This is part two of three articles which provides evidence for the ritual purpose of blood sacrifice using examples of information sourced from various Mexican Codices and other documents. It includes some Aztec creation myths and religious doctrine to hypothesise the true meaning and belief behind the Aztec people’s constant need for ritualistic blood sacrifices.
According to Bernardino de Sahagún (cited from Townsend 2003: 128); the Aztecs believed there were many suns that had existed before the present sun which was the fifth one (Tompkins 1990: 130). Each of the previous suns had died, thus destroyed and ended the world. The creation of the fifth sun is described in the world myth. When the end of the fourth world had passed, all that existed was in darkness.
There was no sun or dawn, therefore the gods gathered together at Teotihuacan and decided who would sacrifice themself to the fire and through this ritual become the fifth sun and bring down the light of dawn (Townsend 2003: 128; Tompkins 1990: 130). Two of the Aztec gods came forward to sacrifice themselves into the fire and ensure the creation and birth of the fifth sun (Waters 1975: 98-271; Townsend 2003: 128).
The first was Tecuciztecatl (Townsend 2003: 128) who laid out before him a sacrificial kit containing fir branches made of quetzal feathers, luxury incense, gold grass balls, greenstone maguey spines and bloodied red coral spines in preparation for the ritual sacrifice. The second god to come fourth to the sacrificial fire was Nanauatzin (Townsend 2003: 128; Berdan 1982: 111).
However, in contrast to Tecuciztecatl, Nanauatzin was impoverished, scabby and diseased; therefore, he could only afford green rushes, actual maguey spines with his own blood, pine needles and the scabs off his sores for his incense (Townsend 2003: 128; Berdan 1982: 111). After four nights of pennants the two gods cloaked in ceremonial regalia and stood before the fire, though when the time came to make the sacrifice Tecuciztecatl hesitated in fear of the fiery blaze before him. However Nanauatzin did not hesitate and leapt in to the fire with courage (Séjourné 1976: 156-160; Townsend 2003: 129).
The mythic ritual sacrifice enacted by the Aztec gods to create the fifth sun (Séjourné 1976: 156-160) helps one to understand the ritual purpose of blood. The myths gives details of ritualistic behaviour and the courage needed. The ultimate sacrifice whilst in the face of extreme pain and fear implies that in the end the myths were guidelines of how to behave and live in Aztec society.
The myth helps to describe the foundations and purpose of all sacrifices made to the Aztec gods (Townsend 2003: 124); therefore, the creation myth of the fifth sun is a dialogue of the belief structure of how the Aztecs should live their lives (Tompkins 1990: 130-131; Townsend 2003: 124; Scarre & Fagan 2003: 463).
Due to the nature and abundance of dialogue and pictorials regarding Aztec blood sacrifices, one may assume the importance for the Aztecs to provide the gods with enough sacrificial blood and hearts must have been tremendous and terrifying to the Aztec people. Fear of pain and suffering inflicted by the gods in retribution for any lack of blood sacrifice would have been an overwhelming incentive to constantly sacrifice and appease the vengeful gods.
Another creation myth depicts Quetzalcoatl descending in to the underworld (Waters 1975: 218-275; Townsend 2003: 129). Once in the region of the dead, Quetzalcoatl (Portillo 1977: 137-157) gathered a pile of bones from past generations of ancestors and sprinkled them with his own blood, earth and mashed them together, and from the concoction, he created humanity (Townsend 2003: 129; Séjourné 1976: 53-79).
The latter myth depicts Quetzalcoatl sacrificing his own blood to create humanity (Waters 1975: 218-225; Séjourné 1976: 136) and in the same ideology the gods of the fifth sun creation myth sacrificed themselves to create the sun and the moon. Both provide evidence for where the Aztec belief and purpose of sacrifice were created as well as evidence for how blood sacrifices were actually practiced. Furthermore, the later myths provide evidence of the reciprocal relationship between the Aztecs and their gods.
All Aztec people were expected to participate in performing ritual blood sacrifices (Nuttall 1904: 25-26), from the young to the old and from the rich to the poor. At certain Aztec festivals, for example at the Nenacaztequiztli [ear cutting festival], little babies and children had their ears and lips ritually pierced (Nuttall 1904: 11).
During the third movable festival; the joint festival of Chicome Xochitl [Seven Flower], the patron of painters, embroiderers and weavers, and of Xochiquetzal, the inventor of weaving; married couples were expected to provide the principle offering of blood drawn from their fingers or eyes (Nuttall 1904: 12-13). According to Nuttall (1904: 13), during the sixth movable festival, the patrons of Quetzalcoatl was sent to the temple alters with small saltcellars containing roughly eight to ten drops of their own blood, which were absorbed with strips of paper and burnt with copal gum.
The Aztecs often drew blood from the ears and the tongue using agave leaf points according to Nuttall (1904: 13). The reason was because the creation myth, recorded in chapter vii of the Codex Fuenleal, records the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tlalocantecuhtli fasting and drawing blood from their ears before they created the sun and the moon. Hence, the Aztecs made it customary to draw blood from the same whenever any petition to the gods was made (Nuttall 1904: 13).
According to McIntosh and Twist (2003: 221), the Aztecs believed that by sacrificing themselves to the gods would ensure the continuation of their world. However, warriors who died in battle and women who died in child birth were assured to go to heaven under the escort of the sun whilst everyone else was unfortunately destined for the underworld.
The Aztecs took blood from a range of different areas on the body and they used a variety of different sacrificial tools to extract their blood, for example, sharp points made of the agave leaf was used to pierce the outer cartilage of the ear (Nuttall 1904: 6-7). The Aztec eagle warriors, had their own ritual blades that were often carved from precious green obsidian (Del Campo no date: online).
According to Sahagun (cited from Nuttall 1904: 5), Aztec priests blood rituals were offered everyday of the year to the sun during both sunrise and noon. Another rite, named Tlazcaltiliztle was apparently an act of homage to the sun or the fire elements. It consisted of drawing a drop of blood from the ear using agave leaf points and catching it on the first fingers nail, then hurling it at the sun or into a fire (Nuttall 1904: 7).
According to Friar Duran, cited from (Nuttall 1904: 9), all priests and dignitaries during certain festivals took `small obsidian sacrificial lancets and made incisions in their tongues, ears, breasts, arms and legs.’ According to Duran, cited from (Nuttall 1904: 9), most body parts were ritually offered to the gods, including the heart, though it was the bleeding of the ears that was most common to the majority of Aztec people.
At another ritual, priests stuck twigs and sticks through their calves, ears and lips. Many other people, both male and female, took long pieces of straw that were soaked in blood from being run through their ears, and piled them in front of their idol (Nuttall 1904: 9-14). The next day the priests of the temple would collect all the straw and ritually burn it (Nuttall 1904: 9-14) which signified sending the sacrificial blood to the elements of fire.
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