Aztec Religion

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Aztec Religion

Post  PrincessMuin on Sat Oct 18, 2008 2:06 pm

The religion of the Aztecs was incredibly complicated, partly due to the fact that they inherited much of it from conquered peoples. Their religion was dominated by three gods: Huitzilopochtli ("hummingbird wizard," the native and chief god of the Tenochca, Huitzilopochtli was the war and sun god), Tezcatlipoca ("Smoking Mirror," chief god of the Aztecs in general), and Quetzalcoatl ("Sovereign Plumed Serpent," widely worshipped throughout Mesoamerica and the god of civilization, the priesthood, and learning). Below these three gods were four creating gods who were remote and aloof from the human world. Below these were an infinity of other gods, of which the most important were Tlaloc, the Rain God, Chalchihuitlicue, the god of growth, and Xipe, the "Flayed One," a god associated with spring.

The overwhelming aspect of Aztec religious life in the imaginations of non-Aztecs was the predominance of human sacrifice. This had been practiced all throughout the Mesoamerican world, but the Tenochca practiced it at a scale never seen before or since. We don't know a great deal about the details, but we have a fairly good idea of its general character and justification. Throughout Mesoamerica, the theology involved the concept that the gods gave things to human beings only if they were nourished by human beings. Among the Maya, for instance, the priests would nourish the gods by drawing their own blood by piercing their tongues, ears, extremities, or genitals. Other sacrifices involved prayer, offerings of food, sports, and even dramas. The Aztecs practiced all of these sacrifices, including blood-letting. But the Aztec theologians also developed the notion that the gods are best nourished by the living hearts of sacrificed captives; the braver the captive, the more nourishing the sacrifice. This theology led to widespread wars of conquest in search of sacrificial victims both captured in war and paid as tribute by a conquered people.

We can successfully reconstruct Aztec human sacrifice with a high level of accuracy. Some sacrifices were very minimal, involving the sacrifice of a slave to a minor god, and some were very spectacular, involving hundreds or thousands of captives. Aztec history claims that Ahuitzotl (1468-1502), who preceded Mocteuzma II as king, sacrificed 20,000 people after a campaign in Oaxaca ("O-a-sha-ka"). No matter what the size of the sacrifice, it was always performed the same way. The victim was held down by four priests on an altar at the top of a pyramid or raised temple while the officiant made an incision below the rib cage and pulled out the living heart. The heart was then burned and the corpse was pushed down the steep steps; a very brave or noble victim was carried down the steps. The most brutal of human sacrifices were those dedicated to the god Huehueteotl. Sacrificial victims were drugged and then thrown into a fire at the top of the ceremonial platform. Before they were killed by the fire, they were dragged out with hooks and their living hearts were pulled out and thrown back into the fire.

While human sacrifice was the most dramatic element of Aztec sacrifice, the most common form of sacrifice was voluntary blood-letting which occurred at every religious function. Such blood-letting was tied to rank: the higher one was in social or priestly rank, the more blood one had to sacrifice.

There was an urgency to all this sacrifice. The Aztec believed that the world was controlled by divine forces that were in constant conflict and opposition to one another. The universe was poised between conflicting forces of creation and destruction; human beings could, in part, influence this balance through the practice of sacrifice.

In addition to sacrifice, the Aztec religion, like the Mayan religion, was dominated by calculations of time. The Aztecs had several calendars; each day was controlled by two gods, each of which had a benificient and a malevolent aspect. In a complex series of astronomical calculations, one could precisely determine how to behave and what to do in order to achieve the best results.

It is not unfair to say that Aztec culture was overwhelmingly eschatological in a way that can only be rivalled by early Christianity. The Aztecs, like the Mayans, believed that the universe had been created five times and destroyed four times; each of these five eras was called a Sun. The first age was called Four Ocelot (for it began on the date called Four Ocelot). Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror) dominated the universe and eventually became the sun disk. The world was destroyed by jaguars. The second age was Four Wind, dominated by Quetzalcoatl (Sovereign Plumed Serpent); men were turned to monkeys and the world was destroyed by hurricanes and tempests. The third age was Four Rain, dominated by Tlaloc (the rain god); the world was destroyed by a rain of fire. The fourth era was Four Water and was dominated by Chalchihuitlicue (Woman with the Turquoise Skirt); the world was destroyed by a flood. The fifth era, the one we live in now, is Four Earthquake, and is dominated by Tonatiuh, the Sun-God. This age will end in earthquakes.

The Aztecs had two calendars: the ritual year and the solar year. The ritual year lasted for 260 days and the solar year lasted for 365 days. Every fifty-two years these two calendars would resynchronize; the Aztecs, then, lived in 52-year cycles. In Aztec religion, the destruction of every era always occurred on the last day of each 52 year cycle (although each era lasted for several of these cycles). Every 52 years, then, the Aztecs believed that the world was about to end and the close of the 52 year cycle was the most important religious event in Aztec life for this period was the most dangerous period in human life. This was the time when the gods could decide to destroy humanity. Every cycle ended with the New Fire Ceremony. For five days before the end of the cycle, all religious altar fires were extinguished and people all over the Aztec world destroyed furniture and possessions and went into mourning for the world. On the last day, the priests went to the Hill of the Star, a crater in the Valley of Mexico, and waited for the constellation of the Pleiades to appear. If it appeared, that meant that the world would continue for fifty-two more years. The priests would light a fire in an animal carcass, and all the fires of the Valley of Mexico would be lit from this single fire. The day after saw sacrifices, blood-letting, feasting, and renovation of possessions and houses.

