Cōātlīcue – Aztec Earth Goddess

Being a mother is certainly one of the most rewarding life experiences. Sadly, some children grow up to resent their parents for various reasons. It is one of the most painful things in life to watch your child turn against you. Cōātlīcue, the Aztec goddess of earth and mother of gods, had to go through this. 

For Aztecs, Cōātlīcue was far more than a motherly figure, as this goddess played a number of roles in the Aztec pantheon. She gave life but also took it when she pleased. Her clairvoyant skills were well-known, as she was the one that prophesized the fall of the Aztec Empire. 

Cōātlīcue’s Origins

Just like with many other Aztec gods and goddesses, we can find mentions of Cōātlīcue in several medieval manuscripts, such as Codex Rios, Codex Florentine, and Codex Ramirez. Her name means “skirt of snakes,” but she is also called Tēteoh īnnān, which means “mother of gods.”

Coatlicue
Anagoria, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In one version of the myth, Cōātlīcue wasn’t always a goddess. She was a priestess in a local temple when she got miraculously impregnated by a ball of feathers. In another version, the gods that created the present world sacrificed themselves to create Sun and Moon.

Several women, including Cōātlīcue, sacrificed themselves too. As she sacrificed herself, Cōātlīcue’s head got split into two halves, with blood squirting in the form of two serpents. Eventually, Cōātlīcue got reborn and became a powerful goddess, venerated by many. 

There were several other versions of Cōātlīcue origins, but the most important part of her story happens when she already became a mother.

Unusual Conception and Betrayal

One day, Cōātlīcue was sweeping the temple’s floors. Suddenly, a ball of feathers fell on her. That wouldn’t be that unusual per se, but this small incident left Cōātlīcue impregnated! She was about to give birth to Huitzilopochtli, a god of war. 

Cōātlīcue already had children, more than 400 of them! Her oldest child was Coyolxauhqui, a girl who felt embarrassed and dishonored by her mother’s unusual pregnancy. She gathered 400 of her siblings, called Centzon Huitznahuas, with a plan to kill their mother.

Somehow, Coyolxauhqui and her siblings managed to lure Cōātlīcue to Coatepec, a hill known as the “snake hill.” One of the 400 children, Quauitlicac, felt bad about plotting against his mother, and he warned Huitzilopochtli, who was still in the womb, that bad things are going to happen.

There are several versions of what happened next. In one, Coyolxauhqui decapitated Cōātlīcue but was surprised that Huitzilopochtli emerged out of their mother’s womb as fully grown up and armed. Huitzilopochtli killed many of his siblings, including Coyolxauhqui.

In another version of the story, Huitzilopochtli was born just in time to prevent Coyolxauhqui from harming their mother. In both versions, he defeats his sister by decapitating her. Enraged, he kicked her head into the sky, where she became the moon.

Predicting The Fall of Aztecs

After the incident of the attempted assassination, Cōātlīcue retreated to a steep and high hill in Aztlan. While there, she was highly revered by both common folk and kings. One of the last rulers of the Aztec Empire, Moctezuma I, sent 60 magicians to visit Cōātlīcue and appease her with various gifts.

When they arrived in Aztlan, the magicians met Cōātlīcue’s tutor, who pointed them in the direction of Cōātlīcue’s whereabouts. The magicians started climbing the hill, but the burden of many gifts was too much for them. At one point, the magicians wanted to give up on their mission.

However, Cōātlīcue’s tutor offered to carry their gifts instead of them. Much to their surprise, the tutor took the gifts from them and carried them up the hill like they were made of feathers.

The magicians continued their ascent, and finally, at the very top, they found Cōātlīcue. The goddess wept bitter tears because her beloved son, Huitzilopochtli, had departed long ago. She also scolded magicians for their failure to bring the gifts to her.

Cōātlīcue warned them that they grew heavy from all the foods and riches that they enjoyed excessively. While doing so, she told them that cities under her son’s rule would fall one day and that he would finally come back to her once it happened. 

