Walking in the footsteps of the Aztecs – Mexica polytheism

I was very pleased to learn that there is actually a pagan reconstructionist path for Mexika or “Aztec” polytheism. When I heard about it I immediately asked for an interview.

Angel Rivera Rubio i s a follower oft he revitalization of the Aztec religion and was so kind to answer my questions about his religious practice. Wenn you think about the Aztecs the first thoughts that come to your mind tend to be things like impressive pyramide-like buildings, a bunch of conspiracy theories and human sacrifice. But of course there is much more to say about the Mesoamerican Nahua culture.

Aztec ruins, Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Rationalobserver

What fascinates me most is the fact that Mexica polytheists view themselves in the debt of the gods. While most European pagans never get tired of emphasizing their refusal to whorship gods and bow to them in a Christian manner, Aztec polytheists have completely acknowledged a mythical debt created by the gods self-sacrifice in order to save the earth and all life on it from armageddon. So obviously Mexica polytheism requires a high amount of devotion.

One of the creation myths, the legend of the suns, describes the creation of five suns each representing an era, ruled by a particular deity and inhabited by particular beings. The first four ended in a disastrous scenery while the fifth represents the current age and is inhabited by mankind and the beings known to us. The reason why this age is still ongoing is a minor deity who sacrificed himself in a fire in order to give his life force to the sun. Accordingly further deities now have to sacrifice themselves in order to keep the sun cycles going. It is assumed that this myth might have served as a motivation for the practice of human sacrifice. Of course human sacrifice is not being practiced nowadays but the followers of the Nahua religion still acknowledge their debt and honor the act of divine self-sacrifce within their rites.

Mexica Dancing in Ixcateopan. Dancing close to the tomb of the last Azteca Emperor Cuauhtemoc, Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Claudio Giovenzana http://www.longwalk.it

The Spanish Conquista has wiped out a lot of the Mesoamerican memory. The Spanish conquistadores felt it was their holy duty to extinguish the “Aztec blasphemy” and establish Christianity in Mesoamerica. It is still not quite clear how much of the horror stories about the Aztec religion is largely Spanish exaggeration or authentic ancient practice. Yet one thing can certainly not be denied, the Aztecs have been a fascinating and advanced civilization absolutely worth learning about. Besides all the sinister peculiarities there are many interesting and inspiring facts about the Aztec culture which are definitely precious enough to keep the tradition alive today.

 

INTERVIEW

Interview:

1. How would you describe Mexica reconstructionism in a few words to somebody who has never heard of it at all?
The revitalization of the pre-Hispanic polytheist religion of the Nahuas (from which the Mexicas/Aztecs where part) on a reconstructionist approach

2. What is the core or main purpose of Mexica reconstructionism in your opinion?
Well first would be to acknowledge the debt we have with the Teteoh (the gods) for giving us life and secondly to prevent that Tlazolli (the things that are not in order/place) get out of control.

3. Is there still a living culture of Mexica polytheism in Mexico today and how many people are following it approx. today?
Unfortunately polytheism died with the conquest, there’s however some syncretic forms and some folklore that can help us with the reconstruction of this traditions, as for the number of followers im not really sure, judging by the some posts on internet I would say that maybe some dozens or a couple of hundreds

4. Which are the main gods being worshipped in Mexica recontructionism. Can you give a few examples?
Probably the four Tezcatlipocas could be consider some of the most important deities as they are the makers of the world, they are Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec. Quetzalcaatl, Huitzilopochtli

5. Which are the main festivals or rituals and how do you celebrate or perform these?
I usually offer copal and blood (I pinch my finger with a needle) to the Teteoh (we don’t have a lot of information about household worship so we rely on modern approximations and UPG).
As for the festivals the Mexicas had two different calendars the Tonalpohualli (the 260 days ritual calendar that help to predict the future of the people born on each sign) and the Xiuhpohualli (the 365 days “regular” calendar divided on 18 months of 20 days each) and it’s with this last calendar that festivals are calculated (each month is dedicated to a specific deity).

Aztec calender, Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Rengarajang

6. What is the mexica polytheist view on afterlife?
Afterlife is based on your cause of death, in that way people who die at war goes with Tonatiuh (the sun god) and follow him on his travel during the day, people who die by water related causes goes to Tlalocan where Tlaloc (the rain god) governs.

7. A lot of people think of human sacrifice when they hear about Aztecs. How do you deal with this topic as a modern reconstructionist?
Human sacrifice was a big part of the Mexica religion, in Nahuatl (the language of the aztecs) sacrifices is Nextlaoalli (paying a debt),as the gods sacrifice themselves (Nanahuatzin jump into a pire to became Tonatiuh the sun, and Quetzalcoatl gave his blood to “remake” the human species), however the self-sacrifice was also important, and its this practice the one that most reconstructionist do nowadays as a way to thanks the Teteoh.

Aztec ritual human sacrifice portrayed in the  Codex Magliabechiano, Wikimedia Commons

8. Many European pagans refer to christianization as a reason for pre-christian cultures to disappear. Has anything similar happened to Mesoamerican pre-christian cultures, too? What is your personal view on this?
Well, yes, the arrival of the Conquistadores marked a point of no return on the traditional religions.

9. How does one become a follower of mexica polytheism? Can anyone decide to be part of this movement? How did you become part of it?
Well I think that every person that feel the call of the Teteoh can became a follower, as to how I became part of it well I started first learning about European Polytheist traditions however I have felt a connection with the Mexicas for a long time, becoming a polytheist made me realize that the Teteoh could be approach just as people approach other gods, and from that point one thing led to another.

Aztec warriors, Codex Mendoza, Wikimedia Commons

10. Can you recommend any books on this topic (preferably English) if somebody would like to get more informed about this path?
Well there aren’t really books about Mexica reconstructionism, however some academic books could help the people interested to understand the worldview of the Mexica
• The Aztecs: People of the Sun (Civilization of the American Indian) by Alfonso Caso
• Daily Life of the Aztecs by Jacques Soustelle
• The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya by Mary Millerand Karl Taub
• The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico [Louise M. Burkhart
• The Myths of the Opossum: Pathways of Mesoamerican Mythology and Human Body and Ideology Concepts of the Ancient Nahuas by Alfredo L. Austin

***
Thank you very much, Angel, for your time and patience to give us an insight in how Aztec polytheism is being practiced today.

 

Facebook-page of Angel
Huehue Tlamanitiliztli: Nahua Polytheism – Prehispanic Reconstructionism

Huehue Tlamanitiliztli: Nahua Polytheism - Prehispanic Reconstructionism

 

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4 Responses to Walking in the footsteps of the Aztecs – Mexica polytheism

  1. Very interesting! I would like to translate the text into Portuguese and repost it in my blog, indicating the link to the original source, so that Brazilian readers can access theese information. Do you allow?

  2. Michael Habicht says:

    Thanks for the interesting article!

  3. Pingback: Politeísmo Mexica: caminhando nos passos dos astecas – Bosque Ancestral

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