Mictlan (Nahuatl pronunciation: ) was the underworld of Aztec mythology. Most people who died went to Mictlan, although other possibilities existed (see "Other Destinations," below). Mictlan, far to the north,, consisted of nine distinct levels.
The journey from the first level to the ninth was difficult and took 4 years, but the dead were aided by the psychopomp, Xolotl. The dead had to pass many challenges, such as crossing a mountain range where the mountains crashed into each other, a field with wind that blew flesh-scraping knives, and a river of blood with fearsome jaguars.
In addition to Mictlan, the dead could also go to other destinations:
- Warriors who died in battle and those who died as a sacrifice went east and accompanied the sun during the morning.
- Women who died in childbirth went to the west and accompanied the sun when it set in the evening.
- People who died of drowning — or from other causes that were linked to the rain god Tlaloc, such as certain diseases and lightning — went to a paradise called Tlalocan. Mictlan also features in the Aztec creation myth. Mictlantecuhtli set a pit to trap Quetzalcoatl. When Quetzalcoatl entered Mictlan, Mictlantecuhtli was waiting. He asked Quetzalcoatl to travel around Mictlan four times blowing a conch shell with no holes. Quetzalcoatl eventually put some bees in the conch shell to make sound. Fooled, Mictlantecuhtli showed Quetzalcoatl to the bones. But Quetzalcoatl fell into the pit and some of the bones broke. The Aztecs believed this is why people are different sizes.
- Smith, M. E. (2009). The Aztecs (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-631-23016-8
- Smith, M. E. (2009). The Aztecs (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-631-23016-8
- Soustelle, Jacques (Patrick O'Brian, translator) (1961). Daily Life of the Aztecs on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p. 107.