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In Aztec religion, Huitzilopochtli (Classical Nahuatl: Huītzilopōchtli [wi:t͡siloˈpoːt͡ʃt͡ɬi]), is a Mesoamerican deity of war, sun, human sacrifice and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan. Despite widespread belief, Huitzilopochtli's name does not appear to mean "left-handed hummingbird" as Classical Nahuatl "huītzilin" - "hummingbird" modifies "opōchtli" - "left-hand side" in this compound rather than the reverse; there continues to be much disagreement as to the meaning of this name.
Huitzilopochtli's mother was Coatlicue, and his father was a ball of feathers (or, alternatively, Mixcoatl). His sister was Malinalxochitl, a beautiful sorceress, who was also his rival. His messenger or impersonator was Paynal.
The legend of Huitzilopochtli is recorded in the Mexicayotl Chronicle. His sister, Coyolxauhqui, tried to kill their mother because she became pregnant in a shameful way (by a ball of feathers). Her offspring, Huitzilopochtli, learned of this plan while still in the womb, and before it was put into action, sprang from his mother's womb fully grown and fully armed. He then killed his sister Coyolxauhqui and many of his 400 brothers. He tossed his sister's head into the sky, where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night. He threw his other brothers and sisters into the sky, where they became the stars.
Huitzilopochtli was the patron god of the Mexica tribe. Originally he was of little importance to the Nahuas, but after the rise of the Aztecs, Tlacaelel reformed their religion and put Huitzilopochtli at the same level as Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, and Tezcatlipoca, making him a solar god. Through this, Huitzilopochtli replaced Nanahuatzin, the solar god from the Nahua legend. Huitzilopochtli was said to be in a constant struggle with the darkness and required nourishment in the form of sacrifices to ensure the sun would survive the cycle of 52 years, which was the basis of many Mesoamerican myths. While popular accounts claim it was necessary to have a daily sacrifice, sacrifices were only done on festive days. There were 18 especially holy festive days, and only one of them was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.
Every 52 years, the Nahuas feared the world would end as the other four creations of their legends had. Under Tlacaelel, Aztecs believed that they could give strength to Huitzilopochtli with human blood and thereby postpone the end of the world, at least for another 52 years.
The Great Temple of Tenochtitlan was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, the rain god. 16th century Dominican Friar Diego Durán wrote, "These two gods were always meant to be together, since they were considered companions of equal power." The Templo Mayor actually consisted of a pyramidal platform, on top of which were twin temples. The South one was Huitzilopochtli's, and the North one was Tlaloc's.
According to Miguel León-Portilla, in this new vision from Tlacaelel, the warriors that died in battle and women who died in childbirth would go to serve Huitzilopochtli in his palace (in the south, or left). From a description in the Florentine Codex, Huitzilopochtli was so bright that the warrior souls had to use their shields to protect their eyes. They could only see the god through the arrow holes in their shields, so it was the bravest warrior who could see him best. From time to time, those warriors could return to earth as butterflies or hummingbirds.
In the book El Calendario Mexica y la Cronografia by Rafael Tena and published by the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico, the author gives the last day of the Nahuatl month Panquetzaliztli as the date of the celebration of the rebirth of the Lord Huitzilopochtli on top of Coatepec (Snake Hill); December 9th in the Julian Calendar or December 19th in the Gregorian Calendar with the variant of December 18th in leap years.
There are several legends and myths of Huitzilopochtli. According to the Aubin Codex, the Aztecs originally came from a place called Aztlan. They lived under the ruling of a powerful elite called the "Azteca Chicomoztoca". Huitzilopochtli ordered them to abandon Aztlan and find a new home. He also ordered them never to call themselves Aztec; instead they should be called "Mexica." Huitzilopochtli guided them through the journey. For a time, Huitzilopochtli left them in the charge of his sister, Malinalxochitl, who, according to legend, founded Malinalco, but the Aztecs resented her ruling and called back Huitzilopochtli. He put his sister to sleep and ordered the Aztecs to leave the place. When she woke up and realized she was alone, she became angry and desired revenge. She gave birth to a son called Copil. When he grew up, he confronted Huitzilpochtli, who had to kill him. Huitzilopochtli then took his heart and threw it in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Many years later, Huitzilopochtli ordered the Aztecs to search for Copil's heart and build their city over it. The sign would be an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a precious serpent. The Aztecs finally found the eagle, who bowed to them, and they built a temple in the place, which became Tenochtitlan.
There are different versions of this encounter.
In art and iconography, Huitzilopochtli was represented as a hummingbird (or with just the feathers of such on his head and left leg), a black face, and holding a scepter shaped like a snake and a mirror. In the great temple his statue was decorated with cloth, feathers, gold, and jewels, and was hidden behind a curtain to give it more reverence and veneration. Another variation lists him having a face that was marked with yellow and blue stripes and he carries around the fire serpent Xiuhcoatl with him.
According to legend, the statue was supposed to be destroyed by the soldier Gil González de Benavides, but it was rescued by a man called Tlatolatl. The statue appeared some years later during an investigation by Bishop Zummáraga in the 1530s, only to be lost again. There is speculation that the statue still exists in a cave somewhere in the Anahuac Valley.
Diego Duran described the festivities for Huitzilopochtli. Panquetzaliztli (7 December to 26 December) was the Aztec month dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. People decorated their homes and trees with paper flags; there were ritual races, processions, dances, songs, prayers, and finally human sacrifices. This was one of the more important Aztec festivals, and the people prepared for the whole month. They fasted or ate very little; a statue of the god was made with amaranth (huautli) seeds and honey, and at the end of the month, it was cut into small pieces so everybody could eat a little piece of the god. After the Spanish conquest, cultivation of amaranth was outlawed, while some of the festivities were subsumed into the Christmas celebration.
According to the Ramirez Codex, in Tenochtitlan c. sixty prisoners were sacrificed at the festivities. Sacrifices were reported to be made in other Aztec cities, including Tlatelolco, Xochimilco, and Texcoco, but the number is unknown, and no currently available archeological findings confirm this.
For the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, dedicated to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed about 20,400 prisoners over the course of four days. While accepted by some scholars, this claim also has been considered Aztec propaganda. There were 19 altars in the city of Tenochtitlan.