Xochipilli : New Floral Identifications

The Aztec universe has been poorly represented and even less eloquently articulated. This is in some way to be expected as our understanding of this universe has been in many ways limited by the existing written sources that describe this universe. These sources were, by and large, written by the very peoples who destroyed the culture they were inadequately attempting to describe and were also skewed by the lens of a religious worldview that was very different from the one they were attempting to chronicle (and destroy). Modern attempts at interpreting Aztec culture is also problematic as they are (generally speaking) being made using these tainted source materials and it is another step further removed because it is being done through a worldview that is again quite different to that of 15th century Spanish chroniclers. We are simply unable to accurately decipher these materials as we are unable to think like a post conquest Spaniard (any more than we are able to think like a pre conquest Mesoamerican). This is being somewhat allayed by the oral histories of Mesoamerican peoples which are beginning to be more openly transmitted.

As previously noted (1) The Aztecs did not worship Gods as such but honoured the forces of the universe which were represented anthropomorphically (2) as beings (3). In Mexica concepts everything was sacred, was to be respected and had a reason to live. There were no gods and goddesses but sacredness in everything. The cosmic forces of the universe, earth, water, wind and earthquake were seen as animate beings. These conceptions, framed in the Mesoamerican worldview, are a form of thought based on the fact that the gods and humans were perceived as living together in nature and in which they related to each other and helped to maintain the dynamism and balance of the universe. The colonisers anthropomorphized all these processes, these forces, these entities and created gods where previously there were none.

  1. See Post Aztec Gods or States of Consciousness?
  2. ascribing human form or attributes to a thing or a being not human.
  3. i.e. Xiuhtecuhtli was fire itself, not the god of fire. See Post Aztec Gods or States of Consciousness?

This Mesoamerican worldview extended to plants. Flowers, plants and trees were thought, like humans, to contain a soul and man was intimately connected to nature. Some plants were considered “food” of the gods (1) and flowers were not only objects of beauty but were symbolic representations of the structure of the Mesoamerican universe.

  1. Much in the same way that incense is used in the rituals of the Catholic Church (where the sweet smell of incense carried prayers to heaven) sweet smelling herbs carried the entreaties of the penitent to the appropriate God. Other plants (yuahtli – pericon, copal and estafiate) were themselves conceived as sacred beings.
The “floral” structure of the Mesoamerican universe as depicted by Magaña (2011)
Photo via Yaocelotlest on Facebook.

This same model was used as the foundation for the construction of Tenochtitlan

One of the major gods of vegetation (1) was the being known as Xochipilli or the “Prince of Flowers” (2) the most famous image of which is that of a statue that was unearthed on the side of the volcano Popocatépetl near Tlalmanalco and now sits in the Museo Nacional de Antropología (3) in Mexico City.

  1. Although considered a lesser god in the grand scheme of the Mesoamerican pantheon
  2. See Posts Aztec Gods or States of Consciousness?, Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers, Mayhuel and the Centzon Totochin and Pericón. Tagetes lucida for further information on Xochipilli.
  3. National Museum of Anthropology

There are two aspects of this God that have piqued my interest. The first is the identification of the plants depicted on the statue and a relatively new phenomena that identifies Xochipilli as the god of homosexuality (1). There have been attempts to identify the flora depicted on the statue of Xochipilli (2) which have some merit although I do find that Wasson’s work, which tried to identify all of the plants as hallucinogenic, seemed more about fitting a theory rather than a genuine attempt to identify the plants particularly because there was no interest in including plants that were not psychoactive as such.

  1. I will dedicate a Post to this subject in the near future
  2. (Wasson 1974)(Schultes and Hofmann 1992 – although this is simply a republishing of Wassons theory)(Diaz 2003)(Diaz 2010)

Wassons identifications are problematic particularly as they involve the (cultural) misappropriation and misrepresentation of a base of knowledge centred on the mushroom ceremonies of the curandera María Sabina (1)(2).

María was handpicked to represent this particular form of knowledge to the public (3) which was used (depending on the particular conspiracy you ascribe to) to create the first “commercial” (4) hallucinogen (5) which was then used to usher in the “New Age” and later adopted by the C.I.A. (6) to initiate their mind control program MK-Ultra which used this substance (and others), often illegally, to develop procedures to be used in interrogations in order to weaken the individual and force confessions through mind control (7).

