Xochipilli : Hymn to Xochipilli

Lyric wordplay is a rich cultural tradition in México. In the days of the Aztec poetry and its performance was known as in xochitl in cuicatl (“flower and song”) and those adept in it were known as xochitlahtoanime (flowerspeakers) or cuicapicque (songmakers). Flowers contained deep symbolic meaning in Aztec philosophy and the very structure of the Universe itself was modelled after that of a flower. Some of these flower-songs were a form of religious poetry called macehualiztin. These were sacred “hymns” performed at religious ceremonies and festivals dedicated to the various forces of the universe identified as deities. The following flower-song was one dedicated to the Lord of Flowers Xochipilli.

VIII Xochipilli icuic (1).

Hymn (2) to the God of Flowers.

  1. third-person singular possessive singular of cuīcatl (“song” – substantivized from cuīca “to sing”). ; (it is) his, her or its song; singing.
  2. a religious song or poem of praise to God or a god. The word “hymn” is derived from the Greek word hymnos “festive song or ode in praise of gods or heroes” (also sometimes of mournful songs) and is biblical word used in the Septuagint (an old Greek version of the Bible – which included translations of all the books found in the Hebrew (Old Testament) canon and the Apocryphal or deuterocanonical books, it is the first known Bible translation).

In Nahuatl

  • Ye cuicaya tocniuaya ouaya yeo, ye cuicaya ye quetzalcoxcuxa yoaltica tlao çinteutla, oay.
  • Çan quicaquiz nocuic ocoyoalle teumechaue, oquicaquiz nocuica in cipactonalla atilili, ouayya.
  • Ayao, ayao, ayao, ayao, nitlanauati ay tlalocan tlamacazque, ayao, ayao, ayao.
  • Ayao, ayao, ayao, tlalocan tlamacazque nitlanauati, aya, ayao, ayyao.
  • Ac, çani uallaçic, otli nepaniuia, cani çinteutla campa ye noyaz, campa otli nicyatoca ça oay.
  • Ayao, aya, ayao, tlalocan tlamacazque, quiauiteteu, ayyao, aya, ayao.

and the (most commonly found)(1)(2)(3) English translation

  • O friends, the quetzal bird sings, it sings its song at midnight to Cinteotl (4).
  • The god will surely hear my song by night, he will hear my song as the day begins to break.
  • I send forth the priests to the house of Tlaloc.
  • The priests to the house of Tlaloc do I send forth.
  • I shall go forth, I shall join myself unto them, I shall go where is Cinteotl, I shall follow the path to him.
  • The priests go forth to the house of Tlaloc, to the home of the gods of the plain.
  1. https://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/aztec/rva/rva08.htm
  2. https://www.academia.edu/40643499/Sacred_Hymns_of_the_Aztecs
  3. http://www.mesoamericas.com/books/Rig%20Veda%20Americanus.pdf
  4. also Centeōtl.

The following notations also accompany this translation.

1.Xochipilli, “lord of flowers,” otherwise named Macuilxochitl, “five flowers” (the name of a small odorous plant*), was the deity who gave and protected all flowering plants. As one of the gods of fertility and production, he was associated with Tlaloc, god of rains, and Cinteotl, god of maize. His festival is described in Sahagun (Historia, Lib. I., cap. 14).

*probably yauhtli (Tagetes lucida – also called pericon)

2.Cipactonalla, from cipactli, and tonalli, may refer to Cipactonal, the reputed discoverer of the Aztec calendar. See SahagunHistoria, Lib. IV., cap. i.

The song as it appears above seems indicative of the steps taken in a particular ceremony. One that takes place (at the least) from midnight to daybreak.

