In about 970 AD, the Toltecs (who later invaded the Maya civilization) finally conquered the Valley of Mexico. After consolidating their hold on the valley and founding the Toltec capitol at Tula, their armies marauded over most of Mexico, and they managed to hold off the new waves of Chichimec invaders until about 1160 AD, when their capitol also fell to their barbarian kinsmen. This time, however, the Valley of Mexico did not sink into anarchy. It was filled with fortified city-states populated by ferocious warriors, and many of these city states held out against the fresh bands of Chichimec invaders. One of these new tribes was the Aztecs, a group of impoverished nomads who, according to their early legends, had emerged from a cave in Aztlan, an unidentified location in north-western Mexico. In their wanderings, they carried with them their one cherished possession, the wooden image of their terrible god, Huitzilopochtli. When the worshipers of Huitzilopochtli entered the Valley of Mexico, all the good land was taken and they were too weak to conquer any of the established city-states. Largely because of their brutal religious practices, they were branded as savage outlaws and chased from place to place by the descendants of their own Chichimec heritage. At last, however, they persuaded Coxcox, the ruler of Culhuacan, to let them have a patch of sterile, snake-infested land near his city.
Here they built a temple to their god and lived by killing and eating the snakes which infested their new home. But they quickly alienated their benefactor by brutally murdering his daughter. Coxcox mustered his forces and set out to destroy the Aztecs. They were quickly driven into the marshes of Lake Texcoco, where they escaped by hiding among the reeds. Their god, Huitzilopochtli, told them they would be safe on an island where an eagle perched on a cactus holding a snake in its beak. The Aztecs duly found the island, hardly more than a few rocks protruding out of the waters. As their god instructed, they made this their new home. Huitzilopochtli’s advice was sound. The island was in the centre of three powerful mainland cities, but was not strongly claimed by any. In addition, surrounded as it was on all sides by water, it could be easily defended. The Aztecs had no difficulty holding their island, and built their city, Tenochtitlan, upon it. They soon learned to increase the area of their island by filling the marshes with dirt and rocks, and by building chinampas, islets made by anchoring wicker enclosures to the bottom of the lake and filling them with silt, reeds, and refuse. These chinampas made remarkably fertile croplands, so the Aztecs had even found a stable supply of food on their island.
As the Aztecs filled in the swamp surrounding their city, Tenochtitlan grew rapidly, reaching a population of 300,000 at the beginning of the sixteenth century. As an aside, this was five times the size of London at the time. It was surrounded by an ever widening belt of chinampas planted with flourishing crops of fruits and vegetables. In the middle of the chinampas, connected to the mainland by three long causeways, rose the city. It was cut into blocks by a grid work of canals bordered by narrow pedestrian lanes and crossed by plank footbridges. These streets were completely dedicated to foot traffic, for the Aztecs made little use of the wheel and had no carts or wagons. This was probably due to the lack of beasts of burden. Before the Spanish came, there were no horses, oxen, cows or other large domesticated animals in the New World. The humbler houses were made from adobe and the better ones from stone and stucco, but all were cleanly whitewashed and most had small courtyards. Everywhere, the city was immaculately clean and filled with blooming flowers, which the Aztecs loved almost to excess. Near the centre the city rose the great palaces of the Emperor, nobles, a high priests. In the exact centre, enclosed by the "Wall Snakes", rose the temple-pyramids and other ceremonial buildings.
Protected by their invulnerable island fortress, the Aztecs were free to pursue their favourite occupation: war. They began to ally themselves with older city-states, who where willing to offer large rewards for the help of the fierce Aztec warriors. Eventually, they learned to play these city-states against each other, and gained their first significant hold the mainland when they betrayed one ally and helped other defeat it. After this victory, they quickly learned to exploit conquered cities with unparalleled vigour, and by 147 AD they were the undisputed masters of the Valley of Mexico, and therefore of Mexico itself. The Aztecs were aided in their conquests by a peculiarly bloody religion which encouraged warfare, especially for purposes of taking captives. The emphasis on taking prisoners had nothing to do with mercy, however. After capture, prisoners were killed to appease the more bloodthirsty of Aztec deities. As brutal as this aspect of Aztec society seems to the modern reader, it was not unusual in the Valley of Mexico. Most of the inhabitants of the region were descended from the same Chichimec nomads as the Aztecs. They shared many of the same convictions, and also believed in the beneficial properties of eternal warfare. Like the Aztecs, their soldiers had no fear of death, and thought that perishing in war guaranteed a glorious afterlife. There are even stories of prisoners preferring death to being set free.
At the root of the Aztec religion is their peculiar view of time and space, one of the forces behind the creation of their elaborate calendar. Like most Middle Americans, to them time and space are the same thing. On the highest level they merge together into the absolute being of the all powerful deity who exists outside material creation. To the consternation of all living things, time-space has unravelled. It is the duty of the gods to keep it from unravelling further, and the duty of men to help the gods in their task. To understand the Aztec association of time-space, it may be helpful to picture a wheel with four broad spokes. One spoke points in each direction: north, south, east, and west. There is also the hub of the wheel, which counts as a separate place. When the wheel is spinning, the entire thing appears solid and at rest. When it is truly at rest, however, it looks like it is made up of separate parts.
