“Like the Christian god, Ometeotl is found, as members of its cult insist, everywhere; everywhere that is, except in primary sources” – Richard Haly
Ometeotl is perhaps the most widely embraced concept within the Mexicayotl community and throughout the years, its original meaning has morphed into such ideas as monotheistic god, energy, and duality. What most people don’t know is that the word Ometeotl first appeared in secondary sources written by Miguel Leon-Portilla, La Filosofia Nahuatl and Aztec Thought and Culture and appears nowhere in any of the primary sources. After examination of Leon-Portilla work, it is clear that he either intentionally or unintentionally invented the word. Although Ometeotl is grammatically correct, it is not an Indigenous Nahuatl word. There is nothing wrong ordinarily with creating words and native speakers create words all the time. We see examples of this with words like tepoztototl (airplane) which surely did not exist in pre-cuauhtemoc times. However, Leon-portilla’s Ometeotl is problematic for many reasons. First, Leon-Portilla bases his entire conception of Ometeotl on five primary sources, which, upon closer inspection, do not contain the word Ometeotl at all. Second, he cites text from sources and claims they describe Ometeotl, when in all of these sources, it is clear that the original text is describing a different teotl. Third, it is a misappropriation of the Nahuatl language since it is a word unknown to modern Nahua communities. As a result, I am proposing that we stop using ometeotl since its origin is fabricated and does not properly represent Pre-Cuauhtemoc philosophy.
In his Filosofia Nahuatl, Leon-Portilla starts off by claiming “Ometeotl is the cosmic principle by which all that exists is conceived and begotten.” The only commentary he gives on this significant claim is that “Torquemada attempts to explain this unified masculine-feminine being: ‘it might be said, that these Indians wanted the Divine Nature shared by two gods (two persons) who were men and wife.” From this point Leon-Portilla jumps to the conclusion that “thus the wise men, anxious to give greater vitality and richness to their concept of the supreme being, gave him many names, laying the foundation for a comprehensive vision of the dual and ubiquitous deity (Aztec Thought and Culture by Miguel Leon-Portilla, pages 83 and 89).” Furthermore, he explained that the true nature of Ometeotl was a “god of duality” shared by Ometeuctli, “lord of duality” and Omecihuatl, “lady of duality (Fray Juan de Torquemada, Monarquia Indiana, facsimile of the 1723 edition, ed. Miguel Leon-Portilla, 3 vols. Mexico: Editorial Porrua, 1986, 2:37).” Leon-Portilla’s interpretation of Torquemada incorrectly led him to assume the Aztec (Mexica) believed in a male/female unitary dual figure -Ometeotl (Bare Bones: Rethinking Mesoamerican Divinity by Richard Haly. History of Religions. Vol. 31, No.3, Feb., 1992, pp.269-304, page 278).
From this starting point, in both Filosofia Nahuatl and Aztec Thought and Culture, Leon-Portilla repeatedly imposes Ometeotl where it is not found in an attempt to provide evidence to his creation. On page 80 of Aztec Though and Culture, Leon-Portilla translates a poem from the Cantares Mexicanos and translates the word omeycac in the third line as god of duality when in fact it does not refer to ometeotl at all but to stand two-wise (Bare Bones: Rethinking Mesoamerican Divinity by Richard Haly. History of Religions. Vol. 31, No.3, Feb., 1992, pp.269-304, page 275). On page 85, Leon-Portilla goes on to translate line six of a song from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca as “the god of duality is at work,” but in the original text the word is spelled ayometeotl (ayotl, juicy + metl, maguey + teotl) which is more accurately translated as “it is the teotl of the juicy maguey” which also makes more sense considering the song is about drinking (Bare Bones: Rethinking Mesoamerican Divinity by Richard Haly. History of Religions. Vol. 31, No.3, Feb., 1992, pp.269-30 page 276). The third source used is the post-Cuauhtemoc codex named the Codex Rios and is also known as Codex Vaticanus 3738. Page 1v of the Codex Rios depicts the thirteen heavens and a teotl who is said to reside in the thirteenth level, Omeyocan, whose name is written in Italian Hometeule which is translated as “lord of three.” The Italian text describes Hometeule as “the creator of all, the first cause.” Upon further examination, it turns out the image presented on page 1v is actually Tonacateuctli and not a distinct teotl named Hometeule which many people attempt to interpret as Ometeotl. The codex is therefore substantially modified by European interpretation and is clearly attempting to infuse ideas about the trinity (Bare Bones: Rethinking Mesoamerican Divinity by Richard Haly. History of Religions. Vol. 31, No.3, Feb., 1992, pages 276-277).
The fourth source commonly used as a reference to Ometeotl is the sixteenth-century Historia de los Mexicanos por sus Pinturas by Andres del Olmos. In the work he talks about how Tonacateuctli and Tonacacihuatl created four sons, “the fourth and smallest they called Omiteuctli…known to the Mexica as Huitzilopochtli” Although very close to Ometeotl, Omiteuctli translates to omitl bone + teuctli lord. Folio. 52 of the Codex Tudela clearly depicts Omteuctli as a teotl with exposed bones which supports the translation (Bare Bones: Rethinking Mesoamerican Divinity by Richard Haly. History of Religions. Vol. 31, No.3, Feb., 1992, pp.278-282).
