The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 3 – The Pacific Northwest Coast


The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest Coast could just as well be called the “totem pole people” due to their best known art form. However, these monumental structures were said to symbolize or commemorate cultural beliefs recounting familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events. They may have also served as welcome signs for village visitors, mortuary vessels for deceased ancestors, or as a means to ridicule someone. The complexity and symbolic meanings of totem poles, their placement and importance lies in the observer’s knowledge and connection to these figures’ meanings.

Though the Pacific Northwest Coast is only a narrow stretch from southern Alaska all the way to the northern reaches of California, it’s a region with and abundance of natural resources that these hunter-gatherer tribes usually stayed in one place. It’s no wonder that it was the most densely populated cultural area in Canada before European contact. Nevertheless, the Pacific Northwest Coast is best known for their totem poles and their distinctive art that you might instantly recognize. Their art is also seen on almost everything, including their large cedar plank houses. Because since these people lived in a temperate coastal rainforest, they didn’t need to spend a lot of time like other native peoples did, searching for food so they won’t starve to death. And since they lived in one place all the time, they had plenty of leisure time to kill. These Native Americans also had rather sophisticated societies based on clans and class systems as well as a special centrality on salmon. But it’s not the only food they eat, yet it received a special ceremony when it’s in season that continues today. Then there’s the tradition of potlatch which was a highly complex event of social, ceremonial, and economic importance. There a chief would bestow highly elaborate gifts to visiting peoples in order to establish his power and prestige and by accepting these gifts, visitors conveyed their approval of the chief. There were also great displays of conspicuous consumption such as burning articles or throwing things into the sea, purely as displays of the chief’s great wealth. You’d even have dancers put on elaborate dances and ceremonies which was considered an honor to watch. Still, these events were held on special occasions like the confirmation of a new chief, coming of age, tattooing or piercing ceremonies, initiation of a secret society, marriages, a chief’s funeral, or battle victories.


Because of the dense resource rich waters and rainforests along with a pleasant climate, the people of the Pacific Northwest Coast had an easier time than Native Americans in other regions. After all, most of them were hunter-gatherer tribes who usually stayed put.

Location: Along the coast starting from southern Alaska through British Columbia, Washington state, Oregon, and northern California.

First Peoples: First humans are said to enter the region at least 10,000 years ago via the Columbia River in the US Pacific Northwest. Evidence in southern Alaska and British Columbia suggests the early inhabitants existed at a basic subsistence level for 5,000 years until 3000 B.C.E. Earliest sedentary villages appeared in 700 B.C.E. with social ranking, woodworking, and regional art shortly thereafter. However, some areas in the US Pacific Coast along Washington state and Oregon continued in basic subsistence mode until possibly as late as 500.

Environment: Consists of dense temperate zone rainforests, rivers, islands, and oceans with abundant natural resources all year long. Climate is mild and rainfall is heavy that includes fierce winter storms and heavy fog. Trees are unusually tall and thick. Springs and glaciers usually flow into rivers that run to the coast.


While Pacific Northwest Coast Native Americans had a varied diet, there was no food source more central to them than salmon. When salmon travel up rivers to spawn, they would literally catch thousands of them that could feed their families for a year.

Subsistence: Primarily hunter, gatherer, or fisher subsistence. Salmon was the most important food for the Indians in this region. However, they also consumed halibut, eulachon (candlefish), smelt, herring, and sturgeon as well as shellfish, seals, and whales. They also hunted elk, bear, deer, mountain goat, turtles, and some land mammals as well as gathered berries and roots. Food was generally eaten fresh, grilled, or boiled in a basket with hot rocks or steamed or baked over a pit oven.


Your standard Pacific Northwest Coast dwelling was the cedar plank house w which could be up to 50-150 feet long and 20-60 feet wide. Each plank house could be home to as many as 30 people.

Housing: Mostly lived in plank long houses of red cedar that was said to be 50-150 feet long and 20-60 feet wide. Each plank house was held together by wooden peg nails, had a large hole in a low roof for smoke ventilation, as well as consisted of a front door to keep heat in. Plank houses were furnished with simple furniture including bunk beds against the wall, storage areas, fire pits, and open shelves as well as dug holes for storing and cooling food. Your typical plank house would be home to several families, perhaps as many as 30 people. They were also commonly painted, often with a family crest. Individuals who built the longhouse usually resided there with their families and their kids would be assigned as space inside upon reaching maturity. But if the village built the plank house together, then it was the chief’s responsibility to assign living spaces to each family. And when the plank house owner died, it was either given away or burned to the ground. Because it was believed if the family stayed, then the dead person’s ghost would haunt the place. Also built temporary shelters made from mats, planks from the main house, or bark.


While people of the Pacific Northwest Coast usually wore very little under temperate conditions, they tend to be known for wearing their chillkat blankets and decorative woven hats. And yes, these can be highly decorated as well.

Clothing: Usually wore very little clothing except when it was cold or special occasions. In the warmer months, men would go naked while women only wore bark skirts. Clothing was mostly made from softened cedar wood or bark, animal leather, and wool. Bark capes and spruce hats were used as protection against the rain. High ranking class members would usually don chillkat blankets, dance aprons, leggings, and moccasins on special occasions. Adorned themselves with piercings and tattoos.


The Pacific Northwest Coast had several different types of canoes, mainly made from red cedar. They can be 50 feet long and 8 feet wide while holding up 2-50 people and up to 10,000 pounds of cargo. Of course, passengers have to bring their own oars.

Transportation: Built canoes of red cedar of several different types. They were usually 50 feet long and 8 feet wide as well as can hold up to 2-50 people and 10,000 pounds of cargo. Also had smaller boats for families and short outings. Also had dog pulled sleds for overland transport.


Potlatch was a major event for Native Americans residing in the Pacific Northwest Coast as a means to reflect wealth and perpetuate social inequality within a village. These were held during a major event as well as hosted by aristocrats. At each potlatch, the host would display their wealth through distributing goods to visitors and others whether they be chillkat blankets, animal skins, or even slaves.

Society: Year round access to food allowed people to live sedentary lives in permanent settlements. Estimates state that as many as 250,000 could have lived in this region at one time. Houses were always grouped together side by side and facing towards the water in small villages, each marked by totem poles. Some even had as many as 1,000 living in only 30 homes. However, some groups had one or more small permanent, semipermanent, or seasonal villages or camping sites as well. Nevertheless, people in this region lived in a society based on hereditary status and the ceremonial winter potlatch was both as a means to reflect and perpetuate this social inequality. These consisted of the nobility, upper class free, lower class free, and slaves (actually not members of society at all). Each individual would also be ranked within their respective groups as well. Since this system was based on inheritance, the classes were fairly immutable though some transfer was possible through acquiring (by trade, purchase, marriage, and war) some inherited rights. Such rights and privileges were owned by the identified group which included songs, dances, performances, and control of subsistence areas identified by crests or design patterns. These patterns could reflect real and mythical family lines and associated incidents, animals, or spirits. The village chief always was always the head of the wealthiest and most powerful family and was a nominal war commanders, often undertaking political and ritual preparations before fighting. Though intragroup conflict was minimal, clan incest and witchcraft were considered capital offenses. Intergroup conflict took place within the framework of feuds and wars. Feuds entailed conflict for legalistic purposes while wars were waged solely for material gain (as in land, booty, and slaves). Northern tribes saw more regular conflict than their southern counterparts. Night raids were preferred strategy and victims’ heads were often displayed on poles as proof of fighting prowess. Also practiced intergroup trade where prices were negotiated.


In a Pacific Northwest Coast extended family, one’s social rank and wealth intake were usually determined by their relationship to the family chief. Of course, since this was a matrilineal clan that practiced exogamous marriage, this only applied to the people on his mother’s side. Family chiefs were usually the wealthiest and oldest member of the clan.

Family Structure: Primarily matrilineal descent. In extended families, family chiefs were usually the oldest and highest ranking individuals while everyone else’s rank was determined by their relationship with the chief.  Family chiefs were primarily responsible for distributing wealth according to social status. Men practiced hunting, building, carving, and fishing while women did housework, raised kids, cooked, wove, made clothes, and dug for shellfish. Marriages were always conducted between people of different clans. When a man decided to marry a woman, he paid her dad an agreed amount before the wedding took place. This amount would be paid back when after the birth of the couple’s first child. After the payment, the wife was no longer obligated to be with her husband (so she could stay or leave him after that point).


Aside from totem poles, the Pacific Northwest Coastal peoples are also well known for their elaborate ceremonies and their distinctive stylized art. Works of art could range from practical objects such as clothes, tools, transportation, houses, weapons, and what not to the purely ceremonial and aesthetic.

Practices: Totem poles, potlatch, music, dancing, shamanism, animism, storytelling, intricate crafts and sculpture, weaving, basketry, woodworking, masks, bentwood boxes, chillkat blankets, spirit quests, and heraldic art.

Tools and Weapons: Stone axes, adzes, spears, nets, traps, chisels, hammers, drills, knives, wedges, harpoons, traps, seal clubs, sledgehammers, deadfalls, fish line and hooks, and wooden crockery. Coast Salish practiced weaving on a full loom. Blades were made from rock, shell, horn, bone, and a small amount of iron.

Notable Tribes: Tlingit, Nisga’a, Haida, Tsimshian, Gitxsan, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Wuikinuxv, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Coast Salish, Chinook, Chimakum, Quileute, Willapa, Nootka, and Tillamook.


The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 2 – The Subarctic


Here’s a Subarctic Cree family from early Canada. While the mother and kids are dressed in drab, the father has quite a colorful costume and a gun. He also traps animals and trades their skins and feathers.

Our second stop in my Native American series is the Subarctic region. Now this isn’t as snowy and icy as the Arctic, it’s a pretty forbidding region despite it being a mostly boreal forest region. But it’s a very vast region starting from central interior of Alaska, covering the Canadian Shield, surrounding much of Hudson Bay and the northern Rockies, and ending in eastern Canada and as south as Lake Superior. In fact, it covers most of Canada. Nevertheless, despite that the Subarctic is a huge area, you really don’t see it in movies or on TV much (at least in the US, though in Canada, that may not be the case). Or if you did, you might know have known that they were from the Subarctic region. That, or the movie or show was Canadian made. Yet, many of these people tend to speak Athabaskan languages (though some also speak Algonquin in the east). Whatever the case, the Subarctic region is home to a population known to speak over 30 languages. And this area didn’t have a large population of hunter-gathers either. But what a lot of these peoples have in common is their teepee and wigwam shelters and their dependence on the caribou. Also, many of them wore parkas, too. At any rate, it’s kind of what you get if you put cultural aspects of the Plains, the Arctic, and the Northeastern Woodlands together. But it’s in a way that it makes perfect sense because while it may not get as much snow as the Arctic, it’s nowhere near pleasant enough to support agriculture at all. Not only that, but many of these hunter-gatherer groups dealt with regular periods of starvation as food availability can vary from place to place. So while the Subarctic might have great scenery to put on a postcard (since it’s home to Denali), it’s not a pleasant place to live. Still, since European contact in 1500 with Basques, Bretons, and other Europeans fishing at the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, non-native diseases, STDs, malnutrition and alcoholism would reduce native Subarctic population by 90-100% in some regional locations while some didn’t see a white person until the mid 19th century.


While the Subarctic environment isn’t nearly as harsh as the frigid Arctic, it’s quite a forbidding place. Its rugged terrain, long cold winters, short summers, and generally low precipitation in rain, it’s a very hard place to live.

Location: Most of Canada as well as most of interior, western, and south central Alaska. Stretches from Alaska to east of the Rocky Mountains, and the northern Great Lakes.

First Peoples: The first people of the region possibly entered the region at least 12,000 years ago or even as long as 25,000 years ago. Athabaskan speakers descend from a Northern Archaic culture that existed at least 9,000 years ago. The Shield culture was predominant in Labrador before diverging. The Taltheilei tradition existed 6,000 years ago from Great Bear Lake to Lake Athabaska and the Churchill River. The Laurel culture of Manitoba and northern Ontario lasted from 1000 B.C.E. to 800 and known for their ceramic pottery along with the Selkirk and the Blackduck Cree.

Environment: Mountainous and boreal forest with thousands of streams and waterlogged tundra. East has low hills and rock outcroppings. West has high mountains, glaciers, and plains. Climate is characterized by short, mild to hot summers and long, bitterly cold winters. Precipitation is generally low save in some mountainous areas and coastal Alaska and falls mainly as snow. Short springs experience plagues of mosquitoes, black flies, and other insects as well as ice break up and snow melt. Travel can also be limited at that time as well as the fall freeze up. Soil was often poor and often swampy, making agricultural development impossible.


Central to the Subarctic tribal existence was the caribou for which they depended on for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. Here is a painting of a caribou hunt.

Subsistence: Primarily hunter, gatherer, and fisher subsistence. Moose and caribou were a major part of diets for many tribes, with some groups regularly suffering from hunger or even starvation during shortages. Yet, smaller animals like hare, marmot, beaver, porcupine, and muskrat were also consumed along with fish, roots, and berries. Coastal groups relied on sea mammals and shellfish while western groups even hunted buffalo. Musk ox, bear, lynx, wolf, coyote, fox, mink, weasel, otter, wolverine, wapiti and elk were also hunted where available.


Teepees and wigwams may not have been the only housing in the Subarctic region. But they were among the most common. Most of these would be covered in caribou or moose hides along with bark.

Housing: Most tribal groups resided in domed and conical lodges consisting of poles covered with skins, boughs, or birch bark. Or in other words, wigwams and teepees but not what you’d see on the Plains or the Northeast. Groups closest to the Northwest Coast tribes built plank houses while some built frame houses partially below the earth as well as bark covered rectangular houses at fishing camps. Some groups built shelters with a double A-ridgepole framework and containing multiple fires as well as sod pit houses. Structures like drying racks, sweat houses, caches, menstrual houses, and others were also commonly built.


This Athabaskan family portrait shows a variety of what native peoples in the Subarctic would’ve worn. In winter, they would’ve worn parkas, snowsuits, and other winter items. In the spring and summer, they’d go with tanned leather clothing of caribou and moose.