The translation below as found Primeros Memoriales (Sahagun etal 1997) differs in both the way Nahuatl is expressed and the translation differs in some key areas. Text in bold serves two purposes. The first shows variations in the Nahuatl wording (which may be simply a variation in the spelling of the author or potentially represent a very different translation/meaning) and the second is the translation

  1. Ye cuicaya tocniuaya ouaya (tocniva ovaya) yeo : Now do our friends sing
    ye cuicaya ye quetzalcoxcuxa yoaltica: Now through the night the quetzalcoxcoxtli sings out
    tlao çinteutla (çinteutl) , oay : He’s the red Centeotl
  2. Çan quicaquiz nocuic ocoyoalle teumechaue (teumechave) : Just the lord of the bells with the thigh-skin face paint will yet hear my song
    oquicaquiz nocuica in cipactonalla atilili, ouayya : Cipactonal will yet hear my song
  3. Ayao, ayao, ayao, ayao, nitlanauati (nitlanavati) ay tlalocan tlamacazque (tlaloque tlamacazq), ayao, ayao, ayao : I bid my farewell to Tlalocan’s providers
  4. Ayao, ayao, ayao, tlalocan tlamacazque nitlanauati (tlalloca tlamasazq nitlenavati), aya, ayao, ayyao. : I bid my farewell to Tlalocan’s providers
  5. Ac, çani uallaçic otli nepaniuia, (Ao ça in vallaçic, otli nepanivi a) : I’ve reached where the roads join
    cani çinteutla (ça niçinteutl a) : I, Centeotl
    campa ye noyaz : Where shall I go?
    campa otli nicyatoca ça oay. (campa otli nicyatocaç a oay) : Which road shall I take?
  6. Ayao, aya, ayao, tlalocan tlamacazque, quiauiteteu, (tlaloca tlamacazq, quiavi teteu) ayyao, aya, ayao. : Tlalocan’s providers, gods of the rain.

Knab and Sullivan (1994) offer a slightly different wording….

  • Above the ballcourt the quetzalcoxcoxtli sings. Centeōtl (1) answers.
  • Now our friends sing. Now throughout the night, the quetzalcoxcoxtli, the red Centeōtl sings.
  • The Lord of the bells, the possessor of the thigh skin facial paint shall hear my song. Cipactonal (2) shall hear my song atilili, ouayya.
  • Ayao, ayao, ayao, ayao. I take leave of the Tlamacazque (3) of Tlalocan (4). Ayao, ayao.
  • Aayao, ayao, ayao, ayao. I take leave of the Tlamacazque of Tlalocan. Ay, ayyao, ayyao.
  • I Centeōtl arrived at the place where the roads join. Where shall I go?. Which road shall I follow?
  • Ayyao, aya, ayao. Tlalocan Tlamacazque, O, Gods of rain! Ayyao, aya, aya.
  1. Centeotl – sometimes spelled Cinteotl or Tzinteotl (and sometimes called Xochipilli) was a Mesoamerican corn deity – as Xochipilli he was the husband of Xochiquetzal
  2. Cipactonal is the Aztec god of astrology and calendars. He was one half of the first human couple (the equivalent of Adam)
  3. Tlamacazqui (plural tlamacazque(h) – could refer either to one who worked in a religious establishment dedicated to the god (either a priest or temple assistant); one of Tlalocs supernatural helpers (gods in their own right) or even potentially a penitent worshipper (a person seeking forgiveness from the god for past misdeeds).
  4. Tlalocan – an earthly paradise (heaven) ruled by the god Tlaloc. Rain and water was attributed to Tlaloc and it was said that as a result of this it was he that “he made that which we ate and drank — food, drink, our sustenance, our nourishment, our daily bread, our maintenance”. This includes the plants (to which Xochipilli is intimately linked) that provide us not only with the crops that give us physical nourishment but also the plants (such as flowers) that provide nourishment for our souls.

The song as it appears seems to be a calendrical festival related to agriculture and the entreaty for rain to provide a bountiful harvest. It seems though (by the arrival at the crossroad) that rain is not a given and that the weather might turn detrimental if the wrong direction is taken. The peoples of Mesoamerica understood themselves to be an active component of the world, not a separate entity (Jimenez 2004). Decisions made could alter the outcomes of the very universe itself. Man played a responsibility in how things unfolded.

The first line of hymn as shown at the top of the Post is translated to “O friends, the quetzal bird sings, it sings its song at midnight to Cinteotl”. In this context the quetzal bird referred to appears to be the resplendent quetzal whose feathers were considered to be very valuable. This however is not likely the bird being referred to.

