The Aztecs believed that before our current world was created, there were four worlds, called suns. Although the four worlds were created, none was perfect.
The first world began when the powerful god, Tezcatlipoca (tes-CAHT-li-PO-kah) turned himself into the sun. The people of this first sun were giants who survived the heat of their habitat by living in the shade of massive trees and eating a vegetarian diet of corn, berries, and acorns, with which Tezcatlipoca and other gods had provided them.
The giant citizens of this first world were so powerful, it was said, that they could lift trees out of the ground with their bare hands.
Another powerful god, Quetzalcoatl (ket-SAHL-koh-AHTL), who was a jealous rival of Tezcatlipoca, was angry that Tezcatlipoca was ruling the world. Quetzalcoatl took many forms, but was often described as having a light complexion and a beard.
Quetzalcoatl started a fight with Tezcatlipoca and continued to battle him until he knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky. Tezcatlipoca was furious for being dethroned. In response, Tezcatlipoca changed himself into a jaguar and demolished the entire world, including all the giant people and the sun.
But Tezcatlipoca’s powers were not strong enough to destroy Quetzalcoatl, and he survived the end of the first sun. He then created a second world with a race of people who lived on a diet of pine nuts. This time, Tezcatlipoca gained revenge against Quetzalcoatl by literally kicking him out of the sky.
Tezcatlipoca then created a wind so huge that it swept away the sun which had shown so brightly. The wind also killed most of the people, and those who survived were turned into monkeys. Their ancestors can be seen today swinging from trees in the wild forests.
The third world began with the actions of the god of rain, Tlaloc, who had big, bulging eyes and giant teeth. Tlaloc transformed himself into the sun and became ruler of the world. Again, Quetzalcoatl was unhappy, and sent a series of floods to wash away the Earth.
People who lived through the horrible floods were turned into birds. The fourth world was the product of Tlaloc’s wife, Chalchiuhtlicue (chal-CHEE-ooh-tlee-quay), who became the sun in her husband’s place. Yet another flood destroyed this world, and those people who survived became fish.
For a fourth time, there was complete darkness. At this point, the gods had a meeting and decided that one god had to sacrifice himself to become the new sun. A homely and modest god named Nanautzin (nah-nah-WAH-tsin) volunteered to do the job.
The ugly Nanautzin, whose body was deformed and whose skin was covered with sickening sores, was surprised to be accepted. The other gods had always treated him like an outcast. However, Nanautzin confessed he would be happy to be of use and sacrifice himself if it meant that a fifth world could be brought into existence.
The gods thought over Nanautzin’s offer, but they agreed that the job was too big for just one god to accomplish. A handsome, wealthy god volunteered to join Nanautzin in the self-sacrifice. The rest of the gods accepted his offer.
Over the next several days, the gods built a pyramid of stone with a bonfire on its top. The handsome god was asked to jump into the fire. He tried four times, but each time he lost his nerve and backed away from the scorching flames. Finally, he told the other gods he would not be able to keep his promise.
Then the gods asked Nanautzin to leap into the raging bonfire. Nanautzin mustered up all the courage he could and sprang into the searing flames. As his body burned, the sun began to light up the sky.
Seeing the power Nanautzin had displayed, the rich god decided that he must somehow find a way to imitate Nanautzin’s bravery. So he, too, jumped into the blaze. Still, Nanautzin received most of the glory from the other gods since he never acted cowardly during the entire episode.
Although there was now a life-giving sun in the sky, the Earth did not exist as we know it today. Between the heavens and the water below, all that existed was a huge monster goddess named Tlaltecuhtli (Ta-lal-TECK-oot-lee).
She was a vicious beast with several mouths all over her body—all of them filled with sharp teeth. Tlaltecuhtli ate anything in her path.
The two mightiest gods, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, agreed they could not create the Earth with this hideous monster around. They told each other that they must find some way to stop that goddess from destroying everything they created.
Then, they came up with a plan. They turned themselves into giant snakes and wrapped themselves around Tlaltecuhtli. Together they pulled, stretching Tlaltecuhtli until her body broke in two. The top half of her body, including her head, became the Earth. The force of the break tossed her bottom half into the air, and it became the heavens.
To thank Tlaltecuhtli for her sacrifice, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca decided to give her a special gift. From then on, she would provide people with all the natural wonders they would need to live. Her hair became trees, herbs, and flowers. Her skin was transformed into grass and flowers.
Her eyes were turned into small caves, wells, and fountains, while large caves and rivers were crafted from her many mouths. From her shoulders, mountains were created, and her nose was transformed into smaller hills and valleys.
However, Tlaltecuhtli remained unhappy. Often she could be heard screaming in the night, craving human blood. Only when human lives were given up to her would she continue to produce nature’s needs for other living humans.
So now, the heavens existed and the Earth looked like the one we live on today. Yet there were no people. One day, the great god Quetzalcoatl journeyed to the underworld, the land of the dead, to bring back the bones of the people who had lived in the fourth sun.
But the underworld, known as Mictlan (MICK-t’lan) and ruled by a sinister skeleton god named Mictlantecuhtli (MICK-t’lan-tee-coot’lee), was a dangerous place. As soon as he entered Mictlan, Quetzalcoatl discovered the bones of his father, which he wanted to take back to the Earth.
The mischievous Mictlantecuhtli was not going to make this easy. As Quetzalcoatl was about to leave Mictlan with his father’s bones, Mictlantecuhtlui’s servants stopped him and ordered him to leave the bones where they were.
Quetzalcoatl did not know what to do, so he asked his animal spirit form, called a nahual, to advise him. The nahual told Quetzalcoatl to pretend to leave the bones. Then, once the servants returned to their master, he was to pack the bones and take them with him.
Quetzalcoatl followed his nahual’s instructions. Carefully, he wrapped up the bones and set out for the Earth. But Mictlantecuhtl was not finished yet with his rival. He demanded that his servants dig a hole to trap Quetzalcoatl. As he made a hurried escape, Quetzalcoatl tripped and fell into the hole.
A flock of vicious birds appeared, scaring him and causing him to drop the bones. The birds then landed on Quetzalcoatl’s treasured package and ferociously pecked at it until the wrapping was shredded and the bones were shattered into powdery pieces.
In distress, Quetzalcoatl called out to his nahual again. His nahual urged him to continue on his quest. This time, Quetzalcoatl was successful. Quetzalcoatl brought the powdered bones to Cihuacoatl, the goddess of childbirth, who ground them into the flour. Quetzalcoatl’s blood was added to the newly-made flour, and the mixture of blood and bones came to life as a new race of human beings.
However, Quetzalcoatl warned his newly-made human beings that the current world might not be permanent. If the people became wicked, this world would one day be destroyed.
Label: Mayan and Aztec mythology