Mesoamerican and South American Mythologies: Maya, Aztec, Inca

Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl

Why did the Mesoamericans practice human sacrifice?

Mesoamericans, including the Aztec, believed that the gods demanded blood-letting as payment for balance in the world. Sacrifice could involve an individual’s self-inflicted bleeding, the sacrifice of animals, or the sacrifice of people. Different gods required different types of sacrifice. Tlaloc, the ancient rain god, demanded children, whose tears might bring rain. Other gods were satisfied with war captives or slaves. For the Aztec, the Temple Mayor at Tenochtitlan was the favored place of sacrifice. For a time the victim was treated respectfully as a representative of the god to whom the sacrifice would be made, but when the proper time came the victim’s heart was removed by priests and the body thrown down the side of the pyramid to be beheaded.

It should be noted that many scholars question the popular ideas about Mesoamerican human sacrifice, suggesting that its existence has been greatly exaggerated, in some cases by the conquering Spanish, who hoped to justify the forced conversion of the native peoples to Christianity.

The Aztec mythic hero Quetzalcoatl, depcited here in the thirteenth-century Codex Borbonicus, gave his people the gifts of the calendar, maize, and the arts.


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