The Toltecayotl symbolizes the ‘balance between the spiritual and material aspects of the world, as well as the intuitive and the rational. This is expressed through the ‘harmonic encounter’ of four butterflies. As the butterflies take flight toward four separate directions in search of luminous heights, the divine breath from the center detaches the spirit of its earthly bounds in order to lift it up to heaven.

Lino Ramírez (Tizáá)

Quincuncio Tolteca

«The Toltecayotl symbolizes the ‘balance between the spiritual and material aspects of the world, as well as the intuitive and the rational. This is expressed through the ‘harmonic encounter’ of four butterflies. As the butterflies take flight toward four separate directions in search of luminous heights, the divine breath from the center detaches the spirit of its earthly bounds in order to lift it up to heaven.»

If we could define in a single word the meaning of Toltecayotl, a term that sums up such a complex and profound system of thought and action would be: “balance”. Indeed, the ancient Toltecs sought, through different paths, “the art of living in harmony”. It was a  harmony that they achieved through balance. What is balanced and harmonic is beautiful. Because of this belief, the weapons of the “Guerrero de la Muerte Florecida” (“Knights of the Blossoming Death”) are “the Flower” and “the Song”, a metaphor that refers to the flower as beauty and the song as wisdom.

With the flower and the song the warriors seek to balance “the four directions of existence”. This is why the Toltecs symbolically divide the human body into four sections:

  • The first section, from the waist to the head, symbolizes heaven. This part, in turn, is represented by the “Quetzal”, the bird with the most beautiful plumage. In conjunction, these symbols are associated with Spirit;
  • The second section, from the waste to the feet, symbolizes the Earth. This part, in turn, is represented by the serpent that slithers over Mother Earth, which is referred to as “Cóatl” in the Nahuatl tongue;

As a whole, both symbols are associated with matter. From them the philosophical principle of the “Quetzal-cóatl” emerges, which represents the idea of “balance” between the spiritual and material aspects of the world and of life. This equilibrium manifests as clear understanding, which is embodied through the “Batalla Florida” (“blossoming battle”). It is the internal struggle of the Warrior to find balance and harmony in life.

At the same time, the human body, at the same time, is subdivided in two vertical halves:

  • The third section, the right half called “Tonal”, is associated with the solar, masculine, active, dry, visible half, and above all with the use of reason to perceive the world;
  • The fourth, the left half called “Nahual”, is associated with the lunar, passive, humid, invisible, and above all with the use of intuition.

The world and life are perceived as a double pair of complementary opposites: Quetzal-cóatl and Tonal-Nahual, which require «intent» in order to balance these four sites.

The outcome of the “Batalla Florida” is attaining this difficult balance. The battlefield is our daily life, the interplay between our own strengths and weaknesses. This interplay creates the gravitational pull that attracts matter toward the abyss of human foolishness. In this way, the “Batalla Florida” gives understanding and meaning to life.

The achievement of balance between these “Four Paths of Existence” is resolved in the “Fifth Direction”. In its positive aspect, this direction means attaining the right balance between “the two complementary pairs”, Quetzal-Cóatl and Tonal-Nahual, a balance that comes as a result of attaining existential transcendence. In its negative manifestation, the individual falls into the abyss of human degradation and existential insignificance, something that happens when one direction prevails over the others.

The ancient Toltecs referred to this “Fifth Direction” in diverse ways, for example: Macuilxochitl (Five Flower) or “The Cross of Quetzalcóatl”. Teacher Laurrete Séjurne named it the Quincunce in her famous work: “Thought and Religion in Ancient Mexico”. The symbol in short is a cross with a balancing center. It can be depicted as a circle and four petals, representing a flower.

La quinta flor

It can be found as a cross bordered by a bigger cross with four segments on the side, or a square annexed on each side by a trapezoid.

Anahuacan iconography represents this philosophic symbol in multiple and diverse ways, as it is the axis and foundation of Toltecan thought. It is present on codices, stelae, and chiefly in their architecture, holding a perfect balance between human wisdom and celestial mechanics.

However, there is one symbol that clearly communicates the metaphor of the balance between the four directions better than the other ones: a butterfly, which all of the warriors wore on their chest. One can appreciate this classic symbol in the wonderful sculptures known as “Los Atlantes” (The Atlantean ones) , which are found in the pyramid of the city ofTula, Hidalgo, or in the diverse sculptures known as “Chac Mool”.