Mother Goddess And The Ruler of The Earth

As the mother goddess, Cōātlīcue was also ruling the earth. In the history of human civilization, most cultures had that connection between the earth and motherhood. After all, the whole phrase “mother nature” didn’t come from nowhere.

Cōātlīcue
Luidger, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The earth is the ultimate mother: everything we have, she gave us. All of our crops, building materials, fuel, precious gems and metals, and many other things. Without Earth, we would have nowhere to live and nothing to eat and drink.

In many world cultures, the earth was associated with the feminine principle, while the sky was seen as masculine. The sky sends rain, winds, storms, snow, and sunlight, symbolically fertilizing the earth. The earth, or mother nature, creates life in many forms and makes sure t can thrive. 

This is why the Earth is seen as a nurturing mother that cares deeply for her children and provides them with everything they need. However, children can become spoiled and ungrateful. Just like Cōātlīcue’s children turned against her and even tried to kill her, it seems that we humans are trying to kill our mother Earth. 

Cōātlīcue’s Depiction

When you try to imagine a goddess that is supposed to be a motherly figure, you probably imagine a beautiful, elegant, delicate, yet mature and strong woman. However, most Aztec gods were depicted as glorious yet intimidating creators, and Cōātlīcue was no different. 

Since her name practically meant “a skirt of snakes,” it is expected that her depictions showed her wearing a skirt made of real snakes. She also wore a necklace made of human hearts, skulls, and hands. 

Instead of bracelets, she wore claws around her hands and her feet. Since she nursed more than 400 children, her breasts were portrayed as a bit saggy, which is natural, after all. Her face is made of two serpents facing each other, referring to the story in which she was sacrificed for the creation of our world. 

Cōātlīcue Counterparts in Other Religions

There are some archetypes that can be found in almost every religion. You can find gods and goddesses of love, death, agriculture, war, etc., in basically every polytheistic religion. A mother goddess is another powerful archetype found in every religion, so you can find many versions of Cōātlīcue.

For Greeks, the Mother goddess was Gaia, and her Roman counterpart was Cybele. In Norse mythology, the mother goddess was Jörð, and she gave birth to the mighty Thor. Celts had Anu/Dana, and Slavs had Mat Zemlya and Mokosh. 

Hindus worship Durga/Mahadevi. In Japan, where Shinto was the main religion, Izanami was worshipped as a powerful mother deity that could create and destroy whole worlds. Numerous Chinese dynasties venerated Nüwa, a mother goddess responsible for creating humanity.

In ancient Mesopotamia, Ninhursag was a mother goddess that created both other gods and us humans. Egyptians worshipped Isis as the mother of all, and people of the Santeria faith consider the river orisha Yemaya the motherly figure. 

Cōātlīcue and Christianity

When you think about it, Christianity was based on a powerful motherly figure. Just like Cōātlīcue gave birth to Huitzilopochtli, the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. Huitzilopochtli left his mother and returned to her once the Aztec Empire fell. Similarly, Jesus was killed and resurrected, and he promised to come back once the end of the world came near. 

There are even more similarities between Cōātlīcue and the Virgin Mary. When Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, she had to run and hide so that her child wasn’t murdered because of King Herod’s orders. On the other side, Cōātlīcue was (almost) killed for being pregnant with her son Huitzilopochtli. 

The “official” version of the story tells us that Cōātlīcue’s children wanted to kill her because they were ashamed of her pregnancy. However, this gruesome crime was probably motivated by something else: a fear that the new son would have too much power. Just like King Herod wanted to kill baby Jesus in an attempt to prevent him become a new king. 

Finally, the unusual and inexplicable conceptions of both Jesus and Huitzilopochtli are another similarity that Cōātlīcue shares with the Virgin Mary. Of course, there are also many differences between them too, but it is hard not to notice how similar their stories are.

