Any attempt to comprehend the enormously complex cosmology of the ancient Aztec civilization begins with confusion: there were upwards of 1600 deities that affected every aspect of Mesoamerican culture during the period of Aztec prominence—from roughly 1,000 AD to the Spanish Conquest in 1521. So pervasive were the gods of sun and sacrifice in the everyday lives of the Aztec citizenry that the Spanish conquistadors—in a fearfully short period of time—saw fit to attempt to destroy their memory utterly.

Modern scholars, therefore, have few historical channels of investigation. It is clear, however, that the Aztecs inherited aspects of the elaborate religious traditions of their predecessors in Mexico, the Olmecs, the Toltecs, the Chichimecs, and the Mayans. Primary among these overlapping and succeeding modes of worship was the idea that the universe traveled outwards in four directions from a fixed center, which the Aztecs believed to be their capital city, Tenochtitlán, an engineering miracle of perhaps a quarter million occupants built on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. The nahuatl word Mexica (the name by which the Aztecs referred to themselves), in fact, translates as omphalos, or belly button.

The meridians of the cardinal directions quartered the earth, and within this flat space, bordered by the sea, humans lived in uneasy fealty to the gods, which existed in a sort of vertical counterpart to the world of men. The Aztecs believed the sea curved upward to eventually become the sky, and it was from the sky, this habitation of the gods, that catastrophe came, in the form of falling waters which cast out the sun and obliterated the earth. Aztec ritual centered around the postponement of this eventuality. The dualistic irony of rain as both the creator and destroyer of life was never far from the Aztec mind. Duality, in fact, is the essential component of Aztec thought, and it figures prominantly in the Aztec concept of Creation.

Chief among the Aztec gods was Ometéotl, both the cause and the effect of the Aztec view of man's eternal dance with the infinite. Ometéotl was supreme, and he/she had a dual nature, being simultaneously male and female and residing in the highest of the thirteenth heavens, in a paradise known as The Place of Duality.

The aforementioned confusion begins with Ometéotl, because the god also came to be known as two separate deities, Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl or Lord and Lady of Our Sustenance, which were locked in eternal coitus. Nice work if you can get it.

Ometéotl, as Tonacatecuhtli, created the Earth with his breath. The universe, according to the Aztecs, lay like a drop of water in the creator's hand, and her people swam suspended, like a seed, within that droplet.

As progenitor of all the other Aztec gods, Ometéotl took a much-needed rest, leaving subsequent interaction on the cosmic plane to Tonacatecuhtli and Tonacacihuatl who furthered creation through their four sons (again, the cardinal points of the compass in play):

  • Red Tezcatlipoca or Xipe Totec was the god of agriculture.

  • Black Tezcatlipoca was the all-powerful god, the Lord of the Smoking Mirror who could see into the heart of every man, and who may be effectively compared to Lucifer.

  • White Tezcatlipoca, or Quetzalcoatl had numerous incarnations as the god of the wind, as the Morning Star, and—unique among Aztec deities—as a half-human king, Topiltzin, who is linked historically to the city of Tula and is the first in line of a series of historical Toltec priest-kings. Quetzalcoatl can be thought of as the priestly contrast to his elder brother, the darkly shamanic Tezcatlipoca.

  • Blue Tezcatlipoca was the youngest and smallest of the sons of the Lord and Lady of Duality. As Huitzilopochtli, "Blue Hummingbird on the Left," he was the warrior god who protected the Aztec nation. The central temple in Tenochtitlán was dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain and to Huitzilopochtli (weet-see-loh-pohcht´-lee).

It is to the Blue Hummingbird on the left, god, son/sun of Ometéotl, the he/she primordial entity, that the ancient Aztecs offered up the blood and the hearts of their enemies, that he might be strengthened eternally for the struggle without end, that of light against the darkness.





On Mexico and the Aztecs:

An Aztec father advises his son
Bernardino de Sahagun
Human Sacrifice and the Aztecs
Malinche
Mictlan
Nahuatl
Ometeotl, beyond time and space
Popocatépetl
Quetzalcoatl
Talk like an Aztec
Teotihuacan
Tlazolteotl, the Filth Eater
What points its finger at the sky?
Xipe Totec

Below the Line

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