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Ruler of Tamoanchan
Queen of the Tzitzimimeh
Warrior and death goddess
Depiction of Itzpapalotl from the Codex Borgia
Ethnic groupAztec

In Aztec religion, Ītzpāpalōtl [iːt͡spaːˈpalot͡ɬ] ("Obsidian Butterfly") was a striking skeletal warrior and death goddess and queen of the Tzitzimimeh "star demons", who ruled over the paradise world of Tamōhuānchān, the paradise of victims of infant mortality and the place identified as where humans were created.[1] She is the mother of Mixcoatl and is particularly associated with the moth Rothschildia orizaba from the family Saturniidae.[2] Some of her associations are birds and fire.[3] However, she primarily appears in the form of the Obsidian Butterfly.[4]

Rothschildia orizaba, the moth genus and species with which the Itzpapalotl goddess is associated


Itzpapalotl's name can either mean "obsidian butterfly" or "clawed butterfly"; the latter meaning seems most likely. It's quite possible that clawed butterfly refers to the bat and in some instances Itzpapalotl is depicted with bat wings. However, she can also appear with clear butterfly or eagle attributes. Her wings are obsidian or tecpatl (flint) knife tipped.[5] (In the Manuscript of 1558, Itzpapalotl is described as having "blossomed into the white flint, and they took the white and wrapped it in a bundle.") She could appear in the form of a beautiful, seductive woman or terrible goddess with a skeletal head and butterfly wings supplied with stone blades. Although the identity remains inconclusive, the Zapotec deity named Goddess 2J by Alfonso Caso and Ignacio Bernal may be a Classic Zapotec form of Itzpapalotl. In many instances Goddess 2J, whose image is found on ceramic urns, is identified with bats. "In folklore, bats are sometimes called "black butterflies"".[6] Itzpapalotl is sometimes represented as a goddess with flowing hair holding a trophy leg. The femur is thought by some scholars to have significance as a war trophy or a sacred object in Pre-Hispanic art.[7]


Itzpapalotl is the patron of the day and associated with the stars Cozcuauhtli and Trecena 1 House in the Aztec calendar. The Trecena 1 House is one of the five western trecena dates dedicated to the cihuateteo, or women who had died in childbirth. Not only was Itzpapalotl considered one of the cihuateteo herself, but she was also one of the tzitzimime, star demons that threatened to devour people during solar eclipses.[5]

One of the prominent aspects of the ritual surrounding Itzpapalotl relates to the creation story of the Chichimec. The ritual is illustrated in the sixteenth century document known as the Map of Cuauhtinchan No. 2.[8] An illustration from this document shows Chichimec warriors emerging out of a seven-chambered cave behind Itzpapalotl. The deity is shown brandishing a severed leg, thought to be a symbol of battle. Beginning in the 1990s, archeologists exploring the Barranca Del Aguila region, southwest of Mexico City, have discovered caves carved to simulate the seven chambered cave, known as Chicomoztoc, from the ritual creation narrative.[9]


According to the Manuscript of 1558, section VII, Itzpapalotl was one of two divine 2-headed doe-deers (the other one being Chimalman) who temporarily transformed themselves into women in order to seduce men. Itzpapalotl approached the two "cloud serpents named Xiuhnel [ˈʃiwnel] and Mimich [ˈmimit͡ʃ]", who transformed themselves into men (so as to disguise themselves when all the others of the Centzonmimixcoa had been slain in the ambush?). To Xiuhnel, Itzpapalotl said "'Drink, Xiuhnel.' Xiuhnel drank the blood and then immediately lay down with her. Suddenly she ... devoured him, tore open his breast. ... Then Mimich ... ran and ... descended into a thorny barrel cactus, fell into it, and the woman fell down after him."[10] In the myth-history narrative of the Annales de Cuauhtitlan, the cloud deity victims take the form of deer, the hearts of whom are eaten by Itzpapalotl. The theme of the heart devouring goddess appears in other global mythologies.[4]

Influence on modern culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Itzpapalotl, the Obsidian or Clawed Butterfly[unreliable source?]
  2. ^ Hugo E. Ponce-Ulloa, M. Sc. "Beutelspacher's Butterflies of Ancient Mexico". Orkin. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  3. ^ Cline, Austin. "Itzpapalotl: Itzpapalotl, Goddess of Fire and Birds in Aztec Religion, Mythology". About.com Guide. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011.
  4. ^ a b Gingerich, Willard (1988). "Three Nahuatl Hymns on the Mother Archetype: An Interpretive Commentary". Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos. 4 (2): 191–244. doi:10.2307/1051822. JSTOR 1051822.
  5. ^ a b Miller & Taube 1993, p. 100.
  6. ^ Benson, Elizabeth (Fall 1988). "The Maya and the Bat". Latin American Indian Literatures Journal. 4 (2): 99–124. Citing: Parsons, Elsie Clews (1936). Mitla, town of the souls, and other Zapoteco-speaking pueblos of Oaxaca, Mexico. University of Chicago Press. p. 318. OCLC 185287287.
  7. ^ Yoneda, Keiko (2007). "Glyphs and Messages in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2: Chicomoztoc, Itzpapalotl and 13 Flint". In Carrasco, Davíd; Sessions, Scott (eds.). Cave, City, and Eagle's Nest: An Interpretive Journey Through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2. UNM Press. pp. 161–203. ISBN 978-0-8263-4283-6.
  8. ^ Brady, James E. (2005). Keith M. Prufer (ed.). In the maw of the each monster: mesoAmerican ritual cave use. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. pp. 69–87. ISBN 978-0-292-70586-9.
  9. ^ Gidwitz, Tom (2009). "Map Quest". Archaeology Magazine. 62 (2).
  10. ^ Leon-Portilla, Miguel; Shorris, Earl (2002). In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature, Pre-Columbian to the Present. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-393-32407-5.
  11. ^ @CraigGerber_ (December 28, 2016). "Orizaba in "Scepter of Night" was inspired by the Aztec goddess Itzpapalotl" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  12. ^ Vorder Bruegge, R. W.; Fletcher, R. C. (1 March 1990). "A Model for the Shape of Overthrust Zones on Venus". Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. 21: 1278. Bibcode:1990LPI....21.1278V.
  13. ^ Klor de Alva, J. Jorge (1986). "California Chicano Literature and Pre-Columbian Motifs: Foil and Fetish". Confluencia. 1 (2): 18–26. JSTOR 27921652.


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