About Tlazolli

The concept of tlazolli have been usually describes as garbage, manure, or that that is swept, however its meaning expand beyond that…


The concept of tlazolli have been usually describes as garbage, manure, or that that is swept, however its meaning expand beyond the physical being used as a metaphor for taint, sin, defilement, adultery and infidelity, and is this way as a complex concept that in the next lines we will explore it as the notion of impurity as well as a “dualistic and creative force”


Tlazolli derives from the prefix tlah- (thing) and the suffix -zolli (old, dirty, worn out, exhausted, deteriorated). In its most literal, it refers to something used up, out of place, something that has lost its original order or structure and has been rendered “loose and undifferentiated matter”; in this manner, it refers to material substances such as muck, dirt, broken sherds, dust, excrement, sweat or things swept up with a broom that made one physically “dirty”. As such, it exists at the opposite end of a continuum from that which is clean, well-ordered, well-arranged, well-integrated – that is stuff in place.

Nonetheless it also covers a whole range of impurities used in moral discourse to connote negativity. Moral, social, and sexual transgressions like adultery, and prostitution, among others, are also major sources of corrupting tlazolli.

Tlazolli however is more than just a social transgression and it can result in chaos, destruction, physical danger, it could cause the “anger” of the gods or the uncontrolled unleashing of their influences, which could be harmful.

It worth noting that tlazolli has a contagious aspect, in this way the emanations from the transgressor’s body can further afflict spouses, children and even the community at large. An adulterer’s spouse, for example, was held to be susceptible to chahuacocoliztli, “illness due to adultery”. Some proscribed sexual activities can cause property damage, including crop failures and dead livestock, resulting in grave economic consequences. A bad ruler can bring filth and thus affliction to his city. Consequently contaminated people can suffer the impact of divine anger due to a defilement that they had no originated.

Similarly, certain aspects of the concept of tlatacolli or “something aged” can be related to this notion of defilement separate from the will. Tlatlacolli can be caused by improper sexual conduct, by stealing, by intoxication but also by unintentional acts that spoiled something. All of which were forms of disruption of order that destabilize and upset the delicate cosmic balance.

Tlazolli is also the realm of the deity Tlazolteotl, the goddess responsible for sex and connected to sexual transgressions, she is also associated with excess, sexual perversion and way-wardness, and innapropiate lovemaking. Thus, tlazolli is both cause and consequence of human misbehavior.


As a result of the consequences caused by it, it is crucial that the offender, get rid of it. And it was Tlazolteotl herself, the divine instigator of the pollution, who offer the path toward balance and cleansing.

Nahua saw continuity between soul and body, and the rituals designed to remove impurity relied on this close relationship. Therefore, purifying baths perform under her auspices are seen as a way to relieve the ill effects of the “filth” that she inspired.

In the tetlazolaltiloni (that can be translated as “bath for the sickness caused by love affairs or by affection or well “bathing someone regarding tlazolli”), Chalchiutlicue, the rain goddess is invoke besides Tlazolteotl-

The codex Telleriano-Remensis congruently locates these same two goddesses at the bathing ceremony for newborn Mexican children, who are held to be born in a state of general corruption resulting from the sexual activity of their parents.

Tlazolteotl is also considered the guardian of the cleansing Temazcal steambath.

In her role as Tlaelcuani “filth eater”, she “devoured” “sins”, indicated by the thick rubber film blackening her mouth, in a confessional ritual known as neyolmelahualiztli, which means “the action of straightening out the heart”.

According to Sahagun, the deity:

“forgave, set aside, removed corruption. She cleansed one; se washed one— In her presence cofession was made, the heart was opened; before Tacolteotl (sic) one recited, one told ones’s sins”

After hearing the confession, the priest would set a penance in accordance with the transgressions committed that could be, among others, fasting or perfom a bloodletting.

It worth noting that Tezcatlipoca also form part of this confession rituals being invoked several times on the chronicles of them and even asking for his forgiveness. Tezcatlipoca is the god of justice (he punishes the transgressors with his curved fangs and his claws), so it makes sense that in the ritual confession they beg to Tezcatlipoca the commutation of the penalty to which they would be destined for their faults.

The goddess TIazolteotl induces and forgives the sin, but it is not the one in charge of the punishment otherwise. Another theories about the invocation of Tezcatlipoca in this ritual, is that being omnipresent enabled him to see all and so he is a valuable confessor, or well that he is a deity related with tlazolli in the same manner that Tlazolteotl (this is in part because Sahagun say of him “iehoatl qujiolitiaja, in teuhtli tlaçolli” translated as “he placed dust and trash in peoples heart” and meaning immorality or vicious)

In the same fashion sweeping stood for moral endeavor; brooms are instruments of physical cleanliness and moral purification. Yet brooms were also considered weapons of aggression, when they were used to sweep impurities into enemy lands.


Tlazolli also have multiple favorable connotations, as it is seen as a powerful, sacred, vital and essential aspect of the cosmos. From tlazolli emerge order, purity and life in a cosmic metaphysics of ever circulating and recycling energies. Hence maize grows from mud, from the body of the earth deity, cooked food comes from the raw and uncooked and woven fabric comes from undifferentiated bunches of grass or cotton.

In this manner, purity and impurity, order and disorder, generation and degeneration, and well-arranged and deranged are akin to life and death: mutually arising and mutually interdependent, complementary polarities. Being so tlazolli form a necessary part of life, as this is built upon tlazolli, no life could exist without it.

Accordingly, Tlazolteotl, the goddess of tlazolli, not only is in charge of filth but also, is a mother goddess, and is in control of fertility.

In this fashion, Tlazolteotl is associated with the tremendously powerful creative and nurturing power of Earth. Tlazolteotl thus possesses profound generative, regenerative and transformative powers. By eating the ordure, she cleanses, purifies and thusly regenerates. By eating excrement, she transforms excrement into humus, which in turn fertilizes and revitalizes the soil that, in turn nourishes the corn that feeds humans.

Tlazolteotl was usually depicted wearing raw, unspun cotton on her headdress. Burkhart argues the cotton’s rawness is highly significant. Raw cotton is unstructured, unordered and unformed yet it nevertheless possesses the creative potential to become something well-ordered and well-arranged: namely, woven fabric. Unspun cotton is characterized by tlazolli.


In such a way Tlazolli is powerful, transformative and ambiguous. It participates in process resulting in disease and death as well as process resulting in fertility and rebirth. It transforms the living into the dead and the dead into the living.



Multilingualism in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age. Communication and Miscommunication in the Premodern World. edited by Albrecht Classen

Tlazolteotl: una divinidad del panteón azteca by Juan José Casada Izquierdo

Tezcatlipioca en el mundo Nahuatl by Doris Heyden

Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica by Peter T. Markman and Roberta H. Markman

III Coloquio de Historia de la Religión en Mesoamérica y Areas Afines edited by Barbro Dahlgren de Jordán

The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture by Pete Sigal

Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion by James Maffie

Franciscan Discourses of Evangelization and the Nahua Christian Subject in Sixteenth-century Mexico by Viviana D’az Balsera

Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare edited by Kathryn M. Brown, Travis W. Stanton

A New History of Penance edited by Abigail Firey

Historicising Gender and Sexuality edited by Kevin P. Murphy, Jennifer M. Spear

Goddesses in World Culture, Volumen 1 by Patricia Monaghan

Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis by Eric R. Wolf

Woman And Art in Early Modern Latin America edited by Kellen Kee MacIntyre,Richard E. Phillips


Author: Ocelotl

Nahua Polytheist

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