Throughout history, there have been cultural symbols of strength. In Asia, it was mostly the dragon; in ancient Greece, it was either the lion or the phoenix; and in central America, in Aztec mythology, to be specific, it was a wide range of things.
Aztec symbols of strength were portrayed everywhere, from their art to their body paint, tribal tattoos, and even in their writing. There were few things quite as powerful to the Aztec people as symbolism. Aztec symbolism used different symbols to depict a wide range of facts and cultural beliefs that governed their lives.
Interestingly, in this ancient native American culture, a single symbol could have several, often clashing meanings. The Aztec Eagle, for example. The eagle was believed to be a reincarnation of the Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli.
The eagle was so important in Aztec culture that they believed they would find their home wherever they saw an eagle patched on a cactus. The reincarnated Aztec god, Huitzilopochtli, showed them the way.
The eagle was also believed to symbolize strength, wit, and military cunning. There was a group of elite warriors called the “Eagle Warriors,” who were mostly tasked with espionage and reconnaissance.
Finally, the eagle was also believed to represent the journey of the sun across the sky as it chased after its prey, the night. This is all to say that most Aztec symbols for strength also had many other different meanings within the Aztec culture.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common Aztec symbols of strength and their different meanings.
1. The Jaguar
Probably the most prominent symbol of strength, the jaguar was one of Aztec culture’s most feared and revered animals. The Jaguar represented more than just strength. It represented skills, power, and even military prowess. There was an elite caste of Aztec warriors called the “Jaguar Warriors,” and only the best of the best joined this group.
The Jaguar Warriors were the most battle-hardened and skilled military force in Central America, just like the jaguar was the most skilled and prolific hunter in the Mesoamerican jungle.
In Aztec culture, the jaguar was considered the ruler of the animal kingdom. Aztec warriors could join one of two warrior castes:
- The Ocelotl warrior society (Jaguar Warriors)
- The Cuauhtli warrior society (Eagle Warriors)
The Jaguar Warriors wore costumes and tattoos symbolizing the jaguar, and they were thought to possess the same power as well as the protection of the jaguar.
Apart from symbolizing strength, the jaguar was closely linked with traditional sacrificial ceremonies. The Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca, was often depicted as a jaguar with an Aztec Eagle by his side.
2. The Butterfly
Although often viewed as a delicate creature, the butterfly was regarded as anything but in Aztec culture. Butterfly imagery has been popular in Mesoamerican cultures for thousands of years.
For the Aztecs, the butterfly symbolized the god of vegetation, Xochipilli, which meant that the butterfly had a huge role in their daily livelihood.
In other cases, the butterfly symbolizes the goddess Itzpapalotl, which directly translates to “clawed butterfly.” Itzpapalotl was known to symbolize the souls of women who died giving birth to a child.
In some cases, the butterfly symbolized the souls of warriors who died in battle. It was believed that whenever a butterfly fluttered in a flowery field, it was the soul of a dead Aztec warrior walking among the people.
3. The Feathered Serpent
The Aztecs were well-versed in the symbolism of the Feathered Serpent. It symbolized the god Quetzalcoatl, who was often depicted as a colorful dragon with no limbs apart from two wings.
Quetzalcoatl was considered the “original human” and one of the most beloved and revered gods in the Aztec culture. As the only god opposed to human sacrifice, Quetzalcoatl was “claimed” by many. Even some warriors had the feathered serpent tattooed on their bodies and claimed to be protected by Quetzalcoatl.
Even Aztec warriors who believed in the jaguar would still decorate their weaponry with feathers and carvings of the feathered serpent. They believed that it gave them extra strength and power.
4. The Atlatl
The Atlatl was a unique weapon found in Mesoamerican societies and Native American tribes. It was a long stick (almost as long as a man’s arm) with a hook at one end and a grip on the other. This hook was attached to the end of the spear and was used to give leverage to the throw, increasing its thrust and distance.
This Atlatl was often decorated with feathers and had symbols carved into it. Some warriors carved the jaguar symbol, others the feathered serpent, and many still carve symbols of the deity they value the most as a way of honoring those deities and asking them for favors and strength.
The Atlatl symbolized magical powers and warfare. Whenever an Atlatl warrior was depicted anywhere, it symbolized death and the human sacrifice of captured enemies.
5. The Eagle
Very few symbols in Aztec culture were held in such high regard as the eagle. The Aztecs considered the eagle to be a reincarnation of the god Huitzilopochtli.
The Aztecs believed they were descendants of the Mexica, a wandering Native American tribe. They also believed they would find a permanent home that would be indicated by an eagle patched on a cactus. As the eagle was believed to be the god Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs would take that as a sign from the god that they should build a home in that very location.
The Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan was built on a swampy island in the middle of Lake Texacoco because that is where the Aztec people spotted an eagle patched on a cactus.
Apart from being a major symbol of their heritage, the Aztecs also believed that the eagle symbolized strength. One of the greatest warrior castes, the Eagle Warriors, adopted the eagle as their symbol because an eagle was believed to be large, fearless, powerful, and brave.
Finally, the eagle also symbolizes the sun’s journey across the sky. The Aztecs believed that just like the eagle often swoops down swiftly to catch prey and then rises again just as swiftly, the sun also dipped down in the evening and rose again in the morning.
Blood was probably the most morbid of all the Aztec symbols for strength because it was often attached to the sun’s vitality and existence. Ancient Aztecs believed the sun would wander around in the underworld at night. If the sun was to rise again, it needed a new lease of life, vitality or new strength to rise in the morning. The strength was often the blood of their captured enemies.
This is one of the main reasons human sacrifice was so popular in this ancient culture. The Aztecs believed that without frequent human sacrifice and blood, the sun might fail to rise one day, and their cosmic order would be thrown off balance. Therefore, flowing blood was often necessary to keep things in order.
The Aztecs also believed that blood was the symbol linking people to their gods. It was present at birth and was frequently present at death.
These are just a few Aztec symbols for strength. To say that the Aztecs were a deeply religious and superstitious people would be to understate the matter. Most of the Aztecs’ traditional lives and day-to-day activities were governed by these beliefs and cultural symbolism.
They so believed in the symbols and signs that, in many cases, Aztec children were named in accordance with either the date of birth on the Aztec calendar or the corresponding god. You would find most Aztecs with tribal tattoos attributing their loyalty to a certain deity depicted by the corresponding animal symbol.
You can easily find these symbols represented in Aztec art, drawings, language, and even music. Most were inscribed on their temples, jewelry, and even bodies as tattoos.