Aztec Religion

Doctrines Aztecs beliefs were based in their perception of nature, its time space, and cycles. They were particularly concerned with the destructive aspect of nature, and most of their rituals are means of avoiding the destructive and chaotic forces of nature, and finding harmony within nature. The need to control nature is evident in their calendar systems. They had two calendars which when combined formed a third one. The first calendar, the "Xihuitl", or natural year calendar, was used to measure the agricultural year and provided the basis upon which they performed their ritual to their various gods. The second calendar, the "Tonalpohualli", was a specific religious calendar. The structure of the calendar was based on a combination of number and sign system that determied the fate of everyone depending on the date of their birth. Certain deities were associated with certain days.
The Xihuitl and the Tonalpohualli were combined forming a third calendar that was named Xiuhmolpilli (a bundle of years). The Xiuhmopilli or the calendar round had a cycle of fifty two solar years, the time needed for the two previous calendars to have a coincident beginning. Each period of fifty two years was considered an era at the end of which destruction might take place if sacrifices were not performed.
The Aztec world was divided into time and space. Concerning time, they believed that the world was divided into five eras, or suns. Each previous era had been governed by one deity and it had ended with the destruction of the elements or phenomena after which it had been named. The Aztec believed themselves to be living in the fifth and last era. This era which they called era of movement would be brought to an end destroyed by earthquakes. after which the world and time would come to an end.
The world was conceived as a flat surface divided into five directions (norht, south, east, west and the center where their capital Tenochtitlán was located). Departing from Tenochtitlán, there was a vertical line with thirteen ascending layers or heavens, and nine layers of underworld all of them ocupied by different deities.
The Aztec pantheon was quite large and varied. There were gods related to the creation of the cosmos, to fertility, regeneration, death, war, and the sacrificial nourishment of the sun. The gods had different roles and were also represented in different ways. The two gods to whom the two most important temples in the Aztec world were dedicated were Huitzlopochtli (the supreme deity of the Aztecs associated with sun and fire) and Tatloc, the rain god, that among other things was associated with fertility.
The Aztec pantheon was organized hierarchically with gods occupying the various vertical levels mentioned above. The highest layer was occupied by "Ometeotl" that was both male and female, representing therefore the principle of duality. The male aspect of Ometeotl, called our lord of subsistence had yet two aspects named Ometicuhtli and Tonacatecuhtli. The female aspect, called "our lady of subsistence" had also two aspects named Omecihuatl and Tonacacihuatl. This couple generated four children (God Red Tezcatlipoca -Smoking mirror-, God Black Tezcatlipoca, god Quetzalcoatl -plumed serpent-, God Huitzi Lopochthi -humming bird) that created the universe and its laws. Despite their importance, these gods were not worshiped as much as the gods related to the celestial bodies and to fertility. Of particular importance was the sun god without whom there would be no world. According to the one Aztec myth, one god sacrificed himself into a fire so that he could become the sun; however once he had become the sun, he did not reappear until he was nourished with the blood of all the other gods. The myth of the birth of the sun god provids the baisis of the practice of sacrifical death, including human sacrificial death.
The religious rites and ceremonies where related to the various aspects and needs of Aztec life. Worship was done through offerings, prayers, performing symbolic acts, games, sacrifices. Daily rituals were associated with food, and thanksgiving. The ceremonies were performed in the temples that could be round or pyramidal. Attached to the temples there were courts for the ball game (tlachtli), sacrificial stones (techcatl) and other special areas for the different kinds of rituals and ceremonies. Though the rituals differed from place to place they followed a basic structure that consisted of preparation- fasting, purification and offerings- after which came blood sacrifice that was an act of major importance for the Aztec. For them there could be no new life without death.

History The Aztec empire and therefore their religion as such arose around the fourteenth and fifteenth century. With the disintegration of the Toltec civilization, after the fall of Tulla in 1168, the Mexican plateau became a field of battle where the various groups fought for power. Among these groups a Chichimec group who called themselves Méxica and spoke a language called nahuatl, entered the valley of Mexico, and found their capital (Mexico-Tenochtitlán or Tenochtitlán) in 1345. Through alliances, trade and war conquered many other groups, and formed what it is called now a days the Aztec empire. Although the méxica had their religion prior to the conquest of Tenochitlán, in the process of empowering they absorbed the gods, myths and rites of the groups conquered by them. Many of their traditions were inherited from the Toltecs.The Aztec empire lasted until 1519 when they were conquered by the Spaniards.

Symbols The deities are generally represented in human forms, even when the face happens to be of an animal, the body tends to keep the structure of a human body. Many times it is possible to find various representations of the same deity.

Adherents At the time of the concquest it is estimated that the Aztec population was between twenty and twenty five million people.

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