Xochipilli and Homosexuality : Part 2

Xochipilli is so intimately linked with another deity, Xochiquetzal, that they are sometimes conflated into one being. This brings up some interesting questions into the nature of transgender behaviour and hermaphroditism (1). These are interesting questions but as neither of these necessarily has to involve homosexuality I will not delve into either in any particular detail in this Post. This is a conversation to be held at another time.

  1. this is generally considered to be an outdated term and is also considered to be a slur in the intersex (2) community. I have only used the term here as (at this stage of human evolution) I have found that the majority of people I have discussed this with are not familiar with the term “intersex”.
  2. Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.

In this Post I would like to explore Xochiquetzals origins and her relationship to Xochipilli through astronomical allusions and the literary connotations of “xochitl” (flower) as it relates to the expression of sexuality.

Xochipilli exists in a confusion of names, attributes and alliances. Some of the forms I have come across are…

  • Xochipilli
  • Macuilxochitl. Five Flower, a calendrical name for the principal member of the Macuiltonaleque deities
  • Chicome-Xochitl. Seven Flower, the name of the deity that gave birth to maize; also, the name of a religious observance with agricultural associations (especially maize and water) and involving offerings of maize
  • Papaloxahual-Xochipilli. This deity was patron of the arts (and perhaps craft guilds) of city based artisans, especially those that produced sacred items like obsidian mirrors (Pastrana, 1998).
  • Piltzintecuhtli-Tonatiuh. The 3rd Lord of the Night.- as the youthful sun god Piltzintecuhtli/Xochipilli
  • Xochipilli-Centeotl. The 7th Lord of the Day.- as god of pleasure/of maize
  • Xochiquetzal – it has been said that Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal are siblings, i.e. brother and sister. Voices would have us believe that each of the two Xochis are the halves of one gender fluid being

Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal (1) provide an interesting deity conundrum. The link with Xochiquetzal is particularly interesting as she has in various sources been described as Xochipilli’s wife, consort, child, sibling (sometimes a twin) and even the other half of one gender fluid being. Although both figures were revered and celebrated by the same peoples (and sometimes worshipped alongside each other) each of these deities were patrons of different aspects of daily life. Whilst both had associations with sexuality Xochiquetzal was representative of flowers, beauty, pregnancy, childbirth and non-procreative sex (2) and Xochipilli was responsible for art, games, dance, flowers, and song as well as the consequences of the excesses of lascivious behaviour (3). Sexual enjoyment and pleasure however were seen as a gift from the gods and therefore something to be appreciated and enjoyed. Taken in this light these two gods may be seen as representative of the balance of these primal forces rather than actual beings (4) with both deities being the representation of human eroticism in its feminine and masculine aspects, its pleasures, dangers and responsibilities.

  1. Also Xochiquetzalli
  2. You know. The kind you have for fun.
  3. As Xochipilli can be associated with the negative aspects of sexuality via the dispensation of sexually transmitted diseases Xochiquetzal has been linked with a different negative aspect of sexuality that of the violence of rape (explored in more detail further down).
  4. See Post Aztec Gods or States of Consciousness?

Murray (2015) speaks of Xochipilli/Xochiquetzal as being one being. His description of Xochiquetzal adheres to the generally accepted representations of this deity but iterates the fact that Xochipilli was not only worshipped as the god of homosexuals but also of male prostitutes (1). His was the first work I came across that mentioned male prostitution. He also added to the confusion with Xochiquetzals origin mythos.

