The Major Aztec Gods, Part II

David Bowles
8 min readOct 22, 2023

Here’s the second of several planned articles on the origins of the names of major Aztec gods. By Aztec, I mean the three major Nahua groups that formed the Triple Alliance of Anahuac: the Mexica, the Acolhua, and the Tepaneca. Their state religion (centered on the sacred plaza of Tenochtitlan) brought together gods from all over Mesoamerica into a synthetic pantheon, obscuring the origins of some.

But I’m taking a quick look at these major Mesoamerican deities from a linguistic perspective in alphabetical order, though the children and siblings of gods may get discussed as I go, willy-nilly. There are minor gods whose names or titles start with “A,” but no major ones. And Nahuatl doesn’t have the letter B, so the first article dealt with C and CH. There’s no D, so let’s look at E.

Ehcatl is the god of the wind, specifically the wind that clears the way for rain. He’s usually seen as an aspect of Quetzalcoatl, most notable for having sacrificed all the gods at the beginning of the Fifth Age in order to transform the divine energy in their blood into a power blast that set the sun in motion. Book seven of the Florentine Codex tells us “niman ic yeh ītequiuh ommochīuh in Ehcatl, ye quimmictia in tēteoh.”

Now it became the task of Ehcatl to kill the gods.

Ehcatl literally means “wind” and is used to refer also to a sort of spiritual disease (in Spanish we call it “mal aire” or “bad air”). But the wind (and the god Ehcatl) is more often referred to in a reduplicative form (that repeats the initial syllable):

Ehēcatl.

The connotation of this form is more “always moving / blowing wind,” and it has many metaphorical meanings, like “spirit / ghost” or “epidemic.” Perhaps the most important metaphor is “invisibility,” and it is for this reason that Tezcatlipoca is also associated with the wind, often called to using the epithet “Ehēcatl,” which here may bear the connotation of a night wind or one that is violent and destructive.

The Nahuatl glyph reading “Ehecatl.”

On to the letter H!

Next up is one of my favorites, Huēhuehcoyōtl, the genderfluid, pansexual god of music, dance, and mischief. His name is pretty straightforward: It’s a compound of two words: “huēhueh,” meaning “old [person]” and “coyōtl,” meaning “coyote.”

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David Bowles

A Mexican American author & translator from South Texas. Teaches literature & Nahuatl at UTRGV. VP of the Texas Institute of Letters.