Living with the gods

Rituals and Deities

Religion guided every aspect of Aztec life. The Aztec calendar system featured interlocking solar and divinatory calendars. The system set the rhythm of life including when to plant and harvest and when to sacrifice for the gods.

The Aztecs believed that their existence was precarious. And so it was; they lived in an unstable volcanic zone surrounded by a swampy lake that sometimes flooded and sometimes dried out.

According to their beliefs, the universe had a cycle of destruction and creation. Their world had already ended four times and they owed their existence to sacrifices made by their gods. These deities were at the centre of the Aztec religion.

Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs' main god, was a fearsome figure associated with the sun and war. Tláloc was the god of rain and was responsible for both droughts and floods. He was often depicted in blue, with the bulging eyes of a frog. Frighteningly unpredictable, Tezcatlipoca was the god of war and destiny. He saw and knew everything. Xipe Totec wore the flayed skin of a sacrifical victim and was the god of spring and regeneration.

Sacrifice

From a modern perspective, the prevalence of human sacrifice in Aztec society can be confronting.

The Aztecs believed that the gods had sacrificed themselves to create the world and to give humans life. To ensure that life continued, people needed to sacrifice their own kind to the gods. If they failed to do so, the sun would not rise and the world would end.

Whether they drew their own blood by piercing their ears or thighs, or beheld the sacrifice of captive warriors on the altar in the temple, everybody in Tenochtitlán participated in some form of sacrifice.  

 

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