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PrincessMuin

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Re: Aztec Religion

Post  Centehua Ahuiliztli on Sun Oct 19, 2008 3:13 pm

if I may add a bit... taken from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25391041/

MEXICO CITY - Scientists were fascinated by the ghostly find: a human skeleton buried in an Aztec temple with a clay, skull-shaped whistle in each bony hand.

But no one blew into the noisemakers for nearly 15 years. When someone finally did, the shrill, windy screech made the spine tingle.

If death had a sound, this was it.

Roberto Velazquez believes the Aztecs played this mournful wail from the so-called Whistles of Death before they were sacrificed to the gods.

The 66-year-old mechanical engineer has devoted his career to recreating the sounds of his pre-Columbian ancestors, producing hundreds of replicas of whistles, flutes and wind instruments unearthed in Mexico’s ruins.

For years, many archaeologists who uncovered ancient noisemakers dismissed them as toys. Museums relegated them to warehouses. But while most studies and exhibits of ancient cultures focus on how they looked, Velazquez said the noisemakers provide a rare glimpse into how they sounded.

“We’ve been looking at our ancient culture as if they were deaf and mute,” he said. “But I think all of this is tied closely to what they did, how they thought.”

Velazquez is part of a growing field of study that includes archaeologists, musicians and historians. Medical doctors are interested too, believing the Aztecs may have used sound to treat illnesses.

Noisemakers made of clay, turkey feathers, sugar cane, frog skins and other natural materials were an integral part of pre-Columbian life, found at nearly every Mayan site. The Aztecs sounded the low, foghorn hum of conch shells at the start of ceremonies and possibly during wars to communicate strategies. Hunters likely used animal-shaped ocarinas to produce throaty grunts that lured deer.

The modern-day archaeologists who came up with the term Whistles of Death believe they were meant to help the deceased journey into the underworld, while tribes are said to have emitted terrifying sounds to fend off enemies, much like high-tech crowd-control devices available today.

Experts also believe pre-Columbian tribes used some of the instruments to send the human brain into a dream state and treat certain illnesses. The ancient whistles could guide research into how rhythmic sounds alter heart rates and states of consciousness.

Among Velazquez’s replicas are those that emit a strange cacophony so strong that their frequency nears the maximum range of human hearing.

Chronicles by Spanish priests from the 1500s described the Aztec and Mayan sounds as sad and doleful, although these may have been only what was played in their presence.

“My experience is that at least some pre-Hispanic sounds are more destructive than positive, others are highly trance-evocative,” said Arnd Adje Both, an expert in pre-Hispanic music archaeology who was the first to blow the Whistles of Death found in the Aztec skeleton’s hands. “Surely, sounds were used in all kind of cults, such as sacrificial ones, but also in healing ceremonies.”

Sounds still play an important role in Mexican society. A cow bell announces the arrival of the garbage truck outside Mexico City homes. A trilling, tuneless flute heralds the knife sharpener’s arrival. A whistle emitting cat meows says the lottery ticket seller is here.

But pre-Columbian instruments often end up in a warehouse, Velazquez said, “and I’m talking about museums around the world doing this, not just here.”

That’s changing, said Tomas Barrientos, director of the archaeology department at Del Valle University of Guatemala.

“Ten years ago, nothing was known about this,” he said. “But with the opening up of museum collections and people’s private collections, it’s an area of research that is growing in importance.”

Velazquez meticulously researches each noisemaker before replicating it. He travels across Mexico to examine newly unearthed wind instruments, some dating back to 400 B.C. and shaped like animals or deities. He studies reliefs and scans 500-year-old Spanish chronicles.

But making replicas is only part of the work. Then he has to figure out how to play them. He’ll blow into some holes and plug others, or press the instrument to his lips and flutter his tongue. Sometimes he puts the noisemaker inside his mouth and blows, fluctuating the air from his lungs.

He experimented with one frog-shaped whistle for a year before discovering its inner croak.

Renowned archaeologist Paul Healy, who made an important discovery of Mayan instruments in Belize in the 1980s, said many of the originals still work.

“A couple of these instruments we found were broken, which was great because we could actually see the construction of them, the actual technology of building a sound chamber out of paper-thin clay,” he said.

Centehua Ahuiliztli

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Re: Aztec Religion

Post  PrincessMuin on Sun Oct 19, 2008 3:18 pm

(Oh thank you, we should all quote our sources from now, like you did. I didn't, and now have no clue where that was from. Embarassed )

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Re: Aztec Religion

Post  Tlaca on Mon Oct 20, 2008 5:54 am

It's from http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/CIVAMRCA/AZTECS.HTM . A professional survival skill to be able to quickly spot and trace text taken from the internet.
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