  1. There is some cross over here with the terms ahuianime and ahuiateteo. Ahuianime (whose patron goddess was Xochiquetzal) were known amongst the Mexica as women whose job was to use their sexuality to seduce and were sometimes branded as prostitutes (possibly by the Spanish (2). They were generally considered however to act in a manner that “proper” or “honest” women should not (See Post La Malinche). There was no stigma attached to their services as is often the case with sex workers in this era. A few among them were integrated to the Mexica society through public rites and could effectively be sacrificed ritually as “images” of divinities (such as Xochiquetzal) (Olivier 2001). They often accompanied the greatest warriors in campaigns or were designated to provide succour to the young man who represented Tezcatlipoca and was destined for ritual sacrifice at the Toxcatl festivities in Tenochtitlan. 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. (See Post Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers). The Ahuiateteo gave rise to the ahuianime.
  2. prostitute (n.) “harlot, woman who offers her body indiscriminately” (usually for money), 1610s, from Latin prostituta “prostitute,” fem. of prostitutus “exposed publicly,” adjectival use of past participle of prostituere “expose to prostitution; expose publicly”. No distinction in the use of the word was made between women who did so to gratify themselves, those who did so out of necessity, or those who were forced unwillingly to it. It was somewhat earlier used in English as an adjective, “offered or exposed to lust” (1570s), earlier still in the figurative sense of “debased, devoted to vile or infamous purposes” (1560s) and , interestingly, etymological dating places this word and its use in a time period after the Spanish began chronicling their exploits in the Americas.

“Xochiquetzal (feathered flower of the maguey), was the goddess of non-procreative sexuality and love. Originally the consort of Tonacatecutli (1), a creator god, Xochiquetzal dwelled in the heaven of Tamaoanchan (2), where she gave birth to all humankind. However, subsequently she was abducted by Tezcatlipoca, a war god, and raped.”
Tamoanchan is a celestial locale in the highest heaven. Prior to this, Camargo (1984) states that Xochiquetzal was married to Tlaloc (and resided in Tlalocan one assumes) (3) before being kidnapped by Tezcatlipoca
In another legend she is kidnapped from Tamaoanchan and taken to the underworld by Xolotl where she is subsequently raped. The text that speaks of this legend also mentions that she also is said to have eaten “forbidden fruit from an aphrodisiac tree and became the first female to submit to sexual temptation”. This story seems to have a very Hebraic Adam and Eve tone to it. Not sure how much stock I can take in this though. Another case of colonializing the mythos of a culture? Or representation of a powerful archetype?
Xochiquetzals rape by Tezcatlipoca transformed her from the goddess of procreative love to one of just good old fucking (Murray 2015). It seems the rape tarnished her “good and proper womanly attributes” into a hussy that just fucks for the fun of it. This seems to be a form of malinchismo to me (4) (See Post La Malinche). This carried over (calendrically speaking) as girls born under the auspices of Xochiquetzal would become “bad women” due to Xochiquetzal being the first woman to sin (again with the Eve symbolism?)

  1. In Aztec mythology, Tōnacātēcuhtli was a creator and fertility god. His consort was Tōnacācihuātl. Tōnacācihuātl was a creation and fertility goddess. She is also referred to as Ilhuicacihuātl. In the Codex Chimalpopoca, Tōnacātēcuhtli and Tōnacācihuātl are listed as one of several pairs of gods to whom Quetzalcoatl prays (Bierhorst 1992). Seler (1901) notes that Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal replace Tōnacātēcuhtli and Tōnacācihuātl as representatives of the eastern direction in the Codex Fejérváry-Maye
  2. Tamoanchan is also said to be the part of the world where sky and earth are connected
  3. Tlalocan is a hollow mountain filled with fruit. It is the heaven that people who have died from lightning, drowning (or other watery afflictions cause by a rain god) end up in.
  4. Malinchismo may be defined broadly as the pursuit of the novel and foreign, coupled with rejection and betrayal of one’s own culture.

Xochipilli was normally the one seen to dispense punishment for excessive licentiousness by dispensing boils, haemorrhoids or sexually transmitted diseases but Murray also mentions that (also the first time I came across this) Xochiquetzal was also the deity of sexual destruction who incited lust and rape, and inflicted people with venereal disease and piles. Confusing one with the other? (1) Murray doesn’t differentiate two beings but simply bundles the two Xochis together as some form of non-binary trans being. I feel this to be incorrect as these two deities (whether they actually are beings or anthropomorphisations of some universal force or concept) are responsible for different facets of their civilisations.

  1. the inciting of rape was a new twist though. I have never encountered any writings that ever linked Xochipilli and the act of rape.

