Aztecs and Mayans were a group people who lived in the ancient times. The Mayas particularly habituated Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. This race is believed to exist during the period of 300 to 900 A.D. The Aztecs, on the other hand, thrived in the Post Classical Period of 1200 to 1250 A.D. This group of people is considered to be the rightful ancestors of the Mexicans who originated from the Aztec empire of Tenochtitlan.
These two groups of people are known to have strong religious beliefs in their respective gods and goddesses, which incidentally, is the basis of their very rich culture. The purpose of this paper would discuss the Mayan and the Aztec gods, their role in their individual civilization, and the influence it creates in their societies.
II. The Mayan Gods
The foremost god of the Mayas would be Hunab, who they believed to be the creator of the world. He is the superior creative being whose name can be translated to “single existing god”. Despite his superiority, this particular god hasn’t gained much in terms of having cults and hordes of followers. He is the god who merely works in the background and never on the center (Hultkrantz, 224).
Hunab has a son, Itzamna. He, like his father, is regarded to be on the upper echelon of Mayan gods. He is the god of sky, of codex, of writing, and of the calendar. Itzamna is the leading god of the Mayan priests. He is also regarded to be the lord of day and night. Itzamna is described as the two-headed sky monster and much of it is because of the fact that his name came from the Yukatec word “itzam”, which literally means lizard. But even though this god carries an appearance like that of a monster, he was never associated with either death or destruction unlike most of the Mayan gods (Hultkrantz, 223).
If Itzamna is the god of the skies, Kinich Ahau is the solar god. Because of this, these two gods are highly associated with each other. Kinich Ahau’s physical features were similar to that of a fire bird. Incidentally, this Mayan sun god is also regarded to be the lord of time and space (Milbrath 103).
Chac is another Mayan god and he is the lord of the rain. He represents himself in the form of a serpent with a very long nose. Aside from the rain, the functions of this god are also connected to the Milky Way and the solar system. Chac is said to be the equivalent of Venus in the Roman Mythology (Milbrath 204).
Yum Caax is the Mayan god of maize, or corn, and agriculture. Incidentally, the corn is the staple food of the Mayas. Yum Caax is also the god of riches, fertility, and life. This god is probably the most important god in the Mayan deity and it’s because he is the one that provide food on the tables. Yum Caax is physically described as the one who wears a hat that is made from a sprouting ear of corn surrounded by its leaves. Yum Caax is also the god who acts kindly toward humans (Conway, 354).
III. Aztec Gods
The primary god of the Aztecs would be Xipe Totec. He is considered to be the god of the West, of revival, and of vegetation. He also is the god of the changing seasons. Xipe Totec is a very powerful fertility god and he is mostly the Aztec’s object of gruesome sacrifices and rituals. In a certain ritual made for Xipe Totec, the sacrifice’s skin has to be removed and should be given to the priests to wear. The priest then, become the human representation of the deity they are worshiping (Smith, 203). Also, almost all of Aztec gods were referred to using colors. Xipe Totec’s color was red and he is the god of the West.
Huitzilopochtli was the Aztec god of war and hunting. He is also the lord of sun and storms. The Aztecs believe that Huitzilopochtli is the master of the whole world. And just like Xipe Totec, he can be honored through human sacrifices. But to fully worship Huitzilopochtli, the Aztecs have to engage in wars. They believe that warfare is a necessary activity for the god Huitzilopochtli (Conrad & Demarest, 41). Huitzilopochtli’s color is blue and he is the god of the South.
Quetzalcoatl is the Aztec god of creation. He is the god of twins, life, and crafts. Quetzalcoatl is the inventor of the Aztec calendar. He is referred to as the plumed serpent and his color is white. Quetzalcoatl is the god of the East.
Tezcatlipoca is the Aztec god of fire and of the night. His color is black and he is considered to be the god of the North. Like most of the Aztec gods, Tezcatlipoca is also associated to human sacrifice. Tezcatlipoca is the patron of life and death and the source of god Quetzalcoatl’s destructive powers (Hamnett, 42).
IV. The Religion of Aztecs and Mayas
Both the Aztecs and the Mayas follow a polytheistic religion, as signified by the many gods and goddesses they tend to worship. The religion of Aztecs revolves around their own perceptions of nature, time, space, and all its cycles. Aztecs see nature is a rather destructive force therefore they perform their rituals in order to avoid them. Their religion is established primarily to seek harmony with nature. But the more important role of religion for Aztecs is their belief that the observance of it would supply them of their life’s basic needs. The Aztec religion is also connected to geography. Basing from the principles of Aztec’s ancient religion, geography is such a sacred thing. Different geographical locations, including its different features are associated to their deities and a lot of their religious practices.
The Mayan religion, on the other hand, is more inclined to worshiping nature. They also believe in the priestly class and as such, they regard priests as the highest people of the society. Mayas closely associate their religion with astrology and astronomy. They also love building pyramids and use them as temples where rituals and sacrifices are to be held.
Both the Aztecs and the Mayas view human and animal sacrifices as essential rituals to honor each and every one of their gods. They also believe that their gods are satisfied and are pleased every time they kill or in its honor. It also honorable for them to die in battle because they believe that sacrificing one’s life is the best showcase of worship.
V. The Aztec and Mayan Religions and Their Influence on the Society
The gods and goddesses of Aztecs are associated with all the things they need for survival. The Aztecs honor Xipe Totec by growing foliages in and around their territory. Foliage is the primary source of food for Aztecs. And so as they honor Xipe Totec, they can expect to harvest massive vegetations enough to feed their entire community.
And this principle works the same with their other gods, Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli. Quetzalcoatl, being the god of life and creation, was honored through procreation, which is essential in nurturing and fostering their race. Every Aztec’s war is an exercise of worship for Huitzilopochtli. And this belief is very functional in the expansion of Aztec empire to its nearby states in the ancient world. Without these religions working for them, the Aztecs might just be another human race whose role in history cannot be defined.
The religion of Mayas follows the same principle. But more than anything else, the Mayan religion is focused on the purging and purification of the human race. The main role of religion for the Mayas is to make their race stronger and more divine. Every ritual they do in honor of their gods and goddesses make them a better and a worthier person. Their religion gives them the mindset that their race is heavenly and that they are individually admired by their worshipped gods. They are then the race that is worthiest to take the world and rule it, if only to enhance the divinity of their race. Guided by this principle, the Mayas were able to thrive in the ancient world as the suppressors.
The gods and goddesses of Aztecs and Mayas, and the whole religion in general, played an enormous part to flourishing their respective races. Without these religions working for them, the Aztecs and Mayas would not have made relevant contributions to history like the way they did.
It can then be said that a religion and the beliefs of a tribe, race, or nation is one of the influential factors that determine their value. Religion is very powerful, as it has that innate ability to condition an entire race to be great as much as they are divine. And most often than not, the concepts of religion alone is enough to make a nation to possess sheer strength, power, and prominence.
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Conway, D. J. Magick of the Gods and Goddesses: Invoking the Power of the Ancient Gods. California: The Crossing Press, 1997.
Hamnett, Brian R. A Concise History of Mexico. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1999.
Hultkrantz, Ake. The Religions of the American Indians. California: University of California Press, 1980.
Milbrath, Susan. Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars. Texas: University of Texas Press, 1999.
Smith, Michael E. The Aztecs. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003.