Most Mesoamerican cultures loved adornment. One of the ways they adorned their bodies was through tattooing. While scholars note that Otomi, Huaxtec and Mayans used permanent tattoos, they are not sure that Aztecs did, although there are references to Aztecs getting tattoos during religious ceremonies. However, if all the cultures around the Aztecs tattooed, it is highly likely the Aztecs did as well. We know that Aztec warriors used body paint before going to war and Aztec priests used body paint before a religious ceremony.
Aztec designs and symbols are popular in today’s tattoo culture. The abstract, geometrical designs used on Aztec pottery is often adapted for tattoos. Some people use specific Aztec symbols such as the sun or a representation of an Aztec god like Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god. This article explores a few of the most popular Aztec style tattoo designs.
Aztecs greatly honored eagles, the bird symbolizing power, courage and strength. If Aztec warriors got tattoos, many would no doubt choose this one to express their bravery, power and physical strength. Aztec eagle designs usually show the eagle with its head turned to the left, or west and its beak open. Aztecs had a warrior society that warriors could join when they had captured four enemy warriors. At this point, they could become either Eagle or Jaguar knights. The two were equal in rank, but expressed their beliefs differently. Eagle knights picked Huitzilopochtli as their god and the Jaguars favored Tezcatlipocha. Other popular Aztec animals for tattoos include the jaguar, monkey and frog.
The Aztecs, confusingly, had many sun gods. They believed that the world and people had been created and destroyed four times in the past. The present time is the time of the fifth sun. Each time period was ruled by a sun god, four of whom were no longer the sun god. These were Tezcatlipoca (smoking mirror), Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent), Tlaloc (rain god) and Chalchiuhtlicue (goddess of water). The god of the fifth sun is Nanauatl who became Tonatuih. However, Huitzilopochtli, the war god, was also sometimes considered a sun god, although this is better expressed that Huitzilopochtli is the warrior of the sun. Aztec sun tattoos rank high in popularity.
This Aztec design is taken from the face of the Sun or Calendar Stone. This intricately designed and carved massive stone was found near the cathedral in Mexico City. It shows the face of Tonatiuh, which represents the fifth sun. The stone shows the four destroyed suns of the past. Two jaguar heads are at the side of the face of Tonatiuh, which represent the earth. The Calendar Stone contains many symbols that speak of the Aztec founding myths. It is the most recognizable Aztec image and many favor it for an Aztec tattoo.
In Aztec pictogram writing, each day had its own symbol. Many people choose an Aztec day symbol for a tattoo as they are both abstract and expressive. The Aztec day symbols include animals such as the jaguar, eagle or crocodile; natural, everyday things such as houses or reeds and concepts such as death and motion.
Many men choose the Aztec design known as the Warrior, or Huitzilopochtli expressed as the warrior of the sun. These tattoo designs show an abstract, fierce male face, usually with the tongue sticking out.
A simple Web search will show you many examples of fine Aztec style tattoos.