Mictlantecuhtli (Nahuatl pronunciation: [miktɬaːnˈtekʷtɬi], meaning "Lord of Mictlan"), in Aztec mythology, was a god of the dead and the king of Mictlan (Chicunauhmictlan), the lowest and northernmost section of the underworld. He was one of the principal gods of the Aztecs and was the most prominent of several gods and goddesses of death and the underworld (see also Chalmecatl). The worship of Mictlantecuhtli sometimes involved ritual cannibalism, with human flesh being consumed in and around the temple.
Two life-size clay statues of Mictlantecuhtli were found marking the entrances to the House of Eagles to the north of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan.
He was depicted as a blood-spattered skeleton or a person wearing a toothy skull. Although his head was typically a skull, his eye sockets did contain eyeballs. His headdress was shown decorated with owl feathers and paper banners, and he wore a necklace of human eyeballs, while his earspools were made from human bones. He was not the only Aztec god to be depicted in this fashion, as numerous other deities had skulls for heads or else wore clothing or decorations that incorporated bones and skulls. In the Aztec world, skeletal imagery was a symbol of fertility, health and abundance, alluding to the close symbolic links between death and life. He was often depicted wearing sandals as a symbol of his high rank as Lord of Mictlan. His arms were frequently depicted raised in an aggressive gesture, showing that he was ready to tear apart the dead as they entered his presence. In the Aztec codices Mictlantecuhtli is often depicted with his skeletal jaw open to receive the stars that descend into him during the daytime.
His wife was Mictecacihuatl, and together they were said to dwell in a windowless house in Mictlan. Mictlantecuhtli was associated with spiders, owls, bats, the eleventh hour, and the northern compass direction, known as Mictlampa, the region of death. He was one of only a few deities held to govern over all three types of souls identified by the Aztecs, who distinguished between the souls of people who died normal deaths (of old age, disease, etc.), heroic deaths (e.g. in battle, sacrifice or during childbirth), or non-heroic deaths. Mictlantecuhtli and his wife were the opposites and compliments of Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl, the givers of life.
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