These deities do share several aspects so some cross over is expected.

So what are the associations between these two?

  • Both bear the name Xochi (tl), “flower” in Nahuatl
  • Both are deities generally associated with pleasure of all kinds, particularly love, the arts, and of summer. Xochipilli was the god of music, dance, feasting, ‘noble arts’, games and sports. Xochiquetzal was the goddess of beauty, flowers and physical/erotic love, but also patron of domestic workers, prostitutes, artists, painters, embroiders, weavers, silversmiths, sculptors, and pregnancy and childbirth (Higuera 1992) (Olivier 2003). Xochipilli (as Papaloxahual-Xochipilli) was also a patron of artisans.
  • Both are “supreme” deities, connected with fertility and agriculture.
  • Both have some symbolic link with butterflies. Xochipilli was one of the few gods that did not require a constant supply of human hearts. Sacrifices to him usually consisted of flowers and butterflies although, if the statue indicates that he is indeed wearing a flayed human skin, there was some blood sacrifice involved. The base upon which the statue of Xochipilli sits is carved with symbolic butterfly imagery. Xochiquetzal was worshipped by the Tlaxcallans (1) and the images of swallowtail butterflies decorated their war shields (2).
  1. Known for the ferocity of their warriors and one of the few peoples to resist Aztec domination. See Post La culpa es de los Tlaxcaltecas (The Tlaxcaltecas are to blame)
  2. Swallowtail butterflies are territorial and known for their aggressive behaviour.

Xochiquetzal is often identified by her “butterfly face paint” and butterfly nose ring.

Image taken from the Codex Borgia.

Xochiquetzals nose ring is called a yacapapalotl (yacatl = nose and papalotl = butterfy) and is also worn by Xochipilli. Although Xochipillis nose ornamentation tends to be identified as a yacameztli. The yacameztli is linked to Xochiquetzal by Seler (1963) as being “the moon visible in the evening”.

(said to be the) Mask of Xochipilli, discovered at Teotihuacan.

The nose ring Xochiquetzal wears also potentially carries a deeper lunar symbolism. The yacameztli (yacatl = nose and meztli = moon) symbolised the moon and had connotations of fertility, cyclical regeneration and growth. It was typically worn by deities (1) that were involved with the alcoholic beverage pulque (2).

  1. Mayáhuel , Patécatl , Tlazolteotl and the Centzontotochin. Xochiquetzal is linked to Tlazolteotl through their roles as a fertility/childbirth goddess and as the goddess of spinning (weaving). Tlazolteotl also has lunar connections. In some stories she is the mother of Xochiquetzal. Tlazolteotl, Mayahuel and Xochiquetzal are all part of the Cihuacoatl Goddess Complex involving lunar deities of fertility.
  2. For further information See Post Mayahuel and the Cenzton Totochtin.

The image on the left is a yacameztli. The image on the right is of the moon as depicted in the Codex Borgia. (see note 2 above)

In codices the yacameztli is used to reinforce the anthropomorphic character of the character displaying it. The anthropomorphisation of pre-Hispanic deities is covered in more detail in my Post Aztec Gods or States of Consciousness?

Xochiquetzal and Xochipilli are entwined by astronomy. Xochiquetzal has been identified by some as the young or waxing moon (Seler 1902-1903) (Thompson 1939) although one scholar (Kelly 1980) identifies her as the goddess of the new moon, according to his interpretation of the various calendrical names of the deities, and Graulich (1990) identifies her as the “moon that falls to earth”, a counterpart of the tzitzimime (1). She is also linked to the young sun god Piltzintecuhtli as his consort (Seler) (Nicholson 1971) and is said to have birthed Xochipilli as a result (Milbraith 1999) (2). We are now starting to see a deeper astrological/astronomical correspondences arise. Nicholson (1971) tries to compare Xochiquetzals “sexual relationship” (3) with Tezcatlipoca as lunar interaction with the planet Jupiter (4). The pairing of Xochiquetzal with a solar husband (or child) was expressive of the male/female duality symbolic of the joining of the sun and the moon during conjunction (5).

