Ometeotl, the God that Didn’t Exist

“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).

Folio 1v (of Vaticanus A also known as Codex Rios) on the left depicting Omeyocan with the name Hometeule attached the figure. Folio 12v depicting the same exact figure as Tonatecuhtli, patron of 1-Cipactli, the first trecena.

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.

8-Deer meets with the Sun

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.

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  1. This is good info it puts your mind in another perspective. I would agree with you on this . It is not rite for us to keep following Eurocentric views


  2. It sounds like you have only “scratched the surface” of the non-existant Ometeotl…
    Before moving on… consider the dual energy of Tezcatlipoca and quetzalcoatl on Tezcatlipoca’s day 2 reed; Ome-Acatl sounds like Ome-teotl?
    Before moving on… consider other researchers in your search…
    Ometeotl = Divine dual trinity Nahuatl name for the Supreme Being from om “two” , e, “three”; and teo, “divine”.
    ………………From Frank Diaz Gospel of the Toltecs…
    Ometeotl omen “two headed deer falls to earth” Mixcoatl puts an arrow through it, instead he catches it and gives the deer to the people of his town, and they fed the deer for four years. The deer dies and then they took the skin and raised it as a flag…………….

    Ometeotl = Meteor, comet like Halley or Bethlehem star? The sign in the sky of the two headed deer?

    Or consider this, reportedly said quoted by 1 Reed Quetzalcoatl himself…from page 87 of Frank Diaz Gospel of the Toltecs
    “Ometeotl, it is within your power to give peace and sweetness, richness and prosperity, for you alone are the master of goodness. I plead then, that you take pity on your sheep. I plead for a piece of your tenderness and say that in truth we have a great need of it.

    I plead for some days of rest for our people, like those who relish for a few hours the ephemeral beauty of flowers that dry, and, as your heart orders, become deities. We are relying on your answer. You are our shelter, prince of darkness, our peace and quiet.”

    Just before he finished his prayer a deformed deer came into the plaza dragging his tail… A roaring of fear passed through the multitude as they watched. The deer went directly to the king and there, in front of everyone, it disappeared. This vision was taken as a negative answer from heaven. Pg 87
    Sources for this chapter: Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva Espana and Codice Florentino.

    Personally I think Halley’s Comet is Ometeotl, the thundering one, who does still exist every 75-79 years or so…might even call him “supreme”?. Furthermore, the tzolkin exhibits binary-triplets by way of the 4-day harmonics that repeat 65 times, 64 codons plus the mystery codon. 75 divided by 3 = 25 and 75 / 2 = 37.5, all key numbers in Great pyramid and the Phoenix/Apis Bull cycles.

    Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I’m saying the Birth of Christ/Quetzalcoatl is centered around the 5 BC birth/return of Halley. But first you have to understand BC dates and wait for all the babies to grow up and all the bathwater to fill in. And in this case we are all babies drowning in a tub of wrong dates. But even I have overcome this melting pot, and from it smelted down the right ones.
    Help me make a page on your site about this, “double and triple dating Christ-Topilitzin one Reed Quetzalcoatl”, please if you are any kind at all. Trust I care about Mexico’s authenticity when it comes to chronology. I knew the new age prophet of this age quite well, and I am up to no tricks thou the coyote is old in me, Jose called myself the original one down in CHile in 1999.


    1. Myth is not real-time reality. Myth are made up stories that contain within them kernals of truth.
      These stories are non-linear, they should not be interpreted linearly.
      Truth has no sit at the table of myth- truth is the buffoon.
      Ometeotl is not a prehispanic concept? Hmm?
      I will bet anyone of the erudites online that in 200 years, lie will become fact: Long Live Ometeotl!
      Myth kicks the teeth out of truth every time.
      Don’t believe it? Look around you at the existing religions of the present.


  3. Thank you so much for this well written and sourced essay on it. While working on my Nahua adventure graphic novel I’m trying to avoid all “New-Age” Mumbo jumbo and try to be as respectful and truthful to the sources. Glad to have learned Ometeotl isn’t real, but however, teotl, is still a thing which is what I’m working with.


