Aztecs and Mayas religion
Archaic cultures known only through archaeology form the common background of the main Mexican and Central American civilizations such as those of the Olmecs, Toltecs, Chichimecs, Aztecs and the various Maya peoples. On the other hand they are certain to have influenced each other in historic times. Both their archaic common background and their mutual influences in later times account for the numerous points of resemblance between their cultures and societies, the most striking resemblances being found in matters of religion. There exist of course great differences, or the need would never have been felt to study each of these civilizations separately. The large number of resemblances, however, justifies the fact that nearly a quarter of this short survey of the Aztec and Maya religions will be devoted to them.
Both religions distinguish between 'ancient' gods and 'younger' gods. In Central America the god of fire is invariably an ancient god. The Toltecs called him Huehueteotl (Old God). The Aztecs also considered the god of the travelling merchants, Yacatecuhtli (Lord of the Vanguard), an old god, probably because the ancestors of these merchants belonged to an indigenous population group. With the Maya peoples the original nature and agrarian deities were the ancient gods, whereas the gods they had adopted from the Toltects, like the great god Quetzalcoatl (Plumed Serpent), were the younger ones, who were more involved in the cosmic and socio-cultural aspects of their civilization.
In the religious as well as the social concept of the universe held by all Central American peoples there existed direct associations between space, time and colour, which have similar structures, but show slight variations from people to people. Taking the earth as the centre, they distinguished six cosmic directions: the four quarters of space, above (heaven) and below (the underworld). So, inclusive of the centre (the earth), there were seven divisions in cosmic space.
In fact each religious and each social system in Central America is found to have an order that is often a complicated elaboration of the system of four horizontal directions (the four quarters) and that of three vertical directions (the three cosmic layers). As the principle underlying this order was connected with a dualistic world view based on the man-woman opposition, the nations of Central America were able to find many interesting solutions for the organizational grouping of their deities, chiefs, priests, military leaders and other dignitaries, by arranging them in sets of four or three, representing either the fourfold or the tripartite system. Within each set of four, however, two members were always considered as closely connected, and in some instances even as a unit. This principle penetrated so deeply into Aztec society that the third child in a family of four children was called 'the middle one".
Each People Had Its Colour
The horizontal directions were associated with different colours, but each people had its own space-colour associations, as is seen in the following survey:
The combination of space and colour was associated with time, and time was closely connected with the gods, especially among the Maya. All this gave rise to associations between direction, colour, time and the cosmic forces (gods) determining these three elements. The universe and consequently life on earth was successively controlled by a particular combination of direction, time and gods. The Toltecs and the Aztecs (who were in a sense one of the twenty Toltec peoples) called the cosmic ages determined in this way 'suns'. This concept also existed among the Maya, and like the Toltecs they distinguished four such cosmic ages, each determined by one of the quarters and the gods belonging to it.
The Aztecs divided the history of the universe into five 'suns', the first being associated with the east, the second and third with the north, the fourth with the west, and the fifth with the south. The four or five different sets of gods, time and direction always existed simultaneously, side by side. The Maya as well as the Aztecs regarded time as a relative concept in that the four or five 'suns' were represented as occurring in a sequence as well as simultaneously. The idea of sequence only consisted in each 'sun' being dominated by one particular combination, which after a certain length of time (one sun) had to surrender its ascendancy to another combination.
An extra dimension was added to the concept of the universe by including the distinction between the 'world above' (heaven) and the 'world below' (hell). The Maya originally distinguished nine spheres in heaven and nine in the underworld. The celestial spheres arc to be
imagined as twice four heavens situated in the four horizontal directions and one heaven on top, viz. that of the supreme divine couple of creators. The underworld contained the reflected picture of this cosmic arrangement. The Toltecs, Aztecs, and Maya divided heaven into thirteen parts, adding one step to the pyramid of heaven by subdividing the older topmost heaven of the Maya and Olmecs into five heavens.
All the principles underlying the order of the universe are also recognizable in the social and administrative organizations of these peoples.
