A Mesoamerican religion
Aztecs adopted into their own religious practice deities of other geographic
regions or peoples. Therefore they had many gods.
These gods can be divided into 7 general categories:
- Cultural gods
- Nature gods
- Gods of creation
- Gods of excess
- Gods of maize and fertility
- Gods of Death and the Underworld
- Trade gods
Important deities were Tlaloc the god of rain, Huitzilopochtli Patron god of
the Mexica tribe, sun god and war god, Quetzalcoatl god of civilization and
order, and Tezcatlipoca god of destiny and fortune.
Each of these gods had their own temples within the Aztec capital
A common Aztec religious practice was the recreation of mythological events
and living persons would impersonate specific deities and be revered as a god
and often ritually sacrificed.
Religion and Society
Religion was part of all levels of Aztec society.
Throughout society, each level had their own rituals and deities.
The main responsibility of the priesthood was to make sure that the gods
maintained their place in society. They made sure the gods were given
offerings and sacrifices, and ceremonies were performed.
The natural 365 day calendar followed the agricultural year. Each 18 (20 day)
month had its own religious ritual usually along an agricultural theme.
There were 5 supplementary unlucky days
The ritual calendar of 260 days ran parallel to the natural calendar. Each day
was named after a weather condition, animal, plant or object with numbers
1-13. Hence 20 (13 day) months. Priests would interpret the signs and
numbers determining the future success or failure of an event or its meaning.
Events included births, deaths, marriages, departures and election of rulers.
Mythology and Ritual
According to legend, Huitzilpochtli had to kill his nephew, Cópil, and throw
his heart on the lake. But, since Cópil was his relative, Huitzilpochtli decided
to honor him, and caused cactus to grow over Cópil's heart which became a
sacred place. Modern Mexico City is located here.
The Aztec world consisted of three main parts: the earth world on which
humans lived, an underworld which belonged to the dead and the upper
plane in the sky.
The Aztec underworld was called Mictlan ("place of death").
The sky had 13 layers, the highest of which was called Omeyocan "place of
Tlalocan, "The place of Tlaloc", a spring like place with abundant water where
people who drowned had their afterlife.
For fallen warriors and women who died in childbirth, their souls would be
transformed into hummingbirds that would follow the sun across the sky.
Souls of people who had less glorious deaths would go to Mictlan.
Offerings were made to the dead 80 days after the funeral, then one, two,
three, and four years later, after which all links between the dead and the
living were severed.
Death was a key element in the perpetuation of creation. Therefore gods and
humans alike had the responsibility of sacrificing themselves for life to
The Aztec’s believed there had been Five suns or five worlds. The first four
Nanahuatzin, "the pimpled one", self sacrificed himself which caused a fifth
and final sun to rise and the first humans were made out of maize dough
Human sacrifice among the Aztecs and in Mesoamerica was necessary for the
continued existence of the world.
Gods were paid with offerings sacrifice - often offerings of food, flowers,
effigies, animals. But the larger the thing required from the God the larger
the sacrifice had to be, therefore the greatest sacrifice was one’s own blood