    1. you’re welcome and thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you can share your graphic novel when you are finished!


  4. I have spoken to some nahua speakers and they said that Ometeotl is a concept of coyomeh (mestizo/city people).
    I’ve also spoken to danzantes who acknowledge that Ometeotl is a word our ancestors probably did not use but is a concept that is valued in the Danza community.
    I’ve also read work by Arturo Gomez Martinez( Anthropologist, professor and nahuatl speaker) and he never mentions Ometeotl. In his lectures he dislikes Indigenistas and new age movements. Yet he does acknowledge that duality is very important to modern nahua cosmology. So there’s something there but Portilla took it too far by inventing a new word with no evidence. Here’s an excerpt from Martinez’ work:

    “According to the theogony of the Nahuas of the Huasteca, in the beginning of time, ompacatotiotzih gathered the deities on the Postectitla hill to distribute their offices.”
    –‘Los equilibrios del cielo y de la tierra.
    Cosmovisión de los nahuas
    de Chicontepec’
    By: Félix Báez-Jorge y Arturo Gómez Martínez


    1. thanks for the feedback – it’s very helpful. It’s important to note that the duality of our ancestors was not one of opposites but of interrelated components. Quetzalcoatl for example could not create life without the help of death itself. It is not a battle of good vs. bad as in the judeo-christian tradition but rather a battle to achieve nepantla or balance between the two but both are necessary (and valued) in this process.


  5. So the fuss is really more about the fact that Portilla possibly took agency to create —the word— ‘Ometeotl’. I don’t think that is clear in this piece. The downside to this is that when our people who are learning come across the word Ometeotl they will dismiss what follows all together (as opposed to just being skeptical of elements) as well as pejoratively viewing their own people who employ the word even tho:

    “the way Leon-Portilla describes Ometeotl is very similar to the nepantla aspect of teotl..”

    and that..

    “The native Nahuatl concepts of teotl and nepantla are much more precise and valid alternatives to Ometeotl, and they successfully encompass the way Ometeotl is used by many people today.”


    1. Good question Quimichipilli!

      At this point in its history, Ometeotl has made its way to Nahua communities. The Nahuas I have spoken with are adamantly opposed to the usage of Ometeotl. Not only do they view the word as created and promoted by Spaniards and academics they believe that anyone who uses the word Ometeotl a) does not understand the Nahuatl language and b) are New Agers. The first time I realized there was something wrong with the word Ometeotl was when years ago I spoke with a Nahuatl speaker in Veracruz. She was utterly confused when I asked her about the meaning of Ometeotl. When I saw the look on her face I knew immediately that Ometeotl was not a legitimate Nahuatl word. Nahuas feel like if people use their language, then the Nahuas should be consulted otherwise it is a form of misappropriation (similar to the way outsiders twist the Maya world-view into something that is unrecognizable to living Maya people today). They get really irritated when people try to talk about Nahua culture but then bypass the Nahuas themselves. To me, that’s the most compelling reason to stop using Ometeotl.

      From my experience, the use of Ometeotl has actually hindered people from digging deeper. The Nahua critique is accurate and most people (with some notable exceptions such as David Bowles and Chicome Itzquintli Amatlapalli) do not dig past Ometeotl to understand the Nahua world-view. I’ve seen so many people come to terms with it, then rebuild so I have yet to see “people dismiss what follows all together” as you mention. Its been a beautiful process because it requires critical thinking. So many people are standing up against false teachers such as Akaxe because they are now empowered to see past the deception and understand they are not alone and there are many communities that are moving past Ometeotl and building something even more meaningful. People are learning that it can be a very dangerous thing to accept teachings without question because in many cases this leads to cult-like communities like the one that is being dismantled as we speak in Chicago. We should always question everything and especially respect and consult with the Native communities as we continue to decolonize.


