Religious Deities of the Aztecs & Incas

The Aztecs sacrificed captives at large stone temples to appease the gods.
... Jupiterimages/ Images

The indigenous peoples of Mexico and South America held intricate belief systems involving the worship of hundreds of deities. The Aztec people of 15th century Mexico worshiped a suite of deities that often demanded violent and bloody sacrificial rites. Meanwhile, from 1438 to 1532, the Incas practiced their religion in an empire, centered in Peru, that ruled the 2500-mile, north-south area from the modern countries of Colombia to Chile. Although the Aztecs and the Incas were separated by geography and language, there is some overlap in their belief in deities that controlled the weather and required offerings of sacrifice.

1 Aztec Deity Worship

The Aztecs worshiped over 200 deities, many of which had supernatural powers. Tlaloc, for example, was the god of rain and lightning and could smite humans on earth with his powerful storms. The Aztecs built the Templo Mayor, or the "Great Temple," in honor of Tlaloc and his counterpart Huitzilopochtli, god of the sun and war. Captives of the Aztecs were routinely sacrificed by priests on the temple steps, their blood supposedly nourishing Huitzilopochtli and allowing him each morning to vanquish the forces of darkness embodied by the night.

2 Other Aztec Deities

Among other Aztec deities was Quetzalcoatl, a creator god who, according to legend, created people out of bones from the underworld dipped in his own blood. The Aztec religion also had female deities who accounted for about one-third of all Aztec gods, according to the "Handbook to Life in the Aztec World" by Manuel Aguilar Moreno. Coyolxauhqui, for example, was the moon goddess whose head became the moon after she was decapitated by sun god Huitzilopochtli. Another female deity, Chalchiuhtlicue, was the goddess of rivers and lakes and considered responsible for devastating floods.

3 Inca Deity Worship

In Inca society, deities were worshiped by priests who acted as temple caretakers and intermediaries between the public and the gods. Virgin women called "mamacona" were kept cloistered as pure servants of the deities. The mamacona cared for temples, wove textiles and produced other goods for the performance of sacred rituals. Similar to their Aztec counterparts, the Incas worshiped creator gods Viracocha and Pachacamac who required blood offerings and sacrifice at large stone temples or shrines built in their honor.

4 Principle Inca Deities

Because the Inca economy was primarily agricultural, many of the highly revered deities were believed to control the natural elements. Inti, for example, was the god of the sun and had many temples built in his honor in the Inca capital of Cuzco. Pachamama was another god closely associated with the elements as a fertility goddess with power over crops and the harvest. A standard method of worshiping Pachamama among Incas was to pour water on the ground in a symbolic offering before taking a drink.

5 Similar Aztec and Inca Deities

There are many similarities between Aztec and Inca religious deities, especially in their worship of female goddesses of nature. The Incas worshiped a moon goddess called Mamaquilla, similar in her symbolism to Aztec moon deity Coyolxauhqui. The Incas also revered Mamacocha as a goddess of the Pacific Ocean. Similar to the Aztec river goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, Mamacocha also held power over freshwater, as the Incas considered her mother to all rivers and streams. Incas left shells next to lakes and streams as symbolic offerings to sea goddess Mamacocha.

Taylor Echolls is an award-winning writer whose expertise includes health, environmental and LGBT journalism. He has written for the "Valley Citizen" newspaper, where his work won first- and second-place awards in sports and outdoor features from the Idaho Press Club. Echolls holds a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.