The resplendent quetzal ( /ˈkɛtsəl/) (Pharomachrus mocinno) is a bird in the trogon family. It is found from Chiapas, Mexico to western Panama. The resplendent quetzal was considered divine, associated with the “feathered serpent god”, Quetzalcoatl, and was (is) venerated by the Aztecs and Maya.

In both the Primeros Memoriales translation (Sahagun etal 1997) and the Knab and Sullivan translation (1994) the bird in the poem (1) (likely) being referred to is the quetzalcoxcoxtli who, much like the rooster, sings at dawn and announces the arrival of the Sun. This bird is now commonly known as a cojolita.

  1. quetzalcoxcuxa

The crested guan (Penelope purpurascens) is a member of an ancient group of birds of the Cracidae family, which are related to the Australasian mound builders. It is found in the Neotropics, in lowlands forests ranging from south Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula to western Ecuador and southern Venezuela.

The first time I saw a picture the cojolita my initial thought was how much its crest looks like the headdress of Xochipilli.

Close-up of Xochipilli’s headdress.

Several days later, through a spot of Universal synchronicity, I came across this reference to Xochipilli’s headdress being modelled after the crest of a bird known as the coxcoxtli.

Mexican archaeology: an introduction to the archaeology of the Mexican and Mayan civilizations of pre-Spanish America. (Joyce 1914)
Coxcoxtli or great curassow (Crax rubra)

The quetzalcoxcoxtli and the coxcoxtli are two different birds, although they do look like close relatives and their feathered crests are somewhat similar.

ANT.008835 Digital Image: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History: photo by Div. of Anthropology, Yale Peabody Museum, 2005 http://hdl.handle.net/10079/8931zqj

Pottery seal representing the Quetzal bird (Coxcoxtli).

There is some cross over (and potential confusion) regarding the bird in question. The poem/hymn speaks of the bird as being the quetzalcoxcoxtli but it is explained differently elsewhere. The clay stamp as shown above calls the coxcoxtli the “quetzal” bird while Spence (1923) mentions that the coxcoxtli is the “bird disguise” (1) of the god (2) and the coxcoxtli represented both Cinteotl and Xochipilli.

  1. his nahual? This “disguise”, a jacket and hood of feathers, was worn by the priest conducting ceremonies for Centeōtl. This priest also wore the “thigh-skin facial mask” created from the skin that was removed from the female sacrificed to Tlazolteotl during the festival of Ochpaniztli (and is itself mentioned in the song to Xochipilli).
  2. Centeōtl

In Colombia this bird is known as the paujil and is known among the inhabitants of some rural areas for ingesting shiny grains of sand, and even gold nuggets, from the banks of rivers and streams. For this reason, when an individual is hunted, the inside of the crop and gizzard are washed to separate the gold nuggets from the sand, just as gold is washed in riverbeds, and the presence of the metal in the body of the animal is taken as a sign of the existence of water currents with gold potential.

Palillo para cal
Calima lime stick, Yotoco Period (100 BC to 800 AD)

The Red Centeōtl

The first thought that crossed my mind when I came across the term “red Centeōtl” was the potential for a comparison with Tezcatlipoca (1) and his variously coloured avatars. One of the four sons (2) of Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl (3) Tezcatlipoca was also a creator god and his battles with Quetzalcoatl are said to be responsible for the rise (and fall) of the five Suns (4).

  1. Tezcatlipoca or “Smoking Mirror” is a major Aztec deity. His name references an obsidian mirror (which is often shown replacing one of his feet in some images). The obsidian mirror was used for magical purposes (scrying) and Tezcatlipoca was considered a god of sorcery (and the night). He is often referred to as the brother (and fierce enemy) of Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl is sometimes called the “White Tezcatlipoca”.
  2. Red Tezcatlipoca, Black Tezcatlipoca, White Tezcatlipoca and Blue Tezcatlipoca. Two of them (White Tezcatlipoca and Blue Tezcatlipoca) were sometimes linked to Quetzalcoatl (white) and, either Tlaloc or Huitzilopochtli (Blue).
  3. Also sometimes referred to as Ometeotl. Ometecuhtli and his wife Omecihuatl are creator gods that symbolize the duality and primordial forces of nature
  4. The various ages of creation. See Post Xochipilli : Chapter 5 : Xochipilli Cacao Cults and Sunstones

