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What Are the Major Elements of Aztec Mythology?

By A. Gamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Aztecs ruled the southern parts of Mexico and most of Central America in the 14th to 16th centuries. The name Aztec derives from the name of their supposed homeland, Aztlán. They were known for being a bloody and violent group of people. The reason for this is deeply rooted in their mythology, which centers on human sacrifice, reincarnation, destiny and duality.

The main element found throughout much of Aztec mythology is that of human sacrifice. Aztec legend notes that the gods created the sun, the Earth and people. To thank the gods for their life, they had to feed the gods. It was common belief that there was a special substance inside human blood that the gods craved, so they required a ritual sacrifice. Failure to do so meant that the gods would retaliate in anger toward the people.

Human sacrifice was never a source of fear for the Aztec people, however, because reincarnation was another major element in their mythology. They believed that the sun and the Earth died and was renewed four times before the Aztecs lived on the Earth. Reincarnation was such a part of their mythology that even the gods reincarnated sometimes, the stories said, for the betterment of the Earth and its people.

Aztec mythology frequently focused on destiny. The Aztecs believed that everything was predestined and controlled by the gods. In fact, they created a kind of ball game that is believed to have represented humanity's inability to control its fate. Historians believe this game was a part of religious rituals, after which players were sacrificed.

Another major element in Aztec mythology is that of duality, which is the balancing of two opposite forces. It is represented in their gods and goddesses, who normally had two different things that they controlled. The gods and goddesses also typically came in pairs, usually opposing but sometimes complementing each other, all for the greater good of the world.

The best examples of the elements of Aztec mythology are Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl. They were brothers who represented chaos and harmony, respectively. The two gods struggled for power over the world; at times they worked together to help the world. One or both were always involved in the many reincarnations of the world, the sun and the death of the people in each world. Although the stories ma differ through Aztec mythology, that basis remained the same.

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