In the Aztec view, the hub and each spoke represent different cosmic age-places, called "suns". Each sun was associated with a different direction, colour, and group of deities. Although the suns exist simultaneously side by side, they also rotate in a sequential pattern that gives the evolution of the universe a cyclical nature. As the wheel revolves, different suns gain predominance over the physical world. Within each sun, only certain forms of earthly life can survive. So the changing of a sun is always catastrophic, bringing about great transformations. The Aztecs live in the Fifth Sun, located in hub of the wheel. In some ways, it is the culmination of all the other suns, and the only one in which mankind has been able to survive. In order to keep the Fifth Sun from passing, the Aztecs must feed and strengthen their gods — and the penalty for failure is the end of creation! The Aztecs also believe in a "world above" and a "world below" separate from the horizontal structure of the suns. These worlds are divided into many levels. For our purposes, the most important aspect of these worlds is that the world below is the home of the dead, and the world above is the home of the gods, night and day, shooting stars and fiery snakes, birds, heavenly bodies such as Venus, the Sun, the Moon, and the Milky Way, and the clouds. The progenitor of the gods, Ometeotl, lives in the uppermost plane of the world above, which embodies all of existence.
A host of interesting Gods with completely
unpronounceable names. The Aztecs must have possessed the most dextrous tongues
in the known world. The Aztecs believed that the Gods needed constant supplies
of fresh blood otherwise they'd wither and die. Which is why the entire culture
was built around human sacrifice. It was practically a charity gore-a-thon on
the Gods' behalf. People queued up to donate their life and even played charity
football matches for the honour. There came a day when it was time for the 52
year Calendar Calculations. However it was also 1518 European time and Cortez
and the Spaniards had arrived.
Some Aztec Gods;
Acolnahuacatl, or Acolmiztli - a god of the underworld, Mictlan
Amimitl - god of lakes and fishers
Atlacamani - goddess of oceanic storms such as hurricanes
Atlacoya - goddess of drought
Atlatonan (also Atlatonin) - goddess of the coast
Atlaua - water god
Ayauhteotl - goddess of mist, fog, vanity and fame
Camaxtli - god of hunting, war, fate and fire
Chalchiuhtlatonal - god of water
Chalchiuhtecolotl - a night owl god
Chalchiutlicue (also Chalciuhtlicue, or Chalchihuitlicue) (She of the Jade Skirt) - the goddess of lakes and streams, and also of birth; consort of Tlaloc.
Chalchiuhtotoliq (Precious Night Turkey) - god of pestilence and mystery
Chalmecatecuchtlz - a god of the underworld, Mictlan and sacrifices
Chalmecatl the underworld, Mictlan and the north
Chantico - the goddess of hearth fires, personal treasure, and volcanoes
Chicomecoatl (also Chalchiuhcihuatl, Chiccomeccatl, or Xilonen) - goddess of new maize and produce, wife of Cinteotl.
Chicomexochtli - a patron of artists
Chiconahui - a domestic fertility goddess
Chiconahuiehecatl - associated with creation
Cihuacoatl (also Chihucoatl or Ciucoatl) (Woman Serpent) - an aspect of Ilamatecuhtli and consort of Quetzalcoatl
Cinteotl (also Centeotl or Centeocihuatl) - the principal maize god, son of Tlazolteotl
Cipactonal - god of astrology and the calendar
Citlalicue - a creator of the stars
Coatlicue (She of the Serpent Skirt) - legendary mother of Coyolxauhqui, the Centzon Huitzahua, and Huitzilopochtli
Coatlicue, the earth goddess.Cochimetl (also Coccochimetl) - god of commerce, bartering, and merchants
Coyolxauhqui - legendary sister of Huitzilopochtli, associated with the moon, possibly patroness of the Milky Way
Cuaxolotl - a goddess of the hearth
Ehecatl (also Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl) - the god of the Wind and creator of the earth, heavens, and the present race of humanity. As god of the west, one of the skybearers
Huehuecoyotl (also Ueuecoyotl) - a trickster god of indulgence and pranks. A shapeshifter, associated with drums and the coyote
Huehueteotl (also Ueueteotl, Xiuhtecuhtli, Xiutechuhtli) - an ancient god of the hearth, the fire of life. Associated with the pole star and the north, and serves as a skybearer
Huehueteotl, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City.Huitzilopochtli (also Mextli, Mexitl, Uitzilopochtli) - the supreme god of Tenochtitlan, patron of war, fire and the sun
Huixtocihuatl (also Uixtochihuatl) - a goddess of salt and saltwater
Ilamatecuhtli (also Cihuacoatl or Quilaztli) - aged goddess of the earth, death, and the Milky Way. Her roar signalled war
Itztlacoliuhqui-Ixquimilli - god of stone, obsidian, coldness hardness, and castigation. Aspect of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli
Itzli - god of sacrifice and stone knives.
