Tezcatlipoca: How Does the Supreme God of the Aztecs Compare to Other Omnipotent Deities?

Tezcatlipoca: How Does the Supreme God of the Aztecs Compare to Other Omnipotent Deities?

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The god Tezcatlipoca was a major Aztec deity who was worshiped in east-west facing temples in many Mesoamerican city-states under the influence of the Aztecs, particularly Texcoco. He was considered the patron god of warriors. Among other things, he was also the god of the night sky and the direction north. Owing to Aztec dualism, Tezcatlipoca was associated with both good things such a beauty and effective governance, and bad things such as death and chaos.

Other Mesoamerican cultures considered Tezcatlipoca to be the supreme being and thought that all other deities were lesser manifestations of him. This reflects a pattern across several cultures including the Inca, ancient Chinese, Hindus, and others with an independent emergence of a concept of a supreme all-powerful deity. The concept of a single all-powerful, all-knowing supreme being was surprisingly common in antiquity.

An artist’s depiction of Tezcatlipoca.

An artist’s depiction of Tezcatlipoca. (Mauricio Herrera/ CC BY 3.0 )

The Four Tezcatlipoca

There were actually four beings called Tezcatlipoca in Aztec mythology who were all the divine children of Ometeotl: The White Tezcatlipoca was Quetzalcoatl, the Black Tezcatlipoca was the one identified as just Tezcatlipoca, the Blue Tezcatlipoca was the Aztec war god Huitzilopochtli, and the Red Tezcatlipoca was also called Xipe Totec.

Tezcatlipoca is often depicted as black with a yellow stripe across his face and a smoking mirror for a foot. This is probably one of the reasons that another name for Tezcatlipoca is the “Smoking Mirror.” According to the Aztec creation myth, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl cooperated in creating the present world when they defeated the earth mother monster Tlatcuhtli and different parts of her body became different aspects of the universe.

For example, her hair became trees and flowers and her eyes and nose became springs and underground caves. Four worlds had already passed by this point. Tezcatlipoca had originally been the first sun. He was however struck down by Quetzalcoatl who thought that he deserved to be the sun. This began a continuous conflict between Tezcatlipoca and his rival Quetzalcoatl until they finally agreed to cooperate in creating the present world. This may reflect the fact the Tezcatlipoca was essentially a god of conflict. He is described by scholars of Aztec religion as the embodiment of violent change. 

Quetzalcoatl (left) and Tezcatlipoca (right).

Quetzalcoatl (left) and Tezcatlipoca (right). ( Public Domain )

Tezcatlipoca was a multifaceted god. He was the god of the aristocracy, feasts, and the protector of warriors. At the same time, he was the god of night, death, and sorcery. He was not considered good or evil and was in general hard to figure out even for the people who worshiped him. One thing that was certain about Tezcatlipoca, however, was that there was no escaping his influence.

Another name for Tezcatlipoca was Titlacauan meaning “we are his slaves.” Yet another name for Tezcatlipoca was “Lord of the Near and Far” indicating that Tezcatlipoca had power over everything and everyone that existed. He was omnipotent and all-seeing, nothing could escape the attention of Tezcatlipoca.

A turquoise mask representing the god Tezcatlipoca. The base for this mask is a human skull. Mixtec-Aztec (1400-1521).

A turquoise mask representing the god Tezcatlipoca. The base for this mask is a human skull. Mixtec-Aztec (1400-1521). ( CC BY SA 2.5 )

It makes sense considering the attributes of this deity that some surrounding Mesoamerican cultures took him to be the supreme all-powerful being behind all other gods. This appears to make Tezcatlipoca the Mesoamerican equivalent to similar supreme beings worshiped in other cultures and religions. Three particularly interesting parallels are the sky god of the Inca, the Hindu Brahman, and the Chinese deity Shangdi. This also has obvious parallels to the Judeo-Christian God - though there are also important differences.

Tezcatlipoca "Lord of the Night Winds."

Tezcatlipoca "Lord of the Night Winds." ( Public Domain )

Sky Gods

The Inca, for example, have typically been thought of as primarily polytheistic in their religious inclinations by scholars. However, some scholars, such as Conrad (1992), have pointed out that the Incas were not strictly polytheistic. Their sun-god Inti, for example, was believed to be a manifestation of a larger divine complex which manifested itself through a number of deities depending on the situation. It might manifest itself as a sky god, a sun god, or perhaps a water god, but all these entities were manifestations of the same being - who was originally a type of sky and weather god. This is very similar to Tezcatlipoca in Mesoamerica.

