Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers


Xochipilli (1) was considered one of the more benevolent of the Mesoamerican deities and he was popular amongst the chinampa dwellers to the south of Tenochtitlan. This statue was excavated near Tlalmanalco (2) in the shadow of the volcano Iztaccihuatl (3) and has been registered as part of the collection of the National Museum of Anthropology since 1882. Sacrifices to him generally consisted of garlands of flowers and butterflies and the consumption of much pulque. There is not a great deal of information to be found about this god and there is some suggestion that the mask that his statue appears to be wearing may in fact be the flayed skin of a sacrificial victim.

  1. Xochipilli (xochitl – flower, pilli – prince or child), also known as Macuilxochitl (Five Flower) has been called the Prince of Flowers (sometimes the Prince of flowers (or plants) that intoxicate). This god has been connected to the use of hallucinogenic plants within Aztec culture (by a European). I have found no definitive Mexican source of information that links Xochipilli with inebriating plants (although this theory is gaining more ground). Also called the ” the solar god of music and dance”.
  2. in the State of Mexico
  3. iztac – something white : cihuatl – woman/lady. A famous mountain that along with its counterpart Popocatepetl forms the basis of a tragic Romeo and Juliet like legend of forbidden love.

The hands of Xochipillis statue appear to have at one stage been clasping something but are now conspicuously empty and various theories have been put forward as to what they may have initially held. As a deity of music it has been posited that they may have held rattles possibly like the one pictured below. The rattle is also a valuable tool of the shaman and apart from its symbolic and ritual significance it plays an important role in the generation of trance states of consciousness.

This rattle is made from ayoyotes or the seeds of the cachayote (chachayotl) tree (1) and can be commonly seen these days adorning the ankles of the choncheros which can be found performing daily in the Zocalo (and many other places) of Mexico City.

  1. Thevetia thevetioides (syn. Cascabela thevetioides) is a small evergreen tropical tree from Puebla and Oaxaca and is known as yoyotl or yoyote. It has some use in folk medicine but as it is a relative of the oleander tree it should be considered quite poisonous. It as some use as an analgesic and Francisco Hernández de Toledo reported (in the 16th Century) that some indigenous peoples of Mexico used the crushed leaves as a topical analgesic for toothache. (F. Lagunes-Gutierrez, Vademecum de plantas medicinales del municipio de puente nacional, Veracruz, Universidad Veracruzana, México, 2013.) (Davidow, Joie : Infusions of Healing : “A Treasury of Mexican/American Herbal Remedies” :1999: ISBN 0-684-85416-3)
Ayoyote rattles adorning the ankles of a Conchero

Another potential contender for Xochipillis hand held object is the yolotopilli. The yolotopilli (heart-staff/heart-cane) was a small staff upon which was skewered a human heart and may have been considered a symbol of life, a symbol of divine revelation through the self sacrifice of ones own mistakes and own self (1) or perhaps indicative of the Gods’ need for sacrifice (more research needed).

  1. Jesus Cervantes Diaz : History of Tlamanaco : 2018

The statue and the base it sits on has many stylised and realistic carvings of vegetation on it. In the book “Plants of the Gods” by Albert Hoffman and Richard Evans Schultes an attempt has been made to identify all of these images as “plants that intoxicate” or hallucinogenic plants and that the statue itself shows Xochipilli in the inebriated state of ecstasy known as temicxoch or “the flowery dream”. There is however one flower that I personally think is under-represented in these explanations and that is yauhtli or Tagetes lucida (1). This plant played an important ritual role in Aztec ceremony and one variety of it was considered a manifestation of Xochipilli (and Tlaloc).

  1. also called pericón, yerba anis (yerbaniz) or Mexican tarragon. (See Post on Pericón for further information)
Possible identifications of the flora on the statue of Xochipilli

The use of hallucinognic mushrooms in Mesoamerica has been well documented and the use of these mushrooms was another aspect of spirituality that was denounced by the Spanish. The mushrooms were known locally as Teonanacatl(1), the “flesh of the Gods”. These mushrooms were depicted in several different ways by aztec scribes and artists. The picture above indicates that a symbol of a circle with a dot in the centre is a mushroom and points to one on the headdress and in the ear of the statue. The symbol on the headdress may be that of a mushroom but I think it unlikely that the one in the ear is (2).

