Mictlan was the Aztec underworld, ruled over by its Lord and Lady. It was a gloomy place, reached by the dead only after wandering for four years beneath the earth, accompanied by a “soul-companion”, a dog which was customarily cremated with the corpse.

Aztec myth tells how the god Quetzalcoatl journeyed to Mictlan in the Fifth Sun in order to restore humankind to life from the bones of those who had lived in previous eras. For bones are like seeds: everything that dies goes into the earth, and from the earth new life is born in the sacred cycle of existence.

Quetzalcoatl approached the Lord of Mictlan, where he sat on his throne surrounded by spiders and owls. “I’ve come for the bones, the precious bones, the jade bones,” said Quetzalcoatl. “Can I have them in order to populate the earth?”

Only unwillingly did the Lord of Mictlan gives his assent. “You may take away that which I guard so carefully on one condition – that you parade four times around my throne blowing on this trumpet.” And he handed Quetzalcoatl a conch shell that had no finger holes. But worms bored the fingerholes, and bees flew inside to make a sound.

Even so, Quetzalcoatl knew that he’d better move quickly to take the bones and leave. And sure enough the Lord of Mictlan gave orders that the bones be recovered. Quetzalcoatl thought of a trick. “Tell the Lord I’ll leave the bones behind,” he said to his nahual, his spirit twin. Accordingly the nahual, looking just like Quetzalcoatl himself, assured the Lord of Mictlan that the bones would be left. Meanwhile Quetzalcoatl began to run. Unfortunately, the Lord of Mictlan ordered that a pit be dug in the fleeing god’s path, and sure enough he fell into it, having been startled by a covey of quail. Those bones that weren’t already shattered were pecked at by the quail. Which is why humans come in all sizes.

“This has not worked out well,” said Quetzalcoatl to his spirit twin.

“What must be must be,” replied the nahual. And so Quetzalcoatl scooped up the bones and, once safely beyond the dead land, ground them up in a bowl. Together with other gods, he sprinkled them with his own blood, restoring them to life. And thus humankind was born from the pennance of the gods themselves.

There is a good outline of these ‘overworlds’ and ‘underworlds’ in Handbook of Life in the Aztec World by Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (on our Panel of Experts), which we’re happy to reproduce here. Somewhere we’ve come across the names for the levels in Náhuatl: when we find them we’ll include them…!

‘The lowest heaven was the place where the Moon traveled and from which the clouds were suspended. The second heaven was the place of stars, which were divided into two large groups: the 400 stars of the north (Centzon Mimixcoa) and the 400 (countless) stars of the south (Centzon Huitznahua). The heaven of the Sun was the third region. Tonatiuh traveled over this heaven in his journey from the region of light to his home in the west. The fourth heaven was the place where Venus could be seen. In the fifth heaven the comets or smoking stars, traveled. In the sixth and seventh of the celestial levels only the colors green and blue could be seen, or according to another version, black and blue – the heavens of day and night. The [boldeighth heaven was apparently the place of storms, and the three heavens above this – the white, yellow and red – were reserved as dwelling places for the gods. Most important of the 13 levels were the last two, which constituted Omeyocan, the dwelling place of the dual supreme deity, generator, and founder of the universe.

The 13 ‘heavens’ and 9 underworlds, Codex Vaticanus-Latinus 3738, pls 1&2
The 13 ‘heavens’ and 9 underworlds,

‘Under the celestial column of the gods, forces, colors, and dualities floated the four-quartered Earth in the sacred waters. Below the terrestrial level were the nine levels of the underworld, realms that the souls of the dead had to cross: the place for crossing the water, the place where the hills are found, the obsidian mountain, the place of the obsidian wind, the place where banners are raised, the place where people are pierced with arrows, the place where people’s hearts are devoured, the obsidian place of the dead, the finally, the place where smoke has no outlet (Mictlan).’


Who goes to Mictlan

 Mictlantecuhtli the God of the Dead was the supreme ruler of Mictlan, or what you may call the Underworld.

So today he will talk about Mictlan and the way the deceased reached this place

The deceased people, those who had not been elected either by the Sun (Tonatiuh) or by Tlaloc, the God of Rain, upon their death would descend to Mictlan, passing through a series of tests before reaching the final resting or disappearance.

These tests were nine and, in a sense, they could be defined as layers, corresponding to the underworld, each deeper than the last.