María was later said to have regretted sharing this knowledge with Wasson as the mushrooms (which she referred to as her “children”) were sorely disrespected and as a result she lost the ability to communicate with them effectively as they were “losing their power”.

  1. María Sabina Magdalena García (1894 – 22/11/1985) was a Mazatec curandera from Huautla de Jiménez, a town in the Sierra Mazateca area of the Mexican state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
  2. For further information on one aspect of this investigate the research of Jan Irvin (as noted in the bibliography)
  3. There were other curanderos that were considered more knowledgeable and powerful (i.e. Aurelio the “one eyed butcher”) but it was decided that María had better “visuals”  and that the public would be more amenable to her grandmotherly aspect and potentially even to the biblical overtones of her name.
  4. the primary ingredient, psilocybin, was isolated in the laboratory by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann (although morphine and cocaine – also isolated by German scientists are antecedents – being isolated in 1817 and 1859 respectively – although neither of these would be classified as hallucinogenic. Morphine?….maybe?)
  5. the word “hallucinogen” itself is problematic as it is an umbrella classification that covers many types of psychoactivity. Other words have been proposed (and used) to further classify these substances. Psychedelic (From Ancient Greek ψυχή (psychê) mind, soul + δηλος (dêlos) manifest, reveal + -ic), psychotropic, psychotomimetic, psychodysleptic, cognodysleptic, deleriant, phantasticant, empathogen (and my favourite bugbear) entheogen (and others) are all words used to describe the various forms of psychoactivity elicited by consuming these substances
  6. The Central Intelligence Agency. “As the world’s premier foreign intelligence agency, the work we do at CIA is vital to U.S. national security. We collect and analyze foreign intelligence and conduct covert action. U.S. policymakers, including the President of the United States, make policy decisions informed by the information we provide”. (according to their website)
  7. The scope of Project MKUltra was broad, with research undertaken at more than 80 institutions, including colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies

Research on the identification of Xochipilli’s floral adornment has entered a new phase. As of 1999 (see images below) there was still a strong emphasis on the “entheogenic” (1) nature of these plants although some of the images are now listed as unidentified and there is far less emphasis on mushrooms.

  1. I dislike this word. To me it seems to be more of a buzzword for marketing purposes. It irks me and when I am able to elucidate my thoughts more eloquently on this I shall do so. It does bear some relevance as the initial concept of entheogenicity involves the divine (or God if you will) and entheos essentially means “filled with” or “full of” God. It was a term that expressed the inspiration that filled poets and artists and allowed them to create works of beauty. This inspiration was often of a religious or spiritual manner. There was also a link to being “possessed” by the Divine (which also referred to artists and poets and potentially seers, prophets or oracles). This word has essentially become a form of marketing so as to remove the potential negative connotations of words previously used to describe shamanic plants.  

Thania Pérez Chávez, a Master in Mesoamerican studies at UNAM and Archaeologist at INAH as well as other researchers (1) have published work (Pérez Chávez, Thania et al 2019) that aims to carry out a new revision and reinterpretation of the representations of fungi in prehispanic times. The work of Wasson is being revisited because his recording of the use of “nuerotropic” fungi was fundamentally flawed and his interpretations were never questioned. These researchers have approached the prehispanic from a wider range of viewpoints centred on Mexican rather than Eurocentric thought systems.

  1. Emilio Cortina Gómez. Archaeologist from the Veracruzana University; Carlos Briones Pérez. Biologist, Autonomous University of the State of Hidalgo and Angel Moreno Fuentes. Doctor of Science, Faculty of Sciences, UNAM

There has been a concerted effort to identify the floral elements of Xochipillis statue through the eyes of its creators. In the universe of the nahuatlacah (1) the elements of nature could be considered as the gods themselves and the carvings of flower on Xochipilli evoke the plant kingdom and the qualities of god as a generator of plants and the creator of flowers as well as the allegory of the regeneration of nature, its cyclical and temporary greening in response to the seasonal annual transformations through the dry and wet seasons.

