Cultures & Traditions

Tlaloc

Tlaloc generally refers to the Mesoamerican god of rain, storms, and lightning. The name Tlaloc derives from the Aztec language Nahuatl and can be translated as “that which lies upon the surface of the earth,” a reference to the clouds that form around the tops of mountains during the rainy season.[1] While Tlaloc is known primarily by the Aztec name, the rain god is one of the oldest deities in ancient Mesoamerica and is known by many different names. Some of the earliest images of the rain god have been found at Teotihuacan (Teotihuacán), the archaeological site north of present day Mexico City which flourished between 200 and 700 CE. Though generally considered kind, Tlaloc could bring harm and destruction by withholding rain and causing droughts, or by sending too much rain and causing floods.

Visual characteristics of the rain god include goggle-like circles around the eyes, prominent teeth, serpent imagery, and the color blue. Circles around the eyes may suggest standing pools of water or ripples caused by falling raindrops. The teeth, often those of a jaguar, look somewhat like flowing streams of water. The physical characteristics of serpents were related to rain in Mesoamerican cultures. Their long, twisting anatomies are similar in shape to lightning, which was believed to split the clouds to release rain.[2] A serpent’s body also looks similar to channels of water or long, curving “pipes.” In Mesoamerica, frogs were worshipped for their association with rain and fertility. Tlaloc, also worshipped for his association with rain and fertility, is often presented surrounded by four frogs, who mark the cardinal directions. Additionally, representations of Tlaloc are often blue to reference the sky and its reflection in the water of lakes and oceans. The materials turquoise, jade, jadeite, serpentine, and other varieties of greenstone were also associated with the rain god.

[1] Richard F. Townsend, ed., The Ancient Americas: Art from Sacred Landscapes (Art Institute of Chicago, 1993): 111, 114.

[2] Kent V Flannery and Joyce Marcus, The Cloud People : divergent evolution of the Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations (Clinton Corners, NY: Percheron Press, 1983): 38.

Adapted from

  • "Mask, possibly of Tlaloc," DMA Connect, 2012.

  • Ken Kelsey, Gail Davitt, Mary Ann Allday, Barbara Barrett, and Dana DeLoach, DMA Teaching Packet, 1995.