The Toltecs and Aztecs had originally worshipped a person/couple called Ometecuhtli (the male part) and Omechihuatl (the female part). Sometimes these are shown combined into one being with male and female aspects. Omechihuatl was referred to variously as the wife, twin sister, or female aspect of Ometecuhtli, and was his complete equal in power because she was distinguishable from him only by gender. This couple acted as one Creator God and symbolized the duality of nature and the inseparable unity of the Great Life Force. After Ometecuhtli and Omechihuatl, who can be considered as the first generation in the genealogy of the Aztec gods, next came the great Mother Goddess.
The Great Goddess was not nice. Really, after centuries of evidence of women going off to wars and are perfectly capable of doing some pretty awful things, we should just accept that female niceness is something that exists mainly in the imaginations of men and politicians because, before the needs of the new religious ideas and the social order that goes with it, the goddess was never just nice and sweet. She was female – nice, terrifying, gentle, powerful, compassionate, horrifying, and much more. One can still see some of this in the images and representations of the goddess Kali in India. In ancient Mexico she was called Coatlicue, or “Serpent Skirt”, and she had many of the same characteristics and symbols as Kali. They were both fierce protectors and compassionate mothers, wore severed hands and skulls draped around them, and had protruding tongues. Some representations of Kali show her with fang-like teeth, Coatlicue is sometimes shown with a human skull as a head.
In later forms, their powers were dismembered. In India the compassionate protector function went to Durga, who battled only against demons, and in Mexico it went first to Tonantsi (who accepted only the sacrifice of birds and small animals, not of humans). The darker, underworld, aspects of the old goddess went to a number of lesser goddettes such as Tlazolteotl and Cihuacoatl. Cihuacoatl was an Aztec earth and mother-goddess, and patroness of childbirth. She was sometimes portrayed holding a child in her arms, but her roar was a signal of war – perhaps because there is nothing more ferocious than a mother protecting her children.
“Coatl” is the Nahuatl word for serpent, and the use of serpent symbolism is ubiquitous in Mexican and Central American iconography prior to the Invasion. As far back as the time of the Olmecs, the mouth of the serpent was a symbol of womanhood. It was a sacred place, a safe place, the womb from which all things were born, and also a symbol of the place to which all would return. As remarked by Gloria Anzaldua, a native Mexican, (Entering into the Serpent, Anzaldua, 1979), “The destiny of humankind is to be devoured by the Serpent.”