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Aztec Religion and Gods

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AZTEC RELIGION AND GODS
Research question:
What are the principles of the Aztec belief and what was the influence of those beliefs on their daily
lives?
Sub-questions:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
1.
How did the world begin according to the Aztecs (the history of the creation)?
What role played the gods in the Aztec religion?
What was the relation between the Aztec calendar and the religion?
What did the Aztecs believe about life after death?
What were the most important Aztec religious ceremonies?
How did the world begin according to the Aztecs (the history of the creation)?
In the beginning there was nothing, only darkness. The first god Ometecuhtli created itself. Ometecuhtli
was a dual god; he was good and bad, order and chaos and male and female. Duality is a very important
element of the Aztec religion and worldview.
Ometecuhtli gave birth to four sons: the gods Huizilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca and Xipe Totec.
These gods represented the four directions; south, east, west and north.
These four gods created all the other deities, the universe and eventually the earth and humans.
When the creation was complete, the gods had to create the sun to give light and energy to the people. The
sun could only be created through the sacrifice of a god.
A cycle of five suns followed, each one ending in destruction. According to the Aztecs, we are currently in
the cycle of the 5th sun.
The first sun.
Tezcatlipoca was the first god chosen to be sacrificed but he became only half a sun, making the creation
incomplete.
A fight began between Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca. In the end, the sun was knocked from the sky and the
world was totally black and in his anger, Tezcatlipoca commanded his jaguars to eat all the people. This world
lasted 676 years (= 13 x 52-year cycles; see Aztec calendar).
The second sun.
Quetzalcoatl took over for his brother as the sun. People were created (this time normal sized) but over time
they grew less civilized and they stopped showing proper honor to the gods. ezcatlipoca turned them into
monkeys and his brother became upset and blew all the monkeys away from the face of the earth with
hurricanes. This world also lasted 676 years.
The third sun.
Tlaloc, the god of rain and water became the next sun. But Tezcatlipoca stole Ttlaloc’s wife and because
of this, the grieving Ttlacoc refused to send rain. Finally, he made it rain fire until the entire Earth burned
away. The gods then had to construct a whole new world from the ashes. This world ended in 364 years.
The fourth sun.
The gods selected Chalchiuthlicue, the sister of Tlaloc to be the sun. During this sun, Quetzalcoatl and
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Tezcatlipoca were filled with jealousy and brought the sun down. A great flood marked the end of this
world, and all the people were transformed into fish. This world lasted for 676 years.
The fifth sun.
The fifth and final sun was created when the god Nanahuatzin threw himself into the fire to become the
fifth sun. But Nanahuatzin was weak and the sun wasn’t moving. All the other gods came to help and
sacrificed themselves so that the humans could live.
But the sun god needed constant nourishment in the form of human blood in order to keep the sun moving
across the sky. Failure to do this would cause the end of the world (the world would then be destroyed by
earthquakes).
2. What role played the gods in the Aztec religion?
The Aztec religion is a polytheistic religion which means that the Aztecs believed in multiple gods
(religions that believe in one god are called monotheistic religions such as Chritianity).
The Aztecs had a large pantheon (a collection of gods and goddesses) that included over 200 deities. The
Aztecs even included gods from other cultures to expand their pantheon.
The Aztecs believed that the gods created and controlled the earth and every aspect of life on earth. They
used their religion as an explanation for natural events. They feared the powers of nature and searched for
a explanations.
The gods could be divided in three categories: gods of fertility, rain and agriculture / gods of heaven and
creation / gods of war and sacrifice.
Many of the gods were dual in nature, incorporating a particular quality, gender or role, with its opposite.
This double nature reflected one of the most important principles their religion and worldview: that the
cosmos consisted of many opposites, such as night and day, fire and water, cold and heat.
The Aztecs believed their destiny depended completely on the gods. So the gods had to be pleased through
sacrifice to make life possible and keep the natural world in balance. To let it rain, to let the sun rise every
day, to let the crops grow, to let women have healthy babies etc. etc. There was a god for the moon, a god
for corn, a god for good destiny and so on and so on. The Aztecs believed that the gods could be pleased
and satisfied through the sacrifice of humans/human blood but also through offering animals and objects.
This would also appease the gods and avoid the catastrophes that their rage or indifference could cause.
The 10 most important Aztec deities:
Ometecuhtl, the primordial god, and his four sons:
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3
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6
7
8
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Ometecuhtl:
Huitzilopochtli:
Xipe Totec:
Quetzalcoatl:
Tezcatlipoca:
Tlaloc:
Nanahuatzin:
Chalchiuhtlicue:
Centeotl:
Tlaltecuhtli
Creator of the universe. God of duality.
Patron god of the Aztecs. God of the Sun, War, and Sacrifice
God of Fertility, Agriculture and Farming
Feathered Serpent God
God of Night, Death and Temptation.
God of Rain and Fertility
God of the Disease, Sickness and Illness
Goddess of Lakes, Streams, and Oceans
God of Corn, Maize
Goddess of the Earth
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3.
What was the relation between the Aztec calender and the religion?
The Aztecs used two systems for counting time:
The Xiuhpohualli:
This is the natural solar 365-day calendar to count the years (the Year Count). It describes the days and
rituals related to the seasons, so it’s an agricultural year or solar year.
It contains 18 months with 20 days plus ‘unlucky’ 5 days. Circling the Sun Stone’s center there are 20
pictures for 20 days. Each 20 day month began with a celebration and festival.