Each Human Has a Counterpart
An entirely different and probably very old fundamental conception occurring in Central American religious thinking is that of the existence of so-called 'counterparts in disguise'. Every human being was thought to have one or more 'counterparts', mostly disguised as animals, whose fates were linked to that of the human being in a manner conditioned by cosmic forces.
This conception is closely connected with the ritual time-units of 13 X 20 = 260 days, which the Aztecs called tonalpoalli (count of days), and the Maya tzolkin (see the comparative survey of the Aztec and Maya calendars at the end of this section). The 'days' of the ritual calendars of these two peoples ran from midnight till noon, each day being ruled by one of the cardinal points in the order: east, north, west, south, then again east etc. Each day had for its companion the daily period from midday till midnight. Each day's companion was one of the so-called lords of the night, the nine gods ruling the nine parts into which the night was divided, for during that period the sun passed through the nine spheres of the underworld. For the same reason there were thirteen gods that ruled the day.
Every human being possessed from the moment of birth a personal combination of these periods, which to a great extent determined his or her fate. This combination was shared with the 'animal counterparts', who consequently shared that person's destiny. This used to be and still is the principle underlying many acts of magic in this cultural area. By doing harm to or destroying a counterpart one can Kill or make a person ill; by strengthening a sick person's animal counterpart one cures him or her.
The Evolution of the Universe
The concept of the order of the universe caused all Central American peoples to look upon the development of the universe as a steady evolution during the successive periods of the 'suns'. This evolution, so they thought, could only be interrupted by catastrophic revolutions or by natural catastrophes during the transition from one sun to the next. It was also universally believed that within each sun only those forms of earthly life could nourish that were organized according to the principles governing the order of the prevalent constellation. The relations between people and their gods were governed by the prin-ciple of reciprocity. Since it was the gods that created people and
made it possible for them to live, people were obliged to feed and strengthen their gods, the extreme consequence of this being the human sacrifices, which were constantly performed by the Aztecs.
Nearly all literature on A/tec religion is concerned with the immediately pre-Spanish religion of the Azteca-Mexica and other Central American peoples under strong Mexican influence. In a wider historical meaning, however, Aztec religion covers a period of over nine centuries (from 1064 to the present day), about which historical data concerning the Azteca-Mexica have come to hand, and during which the Aztec religion has undergone considerable changes.
The Azteca, the 'genuine' Aztecs, were originally one of the twenty Toltec tribes living in the extreme northwest of the Toltec empire (the present-day state of Guanajuato). We know that before the eleventh century at any rate this tribe had united with the Chichimec tribe of Mexitin (after-wards called Mexica) into one religious, social and administrative organization within the Aztec territory (Aztlan). It was the less civilized Mexitin with their tribal god Tetzauhteotl Huitzilopochtli (Magnificent God Humming Bird on the Left) who eventually gained control of the religious system. The Aztec tribe was divided into four groups, the Mexitin into three. Consequently the Aztecs were associated with the horizontal directions, the Mexitin with the vertical, and the tribal god of the Mexitin was thought to be related to the great Sun-god, the Aztec tribal god to the goddess of the earth.
'Waging War is My Duty'
With the magic nature of their religion and its close relationship with the order of the universe, the Azteca-Mexica considered themselves destined to execute the task clearly expressed in the mission that the god Tetzauhteotl is said to have assigned to his high priest Huitzilopochtli - who was later identified with the god - at the time of the fall of the Toltec empire:
This text unambiguously points to the task laid upon the Aztec-Mexican regime that was to rule over Mexico and Central America in later times. The political as well as religious ambitions of this people implied the control or at least the regulation of war as an instrument to gain and exercise power, and the unification of all the peoples on earth into one social, religious and administrative organization to guarantee the harmonious preservation of the human race. Again this organization was to be consistent with the order of the universe.
As the Azteca-Mexica, urged by their divine mission, migrated further away from their original territory towards the traditional Central Mexican cultural centres, their own culture was increasingly affected.
Alien influences, both religious and social, were more easily adopted; many alien gods were admitted into their pantheon; marriages with members of other tribes and the admission of foreigners into their own tribe widened their concept of the universe. There was a considerable increase in human sacrifices, and the military men gained in power, taking over from the priests more and more administrative functions within the society.
