One of the most fascinating deities of pre-Columbian Mexico is Coyolxauhqui. At first glance, a deity named “She Who is Adorned with Bells” might seem to be a dancer, until we read that warriors wrapped strings of bells around their calves before going to battle. Then we see Coyolxauhqui (Nahuatl: coyolli = small metal bells) as a warrior, suiting up for battle.
The image of Coyolxauhqui is beautifully rendered in the massive stone relief that was found at the Great Temple (Templo Mayor). Construction of this temple began in 1325 CE, and it was the main temple of worship for the Aztecs in their capital of Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City). The Templo Mayor was dedicated to two deities, Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli. Tlaloc (Lord of rain) was most likely a local deity before the Aztecs arrived. Huitzilopochtli (Left Hummingbird) was the warrior deity of the Mexica, accompanying them on their sojourn from northern Mexico to Tenochtitlan, which resides in the altiplano, or high plains, of central Mexico. The Templo Mayor may have been a symbolic representation of the Hill of Coatepec, recounting the story of Huitzilopochtli’s birth and Coyolxauqui’s demise.
The Templo Mayor was a large structure at 328’ x 262’ at its base. Rebuilt six times, its excavated ruins are on the northeast edge of the zócalo, or city center, of Mexico City. The Spanish used the stones from the temple to build what is now known as the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, a massive structure situated atop the Templo Mayor. But careful excavation, and some lucky breaks, have brought both the temple and many of its monolithic sculptures to light.
In February of 1978, while workman for an electrical company were digging, they discovered the giant disk of Coyolxauhqui. The stone disk is 10.7 feet in diameter, almost a foot thick, and weighs over 9 tons. Her discovery set off a wave of archaeological work on the Templo Mayor.
Coyolxauhqui is the second largest sculpture found in the temple. This exquisitely carved disk encircles her. She is dressed in full battle gear with balls of eagle feathers in her hair, attesting to her bravery and courage. A large ceremonial headdress sits atop her head, and her ears are adorned with pendulous earrings. A “warrior’s belt knotted from a double headed snake” winds around her waist (Kroger 189). Her belly is puckered, showing that she has given birth. She is a mother and a warrior.
Looking closely at her stone relief, we see a curious space between her limbs and torso, between her neck and head. Her arms and legs, attired with the pads and bindings of a warrior, are dismembered. A bit of bone sticks out from each thigh and upper arm. Her head is also separated from her body, almost unnoticeable. Even dismembered, she is resplendent with dynamic warrior energy, the circular stone emphasizing her strength, evoking the idea that she is hurtling forward.
When I stand in front of her, in the museum at the Templo Mayor, the first emotion I feel is strength and bravery. Her dismemberment does nothing to diminish her power, for she continues on in spite of all the odds. She is unstoppable.
When I meet her in visions, Coyolxauhqui barely has time for me. She is surrounded by training warriors, shouting directions and giving orders. She looks me straight in the eye and says “don’t you dare make me fit into whatever story you want to tell.” She requires me to tell her story, unapologetically.
She exudes the power and potency of warrior women, both mythic and contemporary: Boudica, Athena, Joan of Arc, Hyppolita, Atalanta, Wonder Woman, Xena, and Trinity.
Unfortunately, the myth of Coyolxauhqui is not in her own words. The story we have of her is one that reinforces a patriarchal worldview, showing favor on women who are kind, all-loving “mothers” and killing upstart rebels. This is a pattern we know well.
When I approach the story of Coyolxauhqui, I work to find the “back story,” to fill out the entire narrative sequence. We will start with the myth as it was written by the Spanish cleric Bernardino Sahagún in The Florentine Codex. This mytho-historic account begins, and ends, with Huitzilopochtli, for this story, written by the victors, can be read as a myth explaining how the Mexica inserted their deity into the local lore, and how he was victorious.