Clothing: Most clothing usually came from moose and caribou as well as hare and other skins with trim from beaver or other fur. Hides were often tanned and dehaired so they wouldn’t weigh down except winter items like parkas, hats, and mittens. Many people wore leggings with moccasins. Clothing can be decorated with fringe, paint, quills, claws, or down. Women wore dresses while men wore shirts, jackets, and snowsuits. Mothers often carried their babies on their backs with cradle boards. Adornments consisted of noseplugs, earrings, and tattooing.

Transportation: Overland travel was usually preferred and many used sleds, sledges, and toboggans (sometimes pulled by dogs though not always). Though people did build lightweight birch bark canoes and moose hide boats.


Like most nomadic tribes, Subarctic Indian society wasn’t very authoritarian, formal, or centralized. Extended families usually lived in groups though once in awhile bands would get together to socialize, hunt, and trade.

Society: This was a sparsely populated area with no more than 100,000 living in the region at any one time. So most cultures were nomadic. The basic unit was a local group consisting of 10-20 related people but could be up to 75. Membership was fluid and nonbinding, in deference to autonomy values and need for flexibility in a difficult environment. Leadership was extremely informal and nonauthoritarian, except for the groups most influenced by the Northwest Coast. When conditions permitted (possibly not quite every summer), local groups might come together as loosely constructed regional bands of several hundred people to socialize and renew family ties. Kinship names were used in most tribes as a general term. For instance, elders were addressed “Grandmother” or “Grandfather” whether they were blood related or not. Some groups might conduct memorial potlach with chiefs being recognized as among the clan leaders in the Cordillera. Warfare was mostly a local matter though while some groups seeking women, most people fought over revenge for trespass or prior blood transgression. Yet, warfare was more developed in the far west than in other areas. However, there were no regional groups conducting full scale wars. Trade was widely practiced with goods and services being exchanged as a peaceful reason for travel and human interaction while bands frequently shared resources with each other.


Though Subarctic tribes mostly practiced matrilineal descent, the treatment of women varied from tribe. Some women were treated as no more than mere pack animals while others maintained relative autonomy and even assumed positions of authority and power.

Family Structure: Primarily matrilineal descent, though not always. Women mostly made clothes, prepared food, and looked after children while men hunted the big game. However, it wasn’t uncommon for women to snare hare or fish. Women’s status varied according to local custom with some being treated as essentially pack animals with little to eat and others existing in relative autonomy as well as attaining both authority and power. Female infanticide wasn’t unknown through much of the region while menstrual taboos could be quite rigorous. Yet, both men and women were usually married by 13 or 14 and had some decision power in the bands. Newly married men were required to live with their in-laws for at least a year before establishing their own households (yet, sometimes they could have more than one wife). Exogamy and cross cousin marriage were usually encouraged. Since infant mortality was common, babies were usually not named until it was certain they would survive. Cremation was standard funerary practice.


The Subarctic tribes were well known for their intricate beadwork and embroidery. After they made contact with the Europeans, these Indians took to using glass beads and sewn floral designs.

Practices: Animism, shamanism, reincarnation, ceramics, storytelling, controlled burning, music, lacrosse, wooden dolls, basket weaving, dance, embroidery, beadwork, and scapulimancy.

Tools and Weapons: Antler clubs soaked in grease, armor, spears, hide containers for holding water, tumplines for carrying, snowshoes, bow and arrow, net traps, gaffs, fish hooks, snares, and weirs. Raw materials usually consisted of bark, wood, root, stone, and sometimes copper. Yet, many groups also liberally borrowed from their neighbors.

Notable Tribes: Cree, Ojibwa, Gwich’in, Dena’ina, Beothuk, Beaver, Mountain, Hare, Han, Tanacross, Yelloknife, Innu, Chipewyan, Eyak, Kuskokwim, Holikachunk, Sekani, Tagish, Ingalik, Ahtna, Babine-Wet’suwet’en, Dogrib, Tutchone, Carrier, Chilcotin, Attikamek, Tanana, Bearlake, Koyukon, Naskapi, Slavey, Tlicho, and Kaska.

The Indigenous Peoples of North America: Part 1 – The Arctic



As we have been taught in our history classes, before Europeans arrived to North America, the continent was inhabited by a people called the Native Americans. Of course, those who’ve taken courses in American history in school will probably know that our education doesn’t really touch on these people very much (other than that they later got killed by European disease and relocated to reservations so white people can take their lands). Mostly because an average US history class can only cover so much within 180 days or less. Thus, with the exception of those who took Native American Studies in college or read books about them, most of us tend to learn about the Indians through the media and pop culture. Now your average Native American on TV or in the movies will most likely have long black hair (either free flowing, single thick braid, or loose pigtails) or a Mohawk. Not mention, your average media Native American would have a feather stuck in their hair as an ornament or an elaborate feather headdress (like a war bonnet). If your Indian is a guy, he’ll have on leather pants often lined with fringe along with an age dependent upper wardrobe. Older Indian men usually wear leather tunics and vests while the younger guys have other options of going with just the vest or a bare chest. If he’s shirtless, then expect him to wear some degree of body paint. Yet at any rate, he’ll certainly get his war paint on at the climatic battle scene. If your Indian is a woman, she’ll often wear a single piece leather slip and leave her legs bare. Either way, your average media Native American will wear beaded jewelry as well as soft leather moccasins if they’re not barefoot.


And it doesn’t help that many Native Americans depicted in classic westerns are played by white guys with blue eyes. Yeah, really makes a convincing Indian (sorry, but the heavy dark makeup isn’t fooling me).

Now is this an accurate representation of Native Americans? Well, some of the time. However, pop culture tends to get the idea of representing Native North Americans with a one-size-fits-all approach of beads, buckskins, and braids. Did all Native North Americans dress this way before Europeans? No. Because North America is a big place with a great deal of variation between Native cultures, especially since the continent has a variety of environments. An Indian from New Mexico did not dress the same way as one from North Dakota. And occasionally, you might see indigenous people in Peru wearing buckskin outfits which is another matter entirely (especially if you account for the llama wool). Nevertheless, such Native North American portrayal doesn’t capture the wide variety while many tribes’ traditional outfits look nothing like the stereotype.


Yet, they still depict teepees and totem poles on the Playmobil Indian camp play set. Sure it looks cute. But it’s seriously wrong and perpetuates cultural inaccuracies. Seriously, you might as well have a play set of the Norse gods with a Grecian temple.

Then there are the aspects of Native North American culture that you see in the media. Of course, there’s the offensive denigration of Indians as savages but this stereotype has been done to death so I won’t bother to talk about it. Then there’s the magical nature worshipping Native Americans who are just misunderstood because a bunch of selfish white guys want their land. Either way, they’re not going to speak English like a normal person. But that’s beside the point. Anyway, you might see Native American tribes depicted doing things and using stuff that belongs to a myriad of different tribes. A good example of this would be the Indian tribe in Peter Pan which juxtaposes Great Plains teepees and Pacific Northwest totem poles. At a cultural and historical perspective, this is as jarring as it’s inaccurate as portraying Vikings with Grecian temples. Also, you might find a lot of Indians wearing mohawks and war bonnets even when they’re not supposed to. In reality, Native North Americans were and are a diverse group ranging from nomadic hunter-gatherers to agricultural civilizations. And they have adapted to a variety of environmental conditions.


Type Indian or Native American on any search engine, you’re bound to get results like this. Now while this certainly is a Native American portrait, the guy is most likely a leader of the Plains tribes. And he only wears the war bonnet on ceremonial occasions.

In this series, I plan on showing my readers a rough view on how Native North Americans really lived. However, I’m not going to go with a tribe on tribe basis because that would take too long (since there are over 500 of them). So instead I’ll go according to cultural area. Yet, note that whatever I say about this series will only apply chiefly to Native North Americans before European contact. So if you want to know about Plains horse culture or Navajo sheep herding and silversmithing, this series isn’t for you (though I will show pictures). Not only that, but understand that a one-size-fits-all approach may not apply to all the Indians living in that particular cultural region, even within a recognized tribe or tribal group. I just have it written in because it applies to some of the Indians living there. Also, some tribes might go in more than one region.

Inupiat Family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929, Edward S. Curtis

A family photo of an Inupiat Eskimo mother, father, and son, photographed in Noatak, Alaska, by Edward Sheriff Curtis circa 1929. It’s certainly plausible that they’d be wearing their parkas in every day life. But most of the Inuit have adopted to modern lifestyles. Yet, that didn’t stop Robert Flaherty drom doing Nanook of the North.

Our first North American region is the Arctic, which is often exempt from most Native American depictions. Mostly because the Arctic is a very frigid place of ice and snow. Arctic Native Americans tend to be depicted more accurately as wearing parkas, living in igloos, hunting seals, riding kayaks, and running on the ice in dog sleds. But it’s not quite right. Since not all Arctic Native Americans lived in igloos (and even those who did didn’t live in them all the time). Plant life does exist there and the ice does thaw (and keeps thawing due to climate change). While these Native Americans resided near polar bears, they didn’t live anywhere near penguins (which actually live in the Southern Hemisphere). And yes, they do take off their parkas once in awhile. Sure they may spend their days dogsledding, ice fishing, and seal hunting, but they also hunt whales, walruses, and other animals, too. Oh, and they didn’t always leave their grandmas to die on ice floes. Nor did they just eat blubber. Nevertheless, while the Arctic can be a rather inhospitable place, these people have managed to survive its harsh climate for thousands of years and continue to do so. Most of them reside in the farthest reaches of Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland. Yet, they don’t necessarily have a lifestyle that 100% akin to Nanook of the North (which is kind of a documentary of the Inuit showing how they lived when they were 12). Because they do know about modern technology, actually take advantage of it, and think the idea of pining for the good old days is utterly insane (even among those who grew up in the traditional lifestyle). However, you might want to avoid calling them Eskimos because some of them see the term as derogatory. Also, a lot of them don’t like being called Indians either which is partly why we tend to refer to indigenous people in North America as Native Americans.


This is a figurine from the Paleo-Eskimo Dorset culture who were among the first people in the Arctic region. The Paleo-Eskimos inhabited the area from 6,000 years ago before mysteriously disappearing at around 1500 at the latest. DNA evidence has proven that they were not the ancestors of the modern Inuit, a fact that I hardly believe (mostly because if the Thule and Dorset culture coexisted, you’d expect that they’d be having sex with each other. Because that’s what normally happens).

Location: Near the Arctic Circle, encompassing northern and western regions of Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland.

First Peoples: Assuming that the earliest Native Americans arrived to the continent through the Bering land bridge, the Arctic region was only used as nothing more than an area to pass through before venturing into greener pastures. The first groups who inhabited this region didn’t arrive until 6,000 years ago and in at least 2 migrations from Siberia and it was the last area in North America to be populated. The Paleo-Eskimo cultures first developed by 2500 BCE and consists of the Arctic Small Tool Tradition (who lived in tent camps while chasing seals and caribou 4000 years ago), the Dorsets (walrus hunters from 500 BCE-1500), and the Thule (who sailed in large skin boats and hunted whales who are said to arrive in 200 BCE-1600). Only the Thule have any biological, cultural and linguistic connection the modern Inuit and are often considered their ancestors. However, it is known that the Dorsets and Thule had no genetic connection and barely interacted with each other (at least favorably. However, the lack of genetic connection is highly unusual since these two groups existed around the same time. But even if under the most hostile relations, you’d still expect that members of both groups would have sex with each other. How can these people coexist without having sex with each other? I don’t get it). And the Dorset would mysteriously disappear by the 1500s. Some evidence suggests that the Thule and Dorsets had contact with the Vikings.


Here’s a scene of Nanook hunting seal from the 1922 Robert Flaherty “documentary” Nanook of the North. The harsh tundra climate and terrain led the Arctic people to hunt sea mammals including seal and whale. By the way, hunting for such animals in the Arctic was a highly difficult and dangerous task that took hours.

Environment: Tundra, which can be better said as a desert of snow that’s cold, flat, and treeless (though Arctic plants do exist). Snow, ice, and freezing temperatures all year round (along with the increasing threat of global warming). Can sometimes experience a white night and midnight sun come summer as well as 24 hours of darkness in winter. But the Aurora Borealis is pretty. One of the harshest environments on earth.

Subsistence: Hunter, gatherer, and fisher subsistence. Diet was mostly meat based consisting of ringed and bearded seals, walrus, narwhal, and whales. On land, caribou were by far the most important source of food (and other raw materials) along with musk ox, wolf, fox, wolverine, and squirrel. Also consumed ptarmigan, duck, geese, and their eggs. Fishing was mostly a 3 season activity. Some areas even had people gather berries. Almost every part of the hunted animals were used.


As you might know, the Inuit are well known for building igloos made of snow and ice. Yet, contrary to what you see in the media, igloos were only used as temporary shelter. Sometimes they could be built close together and connected by tunnels.

Housing: Different types depended on materials available and whether the home wasp permanent or temporary. In the central Arctic region, domed shaped snow igloos were the rule among the Inuit. Many of these would often be built attached to each other for added warmth and sociability. And they even had snow furniture in them, too. But some Inuit tribes built sod houses which consisted of a dug rectangular pit with walls made from sod and rocks as well as wood pieces and whalebone for the roof called a shuswap. Aleut housing consisted of a partially underground house covered with logs, whalebone, or poles before being covered by earth, snow, or moss. This was called a Barabara. Temporary housing included a large men’s ceremonial house called a kashim and its female counterpart called an ena along with summer tents of seal and caribou skin over bone or wooden frames.


Unlike a lot of Native American cultures, Arctic tribes like the Inuit sometimes still wear their traditional parkas, a lot of times made from caribou fur for added insulation.

Clothing: Most clothing was made from caribou skin though polar bear, seal, wolverine, squirrel, bird, and fish skins were also used. And it was primarily fashioned for insulation from freezing temperatures and wind. In winter, people wore inner (fur side in) and outer fur side garments (fur side out). But only the inner garment was worn during the summer fur side out. The winter outer garment was a heavy hooded jacket, often lined with fur known as a parka. A mother might wear an extra-large parka to shelter babies. Both sexes wore pants, stockings, mittens, seal skin boots, or low shoes. Raincoats were sewn with waterproof gut. Clothes were often decorated with colored furs or fringe. Men wore snowshoes and snow goggles while hunting in the winter. Adornments consisted of labrets (lip plugs), ear pendants, nose rings, and tattoos. Sothern tribes wore close fitting shits and pants. While Aleut women wore seal or otter skin parkas, Aleut men wore parkas of bird skin where the feathers turned in and out depending on the weather. Aleut children wore down parkas with tanned bird skin caps.


