Once the fall of the Toltec civilization (a civilization north of what is now Mexico) transpired, an influx of immigrants fled into Mexico's central plateau area around Lake Tex coco. As the Aztec's were late to arrive in Mexico, they were soon forced to inhabit the swampy area on the western side of the lake. Forceful neighbors surrounded the Aztec and demanded tributes of gold and their only piece of dry land. They soon converted into a powerful empire within two centuries. As As the Aztecs population grew, superior military and civil organizations were formed and established. By 1325, the city of Tenochitilan was founded.
The actual religion of the Aztecs originated in the city of Tenochtitlan somewhere between the 14th and 16th century C.E. It transfigured and combined a number of ritual, mythic and cosmic elements from the cultural groups who inhabited the central plateau of Mesoamerica. (Please refer to map for geographical location and empire boundaries) The mother goddess of the Aztec creation story was called Coatlique", the Lady of the Skirt of Snakes. She was formed in the image of the unknown. Decorated with skulls, snakes, and mangled hands there were no cracks or openings in her body. Coatlique was first impregnated by a black knife and gave birth to Coyolxanuhqui, goddess of the moon, and to a group of male offspring, who became the stars. Then one day Coatlique found a ball of feathers, which she tucked into her chest.
When she looked for it later, it was gone, at which time she realized that she was again pregnant. The moon and stars, her children did not believe her story. Ashamed of their mother, they wanted to kill her. A goddess could only give birth once, to the original family of divinity and no more. During the time that they were plotting her fall, Coatlique gave birth to the fiery god of war, Huitzilopochtli. With the help of a fire serpent, he destroyed his brothers and sister, murder in them in a rage.
He beheaded Coyolxauhqui and threw her body into a deep gorge in a mountain, where it lies crushed forever. When the Aztecs were first colonizing, an ancient legend came into play. According to the legend, a great civilization would be born in a marshy area where they would see a cactus growing out of a rock and perched on it, an eagle eating a snake. The priests said they saw this when the arrived in the swampy area of the Aztecs. (This is why the Eagle, Cactus and Serpent are written on Mexican paper money) The high god Ometeotl was the clever, androgynous and previous creator of the universe.
Sometimes appeared as his / her offspring: Ometecuhtli and Tonacatecuhtli (male) or Ometecuhtli and Tonacatecuhtli (Female) as a sign of almighty power. The female aspect merged with fertility and corn goddesses. Ometeotl inhabited the 13th and highest heaven in the cosmos. The most creative effort to organize the universe was done by the divine four: Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Xiuhtecuhtli and Tlaloc.
Tezcatlipoca was the supreme active force of the Pantheon, and an arch-sorcerer whose smoking black mirror revealed the powers of ultimate transformation associated with darkness, night, jaguars and shamanic magic. The Aztec's religion consisted of many god and goddesses whose roles were held in high regard by the Aztecs. Unlike Christianity, where one God is held in the highest place, the Aztec religion had many gods for different purposes and roles. Most ceremonies took place in walled ceremonial structures like the Aztec pyramid.
The main structures outside of these buildings were called teocalli's. They had a solid base rising like grand stair steps. At the top of these stair like fabrications were temples dedicated to divinity. Priest climbed theses stairways to reach the temple at the top.
The ceremonial centers also included gardens, living quarters for the priests, sacred pools for cleansing, and racks to hold the skulls of sacrificed victims. Centers also included game courts were basketball like games were played. More then eighty buildings were constructed in the capital were well organized ceremonies took place. These are aside from the hundreds of buildings that are situated in the Aztec empire. Priesthood played the dominant organizational role in Aztec society. Priests controlled offerings to gods and when sacrifices should take place.
Priests were also allowed to control the finest agricultural land, they also controlled trade, and were the primary employers of artisans and manufacturers. In the Aztec religion human sacrifice played a major role. Priests slashed the chest of a victim open and tore out the heart. They believed the gods needed human hearts and blood to remain strong.
The shipper of the sacrifice are some of the victim's portions they also had strong confidence that the dead person's bravery and strength passed on to them when the flesh was eaten. The victims were usually captive warriors or purchased slaves. Though a variety of methods of ritual killing were used, including decapitation, burning, hurling from great height, strangulation, and arrow sacrifice, the typical ritual involved the dramatic heart sacrifice. Once the heart was removed it was placed in a container called the cuauhxicalli in order to nourish the gods. Music usually accompanied such rituals to add to the dramatic intensity. Every 52 years a great celebration took place.
It was called the Binding Up of the Years or the New Fire Ceremony. Before it started, people would let their hearth fires go out. The priests lit a new fire on the chest of a sacrificial victim. People pricked themselves to add their blood to the sacrifice. All the people then re-lit their hearth fires from the new fire.
The Aztec concept of life after death may be summed up. Determining factors for a man's life after death were determined by his social position and the events surrounding his death. The dead were distributed among a number of death realms, one of which, Mictlan, was intended for the majority of the people, Mictlan, situated in the north, belonged to the lower regions and was ruled by Mictlantecuhtli and his consort Mictecacihuatl. Mictlantecuhtli was a frightening skeletal figure, surrounded by bats, spiders, and owls. The journey to his kingdom led through nine subterranean worlds and took four years. As in other Indian tales of journeys to the land of the dead there were numerous obstacles on the way: a river difficult to cross, mountains, icy winds, man-eating beasts, and so on.
Amulets buried with the dead protected them from these perils. The other death realms were lighter in tone. Those who were drowned or struck by lightning or had died from leprosy came to Tlaloc's realm, Tlaloc an, in the south, where they enjoyed a pleasant existence with plenty of fruit, corn, and beans. No sorrow existed in this land. There is an exceedingly beautiful temple painting from Teotihuacan in the early classical period which depicts the delights of this paradise. The painting illustrates this fortunate land with its lake, rivers, and cacao trees as the habitat of a multitude of dancing, singing, and swimming people, all full of life.
Another paradise was "the house of the sun", the kingdom of the sun god in the east. Those who had the privilege of arriving there were warriors who had died in battle and prisoners who had been killed on the sacrificial stone. The sun summoned them and invited them to share his joy. They could enjoy the fragrance of marvelous flowers and when the sun rose in the east they greeted him with loud shouts of joy. After a four-year existence in this place of dreams the dead were reborn on earth as co libris, (birds of Huitzilopochtli).
The sun also had beneficial land in the west, "the corn house". Women gathered there who had died in childbirth. In the afternoon they took the sun on his way, at night they sometimes returned to earth and their ghostly apparitions scared women and small children. In the highest heavens, lived the two creators, Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl. Deceased infants and the unborn souls of the next human age were in existence there. They were nourished by a large heavenly tree.
So through observation we can see that different levels of afterlife were ascertained in the Aztec religion. We believe that part of this is derived from the many gods there are. 316.