  1. “clear-speaking people,” those who spoke Nahuatl

One approach has been to identify the plants through their ritual and symbolic meanings as they applied to the culture that created them. It has been noted however that “sometimes it is impossible and sometimes arbitrary to claim an irrefutable correspondence between what is embodied in stone as an expression of the aesthetic canons of a given time, more than 500 years ago” (Pilar etal 2018). One of the first tasks was to scour all references to the floral in the texts and artworks of the nahuatlacah that was available to scholars and cross reference those with living plants and then reference those again with Xochipillis flora. New identifications (1), “within the framework of the attributes of the god himself and the religious thought of the Nahuas”, were then proposed.

  1. Perhaps not “new” but different to that of Wasson/Schultes/Hofmann

Some of the flowers identified as belonging to Xochipilli exist as part of a set of “precious flowers, with a sweet and fragrant smell” that were offered to Huitzilopochtli (1) on the day of his sign, 1-Flint

  • Ololiuhqui – Botanical identification :Fam. Convolvulaceae, Turbine corymbosa
  • Toloache – Botanical identification :Datura spp.
  • Yiexóchitl, “tobacco flower” – Botanical identification : Fam. Solanaceae; Nicotiana spp.
  • Huacalxóchitl, “huacal flower” – Botanical identification Phillodendrum aff. Mexicanum
  • Yolloxóchitl, “flower of heart” – Botanical identification Talauma Mexicana
  1. 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.

Other flowers were woven into garlands for the festival of the “flower offering” (Tlaxochimaco)(1). Some of the flowers that were woven into these garlands carry particular relevance to the Mexica and are noted as potential candidates for the carvings on Xochipilli. These include,

  • Xiloxóchitl – “cornsilk flower” (from Nahuatl – “xilotl” that formed the Nahuatlism “jilote”, refers to the ear of young corn, and “xochitl” “flower) – Botanical identification : Fam. Malvaceae; of the genus Pseudobombax spp.
  • Acocoxóchitl  – Dahlia (See Post Acocoxochitl : The Dahlia)
  • Cacaloxóchitl – “crow flower” – Botanical identification : Plumeria rubra. The plant I know as a frangipani.
  • Oceloxóchitl – “jaguar flower” – Botanical identification : Tigridia pavonia
  • Yolloxóchitl, “flower of heart” – Botanical identification Talauma Mexicana
  1. Tlaxochimaco (also known as Miccaihuitontli, or “The Small Festival of the Dead”) is the name of the ninth Month of the Aztec calendar (lines up – más o menos) with August in the Gregorian calendar). It is also a festival in the Aztec religion, dedicated to the Aztec God of War Huitzilopochtli. It is called the Bestowal or Birth of Flowers. For two days at the beginning of this festival, the people would travel outside the city in order to pick wild flowers. They then strung them together into garlands which were placed on the statues of the teteo.  To conclude the festival, flowers and food were also offered to the dead. Other rites included the sacrifice of children and the offering of flowers in honour of Tezcatlipoca, as well as the sacrifice of a victim representing Mictlantecuhtli.

The flowers were looked at from a botanical point of view,

Flower being depicted from budding to full blossoming. This process in itself is integral to flowering plants and carries many layers of philosophical meaning.

They were then looked at as specific species,

Ceiba (Malvaceae).

This particular image has more than one possible identification.

Malvaceae; of the genus Pseudobombax spp. At various stages of flowering. This particular contender put forward by INAH is the xiloxóchitl (1).

  1. “Xiloxóchitl” is made up of the Nahua roots “xilotl” that formed the Nahuatlism “jilote” (immature, green ear of maize), and “xochitl” “flower”

The flower above could just as easily belong to Pachira aquatica. This plant, native to Mesoamerica, is closely related to Quararibea funebris (also called cacahuaxochitl or Rosita de cacao) and is possibly connected through Xochipillis link to cacao through trade in Aztatlán.

Cacahuaxochitl as shown below has been tentatively identified as Heimia salicifolia.


The xiloxóchitl is an important plant to this deity as it is related to the group of gods known as the Ahuiateteo (or Macuiltonaleque) (1), that encompass a wide universe in which, added to the flowers, are music, games, poetry, joy and sensuality. In the Codex Tudela, the xiloxóchitl appears coming out of the mouth of a character as a flowery virgule (2).

