This Mesoamerican Goddess was the deity of vice, filth, purification, steam baths, lust, fertility, adulterers and — you guessed it — sex workers.
Tlazōlteōtl symbolically castrated priests in elaborate rituals, and pardoned her followers’ sin in a never ending circle of life, sex, and death.
Tlazōlteōtl was a prominent and powerful deity in the Aztec kingdom of MesoAmerica. She was known for her association with fertility, purification, soil, decomposition and death. She was often depicted as a woman giving birth, or eating filth, with black or red hair, wearing a skirt made of writhing snakes. Like many fertility goddesses we see throughout the world, many of Tlazōlteōtl’s priestesses performed sexual rites and rituals.
Tlazōlteōtl was called “The Eater of Filth.” Her name is derived from the Nahuatl word for garbage, tlazolli, meaning “old, dirty, deteriorated, worn-out thing.” She was the Goddess of the fertile soil that gains its energy from rotting and decomposing things. She turns all garbage, physical and meta-physical, into new life. Tlazolteotl is the active female provoker in the continual life, death, life cycle.Tlazōlteōtl was the deity who people confessed to on their deathbed, who turned trash and shame into enlightenment and redemption. Tlazoltetol inspires and resolves excesses, overindulgence, the things that make our stomach ache with regret.
Erotic exchange exists everywhere you look, even in societies that predate modern capitalism, sex work is older than money. Many of Tlazōlteōtl’s priestesses worked at the House of Women offering sacred sex on behalf of, and to honor, the goddess. They often performed fornication and castration dances to both evoke and absolve excess. In Aztec society, sex work was a legitimate profession. There were women who provided sexual services, known as cihuatlanque, who were respected members of society. They were often associated with Tlazōlteōtl, who was seen as a protector of sex workers.
The early Spanish conquistadors and missionaries compared Her to the Roman Venus, and the Mesopotamian Ishtar, or “Whore of Babylon.” because of Her connections to sexuality. Tlazoltetol inspires and resolves excesses, overindulgence, the things that make our stomach ache with regret.
The history of Tlazōlteōtl also reminds us that sex and sexuality have always been a part of human life, and that they have been the subject of both fascination and taboo. Tlazōlteōtl was a powerful goddess who embodied both the purity and the messiness of human sexuality, and her legacy continues to this day.
So, whether you’re a sex worker or not, we can learn from the mythology of Tlazōlteōtl’s and embrace the complexity and nuance of the human experience. Let’s work towards creating a world where all people can express their desires without shame.