sexuality without concern for conservative social mores. As the goddess of eroticism and female sexual power, Xochiquetzal was uniquely suited to represent Mipanochia’s work.14
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Xochiquetzal.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed August 15, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Xochiquetzal.
“Ichpochtli.” Online Nahuatl Dictionary. Accessed August 14, 2019. https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/ichpochtli.
Milbrath, Susan. In Chalchihuitl in Quetzalli: Mesoamerican studies in honor of Doris Heyden. Edited by Eloise Quiñones Keber. Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos, 2000.
Moe, Karen. “Sexual Blasphemy: Artist Rurru Mipanochia Embodies Pre-Hispanic Pop Culture.” Posture Magazine, September 5, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2019. https://posturemag.com/online/rurru-mipanochia/. [NSFW: please be advised that this link contains what some may consider pornographic content].
“Quetzalli.” Online Nahuatl Dictionary. Accessed August 14, 2019. https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/quetzalli.
Phillips, Henry Jr. “Notes upon the Codex Ramirez, with a Translation of the Same.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 21, no. 116 (June 1884): 616-651. Accessed June 29, 2019. https://www.jstor.org/stable/982343.
Quipoloa, J. “The Aztec Festivals.” The Aztec Gateway. Archived from the original on August 21, 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20130821054649/http://www.amoxtli.org/cuezali/festivals.html.
Read, Kay Almere and Jason J. Gonzalez. Handbook of Mesoamerican Mythology. Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2000.
Wikipedia contributors. “Piltzintecuhtli.” Wikipedia. Accessed August 15, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piltzintecuhtli.
Wikipedia contributors. “Xōchiquetzal.” Wikipedia. Accessed August 14, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X%C5%8Dchiquetzal.
“Xochitl.” Online Nahuatl Dictionary. Accessed August 14, 2019. https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/xochitl.
“Xochitl,” Online Nahuatl Dictionary, https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/xochitl (accessed August 14, 2019); “Quetzalli,” Online Nahuatl Dictionary, https://nahuatl.uoregon.edu/content/quetzalli (accessed August 14, 2019). ↩
Susan Milbrath, In Chalchihuitl in Quetzalli: Mesoamerican studies in honor of Doris Heyden, ed. Eloise Quiñones Keber (Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos, 2000), 32. ↩
Henry Phillips, Jr., “Notes upon the Codex Ramirez, with a Translation of the Same,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 21, no. 116 (June 1884), 619, 645. ↩
Kay Almere Read and Jason J. Gonzalez, Handbook of Mesoamerican Mythology (Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2000), 133. ↩
Read and Gonzalez, Handbook, 133. ↩
Milbrath, In Chalchihuitl, 32. ↩
J. Quipoloa, “The Aztec Festivals,” The Aztec Gateway, archived from the original on August 21, 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20130821054649/http://www.amoxtli.org/cuezali/festivals.html. ↩
Milbrath, In Chalchihuitl, 34. ↩
Milbrath, In Chalchihuitl, 32. ↩
Karen Moe, “Sexual Blasphemy: Artist Rurru Mipanochia Embodies Pre-Hispanic Pop Culture,” Posture Magazine, September 5, 2017. https://posturemag.com/online/rurru-mipanochia/ (accessed August 15, 2019). NSFW: please be advised that this link contains what some may consider pornographic content. ↩