  1. See Post Mayahuel and the Centzontotochin
  2. Another myth says that Xochiquetzal and Piltzintecuhtli fathered the god Nanahuatzin (whose self-sacrifice was instrumental in creating the world/era that we now inhabit which is called the 5th Sun)
  3. or rather her rape
  4. Rodriguez-Shadow (1996) uses the same relationship as a political metaphor with Tezcatlipoca (symbolic of the ruling class) subjugating Xochiquetzal (who symbolised the common people).
  5. The Moon is in conjunction with the Sun at New Moon.

Ashes in the Eyes.

Ashes as a metaphor for sin.

One of Xochiquetzals incarnations is that of Ixnextli. Ixnextli is an aspect of Xochiquetzal after she had been expelled from paradise (Tamoanchan).

Ixnextli (1) as Xochiquetzal, resided in Tamoanchan but was thrown out for committing the crime of cutting flowers from Xochiuauhco (the tree of flowers)(2) whose leaves, when touched, made lovers happy.

  1. (name translates to “with eyes full of ashes”) Ixnextli is also a metaphor for being blinded by crying. Ashes in the eyes (and being covered with ashes before being killed – as was the punishment for homosexuality)(?) is representative of “those who have committed sins”. Nahuatl speakers in the 16th century used the term “teztic” (like flour), to refer to white things, whose colour was, in their eyes, a symbol of purity or moral integrity.
  2. Xochicuauhco – here is the residence of Xochiquetzal, where it is said that who will touch the leaves of the tree of life, they fall in love. She is sometimes called “she who sinned by cutting the roses”

Xochiquetzal is said to have eaten “forbidden fruit” from an aphrodisiac tree and became the first female to submit to sexual temptation [echoes of Eve]. She was expelled from paradise and the tree split in two. She was then transformed into Ixnextli. Part of her punishment (aside from the expulsion) was that she would never be able to look again at the sky, which she once lived in (one story says this would only last 8 years) and this myth explains why men cannot look directly at the sun. [cast from heaven and unable to look at the place from whence we came. A fall from grace? Biblical overtones anyone?]

Another version of the story has a very different origin myth.

This happened in a time before the existence of human beings, Tamoanchan was the paradise home of the creator gods Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl, who expelled their children Ixnextli, Ixcuina, Xochiquetzal, Tlazolteotl (these first four names have all been used as synonyms for Xochiquetzal), Tezcatlipoca (1), Itzpapalotl (2), Huehuecoytl (3) and Itztlacoliuhqui (4). The exact reason for the expulsion and the origin of the other siblings was not clearly expressed.

  1. Tezcatlipoca represented celestial creativity and divine paternalism. He was the soul of the world, the creator of sky and earth, the lord of all things, both powerful and arbitrary. He was also the patron of all men who were rich – nobles, leaders, warriors and merchants
  2. Itzpapalotl is the Obsidian Butterfly or Clawed Butterfly, the Feminine Warrior. Patroness of the paradise of Tamoanchan and head tzitzimitl. She is a facet of the creator goddess Tonacacíhuatl. Itzpapalotl stands for purfication or rejuvenation by sacrifice of that what is precious.
  3. Huehuecoyotl is a trickster god, prone to mischievous pranks, often cruel ones. Huehuecoyotl is also a god of storytelling, music, dance and merriment. Further, he is the patron of uninhibited sexuality – his partners can be female or male of any species. He is a frequent shape-shifter, capable of transforming himself into another animal or human at whim and unpredictably. Those who have indications of evil fates from the gods can appeal to Huehuecoyotl to mitigate or reverse their fate.
  4. Itztlacoliuhqui started off life as the god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (Lord of the Dawn, Venus) who, after a shooting match with the Sun God Tonatiuh during the creation of the Fifth World Era, was punished by Tonatiuh and transformed into Itztlacoliuhqui, god of stone and coldness

Xochiquetzals transgression in Tamoanchan, her expulsion and the damage to the tree gave rise to sexual pleasure. The metaphor of the cutting of the flowers from the tree is one of sexual failure. Sexual transgression is a functional component of the cosmos, acting as a trigger for movement. The creative forces and the forces of destruction and chaos are necessary “oppositions” that allow the dynamism of the universe.
Similarly, it was believed that transgressions could alter the cosmic order, it could produce the end of an era: Moctezuma ordered the destruction a house of ahuianime (1) in Tlatelolco because it was attributed to public transgressions that resulted in the gods allowing the Spanish to come and impose their domain.

