The maguey or agave plant, as Mayahuel, has become a cultural icon of Central Mexico and the entirety of the Country. It represents many ideas including love and transformation and has produced an array of resources including the legendary spirit Mezcal, also known as the “elixir of the gods” or the “holy elixir”.
Once upon a time, some hundred of years ago, there was a beautiful young Aztec goddess named Mayahuel. She was known as the goddess of fertility, the maguay (agave) goddess and the ruler of the eighth day and the eighth trecena. She was thought of as bringing love to mankind and lifting the spirit of people who at times appeared to be miserable. She was a representation of the many products produced from a maguey plant including Mezcal and pulque, a foaming drink made from fermenting maguey aguamiel which is sap or “honey water”. Pulque played an important role since it was the traditional drink that Aztecs consumed during religious ceremonies and festivals, agricultural ceremonies, wedding celebrations, fertility rites and more.
Mayahuel lived in the sky, hidden in the darkness of the deepest part of the universe. She was kidnapped and held captive by her wicked grandmother Tzitzímitl. Tzitzímitl was a Tzitzimime; a celestial star monstress that battled the sun to kill lightness so darkness could prevail. These demons fed on human flesh, ate hearts and forced the people to do human sacrifices in trade for light. They were to cause destruction to the world while trying to devour humanity. A young Mayahuel dreamed of escaping the grasp of her evil grandmother.
One day Quetzalcoatl, the honorable "quetzal-feathered serpent” rose to the sky to engage in battle with Tzitzímitl. Ready for a clash, he came across the precious Mayahuel and experienced love at first sight. They quickly departed as he took her away to Mesoamerica to impregnate her. Once Tzitzímitl discovered that Mayahuel was missing, she became enraged and commanded other Tzitzimime to find her. With nowhere to hide, Quetzalcoatl and Mayahuel transformed themselves into a tree with two branches for disguise ( in another version it’s said that they each became a tree, standing side by side so that their leaves would caress one another in the wind).
The Tzitzimime recognized the tree branch that made up Mayahuel and let Tzitzímitl know what they discovered. She forcefully flew down from the darkness of the universe, split the tree in half and tore her granddaughter apart. Her flesh and body were feasted on by the Tzitzimime as she was shredded to pieces. In insurmountable pain, Quetzalcoatl picked up the bones and remains of his lover to bury them. He later rose to the sky and killed the evil grandmother allowing light to resurface on earth. Although a huge triumph, Quetzalcoatl was overcome with grief as he cried over the grave of Mayahuel every night. Other gods, who felt for Quetzalcoatl, placed hallucinogenic mushrooms in the plant so as he drank the pulque, his soul would be further comforted.
The first maguey plant that ever grew came from the remains of Mayahuel, at her grave. The sweet sap from this astonishing plant is known to be the blood of the goddess, which introduced pulque and furthermore Mezcal which brought happiness to the lands. It’s been told that an agave plant was cooked by a lightning bolt striking from a thunderous sky, splitting it open and releasing its juices for the prosperity of the people. This magical spirit, called Mezcal, became the drink of choice and better known as the "Elixir of The Gods".
In another version, Mayahuel wished upon love and had visions of a passionate romance in hopes of being rescued from her grandmother’s confinement. At night, she would sit alone on the brim of a cloud and sing away into the darkness. Her song was full of sadness but was mysteriously seductive, like the calling of a siren. The serpent god of the wind, Ehecatl, became tantalized by the sweetness of her voice that was flailing through the universe. He endlessly searched to expose this wonder and was astonished when he discovered the mesmeric Mayahuel.
In a rage of desire, he swirled his wind gust around her until she unraveled to his mercy. She’d been waiting for this moment and couldn’t resist his breeze. Night after night, the dancing continued until they became one and wisped far away from the evil grandmother. It didn’t take long until Tzitzímitl caught wind of the missing Mayahuel and began her hunt. In the face of passion, which was an immeasurable odd given that passion can overcome all, even the heavens, Tzitzímitl stayed in pursuit as her desire to kill both Mayahuel and Ehecatl was too strong.
Ehecatl knew of this and fiercely gushed down to earth with Mayahuel. In a passionate whirlwind, their bodies morphed together until they became an almighty green plant with sharp tips to keep Tzitzimitl from killing them and spires to symbolize their rise to the heavens. Tzitzímitl eventually found this remarkable maguey plant in the heat of the desert, its impeccable shimmer giving it away. She unveiled her wrath in the form of a machete and split the maguey in half, defying love and sucking the juice from it to feed to her Tzitzimime.
During the madness, Ehecatl escaped and realized a tiny spire that was left out of sight from the Tzitzimime. Through his current of air, he lifted it away to be planted in the soil at the volcano. Ehecatl avoided death but drowned himself in sorrow, over the loss of his lover. His tears, granted to him by the God of Rain, Tlaloc, was the water that gave life to the spire and was the phenomena that led to the rebirth of Mayahuel, reincarnated as the Maguey plant.
She was the most captivating plant that the Aztec people had ever seen and named her the goddess of maguey. One particular night, the sky was filled with thunder and rage and could feel the hardship of the people. In a moment of despair, it speared a lightning from its deepest depths into the heart of Mayahuel, splitting her open. The grounds became flooded as she unleashed her potion as an offering to the people. This gift, in the form of Mezcal, filled the soul of the miserable with happiness and became the drink of choice for the Aztec gods, naming it the “holy elixir”.
It was once told that Mayahuel was married to and impregnated by Patecatl. He was known as the "lord of the root of pulque", and was also referred to as the god of healing and the god of medicine. He was known to give comfort when ill or sick through resources such as peyote, magic mushrooms and herbs in the form of datura, morning glory, and cannabis. These methods were used in healing, shamanism, fortune telling and public religious ceremonies. These elements also helped tranquilize sacrificial victims and provoke the sacramental nature of the ritual.
Their children were the 400 rabbits, also known as the “gods of drunkenness” or the “Centzon Totochtin”. They represented an endless number of deities or gods drinking the juice from an agave plant or characters a person could exhibit when over intoxicated. The Aztecs considered the number 400 as an “infinite” number in reference to the endless personalities of the Centzon Totochtin. Mayahuel was also recognized as “the woman of the 400 breasts” because she had to feed her many rabbit children pulque through her breasts. A great phrase to say if someone is too drunk is “they were as drunk as 400 rabbits”.
The Centzon Totochtin have their own myths and backstories (like many other Aztec gods) that you can further research and read about. Some of their rabbit names include:
Tepoztecatl or Ome Tochtli, the "two-rabbit" - represents various individual gods associated with pulque.
Macuil Tochtli, the "five rabbit” - symbolizing over-indulgence (drinking too much) and the consequences that come with it .
Techalotl - a squirrel known as the “god of dance” represented the different types of people who danced in many drunken ways.
Tezcatzoncatl - the “the straw mirror” which represented the sense that your so drunk you “can’t see” as if you looked in a mirror made of straws.
Toltecatl - the god of the older Toltec culture or the god of early civilization which represented a sign of respect to its ancestry.
Tequechmecauiani - the “god of hanging” or “hanging rabbit” who represented people accidently hanging themselves (really!?).
Colhuatzincatl - also known as “the winged one” which represented an experienced drinker and someone so drunk they think they can fly.
If Aztec mythology captivates you as it does us, we highly encourage you to dig further and discover the endless amount of information that surrounds it.
Artwork hand drawn by John-Paul Howard @johnhowarddraws | Coloring Artist: Felipe Obando @felipe_comic_art