Common Themes in Aztec Legends

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The world Aztecs saw around them was one of wonder, and they constantly looked for signs of how to navigate daily life. Their mythology and Aztec creation myth explains some of their world and universe in both grand and brutal terms. Common themes in Aztec legends and Aztec stories include balancing duality, the foundation both of their state and their world, and the need to make sacrifices to keep their world safe.

1 Balancing and Duality

A key theme in Aztec legends is the idea of duality, or a balancing act between two equal but opposing forces. In fact, the earliest deity had a male side called Ometeotl and a female side called Ometecuhtli, who birthed the other gods and goddesses. In this Aztec story, the first four children are the creator gods of "The Legend of the Five Suns." Aztec gods and goddesses often have two roles in legends or function opposite a partner. For instance, the god Tezcatlipoca's rival in battles, Quetzalcoatl, also serves as his partner in creation stories. Likewise, Xipe Totec is the god of life-giving vegetation as well as the god of torture and sacrifice.

2 Founding the Aztec State

The foundation of the mighty Aztec empire arises from a legend. The earth goddess Coatlicue becomes pregnant when she picks up a tuft of feathers. This pregnancy angers her 400 sons and one daughter, who take up arms to kill her. Coatlicue quickly gives birth to a fully-grown and fully-armed son, Huitzilopochtli; he just as quickly dispatches of his half-sister and half-brothers. Now the leader of the Mexicans, Huitzilopochtli leads the people on a journey for a homeland, looking for telltale markers signifying their building place. When they see an eagle on a prickly pear near a marshy land, they know they have found the site for their city Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

3 The Creation Story

The Aztec legend of creation revolves around the theme of birth, death and rebirth. "The Legend of the Five Suns" is the Aztec creation myth of five births of five different worlds, including the world we live in today. All of the worlds started as a void, but eventually the gods began building the first world on the back of a sea creature. To complete the world, one god needed to sacrifice himself to become the sun. After each sun was struck down or each world was destroyed, four subsequent gods sacrificed themselves to become the sun again. To form our current world, a brave but modest god sacrificed himself in fire to become the sun, which the Aztecs worshiped.

4 Sacrifice to the Gods

Unfortunately, the new sun god in the Aztec creation myth was too weak to move across the sky, so the other gods gave him their blood as energy. With this idea that blood feeds the gods, the responsibility of feeding them falls to humans; the sustenance is their own blood. Before religious ceremonies, priests pulled barbed cords across the tongue and other body parts as a bloodletting ritual. Human sacrifice served as the centerpiece of the ceremonies themselves. Sacrifice is a central theme in Aztec stories, and the people believed they were following in the footsteps of the gods who sacrificed themselves to make the sun.

Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.