Aztec Religion

Artist depiction of ritual at the Templo Mayor - Tenochtitlan
Artist depiction of ritual at the Templo Mayor - Tenochtitlan

Religion was a huge part of the everyday life of the Aztecs. It was integrated into everything that they did. They had a religious calendar where rounds after rounds of rituals, feasts, ceremonies, and religious rites consumed the thoughts of the people of the empire. They believed these rites were necessary, or else the universe as they knew it would collapse (1). This wiki is an overview of the Aztec Gods/Goddesses, their temples, their myths and rituals, and also some background information. The concept of the Aztec empire is a complex one. They adopted many Gods and religious practices from previous Mesoamerican civilizations, and even continued to add to their pantheon as areas of their empire were conquered and added. It is a melding of traditions, and of making their own, and I hope this wiki serves to make their religion more clear.

Gods and Myth

The Temples and the Rituals

Human Sacrifice

More Information about the Aztecs

Religions of Other Great Civilizations

Works Cited/References

The anthropological question: Did the Aztecs engage in cannibalism?

Were they the only ones? What were their motivations?

Visit the Human Sacrifice page to find out!

How do we know what we know about the Aztecs?

When the Spanish invaded Aztec lands in 1500s they wanted to conquer and convert the native peoples. In an effort to destroy their way of life and begin anew, they destroyed much of the Aztec historical records. Fortunately for us now, much was written by the Spanish about the Aztecs and their way of life during the conquest. Friars wrote in detail about the Aztec religion in order to prevent them from converting back, and the conquistadores needed to know everything there was to know about them in order to obtain and maintain control, and to report home about these native peoples. Fray Bernardina de Sahagun, a Franciscan monk, has an influential role in what he know about the Aztecs today. He learned the native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztecs), and interviewed elders and a few young people in order to write about this culture that was quickly being destroyed. His 12 volume book, General History of the Things of New Spain, known as the Florentine Codex, provides valuable information on all ways of Aztec life from politics, to all aspects of religion, to daily life, even astronomy and medicine. His work gave the Aztecs a voice, and because of the pro-Aztec tone of the work it was suppressed by the Spanish Inquisition for 300 years. Other important chroniclers of the time were Toribio de Benavente (Motolina) who wrote three books mostly on the conversion and was beloved by the natives, Diego Duran who was sent to study religion and customs in the Aztec wrote three books, Fray Juan de Torquemada compiled twenty years of study into his book on Aztec language, history, and antiquities that was published in 1615, Carlos de Siguenza y Gongora was born in Mexico city post-conquest and studied Aztec history, Bernal Diaz del Costello was one of Cortes's men but wrote with historcal accuracy on the conquest even going so far as to correct the writings of others, and Hernan Cortes' writings from the conquest itself in the form of letters to Emperor Charles V in Spain. Many codices remain that provide valuable information and pictures covering most aspects of Aztec civilization. They are the Florentine Codex (see above), the Codex Borbonicus, Codex Mendoza, Codex Magliabecchiano, Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Codex Azcatitlan, and the Codex Aubin. As you can see, there is a wide variety of sources from, or close to, the conquest which provide a wealth of knowledge. Combined with the archaeological record, there is a lot we know about the Aztecs, and a lot of research has been done since that time period especially in the last 100 years archaeologically (2).

This semester's module work can be found HERE

Works Cited:
1. Read, Kay A. The Fleeting Moment: Cosmogony, Eschatology, and Ethics in Aztec Religion and Society The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring, 1986), pp. 113-138 Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc Stable URL:
2. Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel. 2006. Handbook to life in the Aztec world. New York: Facts on File.