The butterfly takes flight in search of luminous heights when the spirit of the warrior frees itself of its earthly cocoon. The butterfly flies toward the primary source of energy, in search of the Light. Matter has completed its mission and reintegrates itself with Mother Earth and the butterfly searches the Father, the Sun.

With this philosophical poetic thought the holy ancient Toltecs symbolized the Toltecayotl as four butterflies directed toward the four cardinal points or directions of existence. If a black butterfly looks to the north (Mictlampa), it is drawn over a white background, and to create balance its white counterpart looks to the south (Huitztlampa) over a black background. In the same way, the black butterfly that points to the east (Tlahuiztlampa) is drawn over a white background and its counterpart ―the white butterfly looking to the west (Cihuatlampa)― is drawn on a black surface.

Quincuncio Tolteca

The amazing thing about this Toltec philosophical symbol is that in the center, where the four butterflies part toward the four cardinal points, a fifth symbol is formed in a deep spiritual sense. In effect, the “harmonic encounter” in the center of the four butterflies produces―thanks to the wisdom of the Toltecs and the talent and creativity of the Anahuacan Tlacuilos―a stylized snail cut longitudinally, emblem of Quetzalcóatl and of their “divine breath” that gives consciousness to matter.

The message that the “Guerreros de la Muerte Florecida” aspired to communicate is thus represented in this way, with marvelous aesthetics and simplicity. In the allegory of the butterflies, the snail and the cross of Quetzalcóatl represents a spiritual message of deep transcendence. As we know, the Anahuac civilization was only one, but it manifested in multiple and diverse cultures over time. For that reason, this symbol is present in all Anahuac cultures, especially in the cultures of the “Altiplano” (Plateau of Sierra Madre), Oaxaca, and in the Mayan culture, located in the Yucatán peninsula and part of Central America.

The symbol of the Toltecayotl, as our kind reader will appreciate, is coincidentally very similar to the Yin Yang symbol of the Eastern civilization. The two tell us about four complementary oppositions, only that ours is deeper and more complex, for it includes the snail and the Cross of Quetzalcóatl. However, Descartes said that “There is only one light, no matter how many objects it illuminates. Human wisdom is, as well, only one, no matter the multiple forms in which cultures expresses it.

The problem we face as Mexicans is that we have been educated “as ignorant strangers in our own land”. We are familiar with the ‘clichés’ of the Greco-Latin culture and a little with those of other cultures as well; however, we are completely unfamiliar with the wealth of human knowledge that our over thousand-year-old Olmec culture possesses, which is one of the six oldest cultures and whose origin began autonomously.

As a result of it, our misfortune derives from our ignorance and our desolation in being lost from five hundred years in the “maze of loneliness”; copying and praising the foreign and systematically despising and ignoring the local. The future of the Earth belongs to our children, and they are no different than our ancestors of the past millennium.


I would like to extend my profound thanks to Pina Saucedo, from “Bandera de la Paz” (Peace Flag) in Durango. Also to Red Alcoris 13, to Uuc Kan and to Guillermo Marín, for all of your support. To the Magazine Oikos, for the realization of this article, given that with your support it is possible to share with our readers the significance of the Quincunce, of the Mayan symbol of Humab Ku and of the pilgriming of the Warrior to Anahuac lands.

Translated by: David Harriman.

Revised by: Marc Torra

This post is also available in: Spanish

Lino Ramírez (Tizaá)

Autor/a: Lino Ramírez (Tizaá)

Tizaá Lino René Ramírez y Márquez es originario de Acatlán de Osorio, en la Región Mixteca del estado de Puebla, México; Acatlán, y que en lengua Nahuatl quiere decir "Lugar de Carrizos". Tizaá proviene del Mixteco y quiere decir "Agua Ceniza" u "Hombre de Brío". Por su origen indígena mixteco, ha tenido contacto y relación con diferentes Abuelos de las diferentes Comunidades Indígenas de México, poseedores del conocimiento ancestral Olmeca-Tolteca-Mexica. Tal situación le ha permitido vivir las costumbres, tradiciones y cosmovisión de los pueblos del Anahuac, así como pregonar este valioso conocimiento, considerándolo como el reencuentro del Individuo con su verdadera esencia y con su verdadera Familia: El Padre Cielo, la Madre Tierra, el Fuego, el Aire, el Agua y toda forma de manifestación de la Vida.

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