Aztec Gods. The Aztecs had great respect for their many gods and goddesses and were convinced that natural disasters were caused by the godly emotions.
The Aztec Religion
The Aztecs had great respect for their many gods and goddesses. Convinced natural disasters, such as drought, were caused by the emotions of Aztec gods, they had good reason to make sure to always keep these gods pleased, especially those most powerful within the complex hierarchy of divinity established by the Aztec religion. This hierarchy ranked gods as higher or lower largely based on their function. The Aztecs worshipped over 100 Gods and goddesses, and each one of these represented the functions and elements of nature such as the sun, the moon, the rain, maize, fertility, etc. A favorable relationship between humans and the gods helped maintain the fragile balance found in nature and necessary for harmonious existence.
The Aztecs also had great respect for the sun. Many of the most important Aztec myths and religious beliefs involve the life giving power of the sun. One of their creation myths recounts the 5 ages of human history, known as the 5 suns. We are currently in the fifth sun, an age doomed for total destruction (like the previous 4 suns), were it not for the sacrifice of Nanahuatl, a low ranking god whose sacrifice turned him into the sun itself.
The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the “feathered serpent”, the god of life and wind, the patron of knowledge and learning, retrieved the human bones sent to the underworld upon the death of humans from previous suns. He used these bones to populate the earth of the 5th age. Quetzalcoatl, also known in other Mesoamerican cultures such as the Mayan, has enjoyed a certain amount of post-Columbian world fame. Legend has it that long before the European’s arrival to the Americas, an Aztec prophecy promised the god’s return to earth. The Aztecs had been anxiously expecting Quetzalcoatl when Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) appeared before them. Then Aztec ruler Moctezuma II, assuming that the bearded Cortes was indeed the feathered serpent making his long awaited holy return, literally treated him like a god, consequently facilitating the Spanish conquest. Many scholars believe the historic misunderstanding is true while many others believe that it is the invention of creative, contemporary friars.
Some gods, such as Xipe-Totec the god of farming, were peaceful. Others were violent. Huitzilopochtli “hummingbird to the left” was the Aztec sun god, also associated with war. The Aztecs built temples in the form of pyramids around their empire as places to hold religious ceremonies to honor and offer Huitzilopochtli and other gods what they needed to stay pleased and to stay strong to continue providing light and life; human blood. Blood was offered either by people drawing some of their own blood, or by the ceremonious sacrifice of human life. Sacrifices took place on the top of the pyramids, where a priest would carve the beating heart out of anywhere from 1 to 1000 people at a time. He would push the lifeless bodies of the sacrificed down the stairs of the pyramid. The people sacrificed in these ceremonies were prisoners of war, slaves, or even volunteers.
Wars were common. Not only because priests needed a constant supply of prisoners of war to satisfy the gods endless hunger for blood, but also because it was believed that the spirit of a warrior killed in battle enjoyed the distinction of rising to the sky, while the spirits of the victims of normal deaths would first enter the underworld and finally the realm of the dead.
Taken out of its historical context, massive human sacrifice seems cruel and difficult to understand, but the Aztecs were convinced that it was absolutely necessary to guarantee the survival of the cosmos. The beliefs of the Aztec religion offer us a fascinating glimpse into a perspective on life, death, and the universe from a civilization that prospered hundreds of years ago.