Legacy

Cōātlīcue
Alfred “Abel” Saint-Ange Briquet (1833-1926), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cōātlīcue and the stories surrounding her are quite fascinating, but are there any lessons we can learn from them? Even though Cōātlīcue serves as a mother goddess archetype, and she truly cares about her numerous children, her relationship with her daughter and 400 other children is quite problematic, at least.

However, this story is a good portrayal of how parents-children relationships are rarely perfect, and even though we like to idealize those relationships, they are a bit more complex. Even when the parents give their best to make their children happy, that doesn’t mean the children will know how to appreciate it.

Also, it isn’t always the child’s fault when their relationship with their parent(s) doesn’t work out as it should. Sometimes, the parents are toxic, overbearing, demanding, or even neglectful. 

Maybe Coyolxauhqui didn’t attack her mother because she felt embarrassed by her pregnancy or threatened by her new brother’s power; maybe she felt neglected and that her mother would give all her love to the new child. Of course, that’s not an excuse to be violent, but it could be the explanation for a rather bizarre event. 

The Complexity of Family Relations

Also, the whole assassination attempt might be a metaphor. Sometimes, to become a mature and independent adult with your own agenda, it is necessary to cut some ties.

Your parents, no matter how much they love you, might be preventing you from becoming a person on your own. To get out of such a situation, you need to kill the old version of them in your mind. That version is often idealized: and in this version, your parents are always right; they know everything, and they are basically perfect.

Small children tend to see their parents as perfect until they start growing up. When they enter their teenage years, children slowly realize how flawed their parents are, and they find it hard to accept, as they still subconsciously believe their parents should be perfect. That leads to resentment, rebellious behavior, etc.

However, once the child is no longer a child, they realize that parents are just humans, like everyone else, and everyone has flaws. That realization is crucial for a healthy and mature relationship with parents, but it also means “killing” the idealized version of them and accepting the more realistic one.

A Lesson For Pregnant Women

In the previous section, where I talked about how specific the pregnancies of the Virgin Mary and Cōātlīcue were, I came to one realization. 

Although their conceptions were unique, remember that every conception and pregnancy is also wonderful. You don’t have to be a goddess or a pregnant virgin to feel proud of your pregnancy. You are creating a new life, and that is awesome! 

Also, another thing that I like about Cōātlīcue is one detail in her depiction. She was often depicted with saggy breasts due to a lot of breastfeeding, but this feature of hers wasn’t ridiculed; it was celebrated.

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if your body went through some irreversible changes during and after the pregnancy, don’t feel bad; it is completely natural. Stretchmarks, saggy breasts, wider waist, these are all proofs that you were blessed with a child. 

Pop Culture

As a mother goddess, Cōātlīcue had an enormous impact on Aztecs and, later, Mexicans. However, her impact didn’t end there, as she inspired various works of literature and art. Even those that aren’t so familiar with Aztecs will recognize Neil Gaiman and his novel American Gods. 

This novel was also adapted into a successful TV show. Both the novel and TV show mentioned Cōātlīcue, as she appeared in the main character’s dreams. Cōātlīcue was also mentioned in other TV shows and movies, most notably in Jack Weis’ horror movie “Mardi Gras Massacre.”

Symbols

Cōātlīcue, as a mother goddess, can be symbolized by various symbols that are associated with motherhood and birth. However, since she is much more complex than just a motherly figure, there are other symbols that can also represent her.

General

Since she was often depicted wearing a necklace made of human hearts, hands, and skulls, I think that skulls and bones do great at symbolizing Cōātlīcue. After all, even though bones symbolize death, they also symbolize rebirth and a new life, especially if you remember that Aztec gods used old bones to create new life forms. 

Other symbols that are associated with Cōātlīcue are feathers and brooms, referring to her pregnancy with her son Huitzilopochtli.

Animals

Serpents are definitely the most common animal symbol of Cōātlīcue. She is often depicted with snakes around her head, and in one of her legends, when Cōātlīcue’s head was sliced open, two streams of blood shaped like serpents squirted out of her. Not to forget, her name literally originated from the Nahuatl word for snakes. 