Sleds pulled by dogs and kayaks were the primary modes of transportation among the Arctic Native Americans. Dog sleds for land and kayaks for water. Luckily I found a picture that had both a kayak and sled dogs.

Transportation: Kayaks were closed boats made for one man and used for hunting. Larger open umiaks made from wooden frames and sewn skins for water navigation. Umiaks were employed for either whale hunting or general travel (in the latter case, they’d be paddled and/or rowed by women). Wood and rawhide sleds were pulled by either dogs or people and were used for winter travel.

Society: This was a sparsely populated area that could have consisted as many as 80,000 pre-European contact. Lived a mostly nomadic culture where group members saw themselves tied to the land. Members lived in an isolated existence and would organize into bands on a seasonal basis. Leadership was generally underdeveloped. When strong leaders emerged, there was little formal structure and usually for a temporary situation like whaling expeditions. Leaders were usually older, experienced men who might be leading household heads and probably owned an umiak. Also had a very bloody history of intertribal warfare.


Another scene from Nanook of the North. This one depicts Nanook’s wife Nyla with their baby playing with the husky puppies. Arctic nuclear families normally consisted of 5 to 6 people at a time. And Arctic family life wasn’t always as happy as what you see in this 1922 film. Still, this moment is so filled with cuteness.

Family Structure: Nuclear families usually consisted of 5 to 6 people. Hunting sea mammals was the primary occupation of most men because it could be highly dangerous and/or extremely demanding. Women sewed up skins, cooked food, tended lamps, and looked after children. Both men and women took part in igloo construction. Descent was generally bilateral. Kinship was of such primary importance so much that “strangers” (those who couldn’t immediately document kin affiliations) were perceived as potentially hostile and might be summarily killed. Other groups subject to willful death were infants (especially girls) and old people. Cannibalism and suicide weren’t uncommon, but only in extreme cases of need. Prospective husbands often served the bride’s parents for a period of time (bride service). Wife stealing (committed in the overall competition of supremacy) might result in death as possibly other conflicts. Murders were subject to revenge. Corpses were generally wrapped in skins and left on the ground. Southwest Inuit and Aleuts practiced mummification. Yupik parents tend to name their children after the last person in the community to have died.


While the Inuit mostly dominate the Arctic cultural Native American landscape, the Aleut and the Yupik also reside there. These are Aleuts who reside in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands while the Yupik live in western Alaska. Both groups also live in part of Siberia as well.

Practices: Bone, antler, and ivory figurines, amulets, and toys. Wooden ceremonial and dance masks. Basket weaving, animism, shamanism, music, acrobatics, kickball, string games, and storytelling.

Tools and Weapons: Harpoon, bow and arrow, needle, thimble, knife, adze, ax, drill, scraper, spear, and shovel, primarily from bone and antler as well as chipped stone (for points, blades, scrapers, and pots). Other tools include baleen boxes, soapstone pottery, oil and blubber burning lamps with moss wicks, movement indicators (for breathing-hole sealing), throwers, various types of harpoons (with detachable heads), seal nets, clubs, bird bolas, three pronged spears, fish hooks, stone fish weirs, as well as animal traps and snares.

Notable Tribes: Inuit, Aleut, and Yupik. Some of the Aleut and Yupik are known to reside in Siberia.

Aztec Mythology Reexamined: The Gods

Mexicos eagle

Since October is National Hispanic Heritage Month,I couldn’t think of a better mythological tradition to commemorate in October than the Aztecs. Of course, the Aztecs we know actually consisted of a bunch of ethnic groups that dominated much of Mesoamerica who spoke the Nahuatl language that dominated large parts of Mexico and Central America between the 14th to 16th centuries. Still, while you may wonder why I may discuss Aztec mythology for October to commemorate National Hispanic Heritage Month while there are a lot of Hispanics who aren’t Mexican, I list my reasons here:

1. A lot of Aztec culture was adopted by a lot of from the surrounding civilizations or descended from older ones like the Toltec. In other words, they adopted and combined several traditions with their own earlier ones, which explains why they have several creation myths. And many of while many of the deities I list in this post may have been gods worshiped in other Pre-Columbian civilizations like Quetzalcoatl, we know most of them by their Aztec names.

2. While the Aztecs obviously don’t have the only mythological tradition, their mythology is better known to us than that of any civilization in Pre-Columbian (even the Mayas). This is because the Aztecs were a dominant power in the Americas until the arrival of Hernando Cortez, had a written language, and an educated populace (they were the most literate civilization in Pre-Columbian America at the time due to having a compulsory education system), and had a mythological tradition most people would’ve remembered to write down.By contrast, there’s not so much we know about Mayan and Incan mythology.

Still, Aztec mythology can be rather confusing.The Aztecs had over 100 specific deities and supernatural creatures in their myths. And like the Egyptian gods, many of them tend to have different names as well as different incarnations (either as humanoid, beast, or somewhere in between). It also doesn’t help that Aztec mythology is not known for its consistency and many of them have a lot of different origin stories. Not only that, but many tend to have names which are very hard to pronounce or spell. Still, the Aztecs really didn’t consider their deities as “gods” in the European sense since their their word for one was “teotl” which indicated a force of nature that didn’t necessarily have an Anthropomorphic Personification. And then you have the whole human sacrifice thing the Aztecs were notorious, which they practiced with creativity previously unseen by humanity (mostly to stave off a possible cosmic apocalypse), as well as their deities possessing a notion of duality with their gods being both good and evil. Still, human sacrifice victims were treated similar to Hunger Games contestants than anything, though they were mostly exempted from a fight to the death and guaranteed a place in heavenly paradise. Some would even be seen as representatives to the gods. There are also deities who tend to be the gods of the same thing and its very unclear on who’s in charge of this pantheon. Many of them could die and be reborn many times. Not to mention, their ideas on good and evil were pretty strange. For instance, your afterlife wasn’t based on how you lived, but how you died (and even if you didn’t get into Aztec heaven, the alternatives weren’t exactly hellish). Oh, and for a culture that practiced a lot of human sacrifice and war, every Aztec child was subject to compulsory education while their treatment of slaves was said to be amazing (and more like indentured servitude). So without further adieu, here are some of the major gods you’d find in the Aztec pantheon (or at least the major ones I could find pictures for).

1. Quetzalcoatl

Quetzalcoatl is perhaps one of the nicer gods of the pantheon who didn't demand a lot of sacrifices as well as the one most of us know. He's known as a creator and friend to humanity as well as associated with death and resurrection. Still, despite his parallels with Jesus, he is no saint.

Quetzalcoatl is perhaps one of the nicer gods of the pantheon who didn’t demand a lot of sacrifices as well as the one most of us know. He’s known as a creator and friend to humanity as well as associated with death and resurrection. Still, despite his parallels with Jesus, he is no saint.

AKA: “The Feathered Serpent” and “Precious Twin”

Origin: If we go by the iconography, he’s one of the oldest gods in the pantheon with a strong Mesoamerican presence. Though he may be referred by a different name in other civilizations, his feathered serpent image has been depicted in Mesoamerican art and religion at least since 900 BCE starting with the Olmec in La Venta (or as it’s popularly believed). Still, his first documented was in the first century BCE or CE in Teotihuacan which was in the Late Preclassic or Early Classic period.

Domain: God of wisdom, life, knowledge, crafts, arts, morning star, fertility, patron of the winds, dawn and the light, and lord of the West. Patron of the Aztec priesthood, merchants, and learning. Said to be a creator deity having contributed essentially to the creation of Mankind and gave them maize. Also said to invent books and the calendar as well as taught humans crafts, farming, medicine, and astronomy. Sometimes seen as a symbol of death and the resurrection. Of course, this doesn’t stop some Mormons from believing that he’s Jesus Christ (well, they’re both said to be born by a virgin in some stories). Was once said to be the mythical king of Tula (or Teotihuacan) in human form.

Pro: Well, he’s just about the only god who either opposed human sacrifice or didn’t require it (again owing to the inconsistencies). Said to create a fifth world by journeying to the Aztec underworld Mictlán, stealing the bones of the previous races from under Mictlanteuctli’s and grinding them to mix with corn (with the help of Cihuacoatl), and using his own blood from the wounds he inflicted on his ear lobes, calves, tongue, and penis it imbue the bones with new life. Said to be able to fly, very smart, and a rather tough fighter. Not to mention, he’s the Aztec god who’s the most familiar to us and whose name isn’t a nightmare to spell. Also, unlike a lot of gods in mythology, he’s able to keep it in his pants (unlike Zeus) at least when he’s sober (though he’s sometimes said to sire royal lineages or married to Ītzpāpālōtl). Still, he’s considered one of the nicest gods in the pantheon (though that’s not saying much yet the Spanish did depict him as a benevolent figure, but this was out of ignorance though). Said to be a wise and peaceful ruler of Tula who ushered in a golden age.

Con: Spends a lot of time in the mythos fighting his brother Tezcatlipoca (though neither of them were said to be explicitly good or evil or necessarily “better,” they just really hate each other and only teamed up to slay Cipatli. Still, their rivalry caused them to destroy each other’s worlds they ruled and created). Oh, and as king of Tula, he was such a hit there that none of the other gods were receiving tribute. This led to Tezcatlipoca coming to earth, worming his way through his brother’s court and getting him rip-roaringly drunk that he ended up sleeping with his sister Quetzalpetlatl (or a priestess in some stories). Ashamed, he went into self-imposed exile, burned himself to death on a funeral pyre, came back to life, and sailed to the east on a snake raft, promising to return (but probably not as Cortes, since that is more likely Spanish propaganda). He’s also capable of jealousy (I mean he and Tezcatlipoca basically overthrew Chalchiuhtlicue and ended the fourth world in a massive flood just out of envy). Also, introduced humans to alcohol and is associated with ceremonial drunkedness. Not to mention, it’s said that Tezcatlipoca has to keep him from returning to full power or everything would be destroyed. So to say that Quetzalcoatl is the Aztec equivalent to Jesus is quite of a stretch.

Symbols and Motifs: Commonly depicted as a gigantic, coiling, feathered serpent or dragon (but many artists put wings on him which he doesn’t have in Pre-Columbian iconography though legend say he’s capable of flight). His symbols are resplendent quetzels, rattlesnakes (coatl means snake in Nahuatl), crows, and macaws. In his form as the morning star (Venus), he’s depicted as a harpy eagle. As Ehecatl, he’s the wind and is represented by spider monkeys, ducks, and the wind itself. In human form, he’s seen as an old man (explaining why he’s seen as light skinned with light hair). His insignia is a beak like mask.

City: Cholula where the world’s largest pyramid was dedicated to his worship. You could also say his other notable cities were Tula, Chichen Itza, Xochicalco, and Teotihuacan.

Offerings: He usually is perfectly fine without a human sacrifice (or outright condemn it. Still, his reasons are understandable. After all, he’s said to create humanity). He was usually offered birds, snakes, and butterflies as well other animals.

2. Tezcatlipoca

Tezcatlipoca was Quetzalcoatl's rival and archenemy as well as a trickster deity and the closest thing to an Aztec Loki. Still, on his festival a young man would be chosen in his likeness and would live the life of Riley for a year before he'd sacrificed to this deity.

Tezcatlipoca was Quetzalcoatl’s rival and archenemy as well as a trickster deity and the closest thing to an Aztec Loki. Still, on his festival a young man would be chosen in his likeness and would live the life of Riley for a year before he’d sacrificed to this deity.

AKA: “Smoking Mirror,” “The Mocker,” “Enemy of Both Sides,” “Lord of the Near and the Nigh,” “The Young Man,” “Mountainheart,” “Night, Wind,” “We are his Slaves,” “Possessor of the Sky and Earth,” “Two Reed,” and “He by whom we live”

Origin: If we go by the iconography, his figure worship may date back to as early as the Olmec or Maya. If not, then Toltec.

Domain: God of providence, magic, matter and the invisible, ruler of the night, Great Bear, impalpable, ubiquity and the twilight, and the lord of the North. God of rulers, sorcerers, slaves, nobles, and warriors as well as death, discord, temptation, and change. Associated with night sky, mischief, malice, the night winds, hurricanes, the earth, obsidian, enmity, rulership, divination, jaguars, beauty, war, and strife.He’s basically a trickster deity as well as the closest thing the Aztecs had to Loki with all its implications. Said he could be invisible, omnipresent, and could see everything. Is very much one magnificent bastard. Had 4 wives.

Pro: He’s a badass and lost a right leg battling the Cipatli with Quetzalcoatl as well as won seemingly unwinnable battles in Tula. Also, since he’s the god of slaves, he’s very nice to work for and willing to punish those who mistreated theirs. He’s also easily appeasable and generous. Not to mention, he’s said to be rather good looking and one of the more powerful gods in the pantheon. Charged with keeping Quetzalcoatl from returning to full power.

Con: He’s an eternal enemy and rival of his brother Quetzalcoatl (or alter-ego if you want to think that). Basically when upset that no offerings were made to him while his brother was king of Tula that he infiltrated his court and managed to make the Feathered Serpent so drunk that he banged their sister (or priestess) and had him basically burn himself and heading to the east. Still, he’s a smooth manipulative bastard and philandering cad. Not to mention, running off with Thaloc’s first wife Xochiquetzal (which may have been against her will) resulting in the third world’s drought and destruction through fire. Not to mention, suffers from epic mood swings and always looking for a reason to cause trouble.

Symbols and Motifs: Often depicted as a jaguar or a young man. His symbol was a disk worn as a chest pectoral though he’s associated with smoke, mirrors, and obsidian. As a human, he’s usually portrayed with a black and yellow stripe on his face and a right foot missing (though what it’s replaced with depends on the story). May sometimes have a smoking mirror on his chest or carry smoking knife. Associated with the color black.