  1. (or teononcatl) from teotl “god/divine/sacred” + nancatl “meat/flesh”
  2. ear piercing was common in aztec society and ear stretching and ear spools and plugs were also commonly used. Spools and plugs could be made from a range of materials (wood, bone, obsidian, jade or turquiose) and could denote your status in society (warrior, official, religious affiliation) or wealth.

Various examples of the mushroom as depicted by Aztec scribes.

A God of the underworld speaking through the mushroom.
From the Magliabecchiano Codex (also called the Florentine Codex)

A close up of an image from the Codex Mendoza. The image comes from a larger picture which showed all the items paid in tribute to Tenochtitlan by one of their vassal states. Two small mushrooms protrude from the fleur-de-lis shaped flower in a clay olla (pot).

A male aspect of the Goddess of the agave, Mayahuel.
The symbol of the mushroom appears twice in this image.
Once (in cross-section) on the crown,
and once in the cup held by the God.

This image from the Codex Telleriano-Remensis also shows a similar fleur-de-lis image as that in the Codex Mendoza.

The cup being held may denote the consumption of “teoctli” or “divine pulque”. This was a variety of pulque which had been infused with different varieties of hallucinogenic plants. This drink was said to be given to those about to be sacrificed to make them more docile (1) and go to the sacrificial altar more willingly.

  1. as an aside yauhtli (or Tagetes lucida – pericón) was powdered and fashioned into a form of snuff which was blown into the faces of those about to be sacrificed for the same purpose.
Base of the statue of Xochipilli

An image carved into the base of the statue of Xochipilli seems to be that of a flower composed of the cross-sections of mushrooms. This cross-section image of the musroom can also bee seen in toponyms (place name glyphs) of aztec villages/towns.

Two place name glyphs of Nanacatepetl, the “Hill of Mushrooms”

These glyphs show the mushroom cap in cross-section, with the lower image showing them sitting atop the glyph “tepec/tepetl” for hill/mountain. This hill glyph is demonstrated in three dimesional form in the photo below of a carving for Chapultepec “Grasshopper hill” found outside the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.

Statue of Xochipilli showing mask (of flayed skin?)

An interesting naming of Xochipilli has been noted by Jones in his book “Mythology of the Aztecs and Maya: “Myths and Legends of Ancient Mexico and Northern Central America” (2003). In this book he calls Xochipilli the “flayed flower god of souls” and Cotterell in the “Dictionary of World Mythology” (1990) calls Xochipilli the “flayed god of flowers” and the “lord of souls” (or the “guardian of souls”).

Xochipilli was a god of vegetation and rebirth and this may explain why the statue above appears to be wearing a mask. Masks are a common theme in Aztec culture and played a part in ritual and religious ceremony. They were transformational objects believed to have great power and could open portals from one identity or reality to another. Flayed skins taken from sacrificial victims also played transformational roles and the wearing of them and later shedding of them were relevant in ceremonies symbolising rebirth.

Teotihuacan mask identified as possibly being Xochipilli
Jade mask of Xipe Totec 

Flaying, or the removal of a sacrificial victims skin, played a part in some Aztec ceremonies. The primary flayed god of the Aztecs was Xipe Totec (1) who was depicted as wearing a flayed human skin. Xipe Totec was a god who symbolised the cycle of death and rebirth and presided over the cycle of seasons, agriculture and vegetation. Xipe Totec predated the Mexica, possibly arising with the Toltecs or even earlier. The myth of Xipe totec tells how he flayed himself in order to feed humanity much like the way maize kernels need to shed their outer layer (2) before they germinate and before they become edible and nutritionally viable (3). Priests or adherents of Xipe Totec wore the skins of victims flayed in honour to the god at the spring equinox festival (4). The skins were painted yellow (5) and the wearers were transformed into living images (6) of Xipe Totec (Lopez Austin, A 1988). The festival was held just prior to the rainy season and the priests wore the skins until they started to rot away and were discarded 20 days later in another ritual symbolising the shedding of the earth’s old dry surface in exchange for a new fertile one which ensured bountiful crops.