This mytho-historical saga takes place during the migration of peoples from Aztlán, the ancestral home of the peoples that came to live in the place that is now Mexico City. Aztlán was possibly located in northern Mexico or the Southwest of the United States, and the migratory groups consisted of many tribes, including the Mexica. Along the way, the migrating group encountered many villages cultures, and one of these was the peoples of Coatepec.
The myth of the birth of Huitzilopochtli, which contains the only story of Coyolxauhqui, says very little of her strength, courage, and power. Instead, it paints her as the instigator of her mother’s assassination. Huitzilopochtli was a traditional Mexica deity, and he is the embodiment of male strength and warrior energy. He was one of the most celebrated deities of what would become the Aztec civilization.
The myth recalls a time during the migration from Aztlán when the people settled briefly at Coatepec, the “hill of the snake.” The deities living at Coatepec were Coyolxauhqui, her mother Coatlicue (She of the Serpent Skirt) and her 400 brothers (the Centzon Huitznahua). The myth opens with Coatlicue sweeping the temple. She finds a bundle of precious feathers, picks them up, and keeps them underneath her clothes. These feathers make her pregnant.
When her sons, the 400 brothers, and her daughter, Coyolxauhqui, discover her pregnancy, they are enraged, saying that the pregnancy “insults us, dishonors us” (Markham 382). They ask her who fathered the child, but she does not answer. Coyolxauhqui leads the brothers in a plan to kill their mother, Coatlicue. While this seems a strong response, later we find out that the child in Coatlicue’s womb is Huitzilopochtli, the warrior deity of the migrant peoples, the Mexica.
Meanwhile, Huitzilopochtli, from the womb of his mother, Coatlicue, tells her: “Do not be afraid, I know what I must do” (Markham 382).
In the myth, Coyolxauqui “incited them, she inflamed the anger of her brothers, so that they should kill their mother. And the four hundred gods made ready, they attired themselves as for war” (Markham 383), including tying bells (oyohualli) on the calves of their legs.
Let’s take a moment and unpack what has happened so far. We have a group of migratory Mexica bringing a new deity to an existing culture. This becomes the story of how Coyolxauhqui defended her land and culture from the Mexica, presenting her as the military leader, the defender. And, it paves the way for Huitzilopochtli to insert himself (literally!) into the myth of Coatepec, converting the primordial mother of the Coatepec culture into his birth mother and shaming their greatest warrior, Coyolxauhqui.
Returning to the myth, Coyolxauhqui is marshalling the troops for war. One of the 400 brothers, Cuahuitlicac, turns against the rest of his family and informs Huitzilopochtli (still in Coatlicue’s womb) of the plan of attack. At the moment Coyolxauhqui and the 400 brothers approach their mother, Huitzilopochtli is born in full battle gear. He takes the Xiuhcoatl, the fire serpent, and strikes Coyolxauhqui, cutting off her head. Her body rolls down the hill of Coatepec, arms and legs separating as she falls.
Huitzilopochtli drove the 400 brothers off Coatepec, slaughtering them. Some escaped to the south, but those killed by Huitzilopochtli were stripped of their “gear, their ornaments,” and Huitzilopochtli “took possession of them…introduced them into his destiny…made them his own insignia” (Markham 386).
This myth can be seen as a cautionary tale of women’s diminished power in the newly formed Aztec society. M. J. Rodríguez Shadow, in her book La Mujer Azteca, writes that there is ample evidence of matrilineal and matrifocal societies in Mesoamerica before the 14th century CE (1997, p. 68). However:
During the epoch of the Aztecs the religion glorified masculine values, erasing whatever vestige of that phase [matrifocal] existed, quickly and efficiently, replacing them with male gods and men, destroying allegorically the feminine figures (like Coyolxauhqui) that could have occupied positions of power or discrediting those [female figures] that they wanted to retain (like Malinalxóchitl). (p. 69)
Moreover, in this myth Huitzilopochtli appropriates Coyolxauhqui’s warrior aspect. Art historian Janet Berlo puts this myth in context:
But one of the central myths of the Aztec empire is the struggle between the newly born male warrior god and the warrior goddess who preceded him. I believe this myth structurally embodies the ideological struggle between the Great Goddess of the Central Mexican past and the new Aztec order in which the significant ties of mythic kinship are redrawn to emphasize the male lines of Huitzilopochtli…. In this fraternal kinship network, the northern invaders and their ancestral god Huitzilopochtli are firmly linked with the Central Mexican past… (Berlo 1993)
The giant stone sculpture of Coyolxauhqui was found at the foot of the stairs of the Templo Mayor, on the side dedicated to Huitzilopochtli. It may have been hurtled down the stairs, just as she was thrown from Coatepec. While it may have been put there as a symbol of defeat, the sheer size of it is a reminder of the threat she presented.