City: His festival was the Toxcatl which took place in May. His main temple was located in Tenochtitlan. Also worshiped in Texcoco, Tlaxcala, and Chalco.

Offerings: It was Aztec tradition for the new king to stand naked in front of his likeness while emphasizing his utter unworthiness. He’d also fast for this god as well. At his temples copal incense was burned 4 times a day. Still, during Toxcatl, the Aztec priests would choose a young man to impersonate the god and he would spend a year living like a deity, wearing jewelry, partying, marrying 4 women, and being waited on by 8 attendants. Yet, when his time was up the young man would be sacrificed at Tezcatlipoca’s temple and the priests would eat his body later. The 4 ladies would be sacrificed, too. Then a new candidate would be chosen for the following year.


Thaloc may be one of the more unpleasant gods in the Aztec pantheon yet since he's the rain god, he's one of the more essential. Still, his abode in the heavens is said to be an earthly paradise.

Thaloc may be one of the more unpleasant gods in the Aztec pantheon yet since he’s the rain god, he’s one of the more essential. Still, his abode in the heavens is said to be an earthly paradise. Nevertheless, he’s not the best looking despite having 2 gorgeous wives.

AKA: “He who is the embodiment of Earth,” “Giver,” and “Green One”

Origin: His cult is one of the oldest and most universal in Mexico. Was likely adopted by the Aztecs from the Mayan god Chaac which they may have got from Teotihuacan. Was worshiped in Mesoamerican at least 800 years before the Aztecs.

Domain: God of rain, fertility, and lightning. Lord of water. Associated with storms and mountaintops. Also said to be the lord of the heavens which was a place for for those who died violently from phenomena associated with water, such as by lightning, drowning, and water-borne diseases. Not to mention, his place also took child sacrifice victims and those who died from leprosy, venereal disease, sores, dropsy, scabies, and gout.

Pro: Seen as a beneficial god who gave life and sustenance. Also his name isn’t a spelling nightmare. Not to mention, his home is known as a place of eternal springtime and plenty. Seemed to love his wives (despite one leaving him for Tezcatlipoca, which he handled badly but you could understand why he didn’t try to get her back).

Con: He was feared since he could send hail, thunder, and lightning. Also denied water to humanity that when Quetzalcoatl asked him to make it rain, he made it rain fire destroying the third world. Required child sacrifices and it didn’t help that he was an essential god to the Aztecs. Not to mention, adult sacrifices offered to him were flayed alive.

Symbols and Motifs: His planet form is Venus while his animal forms are herons, amphibians, snails, and possibly sea creatures. Associated with turquoise, jade, green, and blue. Usually depicted with goggle eyes, a cleft lip, and jaguar fangs (though he’s said to have 2 hot wives).

City: Mount Tlaloc was his most important shrine and had 2 shrines at Tenochtitlan and possibly the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán. Shared the Great Temple with Huitzilopochtli. His festivals were  Atlcahualo in Februrary, Tozoztontli in March and April, and Atemoztli in December.

Offerings: He was offered human hearts from a bowl. Sacrifice victims were buried in blue paint and with seeds. Received offerings of jade, shells, vegetables, and sand. Still, he’s best known for requiring children sacrificed to him from mountain tops and they had to die crying. 7 kiddies would be sacrificed to him in and around Lake Texcoco. Also adult victims offered to him were flayed alive or drowned and their skins worn by the priests.


Though Tonatiuh is said to be a rather benevolent god who provides people warmth and nourishment through his rays, he demands a lot of sacrifices. Still, he did get the job rather fairly.

Though Tonatiuh is said to be a rather benevolent god who provides people warmth and nourishment through his rays, he demands a lot of sacrifices. Still, he did get the job rather fairly before letting it all go to his head.

AKA: “Movement of the Sun”

Origin: Well, he was a sun god who may have came from the Mayas (with the similar calendar design) since there’s a myth of Huitzilopochtli being the fifth sun as well, and he comes from the Mexica and Aztecs themselves.

Domain: God of the sun and leader of Tollan and heaven. Patron of jaguar and eagle warriors.

Pro: Well, he’s the fifth guy to be the sun after Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Thaloc, and Chalchiuhtlicue (well, in some versions at least). Oh, and when he applied for a job, he was a poor, crippled god Nanahuatzin but beat favorite Tecciztecatl for the post through courage, selflessness, and luck. Also said to bring warmth and nourishment to the Aztec people through his cosmic rays.

Con: Since becoming the sun, he demands a huge amount of sacrifices as tribute (though he did sacrifice himself to become the fifth sun). If he doesn’t get them, then he’d refuse to move through the sky unless the gods give themselves up to him. Also, turned the dawn god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli just for insulting him (then again the dawn god isn’t very nice but still).

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as a sun disk or the center of the Aztec calendar.

City: Tenochtitlan.

Offerings: Requires a lot of human sacrifices each morning to revitalize but apparently may not be as much as Huitzilopochtli.

5. Xochiquetzal

Xochiquetzal was an Aztec goddess of love and perhaps one of the best looking gods in the pantheon. Still, though one of the nicer deities to humans, she's as forgiving as long as the Aztecs would sacrifice at least one virgin to her every 8 years.

Xochiquetzal was an Aztec goddess of love and perhaps one of the best looking gods in the pantheon. Still, though one of the nicer deities to humans, she’s as forgiving as long as the Aztecs would sacrifice at least one virgin to her every 8 years.

AKA: “Flower Quetzel,” “Maiden,” and “Precious Feather”

Origin: Well, she may have origins in Teotihuacan or be the Virgin of Ocotlan as well as Maya Goddess I, but the jury’s still out.

Domain: Goddess of flowers, dancing, fertility, female sexuality, love, and beauty. Protector of young mothers and patroness to pregnancy, childbirth, prostitutes, and women’s crafts like weaving and embroidery. Associated with creators of luxury items, painters, and sculptors. Representative of human desire, pleasure, vegetation, and excess. Twin sister of Xochipilli and first wife of Tlaloc.

Pro: Well, unlike many of the gods in this pantheon, she’s actually quite nice to look at according to humans and the gods themselves. Also said to be a rather forgiving goddess for human crimes despite demanding virgin sacrifices.

Con: She was Thaloc’s first wife and he took their break up hard when Tezcatlipoca snatched her up and forced her to marry him (then again, she’s been linked to other gods as well as one of the goddesses said to be Quetzalcoatl’s mom). Also said to seduce a priest and turn him into a scorpion. Still, she’s said to have a reputation as having many husbands and lovers (including her brother).

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as an alluring and youthful woman. Her symbols are flowers, particularly marigolds. Sacred animals are birds and butterflies.

City: Tenochtitlan. Had a festival held in her honor every 8 years called Atamalqualiztli where worshipers wore animal masks in her honor. There was also Tepeílhuitl and Xochíhuitl.

Offerings: Had a virgin sacrificed to her every 8 years in which she was flayed alive with her skin being put on a loom before being worn. Worshipers would then engage in a ritual bloodletting and bath.

6. Xochipilli

Xochipilli is Xochiquetzal and one of the more friendly gods in the Aztec pantheon in that he's somewhat of a hippie. Still, it's kind of a relief to people in the 21st century that he's the god of gays though he's married and would do it with anyone.

Xochipilli is Xochiquetzal and one of the more friendly gods in the Aztec pantheon in that he’s somewhat of a hippie. Still, it’s kind of a relief to people in the 21st century that he’s the god of gays though he’s married and would do it with anyone.

AKA: “Flower Prince,” “Five-Flower,” and “Flower Child”

Origin: His worship at least dates to the Pre-Classic Teotihuacán or the Toltecs.

Domain: God of art, games, beauty, dance, flowers, song, feasting, creativity, soul, love, fertility, and homosexuality. Patron of gay men and male prostitutes as well as painting and writing. Twin brother (or husband) of Xochiquetzal. Associated with butterflies, excess, and poetry.

Pro: Well, being the god of gays sort of reveals that Aztec society was a rather LGBT friendly one as far as I could tell. Still, he’s said to be the closest thing in the Aztec pantheon to a hippie (which means he doesn’t demand a lot of human sacrifices). Said to turn dead warriors into hummingbirds.

Con: Despite being the god of homosexuality, he’s said to actually be bi in the mythos and married to a human girl Mayahuel (who’s said to be the goddess of booze though) and is sometimes said to be romantically linked to his sister Xochiquetzel. Also associated with tobacco and psychoactive drugs. Nevertheless, he’s reputed to be a hedonist with a playful mischievous streak.

Symbols and Motifs: Hallucinogenic plants are said to be sacred to him as well as mushrooms. Usually depicted as a youthful man though rather skinless. Other symbols are flowers and tobacco.

City: Xochimilco.

Offerings: His offerings usually tend to be hallucinogenic plants, mushrooms, and flowers as well as butterflies and animal skins.

7. Huehuecoyotl

Huehuecoyotl was one of the more popular gods of the Aztec pantheon and its resident trickster deity. Still, whether he helps humanity or causes genocide usually depends on his mood. He'd also hump anything.

Huehuecoyotl was one of the more popular gods of the Aztec pantheon and its resident trickster deity. Still, whether he helps humanity or causes genocide usually depends on his mood. He’d also hump anything.

AKA: “Old Man Coyote”

Origin: We’re not sure where the Aztecs got this god from. Then again, they were said to be from Arizona where their Indians did have a coyote trickster deity.

Domain: God of dance, song, trickery, music, old age, mischief, and male sexuality. Associated with indulgence, good luck, balance, and storytelling.He’s also a trickster deity who can change gender and go both ways. As a shapeshifter, he takes any form he wants.

Pro: Well, he’s said to be rather family friendly and laid back as well as very wise. Also rather protective and beneficial mortals when other gods try to harm them as well as even interact with them directly more than Quetzalcoatl. He was one of the more popular gods in the pantheon. Was the only friend to Xolotl (in some sources).

Con: Whether he helps or harms humans usually depends on his mood. He’s also an amoral and sadistic god who was famous for causing genocide on a whim or provoke human wars for fun. Also has many of his pranks blow up in his face if they’re against other gods. Not to mention, he has the biggest sexual appetite in the pantheon and would hump anything.

Symbols and Motifs: Often depicted as an anthropomorphic coyote sometimes with black and yellow feathers. The coyote is his animal and is often seen followed by a human drummer as his attendant.

City: None but he was seen as rather an accessible god to the Aztecs though, explaining why he was so popular.

Offerings: If he needs a human sacrificed, he just starts a war.

8. Chalchiuhtlicue

Chalchiuhtlicue is the goddess of water who was dedicated at weddings and the births of children. Yet, she also caused a flood lasting for 52 years and is married to Tlaloc who has kiddies sacrificed to him.

Chalchiuhtlicue is the goddess of water who was dedicated at weddings and the births of children. Yet, she also caused a flood lasting for 52 years and is married to Tlaloc who has kiddies sacrificed to him.

AKA: “She of the Jade Skirt,” “Sad Waters,” “Woman Who Makes the Waves Swell,” “To and Fro,” “Woman Who Lives in the Sea,” “Sea Storm,” “She Who Dwells on the Back of the Tortoise,” and “She Who Shines in the Waters”

Origin: May have been a derivative from the Early Classic Teotihuacan with the Pyramid of the Moon supposedly dedicated to her. Domain: Goddess of love, beauty, fertility, youth, lakes, rivers, seas, streams, oceans, storms, and baptism. Patroness of childbirth, marriage, and water as well as protector of children and fishermen. Consort (and sometimes sister) of Tlaloc (or Xiuhtecuhtli) and co-ruler of the heavenly Tlalocan and mother of moon god Tecciztecatl.

Pro: Well, she was a better wife to Tlaloc and a protector of women and kids. Oh, and she only staged a flood to purify humanity but built a bridge linking heaven and earth for those in her good graces and turned the other residents into fish so they wouldn’t drown. And she’s quite nice to look at.

Con: You wouldn’t want to hear her name at a spelling bee. Caused a giant flood that lasted for 52 years which destroyed the fourth world. Also, don’t expect her to protect any kiddies sacrificed to her husband Tlaloc.

Symbols and Motifs: To her people, she’s seen as a river but usually depicted as a beautiful woman in a blue green skirt carrying a cross. Associated with serpents, maize, jade, shells, birds, jaguars, and green.

City: Possibly the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacán. Still, there were about five annual Aztec celebrations dedicated to her and her husband like Atlcahualo in February.

Offerings: Her sacrificial victims were drowned yet they were mostly adults and only in June. Still, offerings consisted of birds, cougars, wolves, jaguars, and snakes.

9. Mictlantecuhtli

Mictlantecuhtli is the god of the dead and Lord of Mictlan (the deepest place in the Aztec underworld which takes 4 years to get to). Though not necessarily evil, he's not particularly nice and actually tried to stop Quetzalcoatl from creating humanity. Also is as creepy as hell.

Mictlantecuhtli is the god of the dead and Lord of Mictlan (the deepest place in the Aztec underworld which takes 4 years to get to). Though not necessarily evil, he’s not particularly nice and actually tried to stop Quetzalcoatl from creating humanity. Also is as creepy as hell but well suited for Halloween parties.

AKA: “Lord of Mictlan” Origin: Well, if we go by iconography, he was adopted by the Aztecs from other Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Maya and Zapotec.

Domain: God of the dead and lord of Mictlan, the Aztec Underworld.

Pro: Like a lot of death deities, he’s not technically evil and Mictlan isn’t really a bad place to be in (though not ideal and took 4 years to get there through a grueling and perilous journey). It’s said he could also grant life as well.

Con: Name is a spelling nightmare and is rather horrendous to look at (though he has a wife named Mictecacihuatl and would certainly fit right in at a Halloween party). Basically told Quetzalcoatl to not touch the bones in Mictlan and gave him an impossible task by having him play a conch shell with no holes in it (the Feathered Serpent pulled it off anyway, thanks to worms). Forced Quetzalcoatl to drop the bones which caused them to break and scatter as well as forced the Feathered Serpent to move on to plan B. Also tried to trick him into staying at Mictlan forever. Still, he’s also feared and portrayed negatively in myths. Said to take pleasure in human death and suffering. Is a bit too in love with his job.