In addition to the primary source references, Leon-Portilla also unsuccessfully attempts to attach descriptions of other Teteoh to Ometeotl. For example, on page 102 of Aztec Thought and Culture, Leon-Portilla claims Yohualli-Ehecatl was a title designated for Ometeotl while in sources such as the Florentine Codex, it is clear that the title belongs to Tezcatlipoca (The Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya by Mary Miller and Karl Taube, page 164). On page 91, Leon-Portilla goes on to claim that Tloque in Nahuaque, Ipalnemohuani, and Moyocoyani are all attempts to describe the “Lord of duality.” Then on page 30, he boldy claims that Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl are in reality Ometeotl with no other explanation. It should be noted that Angel Garibay, another scholar identified to be associated with the early leaders of the Mexicayotl, has attempted to further legitimize Leon-Portilla’s work through his own writings. In Garibay’s Historia de la Literatura Nahuatl, volume 1, page 129, he also references the ayometeotl from the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca but completely drops the ay- and boldly rewrites it as Ometeotl. Garibay has gone so far as to attempt to insert Ometeotl into his 1979 translation of the Histoire Du Mechique, originally published in French by Andre Thevet in 1543. On page 144 of the original French text, we see the sentence “avoyt ung dieu nome Teotli, que vault dire ‘deux dieux’ translated by Garibay as “habia un dios llamado Ometeotl que quiere decir ‘dos dioses’.” The Teotli in the French text is replaced with Garibay’s text as Ometeotl which is clearly incorrect even to those who can’t read Spanish or French. In addition, “deux diuex” means “two gods” and Thevet’s original text shows that it was not intended to describe two gods in one.
Many within the movement who continue to describe Ometeotl using Leon-Portilla’s interpretation as a monotheistic god of duality are routinely berated with statements such as “our ancestors didn’t have gods, that’s a Eurocentric concept.” On the other hand, people who are proponents of Ometeotl as energy are typically berated while being described as New Agers. Examining the word Teotl more closely casts light on why Ometeotl does not make sense either as a dual god or energy. James Maffie in his book titled Aztec Philosophy argued that everything is Teotl and that Teotl is energy but this is not the case. When we review the available evidence, it becomes clear that Teotl is a very complex word that is not easy to define. Rather than a God or energy, it is most accurate to define Teotl as something or someone imbued with great ability that is atypical. The sun, rain, wind, fire, and the stars in the sky are all Teteoh because they are profound natural processes that are critical for life to function on Earth. People too can accomplish so many achievements that they become Teotl during their lifetimes or after death. Important ancestors that accomplished a great feat are considered to be Teotl for example. The Cihuateteoh are women who died during childbirth therefore in death become Teteoh. 8-Deer was an important Mixteca ruler who was responsible for successfully unifying the Mixteca. In one depiction of his life in the Codex Nuttal, he literally ascends to meet with Tonatiuh, the sun. It is in this exact moment that he becomes a Teotl right before our eyes. Thus there is not just one type of Teotl and not everything is Teotl (in the form of energy so the construction of Ometeotl in both cases makes no sense.
Perhaps the most important reason why Ometeotl should not be used is because it is a misappropriation of the Nahuatl language. Miguel Leon-Portilla was not a member of an Indigenous Nahua community nor are the people who use the word today. This is problematic because people are using the Nahuatl language to use words without collaborating with Nahuatl-speaking people. This practice almost always results in incorrect usage of words. It also completely disregards Nahuatl-speaking people, treating them as if they are non-existent or do not matter. Ometeotl is an unknown word in Nahua communities. This is further evidence that the word did not actually exist in Pre-Columbian times because if it did, the word be known today in Nahua communities just as Teotl is. Nahuatl speakers are becoming aware of the misuse of their language and are pushing back on the outsiders who insist on using Ometeotl. Nahuatl speakers deserve the utmost respect and should always be consulted whenever an outsider wants to use their language to ensure accuracy and that they have permission in the first place.
When Leon-Portilla wrote his book La Filosofia Nahuatl in 1956 at the age of thirty years old, it was a brave undertaking and he was heavily criticized by philosophers who would not consider that our ancestors were capable of philosophizing. In their minds, philosophy had developed only once in the history of the world in Greece and it was preposterous to suggest anyone else had also independently developed philosophy. Leon-Portilla laid the foundation for us to fully understand the meaning of teotl and with it; the philosophy of our ancestors yet his most lasting contribution within the Mexicayotl movement is his conception of Ometeotl. Considering Leon-Portilla had ties with neoaztekah organizations in the first half of the 20th century, it is possible that he was influenced by Estanislao Ramirez’s claim that Ometecuhtzintli was the single, invisible creator of the universe. While the evidence does support that our ancestors had philosophy, the evidence does not support the existence of the dual god/energy Ometeotl prior to Leon-Portilla. Teotl on the other hand, has been shown to be supported by a wide range of Pre-Cuauhtemoc, primary, linguistic and contemporary sources. Ometeotl is yet another relic of the Mexicayotl movement which is unsubstantiated and exists only in the imagination of its creator and virtually all Mexicayotl adherents. It is time to move on.