  1. “Our Lord the Flayed One” an aspect of Tezcatlipoca
  2. Pericarp
  3. such as through the process of nixtamalization. 
  4. Tlacaxipehualiztli (“Flaying of Men”), the second ritual month of the Aztec year
  5. in an attempt to emulate maize? These ritual “vestments” were called teocuitlaquemitl (teōtl (“god/divine/sacred”) +‎ cuitlatl (“excrement”) + quemitl roughly (“clothing/shirt”). Gold (the metal) was known as the “excrement of the Gods” as it was understood to seep out of the Earth (like diarrhoea).
  6. “teotl ixiptla” (see Post on Amaranth and the Tzoalli Heresy)

Xochipilli, in his guise as Macuilxochitl was also a member of a group of gods known as the ahuiateteo.

Ahuiateteo (or Macuiltonaleque) were a group of five Aztec gods of excess and pleasure. They were representative of the dangers and repercussions of excessive pleasure (as well as the joys) associated with drinking, gambling, and sex. Haemorrhoids and sexually transmitted disease in particular were punishments doled out by Xochipilli.

The Ahuiateteo gave rise to the ahuianime (see Post on Malinche)

The number 5 is incorporated into each of their names as it symbolises “excess” (the mythical 5th cup)

  • Macuilcozcacuauhtli (Five vulture), the god of gluttony
  • Macuilcuetzpalin  (Five lizard), the god of pride
  • Macuilmalinalli  (Five grass), the god of lust and envy
  • Macuiltochtli  (Five rabbit), the god of drunkenness
  • Macuilxochitl  (Five flower), the god of gambling and music, and an aspect of Xochipilli

These five gods were invoked by diviners and mystics. They were associated with the Tzitzimimeh (1) who were believed to descend to earth during solar eclipses and the period of unlucky days at the end of each 52 year period (2) where they would eat people.

Xochipilli (along with Huixtocihuatl)(3) was celebrated during Tecuilhuitontli (4) in which was held a major festival for salt workers and during which vast amounts of pulque were consumed and drunkenness was permitted (if not encouraged).

  1. Tzitzimitl (plural Tzitzimimeh) are celestial female deities whom midwives and parturient women beseeched upon. They are fearful creatures (that the Spanish depicted as devils or demons) which are particularly powerful, ferocious and dangerous. They are associated with the stars (particularly those visible during solar eclipse). In the story of Mayahuel she was killed by her grandmother, who was tzitzimitl, and who was enraged by Mayahuels relationship and coupling with Quetzalcoatl. Mayahuel descended from the sky, where she lived with her grandmother, to the earth and bonded with Quetzalcoatl to form a forked tree. Her grandmother saw through the ruse, tore Mayahuels body to pieces and gave it to the other tzitzimimeh to eat. Quetzalcoatl collected the remaining bones and buried them. The first maguey grew from Mayahuels bones (so one story goes).
  2. A “new fire” ceremony was held at the end of every 52 year cycle (an Aztec “century”). Its purpose was to “renew” the sun and ensure that another 52 year period would occur. This was a time of darkness as all fires in the kingdom were extinguished and the people would wait in darkness until the priests climbed Citlaltepec (the hill of the stars) and observed the heavens until the stars of the Pleiades reached their zenith. At this time a sacrifice would be made and the heart burned in a new fire kindled in the chest cavity of the sacrificial offering. If the fire burned brightly then Xiutecuhtli (the fire god) would ensure a new century. A bonfire would then be built on the mountain and its flames transferred to the temple of Huitzilopochtli on top of the Templo Mayor pyramid. Runners would then carry brands lit from this fire to all corners of the empire so the people could rekindle their own fires at home. If the fire failed to take hold then the tzitzimimeh would descend to the earth without pity slashing and eating all humanity without exception or mercy and the world would end.
  3. or Uixtochihuatl, was a fertility goddess who presided over salt and salt water. She was considered to be the older sister of the rain gods, including Tlaloc
  4. the Small Festival of the Lords, also the 7th month of the Aztec calendar

Xochipilli and his female counterpart Xochiquetzal (1) were also celebrated with tzoalli ceremonies (see Post on “Amaranth and the Tzoalli Heresy”). In a paper written by Glockner (1996) he mentions a particular ceremony, “the celebrants also offered to the gods Xochipili (sic) or Xochiquetzal tzoalli cakes made with amaranth, corn and honey, others carried bread in the shape of butterflies or resembling the silhouette of lightning, others more offered glasses of chilmolli and dishes with five tamales”.

  1. Xochiquetzal (xochitl – flower, quetzal – precious feather), the sister of Xochipilli, in myth she was the first wife of Tlaloc. She was the personification of love, beauty, domesticity, flowers and female sexual power.

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