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Aztec Religion

The Religious Practices of the Mexica

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Model of the Templo Mayor, Museum of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Model of the Templo Mayor, Museum of the Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Nicoletta Maestri

The Aztec religion was a complex set of beliefs, rituals and gods that helped the Aztec/Mexica to make sense of their world, reality and death. The Aztec pantheon, a Greek word that means “all of the gods”, reflected their specific needs, and were deeply rooted in a long Mesoamerican tradition where concepts of the cosmos, world, nature etc., were shared by different cultures.

The Aztecs saw their world as balanced by way of a series of binary oppositions, such as: hot and cold, dry and wet, day and night, light and dark etc. The role of humans was to maintain this balance through appropriate ceremonies and sacrifices.

Aztec Universe: The Aztecs believed that the universe was divided into three parts: the heaven, the world in which they lived, and the underworld. The world, called Tlaltipac, was conceived as a disk located in the middle of the universe. The three levels, heaven, world, and underworld, were connected through a central axis, or axis mundi. For the Mexica this central axis was represented on earth by the Templo Mayor, at the center of the sacred precinct of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.

Aztec After World: The Aztec Heaven and underworld were conceived as divided into different levels, respectively thirteen and nine, and each of these was overlooked by a deity.

Each human activity as well as the natural elements had their own patron deity who overlooked different aspect of human life: childbirth, commerce, agriculture, as well as the season cycles, landscape features, rain, etc.

The importance of connecting and controlling the cycles of nature, such as the sun and moon cycles, with human activities resulted in the use, in the pan-Mesoamerican tradition of sophisticated calendars which were consulted by priests and specialists.

Aztec Gods

The prominent Aztec scholar Henry B. Nicholson classified the numerous Aztec gods in three groups: celestial and creator deities, gods of fertility, agriculture and water and deities of war and sacrifices.

1. Celestial and creator gods:

2. Gods of water, fertility and agriculture:

3. Gods of war and sacrifice:

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Mesoamerica , and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

AA.VV, 2008, La Religión Mexica, Arqueología Mexicana, vol. 16, num. 91

Nicholson, Henry B., 1971, Religion in Pre-Hispanic Central Mexico, en Robert Wauchope (ed.), Handbook of Middle American Indians, University of Texas Press, Austin, Vol. 10, pp 395-446.

Smith Michael, 2003, The Aztecs, Second Edition, Blackwell Publishing

Van Tuerenhout Dirk R., 2005, The Aztecs. New Perspectives, ABC-CLIO Inc. Santa Barbara, CA; Denver, CO and Oxford, England.

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