In the Aztec mythology Mictlantecuhtli was a god of the dead and the king of Mictlan (Chicunauhmictlan), the lowest and northernmost section of the underworld. 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. The worship of Mictlantecuhtli sometimes involved ritual cannibalism, with human flesh being consumed in and around the temple.
His wife was Mictecacihuatl, and together they were said to dwell in a windowless house in Mictlan. Mictlantecuhtli was associated with spiders, owls, bats, the eleventh hour and the northern compass direction, known as Mictlampa, the region of death.
Mictlantecuhtli was depicted as a blood-spattered skeleton or a person wearing a toothy skull. Although his head was typically a skull, his eye sockets did contain eyeballs. His headdress was shown decorated with owl feathers and paper banners, and he wore a necklace of human eyeballs, while his earspools were made from human bones. He was not the only Aztec god to be depicted in this fashion, as numerous other deities had skulls for heads or else wore clothing or decorations that incorporated bones and skulls. In the Aztec world, skeletal imagery was a symbol of fertility, health and abundance, alluding to the close symbolic links between death and life.
His arms were frequently depicted raised in an aggressive gesture, showing that he was ready to tear apart the dead as they entered his presence. In the Aztec codices Mictlantecuhtli is often depicted with his skeletal jaw open to receive the stars that descend into him during the daytime.
Most of the tattoos depicting Mictlantecuhtli are inspired by the statues found in various archaeological sites, especially the Ceramic representation of Mictlantecuhtli exposed at the museum of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City and the statuette of Mictlantecuhtli exposed in the Museo de Antropología in Xalapa, Mexico
Ceramic representation of Mictlantecuhtli
recovered during excavations of the
House of Eagles in the Templo Mayor, now
exposed at the museum of the Templo Mayor
in Mexico City