The Needs of a Young Empire
When in 1428 the Azteca-Mexica established their domination over the Central Mexican lake area, the development described above culminated in the institution of a state religion which was adapted to the needs of the young empire. It was especially the Cihuacoatl (Female Companion) Tlacayelel, the supreme internal ruler of the empire from 1428 till 1474, who added ideological elements to the Aztec religion. The souls of warriors killed on the battlefield and the souls of victims of human sacrificial offerings rose to the eastern solar heaven. Women who died in childbirth rose to the western solar heaven: the regime looked upon them as heroines because they had died after giving birth to another Aztec. A common metaphor for giving birth to a child was 'taking a prisoner'. The mother on that occasion had as it were acquired a creature dedicated to the gods and as such considered to be equal to a human sacrifice.
Both groups occupied a place of honour within the regime, and on their deaths they were thought to join the train of attendants of the sun-god on his course across the sky; the men from sunrise till noon, the women from noon till sunset. Other people on their death went lo the horrible subterranean realm of the dead, exception being made for those who had been fortunate enough to be struck by lightning or to be drowned, for these found a place in the paradise of the rain-god Tlaloc.
The Urge to Conquer
The tribal god Huitzilopochtli was also the god of the south, the god of war, and the protector of the Fifth Sun. Hence the Aztec people considercd themselves to be in charge of the regulation of all earthly matters during the fifth cosmic age. This principle may seem easily in lead to an uncontrolled urge to conquer and dominate other na-tions. Hut, used as the starting-point for the policy of the Aztec state regime, this dogma was religious in nature and therefore acted as a check on the unlimited exercise of power. For the ideology that had been added to the fundamentals of their religion was aimed only at establishing an overall world-order in agreement with the constellation of the Fifth Sun. This meant that the Aztecs contented themselves with the maintenance on earth of an overall structure incorporating locally many different social, cultural and administrative patterns. It must be admitted that this structure was a very flexible one. The Aztec regime was highly tolerant in religious and cultural matters generally.
Some Central Mexican territories with a high level of culture dating back to Toltec or even earlier times were allowed to join the regulated so-called 'wars of flowers', thereby retaining almost complete internal independence. The wars of flowers were encounters between local armies with a fixed number of warriors, operating within the Aztec world, and fighting ritual battles at fixed times and on predetermined battlefields.
The main religious purpose of these regulated wars, fought according to set rules, was the capturing of prisoners of war who could at some later time be sacrificed to one or more deities of the capturing party or parties. The main social purpose of these wars was to enable the sons of noble families, officers and brave warriors of low descent to win honour and fame, and thus rise on the social ladder. Ideologically wars of flowers might be regarded as an attempt to prevent decadence. The fall of the Toltec empire as a result of the social and cultural decadence of the elite had caused among the Aztecs an almost traumatic fear of it, which induced the leaders of the regime to drive the sons of the elite into one war of flowers after another. Only those who had gained personal success in these wars were eligible for administrative functions.
Concepts of Divinity
The Aztec concept of divinity was rooted in religious principles that had developed in the older Olmec, Toltec and Chichimec cultures. Ancient Central Mexican gods, e.g. Xiuhtecuhtli (Lord of the Year, fire-god), Quetzalcoatl (Venus, saviour, god of wind and science) and Tlaloc (Wine of the Earth, rain-god), were adopted by the Aztecs. Yacatecuhtli, the god of the merchants, was probably one of the forms in which Quetzalcoatl was worshipped. The important Aztec god Tezcatlepoca (It Causes the Black Mirror to Shine, the god of the nocturnal sky), often identified with the supreme god, seems to be of Chichimec origin. But as this god was also worshipped by Mixtec and many other tribes, there is no certainty as to his origin. There are indications that he was already worshipped by the Mexitin in Aztlan.