On a personal note, living in these times, I feel like the dismembered Coyolxauhqui. I feel as if all I have worked for to make life better for myself, my students, my friends and neighbors in this great country is being dismembered. But, like Coyolxauhqui, I remain whole and strong. #metoo, #marchforourlives, #blacklivesmatter and so many more have grown from this fractured political environment. Coyolxauhqui is a testament to the power, strength, and resolve of those who have been defeated. In the Museum of the Templo Mayor where she resides, her spirit pervades the space, a permanent reminder of the warrior women and cultures that are in the earth and spirit of Central Mexico.
Berlo, J. (1993). Icons and Ideologies at Teotihuacan: The Great Goddess Reconsidered. In J. C. Berlo (Ed.), Art, ideology, and the city of Teotihuacan (pp. 129-168). Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
Markman, R. H., Markman, P. T. (1992). The Flayed God: The Mesoamerican Mythological Tradition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Rodriguez Shadow, M. J. (1997). La mujer Azteca [The Aztec Woman]. Mexico City, Mexico: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.
Sweeping has a deeply ritual context for the ancient Mexicans. An entire festival, Ochpaniztli, was dedicated to sweeping the streets, private homes, and temples, preparing for harvest. Tlazohteotl, another Goddess, is shown with a broom, showing her connect to this festival.
This brings up a number of different ideas. Did Coatlicue “change sides,” going against her people? Was she raped? Or did Coyolxauqui and her brothers know that if this god was allowed to birth through their mother, that it would be the end of Coatepec as they knew it?
The statue of Coatlicue that once stood in the Templo Mayor replaces her arms with the Xiuhcoatl. Could it be possible that the Xiuhcoatl was a symbol of the culture at Coatepec, and that this was coopted by the migrating Mexica?
 En tiempos de los Aztecas la religion enaltecía los valores masculinos, borrando cualquiere vestigio de aquella fase y consolidando con eficacia y rapidez la sobresaliente posición de los dioses masculinos y los varones, destrozando alegóricamente las figuras femeninas (como Coyolxauhqui) que podia ocupar el poder o desacreditar a las que desearan compartirlo (como Malinalxóchitl).
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Priestess, instructor, writer and dancer – Anne Key, Ph.D. has traveled, researched, and written about Mesoamerican culture since 1990; her dissertation investigated the pre-Hispanic divine women known as the Cihuateteo, and she is co-founder and guide for Sacred Tours of Mexico. She was Priestess of the Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, located in Nevada and has edited anthologies on women’s spirituality, priestesses, and Sekhmet as well as written two memoirs, Desert Priestess: a memoir and Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love. An adjunct faculty in Women’s Studies, English and Religious Studies, she is co-founder of the independent press Goddess Ink. Anne resides in Albuquerque with her husband, his two cats and her snake, Asherah.
Come see Coyolxauhqui and other wonders with Anne and Veronica Iglesias with Sacred Tours of Mexico!
Sometimes I don’t even realize I am wounded. There have been many times in my life that I have known that I was wounded and sought healing from divine beings, and for those healings I am eternally grateful. But there have also been times when I was healed even though I didn’t even realize I was wounded, and the healing from such moments is truly exquisite grace. This happened on my last two visits to Mexico.
