In Aztec mythology, Mictlantecuhtli ("lord of Mictlan") was the skeletal god of death who ruled over Mictlan, the underworld, with his wife, Mictlancihuatl.
Mictlan is the lowest and northernmost section of the underworld. Together with Mictecacihuatl, they were said to dwell in a windowless house in Mictlan. Mictlantecuhtli is also known as Chicunauhmictlan ("king of Mictlan").
Mictlantecuhtli was depicted as a blood-spattered skeleton or a person wearing a toothy skull. His headdress was shown decorated with owl feathers and paper banners, and he wore a necklace of human eyeballs. He was not the only Aztec god to be depicted in this fashion, as numerous other deities had skulls for heads or else wore clothings or decorations that incorporated bones and skulls. Although such imagery might seem morbid today, in the Aztec world skeletal imagery was a symbol of fertility, health and abundance, alluding to the close symbolic links between death and life.
Mictlanteculhtli was associated with spiders, owls, bats, the eleventh hour, and the northern compass direction. 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 , in Aztec mythology, was a god of the dead and 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.
Mictlanteculhtli was the god of the day sign Itzcuintli (dog), one of the 20 such signs recognised in the Aztec calendar, and was regarded as supplying the souls of those who were born on that day. He was seen as the source of souls for those born on the sixth day of the 13-day week and was the fifth of the nine Night Gods of the Aztecs. He was also the secondary Week God for the tenth week of the twenty-week cycle of the calendar, joining the sun god Tonatiuh to symbolise the dichotomy of light and darkness. 
After the restoration of the sky and earth by Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, the two gods decide to create people to inhabit the new world. In order to do this, Quetzalcoatl travels to the underworld to retrieve the human bones of the last creation. After a conversation with Michlantechutli, the Lord of Mictlan agrees to give up the bones if Quetzalcoatl will complete a task that involved Quetzalcoatl travelling around the underworld four times while sounding a trumpet made out of a conch shell. Michlantechutli, however, not wanting to give up the bones so easily, makes the apparently simple task challenging by not drilling holes in the conch shell. Quetzalcoatl, nevertheless, is able to complete the task by calling upon worms to drill holes in the shell and by having bees enter the trumpet.
When Michlantechutli hears the conch sounding, he at first allows Quetzalcoatl to take the bones, then quickly changes his mind, but his efforts are in vain as Quetzalcoatl is able to escape the underworld with the bones. Angry at the fiasco, Michlantechutli orders his minions to dig a deep pit, and as Quetzalcoatl runs towards it, a quail pops out and frightens him. Quetzalcoatl falls in the pit dead, and the bones are broken and scattered - the reason why people are different sizes today.
Quetzalcoatl eventually revives and retrieves the bones, and gives them to the goddess Cihuacoatl (Woman Serpent) who grinds the bones into a flour-like mixture and puts it into a special container. The gods are then able to gather around this container, shed drops of their own blood, & from the combination, spawn the peoples of today.
- 1. ^ Michael E. Smith, Jennifer B. Wharton and Jan Marie Olson, "Aztec Feasts, Rituals and Markets", in Archaeology and Politics of Food and Feasting in Early States and Empires, Tamara L Bray (ed.), p. 245. (Springer, 2003)
- 2. ^ Michael E. Smith, Aztecs, p. 206. (Blackwell, 2002)
- 3. ^ Rick Holmer, The Aztec Book of Destiny, pp. 78-79. (BookSurge, 2005)