Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Aztec Religion, human sacrifice

A semi random factoid. I'm not a scholar of Aztec religion but this is my understanding of it, which is to say that there were a few factors that made it less gruesome than people think. First of all, death and life were much more closely associated in Aztec culture than in Western culture, so that death was accepted as a normal part of life, not something to be feared but a necessary part of the cycle of life. The Aztecs also believed in reincarnation, although the process was thought to take something like twelve years between death and rebirth. So death was not the end, and death was honored as a part of the greater whole. Now, where human sacrifice figures in is this: human sacrifice was thought to be something that propitiated spirits and ensured the proper functioning of the world. When people hear the idea of human sacrifice they probably think of some sort of psychotic killer attacking a random person in a sadistic way, but the ritualization of sacrifice by the Aztecs was in all likelihood a near antithesis of that. Something that sheds more light on it is that rulers, I'm thinking rulers less than those at the very, very, top, would ritually commit suicide at regular intervals in order to ensure the functioning of the world as well, and there were rituals of mortification, like having a rope drawn through a hole in your tongue, that also served as sacrifice. Suffering, pain, death, the certainty of an afterlife, no prohibitions against taking ones life like in Hinduism and Buddhism, combine to make the idea of the sacrifice of people less tragic than may normally be thought.

Of course human sacrifice is still human sacrifice, and we don't live in the Aztec empire, but it's still interesting to look back and try to figure it out.

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