Omnipotent god of the Aztec pantheon and god of the constellation Ursa Major. The protector of slaves, he severely punished masters who ill-treated them. He is said to have put an end to the Toltecs' golden age. Each year his worshipers selected a handsome prisoner of war who was allowed to live in princely luxury for a year before being sacrificed. Tezcatlipoca is represented in art with an obsidian mirror, in which he sees all, on his chest or in place of a foot.
Learn more about Tezcatlipoca with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Tezcatlipoca (tes.ka.tɬi.ˈpoː.ka) was a central deity in Aztec religion, associated with a wide range of concepts including the night sky, the night winds, hurricanes, the north, the earth, obsidian, enmity, discord, rulership, divination, temptation, sorcery, beauty, war and strife. His name in the Nahuatl language is often translated as "Smoking Mirror and alludes to his connection to obsidian, the material from which mirrors were made in Mesoamerica and which was used for shamanic rituals.
He had many epithets which alluded to different aspects of his deity: Titlacauan ("We are his Slaves"), Ipalnemoani ("He by whom we live"), Necoc Yaotl ("Enemy of Both Sides"), Tloque Nahuaque ("Lord of the Near and the Nigh") and Yohualli Èecatl (Night, Wind), Ome acatl ("Two Reed"), Ilhuicahua Tlalticpaque ("Possessor of the Sky and Earth").
When depicted he was usually drawn with a black and a yellow stripe painted across his face. He is often shown with his right foot replaced with an obsidian mirror or a snake - an allusion to the creation myth in which he loses his foot battling with the Earth Monster. Sometimes the mirror was shown on his chest, and sometimes smoke would emanate from the mirror. Tezcatlipocas Nagual, his animal counterpart, was the Jaguar and his Jaguar aspect was the deity Tepeyollotl "Mountainheart". In the Aztec ritual calendar the Tonalpohualli Tezcalipoca ruled the "trecena" 1 Ocelotl - "1 Jaguar" - He was also patron of the days with the name Acatl "reed.
The Tezcatlipoca figure goes back to earlier Mesoamerican deities worshipped by the Olmec and Maya. Similarities exist with the patron deity of the K'iche' Maya as described in the Popol Vuh. A central figure of the Popol Vuh was the god Tohil whose name means "obsidian" and who was associated with sacrifice. Also the Classic Maya god of rulership and thunder known to modern Mayanists as "God K", or the "Manikin Scepter" and to the classic Maya as K'awil was depicted with a smoking obsidian knife in his forehead and one leg replaced with a snake.
In later myths, the four gods who created the world, Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli and Xipe Totec were referred to respectively as the Black, the White, the Blue and the Red Tezcatlipoca. The four Tezcatlipocas were the sons of Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, lord and lady of the duality, and were the creators of all the other gods, as well as the world and man.
The rivalry between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca is also recounted in the legends of Tollan where Tezcatlipoca deceives Quetzalcoatl who was the ruler of the legendary city and forces him into exile. But it is interesting to note that Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca both collaborated in the creation of the different creations and that both of them were seen as instrumental in the creation of life. Karl Taube and Mary Miller, specialists in Mesoamerican religion, writes that "More than anything Tezcatlipoca appears to be the embodiment of change through conflict. Tezcatlipoca appears on the first page of the Codex Borgia carrying the 20 day signs of the calendar; in the Codex Cospi he is shown as a spirit of darkness, as well as in the Codex Laud and the Dresden Codex. His cult was associated with royalty, and was the subject of the most lengthy and reverent prayers in the rites of kingship, as well as being mentioned frequently in coronation speeches. The temple of Tezcatlipoca was in the Great Precinct of Tenochtitlan.
Tezcatlipoca’s main feast was during Toxcatl, the fifth month of the Aztec calendar. The preparations began a year earlier, when a young man was chosen by the priests, to be the likeness of Tezcatlipoca. For the next year he lived like a god, wearing expensive jewellery and having eight attendants. He would marry four young women, and spent his last week singing, feasting and dancing. During the feast where he was worshipped as the deity he personified he climbed the stairs to the top of the temple on his own where the priests seized him and sacrificed him, his body being eaten later. Immediately after he died a new victim for the next year’s ceremony was chosen. Tezcatlipoca was also honoured during the ceremony of the 9th month, when the Miccailhuitontli "Little Feast of the Dead" was celebrated to honour the dead, as well as during the Panquetzaliztli "Raising of Banners" ceremony in the 15th month.
Another story of creation goes that Tezcatlipoca turned himself into the sun, but Quetzalcoatl couldn’t bear his enemy ruling the universe, so he knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky. Angered, Tezcatlipoca turned into a jaguar and destroyed the world. Quetzalcoatl replaced him and started the second age of the world and it became populated again. Tezcatlipoca overthrew Quetzalcoatl when he sent a great wind that devastated the world, and what men that survived were turned into monkeys. Tlaloc, the god of rain, became the sun, but Quetzalcoatl sent down fire which destroyed the world again, except for a few men who survived who were turned into birds. Chalchihuitlicue the Water Goddess became the sun, but the world was destroyed by floods, with what men survived being turned into fish.
Guilhem Olivier (tr. Michel Besson). Mockeries and metamorphoses of an Aztec god: Tezcatlipoca, 'Lord of the Smoking Mirror'.(Brief Article)(Book Review)
Jun 01, 2004; GUILHEM OLIVIER (tr. Michel Besson). Mockeries and metamorphoses of an Aztec god: Tezcatlipoca, 'Lord of the Smoking...