Once worn as lasting symbols of devotion to a variety of gods, as well as a marker of social belonging, Aztec tattoos are now frequently worn to express a pride in personal heritage. Characterized by intricate patterns, bright colors and distinct images, this style of body art is also commonly used for its aesthetic charms.
Despite the fact that traditionally, many Aztec tattoos symbolized the devotion the wearer felt toward a certain god, in more modern times they are worn to represent what these gods mean. For example, Huitzilopochtli, the sun god, may be worn to represent life or rebirth, while Tezcatlipoca, the god of warriors, may be worn by soldiers or those who need strength during a challenging part of their life.
Other deities that frequently appear in Aztec tattoos are Quetzalcoatl and Ixtlilton. Quetzalcoatl, or the feathered serpent, is the god of creativity, wind and fertility, and so is often worn by artists, those born under astrological air signs or those hoping to start a large family. Ixtlilton is best known as the god of healing and medicine and is often worn to represent the wearer’s desire to be cured of emotional or physical distress, but may also be representative of a person who works in a healing profession. Goddesses such as Coatlicue, who symbolizes earth, and Xochipilli, or the patron of erotic love, also feature largely in deity-related Aztec designs.
Many modern versions of Aztec tattoos only depict the faces of these gods. Most gods were given distinct features in traditional Aztec art – such as the outstretched tongue of Tezcatlipoca or the skeletal features of Mictlantecuhtl, the god of the dead – and these features often appear in the details of many pieces. Some of the most common designs are done in outline and in shades of black or blue. Other designs may show the faces of deities carved into stone or wood, or materializing from water or fire.
Although many deity-based pieces represent only the faces of these beings, some are done as full-body depictions. These designs generally show them as they would be done in traditional Aztec art, usually in shades of red, green, aqua, orange and black. Like the facial depictions, the full-body versions may also be made to look like stone or concrete statues. For a different take on this, they may be made to look like marble, silver, turquoise or even jade carvings. More modern versions of this particular design also include gods done in a portrait style, made to look like sharp, shiny robots or cartoons.
Despite the fact that most Aztec tattoos focus on the many gods, some consist of other important symbols. For instance, the Aztec calender is a popular choice. These calenders are typically made up of circles within circles. Within these circles are images of animals, elements and plants, which are used to represent the measurement of months, days and cosmic cycles.
Animals such as deer, snakes, eagles and jaguars are other popular emblems for this style. These pieces are generally done in the traditional Aztec style, which shows the creature with slightly exaggerated features, and in bright hues of orange, red, blue, green and white. Plant-life like reeds and flowers, as well as elements and weather-related symbols, may also be seen in this style. Though less common, some may prefer to create a scene with these symbols. For instance, an Aztec warrior may be shown walking through tall grass during a rainstorm.