  1. See Post La Malinche for more information on ahuianime

Much has also been made of the word xōchihuah which generally means the “possessor of flowers” or flower bearer. Xochi (xochitl – flower) and -huah (owner, possessor, sovereign, haver). Aside from actual flowers the use of flowers (xochitl) as a metaphor was present in everything from poetry and song to the blood lust of battle and the resulting products of human sacrifice. Some of these include, 

  • Xochitla – literally “flower place” a term for gardens in general
  • Xoxochitla – a place of many flowers
  • Xochitepango – a walled garden
  • Xochichinancalli – a flower place enclosed by a fence made of cane or reeds, described as the humble garden of the Indians
  • Xochitecpancalli – palace of flowers, pleasure garden of the ruling classes
  • Xochicalli – literally “flower house”; a walled in garden; also, the divine name for the sweat bath (temazcalli – “house of heat”, from tēma (“to pour, bathe by pouring”) + calli (“house”, literally “structure”) or possibly teme (to bathe) and calli (house).
  • Xochimilco “where the flowers grow”. This was an agricultural area (that still exists today) composed of “floating” gardens called chinampas created within a maze of canals.
  • ‘Flowers of god’ or ‘flowers of the heart’ – human hearts
  • ‘Flowers of life’ or ‘flowers of red nectar’ – blood
  • ‘War flowers’, ‘eagle flowers’ or ‘battle flowers’ – prisoners
  • ‘Intoxicated with war flowers’ – a warrior’s strength in the heat of battle
  • Xochiyaoyotl – ‘war of flowers’ – refers to the unique type of war in which battles were fought at pre-arranged times and places with neighbouring tribes with the specific purposes of capturing sacrificial victims.
  • Xochilhuitl – “Feast of the Flowers”. The feast of Xochiquetzal, was also called “Farewell to the Flowers” because it took place at the end of the main growing season which meant that frost was coming and flowers would soon wither and die.
  • Flowers’ – poems or songs – xochicuicame – literally songs about flowers or relating to the ceremonies of the goddess Xochiquetzal.
  • Xochitlahtoane (flowerspeakers). Poets who used used floral imagery as a broad metaphor for life in its many different aspects. These poet-singers were also called cuicapicque (songmakers)
  • Xochichiuhque – “flower makers”. A class of Nahua artists who were what we would call these days florists and were in charge of making floral decorations for various rituals.
  • ‘Lofty flowers’ – the beauty of singing/song – xochitl in cuicatl (flower and song – literal meaning but figuratively meaning “poetry” or “art”) (1)
  1. xopancuicame (spring songs) were spiritual and lyric. Yaocuicame or cuauhtlicuicame (eagle songs or songs about warriors and hunters) were about heroes and hunters. Icnoccuicame or tlaocolhcuicame (sorrowful songs or songs of reflection; has been translated as orphan song but a better translation might be bereavement song) lamented life’s insecurities. Besides these were huehuecuicame (songs of old people), cihuacuicame (songs of women)
(some of) Xochimilco as it appears today.
See Post Xochimilco and the Axolotl


The most famous poet of ancient Mexico was Nezahualcoyotl, poet-king, warrior, architect, statesman and philosopher/sage. Nezahualcoyotl (Fasting, or hungry, Coyote) (1402-1472), leader of the Acolhua people and ruler of the city-state of Texcoco. One of the key leaders of the Aztec “Triple Alliance” (1) between Texcoco, Itzcoatl of Tenochtitlan and Totoquihuaztli of Tlacopan. Nezahualcoyotl has been called “the wisest ruler that had ever ruled over the Valley of Anahuac Valley”. Nezahualcoyotl will be the subject of a future Post.