Itzpapalotl - Queen of Tomoanchan and one of the Cihuateteo (night demons) and tzitzimime (star demons)
Ixtlilton - the god of healing, dancing, festivals and games. Brother of Xochipilli.
Macuilcozcacuauhtli (five vulture) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
Macuilcuetzpalin (five lizard) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
Macuilmalinalli (five grass) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
Macuiltochtli (five rabbit) - one of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
Macuilxochitl (five flower) - the god of games and gambling, and chief of the Ahuiateteo (gods of excess)
Malinalxochitl - sorceress and goddess of snakes, scorpions and insects of the desert
Matlalceuitl (also Matlalcueje) - goddess of rainfall and singing. Identified with Chalchiuhtlicue.
Mayahuel (also Mayahual, or Mayouel) - the goddess of maguey, and by extension, alcohol
Metztli (also Metztli, Tecuciztecatl, Tecciztecatl)- lowly god of worms who failed to sacrifice himself to become the sun, and became the moon instead, his face darkened by a rabbit.
Mextli - a god of war and storms
Mictecacihuatl (also Mictlancihuatl) - goddess of death and Lady of Mictlan, the underworld
Mictlantecuhtli (also Mictlantecuhtzi, or Tzontemoc) - the god of death and Lord of Mictlan, also as god of the south, one of the skybearers
Mixcoatl (cloud serpent) - god of hunting, war, and the Milky Way. An aspect of Tezcatlpoca and father of Quetzalcoatl
Nanahuatzin (also Nana, Nanautzin, or Nanauatzin) - lowly god who sacrificed himself to become sun god Tonatiuh
Ometeotl (also Citlatonac or Ometecuhtli (male) and Omecihuatl (female)) - the god(s) of duality, pregenator(s) of souls and lord/lady of heaven
Ometotchtli (two rabbit) - drunken rabbit god, leader of the Centzon Totochtin
Opochtli - left-handed god of trapping, hunting and fishing
Oxomoco - goddess of astrology and the calendar
Patecatl - the god of medicine, husband of Mayahuel
Paynal - the messenger to Huitzilopochtli
Quetzalcoatl in human form, using the symbols of Ehecatl, from the Codex Borgia.
Xochipilli, Lombards MuseumQuetzalcoatl (also Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli) (quetzal-feathered serpent) - creator god and patron of rulership, priests and merchants. Associated with Ehecatl as the divine wind
Temazcalteci (also Temaxcaltechi) - goddess of bathing and sweatbaths
Teoyaomicqui (also Teoyaomiqui)- the god of dead warriors
Tepeyollotl - (The jaguar form of Tezcatlipoca) god of the heart of the mountain, associated with jaguars, echoes, and earthquakes
Tepoztecatl (also Tezcatzontecatl) - god of pulque and rabbits
Teteoinnan - mother of the gods
Tezcatlipoca (also Omacatl, Titlacauan) - omnipotent god of rulers, sorcerers and warriors; night, death, discord, conflict, temptation and change. A sinister rival to Quetzalcoatl. Can appear as a jaguar.
Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli - destructive god of the morning star (venus), dawn, and of the east. One of the skybearers
Tlaloc (also Nuhualpilli) - the great and ancient provider and god of rain, fertility and lightning
Tlaltecuhtli - goddess of earth, associated with difficult births
Tlazolteotl (also Tlaelquani, Tlazolteotli)- the goddess of purification from filth, disease or excess
Tloquenahuaque - a creator god or ruler
Toci (also Temazcalteci) - grandmother goddess, heart of the earth and mother of the gods. Associated with midwives and war
Tonacatecuhtli - the aged creator and provider of food and patron of conceptions
Tonacacihuatl - consort of Tonacatecuhtli
Tonantzin - a mother goddess
Tonatiuh - a sun god and heavenly warrior, associated with eagles and with the Maya
Tzitzmitl - aged grandmother goddess
Xilonen - the goddess of young maize
Xipe Totec - the god of the seasons, seed germination and renewal, considered the patron of goldworkers
Xiuhcoatl (fire serpent or turquoise serpent) - embodiment of the sun's rays and emblem of Xiuhtecuhtli
Xochipilli - the young god of feasting, painting, dancing, games, and writing. Associated with Macuilxochitl and Cinteotl
Xochiquetzal - goddess of love, beauty, female sexuality, prostitutes, flowers, pleasure, craft, weaving, and young mothers
Xocotl - star god associated with fire
Xolotl - canine companion of Quetzalcoatl and god of twins, sickness and deformity. Accompanies the dead to Mictlan
Yacatecuhtli (also Yactecuhtli) - the god of merchants and travellers