T H E A Z T E C S A brief overview of Mythology and Religion by Jeff Huber Introduction. Over 450 years ago the Spanish sent men to the new world. They came to a place we now know as Mexico. There they encountered a people who were proud, and ingenious. They were the makers of beautiful artworks, and the architecture of their cities was so magnificent as to stun the Spanish (Professor Rene Peron, personal communication 1987). They considered themselves as the protectors of the world. They kept the world safe (Portilla 1963). They were the Aztecs. In February of 1519, Hernan Cortez, and his Spanish troops, landed at Veracruz. By August 13, 1521 he and his men had captured Tenochtitlan, the capitol of the Aztec empire (Weaver 1981). One of the main reasons for the aggressiveness of the Spaniards toward the Aztecs, was the differences in their religions (Soustelle 1961). As part of their religion the Aztecs practiced various forms of human sacrifice. These included: the cutting open of a victims chest and removing his heart, having a victim tied to a large stone disk and armed with only a wooden club fight to the death against several fully armed warriors, decapitating women while they danced, and the drowning of children (Soustelle 1961). There was also a particularly gruesome form of sacrifice that involved the victims skin being removed and worn by a priest (Caso 1958). When the Spanish discovered that these things were happening, they were understandably shocked. They came to believe that the Aztec religion was a religion from hell. They decided that the Aztecs gods were devils or demons, and therefore everything associated with them should be destroyed (Soustelle 1961). To many it may seem that the Spaniards did the right thing, and that there is no excuse for what the Aztecs did. Whether this is true or not, we might wonder why they did it, and how they considered this protecting the world, or keeping it safe. To answer this we must take a closer look at the cosmology, myths, and religion of the Aztecs. Mythological History. The Aztecs believed that at the beginning of the universe, there were only two gods. Their names were Ometecuhtli "the lord of duality", and Omecihuatl "the lady of duality" (Soustelle 1961). Other sources say that these two gods are just two aspects of one god, named Ometeotl, although (s)he is sometimes called either Huehueteotl "the old god", or Tonacatecuhtli (Portilla 1963). This god, or gods, gave birth to four other gods. The first born was named Tlatlauhqui Tezcatlipoca, also referred to as Camaxtli (Portilla 1963), or Xipe(Caso 1958). This god was associated with the east, and the color red. The second born was named Yayauhqui Tezcatlipoca, commonly just called Tezcatlipoca. He is associated with the north, and the color black. The third born was named Quetzalcoatl, sometimes called Yoalliehecatl. He was associated with the west and the color white. The last born was named Omiteotl, or Maquizcoatl, but the people of Tenochtitlan almost always referred to him as, Huitzilopochtli (Portilla 1963) The four brother gods were powerful, and one of their powers was that of creation. After six-hundred years they began the creation of the world. They began by creating fire, and a half sun; next came a man and a woman; who were commanded to cultivate the earth,to always work hard, and to give birth to people. They created: time (the days, months, etc.); other gods; the multiple heavens and hells; and water, from which they created a giant alligator like fish that became the earth (Portilla 1963). Each of the four gods wanted to have himself be identified with the sun, so that he could be more powerful and control the destiny of men and earth. So a great battle began for the sun (Portilla 1963). The first god to become the sun was Tezcatlipoca. He ruled the world as the sun until Quetzalcoatl hit him with a staff, and knocked him into the water. After he landed, he turned into a jaguar and devoured the people of the earth (Caso 1958). He had ruled as sun for 676 years, but with his defeat Quetzalcoatl became a new and second sun. He also ruled for 676 years, until Tezcatlipoca struck him down. It was not he, although, who became the third sun. The role was taken instead by a god called Tlalocatecli (Portilla 1963). This god was also called Tlalocatecuhtli, or more often simply, Tlaloc. It is said that he was created, along with his wife Chalchiuhtlicue, by the four brother gods, and that they made them the god and goddess of water (Caso 1958). Tlaloc only remained as the sun for 312 years, after which Quetzalcoatl caused fire to rain down on him from heaven and he replaced tlaloc with his wife, or sister, Chalchiuhtlicue. She ruled as the fourth sun for 676 years until Tezcatlipoca caused a great flood to come, and thus the fourth sun was also destroyed (Portilla 1963). Along with each of these Four suns that had thus far been created and destroyed, people had been created and destroyed; although in many accounts some of at least three of the four suns people had survived and been transformed into animals, such as birds, fish, and monkeys (Caso 1958). We have seen that up until this point there had always been a heated battle amongst the gods to obtain the position of the sun. After the destruction of the fourth sun a god did not