Huehueteotl, The Masked Fire God

This sculpture of Huehueteotl was unearthed in 1981 during the excavation of the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. Made of stone, the sculpture measures 77 centimeters high. Carvings exist on four sides of the deity. The cylindrical "brazier" headdress sits wide atop the head of the deity, and a relief carving of alternating circular "eyes" and vertical bands circles the outside of the headdress. The deity is seated, slightly hunced over with crossed legs. The deity's left fist is clenched and rests upon his left knee while the right hand lies with palm open to the sky. The face of the deity has a goggle-like mask over the eyes, strongly reminiscent of Tlaloc, the main water deity to whom Templo Mayor was dedicated. A fanged-mask covers the mouth of the deity, and corresponding fang masks cover the figure's elbows and knees. Huehueteotl's stone nose is slightly damaged, the most significant damage visible to the piece. Large, discoidal earplugs symmetrically frame either side of the face. The deity's neck and chest are covered with thickly-beaded necklaces, culminating in a pendant in the center of the chest, the carvings of which are difficult to distinguish. Elaborate sandals are visible near the knees of the deity. On the top of the deity's brazier is a circular design consisting of bas-relief water motifs, whirlpool symbols, and two Olivella sea snails joined in the center. 

The presence of so many aquatic symbols creates a dilemma in terms of categorizing this image of Huehueteotl as a fire deity, the way that he has traditionally been defined and represented throughout much of Mesoamerican history. However, many of the visual attributes of the figure are still associated with fire. In particular, the brazier headdress is typically a vessel for carrying fire, and the figure's seated and hunched position is very typical of fire deities. 

Huehueteotl was known as the Aged God, a fire deity and god of old age. According to 16th century Dominican friar Diego Durán's Book of the Gods and Rites and The Ancient Calendar, "The [Mexica] classified their ages with four terms...[the fourth was] huehuetqui, which means Old Age. Old age was highly regarded and revered by these nations as it is today among the native lords; old people are much esteemed, and so are their opinions and counsel, without which no steps are taken.”[1] This understanding of the importance of old age is crucial to understanding Huehueteotl's role in Aztec religion. 

According to the 16th century Codex Magliabechiano from the Spanish colonial period, Huehueteotl was celebrated and sacrificed to on a regulated basis following the Mexica calendar, like the other gods of the Aztec pantheon. Huehueteotl's feast was known as "Hueymiccailhuitl", or "Xocotlhuetxi," in which one individual sat on top of a tall tree whiie other Indians attempted to climb up the tree by way of ropes or "cords". Eventually they ate tamales, called teotzoalli in Nahuatl, then threw down the individual on top of the tree and killed him. The Mexica covered the victim's head a with a liquid to keep the skin and hair intact while the body was laid in a fire and roasted; then, the people would consume the victim. Another individual would wear the flayed head and skin of the victim, and dance before the figure of Huehueteotl while holding the flesh of the victim. The illustration of the festival in the Codex Magliabechiano is pictured here as well.[2]

As previously mentioned, the distinct goggle mask over Huehueteotl's eyes is a direct association with Tlaloc. The prevalence of water motifs and snails on the brazier headdress as well establishes a firm connection between the two gods. More generally speaking, Huehueteotl is often associated interchangeably with Xiutecuhtli, "The Turqoise Lord" [CITATION], a fellow fire deity.[3]

[1] Diego Durán, Book of the Gods and Rites and The Ancient Calendar, Fernando Horcasitas and Doris Heyden, trans. and ed. (Norman ; London : University of Oklahoma Press, 1977). 113.

[2] Elizabeth Hill Boone, The Codex Magliabechiano and the lost prototype of the Magliabechiano group, 2 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983). 196.

[3] Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Eloise Quiñones Keber, ed. (Austin:University of Texas Press, 1995). 175.

Delia Grizzard. 2015. 

Huehueteotl, The Masked Fire God