  1. a group of five Aztec gods of excess and pleasure (of which Xochipilli was one). They were representative of the dangers and repercussions of excessive pleasure (as well as the joys) associated with drinking, gambling, and sex.
  2. symbol of the word spoken in song.

Wasson’s choice for this image was Heimia salicifolia (1). Wasson’s focus was on shamanic mushrooms. I feel that many of his other identifications were guided by this and he focussed almost exclusively on intoxicating plants and discounted plants without these effects.

  1. This plant was called ‘Sinicuiche’ [or sinicuichi] by the Aztecs. It has medicinal utility. Clinically demonstrated effects include anticholinergic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diuretic, hyperglycemic, hypotensive, sedative, tranquilizer, and vasodilator activity.  Traditionally, the leaves are removed and allowed to wilt a bit, crushed and combined with cold water, then placed in the sun for a day to make a tea. Its most reported effects are auditory hallucinations. https://erowid.org/plants/sinicuichi/sinicuichi_faq.shtml

Heimia salicifolia with flower at full bloom. These two images are from the websites of exotic seed sellers. They are very different images as you can see. The image at the top is very similar to the ones you might find in a Google search. The lower image may represent a varietal (or may simply be misidentified).

I have issues over two plants that are not really discussed in conversations over Xochipilli. The first is the marigold known as Yauhtli (1). This plant has been present in Mexican culture since pre-Hispanic times and is one of the plants that, “in the current ritual, symbolic, medicinal and traditional universe, has managed to preserve many of its forms of use and ancient meanings”. This plant has culinary, medicinal, ritual and magical uses that are still current today (2).

  1. Tagetes lucida, also called pericón
  2. See Post Pericón. Tagetes lucida

Photos via www.conabio.gob.mx

INAH (1) says of yauhtli, “Since the Mexica period and up to the present day, the yauhtli has been an essential element of the symbolic culture of Mexico. In the Mexica worldview, its meanings were multiple, and the presence of its flowers at parties and ceremonies was very constant and always essential. Their participation in each ritual responded to cosmogonic implications that transcended the merely ornamental or sensual and, in this sense, the yauhtli was detached from the rest of the flowers in its role as an offering symbol to acquire its own semantics. As an aromatic offering, next to copal and other flowers, the yauhtli also became food for the god”. Remnants of this plant have been found as part of offerings unearthed in archaeological diggings in the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan (now located in México City). This plant was a specific herb of Tlaloc, its symbolism is tied to Saint Michael the Archangel (2) and is still used magically to this very day in the fields of Morelos. Pericón is burned on embers to drive away storms and hail with smoke, when lightning and thunder threaten crops. Crosses made of the herb are hung in fields and over doorway to provide protection from el Chamuco (3). This is a culturally vitally important plant, and although it does have reputed intoxicating effects (4) this is not why the plant has importance.

  1. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (the The National Institute of Anthropology and History)
  2. Chief of the Armies of God, Conqueror of the devil and protector of crops, and whose sword is the aroma of the pericón.
  3. The Devil
  4. The dust of the yauhtli flower was blown on the face of the captives at the Xocotl uetzi festival (“the fruit falls”), just before being thrown into the fire “so that they lose consciousness and do not feel death so much”. Contemporary studies have not found the chemical component that supports this psychoactive quality.

Another plant that was hugely important to Mesoamericans was the maguey or the agave.

It had a multitude of uses (1) and it most certainly was an intoxicating plant (2). If we are going to identify Xochipilli’s flora solely as plants that intoxicate then the agave certainly has earned a space. If we are including plants with religious/spiritual contexts this increases the validity of investigating the flowers of this species.

  1. See Posts,  Pulque; Medicinal Uses of the Maguey; The Agave, Barbacoa and Mixiotes;  Flor de Maguey The Agave Flower; Mayahuel and the Cenzton Totochtin and The Maguey as building material.
  2. Although being intoxicated on one of its primary products, pulque, was regulated and execution was a possible punishment for its misuse. See Posts as noted above.

Many of these flowers would fit the criteria used by INAH to identify the flowers on Xochipilli and this would bear particular relevance if the flowers were not depicted botanically but symbolically and artistically.