rush forward and become the new sun, as had happened before; instead, events continued, for a while, in a more peaceful and cooperative way. The water which is what the sky is made of, first had to be lifted back into it's proper place. This task was done by the old rivals Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl (Caso 1958). Creation of the Fifth Sun and Man The fifth sun is the sun under which the Aztecs lived. There are more detailed accounts of how this sun, and the Aztecs, were created (Portilla 1963). The gods all gathered at Teotihuacan (an ancient city northeast of Tenochtitlan) and decided that one of the gods would have to sacrifice himself, by being burned in a large fire, so as to become the fifth sun (Caso 1958). Two gods agreed to attempt the sacrifice. After four days of preparation, during which the gods did penance, the time came for the sacrifice (Sejourne 1956). The gods gathered around the divine hearth "Teotexcalli" and at midnight they told the first god to jump into the fire. He tried several times, but each time at the last minute he became afraid and could not go through with it. The gods then called the second god to try. He closed his eyes stepped forward and jumped into the fire (Portilla 1963). The first god felt guilty about being afraid and he also jumped in. The both of them burned and were consumed by the sacrificial fire (Caso 1958). After the gods waited for a while the sun rose followed shortly by the moon. The moon was equal in brightness to the sun, so one of the gods threw a rabbit at it and by doing so caused the shadows on the moon which the Aztecs thought resembled a rabbit (Portilla 1963; Sejourne 1956). There are at least four different versions of what happened next. They all start in agreement by saying that after rising the sun did not move. The first version says that the new sun demanded that the gods sacrifice themselves to him. One of the gods attacked the sun as his response, so the sun killed him, and all of the other gods (Caso 1958). The second version says that when the gods saw that the sun was still they sacrificed themselves and offered their blood, after which a wind came and blew the sun into motion (Portilla 1963). The third version says that a wind killed the gods and then put the sun into motion (Sejourne 1956). The fourth version says that the sun needed blood to move, so the gods jumped into the sacrificial fire, and thereby gave the sun the power to move (Soustelle 1961). The differences in these stories are not what is important. What is important is that in each of these stories it was necessary for a god to die to create the sun, and other gods to die before the sun moved. We see more of this life from sacrifice in the myths of the creation of the Aztec people. After the fifth sun was created the gods nominated Quetzalcoatl to go on a journey to Mictlan or hell to get the sacred bones of man. He asked the lord of the land of dead for the bones. The lord did not want him to have them, so he tried to discourage him by making him first preform the seemingly impossible task of blowing a blast on a shell horn that had no holes in it. Quetzalcoatl succeeded with the help of some worms and bees, but the lord of the dead still didn't want him to have the bones. Quetzalcoatl responded by having his double tell the lord that he would leave the bones. He then rushed off and took the bones, but the lord had caught on and had his servants dig a deep hole which Quetzalcoatl fell into and thus died scattering the bones. He came back to life and gathered up the bones and took them to the gods. When he returned he had the bones ground up, and then he cut open his penis and bled onto them, and the other gods also did penance. In this way the gods created man. (Portilla 1963). We have seen some important themes in the Aztec religion, such as: the concept of struggle among the gods over the domination of the earth, that have lead so far to the destruction of the earth four times; the concept of gods who are benevolent or malevolent at different times; the concept of sacrifice to create the sun; sacrifice to move the sun; and sacrifice to create man. I believe these concepts are of fundamental importance as a shaping force on Aztec rituals. Rituals and sacrifices. The Aztecs practiced many rituals that involved sacrifice.Not all of these sacrifices involved death or mutilation, in fact a great many were the offering of: food, drink, plants, etc. (Portilla 1963). Of course, as stated earlier, human sacrifice was of great importance in the Aztec religion, and a central theme in the cult of several Aztec gods. We shall now take a look at some of these cults. Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli, who will be discussed first, were the two most important Aztec gods, and it is to them that the "Great Temple" of Tenochtitlan was dedicated (Weaver 1981). Tlaloc. Tlaloc was the most important god to the Aztec peasants , because of his control over the rains (Soustelle 1961). Although Tlaloc was generally a beneficent god, he did at times cause terrible floods, devastating droughts, or hail, lightning, etc.