One of the fundamental concepts in the Aztec religion was the grouping of all beings according to the four compass directions and the central direction of up and down. Ometecuhtli and Omecíhuatl represented the central direction of up and down; this symbolizes the heavens and the earth. Their four sons were each associated with a different colour and a different compass point.

  • Black Tezcatlipoca or the ‘Smoking Mirror’, god of the day and of Texcoco, is associated with the North
  • Blue Tezcatlipoca or the ‘Hummingbird Sorcerer’, god of Tenochtitlán, the sun and the war god Huitzilopochtli, is associated with with the South,
  • Red Tezcatlipoca the ‘Flayed One’ and associated with the gods Camaxtli and Xipe Totec (god of the Tlaxcaltecans) and is linked to the East,
  • White Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Plumed Serpent’ or Quetzalcóatl, god of the Cholula is linked with the West.

The hymn sings of the red Centeōtl. If, like the Red Tezcatlipoca, this aspect of Centeōtl is linked to the east then perhaps it refers to the sunrise (1).

  1. which, interestingly enough, the quetzalcoxcoxtli sings the arrival of
  1. for further information on this image see Post Xochipilli : Chapter 2 : New Floral identifications

The floorplan of Tenochtitlan and how it relates to the structure of the Universe.


The Many Faces of Tezcatlipoca

He was known as

  • Black Tezcatlipoca or the ‘Smoking Mirror’, god of the day and of Texcoco. The mirror may signify that the god is all-seeing or that he rules over all of the earth, sometimes referred to as a smoking mirror.
  • Blue Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Hummingbird Sorcerer’, god of Tenochtitlán, where he was associated with the sun and the war god Huitzilopochtli.
  • Red Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Flayed One’ and associated with the gods Camaxtli and Xipe Totec (god of the Tlaxcaltecans)
  • White Tezcatlipoca, the ‘Plumed Serpent’ or Quetzalcóatl, god of the Cholula.
The Four Tezcatlipocas .
Photo courtesy Arqueología viva de México via Facebook

The Red Tezcatlipoca (Xipe Totec – the flayed one) is a god of agriculture and vegetation. A sacrifice to Xipe Totec involved the flaying (1) of a ritual victim (2) and the skin of the of this person was worn by a priest until it began to rot off (3). This symbolised the shedding of the outer coat of the seed (in this case corn) and the life giving sprout that burst forth. The images on the statue of Xochipilli are also representative of this bursting forth as the sprout penetrates the upper layer of earth as it reaches towards the sun. Rituals such as these were cyclical and seasonal and were all part of the Aztecs duties to ensure that the cycles continued. These rituals also point to the interconnectedness and crossover of Mesoamerican deities.

  1. Flaying, also called skinning or flensing, is a method of removing skin from bodies. It can be used as slow and painful torture. In this case it was attempted that the skin be removed whole (sometimes with hands or feet left still attached) so the priest could wear the skin like a suit.
  2. an ixiptla. See Post Xochipilli. The Prince of Flowers for further information on both Xipe totec and the functions/role of an ixiptla
  3. often for a period of 20 days
Aztec priest of Xipe Totec wearing a flayed skin
as portrayed in the Codex Tudela
(note the hands still attached)

In the same text (Brinton 1969) there is also a hymn to Xochipilli in his guise as Macuilxochitl

XIX. Macuilxochitl Icuic. (Hymn to Macuilxochitl)

XIX. Hymn to the God of Flowers.

  1. Ayya, yao, xochitlycaca umpan iuitza tlamacazecatla tlamocoyoalca.
  2. Ayya, yao, ayo intinotzicaya teumechaue oya, yao, tlauizcalac yacallea tlamacazecatlo tlamocoyoualca.
  3. Tetzauhteutla notecuyo tezcatlipuca quinanquilican çinteutla, oay.
  4. Tezcatzonco moyolca ayyaquetl yya tochin quiyocuxquia noteuh, niquiyatlacaz, niquiyamamaliz, mixcoatepetl colhoacan.
  5. Tozquixaya, nictzotzoniyao, yn tezcatzintli tezcatzintli tezcaxocoyeua, tzoniztapaliati tlaoc xoconoctlia ho, a.

