Aztec Calendar

articles Aztecs History & People

Dale Hoyt Palfrey

Mexica/Aztec Calendar Systems

The Civil Calendar

The solar year was the basis for the civil calendar by which the Mexicas (Aztecs) determined the myriad ceremonies and rituals linked to agricultural cycles. The calendar was made up of 18 months, each lasting 20 days. The months were divided into four five-day weeks. The year was rounded out to 365 days by the addition of the five-day nemontemi (empty days), an ominous period marked by the cessation of normal activities and general abstinence. The correlation of dates in the Gregorian calendar is uncertain, although most authors on the subject affix the beginning of the Aztec year to early February. A variety of sources were consulted in developing the following chart of some of the ritualistic activities associated with each month.

No.Name of MonthPatron Gods and Rituals
I.Atlacacauallo (ceasing of water)Tlaloc, Chachihutlicue
Children sacrificed to water gods
II.Tlacaxipehualiztli (flaying of men)Xipe-Totec
Gladitorial sacrifice; dances by priest wearing the flayed skin of victims
III.Tozoztontli (little vigil)Coatlicue, Tlaloc
Flayed skins buried, child sacrifices
IV.Hueytozoztli (great vigil)Centeotl, Chicomecacoatl
Blessing of new corn; maiden sacrificed
V.Toxcatl (dryness)Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli
Impersonators of these major gods sacrificed
VI.Etzalcualiztli (meal of maize & beans)Tlaloques
Impersonators of water dieties sacrificed by drowning; ritual bathing and dances
VII.Tecuilhuitontli (small feast of the lords)Huixtocihuatl, Xochipilli
Impersonators of the gods sacrificed; ceremony of salt workers
VIII.Hueytecuihutli (great feast of the lords)Xilonen
Feast for godess of young corn, lords offer gifts and feast for commoners
IX.Tlaxochimaco (birth of flowers)Huizilopochtli
All the gods festooned with garlands; feasting on corn-meal cakes and turkey
X.Xocotlhuetzin (fall of fruit)
Hueymiccaihuitl (great feast of the dead)
Ceremonial pole climbing competition Sacrifice to fire gods by roasting victims alive
XI.Ochpaniztli (sweeping of the roads)Tlazolteotl
Sweeping of house and roads; mock combat
XII.Teoleco (return of the gods)Tezcatlipoca
Ceremonies welcoming gods returning to earth; ceremonial drunkeness, sacrifices by fire
XIII.Tepeihuitl (feast of the hills)Tlaloc
Ceremonies for mountain rain gods; human sacrifices and ceremonial cannibalism
XIV.Quecholli (precious feather)Mixcoatl-Camaxtli
Ritualistic hunt following fast; sacrifice of game and ceremonial feasting
XV.Panquetzaliztli (raising of the banner)Huitzilopochtli
Homes and fruit trees decorated with paper banners; race-procession; massive sacrifices
XVI.Atemoztli (water descends)Tlaloc
Festival honoring water gods; children and slaves sacrificed
XVII.Tititl (streching)Llamatecuhtli
Sympathetic magic to bring rain; women beaten with straw-filled bags to make them cry
XVIII.Izcalli (resuscitation)Xiuhtecuhtli
Image of god made from amaranth dough; feasting on tamales stuffed with greens
Nemontemi (empty days)Five unlucky days; no rituals, general fasting

Tonalpohualli – The Ritual Calendar

The tonalpohualli (count of days) was the sacred almanac of the Mexicas. This ritual calendar was registered in the tonalamatl (book of days), a green-fold bark paper or deerskin codex from which a priest (called tonalpouque) cast horoscopes and predicated favorable and unfavorable days of the cycle. The almanac year comprised of 260 days, each of which was assigned a date by intermeshing one of 20 day-signs, represented graphically with a gylph, and a number from 1 to 13, represented by dots so that no two days in the cycle could be confused. The almanac year was thus made up of 20 13-day weeks, with the first week beginning on 1-Crocodile and ending on 13-Reed, the second week running from 1-Ocelot to 13-Deaths’ Head and so on. A god or goddess was believed to preside over each day-sign, as shown in the following chart.

Cipactli-CrocodileCipactli-CrocodileTonacatecuhtli- Lord of our Sustenance; male aspect of dual gods
Ehecatl-WindEhecatl-WindQuetzalcoatyl- Plumbed Serpent; god of knowledge and the priesthood
Calli-HouseCalli-HouseTepeyolohtli- Heart of the Mountain; jaguar god of the interior earth
Cuetzpallin-LizardCuetzpallin-LizardHuehuecoyotl- Old Coyote; back-biiter or mischief-maker
Coatl-SerpantCoatl-SerpantChalchiuhtlicue- Lady of the jade skirt; goddess of ground waters
Miquiztli-Deaths' HeadMiquiztli-Deaths’ HeadTecciztecatl-He from the sea-snail; moon god
Mazatl-DeerMazatl-DeerTlaloc- He who makes things sprout; god of rain and earth fertility
Tochtli-RabbitTochtli-RabbitMayahuel- She of the maguey plant; goddess of pulque (maguey wine)
Atl-WaterAtl-WaterXiuhtecuhtli- Lord of the year; fire god, patron of rulers
Itzcuintli-DogItzcuintli-DogMiclantecuhtli- Lord of Mictlan (Region of the Dead);god of death
Ozomatli-MonkeyOzomatli-MonkeyXochipilli- Flower Prince; god of flowers and plants
Malinalli-GrassMalinalli-GrassPatecatl- He from the Land of Medicines; god of medicinal plants
Acatl-ReedAcatl-ReedTezcatlipoca- Smoking mirror; major creator of god, god of fate
Ocelotl-OcelotOcelotl-OcelotTlazolteotl- Eater of Filth; earth mother
Cuauhtli-EagleCuauhtli-EagleXipe- Totec- Our Flayed Lord; god of seeding and planting
Cozcaquauhtli-VultureCozcaquauhtli-VultureItzapapalotl- Obsidian Butterfly; stellar and agricultural goddess
Ollin-MotionOllin-MotionXolotl- Double; Monster god, twin of Quetzalcoatl
Tecpatl-Flint KnifeTecpatl-Flint KnifeChalchiuhtotolin- Guise of Tezcatlipoca; god of night and the mysterious
Quiahuitl-RainQuiahuitl-RainChantico- In the House; godess of the hearth
Xochitl- FlowerXochitl- FlowerXochiquetzal- Flower of the Rich Plume; goddess of flowers

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Published or Updated on: August 29, 2007 by Dale Hoyt Palfrey © 2008
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