Symbols and Motifs: Depicted as a skeleton in kingly regalia with a toothy skull and eye balls in his sockets (as well as sported an eyeball necklace and earrings fashioned from human bones). Sometimes portrayed as covered in blood. His animals are owl, bats, dogs, and spiders. His symbols are the 11th hour, knives, and the northern compass direction.

City: Tenochtitlan

Offerings: His offerings consisted of human sacrifice and ritualized cannibalism in his temples. Also, offerings to him were usually found in people’s tombs.

10. Huitzilopochtli

Huitzilopochtli is one of the newer gods of the Aztec pantheon who's best known for helping them founding the city of Tenochtitlan. However, he's one of the most bloody since it's said there were over 20,000 human sacrifices conducted in his honor for 4 days.

Huitzilopochtli is one of the newer gods of the Aztec pantheon who’s best known for helping them founding the city of Tenochtitlan. However, he’s one of the most bloody since it’s said there were over 20,000 human sacrifices conducted in his honor for 4 days.

AKA: “The Left Hand Side,” “The Dart Hurler,” and “The Divine Hurler”

Origin: He’s actually one of the Aztecs’ original deities and was brought south with them. Some say he may have been a historical figure (probably a warrior priest king) who was deified after his death.

Domain: God of war, the will, human sacrifice, and the sun. Patron of fire and lord of the South. National god of the Aztec Empire and people. Though he’s not necessarily the chief god, he’s often referred to as such and the closest the Aztecs got. Mythical founder of Tenochtitlan and told the Aztecs to change their name to Mexica. Associated with rules and gold.

Pro: He’s a badass who can use a lot of improbable weapons like a turquoise spear. Said to help guide the Aztec people into founding the city of Tenochtitlan which was the Pre-Columbian Venice in Lake Texcoco (according to legend). Allowed those who died in battle or killed by enemies as captives as well as women who died in childbirth to accompany him to the heavens. Was said to either avenge or save his mother’s life.

Con: When he was born he killed 400 of his older siblings (yet he’d kill other relatives later like putting another sister to sleep and his nephew). Not to mention, had a nasty fight with his sister that resulted in her getting dismembered and becoming a moon goddess. He’s so bright that soldiers needed their shields to protect their eyes from his sight (though he transformed them into hummingbirds and butterflies). Still, he’s best known as the god with the highest demand for sacrifices and heartburgers with hundreds of prisoners having their chests ripped out in his name.

Symbols and Motifs: Could be depicted as a hummingbird, snake, eagle, a soul of a dead warrior, or as a anthropomorphic figure with feathers on his head and left leg, black face, and holding a scepter shaped like a snake or mirror. Associated with light blue and yellow.The sun eagle that devoured a snake on a cactus is supposed to be him. Aramanth was his plant.

City: Tenochtitlan, of course since he was worship at its Great Temple. Also had a whole month in December dedicated to his worship (called Panquetzaliztli). Festivals include Atamalqualiztli and Toxcatl.

Offerings: Usually consisted of a bunch of POWs having their hearts ripped out at his temple before their bodies were flayed, decapitated, dismembered, and thrown down the stairs. Priests would devour the hearts. 20,000 were said to be sacrificed to him over 4 days. Also had flowers and quail eggs bestowed on him.


Tlazolteotl is the goddess of sin, lust, and purification. Though one may be absolved of all sin and untouched by the law. But unlike the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, confession to her was only a one time Get Out of Jail Free Card. Still, best to confess to her after you've been caught cheating.

Tlazolteotl is the goddess of sin, lust, and purification. Though one may be absolved of all sin and untouched by the law. But unlike the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, confession to her was only a one time Get Out of Jail Free Card. Still, best to confess to her after you’ve been caught cheating. Oh, and she’s depicted eating shit.

AKA: “Goddess of Dirt,” “She Who Eats Dirt,” “She of Two Faces,” “Sin Eater,” and “Death Caused by Lust”

Origin: May have been adopted by the Aztecs from a Huxtec goddess on the Gulf Coast.

Domain: Goddess of sin and absolution, lust, carnality, purification, steam baths, midwives, filth, vice, forbidden love, and sexual misdeeds. Patroness of adulterers, protector of midwives and doctor women, and mother of Centeōtl. Associated with earth.

Pro: Usually forgave diseases and sins caused by misdeeds, particularly sexual indiscretions. One was purified if they confessed their misdeeds to her and the law wouldn’t touch them.

Con: Yet, confession to her was only a once in a lifetime deal and you didn’t want to cheat on your spouse after you’ve done so (since adultery was punishable by death in the Aztec world). She also inspired vicious desires and was thought to cause disease, especially in those who engage in forbidden love. Also shown to eat poo or give birth.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as a woman eating the shit of humanity’s sins and sometimes nude. Sometimes portrayed giving birth. Associated with black.

City: Her festival was the Ochpaniztli in September to celebrate the harvest and pertained to sweeping, ritual cleaning, and repairs as well as casting corn seed and military ceremonies.

Offerings: People would usually give her offerings of urine and excrement.

12. Xiuhtecuhtli

Xiuhtecuhtli was the god of fire and time who was associated with the Aztec New Fire Ceremony held every 52 years. Yet, other than his role in ceremonies, he doesn't seem to appear much in myths.

Xiuhtecuhtli was the god of fire and time who was associated with the Aztec New Fire Ceremony held every 52 years. Yet, other than his role in ceremonies, he doesn’t seem to appear much in myths.

AKA: “Lord of Fire,” “Lord of Turquoise,” and “Old God”

Origin: Worship and iconography at least dates back to the Post-Classic Toltecs.

Domain: God of fire, day, light, year, time, and heat. Lord of volcanoes. Personified life after death, warmth in cold, light in darkness, and food during famine. Considered father and mother of the gods as well as sometimes married to Chalchiuhtlicue. Dwelt in the turquoise enclosure in the earth’s center. Patron god of Aztec emperors who were said to be the living embodiment of his enthroned as well as merchants. Associated with rulership and youthful warriors. May actually be the chief deity of the Aztec pantheon.

Pro: Well, he’s said to be associated with being the light of the world and he’s pretty essential to the Aztecs.

Con: Despite his importance in the Aztec world, he doesn’t appear in myths much, at least in the ones we know. Still, his legends may be lost due to the Spanish burning codices during the Conquest.

Symbols and Motifs: Depicted as a young man in a red or yellow face with censer in hand (or arms crossed). Turquoise was sacred to him. His symbols are flint, birds, and butterflies. Sometimes depicted as an old man.

City: Tenochtitlan. His festival was the New Fire Ceremony which took place every 52 years. Also had an annual festival as well lasting for 10 days where kids had their ears pierced and their godparents selected. Also, during the last New Fire Ceremony, the chest cavity didn’t light.

Offerings: First mouthful of food was flung to the hearth from each meal and his temples contained an ever burning sacred fire. During the New Fire Ceremony, in which a fire was lit in a sacrificial victim’s chest cavity. Humans sacrificed to him were usually burned after their hearts were removed, naturally. Also had animal offerings as well which were thrown in the fire every year on his festival.

13. Xipe Totec

Xipe Totec was the god of spring and renewal whose festival marked the coming of spring. However, guys sacrificed to him were killed in a lot of nasty ways which made the spring celebration gorier than a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Xipe Totec was the god of spring and renewal whose festival marked the coming of spring. However, guys sacrificed to him were killed in a lot of nasty ways which made the spring celebration gorier than a Quentin Tarantino movie.

AKA: “The Flayed Lord”

Origin: Was widely worshiped in Mesoamerica during the Early Post Classic period and was probably adopted by the Aztecs.

Domain: God of force, war, agriculture, vegetation, diseases, seasons, rebirth, hunting, trades, spring, liberation and lord of the East. Patron of goldsmiths and silversmiths.

Pro: Well, he symbolizes spring and renewal. Also, his name is easy to spell and pronounce as well as likes shiny things. Not to mention, his golden skin makes him not so bad looking for a flayed lord. Helped make the transition from winter to spring as well as guided young men into manhood. Said to cure sickness, especially eye ailments.

Con: He’s said to invent war and his sacrificial victims were killed in very nasty ways since he’s not just known as “The Flayed Lord” for nothing. Also depicted with wearing rotting human skin from a dead person.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as yellow and tan as well as wearing flayed skin and carrying a rattle staff. Sometimes seen carrying a shield and a container of seeds. Without his skin, he’s a golden god.

City: Tenochtitlan and Azcapotzalco. Had an annual festival on the Spring Equinox called Tlacaxipehualiztli.

Offerings: Well, victims were usually young men (soldiers, POWs, slaves, or thieves) who were forced to fight in a fixed gladiatorial match, had their hearts cut out of chests before being flayed with skin worn by warriors and priests, shot full of arrows like Boromir, had their throats slit, or were burned.

14. Coyolxauhqui

Coyolxauhqui was a powerful magician and head of the 400 Southern Stars. Yet, when her mother fell pregnant, she sought to kill but got dismembered and became the moon by a newborn Huitzilopochtli.

Coyolxauhqui was a powerful magician and head of the 400 Southern Stars. Yet, when her mother fell pregnant, she sought to kill but got dismembered and became the moon by a newborn Huitzilopochtli.

AKA: “Face Painted with Bells” and “Golden Bells”

Origin: She was probably an original Aztec goddess based on the story with her.

Domain:Goddess of the moon and leader of the Centzon Huitznauhtin. Possibly associated with the Milky Way.

Pro: She was a powerful magician and head of the 400 Southern Stars.

Con: Basically tried to murder her mom when she became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli (perhaps alleging that Coatlicue had been having an affair, which was punishable by death in Aztec society). Was dismembered and sent to the sky when Huitzilopochtli sprang from Coatlicue’s womb. Also, her name is a spelling bee nightmare.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted dismembered with a bells in her hair and skulls near her waist.

City: None as far as I know.

Offerings: I don’t think get gets any offerings or is even worshiped since she’s Huitzilopochtli’s adversary.

15. Metztli

 Metztli the moon deity can be depicted either gender in the Aztec mythos but most contemporary artists have him/her as female. Still, I used Metzli for the moon deity since I couldn't find a painting for Tecciztecatl since he/she may be a female manifestation (or nickname) of the lunar deity.

Metztli the moon deity can be depicted either gender in the Aztec mythos but most contemporary artists have him/her as female. Still, I used Metzli for the moon deity since I couldn’t find a painting for Tecciztecatl and Metzli may be a female manifestation (or nickname) of the lunar deity.

AKA: “Queen of Night” and “Old Mother”

Origin: May have been worshiped in Mesoamerica by the Otomi people before being added to the Aztec pantheon.

Domain: God/Goddess of the moon, night, and farmers. She/he could either be the same deity as Yohualticetl, Coyolxauhqui, or Tecciztecatl or possibly a combination of the 3. Sometimes said to be a lowly god of worms.

Pro: At least his/her name is simple to spell. The Otomi believed he/she sacrificed him/herself so darkness would end.

Con: Though he/she wanted to become the sun but feared its fire. Also, unlike Tonatiuh. he/she failed to sacrifice, him/herself to become the sun turned into the moon instead with face darkened by a rabbit.

Symbols and Motifs: Well, can be depicted as a man or woman and is associated with rabbits, snails, and worms. Said to carry the moon on his/her seashell.

City: None outside the Otomi.

Offerings: Probably doesn’t get any offerings except from the Otomi who saw her as a much more benevolent figure.

16. Xolotl

Xolotl is the Aztec psychopomp and Quetzalcoatl's brother who aided in his descent to Mictlan to steal the bones to create humanity. Still, despite his monstrous appearance, he's actually quite friendly.

Xolotl is the Aztec psychopomp and Quetzalcoatl’s brother who aided in his descent to Mictlan to steal the bones to create humanity. Still, despite his monstrous appearance, he’s actually quite friendly.

AKA: “The Twin”

Origin: Well, dog motifs have been seen a lot in Mesoamerican iconography so it would be no surprised if he predates the Aztecs in the region.

Domain: God of sunset, death, fire, lightning, sickness, darkness, bad luck, and deformities. Brother of Quetzalcoatl. Not a psychopomp in the Western sense but he did serve as the guide of the dead in their journey to Mictlan. The Mexican Hairless dog is named after him and so is the Mexican water salamander. Patron of the Mesoamerican ballgame. Dark personification of Venus the Evening Star.

Pro: Let’s just say he’s a lot nicer than his boss Mictlantecuhtli and his name is much easier to spell. He’s known to guard the sun when it goes into the Underworld at night as well as aid dead souls on their journey to Mictlan. He also assisted his brother Quetzalcoatl (though whether they’re twins or not depends on the story) in helping to create mankind at a considerable price.

Con: Still, if you were going for a dog headed psychopomp, he’d surely be beaten by Anubis in the looks department. Also constantly gets himself in trouble in which he gets scarred by his own lightning and beset by his own sickness. Not to mention, he may not be well liked by the gods in his own pantheon.

Symbols and Motifs: His forms are the Mexican Hairless dog and the water salamander. Usually depicted as an anthropomorphic Mexican Hairless with ragged ears and sometimes crippled. Sometimes portrayed as a skeleton or a monster animal with reversed feet.

City: None since he was the god of bad luck. Then again, he was the patron of the ball game. His festival was celebrated with a pole in August.

Offerings: Let me guess, he was usually honored with Mexican Hairless dog offerings. Not to mention, Aztec dead were usually buried with this dog for their 4 year journey to Mictlan. As for human sacrifices, I suppose he got a cut from the ball game though we’re not sure from which team.

17. Centeōtl

Centeōtl was one of the more important gods in the Aztec pantheon since he was the maize deity. Of course, despite being explicitly a man in Aztec myth (or sort of), he tends to be portrayed as a woman in contemporary art. This is one of the few paintings he isn't and is wearing his corn headdress.

Centeōtl was one of the more important gods in the Aztec pantheon since he was the maize deity. Of course, despite being explicitly a man in Aztec myth (or sort of), he tends to be portrayed as a woman in contemporary art. This is one of the few paintings he isn’t and is wearing his corn headdress.

