It is estimated that there were more than 40 main Aztec gods and goddesses.
Even Hernan Cortes was permitted to set up a cross and Christian shrine in one of the Aztec temples.
The Aztecs believed that every day they had to take part in rituals and acts of worship to please the gods and allow the sun to rise again, and the seasons to pass.
Huitzilopochtli, the sun god and the Aztec god of war, was very important in the day to day religious practices of the Aztecs. They believed that he fought a daily battle at dawn with the moon and stars. If he was successful, the sun would rise and a new day would begin. If he failed, the world would be plunged into never-ending darkness. To ensure he was victorious, the Aztecs believed that he needed to the blood from a human beings’ hearts.
This need for human hearts completely shaped Aztec society, and meant that the Aztecs were constantly at war in order to take captives to sacrifice.
The Aztecs fought ‘Wars of Flowers’ (battles for the sole purpose of capturing sacrificial victims) against the Tlaxcalans, a neighbouring state.
If there weren’t enough prisoner-victims, local Aztec people were sacrificed. Those who died in this way were believed to go to a paradise in the afterlife as a reward.
In addition to Huitzilopochtli, other Aztec gods also demanded human sacrifice. Children were drowned to satisfy Tlaloc, the rain god, for example.
Quetzalcoatl, the god of agriculture, painting and music, didn’t require human hearts. Snakes, butterflies and birds were killed in his honour instead.
Although human sacrifice was a huge part of Aztec religion, festivals were also important, too. Most of these celebrations were linked to the growth of the maize crop.
The Aztecs believed that they were living in a period of time called the ‘fifth sun’. They thought that when the fifth sun came to an end, the world would be destroyed by earthquakes.
Aztec temples were the largest and most important buildings in their settlements. These usually took the form of stepped pyramids with a shrine at the top.
Aztec priests were very powerful people, and their advice was sought by the Aztec rulers before decisions were made. The priests were able to understand the sacred calendar, and they could use if to determine whether the day was going to be lucky or unlucky for the proposed action.
What next? Discover more Aztec facts by visiting our Aztecs resources page.
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