The fertility-god Xipe Totec (Our Lord, the Flayed One), a phallic god of fertility, was adopted from the peoples living on the Pacific coasts. The Huaxtecs, the most northern Maya tribe on the Gulf, provided the goddess of women in childbed, Tlazolteotl.
The texts referring to the principal A/tec gods .md goddesses recorded hy Sahagun at Tepepulco reveal a complicated concept of divinity. The Aztecs used the word teotl (literally 'stony', but in a figurative sense: permanent, powerful) to denote their gods and goddesses in general. These deities possessed widely differing qualities, and their importance in the pantheon showed great differences. Therefore the concept of teotl seems at a first glance to be a rather vague one.
The following is a translation of part of the Aztec text about the god Tezcatlepoca: 'This one was considered a real teotl, he (or it) lived everywhere, in hell, on earth and in heaven. On earth he (or it) brought dust and dung to life, and caused many sufferings among men, he (it) set people against each other, therefore he (it) is said to be hostile on both sides. He (or it) created all things; he (it) brought evil things upon men, thus placing them into his (its) shade, and asserting himself (itself) as their master, he (it) mocked men. Sometimes he (it) gave them riches, dominance and power to rule, nobility and honour.'
This is an almost pantheistic concept of the supreme god, as it is found in several polytheistic religions. No wonder that Tezcatlepoca appears in the Aztec pantheon in more forms than any other god. No other god is referred to under so many different names and with so many metaphors. The best-known are: Om(e)acatl (Two Reed, his principal calender name), Tlamatzincatl (his name as a war-god), Yoalli Ehecatl (Night and Wind, i.e. invisible and evasive), Tloque Nahuaque (Ruler of Adjacent and Nearby Things, i.e. the all-embracing vicinity), Ipalnemoani (He or It That Makes Life Possible), Moyocuyatzin (the Self-Creating One) and Moquequeloatzin (the Capricious One). Nature gods, such as Tlaloc (the god of the waters of heaven), Chalchiuhtlicue (Her Skirt Is Made of Jade, the goddess of the waters on earth), Ehecatl (the wind), Tonatiuh (the sun), Chicomecoatl (the maize-goddess) etc., are described by Sahagun's informants as forces with natural effects of their own: rain, irrigation or floods, wind or gale, warmth or heat and drought, etc. These might have occurred in any polytheistic religion.
Gods for Each Group
The Aztec concept of divinity is unique, however, in the association of particular gods with particular social groups within a nation, or with entire tribes or nations. Examples are the gods Yacatecuhtli (the god of the merchants) and Huitzilopochtli (the god of the Azteca-Mcxica), who have been mentioned before. When merchants with their caravan pitched camp on their distant journeys, they made a bundle of all their travelling-canes and laid this on the ground in the middle of their camp. It represented their god Yacatecuhtli. This might lead us to conclude that the Aztecs thought of their group and tribal gods as the suprapersonal unities of collective groups, as the factor that makes the group more important than the sum total of its members. Sahagun's informants at Tepepulco said of I Huitzilopochtli that 'he is but subject and prince', a metaphor meaning 'he is no more than the whole people, from the highest to the lowest'. These words also seem to give evidence of a simple way of deifying the supra-personal unity of a group.
It should be remembered, however, that one of the fundamentals of the Aztec concepts of divinity and religion in general was the cosmic interrelationship between all phenomena. This gave to the Aztec concept of both their group and tribal gods a dimension that is not to be inferred directly from the texts quoted above. For the Aztecs considered the supra-individual unity of a group of far greater importance than most Europeans do.
A Predestined Fate
The cosmic relationship embodied in the constellation of the gods, which belonged to the Fifth Sun, gave every individual person as well as every group of persons his or her own predestined fate. Although these forms of predestination might, indeed, have different effects due to the freedom of action allowed to human beings, it was thought that the combined powers and forces in the universe determined the existence of a particular group. This complex offerees, of which the urge to exist and the vitality of the social group concerned forms only one of its component elements, was symbolized by the Aztecs in their group and tribal gods. The complex of forces might in its turn be closely connected with other constellations of power. Consequently the gods with their day-signs could have counterparts, just like a human being.
