When I think about the underworld, the first thought that comes to mind is Hades. The Aztecs had their own version of Hades and even the grim reaper; they considered him a god and called him Mictlantecuhtli, the god of Death. Think El Dia De Los Muertos. Mictlantecuhtli was known to be a skeleton dressed in other human bones and had star-like eyes that looked into the deepest part of your soul. Over his skull-face, he wore a skull mask and an odd-looking hat made of bark. He was constantly surrounded by owls, bats and spiders. As the ruler and creator of the Aztec Underworld, he was honored with ceremonies similar to today’s Day of the Dead festivities–colorful altars, faces painted to mimic death, abundant food, and dancing–except today we don’t sacrifice a human after we eat a sugar skull!
Quetzalcoatl was another important Aztec god. He was the creator of the five suns, art, crafts, science, and agriculture, giving maize (corn) to the Aztec people. The Aztecs believed Quetzalcoatl also created humans. And that is where Mictlantecuhtli comes back in. How did the god of death help create life? Sit back and enjoy another Aztec myth.
According to Aztec myth, we were created once before and resembled fish people. The fish people were destroyed, and their bones made their way to the underworld. This pleased Mictlantecuhtli, for the more souls he collected the happier and stronger he would remain. Quetzalcoatl made his way to the underworld. There he asked for bones of the last peoples that entered. With these bones he planned to create new humans. Mictlantecuhtli agreed to this but only if Quetzalcoatl succeeded at one task. He was to travel around the underworld four times blowing on a conch shell. Quetzalcoatl agreed, but the shell he received had no holes. So, he called on worms to eat holes into the shell and bees to enter it so they would respond with his hum. After Quetzalcoatl did what he was told, Mictlantecuhtli surrendered the bones. But Mictlantecuhtli was unhappy and prepared a trap for Quetzalcoatl . He placed a quail in the trap; it soon burst into flight and scared Quetzalcoatl when he was near. He fell all the way back down to the bottom of the underworld. He was strong and determined and retrieved most of the bones he dropped before climbing out from the underworld. Mictlantecuhtli was angry but could not go back on the deal he made. Although Quetzalcoatl dropped many bones, he was able to create “us,” the new humans. The Aztecs believed because he did not retrieve all the bones from the underworld, this is the reason we are all different heights today.