AKA: “Dried Maize Still on the Cob,” “Maize Cob Lord,” and “Dried Ear of Maize”

Origin: May have started as a Post Classic Mayan maize god before adopted by the Aztecs. Actually he may have been worshiped earlier than that, possibly by the Olmecs.

Domain: God of maize, sustenance, and agriculture. Son of Tlazolteotl and Piltzintecuhtli (sometimes Xochiquetzal). Husband of Chicomecōātl.

Pro: Well, he was a very important deity since maize was a staple Aztec crop. Also, was one of the few fertility gods who didn’t require people being sacrificed in his name.

Con: There’s not much known about him and he doesn’t appear in many myths. Not to mention, he didn’t introduce maize to humans (that honor would go to Quetzalcoatl).

Symbols and Motifs: Usually portrayed as a young man (though the jury’s still out and some artists show him as a woman) with a yellow body. Sometimes portrayed with a maize headdress. His symbol is maize, naturally.

City: Had a maize planting festival in February sometimes consisting of naked women dancing and massive fights would break out.

Offerings: Usually had maize offerings to him as well as human sacrifice through bloodletting rituals.

18. Coatlicue

Coatlicue was a mother goddess best known to have Huitzilopochtli conceived through a ball of feathers to her other children's chagrin. Though seen as a loving mother, she tends to consume everything that lives explaining her hideous choice of fashion.

Coatlicue was a mother goddess best known to have Huitzilopochtli conceived through a ball of feathers to her other children’s chagrin. Though seen as a loving mother, she tends to consume everything that lives explaining her hideous choice of fashion.

AKA: “One with Serpent Skirt,” “The Mother of Gods,” “Goddess of Fire and Fertility, “Goddess of Life, Death and Rebirth”, and “Mother of the Southern Stars.”

Origin: She’s an original goddess in the Aztec pantheon since she’s usually listed as Huitzilopochtli’s mother.

Domain: Goddess of fertility, life, death, and rebirth. Patron of women who die in childbirth. Mother of the Southern Stars, Coyolxauhqui, and Huitzilopochtli (sometimes Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl). Associated with earth, fire, agriculture, governance, and warfare. Possibly inspired the image of Our Lady of Guadelupe after the Spanish Conquest as a Mexican figure.

Pro: Well, she was one of the few of Huitzilopochtli who wasn’t killed by him (or he actually cared about). Said to sacrifice herself in the beginning of present creation in some stories. Usually seen as a loving mother who told her son to make Coyolxauhqui the moon so she could see her every night.

Con: Let’s just say she had a hard time to explain herself when she got impregnated with Huitzilopochtli via a ball of feathers while sweeping a temple. She’s also an insatiable monster consuming everything that lives and a rather fearsome figure in Aztec art. Said to consume and rip human corpses.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as a woman with a snake skirt and a necklace made of human hearts, hands, and skulls. Her hands are typically covered in claws and exhibits hanging breasts. Sometimes portrayed as a ferocious ugly monster.

City: Mount Coatepec but has a statue in Tenochtitlan.

Offerings: Sacrificial victims to her were usually bludgeoned to death, decapitated, and had their hearts ripped out.

19. Chicomecōātl

Chicomecōātl  is the goddess of agriculture who presides over maize growth and harvest. Still, every September she does request for a young girl sacrificed as a thank you gift.

Chicomecōātl is the goddess of agriculture who presides over maize growth and harvest. Still, every September she does request for a young girl sacrificed as a thank you gift.

AKA: “Seven Snakes” “Princess of the Unripe Maize,” and “The Hairy One”

Origin: She may have been a Mayan maize goddess but we’re not exactly sure.

Domain: Goddess of agriculture, nourishment, and plenty during the Middle Culture period and wife of Centeōtl (sometimes Tezcatlipoca). Associated with energy, community, and strength. Presides over maize during the harvest.

Pro: Well, being the goddess of maize so she probably has an important job in the Aztec pantheon. Not to mention, her association with snakes is a rather positive one for the often vilified reptiles (since snakes tended to eat pests).

Con: We don’t know much about her other than being a maize goddess. Some say that she may the same deity as Centeōtl (though with the dual natures thing her presence may make more sense). Also demands a young girl sacrificed every September.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as a woman and her symbol was an ear of corn. Can be sometimes portrayed carrying corn, flowers, death, or the sun as a shield. Also associated with snakes.

City: Had a festival every September. Also tends to share festivals with her husband Centeōtl.

Offerings: Had a young girl representing her sacrificed every September. Her skin would be flayed and worn by a priest.

20. Ītzpāpālōtl

Itzpapalotl is the goddess of flint knives associated with darkness and death. Though her home may be a paradise for dead babies, she's a rather vicious goddess who's reputedly queen of  the notorious Tzitzimitl.

Itzpapalotl is the goddess of flint knives associated with darkness and death. Though her home may be a paradise for dead babies, she’s a rather vicious goddess who’s reputedly queen of the notorious Tzitzimitl.

AKA: “Obsidian Butterfly” “Bat Woman,” “Feminine Warrior,” “Dark Mother,” and “Clawed Butterfly”

Origin: She may have originated as the Goddess 2J from the Zapotec iconography.

Domain: Goddess of stone and flint knives and ruler of Tamoanchan, a paradise for dead babies and where humans were created. Associated with bats, birds, night, deaths, disasters, human sacrifice, war, and fire. Occasionally said to be the mother of Mixcoatl and sometimes the wife of Quetzalcoatl (in his Ehecatl manifestation). Patron of mothers who died in childbirth and dead infants. Said to stand for purification and rejuvenation of what is precious. Could possibly be the Queen of the Tzitzimitl.

Pro: Her abode is an earthly paradise for dead babies. Also seen as a warrior princess figure who has an invisibility cloak. Also said to be a Cihuateteo who may guide soldiers in battle as well as a Tzitzimitl known to protect women. Not to mention, she’s said to know how to dress.

Con: She’s also said to be one of the star demons, Tzitzimitl who are said to descend and eat people during a solar eclipse and attack young men at crossroads. And as a Cihuateteo, she may be said to kidnap children, cause sickness, and seduce men into sexual misbehavior. Once reputed to break the limbs of a sacred tree in paradise causing everything to wither and said to cause storms and drought. Said to be involved in the creation of Aztec booze and isn’t very pleasant at all. Could be seen as a beautiful seductive man eater in both sexual and gastronomical aspects.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as a beautiful pale woman in black but sometimes portrayed as a bat, a two headed deer, or skeleton with butterfly knife blade wings and jaguar claws. Associated with flint, eagles, bats, butterflies, knives, obsidian, vultures, and black.

City: None.

Offerings: I’m sure she had humans sacrificed to her because she’s the goddess of flint and knives used to perform them, especially during a solar eclipse.

21. Cihuacoatl

Cihuacoatl was the Aztec goddess who presided over battles and childbirth as well head of the Cihuateteo. However, she's also known to abandon her son Mixcoatl and later regret it as a possibly inspiration for La Lllorona.

Cihuacoatl was the Aztec goddess who presided over battles and childbirth as well head of the Cihuateteo and helped Quetzalcoatl create humanity. However, she’s also known to abandon her son Mixcoatl and later regret it as a possibly inspiration for La Lllorona.

AKA: “Snake Woman”

Origin: She may have been a Toltec goddess before being adopted in the Aztec pantheon.

Domain: Goddess of motherhood, fertility, midwives, and sweat baths. Patroness of Culhuacan and protectoress of the Chalmeca people. Sometimes mother of Mixcoatl and linked with La Llorona. Patroness of women who died in childbirth and queen of the Cihuateteo.

Pro: Helped Quetzalcoatl create the current race of humanity by grinding the bones of the previous ones. Said to predict disasters as well as presided over births and battles.

Con: Said to abandon her son Mixcoatl at a crossroads at Lake Xochimilco and was said to weep for him only to find a sacrificial knife. Was also known to haunt crossroads at night and abduct children, cause sickness, and seduce men.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as an old woman carrying spears and a warrior’s shield though sometimes portrayed as a young woman carrying flowers or a skeleton. Associated with maize, brooms, and snakes.

City: Culhuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Lake Xochimilco.

Offerings: Human sacrifice victims were women offered to her usually had their hearts ripped from chests and were beheaded.

22. Mixcoatl

Mixcoatl is the god of the hunt who created fire with a clever cosmic feat of engineering that has never been repeated. However, his family tree is a real tangled mess.

Mixcoatl is the god of the hunt who created fire with a clever cosmic feat of engineering that has never been repeated. However, his family tree is a real tangled mess.

AKA: “Deer Sandal” and “Cloud Serpent”

Origin: Patron deity of the Otomi and Chichimecs as well as other Mesoamerican cultures. May have originally been a Toltec warrior who was deified or possibly a Mixtec god.

Domain: God of war, the Milky Way, fire, stars, heavens, North Star, and the hunt. Sometimes a manifestation of Tezcatlipoca or Xipe Totec, son of Cihuacoatl or Ītzpāpālōtl

Pro: Name is easy to spell. Said to create fire for the Aztec people with a clever bit of cosmic engineering no one has managed to duplicate called the Cosmic Fire Drill.

Con: Said to have killed 400 of this Northern Stars siblings and his sister with 3 of his brothers. Did nothing to prevent his 400 Southern Star sons with from being killed (though that might’ve been out of not wanting to mess with Huitzilopochtli). As Quetzalcoatl’s father, he was killed by his 3 brothers. Oh, and how he knocked up Chimalma involved shooting an arrow between her legs while she was naked and consent appeared questionable. Not to mention, his manifestations and relations are relatively confusing so you might want to avoid doing his family tree.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted in a black mask with candy cane stripes on his body and long hair. Equipped with a bow and arrow as well as a net or basket.

City: Had a festival in October. Also worshiped in Huejotzingo and Tlaxcala.

Offerings: Well, his honoring had hunters bleed themselves, offer their game during his festival, and have someone sacrificed in his temple.

23. Chimalma

Though Chimalma is best known for guiding the Aztecs from Aztlan, being Huitzilopochtli's shield bearer, and mother of Quetzelcoatl, she's little known for much else. Still, she either conceived the Feathered Serpent through swallowing a jade or sleeping with Mixcoatl after he shot an arrow between her legs.

Though Chimalma is best known for guiding the Aztecs from Aztlan, being Huitzilopochtli’s shield bearer, and mother of Quetzelcoatl, she’s little known for much else. Still, she either conceived the Feathered Serpent through swallowing a jade or sleeping with Mixcoatl after he shot an arrow between her legs.

AKA: “Shield Hand”

Origin: She may have been a Toltec goddess or a deity of the Chichimeca.

Domain: Goddess of fertility, life, death, and rebirth. Best known as the mother of Quetzalcoatl (though stories of his conception are a bit crazy).

Pro: Accompanied the Aztecs from their homeland of Atzlan as well as served as shield bearer to Huitzilopochtli.

Con: There’s not much about her and she’s really not known for much else besides being the mother to Quetzalcoatl.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as a woman. Her symbols are an arrow, shield, and jade.

City: None.

Offerings: I’m not sure she had any offerings.

24. Toci

Toci was the goddess of cleanliness, health, and midwives.  Still, on her special time, a woman would be sacrificed by being beheaded and flayed.

Toci was the goddess of cleanliness, health, and midwives. Still, on her special time, a woman would be sacrificed by being beheaded and flayed.

AKA: “Our Grandmother,” “Mother of the Gods,” “Woman of Discord,” and “Heart of the Earth”

Origin: She’s most likely an original Aztec deity as far as I could tell.

Domain: Goddess of healing, sweat baths, hygiene, and midwives. May be an aspect of Tlazolteotl. Was once a princess of Culhuacan before she was ordered to be flayed and sacrificed instead of offered in marriage to an Aztec nobleman, thanks to Huitzilopochtli. Associated with war.

Pro: Name is easy to spell and pronounce. Also, she’s a healer who emphasizes hygiene and cleanliness.

Con: Let’s just say she has a demand for women to be sacrificed in her honor and not screaming, despite going through the process herself.

Symbols and Motifs: Usually depicted as a woman with cotton spools on her headdress and a black mark on her cheek. Though said to be old she’s not usually portrayed as such. Her symbol is a broom, shield, and arrows.

City: Ochpaniztli was her festival time that precipitated a sweeping frenzy.

Offerings: In her honor, a woman was either beheaded or had her heart cut out then flayed. Usually she’d be lured through a deception that she was about to see the ruler.

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 42 – The American West: Indian Wars


Kevin Costner’s 1990 Dances with Wolves is a film showing Native Americans in a more sympathetic light than in years previously as well as shows some of the landscapes of the Plains in breathtaking view. Still, let’s just say the Lakota speaking Sioux treat this as an unintentional comedy since Kevin Costner had no idea that there are separate male and female pronunciations and styles. Still, he probably would’ve done better if he hired a male and female Lakotah translator instead of just a female one. TTI states: “The overall effect for Lakotah-speaking audiences was a bunch of Klingon warriors talking like a ladies’ Saturday afternoon tea social.” Also, Plains Indian buffalo hunts go a lot differently than shown in the film and Pawnee should really sue for slander despite being the Sioux’s enemies.

The history of the American West has been one of the most filmed eras in American history. There have been countless films pertaining to the era of the untamed wilderness, savage Indian tribes, legendary outlaws, and all types of murder and mayhem starring the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. The American frontier in the 19th century has been the inspiration of many legends and myths that have lasted into the ages. Westerns have shaped our imagination what this period was like which usually contains beautiful scenery of canyons, mountains, desert, and other national park sites as well as lots and lots of violence. In some ways, it serves as part travelogue and part gorefest if its directed by Sergio Leone or Sam Peckinpah. Still, sometimes you may have cowboys as the good guys fighting against the influences of business and banditry. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between the good or the bad. Still, westerns have played a very influential role in American culture which we can all identify. However, westerns tend to show the mythological image of the American West than the reality.

