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Tlalocan is the first level of the "upper worlds", or 'heavens', that has four compartments according to the mythic cosmographies of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples of pre-Columbian central Mexico, noted particularly in Conquest-era accounts of Aztec mythology. To the Aztec there were thirteen levels of the Upper Worlds, and nine of the Underworld; in the conception of the Afterlife the manner of a person's death determined which of these layers would be their destination after dying. As the place of Tlaloc, 9th Lord of the Night[1], Tlalocan was also reckoned as the 9th level of the Underworld, which in the interpretation by Eduard Seler was the uppermost underworld in the east[2].

The name Tlalocan comes from Nahuatl, meaning "place of Tlaloc", for it is associated in particular with that major Mesoamerican deity of rain and lightning.

Tlalocan is described in several Aztec codices as a paradise, ruled over by Tlaloc and his consort Chalchiuhtlicue. In the Florentine Codex, a set of sixteenth-century volumes which form one of the prime sources of information about the beliefs and history of Postclassic central Mexico, Tlalocan is depicted as a realm of unending Springtime, with an abundance of green foliage and edible plants of the region.[3]

As a destination in the Afterlife, the levels of heaven were reserved mostly for those who had died violent deaths,[4] and Tlalocan was reserved for those who had drowned or had otherwise been killed by manifestations of water, such as by flood, by diseases associated with water, or in storms by strikes of lightning. It was also the destination after death for others considered to be in Tlaloc's charge, most notably the physically deformed.[5]

In areas of contemporary Mexico, such as in the Sierra Norte de Puebla region, some communities continue to incorporate the concept of Tlalocán as a netherworld and shamanic destination in their modern religious practices.[6] As described by Knab, shamanic entry into Tlalocan, always achieved during dreams and often with the objective of curing a patient, is via underground waterways, commonly a whirlpool ("the water was whirling there and it too took me in and down into the darkness around and around"[7]). Upon awakening, the shaman-dreamer will recount, to the audience during a curing-session, the itinerary traveled in Tlalocan; to which will be added (only when instructing a trainee or in speaking to other practicing shamans, never to an audience of general public) a description of the itinerary in term of numerically counted rivers, highways, and hills : as counted in series of 14, "There are thus thirteen of each type of feature located between the center and the edges of the underworld and one of each type (p. 120) of feature located in the center of the underworld."[8]

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