Sacrifices for the Aztec God Huitzilopochtli

Bernal Diaz del Castillo describes the deep impression a Catholic, Cortez' soldier could have had as he witnessed the rituals that native people performed before his eyes. Aztecs created and used an advanced culture; they had a complex and well educa

Aztecs practiced sacrifice to men, women, and children in different rituals. Most of the sacrificed people were war prisoners captured during the famous Flowers Wars. The most common way of doing it was by extracting the still-beating heart from the living body. However, this ritual was exclusively for Huitzilopochtli, god of war and sun.

Who was this god with such a blood thirst? We know he was a minor deity before the Aztecs established in the Valley of Mexico. Once the Great Tenochtitlan was founded, one of the priests decided to reform the religion merging it with elder beliefs and traditions of the surrounding people. Thus, along with Tlaloc, the recently adopted god of rain, Huitzilopochtli, acquired the highest rank.

Huitzilopochtli means "the left side of the hummingbird". Within Mesoamerican cosmic order, the hummingbird represents will; left side corresponds with South and blue and yellow are colors standing for the day. Therefore, Huitzilopochtli represented the willing god who lives in the South. Being the lord of light, put this god at constant battle with forces of darkness.

Legend has it that Huitzilopochtli's mother, Coatlicue, representing Earth, engendered him when she touched a feather ball. His elder sister Coyolxauhqui, the moon, thought that her mother Coatlicue got pregnant through an impure manner. Thus, Coatlicue conspired with her sisters, the stars, in order to kill her mother. Then, Huitzilopochtli was born; to save her, he decapitated and dismembered her sister and threw her into the realm of night and darkness.

Aztecs believed that every day at sunset, the scene described above repeated constantly, over and over. Thus, it was an imperative matter that an average of 60 war prisoners had to be brought to sacrifice every afternoon. Their blood, particularly their heart blood, provided the sun with strength and courage to go through the night abyss and to return victorious the next day, at dawn. Another ritual, which was curiously held by Christmas was used to mark the beginning of a cycle of seasons. And one more, of 52 years, allowed to restore or reset the order of things.

One day in 1521, as the sun rose, the Aztec Empire had succumbed; it was right at the end of a 52 year cycle, the end of the Fifth Sun.

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