Considerable differences existed between the gods. There was for instance a wide distance between the supreme god Tezcatlepoca and the group god of the inhabitants of a village-ward, or the god of an extended family. The group god of the feather mosaic workers, Coyotlinahual, differed a great deal from the rain-god Tlaloc. But all Aztec deities had this in common, that they existed longer than man, for they were thought to exist in any case as long as the constellation of the Fifth Sun. Since their existence was comparatively permanent, they were all gods.
Religion and Society
The term 'sacral society' has been used for some present Maya village communities, and is also applicable to the pre-Spanish Aztec society. The religious and social aspects of this society were completely interwoven: its religion, science, philosophy, forms of recreation, arts, wars, agriculture, industry and commerce were integrated in a regime that consisted of structurally uniform sections.
A simple example of the strong resemblance between the state administrative and religious orders was the so-called 'triple throne' of the Aztec empire. There were three capital cities: Mexico, Tetz-coco and Tlacopan, the capitals of the three central provinces. Each capital city was governed by one royal family, tracing descent through the paternal line. The three royal families formed our huge family through regular intermarriage which traced its descent through the female line. The three capital cities were associated with the three
vertical cosmic layers: heaven, earth and the underworld. The most important of the three cities, Mexico, consisted of two parts, Tlal-telolco and Tenochtitlan, each having administrative functions of its own. Tenochtitlan was divided into four parts, each of which supplied the supreme rulers of the four large outlying provinces of the empire. Thus Tenochtitlan, as one of the seats of the central government, was associated with the four horizontal quarters. Besides the three administrative capitals there existed an important religious centre: Cholullan.
The Toltecs had exactly the same system. At first they had three administrative centres: Tollan, Otompan and Colhuacan; their religious capital was Teotihuacan. The Tecpanec and Tarascan empires showed the same division. The cosmic triple, quadruple and fivefold divisions were also found to underlie their social order.
The various social classes in Aztec society had each in its own way a part to play in their religious organization. The Aztec elite consisted of the hereditary nobility, the military nobility, the priests of higher rank, the merchants who traded between the regions both within and without the empire, and some groups of craftsmen, such as the gold and silver smiths, and the feather mosaic workers. The common people were farmers, fishermen and the other craftsmen. Together they were called macehualtin (free citizens). The members of the nobility as well as the macehualtin possessed the right of landownership. The former often owned private lands; the latter owned land as part of the common property, each family-head being allotted some fields belonging to the common wardlands.
Besides the 'free' classes of society there existed three 'unfree' or tied classes. The tecpanpouhque (servants of the palace) were people who were often ethnically different from the Aztecs and were in the permanent service of government institutions or functionaries. They often enjoyed a pretty high social status, mostly higher than that of the macehualtin! The mayeque (righthanded ones) were tied farmworkers, who possessed no land. They were former rebels or opponents of the regime and their descendants. Their rebellion against the Aztec government had lost them their right to own land. Finally there were the tlacotin (the sold ones), people who had become slaves through unpaid debts.
The Central Importance of Sacrifice
It is understandable that these various Aztec social groupings were differently connected with the Aztec religion. Everybody from time to time sacrificed a little of his own blood to one or more of the gods, usually by piercing tongue or earlobes with a reed, causing considerable suffering. Those who occupied high positions in the social hierarchy brought other, often valuable, offerings as well, such as art objects, rubber balls, all kinds of sacrificial animals, fragrant resin and herbs. Rich merchants also offered slaves in sacrifice, military conquerors offered their war captives. Their hearts were torn out by the priests and offered, still beating, to the god.
Every twenty days, that is eighteen times a year, great religious festivals were held. Then each social group, and their leaders in particular, could show the common people their achievements, for an Aztec's social career depended to a great extent on success in organizing these religious festivals. Only those who were prepared to make the most valuable sacrifices were eligible for leading functions. The same principle was applied by Tlacayelel and his followers in dealing with whole nations. The nation that brought the largest number of human offerings enjoyed the greatest prestige.
