The Five Suns
The Aztec myth of the five suns explained the inevitability of human
Here is the oral account of what is known of how the earth was founded
One by one, here are its various foundations [ages].
How it began, how the first Sun had its beginning 2513
years ago--thus it is known today, the 22 of May, 1558.
This Sun, 4-Tiger, lasted 676 years. Those who lived in this first
Sun were eaten by ocelots. It was the time of the Sun 4-Tiger.
And what they used to eat was our nourishment,
and they lived 676 years.
And they were eaten in the year 13. Thus they perished and all ended. At this time
the Sun was destroyed.
It was in the year 1-Reed. They began to be devoured on a day [called] 4-Tiger.
And so with this everything ended and all of them perished.
This Sun is known as 4-Wind.
Those who lived under this second
Sun were carried away by the wind. It was under the Sun 4-Wind that they all desappeared.
They were carried away by the wind.
They became monkeys.
homes, their trees--everything was taken away by the wind.
And this Sun itself was also swept away by the wind.
what they used to eat was our nourishment.
[The date was] 12-Serpent. They lived [under this Sun] 364 years.
they perished. In a single day they were carried off by the wind. They perished on a day 4-Wind.
The year of this Sun was 1-Flint.
This Sun, 4-Rain, was the third.
who lived under this third Sun, 4-Rain, also perished. It rained fire upon them. They became turkeys. This
Sun was consumed by fire. All their homes burned.
They lived under this Sun 312 years.
They perished when
it rained fire for a whole day.
And what they used to eat was our nourishment.
[The date was] 7-Flint. The year was
1-Flint and the day 4-Rain.
They who perished were those who had become turkeys.
The offsrpring of turkeys are
now called pipil-pipil.
This Sun is called 4-Water; for 52 years the water lasted.
those who lived under this fourth Sun, they existed in the time of the sun 4-Water.
It lasted 676 years.
Thus they perished:
they were swallowed by the waters and they became fish.
The heavens collapse upon them and in a single day they
And what they used to eat was our nourishment.
[The date was] 4-Flower. The year was 1-House
and the day 4-Water.
They perished, all the mountains perished.
The water lasted 52 years and with this ended their
This Sun, called 4-Movement, this is our Sun, the one in which we now
And here is its sign, how the Sun fell into the fire, into the divine hearth, there at Teotihuacan.
It was also
the Sun our Lord Quetzalcaotl in Tula.
The fifth Sun, its sign 4-Movement, is called the Sun of Movement because it moves
and follows its path.
And as the elders continue to say, under this Sun there will be earthquakes and hunger, and then
our end shall come.
Quoted in Miguel Leon-Portilla
Aztec Thought and Culture (1982)
The Aztec calendar stipulates that the world
collapse four times. The present world, the fifth, was said to have been born on 4-Ollin.
In the traditions and chronicles written up after the conquest as well
as in pre-Colombian manuscripts and in the bas-reliefs of some monuments, one encounters the idea that our world was proceded
by four worlds or 'Suns' which ended in cataclysm. These vanished worlds are called 'Tiger Sun' (Ocelotonatiuh), 'Wind
Sun' (Eecatonatiuh), 'Rain Sun' (Quiautonatiuh), and 'Water Sun' (Atonatiuh). The Rain Sun is also sometimes known as
the 'Fire Sun' (Tletonatiuh), because it was a rain of fire that destroyed the world at the end of this period.
These four ages are not always described in the same order of succession.
According to the Anales de Cuauhtitlan, the first of the suns was the Water Sun, followed by those of the Tiger,
Rain, and Wind. The Historia de Los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas gives the following order: Tiger, Wind, Rain,
Water, which is corroborated by the magnificent monument known as the 'Aztec Calendar'. This famous bas-relief, like
those of the 'stone of the suns,' enumerates the four ages in the same order as the Historia, each age represented
by a date, that of the cataclysm that ended it. These dates are:
4-Ocelotl (4-Tiger), end of the Tiger Sun.