In the summer of 2016, Veronica Iglesias and I lead a tour to Mexico City. Part of this tour was visiting the lands and monuments to thirteen Nahua Goddesses. Veronica took us to a site that I had never visited before, Xochitecatl. From about 700 BCE to 900 CE, and even beyond into the Colonial Era (after 1697 CE), this beautiful ceremonial center was dedicated to women’s rituals, and the energy of the Goddesses Xochiquetzal and Chalchiuhtlicue infuses the land with beauty.
Though I have known of Xochiquetzal for many years, I did not consider myself a devotee. However, when I look over my life as a belly dancer, burlesque performer, priestess, feminist, academic, and general lover of flowers, colorful garments, jewelry, and all that brings beauty to the world, I can see Her touch in my life at every turn. That afternoon at Xochitecatl, She came to me and began a healing of what I had not even realized was wounded.
Lying on the grass in front of the Pyramid of the Flowers, Veronica lead a guided meditation. As often happens, I cannot remember a word of what she said. But I remember the moment I awoke in my mind’s eye, dressed for ceremony and part of a grand procession to the base of the steps of the pyramid. I looked down at my beautifully embroidered quechquemitl, and felt the rustle of feathers in my headdress. Heavy stone jewelry weighed on my neck and wrist. I looked up into the sun, watching it descend over the horizon of the snowcapped volcano, Matlalcueitl (La Malinche), Lady of the Blue Skirt.
As is the way with visions, I have memories of participating in ritual and ceremony, being undressed and washed and purified. But the most vivid moment was when Xochiquetzal appeared to me. I knelt before Her, naked. She very gently sang to me and laid me out on my back, my body held by each leaf of all of the plants underneath me. Then She wrapped me in white fibers, enfolding my entire being in a cocoon. I think I remember Her closing my eyes. What I remember most distinctly is falling into the embrace of deep rest.
When Veronica called us back, I was of course reluctant to return. But, as Michael Harner once told me, our job is to go and come back. So I returned to the present moment, still wrapped. And I stayed in that cocoon until a year later, when Xochiquetzal came to me again.
To visit Xochitecatl in person, join Sacred Tours of Mexico for a Women’s Retreat in the Heart of Mexico, Puebla and Cholula November 2017. For more about the sacred side of Mexico, join our Facebook group and sign up for our newsletter.
Award winning writer Anne Key is the co-founder of Sacred Tours of Mexico. She has been traveling and researching in Mexico since the late 1980’s. With a Ph.D. in Women’s Spirituality, Anne brings both her expertise and love to each tour. Her dissertation and articles on Mesoamerican Goddesses are frequently cited sources for their feminist focus. She is the author of two memoirs (Desert Priestess: a memoir and Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love: A Memoir of Life under the Albuquerque Sun), co-editor of Stepping into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses and The Heart of the Sun: An Anthology in Exaltation of Sekhmet. She is a co-founder of Goddess Ink.
The Pyramid of the Flowers at Xochitecatl has a deep resonance with women’s mysteries. It is believed that this site was used as a ceremonial center. Perched atop an extinct volcano, the vista from Pyramid of the Flowers offers 360 degree panoramic views of the entire Puebla-Tlaxcala Valley and three volcanoes: Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl, and La Malinche.
The Pyramid of the Flowers faces La Malinche; in fact, the pyramid seems to be a mirror image. The platform of the pyramid base is approximately 144
meters east to west and 110 meters north to south, similar to that of Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Moon. Because of the large volume of the pyramid, tons of rocks and boulders would have been brought up from the lower slopes. Most of the volume dates to the Formative era (700 BCE), but some of the construction was performed during the Late Classic (650-900 CE), showing the many centuries of use.
On September 29th, from the summit of the Pyramid of the Flowers, the sun rises directly over La Malinche. This date corresponds to the festival celebrating the Archangel Michael in the town of San Miguel del Milagro, just a few miles to the east of Xochitecatl (read about the celebration here.) For those of us looking for the roots of women’s ceremony and mystery, this seems to point to the idea that this date held significance prior to the coming of Catholicism to the region. And, because of its connection to Pyramid of the Flowers and La Malinche, this day may have been significant to the rituals held there which most definitely centered around women’s mysteries.