As everywhere else in the world, the Aztec elite had more varied ideas about their gods than the common people. Farmers worshipped especially the sun-god and the maize- and rain-gods and goddesses and, sometimes more or less under pressure of the government, their tribal god Huitzilopochtli. Fishermen and hunters had their own water- and hunting-gods, the craftsmen had their own group gods, whom they worshipped before all other gods. Slaves worshipped above all Tezcatlepoca, because only his arbitrariness could bring about quick changes in their position. The elite worshipped especially the great gods and goddesses: Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, Tezcatlepoca, Toci-Teteoinnan (Our Grandmother, the mother of the gods, the earth-goddess) etc.
A Philosophy of Life
Religious thinking among the elite developed into a real philosophy with clear formulations of the fundamental questions of life. A concept of the order of the universe was developed that stressed the relative nature of all things. Such a philosophy can only develop in a sophisticated environment. The following strophe of an old Aztec poem may give some evidence of it:
Within the Aztec elite in particular, but also among the people in general, two important currents could be distinguished: the avowed adherents of the regime established by Tlacayelel with their mystical • and military ideology and a large number of prominent people who had got tired of the official ideology of anti-decadence or for some other reason did not believe in it, for instance because they were descended from the leaders in former independent states that had been subjected by the Aztecs.
The first group considered Huitzilopochtli to be their principal god; most members of the second group worshipped especially Quetzalcoatl, the Toltec god who was most concerned with cultural matters and to whom they often also attributed messianic qualities.
The Aztecs were no preachers, nor did they have a well-organized set of religious dogmas. All were free to have their own religious faith, provided it did not conflict too much with the three fundamental principles of the state ideology. These were: the special duty to be fulfilled by Huitzilopochtli (and consequently by his followers) during the age of the Fifth Sun; the readiness to participate in the wars of flowers and/or to bring ritual offerings and do penance for the purpose of preventing decadence; the principle of reciprocity in the relations between people and the gods.
Training the Young
'I'he Aztec youth, boys as well as girls, were indoctrinated with these fundamental principles and the set of connected values, as long as they were at school, from their seventh till their twentieth year, either by priests at scientific-religious boarding-schools, or by army officers at the less strict military and vocational schools. Besides teaching their pupils to believe in the few dogmas of the Aztec religion, the priests and army officers taught them to think. The works left by those who had attended such schools are ample evidence of this. The need for sacrifice made the Aztec religion a harsh one, but it was also a source of order and discipline within the society.
The Maya Religion
The attempt to compare the Aztec and Maya religions is in fact apt to fail, owing to the dissimilarity of the subjects of comparison. The Aztecs, for instance, were a nation belonging to the Nahua group, as were the Toltecs and many other Mexican and Central American tribes. The Maya, on the other hand, were a collection of nations, like the Nahuas. The Maya tribes did not have one common religion, my more than the Nahua peoples had. All Maya peoples indeed
shared the same religious background, but this was largely also shared by the Nahuas and other Central American tribes. Yet it is possible to recognize characteristics common to all Maya religions.
A distinction should be made, however, between Maya tribes dom-inated and strongly influenced by Toltecs or other Nahua groups - such as the Maya of Yucatan and the Tzeltal-Tzotzil in Chiapas -and the Maya groups that had undergone little or no Nahua influences, such as the Lacandones. The former groups had generally developed administrative, military and social systems organized according to Nahua principles, whereas the latter groups retained their original character, which laid much emphasis on the worship of nature gods. All Maya groups differed from the Nahuas in that they
set a much higher value on time and units of time as subjects of veneration. The concept of time, kin(h), was the centre of Maya religious interest. The Maya religions were and still are more meta-physical in nature than the Aztec religion. In Maya religions 'animal counterparts' (called chanuletik in Chiapas) played a far more import-ant part, and each 'animal counterpart' was assumed to be connected with a thirteenfold 'soul' (ch'ulel), which was shared by the chanul and the person whose counterpart it was.
The following brief survey of the religious system of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala, one of the most important anil largest groups of the ancient as well as the modern Maya, may serve as an example of the religious system peculiar to a Maya tribe. The Quiche have left us one of the finest literary accounts in existence of an Indian religion, the Popol Vuh. This sacred book of the Quiche contains in succession an account of the cosmogony, some other mythic sagas, and the history of the Quiche tribes.
