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MESOAMERICAN RELIGIONS

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Title: MESOAMERICAN RELIGIONS


1
MESO-AMERICAN RELIGIONS
  • MAYAN, TOLTEC, AZTEC

2
Mayan and Aztec Civilizations
  • Mayan civilization 250-900 CE Aztec civilization
    1325-1521 CE

3
Aztec Conquests 1427-1519
4
Urban Civilizations
  • Extensive agricultural base
  • Centralized government religion
  • Job specialization results in social
    stratification and growth in knowledge
  • Increase in warfare as subsistence hunting
    declines
  • Large concentrated populations create disposable
    people

Aztec practice of floating islands
for agriculture, called chinampas
5
Agriculture, Cosmology Death
  • All that dies is reborn, younger and more
    beautiful than before. All that dies and reborn
    brings forth fluids blood and water.
  • Corn dies at harvest and is reborn the next
    spring
  • Sun dies every evening, reborn each morning
  • Warriors who fell in battle, and sacrificial
    victims became quauhtecatl, companions of the
    eagle, present at each sunrise eventually they
    were reincarnated as hummingbirds
  • Peasants reborn in Tlalocs garden paradise

6
Aztec Empire and Warfare
  • The need for warfare is a cosmic duty
  • Those who die in warfare or as sacrifices are
    deified (same is true for women who die in
    childbirth)
  • Flowery wars (xochiyaoyotl) conducted between
    rival cities to garner captives
  • Aztecs insisted Huitzilipochtli be adopted by
    conquered cities, but otherwise allowed
    traditional religion to be followed in subject
    territories

7
Mayan Temple
  • Pyramidal shape reflects cosmology
  • Tripartite universe of earth, that which is
    below, and that which is above
  • Chichen Itza, from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico

8
El Mirador, Mayan site in Guatemala (artists
conception)
9
El Mirador, Mayan site, Guatemala
artists conception
10
Temple Stairs
  • Cival site artists reconception (from National
    Geographic)
  • Stairs quite steep, to provide priests,
    dignitaries and sacrificial victims an altered
    state of consciousness

11
Aztec Temple Stairs (Tenayuca)
12
Tenochtitlan
  • Lake bed in the Valley of Mexico
  • Causeways from land to the city
  • Location of modern-day Mexico City
  • Name derived from legend of founding means
    place-by-the-prickly-pear-cactus
  • Capital of the Aztec empire

13
Huitzilipochtli
  • Specific to Aztecs
  • God of Sun and War
  • Last-born child of Coatlicue, slays siblings

14
Coyolxauhqui
  • Moon goddess who leads attack on Coatlicue
  • Defeated and dismembered by Huitzilipochtli
  • Cosmology of constant struggle reinforced by the
    cycles of the moon

15
  • Huitzilipochtli
  • Hummingbird-on-the-left (direction of the rising
    sun)

16
Why a Hummingbird?
  • Hummingbirds are fierce, territorial, seemingly
    armed in their very anatomy
  • Hummingbirds have a fleeting, intense, constantly
    changing beauty and metallic sheen

17
Influence of Nature
  • Meso-Americans were keen observers of nature
  • Animals influenced their mythology and art
  • Hummingbird Annas 88 Butterfly

18
Mictlantecuhtli
  • Aztec god of the underworld
  • Life-sized sculpture from ceremonial center in
    Tenochtitlan
  • Associated with owls, bats, and spiders
  • Connected to all three kinds of deaths in Aztec
    cosmology (1) normal death (old age, disease)
    (2) heroic death (warfare, child-birth) (3)
    non-heroic death

19
Mictlantecuhtli
  • Aztec god of the underworld
  • Statues in temples received blood offerings

20
Tlaloc
  • Rain god
  • Goggle effect composed of two snakes converging

21
Tlaloc
22
Xochiquetzal
23
The battlefield is the place where one toasts
the divine liquor in war, where are stained red
the divine eagles, where the jaguars howl, where
all kinds of precious stones rain from
ornaments, where wave headdresses rich with fine
plumes, where princes are smashed to bits. There
is nothing like death in war, nothing like the
flowery death so precious to Him who gives
life far off I see it my heart yearns for it.
(from Robert Hull, The Ancient World of the
Aztecs)
  • WAR POETRY OF THE AZTECS

24
MORE WAR POETRY OF THE AZTECS
  • Death is here among the flowers,
  • in the midst of the plains!
  • Close to the war,
  • When the war begins,
  • In the midst of the plains,
  • The dust rises as if it were smoke,
  • Entangled and twisted round
  • With the flowery strands of death...
  • Be not afraid, my heart!
  • In the midst of the plain
  • My heart craves death
  • By the sharpness of the obsidian blades
  • This is all my heart craves
  • Death is war...
  • (from Miguel Leon-Portilla Native Mesoamerican
    Spirituality 218) - note flower and smoke

25
Logic of Sacrifice (general)
  • Sacrifice means, etymologically, to make
    sacred any thing, being, or person sacrificed
    has achieved sacred status
  • Sacrifice, in common language use, can mean
    anything that we give where the giving is not
    easy, or cheap, such as sacrificing time to a
    noble cause.
  • Essentially, sacrifice is a form of gift-giving.
    Gift-giving is a way of maintaining relationships
    (think, Mothers Day!). You are supposed to give
    the best quality gift you can because of your
    respect/love/gratitude for the recipient.