The Tonalpohualli:
This calendar is the sacred calendar because it’s main purpose is that of a divinatory tool.
The Tonalpohualli consisted of two smaller cycles: a 20-day cycle with named days; every day for one
god and a 13 day cycle with numbered days; every 13-day period represented a god.
It was used as a tool to divide the days and rituals between the gods. According to the Aztecs, the cosmos
is a very delicate equilibrium. Opposing gods are continuously competing for power and the world could
soon be destroyed. To keep everything in balance the gods have been given their own space and their own
time. The tonalpohualli tells us how time is divided among the gods.
4.
What did the Aztecs believe about life after death?
The Aztecs believed in an underworld ‘Mictlan’, consisting of 9 layers and in a paradise or upperworld,
conisisting of 13 layers. Going to the underworld or the upperworld and what job you would be assigned
(the Aztecs believed they would be assigned a job to do that helped the gods) would depend on how you
died and not so much on how you lived your life.
People killed in sacrifice and warriors who died in battle went to Tlalocan, the first level of the heavens.
Their job was to help the sun god rise each morning or fought beside Huitzilopochtli in battle. After four
years, they would transform into hummingbirds and butterflies.
Women who died giving birth went to paradise and helped the sun god to bring in the sun at the end of the
day.
The Aztecs believed that working for the gods in their afterlife was another way to keep the gods happy.
Those who did not gain admission to paradise were the people who died of natural causes, so the majority
of the people. They were forced to endure a dangerous journey down through the first eight levels of
Mictlan (this would take four years). Often a dog would be buried with the corpse to accompany the soul
through this journey. After a soul successfully traversed the eight layers (during which they had to face
many trials) they would be borne across the river Chicunanhuapan, and reach the lowest level where they
would finally find eternal rest.
5.
What were the most important Aztec religious ceremonies?
Because the Aztecs believed that the gods had an immense power over nature and influenced everything
people did, the gods were worshipped both at domestic shrines and also in elaborate public rituals. The
Aztec rituals and ceremonies were all based around pleasing and repaying the gods. Every month had at
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least one major religious ceremony honouring a god or gods. Most of these ceremonies were related to the
agricultural season, the sowing of corn, the harvest of fruits etc.
One of the most important rituals was the offering to the sun god. A human sacrifice would be taken to the
top of a temple and laid backwards over a stone by four priests. A fifth priest would then grab the heart
out of the body, still beating and place it in a bowl held by a statue of the honoured god. The body would
be thrown down the temple stairs. The audience to the ceremony would pierce and bleed themselves as a
means of sacrifice, therefore further worship to the gods was obtained (blood-letting through and selfharm was a very a common form of sacrifice).
Not every great ceremony or ritual required human sacrifice. In some Aztec rituals, priests would cut
themselves and offer their blood to the gods. In others, small birds were sacrificed.
Another important aspect of Aztec ritual was the impersonation of deities. Priests or other specially
elected men or women would be dressed up to represent a deity. In a ceremony called Toxcatl, a person
was chosen to represent Tezcatlipoca, the god of fate or destiny. The victim was portrayed the god until
the time of his sacrifice. During this 17 day-long festival, people feasted and danced and small birds were
sacrificed along with ‘Tezcatlipoca’.
The New Fire Ceremony.
Another extremely important ceremony was the The New Fire Ceremony or Xiuhmolpill, ‘The Binding of
the Years’. This ceremony was performed once every 52 years in order to stave off the end of the world.
The way the two Aztec calendars interact, no date could be repeated for 18980 days or 52 years. The
Aztecs believed that when the solar and sacred cycles fell on the same day, the universe was in danger. So
every 52 years all activities would cease and house and temple fires extinguished. People all over the
empire would destroy their furniture and precious belongings and go into mourning. On Uixachtlan Hill,
priests sacrificed a man and removed his heart. They started a fire in his chest, and from that fire, priests
lit their torches and took them down the hill to the cities and the temples. New temple and house fires
were lit by the priests. A new cycle would begin.
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References.
Mysteries of the Aztec Empire revealed. Aztec-history.com. 2006/2019 Web. 1 April 2019 (www.aztechistory.com)
Aztec Religion. Historycrunch.com. 2006/2019. Web. 1 April 2019 (https://www.historycrunch.com)
Holloway, April. Aztec Creation Myths. Ancient-origins.net. 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 April 2019. https:
(https://www.ancient-origins.net)
Aztec Empire: The importance of Religion. Historyonthenet.com. Salem Media. 2000-2019. Web. 1 April
2019. (https://www.historyonthenet.com/aztec-empire-the-importance-of-religion)
Aztec Calender Facs. Aztecsandtenochtitlan.com. 2019. Web. 3 April 2019.
(https://aztecsandtenochtitlan.com)
The Legend of the Fifth Sun. Thoughtco.com. Dotdash. Web. 3 April 2019.
(https://www.thoughtco.com/aztec-creation-myth-169337)
Gods and Rituals. Guggenheim.org. Web. 3 April 2019. (https://www.guggenheim.org/artscurriculum/topic/gods-and-rituals)
Bushnell, Geoffrey H.S., Jacques Soustelle e.a. Pre-Columbian Civilizations. Britannica.com.
Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. 3 April 2019. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/pre-Columbiancivilizations)
Kilroy-Ewbank, Lauren. Introduction to the Aztecs (Mexica). Khanacademy.org. Khan Academy. Web. 3
April 2019. (https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/early-cultures/aztecmexica/a/introduction-to-the-aztecs-mexica)
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