The site itself has only one small structure (Pyramid of the Serpent) that might have served as a residence, leading us to believe that the complex was
Step to the pyramid, made of a metate.
mostly used for ceremonial reasons, unlike most other sites (Serra Puche 2012:42-46).
In the Mesoamerican Cosmovision, Cihuatlampa, (cihua = women; lamp= place) was the designation for west, one of the four cardinal directions. Cihuatlampa was also the celestial home of the Cihuateteo, women who died in childbirth. The Pyramid of the Flowers faces Cihuatlampa, further showing its connection to women’s ritual.
The stairway of the pyramid is literally built of women’s tools. There are a number of metate’s, stones for grinding corn, used as stairs. There were offerings of female figurines found embedded in the staircases. Nearly 500 spindle whorls were found, further linking this place to women’s culture (Puche 268).
Sunken ritual basin at foot of the stairs of the Pyramid of the Flowers.
In front of the stairway are two ritual basins, one above ground and one sunk into the ground. Four sculptures were found in the sunken basin: a toad, a mythological serpent with a human face in its open jaws, and two human faces. Toads are a religious symbol for Mesoamericans, possibly relating to the hallucinogenic properties of their secretions. The serpent with the human face could be a reference to Cihuacoatl, the snake-woman. It has been theorized that the two basins were part of child birthing rituals. The image of La Malinche is reflected in the sunken ritual basin.
La Malinche is locally called Matlalceitl, Lady of the Blue Skirt. This name may be connected with Chalchiuhtlicue, the Goddess rivers, closely associated with childbirth and purification (the name “La Malinche” was not given to the volcano until the 1600’s CE). Streams flow from the volcano, and springs with drinkable water surround the base, adding to the idea that the volcano is closely associated with Chalchiuhtlicue.
There were thirty-two burials found near the bottom of the staircase of the Pyramid of the Flowers, mostly females and infants The burials span the entire use of the ceremonial complex, from Formative Era (pre-800 BCE) to the Late Classic (900 CE). Burials were individual and collective, primary and secondary (Puche 269). These burials show the connection of this sacred place to the mysteries of life and death.
Although Xochitecatl’s dedication to a specific deity is still the subject of debate, its geographic location shows that it was a cosmic center of primary importance. This is evidenced by the orientation of the site toward dawn on a particular date, its special relation to La Malinche, and the fact that Pyramid of Flowers is a copy of that mountain itself. Together, these observations reveal a site where ceremonies were performed in which women played the main roles…where other ritual activities, such as baths and offerings, took place. All of these factors point to ceremonies dedicated to the Earth Mother, as personified by the female volcano. (Puche 279)
Xochitecatl holds the sacred energy of thousands of years of ritual dedicated to women’s mysteries. Visit and experience it for yourself!
Mari Carmen Serra Puche, “The Concept of Feminine Places in Mesoamerica: The Case of Xochitécatl, Tlaxcala, Mexico.” In Gender in Pre-Hispanic America, Cecilia F. Klein, editor. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2001.
To visit Xochitecatl in person, join Sacred Tours of Mexico for a Women’s Retreat in the Heart of Mexico, Puebla and Cholula November 2017. For more about the sacred side of Mexico, join our Facebook group and sign up for our newsletter.
Anne in front of the Pyramid of the Flowers
Award winning writer Anne Key is the co-founder of Sacred Tours of Mexico. She has been traveling and researching in Mexico since the late 1980’s. With a Ph.D. in Women’s Spirituality, Anne brings both her expertise and love to each tour. Her dissertation and articles on Mesoamerican Goddesses are often cited. She is the author of two memoirs (Desert Priestess: a memoir and Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love: A Memoir of Life under the Albuquerque Sun) and is a co-founder of Goddess Ink.