26
Logic of Blood Sacrifice in Ancient Mexico
  • The deities need blood to fuel their on-going
    creative and sustaining functions.
  • The nobility would engage in auto-sacrifice,
    a.k.a. bloodletting, since they were at the
    pinnacle of the hierarchy of power.
  • As more and better sacrifices were sometimes
    necessary, human sacrifices, particularly of
    captured enemy warriors (who would have high
    status in their tribes), came to complement
    auto-sacrifice.

27
Lady Xocs Auto- Sacrifice Ritual (Mayan)
Lady Xoc is running a scorpions spine over her
tongue, and allowing the blood to soak paper
(in the basket) which will later be burned
28
Aztec Human Sacrifice
29
Aztec Emperors
  • Itzcoatl (r. 1427-1440) (Tlacaéllel's uncle)
  • Moctezuma I (r. 1440-1469) (Tlacaéllel's
    half-brother) (a.k.a. Motecuhzoma Ilhuicamina)
  • Axayácatl (r. 1469-1481) (grandson of Iztcoatl
    thus Tlacaéllel's second cousin)
  • Tízoc (1481-1486) - Tlacaéllel may have ordered
    his assassination
  • Auítzotl (1486-1502) - Tlacaéllel dies soon after
    Auítzol ascends
  • Moctezuma II (1502-1520) - the more famous (to
    moderns) Moctezuma, a.k.a. Motecuhzoma II),
    emperor when Cortes and the Spanish arrived

Stylized representation of Moctezuma I
30
Tlacaéllel (1397-1487), Chief Advisor to Aztec
Emperors
  • He elevated the deity Huitzilipochtli, who was
    distinct to the Aztecs, to a pre-eminent
    position. Huitzilipochtli was a god of war, who
    was at war with other deities (i.e. other tribes)
    from the moment of his birth. Aztecs allowed
    conquered cities to continue to worship their own
    gods, but they had to incorporate Huitzilipochtli
    as well (a practice similar to the Roman empire).
    Huitzilipochtli underlined the cosmological
    importance and unending nature of warfare. He
    promised rewards to warriors who died in battle,
    while also demanding high quality (i.e. enemy
    warrior) human sacrifices. As an incarnation of
    the sun, whose initial act consisted of
    dismembering the moon goddess, Huitzilipochtli
    specifically encouraged a dualism of sun v.
    forces of night/evil

31
Huitzilipochtli and Tlacaéllel
  • Tlacaéllel destroyed previous written records of
    the Aztecs, to better link them to
    Huitzilipochtli and the Toltecs
  • Tlacaéllel stressed the need for
    warfare-in-permanence to provide captives
  • Under Tlacaéllel, religion became increasingly
    literalistic

32
Shamans to Priests Shamans, by virtue of
different abilities, granted by an inaccessible
authority, are different from other members of
the tribe. Thus, shamanism marks the beginning of
(a literal) hierarchy With urban civilizations,
hierarchy is complicated by social
stratification and job specialization Shamans
become priests when job specialization must be
regularized, compelled by urban societies which
are dependent on (an increasingly alienated)
agricultural base.
33
Urban Societies ? Shamanism
  • The sheer magnitude and anonymity of urban
    societies dictates a change in the nature of
    rituals performed
  • Rituals exist to protect society as a whole,
    rather than addressing individual needs.
  • Priests officiate over rituals that are often
    scheduled, following a regular calendar.
  • In Meso-American urban cultures (Maya, Toltec,
    Aztec), order, predictability and regularity were
    treasured values, so having an orderly,
    predictable, and regularized ritual calendar
    reinforced and patterned this desire.

34
Shamans to Priests
  • in Meso-American culture, there are two other
    dynamics at play
  • relative lack of animals for game means that
  • a) the hunting function of a shaman atrophies,
    and
  • b) therefore, instead, the shaman adopts
    characteristics of beasts of prey,
  • such as jaguar, eagle, hummingbird, etc.
  • 2) The need to maintain and ensure order and
    regularity
  • calls for specialized study, abstracted from
    everyday vicissitudes
  • such as illness and disease -
  • e.g. astronomy, calendar, ritual.
  • The result is that the healing function of the
    shaman
  • reverts to women healers (a.k.a. curanderas),
  • and the priests retain only the formality of
    ritual,
  • not the as-needed character of healing ritual

35
Priests
  • A priest is a ritual officiant, who can perform
    rituals so that they are efficacious
  • A priest is a technician of the sacred the
    skills a priest wields are of a technical nature,
    not accessible or allowable to non-priests
  • Priestly systems of religion exist where religion
    needs to protect and bless society as a whole,
    rather than individuals per se.
  • The technical efficacy of the ritual a priest
    performs must be logically separable from the
    moral qualities of the priest

Traditional Mayan priest, June 2007, on
pilgrimage to perform ritual to goddess Ixchel
36
Tlamatinime
  • Knowers of things
  • Aztec philosophers, derived from captured
    intelligensia of the Toltecs
  • Develop cosmology of Flowers and Songs as the
    only truly real things in the world
  • Counter-balance to warriors and priests,
    ambivalent toward warfare and empire

Mayan philosopher
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