The Aztec goddess of food and sustenance, particularly of maize, is named Chicomecoatl, Seven Serpents. She is considered one of the oldest deities and is counted as one of several maize divinities, though Her reach was much farther. She is the Goddess of all nourishment, seen as the protector of all food and drink. She is credited with being the first to make tortillas and other delicious and exquisite dishes and stews.
Snakes are associated with Goddesses who present an offering or libation. Chicomecóatl holds a cup in her right hand, expressing her connections to water and rain. In her left hand, she carries a shield with a painted sun, honoring the life-giving properties of the sun. With these accoutrements, She expresses the connection between earthly and feminine fecundity.
Snakes also signify regeneration; they are an image of the synthesis of the generative power of the cosmos. On an even more practical, agrarian level, snakes predate upon many of the small animals that eat seeds and grain stores. This may be connected to Chicomecóatl in Her guise as the guardian of foodstuffs.
The number seven carries significance as well, especially in its connection to the lunar cycle. There are 28 (the product of 7×4) days in each lunar cycle. The lunar cycle is connected both to the gestation cycle and to the ritual/divinatory calendar, the Tonálpohualli, which consists of 280 (the product of 28×10) days. The calendar date named chicomecóatl, or seven-snake,occurs on the seventh day of the seventh trecena of the Tonálpohualli. These various intertwinings of Her name link and re-link Her to fecundity.
At the time of the conquest, She was honored with temples in Central Mexico.She was central to the worship of the Aztecs, according to the Florentine Codex:
‘And, it was said, it was indeed this Chicomecóatl who made all our food – white maize, yellow maize, green maize shoots, black maize, black and brown mixed, variously hued; large and wide; round and ball-like; slender maize, thin; long maize; speckled red and white maize as if striped with blood, painted with blood- then the coarse, brown maize…; popcorn; the after-fruit; double ears; rough ears; and maturing green maize; the small ears of maize beside the main ear; the ripened green maize.’
Her festival, Huei Tozoztli , was held in the fourth month of the Aztec year, (April-May), The festival was called “the great awakening,” as Chicomecóatl was awakened from Her winter sleep. One of Her praise-songs for this festival speaks to this:
Seven Maize Ears, rise up;
Wake up! You are our mother.
Do not make us orphans.
You are already on your way to your house in Tlalocan.
After the ceremonies, much dancing ensued, welcoming the new shoots and the newly awakened Chicomecóatl, Seven Snake, the Goddess of all Sustenance
She is usually distinguished by being shown carrying ears of maize. She is shown in three different forms:
- As a young girl carrying flowers
- As a woman who brings death with her embraces
- As a mother who uses the sun as a shield
One of the most interesting depictions of Chicomecóatl is on the Lápida de Aparicio, a
carved stone found in Aparicio, Veracruz, dating from the Classic Era (2500-900 BCE). In the carving, we can see a ball-player in full gear, including the yugo around the waist. From the player’s neck spring seven snakes in place of the head. There are numerous interpretations of this piece. It may represent a sacrificed ball-player, graphically linking the sacrifice of life with the continued fecundity of the earth. The carving may also represent Chicomecóatl herself, as both Goddess and ball player, participating in a grand ritual game of fertility.
Blood sacrifice was part of Aztec ritual, and in the fall, a young girl was sacrificed and her blood poured onto the image of the goddess, reminiscent of many dying-god grain rituals around the world.