Of course, the relations between the white settlers and the Native Americans wouldn’t be a happy one. From the 1840s on, settlers have packed up and moved out West whether it was to California, Oregon, Utah, Kansas, or New Mexico. However, one problem was that there were already people living on the frontier over generations. Actually they had been living there for thousands of years but the white people didn’t give a shit and just settled down before driving the Indians from their ancestral homes onto the reservation. Well, at least the US government did as well as committed a series of human rights abuses that most Americans would like to forget. Nevertheless, the Indian Wars would give us legends like George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Cochise, Kit Carson, and Crazy Horse. In movies, Indians could be portrayed as the villains, victims, forces of nature, or others. The military could be seen as heroes or villains. Still, these movies do present their array of historical inaccuracies which I shall list accordingly.


Indian attacks were a common site on wagon trains and stagecoaches. (Indians knew better than to attack stagecoaches and wagon trains. If they were present on wagon trains, their conduct was peaceful and they served as guides and traders. Attacking whites wasn’t good business.)

Indians surrounded covered wagons and rode around and around to allow the settlers to shoot them off their pretty dappled ponies. (This wouldn’t happen a lot because most Indians would never attack settlers on covered wagons. Nevertheless, Comanches were studied in European military schools because they were known to have the finest light cavalry in the world.)

Intermarrying was very frequent between Indians and white settlers but they strangely they simply didn’t seem to get along. (I’m just to alluding to the fact Native Americans in old western movies were played by white actors.)

All western Indians wear plains style costumes and love to don on the feather bonnet headdresses. (Actually, only high ranking Plains Indians wore the outfits.)

Whenever Indians weren’t attacking white settlers, they were either smoking a peace pipe or hunting buffalo. They may have also communicated using smoke signals and sign language yet always used a bow and arrow as weapons.

Indians usually scalped white settlers or tied them to a totem pole if captured. (Yes, Indians scalped people and we can’t dispute that. However, only the Pacific Northwest tribes had totem poles and they usually used them for very different purposes like clan identification and lineages, stories, or notable events. Sometimes they can be used as welcome signs, vessels to store remains of dead ancestors, or as a way to ridicule somebody. They were not used to tie prisoners.)

The Sioux referred to themselves as the Lakota. (No, they pretty much refer to themselves as the Sioux or Dakota, well sort of. Also, not all Sioux are Lakota.)


Pawnee Indians would attack American settlements. (They were allies for the US government.)

In white man-Indian woman relationships, the Indian woman is usually an Indian princess who marries into the white man’s culture. (Not every Indian woman who married a white man was an Indian princess, which is a strictly European concept. Nor would most Indian princesses or other Indian women assimilate into the white man’s culture but in many cases the opposite would happen, especially in French Canada {Sacajawea’s marriage is a prime example of this}. Nor would marrying an Indian woman bring civilization to her people {though there were Indians who did convert to western ways like the Cherokee}. Rather it would end up leading to mass slaughter and destruction of a culture.)

The Cheyenne were an Indian tribe in the Rocky Mountains. (They were a Plains tribe.)

Crazy Horse and George Armstrong Custer met face to face. (They never met in person. Also, given Crazy Horse’s relative anonymity, it’s unlikely he would’ve been recognized had he been captured at Little Big Horn. Heck, this guy went to great lengths never to be photographed for God’s sake. Sitting Bull may have been more appropriate.)

Crazy Horse was willing to give all Indian lands to the whites except the Black Hills. (Crazy Horse would’ve made no such deal. Still, perhaps the least offensive thing about Crazy Horse’s character in They Died with Their Boots On is that he’s played by Anthony Quinn {a lot of Hispanics have indigenous ancestry and a lot of Native Americans are part white so his portrayal isn’t as offensive as it seems. I mean the guy’s Mexican and most likely had Native ancestry}.)

Sioux Indians could bring down a stampeding buffalo with single arrow shots. (Sorry, Kevin Costner, but bow hunting doesn’t work that way. In real life, the hunters would have to track the wounded animals, sometimes for miles, until they bled to death. This could take hours or days. Let’s just say that if Dances with Wolves depicted an actual Indian bison hunt, it would be pretty boring.)

Indians mostly used bows and arrows as a weapon of choice. (They used guns, too, and there 25 types of firearms found at Little Bighorn.)

The Sioux brought down stampeding buffalo with single arrow shots. (Sorry, Kevin Costner, but bow hunting doesn’t work this way. In reality, hunters would have to track the wounded animals, sometimes for miles, until they bled out.)

The Sioux weren’t familiar with the white man prior to the American Civil War. (Yes, they were. In fact, in 1862, the Dakota Sioux had fought whites in Western Minnesota with 800 whites dead and 38 Sioux hanged. Kicking Bird would’ve known about this.)

Indians would always constantly attack settlements as well as kidnap or kill white settlers. (Sometimes this would happen but not a whole lot. However, children who were kidnapped by Indians would usually be assimilated in the tribe within a year contrary to the Natalie Wood character in The Searchers {God, I hate that movie}. Perhaps that bastard John Wayne should’ve just left her with the Indians because she would’ve been able to shake off her Indian language and habits she had acquired over the last five years. Seriously, Natalie Wood probably wouldn’t have lived happily ever after.)

Indians terrorized whites for personal gratification and blood lust. (Usually it was more due to something like building a farm on their traditional hunting ground if it pertained to settlers in the case of Cynthia Ann Parker. Still, unlike Dances with Wolves, they wouldn’t usually adopt a white man into their tribe. Nevertheless, while Indians did raid settlements they were usually small farms where they didn’t stick around very long and Indian massacres on whites were the exception rather than the rule. Besides, Indians knew that raiding heavy populated areas was just asking for trouble.)

Indians were victims of ruthless whites. (Yes, this is true but to a point but they weren’t simply victims and were just as much authors of their own destiny who dealt in American expansion the way they thought would be best for their societies. According to History Banter: “After the Civil War, the United States actually adopted a peaceful policy in dealing with Plains Indians. There were only a 100 thousand or so of them remaining in 1865, little threat to a nation that had just fielded an army of over a million soldiers. So in an attempt to foster peace, the U.S. assigned Quakers to deal with Plains’ tribes…..Quaker agents went onto Indian lands where they tried to convince local Indians not to raid American settlements. At the same time, it was the Quakers responsibility to prevent whites from attacking Indians. Many Indians realized that the Quakers were effective in this latter duty, but were not so adept at preventing their raids on American settlements. So, the Indians raided and hid behind the Quakers’ authority when angry whites came for revenge. Eventually, cries from the frontier about the Quakers reached Washington and this peaceful system was thrown out the door in favor of a more aggressive means of dealing with Plains Indians.” Still, they didn’t really need Kevin Costner to help them.)


The 7th Cavalry contained only American soldiers. (There were plenty of European immigrants in that regiment.)

The 7th Cavalry charged into Little Bighorn with their swords drawn. (They didn’t have their sabers with them.)

Black and white US Army soldiers fought side by side. (As long as the black soldiers were enlisted men and white soldiers were officers.)

The story of Fort Apache unfolded like the Battle of Little Bighorn transplanted in Arizona. (Not really. Also, the fort wasn’t named Fort Apache five years until after Chief Cochise’s death contrary to the John Ford movie. Until then it was named Camp Ord or Camp Apache. Still, John Ford, you could’ve had the resident Indian chief be Geronimo or Cochise’s son Naiche who not many people know about. Oh, and the military clash happened in 1881 and not the 1870s.)

George Armstrong Custer:

George Armstrong Custer was a flamboyant, arrogant, idiotic, and bigoted coward who got what he deserved at Little Bighorn. (Custer was flamboyant and probably wasn’t the best soldier or a hero at Little Bighorn but he definitely wasn’t a coward nor a bigot either {at least by 19th century standards}. He was a hero at Gettysburg for thwarting a Confederate cavalry attack from the rear led by J. E. B. Stuart which was key to Lee’s battle plan, led to Philip Sheridan giving him and his wife the Appomattox surrender table as a gift. Still he was a glory seeker willing to sacrifice his men for his own personal glory and was very cruel to them, which is why his men didn’t like him. His units suffered high casualty rates in the Civil War {his division had the highest number of casualties in the Union Army}, sometimes to horrendous levels and he was once suspended for a year for being AWOL, misappropriation of funds meant for provisions for reservation Indians, and during his Reconstruction duty in Texas nearly escaped being fragged by his own troops {the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry who had resented his attempts on discipline}. He also liked to promote his image, was very reckless in battle, and had greatly wished to regain his rank after having being general in the Civil War. Yet, he was a fearless and an aggressive soldier, wasn’t afraid of using unconventional means to accomplish his goals, a loving husband {though he wasn’t entirely faithful}, and he once refuse to massacre starving, exhausted, and defenseless soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia despite Sheridan ordering him to. He was probably more of an anti-hero than anything. Still, as an officer of the US Army killing Indians was part of his job more or less. The general historical consensus has him as a colorful and capable cavalry commander who just let his ego override his judgment in attacking a force that vastly outnumbered his.)

All of George Armstrong Custer’s men died at Little Bighorn. (His battalion consisting of C, E, F, I, L companies were wiped out. However, the remaining seven companies under the charge of his subordinates Major Reno and Captain Benteen were not. Thus, out of his 586 men only 262 were killed including himself while 55 were wounded. Still, the Battle of Little Bighorn lasted an hour and “the Last Stand” wasn’t a blaze of glory either. Nevertheless, splitting his force may not have been the best thing to do but it saved many of his men’s lives.)

George Armstrong Custer was a passionate defender for Indian rights. (He was just as much willing to kick the Indians off their land as any other white man. He had also staged a massacre of Cheyenne families at the Washita as well as been fighting Indians in Kansas and in the Yellowstone Valley. However, he didn’t believe Indian genocide was a viable solution. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the only one to wage war against the Indians or commit crimes against indigenous people, attack Indian villages, or chase military glory.)

George Armstrong Custer took a break from the army after the American Civil War until he was sent to Fort Abraham Lincoln. (He never left the army and had served in Texas, Kansas, and in the Yellowstone Valley.)

George Armstrong Custer was offered $10,000 to serve as president of a railroad company. (He was actually offered $10,000 in gold {as well as requested a leave of absence} to serve as an Adjutant General in Benito Juarez’s army in Mexico.)

George Armstrong Custer drank after the American Civil War. (He had been sober since his 1862 where he made a humiliating spectacle of himself.)

Custer’s promotion to general was an administration mistake. (It wasn’t and it was 3 days before Gettysburg in the command of volunteers.)

George Armstrong Custer entered West Point as a privileged rich boy. (He grew up in an ordinary working class household and was at West Point on scholarship. Contrary to They Died with Their Boots On, it was Custer’s socioeconomic background which was the main reason why Judge Bacon didn’t want Custer to marry his daughter, not because Custer insulted him in a bar.)

George Armstrong Custer promised he would defend the Black Hills for the Sioux. (He never made this promise and actually started a gold rush to the Black Hills.)

George Armstrong Custer was killed by arrows. (Sorry, but Custer didn’t go down like Boromir. He was actually killed by Indian gunfire. Not to mention, it’s said that the Indians may have had better repeating rifles than Custer’s men did. I know most depictions have Indians only using bows and arrows. But yes, Indians did have guns which they obtained through trade with white settlers. Also, he had cut his long flowing locks before he began his last campaign so him having long hair at Little Bighorn is pure Hollywood. Oh, and he was wearing buckskins at the battle like Errol Flynn in They Died with Their Boots On instead of a blue military uniform like Richard Mulligan in Little Big Man.)

George Armstrong Custer was sent back to Washington to a congressional hearing over one of his own infractions and had to persuade Ulysses S. Grant to send him back to the 7th Cavalry. (This never happened. However, Custer did go on a trip to Washington and did sit in a congressional hearing but it was over a kickback scandal involving US Secretary of War William Belknap, Grant’s brother Orville {one of the most embarrassing presidential siblings to date}, and traders at Army posts in Indian Country who were charging troops double on what they would’ve paid for the same goods in Bismarck. His testimony led to Belknap getting impeached, which caused a media sensation. Oh, and Custer and Grant didn’t get along since not only Custer testified against his own brother and War secretary over corruption charges, he also arrested his son Frederick for drunkenness earlier, and had written magazine articles criticizing his peace policy toward the Indians. Still, Grant wouldn’t order for Custer’s arrest or removal of command until Custer left Washington without his permission {though Grant had turned him down three times for a personal meeting, following Sherman’s advice}. Oh, and he didn’t get his command back until he, General Terry, and Philip Sheridan persuaded Grant to do so. Most of the intrigue is absent from They Died with Their Boots On, which is kind of a shame.)

George Armstrong Custer received a Civil War Campaign medal. (The first of these medals were issued in 1909. Custer died in 1876. Still, he probably should’ve had one though.)

George Armstrong Custer had dark hair and was clean shaven. (He had flowing light brown hair or perhaps blond as well as sported a mustache. Yet, in The Santa Fe Trail, he’s played by Ronald Reagan of all people. Say what you want about They Died with Their Boots On but at least Australian actor Errol Flynn made a fairly decent Custer in comparison. Also, he didn’t graduate at the same time as J. E. B. Stuart who was six years older than him.)

George Armstrong Custer met his wife while a student at West Point. (He met Libby the year after he graduated in 1862 and they married two years later.)

George Armstrong Custer was a general during the Battle of Little Big Horn. (He was a lieutenant colonel and was only a brevet general during the American Civil War, which disappeared when the war was over. Still, after the war he was demoted to captain but he did rise to lieutenant colonel by his own efforts.)

Libby Custer was General Philip Sheridan’s niece. (They weren’t even related to each other and there’s no evidence that she even knew the guy independently of her husband’s association with him. Still, unlike in the movie They Died with Their Boots On, George Armstrong Custer was actually one of Sheridan’s favorite officers though.)


