The Aztecs

Powerful Essays
The Aztecs

When the Spaniards under Hernan Cortez gazed upon the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in Mexico in 1519, the scene before them amazed them. There, in the middle of a wide lake was a shimmering city with bright white walls of vast buildings sitting on an island in the middle of a large lake with causeways linked to it. The astonishment of those first Spanish visitors soon turned to horror when they saw the vast scale of ritual sacrifices made by the Aztecs.

Even today, it is hard to comprehend the extent or rationale for this ritual sacrifice. It is estimated that the Aztec royalty sacrificed approximately 20,000 people per year. Captives were taken to the top of pyramids where, upon a ritual flat stone table, they had their chests cut upon and their hearts ripped out. Then the bodies of the victims were tossed down the steps of the pyramids. The scene to both the Spaniards of that time and to us today is truly gruesome. But it was not mere thirst for blood that motivated the Aztecs to engage in this mass ritual sacrifice.

Critical to understanding the motivation behind the ritual sacrifices is the concept of "tonalli," which means: "animating spirit." The tonalli in humans was believed to be located in the blood, which concentrates in the heart when one becomes frightened. This explains the gods' hunger for the heart. Without this sacrifice, all motion stops, even the movement of the sun. So when the Aztecs made their sacrifices, as far as they were concerned, they were keeping the sun from halting in its orbit.

Particularly thirsty for blood was the war god, Huitzilopochtli. On the other hand, Quetzalcoatl was a kinder, gentler god. Quetzalcoatl only demanded the sacrifice of animals such as snakes and butter...

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... the Aztecs believed that they were honoring them, as well as honoring the sun god. The ritual of the heart being cut out of the sacrifice victim was to honor only the sun god.

Other Sacrificial Ceremonies

The Aztec also preformed other sacrificial ceremonies. During the ceremony generally preformed in regard to Wipe Tote, the sacrifice was preformed by shooting the victim with arrows. In this instance, drops of blood falling from victims represented life giving rain. In honor of the Aztec fire god, the sacrifice was made by covering the victim with hashish, and then placing them into fire. In specific ceremonies throughout the Aztec year, people who were going to be sacrificed often dressed up as the god to which they would be sacrificed. The sacrificial victims often felt honored to be sacrificed, and society held these people up as exemplary and honorable.
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