Argentina, 8 gold escudos depicting the sun-god Inti.

Argentina, 8 gold escudos depicting the sun-god Inti. ( Public Domain )

Hindu’s Brahman

In Hinduism, Brahman is the supreme deity who manifests himself through lesser deities. It is commonly thought that Hinduism is polytheistic, but there is in fact one god in Hinduism that is expressed through countless lesser deities. This is also similar to the idea of Tezcatlipoca being a supreme god of whom all other deities are a lesser manifestation. One difference though is that the entire universe itself is merely an aspect of Brahman in Hinduism, whereas this does not appear to be the case in Aztec cosmology.


Fascinating! I had not run across this concept of the Smoking Mirror being a multitude of gods and goddesses that were one - definitely an intriguing comparison. The comparison to Brahman is especially apt. The Judeo-Christian YHVH acknowledges the existence of unrelated deities of course, but forbids His followers from acknowledging them, no doubt the important difference referred to in the article.

Me personally, I probably would have speculated that human laziness is what leads to the gods merging into one omnipotent abstract concept, that and the desire of the rulers to have their patron deity be all-powerful to justify them being all-powerful. (Although in truth, the potence of any deity is really just a pale reflection of the power of its believers.)

I enjoyed this read immensely, and plan to save it for later re-reading. Thank you for sharing this!

(I am curious to see what comments others have, but I forgot to check the box. So I am doing so on this comment.)

Bard A Madsen's picture

Virtually all of the global ancient mythologies are intrinsically connected as they describe the same phenomena, yet very few are willing to look and see. This film clip from The Wizard of Oz is a great example. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZR64EF3OpA It is really about the Younger Dryas Impact 'Hypothesis' i.e. the man behind the curtain. Actually, it is about multiple encounters with Spacefalls as the four darts representing the four ages of man that Tezcatlipoca carries. The most devastating one was the 13KBP event wherein all the deluge and fire from the sky myths go back to and are still commemorated today as the Festivals of the Dead and Halloween, those ancient pagan traditions that should be ignored just alike the man behind the curtain, keep fixated on the scary theatrical spectacle that will mislead you away from the truth!

The fiery smoking mirror that Tezcatlipoca has is most probably a representation of the bright "arc light / arc welding" blinding light of a bolide, the mirror being a metaphor for *as if* reflecting the light of the Sun. In other mythologies that have evolved or mutated from the original meaning to the sky gods' relation to thunder and lightning which is really all about the air bursts from superbolides, it is evident from the worship of Thunder Stones which are meteorites which are not produced by lightning. Another great example is the world wide legends of flying serpents which represent comets and bolides. The Egyptians talk of feathered snakes as do the Mesoamericans, it is a composite metaphor of a bird and a snake. The Druids have traditions of flying serpents, matter of fact they are known as such and the story of St. Patrick is all about driving the Druid's belief out of Ireland. The North American Indigenous People have the Thunder (air burst blast) Bird, it goes on and on globally in almost every culture and the the dragon is basically the same. The dragon (comet / bolide) trying to destroy the maiden (nature) and the shining knight (the Sun) saves her in the end, what they don't get into is that the nature is almost driven into extinction. St. George explicitly gives the towns' people a choice in a round about way, forget the true meaning and he will vanquish the dragon.

The true nature of our planet's encounters with catastrophic climate change from above has been sub-planted, even NASA trys to down play it with statistics such that this causation is only very very remote when the scientific data on the transition between the Paleolithic and Holocene is very compelling and this is substantiated by the legends of mankind which say it has happened four times within memory.


Intriguing. The feathered serpent thing particularly stood out to me. The trail of an object that actually falls to ground as opposed to one that skips off the atmosphere does in fact look like a swimming snake or eel with feathers shedding from it.

Bard A Madsen's picture

Sean - I have not considered that aspect, I'll have to keep it in mind while watching footage next time. I was talking about how ancient people would describe the phenomena as composite creatures, looks like a snake and yet flys. Birds fly and have feathers, snakes undulate, put them together and you get a feathered serpent.

Watch the last video on my site and it shows the undulation of comet Encke going through the solar wind. Meteors undulate also, I saw a great example on SpaceWeather and can not find it again. The meteor was coming almost straight down sinuating through the different air currents of the upper atmosphere.

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