Brit Johnson was a white scout. (He was black. Still, his story was the inspiration for The Searchers, in which his character was played by John Wayne. Also, unlike the John Wayne character, Johnson wasn’t a Civil War veteran, didn’t fight for the Confederacy, or ever held racist views. Not to mention, only one child from his family was killed in the Indian attack and never rekidnapped any hostage who the Indians had adopted and married off. He was a black slave for his journey started in 1864 and ended after the Civil War was over. Also, his relations with the Indians were peaceful and managed to get his family back and others through negotiations. Still, Johnson’s story doesn’t have a good end for even though he did return home and tried to set himself up as a freed man, he and his ex-slave business partners were killed by Indians and it’s impossible to say who.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 17 – Pre-Columbian America


Of course, in one of Mel Gibson’s attempts to bring history to life, here’s his vision of Pre-Columbian America, specifically the Mayans. Still, though the architecture may be historically acceptable, they look pretty drab by most Mayan standards. If these buildings really looked as they did in Mayan times, they’d be painted in bright colors so they could easily be seen like most buildings in Latin America or Southern United States. Also, they Mayans were much more than a civilization that practiced human sacrifice which Mel Gibson fails to show. Not to mention, this movie also contains a heavy Eurocentric bias by including Spanish Conquistadors but that’s beside the point.

Just because the continents of North and South America had to be discovered by Europeans, doesn’t mean that there’s no history in the Americas to be told. While only few societies in the New World had a written language, the Americas had plenty of civilizations in the Pre-Columbian era nonetheless. After all, indigenous peoples had been living in North and South America for thousands of years before the arrival of Columbus explained by the presence of archaeological evidence. Of course, when it comes to movies set in Pre-Columbian America, Hollywood mostly centers on the Mayans since we know more about them than any other such civilization at this time, they had a written language which has been preserved, and that the Mayan people still survive to this day. There can’t really be a historically accurate movie on Pre-Columbian civilizations because there are things we simply don’t know about their cultures and archaeological evidence can only go so far. Still, there are plenty of historical accuracies in movies set in Pre-Columbian America that even archaeologists can say which may consist of putting the wrong buildings in the wrong locations as part of the wrong civilizations, having people speak the wrong language, or what not. Sometimes Pre-Columbian culture on film can consists of mish-mash between cultures. Still, I list some here.

The Mayans:

The Mayans ransacked a village of their own people for sacrificial victims and slaves. (Captives were taken during war and there is not much evidence that they ever did this.)

The Mayans sacrificed captives in mass quantities. (No, that was the Aztecs who did that. When it came to human sacrifice, the Mayans were into quality not quantity. Besides, to the Maya, human sacrifice was a very personal thing.)

The Mayans sacrificed almost anyone. (Again, it’s the Aztecs. The Mayans preferred to sacrifice royals and elites {preferably adversarial} taken from war, which led to a lot of wars in the process. Oh, and there were rituals pertaining to self-sacrifice involving a Mayan king having to draw blood through a barbed thread at either the tongue or his genitals. The 1960s Mayan movie with Yul Brynner is actually more accurate in its treatment of Mayan human sacrifice than the one directed by Mel Gibson since the character trying to avoid sacrifice is a chief who’d be a more likely candidate {despite that he’s the leader of a tribe from Mississippi}.)

The Mayans were a savage people with reckless sewage treatment, widespread slavery, bad rave dancing, and a real lust of human blood. (They were also very concerned with hygiene. They had remarkable astronomy with their calendar being especially good at predicting eclipses and were able to precisely measure planetary orbits. They also had advances in medicine, agronomy, and mathematics. Also, all the Mayan buildings were built by free men who participating in such projects as a civic duty. Yet, we don’t know whether these people did it because they were forced to, as a way of using labor to pay taxes, or voluntarily. Then there was the Mayan ball game which was a combination of basketball, lacrosse, and rollerball, in which either the captain of the winning or losing team was sacrificed, we’re not sure which. Oh, and they were probably one of the most sophisticated Pre-Columbian civilizations of all time, which was an ordered society of maize, kings, and gods, as well as flourished for a thousand years. Nevertheless, they were no violent than other civilizations even if they did practice human sacrifice.)

The Mayans were awed by solar eclipses. (They were accomplished astronomers and therefore, the Mayan elites would’ve known it was coming and planned a ritual all around it.)

The Mayan civilization collapsed with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s. (The Maya Civilization collapsed in 900 A. D. which was 600 years before the Spanish ever set foot when their cities were abandoned {yet it’s possible that some of the Mayan cities did survive}. Of course, Spanish disease killed many of the Mayan people, but that’s beside the point  since it took almost 200 years to subdue the people who were left from their remaining cities {while the Aztec Empire fell within a year}. Still, as to what caused the Mayan collapse, many have their own theories like drought, deforestation, disease, overpopulation, warfare, social disruption.)

Mayan villagers were hunters and gatherers in the deep jungles of Meso America. (Actually they would’ve been farmers on manicured land with a very structured social and economic system. Oh, and they had crops like cacao, tomatoes, corn, and avocados long before the Europeans did.)

The Mayans thought 2012 would be the end of the world. (The Mayans never equated the end of their calendar with the end of the world. Also, it’s 2014.)

Mesoamerican jungle people were never aware of Mayan pyramids. (They would’ve since these structures were never too far from anywhere in the Mayan world, occupied or abandoned. If you lived 6 to 12 miles outside a large Mayan community, you would’ve certainly have seen one since such structures were usually 20 kilometers away from anywhere in the Mayan world.)

Lots of Mayans wore jade. (Jade was only reserved for royalty since it was a symbol of royal power and wealth.)

The Mayans were mankind’s earliest civilization. (Actually the Mesopotamians were as far as the historic record goes. And in Meso America, the Olmecs. Also, the Olmecs and the Zapotecs had writing before the Mayans but not much of it survives.)

Mayan sacrificial victims were painted blue and were sacrificed on a column shaped stone. (The Mayans would never paint their victims blue. Rather they would adorn them with special quetzel plumed headdresses. And it’s the Aztecs who were known to sacrifice victims this way, not the Maya. Also, the Mayans used decapitation, heart excision, dismemberment, hanging, disembowelment, skin flaying, skull splitting, throwing kids in wells, and burning.)

The Mayans relished torturing their captives. (Not necessarily, but their victims were their enemies suffering a long tortuous death and being carefully disassembled. These guys were competition and a Mayan ruler may get something to add to his kingdom.)

The Mayas didn’t have libraries. (They did, but the Spanish destroyed most of their books that there are only three or four left {and one may be a fake}.)

The Mayans were tall, slim, ripped, tan, and very European looking. (The actual Mayans were shorter and stocky but I was just ripping off a 1960s movie called Kings of the Sun starring Yul Brynner.)

The Mayans visited the US Gulf Coast. (Well, it could’ve happened since the the Mississippians did grow Mesoamerican crops like corn, beans, and squash but we can’t be sure.)

Mayan kings were bystanders in human sacrifice rituals while two priests did the actual work. (He was usually the central figure who conducted rituals in front of a large audience in a major ceremonial fashion. He was not only the political leader in his Mayan city-states, but a religious one as well.)

Mayan villagers lived in stick huts in the wild jungle. (They would’ve lived in homes with stone foundations near the cleared plazas or in surrounding villages near the capital. Housing on lots were planned and intensively managed spaces where fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants were grown and where some domesticated animals were raised.)

The Mayans were sun worshipers and called themselves “sun people.” (They had a pantheon of gods with the Maize god as the most important deity because he signified the change of the seasons.)

Some Mayan tribes used swords made out of wood or metal. (They usually used obsidian for knives which were very sharp.)

Aztecs and The Triple Alliance Empire:

The Aztecs were a homogenous people. (The Aztec Empire was run by a triple Alliance of three Nahuatl city states Tenochtitlan, Tlateloco, and Tlacopan near the islets of Lake Texcoco. Oh, and they called themselves the Mexica who may have came to Mexico during the 13th century from Arizona {oh, the irony}.)

The main Aztec city was situated in the jungle. (The Aztec Triple Alliance ran their empire from Tenochtitlan which was built upon a lake in a the middle of the Valley of Mexico. When the Spanish arrived, it looked like a Pre-Columbian Venice with a network of canals and bridges. Of course, no filmmaker has a budget to recreate this.)

The Aztecs used gold coins. (They more likely used cocoa beans as currency than gold coins. Besides, Aztec gold coins never existed in Pre-Columbian America.)

The Aztecs mummified their dead. (High-ranking Aztecs were cremated. However, the Andean peoples certainly did.)

South America:

Nazca buildings were made out of stone. They also built their tombs on hills and were mummified in a fashion depicted by Francisco de Orellana. (Nazcas built with adobe, had their tombs in the ground in flat areas, and mummified people by hunkering their knees against their chests before wrapping them.)

Peruvian coastal tribes used blowpipes with poisoned darts. (Amazon jungle tribes did.)

Meso and South America:

All Pre-Columbian cultures in Meso and South America look basically the same. (Despite the fact that many of these societies existed in different environments and have different styles of art and architecture.)

The groups of people who lived in Meso and South America were the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas. (There were many other indigenous groups who lived in the same areas.)

All Pre-Columbian cultures in Meso and South America lived in the jungle. (They lived in all kinds of environments and climates such as deserts, mountains, the coasts, and other areas.)

All Meso American buildings and structures were of just plain rock. (Actually they were painted in bright colors like the works so they could be more visible.)

The Meso and South American Indians sacrificed to Quetzalcoatl more often than any other god. (He’s perhaps the only god in many of his pantheons who didn’t ask for it and abhorred the practice {making him the most bloodless and most merciful god in the pantheon whose sacrifices only comprised of birds, snakes, tortillas, and butterflies}. So it’s very unlikely that even the Aztecs would sacrifice to him. Filmmakers probably use him the most as a god to sacrifice to because his name is easier to pronounce and he’s the most famous in his pantheon anyway {he’s probably the only Mesoamerican god most people know}. Also, the Plumed Serpent is a cool nickname. As for the heart ripping out of a person’s chest and tossing the body down the pyramid stairs, that’s a festive sacrifice for the Aztec war god, Huitzilopochtli, whose name is a mouthful and is nicknamed the Left-Handed Hummingbird, yeah.)

Mesoamericans made and used crystal skulls. (Every crystal skull ever found turned out to be a fake.)

The Meso and South American Indians didn’t use metal weapons because they didn’t have the technology. (They actually did but the fact they didn’t use metal weapons was more out of personal choice because the aim of war for them was to take captives to sacrifice later, not to kill people. Also, they used metals for their figurines but they didn’t see it worth much.)

The Meso and South American Indians bound their infants’ heads with a rope to honor their gods. (It was in accordance with their beauty standards. Also, they liked elongated noses like Adrien Brody’s.)

Quecha was spoken in what is now Mexico. (It’s an Andes language spoken throughout the Inca Empire.)

Meso and South American women walked around in scantily clad bikinis or bare breasts. (No, they didn’t. Many of them simply wore a decorated cloth with holes for the head and arms. Also, many of them were shown in artwork as rather conservatively dressed with their breasts covered.)

Meso and South American Indians lusted after gold as a precious metal. (Mayas used cacao beans as currency, the Aztecs valued feathers and jade much more than gold, and the Incas only saw gold as some metal to make a drinking vessel out of. Let’s just say the Mesoamericans would be more pissed off at you eating their chocolate than melting any of their gold jewelry.)

Meso and South American Indians viewed white people as gods. (No Inca or Aztec Emperor ever mistaken a Spanish Conquistador as a god. Their giving gifts to the Spaniards was more about showing superiority and good ol’ sacred hospitality. The Spanish just assumed this.)

Meso and South American priests were always bloodthirsty men wanting to sacrifice nubile virgins to their dinosaur gods. (Sure they were the ones doing the human sacrifices most of the time. Yet, they usually viewed it as part of their job and most of their rituals do include some sort of sacrifice. They believed that such sacrifices sustained the universe and many of their stories dealt with the importance of sacrifice. Also, most Pre-Columbian sacrificial victims were men.)

Meso and South American Pre-Columbian artifacts are usually cursed. (I’m sure this isn’t the case.)

North America:

The Indians were noble savages who worshiped nature and cared for the environment. (This is all bullshit for there were many Native American societies that farmed and built structures like houses, temples, and monuments, even in North America.)

The New World was mostly unpopulated, with Native settlements few and far between. (Truth is, the Europeans were keen on spreading diseases they were already immune to {very successfully, I might add}. The native population was decimated by bugs like Smallpox. These sicknesses spread so fast, that when settlers moved west, they found a fraction of the population that once thrived there.)

Native Americans were a backward, childlike people who talked like Tonto. (Never mind the working economy, clearly defined values and morals, deep religion, highly developed language, and well developed justice system. Yes, Native American society was that complex, just ask the Iroquois Nations and the Cherokee.)

The Inuit always wore parkas, carved trinkets, lived in igloos, went fishing with harpoon, traveled by sled and huskies, and ate cod liver oil. They also kissed by rubbing each other’s noses together. (It might have been true at one time but not during the 1920s.)

Indian princesses were gorgeous. (There had to be ugly Indian princesses.)

Mayans and Mississippians spoke similar languages. (Their languages were from completely separate families like the Mayan and the Algonquin.)

The Mississippian peoples lived in tepees and hunted buffalo. (I don’t think this is very likely since it’s more suggestive of Plains Indians. Also, the Mississippian people were an agrarian society as far as I know. But who knows what they lived in anyway. The Mississippians were a mound building culture, however. Yet, I’m sure the Mayans didn’t build pyramids there.)

The Inuit wore metal sunglasses over their eyes. (They didn’t, yet there’s a movie poster of an Inuit who does.)

Indians planted corn in rows. (They didn’t plant corn that way.)

Indian corn ears were far larger than a human hand. (Native corn were about the size of a thumb, rarely ever bigger. Large corn was a product of seed selection and genetic research mostly done since the 1860s.)

Iroquois settled on the Ottawa River. (It was Algonquin territory.)

Indians fought during the winter. (Native war parties usually stayed home during the winter.)

Iroquois gratuitously killed their young prisoners. (They would never have killed a young prisoner who could’ve been adopted into a family to replace a fallen kinsman.)

Indian guards raped female prisoners. (Well, Mary Rowlandson did testify she was raped by one during the Indian Wars in Massachusetts, but there was a strict taboo against raping war prisoners throughout the native East. The Iroquois in particular eschewed sex with future adopted kinswomen.)

Iroquois guards were posted on a scaffold tower on cold of dead winter nights. (No Iroquois guard was.)

Most Indian captives were killed. (Indian captives were mainly adopted and kept alive.)

Indian captives were led by leather thongs around their necks and fully dressed. (They were naked when taken prisoner.)