An extremely prominent Mesoamerican civilization, the Aztec mythology and culture were deeply symbolic. The Aztecs religious and naturalistic symbols indicate aspects of their ancient culture, traditions, and way of life.
This civilization existed in Mesoamerica several centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. Their architecture, artwork, writings, language, dress, and even military were steeped in spiritual and cultural symbolism.
The Aztecs even preferred to name their children in accordance with the date of birth and the god corresponding to that day in the Aztec Calendar.
Listed below are the top 7 most important Aztec Symbols of Strength:
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Blood has been a popular symbol linked to life and vitality in many ancient cultures (1). Ancient Mexico’s Aztecs believed human blood was necessary in order to strengthen the sun.
The popular belief was that the sun wandered through the underworld at night and required new power in the morning to maintain steady cosmic order. Human blood helped the sun recover from weakness. The Aztecs had a deep-rooted tradition of frequently sacrificing prisoners.
The flowing blood was thought to nourish the sun. Blood was the symbol that linked people to gods, even at birth. (1)
2. The Eagle
The eagle symbolized the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs believed they descended from the Mexica people. The mythical concept of the time was that a wandering tribe had traveled through Mesoamerica searching for a home.
The home they found was symbolized by an eagle stationed on a cactus. The tribe believed the eagle was symbolic of the reincarnation of god Huitzilopochtli, who was worshipped by the Mexica people (3) For the Aztecs, the eagle was also a symbol of warriors. It symbolized the largest bird that was thought to be fearless, brave, and powerful.
These attributes were likened to brave men or warriors. The eagle was also a symbol dedicated to the sun. It represented the sun’s journey from night to day. Just like an eagle swoops down to catch prey and then rises up again, the sun also swooped down in the evening and rose in the morning. (4)
3. The Jaguar
A major Aztec symbol of strength, the jaguar represented the Jaguar warriors, the Aztec people’s most elite warrior group. Just like the Jaguar was one of the largest wild felines and alpha predators in Mesoamerica, similarly, the jaguar warriors were highly skilled and battle-hardened.
The jaguar was considered the fiercest and bravest of animals and the ‘ruler of the animal kingdom.’ Brave warriors could join two elite military groups, the Ocelotl warrior society and the Cuauhtli warrior society. They were then given the privilege to wear warrior costumes.
The Ocelotl warrior costume symbolized the jaguar, and the wearer was thought to have the power and protection of a jaguar. (5) The jaguar was also linked to sacrificial ceremonies and offerings. The Aztec god Tezcatlipoca was depicted in the form of a jaguar with an eagle on its side. The Aztec emperor also sat on a throne adorned with jaguar skin and eagle feathers.
4. The Atlatl
An ancient and important weapon in Mesoamerica, the Atlatl was a stick as long as a man’s arm with a grip at one end and a hook on the other. The hook was used to attach the spear which was hurled by the thrower, similar to the javelin (6).
The Atlatl helped warriors to hurl the spear through long distances and with greater impact than one could with a bare arm. The stick or rod of the Atlatl was usually decorated with the feathers of a serpent. The Atlatl was a prominent weapon and a major symbol of strength for the Aztecs.
This weapon symbolized warfare and magical power. The symbol of an Atlatl warrior was also used to depict death. It was especially linked to the sacrifice of captive enemies.
5. The Frog
For the Aztecs, the symbol of the frog meant joy, renewal, and fertility. It showed the cycle of renewal and deemed death as an extension of this cycle. The Aztecs also linked the frog with Tlaltecuhtli, the ‘earth mother goddess.’
This goddess represented the cycle of death and rebirth. (7) Tlaltecuhtli was depicted in the form of a real toad or in a semi-human form, having clawed teeth and a gaping, fanged mouth. She was shown in a squatting position in which she was giving birth to the new world.
Dying souls were thought to pass through her mouth to the otherworld. This was the primary concept of her life cycle symbolism, swallowing the souls of those who died and then giving birth to the universe. (8)
6. The Butterfly
The butterfly imagery has been popular in Mesoamerica for thousands of years. (9) For the Aztecs, the butterfly was linked to Xochipilli, the god responsible for vegetation.
At times, the butterfly was also used to symbolize the goddess Itzpapalotl. Itzpapalotl’s name is also translated to the ‘clawed butterfly.’ She was known to represent the souls of women who died during childbirth.
This symbol also sometimes represented the death of warriors. It was said that their souls fluttered along flowery fields, just like butterflies.
7. The Feathered Serpent
The feathered serpent was one of the most well-known divine figures in Aztec mythology and culture. Symbolizing the god Quetzalcoatl, he was depicted in the form of a colorful dragon that had two wings and no other limbs.
Quetzalcoatl was seen as the ‘original human’ and was the only god that opposed human sacrifice. Serpents and feathers were also commonly used by the Aztecs to decorate ornaments and accessories. They were also used to decorate weapons by the Aztecs, to symbolize the serpent’s strength and power. (10)
Much of the Aztec culture was governed or accompanied by heavy religious and cultural symbolism. These symbols could be seen in daily life around them. They were present in their language and drawings, in the jewelry they adorned, in nature around them, and inscribed on their temples.
Which of these symbols were you already aware of? Let us know in the comments section below!
- Predators of Culture: Jaguar Symbolism and Mesoamerican Elites. Nicholas J. Saunders. World Archeology. Vol.26. No.1