In Aztec mythology, Huitzilopochtli’ was a god of war, a sun god, and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan. He was also the national god of the Mexicas of Tenochtitlan. He was a god of tremendous power who commanded terrible fear that had to be assuaged by human sacrifice. His animal disguise, was the eagle.
Name’s meaning: Blue Humming Bird on the left
The Aztecs believed that dead warriors first formed part of the sun’s brilliant retinue; then, after four years, they went to live forever in the bodies of hummingbirds. The south was the left side of the world. Huitzilopochtli’s name, therefore, meant the Warrior of the South brought back from the dead.
His mother Coatlicue became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli when a ball of feathers fell from the heaven and touched her. Huitzilopochtli’s siblings thought that their mother Coatlicue had dishonored them with her mysterious pregnancy.
One sister of Huitzilopochtli, Coyolxauhqui, encouraged her star sisters and brothers to kill their mother Coatlicue. However, Huitzilopochtli sprang out of his mother and saved her. Coatlicue regretted such violence. Thus, Huitzilopochtli cut off Coyolxauhqui’s head and threw it in the sky to become the Moon.
Huitzilopochtli was a fierce god who used the “serpent of fire” (the sun’s rays), to destroy his enemy siblings, the moon and stars. So as the battles of day and night continued, the Mexica (Aztec people) recognized his victories over darkness with each new sunrise. However, to keep this warring god appeased in their behalf, they had to continually feed his insatiable appetite for the hearts of human sacrifices. This was believed to sustain him for each new day’s battle.
The Mexica built a great temple on the Pyramid in Tenochtitlan in his honor. At its completion ceremonies, it is said that more than 20,000 human sacrifices were offered in a four day celebration. The victim’s heads were strung as trophies on the ‘great rack’ (called Tzompantli) in the village below the temple.
As he was the most elevated and celebrated of all Aztec gods, Huitzilopochtli was deified in every aspect of their daily lives. An image was carved of wood, portraying Huitzilopochtli with a blue forehead and a gold headdress shaped like the long narrow beak of a hummingbird. The headdress was decorated with long beautiful feathers of green. He carried four arrows and a serpent — like blue staff. The entire image was covered with jewels of jade, turquoise, and gold, while his wrist and feet were adorned with countless gold bracelets. His face was painted with blue stripes and his hair was made of eagle feathers. Sometimes his face was painted in black.
Huitzilopochtli was believed to be the sun, the young warrior who was born each day, who defeated the stars of the night, and who was aided in his western death and resurrection by the souls of warriors. Moreover, his symbols of authority—the humming bird and fire—correspond with the attributes of Xochipilli, the lord of flowers and the guardian of souls. Both deities are intimately linked with notions of rebirth.
Huitzilopochtli was said to be in a constant struggle with the darkness and required nourishment in the form of sacrifices to ensure the sun would survive the cycle of 52 years, which was the basis of many Mesoamerican myths. While popular accounts claim it was necessary to have a daily sacrifice , sacrifices were only done on festive days. There were 18 especially holy festive days, and only one of them was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. Every 52 years, the Nahuas feared the world would end as the other four creations of their legends had. Under Tlacaelel, Aztecs believed that they could give strength to Huitzilopochtli with human blood and thereby postpone the end of the world, at least for another 52 years.
The 15th month of the ceremonial year Panquetzaliztli (Feast of the Flags of Precious Feathers) was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and to his lieutenant Paynal (He Who Hastens, so named because the priest who impersonated him ran while leading a procession around the city). During the month, warriors and auianime (courtesans) danced night after night on the plaza in front of the god’s temple. The Aztecs believed that the sun god needed daily “nourishment” (tlaxcaltiliztli) – that is, human blood and hearts – and that they, as the “people of the sun,” were required to provide the sun god with his victims. War prisoners or slaves were bathed in a sacred spring at Huitzilopochco (modern Churubusco, near Mexico City) and were then sacrificed during or after Paynal’s procession. The owners of prisoners handed them over to the priests at the foot of the temple, and they dragged them by the hair, each one his own, up the steps. The sacrificial hearts were offered to the sun quauhtlehuanitl (“eagle who rises”) and burned in the quauhxicalli (“the eagle’s vase”).
The priests (Huitzilopochtli’s high priest, the Quetzalcóatl Totec Tlamacazqui – Feathered Serpent, Priest of Our Lord – , was, with the god Tlaloc’s high priest, one of the two heads of the Aztec clergy) also burned a huge bark-paper serpent symbolizing the god’s primary weapon. Finally, an image of Huitzilopochtli, made of ground maize (corn), was ceremonially killed with an arrow and divided between the priests and the novices; the young men who ate “Huitzilopochtli’s body” were obliged to serve him for one year.
Sources: wikipedia.org, mythencyclopedia.com, freeuk.net, allabouthistory.org, azteccalendar.com, britannica.com