Many old civilizations had Gods for almost everything: the sun, the sea, lightning and often also quite a few for alcohol related matters. The Aztecs were no exception. Even though they had very strict laws on alcohol use and abuse, no other tribe or culture had as many ‘Booze Gods’ as the ancient habitants of Mexico. Thanks to their 400 drunken Rabbit Gods, the children of the Goddess of Alcohol Mayahuel and Petecatl (God of Medicine). These 400 thirsty bunnies stood for the infinite ways in which people could intoxicate themselves. Infinite? Yes, in the Aztec numbering 400 was such a big number that it also meant infinity. So when someone got absolutely smashed, people would say he was ‘drunk as 400 rabbits’. But there’s a lot more to this legend, since some of the rabbits actually had names and background stories. Time for a closer look…
The traditional drink of the Aztecs was called pulque, fermented agave (or maguey) juice that played an important role in religious rituals. But the drink wasn’t for just anyone to drink, only old people could taste from this sacred potion. Youngsters who got caught drinking were severly punished, with ´death by strangling´ as the ultimate penalty. The reason that young Aztecs couldn’t drink pulque originated in a myth. In this story the Goddess of Flowers (including the manguey and its sap), Xochitl, gave some pulque to the King of Tula, who got drunk and raped her. It made her also the Godess of Early Sexuality and Prostitutes. From then on the Aztecs made sure that drinking became a sole activity of the old and experienced men, who could control themselves.
After the rape incident Mayahuel became the new Goddess of Pulque. According to the myth she had 400 breasts that all gave quality fermented maguey sap. The ‘infinite’ amount of children she had with her husband Petecatl, who was believed to be responsible for fermentation, were pictured as rabbits, which she nursed with this alcoholic beverage. Since Mayahuel had so many mouths to feed, it’s no wonder she was also connected to fertility and nourishment. The Aztec name for this nest of bunnies was Centzon Totochtin, which literally means 400 rabbits, but they were often referred to as the Gods of Drunkenness. According to the legend they would gather on a regular basis to test their livers. Here are some of the main characters from this chapter of Aztec mythology:
Tepoztecatl (Ome Tochtli) – ‘Two Rabbit’
Strange enough there is no first no bunny called Rabbit I or something. However there is a ‘Two Rabbit’, or in Aztec Ome Tochtli. Tepoztecatl, as he was actually named, was considered king of the Drunken Rabbits and God of Pulque. Where his mother is also connected to nourishment, Ome Tochtli is all about fertility and drunkenness, which makes one suspect that like today many babies in those days were conceived after the libido was raised by alcohol.
Macuil Tochtli – ‘Five Rabbit’
Where Ome Tochtli still knew what moderation in alcohol was, his brother Five Rabbit, or Macuil Tochtli, took things a little further. Officially he is the God of Alcoholic Beverages, but he also stood for excess with alcohol and the consequences for that behavior. Basically the Rabbit God of Getting Smashed and Hangovers.
Tezcatzoncatl – ‘The Straw Mirror’
Another devine rabbit is called Tezcatzoncatl. He is the God of the Drunkards and according to the myth he was a big one himself too. From time to time Tezcatzoncatl was referred to as ‘The Straw Mirror’, in which of course the drunken state is meant in which you can see as much as when looking in a mirror made of straw.
Colhuatzincatl – The Winged One
A fourth rodent with a taste for pulque is called Colhuatzincatl. Actually very little is known about this member of the Centzon Totochtin, just that he was often referred to as ‘The Winged One’. So every experienced drinker can tell you that this was probably the God of one of the earlier stages of intoxication.
Tequechmecauiani – God of Hanging
Yep, you read it right. Tequechmecauiani was the God of Hanging. Apparently it wasn’t uncommon for people in the Aztec Empire to accidently hang themselves when they were drunk. People who feared they would end up in a lethal noose would make an offering to this Rabbit God. Maybe this example refers to the cruel death penalty by strangling for youngsters who secretly got drunk, but otherwise we start to understand how the Aztecs got to 400 different kinds of intoxication.
Toltecatl – God of Early Civilization
The proof that not all of the 400 Rabbit Gods in every day life had anything to do with booze is Toltecatl. When he was not getting smashed with his devine brothers, he was simply the God of the older Toltec Culture, which the Aztecs respected and saw as their cultural and intellectual predecessors. From what they knew basically the start of civilization.
Techalotl – God of Dance
The literal translation of Techalotl is ‘Squirrel’ and he was one of the Gods of Dance. Not sure if you ever saw a drunken squirrel dancing but once you got that image it should not be too hard to understand why Techalotl was one of the Centzon Totochtin. He symbolized that maniac on the dancefloor stepping on everyone’s toes.
True animal lovers might want to stop reading now, because the story didn’t end well for the Drunken Rabbits. One day they made the mistake of killing the mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec God of War and the Sun. This God, often portraited as a hummingbird, knew no mercy and chased after the terrified rodents. He decapitated some bunnies, ripped out some hearts, stabbed them or simply threw them off a temple, till all the Centzon Totochtin were dead. The myth of this bloodbath was also used by Aztec priests to justify their ritual human sacrifices. So, we can’t really speak of a happy ending here, but next time someone will show you holiday pictures of Aztec temples in Mexico, at least you have something interesting to share on the topic.