The creator couple, Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, who were also called by thirteen other names, are mentioned at the beginning of the Book of the Community. The Toltec dual divinity Tepeu-Gucumatz (= Quetzalcoatl) was also greatly venerated as creator. Another great and ancient god was Huracan, the Triple Heart of the Universe. The creating gods had to fight the Lords of the Underworld (Xibalba) in their efforts to create rational creatures as servants of the gods. After some vain attempts the gods succeeded in making from maize flour the first four men, followed by the first four women. From these four men and three or four women were descended the three Quiche tribes: Cavec with their tribal god Tohil, Nihaib with the tribal god Avilix, and Ahau-Quiche, with the tribal god Hacavitz.
Here too the earthly order had been arranged in perfect agreement with the order of the whole universe. The Cavec tribe was divided into nine calpolli (clans) and supplied two of the four supreme chiefs; Nihaib with nine calpolli and Ahau-Quiche with four calpolli, each supplied one of the four supreme chiefs. This arrangement is another instance of the simultaneous representation of the triple and quadruple partitions of the universe, while the numbers four and nine and their combination thirteen represent the numbers for the earth, the underworld, and heaven.
The most important Toltec-Maya state of Yucatan presents a similar pattern. Three capital cities, Mayapan, Uxmal (later on Izamal) and Chichen Itza, also symbolized the vertical cosmic order. The principal, mostly quadruple, gods of heaven were Itzamna (one of the supreme gods), the Chaacs (rain-gods), and Kukulcan (= Quetzalcoatl). The jaguar god and the ancient god Mam were the best-known gods of the earth. Kisin was the lord of the underworld. The Yucatec religion retained its typically Maya character by its extensive deification of the time signs and the numbers of the ritual calendar
The present Nahua as well as Maya tribes have lost most of the intricate arrangement of the gods of heaven. But the ancient nature gods, the sun-god and the rain-god, the goddess of the earth and the maize-gods, still play a major part in the daily life of the tribes, sometimes in the disguise of Christian saints. The intricate complex of concepts concerning 'animal counterparts', however, has been preserved nearly everywhere, and acts of magic are still being performed within the framework of these concepts.
The Aztec Calendar
This encyclopedia mentions the Aztecs and Mayas after the pre-literate peoples. In a book of reference of this kind this is natural since a kind of writing had evolved. For the Aztecs and the Maya had, independently of the old world, developed such a refined method of registration that it may certainly be called script.
A large part of the pre-Spanish writings that have been preserved is concerned with relations between time-space and the gods. Consequently there exist a large number of documents dealing with the calendar of Central American peoples, which regulated their ritual religious manifestations and were the basis of the entire formal part of their religious life.
The Aztec divinatory calendar was based on the sacred count of days or tonalpoalli, by the priests. The twenty day-signs, the corresponding gods and their relations with people -were as follows:
Day-signs Gods Relations with people
The thirteen numbers which in the tonalamatl were combined with the twenty day-signs also showed good, undetermined or bad as-sociations in connection with humans: for instance, thirteen was good, but four was bad. Each of the twenty 13-day periods was associated with one of the cardinal points of space and with a particular god. Each period was called after its first day.
Besides the tonalpoalli the Aztecs had a system of counting the days of the solar year of 365 days. The system was called xiuhpoalli. This solar year was divided into eighteen periods of twenty days (called metztli = moon) plus five remaining days, which they called nemontemi (useless additions). The eighteen 20-day periods had their corresponding divinities.
In the course of these eighteen 'months' twenty major religious festivals were held annually. There was a festival on one of the last days of every 'month'; in the 'months' of Quecholli and Izcalli festivals were also held halfway through the period. The Aztec solar years were called after the last day of the eighteenth 'month'. In practice this could only be four different day-names, each of which was connected with the thirteen numbers. This gave rise to the xiuhmolpillis (bundle of years), each counting fifty-two years. The various Mexican nations had different ways of grouping their years. The Aztecs started each set of years on 2-Acatl, which meant that each xiuhmolpilli or 52-year period ended with the year i-Tochtli.