This belief is evident in certain details of the funeral rites, such as the custom of burying a puppy along with the dead person. It was done out of the conviction that the dead had to cross the underground river with only a dog able to assist him in this undertaking.

Therefore it is said that Xolozcuincles (a dog) was to accompany the soul on its last journey.

The location of Mictlan is desputed, with various traditions in disagreement as to the exact place. Some claim Mictlan existed deep in the earth, other state that it was located in the far north. The latter claim seems to be more consistent, as the east and the west corresponded to the paradise of the sun, south was governed by Tlaloc, therefore north has to belong to Mictlan.

In any case, it is, beyond dispute, a gloomy underground character, but the belief in a circular route from the sun assumed that, after his trajectory from east to west, the Sun penetrates the earth at the end of each day, to journey through the underworld and lit the world of the dead, which arouses the living as they do in the light of the new day. Also this belief is found recorded in the work of Sahagún, the most valuable source of ancient Mexico.

Temitl/CasaMeshico writes: “Mictlan or Region of Death, is convened each year by our tradition for the 1st and the 2nd day of November. Our grandparents said that this moment is a reminder that all go through this stage. These days are utilized to synchronize with nature that calls for the transformation of all that is, is the beginning of cold and right within 52 days of the start of the Winter solstice…”

For Meshicas (Mexica people) Mictlan is one of the most important places in their world, and it’s also the site that we access, just when the time comes to make our life on thirteen areas, when Perdernal Obsidian Knife (Tecpatl) starts our breath of life, when we stop standing forever. The touch of Mrs. Tlazolteotl is essential, taking life for transformation into an opposite energy, decay and chaos, cold and darkness, filth and stench, to collect in her gut and return to all, carrying snakes in her skirts to feed on her. Snakes of life and death to walk the earth, transforming the flesh and bones on precious substances for life. In this region it governs creative duality expressed in the Underworld Space Nine, the halls of Mictlan.

Mictlancihuatl and Mictlantecutli – they are the ones that supervise the nine dwellings and the process of reaching it, while the dead are going through the nine stages. If we unite nine and thirteen underground that link to the infinite sky, supporting the 22 mansions of Nahui Ollin Teotl, the spiral encompassing four directions, which is right in the center that looks and surrounding spiral which expands infinitely close to the site of and Del Together, the Coyani Moyo, multidimensional infinity.

All ladies and gentlemen who live and are born, die, and this process repeats itself, among everything that is alive. So thought our ancestors. There are nine regions in Mictlan, each representing the nine processes occurring after the death of a living being, namely:

  1. Chignahuapan. One has to cross the river, which was customary to place an animal, a dog of a person’s preference, to guide the soul on its way and to accompany it to the other side.
  2. Once on the other side, the dead would have to cross the ground between two mountains that destroy everything.
  3. The third step is to go through the obsidian mountain from which sharp arrows were shot.
  4. Iztehecayan or northern icy wind that cuts like obsidian, prepares everything to be divided and cut into smaller pieces, until only the heart remains.
  5. At this stage, the journey is through the banners that float to remember where you come from.
  6. Passing the banners, what remains are the arrows to go far.
  7. In this place is where the heart is devoured by wild beasts.
  8. In this stage, going through narrow places between stones.
  9. Chignahumictlan, the final stage, to reach the home of the duality, Mictlan. His presence once delivered to desaparcer offerings or enter the abode of infinite space encompassing the fence and along Moyocoyani.

According to Sahagun, Quetzalcoatl is the powerful lord of the transformation that gets through the nine stages to be resurrected, shining at the end of the process, hence the duality of the underworld. Mictlantecuhtli had taken up in their iconography, Miclancíhuatl – a female aspect of the Great Lord – morning star, evening star.

Mictlantecuhtli 2

Mictlantecuhtli appears with his body covered and made out of human bones, and wearing a skull mask with jaws wide open, with black hair where the stars are fixed, but on the whole planet venus. Its dual head, also the red hummingbird, Hitzilopochtli Meshi, the first light of day or life energy, with its large peak hummingbird in his chest or pectoral Quetzalpapalotl Butterfly Snake, as confirming that the great warrior Started in Missions of the Sun, who should meet the nine stages, before achieving his death and born again, transfigured with light body.

Nowadays, the iconography and symbolism used by men of ancient knowledge, represented by symbols presented in codices, sculptures and engravings, a coding system used to represent the invocations that correspond to each of them, and sacred cosmic forces that act with the universe and the most important stages and processes must meet the Solar Guerrero.


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