Aztec tattoos are a beautiful, ancient art form that has existed for hundreds of years. They are tattoos with great meaning and are believed to possess great power. However, very few people who get Aztec tattoos actually know the meanings behind the tattoos that they’re getting.
In today’s article, we’ll talk about the history of tattoos, whether or not it’s okay to get one, as well as some of the most common Aztec tattoos and their meanings.
History of Aztec Tattoos
Nowadays, many cultures view tattoos, and body modification in general, as a practice that is associated with criminal activity or juvenile rebelliousness. However, the Aztecs did not view tattoos and body modifications in this way. Instead, they were viewed as a coming-of-age ceremony and a way to dedicate oneself to the Gods. They were also used to identify oneself in the region or tribe you were a part of. The Aztecs were extremely advanced in the practice of body art and tattoos.
Aztec tattoos could display someone’s status within society as well as their occupation. They could also demonstrate if that person felt a certain allegiance to a particular god.
The Aztec empire dominated the area of northern Mexico from the 14th thru the 16the centuries. Some areas of their history is well documented while others remain a complete mystery. It is impossible to know exactly when tattoos became a part of Aztec culture. All we know is that they are frequently depicted in their art and were often done in tribute to one of their gods in a ceremony.
Just like with every cultural tattoo, this is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Can anyone get an Aztec tattoo? Technically, the answer is yes. There’s nothing preventing you from getting an Aztec tattoo if you really want one. The question you need to ask yourself is this, “why am I getting this tattoo?”
If you’re just getting the tattoo because you think it looks cool and you aren’t educating yourself about the true meaning behind these ancient tattoos, then it would likely be unwise to get one. After all, you are taking an ancient practice from a very powerful civilization and turning it into body art to entertain yourself.
If you have taken the time to educate yourself about the Aztec culture and their gods and have found a design that you resonate with, then go ahead and get the tattoo. After all, the Aztec civilization no longer exists. There are no remaining people who can claim to be Aztecs, only those that can claim Aztec ancestry, but even then, the cultural practices have died out.
So truly, there are no people that can claim that they have a right to the Aztec culture. At this point, we cannot know what their wishes would have been, so we can only do our best to respect what we know of their cultural practices nowadays.
Most Common Aztec Tattoo Designs
Typically, Aztec tattoos were done to pay homage to one god or another. As such, each design has significant meaning, and if you are going to get an Aztec tattoo, it would do you good to understand exactly what tattoo you’re getting.
Huītzilōpōchtli (Aztec Sun God)
The Aztec sun god was the most powerful of all their gods. A tattoo representing the sun god typically contains a depiction of the sun god himself wearing an eagle’s beak. This tattoo is meant to represent bravery and sacrifice.
This tattoo was typically done on warriors to attract the favor of the sun god when going into battle.
In Aztec tradition, it was believed that the crocodile’s body was used to form the earth. Because of this, the crocodile was revered as a symbol of creation.
Quetzalcoatl was most often depicted as a feathered serpent and was a powerful god that was believed to be the protector of the earth. He is the god of life, light, wisdom, the day, and wind. Receiving a tattoo of Quetzalcoatl is meant to imbue the person with gifts of creativity, fertility, and knowledge.
Aztec Warrior tattoo
An Aztec warrior tattoo was meant to represent what tribe the warrior belonged to. That way, in battle, it was easy to identify who was friend and who was foe. They would be done at the completion of warrior training to symbolize the warrior’s dedication to fighting for the future of their community.
If you’re concerned about cultural appropriation, this may be one of the designs that you should stay away from. After all, they were meant to represent your place in society as well as what family you came from. Since the civilization no longer exists, there’s no way to know exactly which tribes’ tattoo you’re getting and what customs they followed.