(Caso 1958). During the month of Atl caualo, a feast was held to honor him and it was at this time that the Aztecs tried to appease him by drowning children in sacrifice, so that he would only send good rains to them (Soustelle 1961). Huitzilopochtli. The most important god in Tenochtitlan is Huitzilopochtli. He is the fifth sun, and the god of war. (Professor Rene Peron, personal communication 1987). The main sacrifice to him was during the month of Panquetzaliztli. There was a great feast and a parade that traveled out of the capitol to visit many other towns before returning. The procession was made up mostly of war captives, who willingly went on the journey full well knowing that when it returned they were to be sacrificed. (Soustelle 1961). The Aztecs held this sacrifice, and others like it, because they believed that just as the sun needed a sacrifice to begin its movement at the time of its creation, so did it need a continual supply of chalchihuatl "the precious liquid", which is human blood, so that it could have the strength to continue its life in the sky and avoid being destroyed by other gods who still coveted the position of the sun and wished to take the place of Huitzilopochtli as a new sixth sun over a new sixth world. (Caso 1958; Portilla 1963; Soustelle 1961). Tezcatlipoca. This is the god of the night sky, he is also associated with the moon, death, evil, destruction, and providence. He is in many ways an opposite of Huitzilopochtli, and it is therefore not surprising that he was very popular in the city of Texcoco; which,although allies with Tenochtitlan, was still in many ways their rival. During the month of Toxcatl the priests picked a young warrior who had been captured in battle. They trained him how to act and dress properly, and according to his new, but temporary, station as a representation of the god. He was allowed to walk around as he pleased and was treated with great respect by all who came into contact with him. at the end of a year great feasts, dances and ceremonies were held in his honor. That night he went to small temple, climbed the stairs, and met the priests. They took his heart, and he took the pleadings of the people to the god (Caso 1958; Soustelle 1961). Most of the victims who were sacrificed were people captured during war. It should be pointed out that the Aztecs tried to capture people instead of killing them, and that the captor treated the captive with great kindness, considering him a symbolic son. The captives considered the fact that they would be sacrificed as expected, proper, and divinely ordained (Soustelle 1961). The Aztecs believed that all these types of sacrifices were necessary and did not find them horrible. They were not done out of malice or cruelty; nor were they excuses for the Aztecs to attack their neighbors. Now some people may not except this but there is good supportive evidence in what is known as xochiyaoyotl "the war of flowers". This was an agreement made in 1450 between three cities; Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan; and some villages. this agreement was that since there was no war going on at that time, that they would arrange combats so that there could still be enough captives to be used in the necessary sacrifices (Soustelle 1961; Caso 1958). They did find horrible the types of torture that the Spanish used, either to gain information, or pleasure. They also found horrible the Spanish style of warfare, which they considered wasteful and overly violent (Soustelle 1961). Conclusion If we look at the information presented here, we can draw some interesting conclusions. What at first may have looked like horrible and barbaric practices, we later saw turned into practices that were in response to a complicated world view. They were doing what in their minds was necessary, and yes even morally right. this may be hard to accept, but we must try to look beyond our cultural biases and look at what the Aztecs did from the perspective of their world view. There were gods who would like to destroy the sun and the Aztecs with it so that they could become a new sun and rule over a new world, So the Aztecs were compelled to take the only sensible course of action available to them. They had to sacrifice people to the sun so that it would have the power to fight off the other gods for as long as possible. There were gods who had to be appeased so that they could be sure that the rains would come, that the plants would grow properly, etc. In short they were doing what was necessary. But this can only be seen if we look at it from their point of view, and if the Europeans had been able to do the same, maybe the great civilizations of the new world would have had a chance at survival. Bibliography #1 Caso, Alfonso 1958 The Aztecs: People of the Sun, translated by Lowell Dunham. University of Oklahoma press, Norman. #2 Portilla, Miguel Leon 1963 Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind, translated by Jack Emery Davis. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. #3 Sejourne, laurette 1956 Burning Water: Thought and Religion in Ancient Mexico, translated by Irene Nicholson. Robert Maclehose, Glasgow. #4 Soustelle, Jacques 1961 Daily Life of the Aztecs, translated by Patrick O`Brian Stanford University Press, Stanford. #5 Weaver, Murial Porter 1981 The Aztecs, Maya, and their Predecessors. Academic Press, New York. #6 Professor Rene Peron; personal communication 1987 Anthropology 31. Santa Rosa Junior College, California.