The Rain of the Earth

Please click any thumbnail at right for a larger image!

Click any highlighted name to hear its pronunciation!

Lord of Las Limas

Because water was essential to providing food for Mesoamerica's growing communities, the rain god became one of the first and most widely worshiped deities across the culture area. The Olmec were among the earliest to portray the rain in human form, notably as a stylized infant. This striking sculpture comes from Las Limas, Veracruz. The seated figure is elaborately etched with spiritual beings around the body, such as the "were-jaguar" motifs upon the knees. The centerpiece of this image, however, is the supernatural infant held upon the lap. One of its most important readings is that the seated figure is ritually lowering the rain to the earth.

Xalapa Museum of Anthropology


Named for the Zapotec word for 'lightning,' Cocijo was one of the foremost deities among the Zapotec elite in Oaxaca. The god was himself of elite affiliation, for many deceased kings were portrayed with attributes of the god in ceramic sculptures such as these two. This practice is one expression of the belief that kings and queens were mythic descendants of the gods and transformed into gods after death, an idea common across ancient Mesoamerica. The two examples presented here share a tall, grooved headdress and a long snout. Other sculptures include a long forked tongue with a lightning bolt etched down its length. Many Mesoamerican cultures painted serpents to symbolize bolts of lightning, and the serpent imagery used for Cocijo follows these concepts.

Regional Museum of the Cultures of Oaxaca, National Museum of Anthropology and History


Like Cocijo above, Chaak was named after a force of nature: the moniker means 'thunder' in Mayan languages such as Yucatec and Ch'ol. As shown at left, Chaak was commonly depicted with a long, hooked nose that may have originated from the shape of a tornado. Originally from the Postclassic city of Mayapán, this standing incense burner is one of the most colorful sculptures ever made of the god. The massive mask at right is a stone panel from the Puuc region of northwest Yucatán. The exact figure has been controversial. While the long, crooked nose does recall the Maya rain god, the position of the nostrils over the snout's base and the importance of the macaw as a royal symbol suggest that this could represent a god of royalty fashioned after a macaw. The large eyes and heavy mouth are more common of Chaak, however, which sway my vote toward him.

National Museum of Anthropology, Dzibilchaltun Site Museum

Teotihuacan Tlaloc

And this is by far the most well-known expression of Mexico's rain gods. Although this deity had many names across many nations, the most familiar is Tlaloc, coming from the Nahuatl phrase for 'covered in earth.' This title stresses that, though the rain does come from the sky, it must be collected upon the earth. In fact, several Mexican mountains are named after Tlaloc because the locals believed that he resided within the mountain caverns, drawing the rain clouds toward him.
These two panels come from the great city of Teotihuacan, where the god's defining features were taking shape. Here you can see how it evolved from the face of a fanged crocodile, a powerful creature that symbolized the earth's surface. The iconic goggles don't appear upon the eyes here but rather above them.

Teotihuacan, Teotihuacan Site Museum

The Coatlinchan Tlaloc

Visitors to Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology are greeted by the colossal, monolithic Tlaloc of Coatlinchan, a town in Mexico State. Standing over twenty feet tall and weighing almost 170 tons, this is one of the largest images ever made of the god. Its identification has been contentious, as many archaeologists point to the skirt suggesting that this could be the water goddess. I say that Mesoamerican gods were hardly clear-cut: it was very common for deities to borrow from each other's implements, so I call this Tlaloc in a skirt.
An infamous anecdote about this sculpture: it was installed on April 16, 1964. On that very day rains fell so hard that they flooded several neighborhoods around Mexico City! It was a clear sign that the god was back in action.

National Museum of Anthropology and History


Many have assumed that this female figure was the counterpart to the Coatlinchan Tlaloc because of their remarkably similar shape. However, this goddess sculpture is considerably smaller, and it comes from the Moon Plaza of Teotihuacan, dozens of miles away. The name Chalchihuitl Icue comes from the Nahuatl for 'Her Jade Skirt,' which likened drops of water to beads of precious jade. The jeweled skirt remains brilliantly detailed here, and she holds a stream of flowing water in her hands. She was the goddess of freshwater bodies such as lakes and rivers, and she was invoked in Aztec bathing ceremonies.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Epi-Classic Figures

By the Epi-Classic Period the rain god Tlaloc took its familiar form. The ceramic figurine at left was made in the "Mazapa" style, defined by its flat painting and ornamentation. Its colors have kept quite well, enough to let us appreciate the sky-blue goggles and mustache upon the god's black face. These, along with the prominent upper fangs, would remain identifying features of Tlaloc into the Postclassic Period.
The relief at right comes from Stele 2 of Xochicalco, in present-day Morelos State. Not only does Tlaloc bear goggles upon his eyes, but he also bares large upper fangs in his grin. Another set of fangs and a forked serpent tongue appear toward the bottom of the image. Upon his head he wears a tall headdress shaped like an inverted trapezoid: this is related to the "year" symbol and is very common to his visage.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Tehuacan Brazier

This tall ceramic brazier is a fantastic depiction of the rain god from the region of Tehuacan, Puebla, near the gulf state of Veracruz. It not only includes most of Tlaloc's accoutrements but also embellishes them to full force! The crown has a three-dimensional character, with details of bearded faces and braided ropes around it.
Also notice how the ear piercings hang down into live serpents, another reminder of the serpent as a lightning symbol. A final note is the jeweled bar across the nose piercing, which indicates the god's royal stature. It gives light to his nickname Nahualpilli, the 'Nagual (animal spirit) Prince.'

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Aztec Tlaloc Mask

Tlaloc was one of the foremost gods in Aztec religion. This massive image has much of its bold paint still preserved, so that we can appreciate its colorful details, especially among the fringes. The Great Temple was dedicated to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, the gods of rain and war, respectively. In effect, the Great Temple represented the duality of Aztec spirituality: the empire grew upon growth and sacrifice, life and death.

Aztec Great Temple Museum