Plants

Not many plants are mentioned in some relation to Cōātlīcue, but as a fertile mother goddess that basically created the world, she can be represented by basically every plant. However, since she had so many children, I suggest symbolizing Cōātlīcue with plants that give many fruits or seeds.

For example, poppy flowers, corn, grapes, pomegranate, sunflower, etc. 

Perfumes/Scents

Since Cōātlīcue is the goddess of the Earth, perfume and scent notes that represent her the best belong to the earthy notes. This includes musk, moss, vetiver, orris root, and some woody scents such as pine, lemongrass, sandalwood, etc.

Gems and Metals

Jade is the gemstone representing many Aztec goddesses, and Cōātlīcue is no exception. In the past, jade was reserved for the nobility, and as such, it was associated with wealth and riches. 

However, the green color of jade also represents the earth and all the living creatures and plants inhabiting it. Since Cōātlīcue is their creator, it is natural that jade is a great choice of symbol for her.  

Colors

Green and brown are definitely Cōātlīcue’s colors, as those are the colors associated with the earth and the creation of life. Other colors that can be used to represent Cōātlīcue are black, crimson red, silver, and gold.

Meditations To Invoke The Goddess Cōātlīcue 

Meditations

  • Cōātlīcue, help me become a better mother to my children and a better partner to my spouse.
  • Give me your powers, Cōātlīcue, so I can also create new things from ashes and mud.
  • Cōātlīcue, make me selfless just like you are, but also wise enough to know when my sacrifice isn’t really needed.
  • Help me deal with my children, a powerful mother of us all, and make them see how much I love them.
  • Cōātlīcue, heal my relationship with my parents and help me accept them as they are, and establish healthy boundaries.
  • I will learn to love my body again with your help, powerful Cōātlīcue.
  • Hear my voice, Cōātlīcue, and grant me my wishes, just like a mother grant wishes to her child.

Want To Bring More Cōātlīcue Qualities Into Your Life?

  • If you have children, try to spell more time with them. Get to know them; what are their dreams, interests, and hobbies? Don’t try to impose your views on them; let them be who they are with a gentle nudge from you when they need it. Be their support even when you don’t agree with their decisions.
  • Get a creative hobby. There are many things to do: you can paint, sculpt, design, and even write. The only limits are your fears and insecurities, so don’t let them tell you how to live your life. Even if you don’t think you have a talent for the arts, you are missing the point. Enjoy creating something new; no one says your work should be of a certain quality.
  • If arts are definitely not your thing, try gardening. It is a great way of creating something new without having to be creative. Explore which plants would be great in your garden, plant them from the seed, and watch them grow. If you don’t have a garden, you can plant something in a pot. Either way, this will be a highly rewarding experience.
  • Visit nature as often as possible. Connect yourself with the goddess Cōātlīcue by listening to the murmur of leaves when the wind blows through them. Bathe in the river, and watch the sky. Remember that you are a part of nature, and nature is part of you.
  • As you grow old, accept that your body will go through some changes. While these changes aren’t always pleasant, they are a reminder that you lived an interesting life. After all, remember that not everyone has the privilege of giving birth or growing old.

Other Goddesses

If you enjoyed this post we are sure you will enjoy getting to know some of the other goddesses we also write about. You can find the complete list of goddesses sorted across regions and religions here.

Featured Image Credit: Gary Todd, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Zeljka Stanic

Growing up, Željka was quite tomboyish and not really in touch with her feminine side. However, in her 20s, Željka not only became more feminine, but she also discovered the power of femininity that's often overlooked in the patriarchal society. Fast forward a few years, and Željka continues exploring divine feminine energy. By paying tributes to various goddesses through her writing, she tries to honor the natural forces responsible for the creation and nurturing of life. Apart from trying to awaken her Divine Feminine, Željka is also interested in astrology and tarot, using them to learn more about herself and the world around her.