They regarded the end of a xiuhmolpilli as a critical moment, at which the order of the Fifth Sun might be destroyed. During the ceremonies connected with the turn of a 52-year period all fires in the country had to be extinguished. Old furniture and other household implements, pottery, images of gods etc were replaced by new ones. At the moment when the Pleiades rose above the mountain of Col-huacan new fire was made by the high priest on the breast of a sacrificed victim and distributed among all the temples and homes in the country.
In the Aztec empire the beginning and the end of the year differed from place to place. Even the calendars of the twin-cities of Tenoch-titlan and Tlaltelolco differed in this respect. At Tlaltelolco the year began with Izcalli, at Tenochtitlan with Atlcahualo. The nemontemi or remaining days always followed the 2O-day period that was considered the last 'month' of the year. These five days evidently also contained the extra days of leap-years. Besides sets of fifty-two years the Aztecs had even longer time units consisting of two xiuhmolpillis (i.e. 2 X 52 = 104 years).
The Maya Calendar
The Maya calendar is based upon the same principles as the Aztec calendars. As has been said, the concept of time and the arrangement of time units formed the central points of consideration in the Maya religion, even more so than with the Aztecs. Hence the Maya had some arrangements unknown to the Aztecs.
Like the Aztecs the Maya reckoned with the ritual time unit of 260 days, divided into 13 X 20 days and called tzolkin. They regarded these days as 260 different pairs of combinations of the gods of the thirteen numbers with the twenty gods of the day-signs. The names
of the day-signs and their corresponding divinities (as far as we know) were: i Imix, 2 Ik (Chac), 3 Akbal, 4 Kan (maize-god), 5 Chicchan, 6 Cimi (Ah Puch, god of death), 7 Manik (god of war), 8 Lamat, 9 Muluc (wind-god), 10 Oc, n Chuen (Xaman Ek, Polar Star, god of the merchants), 12 Eb, 13 Ben, 14 (i) Ix, 15 (2) Men, 16 (3) Cib, 17 (4) Caban, 18 (5) Eznab, 19 (6) Cauac, 20 (7) Ahau (Itzamna).
Fourteen divinites were associated with the numbers o and i to 13. Only three of these associations are known to us with certainty, viz: 4 sun-god, 10 Ah Puch, god of death, and 13 Chac, rain-god.
In the so-called 'Ancient Empire' in Guatemala, Ik, Manik, Eb and Caban were the Bearers of the Year, which function corresponded with that of the Aztec days Acatl, Tecpatl, Calli and Tochtli. Besides the ritual sets of 260 days, the Maya, like the Aztecs, had a solar year of 365 days (haab), also divided into eighteen periods of twenty days, plus five remaining days.
A peculiar feature of the Maya calendar set of twenty days was that the days of each 'month' were counted in the way we indicate the hours of a day. The first day of Pop was called o-Pop, the last or twentieth day ig-Pop. The Maya are the first people on earth known to have developed the concept of the number o, many centuries before the Hindus. The combination of the haab and tzolkin calendars yielded time units of 73 X 260 = 52 X 365 = 18,980 days, the same sets of fifty-two years that the Aztecs called xiuhmolpilli. Besides the sets of fifty-two haabs or solar years, the Maya priests applied a count of days by a special adaptation of counting systems based on the numbers eighteen and twenty. This calendar had sets of 360 days, called tun. We do not know if the Aztecs had the same system, but, if they did, it was certainly of far less importance to them.
In this system the katun, which was a period of 7,200 days, was the most important time unit with regard to religious matters. The Maya priests developed a theory of determinism which was associated with the katunes. They were named after their last day, always a day called Ahau, which was, however, combined with different numbers thirteen times in succession. Katunes with the same final day were thought to follow similar courses, and to have similar influences on the course of events.
The Maya were continually correcting their calendar, with the result that theirs was the most accurate calendar ever developed.