In the daily life of an Aztec-around 600 years ago-pleasing the gods was a priority. No god was more important than Huitzilopochtili, the sun god, the giver of life and guardian of the heavens. He is depicted as a blue character with a headdress of hummingbird feathers. And fully armed. Today, that Aztec sun tattoo might very well symbolize a belief in the afterlife, which may explain why this celestial character was often depicted in a serious mood. No inane ‘happy face’ for Huitzilopochtili.
The Aztec dagger-once used to tear out the still-beating heart of human sacrifices as an offering to the Sun god-is another ‘tribal’ motif that finds new life as a modern-day Latino tattoo. The god of warriors, Tezcatlipoca, has inspired tattoo designs which have been called ‘the most decorative and intense tattoos ever created.’ Perhaps for that reason, non Latinos are lining up for these tribal designs of Central America.
Likewise, the feathered serpent god known as Quetzalcoatl, revered by the Aztec and Mayan alike. As the god of creativity, fertility and weather, and as a symbol of ancient wisdom, it’s no wonder that Quetzalcoatl has been embraced as a favourite tattoo design. Quetzalcoatl was a god of such importance and power that nearly no aspect of everyday life seemed to go untouched by him. As a historical figure, his actions would nor could not be contained by the History and thus eventually evolved into myth. And as a legend, he would signal the end of mortal kingship. An interesting phenomenon that distinguished Quetzalcoatl is that despite the fact he is not the most powerful of gods within the Mesoamerican pantheon, or one of the eldest, he is nonetheless an integral part of the system. This was partially accomplished by his ability to integrate himself so securely to attributes of his fellow brethren, to such an extent that it is virtually impossible to tell if Quetzalcoatl was the true originator or visa versa. Hence, to establish a single definitive personality to a god is extremely difficult.
The name “Quetzalcoatl” literally means quetzal-bird snake or serpent with feathers (Amphitere) of the Resplendent Quetzal (which implies something divine or precious) in the Nahuatl language. The meaning of his local name in other Mesoamerican languages is similar.
The Maya of Mexico knew him as Kukulkán; the Quiché-Maya of Guatemala, as Gukumatz.
The Feathered Serpent deity was important in art and religion in most of Mesoamerica for close to 2,000 years, from the Pre-Classic era until the Spanish conquest. Civilizations worshipping the Feathered Serpent included the Olmec, Mixtec, Toltec, Aztec, who adopted it from the people of Teotihuacan, and the Maya.
“Quetzalcoatl” can be spelled many different ways.
Get inspired by some really amazing Aztec images and tattoos in our Aztec Tattoo Gallery