4-Ehecatl (4-Wind), end
of the Wind Sun.
4-Quiahuitl (4-Rain), end of the Rain Sun.
4-Atl (4-Water), end of the Water Sun.
Finally, our present world is marked on the Aztec Calendar by the date
of 4-Ollin (4-Movement, or Earthquake), when our sun began moving, four days after its birth. In the ritual calendar,
this is the festival of the sun and of the lords. But it is also probably the date when our world will end in earthquakes,
the sign Ollin symbolizing both the sun's movement and seismic shocks.
In the Tonalamatl, or divinatory calendar, all days bearing
the number 4 are considered an ill omen. The days of 4-Ocelotl, end of the Tiger Sun, is a day of ill omen, dominated
by the god Tezcatlipoca. Tezcatlipoca, god of the north, of cold, and of night, turned himself into a Tiger, according
to the Historia de los Mexicanos, to throw down the sun. The first age, according to the Anales de Cuauhtitlan,
ended in cold and darkness, following an eclipse.
The date 4-Ehecatl, end of the Wind Sun, is considered a day
of enchantments and sorcery. the day 1-Ehecatl is the day of the sorcerer par excellence. In fact, it
was by a vast magic operation that the second world ended: All men were turned into monkeys. At the same time a violent
wind was blowing, the manifestation of Ehecatl, god of the wind, who is one of the forms of Quetzalcoatl. The idea that
the men of one of the vanished worlds were changed into monkeys is also found in the great Quiche Maya chronicle, the Popol-Vuh.
Among Central Mexicans, this idea was linked to the actions of the god Quetzalcoatl in the form of the wind divinity, protector
The date 4-Quiahuitl, end of the Rain Sun, is placed under the
protection of Tlaloc, god of rain, and it is this god's mask, recognizable by its long teeth and enormous eyes, that is used
as the sign of rain. The third world collapsed under a rain of fire. Tlaloc was not only god of rain, although
this was his most usual function, but also god of fire that falls from the sky--lightning and thunder, and perhaps volcanic
eruptions; this is the rain of fire (tlequiahuitl)
The date 4-Atl, end of the Water Sun, is represented on the
monuments mentioned above by the number 4 accompanied by the face of the goddess Chalchuiuhtlicue, "she who wears
a skirt of precious stones," a water divinity and companion of Tlaloc; she seems to emerge from a receptacle. Here,
one is clearly dealing with water, because the fourth world ended in inundations, in a kind of flood.
Thus, on four occassions, a world was born and collapsed in gigantic
catastrophes. Today's world will suffer the same fate. The ancient Mexicans conceived this history of the universe
as that of victories and defeats of the alternating principles, taking turns to rule over everything, then driven away and
deprived of any grip on the real world. The first of the suns is that of Tezcatlipoca; this is the age of cold,
the night, the north. The second, under the influence of Quetzalcoatl, god of the west, is the period of sorcery
and of the west. The third is dominated by Tlaloc who, as god of rain, is a divinity of thw south. The
fourth, sun of water and of Chalchiuhtlicue, is a period of the east, because water and its goddess belongs to the
east. As for today's sun, the fifth, it is the sun of the center because five is the number of the center; the divinity
of the center is Xiuhtecutli, god of fire: Hence our Sun is a fire-sun, sometimes represented by the same symbol
as fire, a butterfly . . . .
The tradition concerning the four suns is just one example of the way
people think in every area: The interpretation of all the phenomena in the world through the alternation of fundamental aspects
of reality which follow and replace each other, triumph and disappear, and which are linked to the directions of space.
The cosmogonic myths contain few indications as to the way they envisaged
the world's inhabitants in these vanished epochs. There was generally a belief that there were giants in those days,
then men who lived on wild grasses. The ancient Mexicans had a very clear sense of the superiority of their agricultural
civilization over that of the nomadic tribes, the Chichimecs, who wandered in the semi-desert region of the north.