  6. So yes I see where there would be confusion when asking nahuas from veracruz they are not original nahuas right? Meaning pre-cuauhtemoc they did not speak Nahuatl.? But later appropriated the language. So they had different cosmological views , and or names. Then there must be taken into account about the anales de quauhtichan where the word “ayometeotl” is there but you say it’s not referring to ” ometeotl” but something else. Consider this the language barrier in those times was significant the nahuas had just learn the europeans language and alphabet so I’m sure alot of confusion on the spelling of words and how their sounds translate to a borrowed alphabet. I’ve come across other Nahuatl words in codices that are spelled different from the classical dictionaries examples of what the sound looks like in latin alphabet. And scholars linguists etc have no problem accepting those words, but when it comes to subjects of philosophy, intelligence/intellectualism there is debate on the validity. Our ancestors where very prone to using metaphors from the historical record ( now I don’t know what is considered “legit”) and they had duality ingrained on all aspects of existence. so the concept of ometeotl fits. there are drawings of a being with both male and female aspects. But this should be an opinion of what maybe a mistake or misinterpretation of the records. Not like if you’ve discovered the truth.


    1. Yes, I mentioned in my article that the most common modern interpretation of Ometeotl does fit our philosophy well. For me, if modern Nahuas dislike the usage of Ometeotl because they consider it to be misappropriation of their language, I will respect that. It is nice that the people who use Ometeotl tend to have their own cultural system that is immediately recognizable as distinct from other contemporary Indigenous groups. I see that it fosters a lot of cultural pride for those people.

      When we dig deeper on the exact nature of duality, we find that the idea that there are two Teotl for every phenomenon quickly falls apart. Tlaloc and Chalchiutlicue are often cited for representing duality yet Tlaloc has with him the innumerable Tlaloque and Chalchiutlicue blends in with other Teteoh such as Matlalcueye and Chalchiuhtlatonal. Tezcatlipoca has no dual partner and seemingly blends in with all kinds of other Teteoh such as Quetzalcoatl, Itzalcoliuhqui, Itztli etc… etc… In that sense I do feel like the belief in Ometeotl hinders people from understanding the deeper intricacies and connections that exist in our cosmology. The same happened to me when I wholeheartedly believed in Ometeotl many years ago. I tried to find duality everywhere and often times became frustrated. I tried to find Quetzalcoatl’s female dual partner because I was taught all the males had female dual partners and I finally settled upon Quilaztli. Then when I learned that Tlaltecuhtli is both male and female and thus has no dual partner I really started to rethink Ometeotl. Yes, duality does explain some components of our world-view but those are mostly surface level.


  7. I’m an Aztec reconstructionist and in the old days (over 10 years ago) the original person who taught me the religion, believed Ometeotl existed but was considered “unconscious” and not worshiped. He believed we should focus on the teteo. (Basically, it was monist as opposed to monotheism.) I am like that for unrelated reasons based on personal belief, but I had no idea there was an alternative academia that suggested the concept never existed.

    I never gave Ometeotl that much thought, though. The concept was never a focus for myself.


  8. Realising this post is 10 years old. Hopefully you still receive notifications about it. I’ve been intending to re-read James Maffie’s book. I last read it about 5 years ago. Is there any other part of it that you or another scholar dispute? I wish to compare viewpoints.


    1. It’s important to note the whole book is hypothetical and the other James Maffie openly admits there is no direct evidence to support it. Although I am not aware of a scholar who has openly challenged Maffie’s work, his work is not taken seriously by linguists because the following Nahuatl rules and processes prohibit a teotl from existing in everything in the universe:

      1. Teoti is a verb that means to become a Teotl therefore if something or someone can become a Teotl, it is not possible that everything is Teotl.
      2. Teteoh is the pluralized form of Teotl. Only animate objects can be pluralized in Nahuatl. There are many inanimate objects that can’t be pluralized and therefore can’t be made of Teotl.
      3. Teotl has a wide range of meanings which can be best summarized as something or someone that is extraordinary. Objects that are considered to be Teotl are either clearly identified as Teotl (tlaloc or quetzalcoatl for example) or have Teotl in their names (teocuitlatl, teocalli). Thus if objects and people are not explicitly identified as Teotl, there is no reason to believe they are Teotl.


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