Even the butterfly feeding on a flower as depicted on the base that Xochipilli rests upon has been investigated. (1)

  1. I will investigate the butterfly and its symbolism as it relates to Xochipilli in a future Post

It has been suggested that the most likely contender for this particular flower is the Acocoxóchitl or Dahlia. The image is being investigated in its totality rather than being a pattern made up of the cross-sections of a mushroom cap as has been suggested.(Wasson/Schultes/Hoffman)

The acocoxóchitl (1) headed the list of flowers that people went to look for in the fields and cornfields two days before the start of the festival of the “flower offering”, or Tlaxochimaco, which were woven in long and thick garlands to be offered to Huitzilopochtli, the tutelary god, and to all the gods. It was considered of great value because of its beauty and it also had medicinal uses and its tubers are an edible vegetable. The admiration of this plant has been carried into the modern day and it is emblematic of being the national flower of México.

  1. See Post Acocoxohitl. The Dahlia

Research continues……..

  • Arqueología Mexicana, Edición especial núm. 59, 3 ácatl / 2015. https://arqueologiamexicana.mx/calendarios/tlaxochimaco
  • Cuairán Chavarría, María del Pilar., Olmedo Vera, Bertina. & Montúfar López, Aurora (2018) Xochipilli, el Señor de las Flores : Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia Ciudad de México, México. ISBN: 978-607-539-154-0
  • Díaz, José Luis (2003), “Las plantas mágicas y la conciencia visionaria”, Arqueología Mexicana, vol. X, núm. 59, México, Editorial Raíces/Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, pp. 18-25.
  • José Luis Díaz (2010). Sacred plants and visionary consciousness. , 9(2), 159–170. doi:10.1007/s11097-010-9157-z
  • Ferdinand Anders et al., eds., Códice Borbónico, 1st ed., Códices Mexicanos 3 (Madrid: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario; Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt;  Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1991).
  • Heyden, Doris (1983), Mitología y simbolismo de la flora en el México prehispánico, México, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
  • Irving, Jan (2012), R. Gordon Wasson: The Man, the Legend, the Myth. Beginning a New History of Magic Mushrooms, Ethnomycology,and the Psychedelic Revolution. https://logosmedia.com/2012/05/RGordonWasson_The-Man-the-Legend-the-Myth-secret-history-of-magic-mushrooms-by-jan-irvin-144/#R.%20Gordon%20Wasson
  • Irving, Jan (2014), Entheogens: What’s in a Name? “The Untold History of Psychedelic Spirituality, Social Control, and the CIA” https://logosmedia.com/Entheogens_WhatsinaName_PsychedelicSpirituality_SocialControl_CIA (last accessed 11.01.21)
  • Irving, Jan (2015), Spies in Academic Clothing: The Untold History of MKULTRA and the Counterculture – And How the Intelligence Community Misleads the 99%. https://logosmedia.com/spiesinacademicclothing_mkultra
  • Knab, Dr T.J. and Sullivan, Thelma D : A Scattering of Jades. “Stories, Poems and Prayers of the Aztecs” : 1994: ISBN 0-671-86413-0
  • Magaña, Sergio (Ocelocoyotl) : 2012 – 2021 The Dawn of the Sixth Sun “The Path of Quetzalcoatl” : Blossoming Books : Edizioni Amrita srl : 2011
  • Thania Pérez Chávez, Emilio Cortina Gómez, Carlos Briones Pérez, Angel Moreno Fuentes. (2019)., “Hongos silvestres en el México antiguo”, Arqueología Mexicana, edición especial, núm. 87, pp 8-17.
  • Ruck, Carl A. P.; Bigwood, Jeremy; Staples, Danny; Ott, Jonathan; Wasson, R. Gordon (1979). Entheogens. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 11(1-2), 145–146. doi:10.1080/02791072.1979.10472098
  • Schultes, Richard Evans, and Albert Hofmann. 1992. Plants of the gods: their sacred, healing, and hallucinogenic powers. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
  • Wasson, R. Gordon (1974). The Role of ‘Flowers’ in Nahuatl Culture: A Suggested Interpretation. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 6(3), 351–360. doi:10.1080/02791072.1974.10471987
  • Wheller, Carole & Rivera Marín, Guadalupe (1994) The Winged Prophet, From Hermes to Quetzalcoatl : Weiser Books  : ISBN 0-87728-799-6, 1994.


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