They themselves, before reaching the central plateau, had led this precarious way of life . . . .
As opposed to the civilization of Maize, of which they were the trustees, they depicted their ancestors of the dead suns as
barbarians who were ignorant of agriculture. . . .
Between the end of the fourth sun and the start of ours, they places
a transitional period, supposed to have lasted twice-times-thirteen years: the years, in the count of time, are divided into
series of thirteen, each of these series being attached to one of the cardinal points: in four 13s, a native "century", the
52-year cycle, was completed.
The 'fall of the sky', no doubt the deluge that put an end to the Water
Sun, took place in the year 1-Tochtli (1-Rabbit), the year of the south. The gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca
undetook the raising of the sky; and when the task was completed, Tezcatlipoca changed his name, becoming Mixcoatl, god of
the North, in the year 2-Acatl (2-Reed): In the Divinatory calendar, the day 2-Acatl was devoted to Tezcatlipoca.
During the eighth year of the macehualtin were created, the working men. . . .
With the second thirteen years, which starts with the year 1-Acatl,
one enter the domain of the east. Ce-Acatl (1-Acatl-Reed) is the cyclic name of the morning star,
of resurrection. All of the fifth sun will be dominated by this great theme of death and rebirth, of the sacrifice necessary
to the life of the heavenly bodies and of the universe. In the year 1-Acatl, the gods decide to create the
sun. . . . The last year of the second series, 13-Acatl, is that of the sun's
The Universe of the Aztecs (1979).
The Mexica Creation of Man and Woman
After the sun had been created, the gods wondered who would inhabit the earth.
And then Quetzalcoatl went to Mictlan.
He approached Mictlantecutli
and Mictlancihuatl [Lord and Lady of the region of the dead] ....
"I come in search of the precious bones in your possession. I have come
And Mictlantecuhtli asked of him, "what shall you do with them, Quetzalcoatl?"
And once again Quetzalcoatl said, "the gods are anxious that someone should
inhabit the earth."
And Mictlantecuhtli replied, "Very well, sound my shell horn and go around my
circular realm four times."
But his shel horn had no holes.
Quetzalcoatl therefore called the worms, who made the holes. And then
the bees went inside the horn and it sounded.
Upon hearing it sound, Mictlantecuhtli said anew, "Very well, take them."
But Mictlantecuhtli said to those in his service, "People of Mictlan! Gods,
tell Quetzalcoatl that he must leave the bones."
Quetzalcoatl replied, "Indeed not; I shall take possession of them once and
And he said to his Nahualli [Double], "Go and tell them that I shall leave them."
And the Nahualli said in a loud voice, "I shall leave them."
But then he went and took the precious bones. Next to the bones of man
were the bones of woman; Quetzalcoatl took them . . . .
And again Mictlantecuhtli said to those in service, "Gods, is Quetzalcoatl really
carrying away the precious bones? Go and make a pit."
The pit having been made, Quetzalcoatl fell in it; he stumbled and was frightened
by the quail. He fell dead and the precious bones were scattered. The quail chewed and gnawed on them.
Then Quetzalcoatl came back to life; he was grieved and he asked of his Nahualli,
"What shall I do now ....?"
And the Nahualli answered, "Since things have turned out badly, let them turn
out as they may."
And he gathered them .... and then he took them to Tamoanchan.
And as soon as he arrived, the woman called Quilaztli, who is Cihuacoatl, took
them to grind and put them in a precious vessel of clay.
Upon them Quetzalcoatl bled his member. The other gods and Quetzalcoatl
himself did penance.
And they said, "People have been born, oh gods, the macehuales [those given
life or 'deserved' into life through penance.]"
Because, for our sake, the gods did penance!
1558 Mexican Manuscript
Quoted in Miguel Leon-Portilla, Op. cit.