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Chalchiuhtlicue, unknown Aztec artist, 1200-1521, gray basalt, red ochre. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2009.33

Chalchiuhtlicue [t͡ʃaːɬt͡ʃiwˈt͡ɬikʷeː] (from chālchihuitl [t͡ʃaːɬˈt͡ʃiwit͡ɬ] "jade" and cuēitl [kʷeːit͡ɬ] "skirt") (also spelled Chalciuhtlicue, Chalchiuhcueye, or Chalcihuitlicue) ("She of the Jade Skirt") is an Aztec deity of water, rivers, seas, streams, storms, and baptism. Chalchiuhtlicue is associated with fertility and she is the patroness of childbirth.[1] Chalchiuhtlicue was highly revered in Aztec culture at the time of the Spanish conquest and she was an important deity figure in the Postclassic Aztec realm of central Mexico.[2] Chalchiuhtlicue belongs to a larger group of Aztec rain gods[3] and she is closely related to another Aztec water god, Chalchiuhtlatonal.[4]

Religious significance[edit]

Stone sculpture of Chalchiuhtlicue, Museum of the Americas, Madrid, Spain

Chalchiuitlicue directly translates to "Jade her skirt"; however, her name is most commonly interpreted as "she of the jade skirt."[3] She was also known as Chalchiuhtlatonac (chalchihu[itl]-tla-tona-c) “She Who Shines Like Jade” and Matlalcueye “Possessor of Blue Skirt” by the Tlaxcalans, an indigenous group who inhabited the republic of Tlaxcala.[5] Depending on the text, Chalchiuitlicue was the wife or the sister of the Aztec god of rain, Tlaloc. Tlaloc and Chalchiuitlicue share similar attributes as they are both water deities, however Chalchiuitlicue was often associated with groundwater, unlike Tlaloc.[5]She was also the mother of Tecciztecatl, the Aztec moon god. In other texts, she was Xiuhtecuhtli’s wife, who was a senior deity for the Aztecs.[6]

In Aztec religion, Chalchiuitlicue helps Tlaloc to rule the paradisial kingdom of Tlalocan. Chalchiutlicue brings fertility to crops and is thought to protect women and children.[7]

According to myths, Chalchiuhtlicue once ate the sun and the moon. She is often associated with serpents, as most Aztec water deities are.[6] It is thought that her association with water and fertility speaks to the Aztecs’ association with the womb and water. She often withheld a dual role in Aztec mythology, as both a life-giver and life-ender.[8] In the Aztec creation myth of the Five Suns, Chalchiuhtlicue presided over the Fourth Sun, or the fourth creation of the world. It is believed that Chalchiuhtlicue retaliated against Tlaloc's mistreatment of her by releasing 52 years of rain, causing a giant flood which caused the Fourth Sun to be destroyed.[9] She built a bridge linking heaven and earth and those who were in Chalchiuhtlicue's good graces were allowed to traverse it, while others were turned into fish. Following the flood, the Fifth Sun, the world which we now occupy, developed. It is important to note that the Aztecs first began to use maize under her reign, which became a paramount staple to the Aztec diet and economy.[6]

Chalchiutlicue wasn’t just associated with the many fasciates of water but is also credited with being involved with the death of those who died in drowning accidents.[10]

In addition to water-related deaths, Chalchiuhtlicue presided over birth rituals, bathing of sacrificial victims and ceremonial actors, judiciary purification, royal investiture, and in the recycling of ritual waste.[5]

Chalchiuhtlicue was often depicted as “a river, out of which grew a prickly pear cactus laden with fruit, which symbolized the human heart.” (Schwartz 2018, 14). She was believed to be the personification of youth, beauty, and zeal, although she should not be confused with Tlazolteotl (also known as Ixucuina or Tlaelquani), who was the Aztec goddess of midwives, steam baths, purification, sin, and was the patroness of adulterers. Although the two goddesses often overlapped, they were distinct from one another.[6]

Archaeological records[edit]

Chalchiuhtlicue in Codex Borgia, page 65. Chalchiuhtlicue pictured at right.

Chalchiutlicue is depicted in several central Mexican manuscripts, including the Pre-Columbian Codex Borgia (plates 11 and 65), the 16th century Codex Borbonicus (page 5), the 16th century Codex Ríos (page 17), and the Florentine Codex, (plate 11). When represented through sculpture, Chalchiutlicue is often carved from green stone in accordance with her name.

The Pyramid of the Moon is a large pyramid located in Teotihuacán, the dominant political power in the central Mexican region during the Early Classic period (ca. 200–600 CE). The pyramid is thought to have been at one point dedicated to Chalchiutlicue. It accompanies The Pyramid of the Sun, which is thought to have been dedicated to Chalchiutlicue's husband, Tlaloc.

In the mid 19th century, archaeologists unearthed a 20-ton monolithic sculpture depicting a water goddess that is believed to be Chalchiuhtlicue from underneath The Pyramid of the Moon. The sculpture was excavated from the plaza forecourt of the Pyramid of the Moon structure. The sculpture was relocated by Leopoldo Batres to Mexico City in 1889, where it is presently in the collection of the Museo Nacional de Antropología.[11]

Statue of Chalchiuhtlicue (or other water goddess) from the Pyramid of the Moon

Visual representations[edit]

Chalchiutlicue in upper left, Codex Borbonicus

Chalchihuitlicue wears a distinctive headdress, which consists of several broad bands, likely cotton, trimmed with amaranth seeds.[12] Large round tassels fall from either side of the headdress. Chalchihuitlicue typically wears a shawl adorned with tassels and a skirt. She is often depicted sitting with a stream of water flowing out of or from behind her skirt.