Var. 1. Tlamocoioaleua. 5. Tozquiuaia. Tzoniztapalatiati.


  1. Q. n., ompa nochan in xochitlicacan in itlamacazqui ni macuilxochitl.
  2. Q. n., motilinia in tinoçi in ompa titlaecoltilozque umpa tochan ez.
  3. Q. n., yn tetzauitl in tezcatlipoca ca oyaque auh ynic tiui umpa titlananquilizque in centeotl.
  4. Tezcatzonco moyolcan, q. n., tezcatzonco oyol in tochtli ynic yaz, oquiyocux, oquipic, y noteuh oquito nittlaçaz, nicmamaliz, in mixcoatepetl colhoacan, id est, nictepeuaz.
  5. Tozquixaya nictzotzomiao, q. n., nictzotzona, in tezcatzintli oncan nexa in tezcatzonco, oncan oyol tzoniztapalatiati ocxoni ni octli.

Hymn to Macuilxochitl.

  1. Yes, I shall go there to-night, to the house of flowers I shall exercise the priestly office to-night.
  2. We labor in thy house, our mother, from dawn unto night, fulfilling the priestly office, laboring in the night.
  3. A dreadful god is our god Tezcatlipoca, he is the only god, he will answer us.
  4. His heart is in the Tezcatzontli; my god is not timid like a hare nor is he peaceable; I shall overturn, I shall penetrate the Mixcoatepec in Colhuacan.
  5. I sing, I play on an instrument, I am the noble instrument, the mirror; I am he who lifts the mirror; I cry aloud, intoxicated with the wine of the tuna.


As before stated (Notes to Hymn VIII), Macuilxochitl is another title of the flower-god Xochipilli.

Two words in this song have caught my attention. The first is Tezcatzonco/Tezcatzontli.
The word Tezcatzonco is shown translated as Tezcatzontli. Tezcatzonco is a toponym or place name for a town to the west of Tepechpan (Diel 2008). The word may be derived from two Nahuatl words tezcatl “mirror” and tzontli “hair” (1). This brings me to the translated word Tezcatzontli. Tezcatzoncatl is the name of one of the Centzon totochtin (2) his (?) name translates as “straw mirror” (3). I bring this up as it relates to a term in the last stanza of the poem “octli”. Octli is translated in the poem as “the wine of the tuna” which I believe to be erroneous as octli is the drink made from the sap (4) of various varieties of agave which is fermented to produce a drink called pulque. There is a drink called “nochoctli” (5) which is produced from the tuna fruit of Opuntia streptacantha but this term is not used. Octli is used. The song appears to be the description of a religious ceremony involving ritual drunkenness and this bears relevance to Macuilxochitl (as Xochipilli) who has been tied to ritual intoxication.

  1. “tzontli” has a range of meaning. It could be used to denote “a bundle of grass or other shoots”; the “number root for forming multiples of 400” and in older Nahuatl it meant “hair.” There is a double meaning here as the Centzon Totochtin are known as the 400 rabbits of drunkenness
  2. The innumerable rabbit gods of drunkenness. See Post Mayahuel and the Centzon Totochtin for more detail
  3. the drunken state in which you can see as much as when looking in a mirror made of straw. (essentially the Aztec version of beer goggles)
  4. aguamiel
  5. these days called colonche. Translated from “nochtli” (the fruit of the prickly pear (Opuntia) cactus). See Posts Frutos de Cactus : Colonche ; Pulque Curado : Sangre de Conejo (Rabbits Blood) and Huitzilopochtli, Tenochtitlan and the Opuntia Cactus

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.

I will delve into the Macuiltonaleque in greater detail in a further Post.



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