The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan

Arms open wide, reaching down to her people below, she is adorned with a beautiful headdress and jewelry. Her purpose is unclear, but her beauty is apparent. Appearing in multiple murals throughout Teotihuacan and the surrounding areas, perhaps she fills a role as a deity, yet this is not known. We call her the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan.

The Great Goddess Mural was found in the Tepantitla compound of Teotihuacan in 1942 by archaeologist Alfonso Caso, however the Goddess was not identified until 1972 by Peter Furst. Furst described the deity as feminine, inspiring the work of Esther Pasztory who analyzed this mural along with many others to find the Goddess’s role in Teotihuacan culture. The Great Goddess Mural of Tepantitla Patio 2 is the top half of a much bigger mural. The top half shows the goddess and the bottom half shows the civilians of Teotihuacan, suggesting that the goddess is watching over or protecting them. In addition, there are figures below which may represent the underworld or the afterlife, but this is unclear.

Key features of the goddess include a nose pendant with fangs and a bird headdress. Some other features are the colors red and yellow, spiders, mirrors, and wide open hands, however these features are not found in each appearance of the goddess as the headdress and nose pendant is. Pasztory used these features to look for the Goddess in other Teotihuacan architecture and murals. Pasztory described the Goddess in the Temple of Agriculture Mural as a “monumental mountain-like form in relation to her worshippers.” In the “jade Tlalocs” mural of Tetitla Portico II, the goddess wears a nose pendant and has the same descending bands of water which is seen in the Temple of Agriculture mural. Therefore, Paztory noted that the goddess has both a creative and destructive side, making her the god of fertility and death. Paztory’s interpretation is just one of many. Karl Taube, described the goddess as the “Teotihuacan Spider Woman” in 1983, due to the presence of spiders in the background of the murals which she appears. Her arms are often open wide and appear to be giving gifts. The Spider Woman/ Great Goddess is believed to have been a goddess of the underworld, darkness, water, the earth, and war.

The popular opinion among the archaeological community is that these murals depict a single deity, however some continue to question whether that is true. In his 2006 article,Ancient Mesoamerica, Zoltan Paulinyi describes a few inconsistencies between the different murals. Paulinyi suggests that perhaps these murals depict several different deities and individuals rather than one deity. He suggests that these murals depict six different deities, including the Butterfly God.