Chalchiuhtlicue the Water Deity

In the Codex Borbonicus (page 5), Chalchihuitlicue wears an elaborate blue and white headdress. She sits on a red stool and a stream of water flows out from the bottom of her stool. A male baby and female baby, who are depicted as if swimming, are carried in the water.[13]

In the Codex Borgia (page 65), Chalchihuitlicue sits on a red throne and a river flows outwards from behind her body. Two figures stand in the water and Chalchihuitlicue gesticulates out towards them. She wears an elaborate yellow headdress.[14]

Chalchiuhtlicue as portrayed in one of the Aztec Codices

Rites and rituals[edit]

Five of the twenty big celebrations in the Aztec calendar were dedicated to Chalchiutlicue and her husband (or brother), Tlaloc. During these celebrations, priests dove into a lake and imitated the movements and the croaking of frogs, hoping to bring rain.

Chalchiutlicue presides over the day 5 Serpent and the trecena of 1 Reed. Her feast is celebrated in the ventena of Etzalqualiztli.[10] As she is associated with the fertility of both people and land, the Aztecs asked Chalchiutlicue for a good harvest of crops.

A series of ritualistic ceremonies were performed and dedicated to Chalchiuhtlicue and other childbirth/water deities called Atlcahualo. These ceremonies would last the entire month of February.[6]


Chalchiutlicue was the guardian of the children and newborns. When children fell ill healers would call on the goddess as they practiced hydromancy in order to find the tonalli (spirits) of sick children.[15] She also played central role in the process of childbirth. As mothers and babies often died in the process of childbirth, the role of the midwife was also of utmost importance in the process.[16] During labor the midwife would speak to the newborn and ask the gods that the baby's birth ensure a prime place among them. After cutting the umbilical cord, the midwife would wash the new baby with customary greetings to Chalchiutlicue.[17] Four days after the birth, the child was given a second bath and a name.

As reported by Sahagún's informants, the midwife would say, "The gods Ometecutli and Omecioatl who realm in the ninth and tenth heavens, have begotten you in this light and brought you into this world full of calamity and pain take then this water, which will protect you life, in the name of the goddess Chalchiutlicue."[17] She would then sprinkle water at the head of the child and say, "Behold this element without whose assistance no mortal being can survive." She also would sprinkle water on the breast of the baby while saying, "Receive this celestial water that washes impurity from your heart." Then she would go to the head and say, "Son receive this divine water, which must be drank that all may live that it may wash you and wash away all your misfortunes, part of the life since the beginning of the world: this water in truth has a unique power to oppose misfortune." Finally, the midwife would wash the entire body of the baby and say, "In which part of you is unhappiness hidden? Or in which part are you hiding? Leave this child, today, he is born again in the healthful waters in which he has been bathed, as mandated by the will of the god of the sea Chalchiutlicue."[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Read & González 2002: 140–142
  2. ^ According to the 16th-century Dominican friar and historian Diego Durán. "Universally revered" is quoted from his Book of the Gods and Rites, written 1574-1576 and published in English translation (Durán 1971: 261), as cited by Read & González 2002: 141.
  3. ^ a b de Bernardino, Sahagún (1970). Florentine Codex: General history of the things of New Spain: Book I, the Gods. Anderson, Arthur J. O., Dibble, Charles E. (2nd, rev ed.). Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research. p. 6. ISBN 9780874800005. OCLC 877854386.
  4. ^ Miller & Taube 1993: 60; Taube 1993: 32–35.
  5. ^ a b c Dehouve, Danièle (2020). "The Rules of Construction of an Aztec Deity: Chalchiuhtlicue, The Goddess of Water". Cambridge University Press. 31: 7–28. doi:10.1017/S0956536118000056.
  6. ^ a b c d e Schwartz, David A. (2018). Maternal Death and Pregnancy-Related Morbidity Among Indigenous Women of Mexico and Central America. Springer International Publishing. pp. 11–33. ISBN 978-3-319-71537-7.
  7. ^ Read, Kay Almere; Gonzalez, Jason J. (2002-06-13). Mesoamerican Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs of Mexico and Central America. OUP USA. p. 142. ISBN 9780195149098.
  8. ^ Miller & Taube 1993: 60
  9. ^ Taube 1993:34–35
  10. ^ a b Sahagun, Bernardino de (1970). Florentine Codex. University of Utah Press. p. 6. ISBN 0874800005. And sometimes she sank men in the water; she drowned them. The water was restless: the waves roared; they dashed and resounded. The water was wild.
  11. ^ Berlo 1992: 138; Pasztory 1997: 87–89.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-03-15. Retrieved 2008-05-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Codex Borbonicus. p. 5.
  14. ^ Codex Borgia. p. 65.
  15. ^ Olivier, Guilhem, and Susan Romanosky. "Chalchiuhtlicue." In Davíd Carrasco (ed). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures. Vol 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 9780195188431
  16. ^,The Mexican Treasury:The Writings of Dr. Francisco Hernández, M1
  17. ^ a b c de Sahagún, Bernardino (1970). Florentine Codex: general history of the things of New Spain, Book 6: Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy. School of American Research. p. 175.