The world Aztecs saw around them was one of wonder, and they constantly looked for signs of how to navigate daily life. Their mythology explains some of their world and universe in both grand and brutal terms. Common themes in Aztec legends include balancing duality, the foundation both of their state and their world, and the need to make sacrifices to keep their world safe.
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. Their 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.
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.
The Aztec creation legend revolves around the theme of birth, death and rebirth. "The Legend of the Five Suns" tells the story of the five births of the world. The world starts as a void, but eventually the gods build the world on the back of a sea creature. Four gods sacrifice themselves to become the sun but succumb to destruction, usually taking the world with them. Finally a brave but modest god sacrifices himself in fire to become the sun, which the Aztecs worshiped.
Unfortunately for the Aztec people, the new sun god 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 legends, and the people believed they were following in the footsteps of the gods who sacrificed themselves to make the sun.
- University of Texas: Aztecs
- Yale –New Haven Teachers Institute: Aztec and Mayan Mythology
- Journal of Humanities & Social Sciences: The Resilience of Aztec Women: A Case Study of Modern Aztec Myths
- Encyclopedia Mythica: Aztec Gods
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Political Science: Aztec Human Sacrifice
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