The beautiful city of Puebla is known for many things: colonial architecture, museums, defeating the French on Cinco de Mayo — but my favorite is the food. Last year when I was in Puebla, we went to the cluster of stores on Avenida Seis Oriente, which I have nicknamed “The Street of Sweets.” Both sides of the block are lined with stores selling candies made in Puebla. I indulged, as usual! Here are five of my favorites:
1. Camotes!! These sweets are made from sweet potatoes (so maybe they are even good for me?) and flavored with pineapple, strawberry, lime, orange, and many more. The candies are rolled into tubes and wrapped in wax paper. The origin of these soft and scrumptious candies stems from the Santa Clara convent, and they are a sweet blend of Indigenous (sweet potato) and European influences.
2. Tortitas de Santa Clara!! These cookies are solely from Puebla, again created by the crafty nuns of Santa Clara. The story goes that a nun was looking for new combinations to create a dessert from pepita, or pumpkin seeds. The cookie base is made of flour, but the frosting is a mix of pumpkin seeds and milk. Here we see the tortitas arranged on a beautiful Talavera plate — fitting for these delicious cookies.
3. Mostachones!! These famous candies are made from dulce de leche (slowly cooked and sweetened milk), flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, and topped with a pecan. These fudge-like confections have a number of origin stories — one is again the Nuns of Santa Clara, but another is a love story. Legend has it that a wealthy cattleman nicknamed “Mostachon” was enamored with a woman, but she did not return his affection. He decided to create a candy for her from the milk of his own cows. After trying the candy, of course she fell madly in love! And after you try them, you will too!
4. Los Borrachitos!! These unique candies also originated from the nuns at Santa Clara as well as Santa Rosa, and they represent a blending of indigenous and colonial traditions. These milk-based candies are covered with powdered sugar and infused with flavors such as lime, pineapple, strawberry and liquors like champagne and rompope. Rompope is an eggnog style liqueur originally from the convents of Puebla, with rum as its main ingredient. Hence, the borrachitos (little drunk candies!) get their name.
5. Los Cocos!! Absolutely my favorites, these fabulous confections are made from candied lime peels and stuffed full of sweetened coconut. These are delicious and refreshing. I usually inhale half a dozen on-site at the store!
To eat these candies in person, join Sacred Tours of Mexico in Puebla November 2017. For more about the sacred side of Mexico, join our Facebook group and sign up for our newsletter.
Award winning writer Anne Key is the co-founder of Sacred Tours of Mexico. She has been traveling and researching in Mexico since the late 1980’s. She is the author of two memoirs (Desert Priestess: a memoir and Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love: A Memoir of Life under the Albuquerque Sun) and is a co-founder of Goddess Ink.
Ix´Cheel or Ixcheel, the feminine energy in the Mayan Cosmos.
Cozumel was a place of worship for the Divinity Ix’Cheel or Ixchel. She is related to the moon, fertility, rains, medicine, divination and childbirth. Grand Mother Ix’Chel is a beautiful goddess who can teach us to honor our cycles, our darkness, our shadow and our great light!
Ix’Cheel represents the feminine principle of the cosmos and together with her partner Itzamna, are the creative energy of life on Earth. She is the guide of the wise women, of those who heal, of those who read the destiny of the newborns; Of those who weave and narrate cosmic stories in their fabrics. Ix’Cheel is the Mayan grandmother, guardian of the female mysteries, guardian of the pregnant women, the newborn children, the moon, the medicine, the medicinal plants, the water that cleans and purifies. Ix’Cheel is the feminine divine energy that creates life and also destroys it, specially when she represents the energy of the water. She was asked for rainwater in times of drought and she was also asked to stop the force of water that destroyed houses and crops.
She is the guardian of sacred jade, of life, of the heart of her priestesses who honored her in her two sanctuaries, in Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. There is no doubt that Ixchel and Cozumel have many secrets to unveil. Recently women from various parts of the world have restarted the pilgrimages to consult the energy of the oracle related to health, fertility, initiation into the medicine, pregnancy and finally, with the weaving of life.