Xochipilli was the Aztec god of growth, fertility, love, pleasure, and creativity. He was called the flower prince as he is most often depicted wearing colorful clothing and flowers, surrounded by hummingbirds. He was known as a gentle god that reflected positivity. To get a tattoo of Xochipilli is to bring positivity into your life and have a physical reminder to experience and enjoy all the pleasures that life offers.
Mitctlantecuhtli was the Aztec god of the dead. Although it may seem strange to choose to get a symbol of the god of death tattooed on our body, it is actually a tradition in many cultures throughout the world. Even in some Christian traditions, it is customary to get tattoos of skulls or the saying ‘memento mori.’
The idea behind both of these tattoos, both memento mori and tattoos of Mictlantecuhtli, is to remember your death during your time on earth. To remember that this life is temporary and that you are to live with the idea of eternal rewards in mind. Common symbols to represent Mictlantecuhtli are skulls and the Xoloitzcuintle, a Mexican hairless dog that was once believed to escort the dead to the underworld.
In Aztec culture, butterflies were thought to be the souls of loved ones that had returned to visit their family on earth. By getting a butterfly tattoo, you represent one of your family members that has passed on and honor them by placing a reminder of them on your mortal form.
The Aztec calendar is one of the most fascinating things to have come out of Aztec culture. It is an amazing representation of the technologically advanced culture, and the calendar was used as a guiding force for the entire civilization. The Aztecs so strongly believed in the power of their calendar that time you were born determined the course of your life in many ways, affecting both the job you would have and who you would marry.
By getting a tattoo of the Aztec calendar, you are honoring the tradition of the Aztecs and their belief in astrology. It is also a subtle way to represent a specific event on your body by putting the date it occurred into the Aztec calendar.
Tezcatlipoca was considered the destroyer of the world in many ways, but he was also thought of high importance to the Aztec culture. He symbolized conflict, war, temptation, and rulership, among other things. He was an extremely powerful ruler, and many took on his symbol, the jaguar, when going into battle as a form of protection from enemies.
Tláloc was the Aztec god of rain and fertility of the earth. By choosing to get a tattoo of Tláloc, you represent your respect for life on earth and for the divinity in all living things. Like the other tattoos, this tattoo was intended to pay respect to the god and seek his favor. So if one was a farmer, they might’ve gotten this tattoo to try and earn favor from the god and have him send rain to their crops.
The eagle is a very popular Aztec tattoo as it symbolizes strength, courage and leadership. Due to their meanings, eagle tattoos were very popular with Aztec warriors. Eagle Aztec tattoos are typically designed with black in and have an eagle facing right or left. The eagle will have two wings and tailfeathers. Some designs will include talons on the eagle, but not always.
Traditionally, Aztec tattoos were done in black linework. After all, that was the easiest color to make and tattoo with, and it lasts the longest. However, nowadays, it is common for Aztec tattoos to be colored depending on the god that they’re meant to represent.
If you get a tattoo of Tezcatlipoca, you’ll likely get a completely black tattoo with some red in it, as that’s how he was most commonly depicted in Aztec art. If you choose to get a tattoo of Tláloc, then you may decide to get it done in blue and red. The blue represents water and the red for his tongue and lips.
What Aztec Tattoos Not To Get?
Like most tattoos that represent a culture, there can also be certain designs that you should stay away from due to their association with gangs or prison. Aztec tattoos are no different. Here’s a short list of the gangs that commonly get tattoos depicting Aztec symbols and meanings:
- Barrio Azteca or Los Aztecas
- Mexikanemi or Texas Mexican Mafia
- Mexican Mafia
- La Nuestra Familia
Generally, the most popular tattoos that were covered previously are all safe to get and will not associate you with any street gangs. It’s only when you start adding guns, numbers or initials to these designs that your innocent Aztec tattoo could start to take on a new meaning. For instance, the number 13 and the letters “eme” are both associated with the Mexican Mafia gang.
If you are concerned that your tattoo design could include something that is gang related, make sure to ask your artist. They will likely know if there are any valid concerns and can help you come up with a new design.