  1. See Posts The Triple Alliance and Origins of the words Aztec and Mexico
“Men who go to war and kill other men don’t have the sensibility to write poetry”

The word xochihuah has been debated in academic circles and is generally accepted as one of two terms that have been used for people who did not follow the social norms generally assigned to traditional gender roles (1). The term patlacheh is generally accepted to indicate a homosexual woman (2) whilst xochihuah (3) has been used to indicate homosexual males, transgender peoples, perverts (or perverted) or even a poet.

  1. the other being patlacheh. Although I have no doubt (if the gender politics of today is anything to go by) that these terms only represent a small fraction of the language that was actually used.
  2. although it may have indicated hermaphrodite in some contexts (Sigal 2007)
  3. “flower bearer”

The nahuatlacah still exist. The language still exists. Translation however is problematic. Often a language has no direct translation when converted into another language. The translators suppositions and assumptions end up on the page and the heart of the matter is poorly reflected. The truth is co-opted to further an agenda. I feel this to be happening in this case.

Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal are two different archetypes. Although related they are the two sides of the same coin. Same but different. They exist as part of the duality of balance. Xochipilli may in fact be indicative of the feminine that exists within the masculine. This needs not indicate homosexuality but simply the duality that wars within us all. Xochipilli may be held up as a symbol within the queer community and his attitude (when compared with other Mesoamerican gods) is certainly conducive to this but naming him the god of homosexuality is a translative inaccuracy.

Now we meander.

Beyond Gender

This is the Xicalcoliuhqui symbol that can be found all throughout Mesoamerica on buildings, artwork, clothing, and even war shields. It is the oldest and most widespread symbol of duality that exists in Mesoamerican cultures.

Xicalcoliuhqui, also referred to as a “step fret” or “stepped fret” design, is a common motif in Mesoamerican art. It is composed of three or more steps connected to a hook or spiral, reminiscent of a “greek-key” meander (1). The word xicalcoliuhqui means “twisted gourd” (xical- “gourdbowl” and coliuhqui “twisted”)(2) in Nahuatl.

  1. A meander or meandros is a decorative border constructed from a continuous line, shaped into a repeated motif. Such a design is also called the Greek fret or Greek key design, although these are modern designations.
  2. xicalli – gourd vessel (this word became jícara in Spanish and xicara in Portuguese)
An example of a Greek meander

Jicaras at a mercado. These drinking vessels are regaining popularity amongst the new generation of mezcal aficionados (although I doubt they have ever stopped being used by campesinos)

Variations on the xicalcoliuhqui motif in the mosaics at Mitla.
Mitla is the second-most important archaeological site in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the most important of the Zapotec culture. Mitla was inhabited at least since the Classic Period (100-650 CE) and perhaps from as early as 900 BCE. Mitla is one of the pre-Columbian sites that express the Mesoamerican belief that death was the most consequential part of life after birth. It was built as a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Mitla was still occupied and functioning as the main religious centre when the Spanish explorers and military expeditions arrived in the 1520s and later.

The Xicalcoliuhqui is a reminder that duality is not one of opposites but of complementary parts that are in balance yet are mutually arising and dependent. Each continually flows and emerges from the other.

This is precisely the situation regarding the Xochipilli/Xochiquetzal conundrum. Each is representative of complementary duality. Each are parts of a balanced whole. Each is a part of a greater vision but each is separate from the other.

Yin/Yang symbol

This symbol is reflective of the xicalcoliuhqui in its essence. This symbol is essential to Asian philosophies (particularly Daoism) and is representative of wholeness and balance. It is not a yin and yang, it is a yin yang. Even though each aspect, light – dark, male – female etc etc is indicated they are not separate. Each is an essential part of a greater whole. Each contains within it the seed of its opposite, its complement. This complementary duality is reflective of the Xochipilli/Xochiquetzal relationship and of the very human condition itself. We are each both.


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