Aztec And Spanish Religion Comparison Essay, Research Paper
Compare and contrast essay
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE AZTEC AND SPANISH RELIGIONS
When studying the “Age of Discovery”, one always thinks of Columbus first. Since Columbus was identified with being an employee of what is now known as Spain, we often focus on Spanish exploration as a starting point for the “age of discovery”. One of Spain’s most notorious conquests involved Mexico and a people known as the Aztecs. The Aztecs, like many other Indians, were thought to be heathens that needed to be conquered and converted. The focus of this paper is not on the conquest of Mexico, but rather a study of the religion that was conquered as well as the religion doing the conquering. The Spanish and Aztec religions will be examined in three areas : gods, priests, and the military connection. There were few similarities between the Aztec and Spanish religions, but the areas that are similar might be shocking.
The Aztecs were a tribe that migrated from the north, possibly the Rocky mountains, the Great Basin, and California. “Most probably they were initially a primitive conquering tribe who settled on the shore of the Texcoco lake in the Valley of Mexico at the beginning of the fourteenth century”. As the Aztecs conquered their neighbors in the Valley, they began to assimilate the religions of those tribes into their own culture. The two main tribes the Aztecs seemed to have sculpted their religion from were the Toltecs and the Teotihuacan. Due to these factors the Aztecs had a multitude of supreme deities. The most powerful and most frequently worshipped god was Huitzlopochtli. Huitzlopochtli was the god of war and guardian of Tenochtitlan. Huitzlopochtli’s temple was the main pyramid in the center of Tenochtitlan and the site of numerous human sacrifices. The next two gods were probably of equal importance. Quetzalcoatl was the serpent god and god of civilization and learning. Quetzalcoatl is also the name of a legendary priest-ruler, the title of high priest, and a royal title. Quetzalcoatl is believed to have been acquired from the Toltec tribe where as a god and legend he originated. Tlaloc was the rain god and he shared the platform of his temple with Huitzilopochtli. Tlaloc was very important to the Aztecs due to the fact that their civilization was based on agriculture. The god of corn was Centeotl. It might sound odd to have a corn god, but corn was the Aztecs staple food. Coatlicue was she of the serpent skirt. Ettecatl was the god of wind. Huehueteotl was the old deity also associated with fire. Fire was given great respect being that it was a priestly duty to maintain the fires in the temples. Mictlantecuhtle was the god of the dead. Ometecuttlti and his wife, Omecihuatl, created all life in the world. The god of night and sorcery was Tezcatlipoca. The prayers of this god were associated with royalty. The sun god and primary source of life was Tonatiuh. Tonatiuh was of importance when sacrifices were made to him during coronation rites. Aztec cities were built in the east west path of the sun. Tonantzin was among the many names for the female earth deity. Xilonen was a principle deity representing maize. Xipetotec was the god of springtime and regrowth. The Aztec gods represented the most important things in Aztec life.
The Spanish religion was Catholicism which preaches only one supreme god being our lord Jesus Christ. It might be debatable that Catholicism worships more than one god if you analyze the trinity, being the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Catholics and Christians of other denominations would argue this point till they are blue in the face explaining that the trinity is one being. Another way Catholics could be seen as polytheists is in their worship of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Mary, according to Christians, is the mother of Jesus who was conceived by immaculate conception. She was chosen by god to perform this awesome task and therefore she should be worshipped, but she is not a god. Saints are not gods either yet they are worshipped on specific occasions. Saints are people that truly lived at one period of time. These people devoted their entire lives to the Christian faith and would act on that devotion by changing people’s lives. When these people died they were remembered for a particular act of devotion and therefore worshipped by Catholics every time they were faced with a trouble that a saint was known to have overcome.
The major difference between the Aztec and Spanish gods was who they proclaimed to be god. The Aztecs believed everyone they worshipped was a god, where as the Spanish worshipped just as many beings but only called one God.
The name given to Aztec priests was chachalmeca. These men were the ones who sacrificed the victims as offering to the gods. “It was a high-ranking position among the Indians, much revered, and was passed down from father to son like our own primogeniture.” There were usually around six priests who were present and performing in the ceremonies. The priest who actually performed the task of sacrificing the victim was known as the high priest. There were different procedures performed before the sacrifice or during the ceremony, depending on the purpose of the occasion. “Behind them emerged the gods and goddesses, or rather their impersonators, dressed in the proper garb of each deity. In an orderly fashion they formed around the pieces of dough. They performed a ceremony of chanting and dancing upon them”. The priest that was the most famous in Aztec culture was Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl. There are many stories about the life and death of Topiltzin, which one is true no one knows. One legend is that he was a white foreigner that was very religious and he gained recognition as a ruler and priest. The other legend is that he was son of Mixcoatl who was also a serpent god and when he was young he went to live in a neighboring village where his grandparents raised him. He later returned to the village of the Toltecs where he rose as a ruler and high priest. The reason for his leaving the village was supposedly because of a disagreement within the sect over human sacrifices. The faction that opposed Topiltzin sent sorcerers to get him drunk and have him commit incest with his sister. Due to this great embarrassment, Topiltzin left but promised to return one day. Cortes was believed to be Topiltzin.
The Catholic religion had priests also. The equivalent of the high priest would be the pope. The popes that were in office during the time of exploration and interaction with the Aztecs were : Pius III (1503), Julius II (1503-1513), Leo X (1513-1521), Adrian VI (1522-1523), and Clement VII(1523-1534). These popes and other priests performed ceremonies for many occasions. During the inquisition they performed tasks of torture and sacrifice on infidels who did not follow the right religion. Most of these people were Jews and Muslims. They had their possessions taken from them as well as the punishment they received for not fully converting to the Catholic faith. This period was when the “Catholic Kings” came to the throne and tolerance was not permitted.
The Aztec and Spanish religions both have high priests which perform violent and non violent ceremonies. One major difference between these religions is the role of conversion which Catholic priests perform and hold as one of their main duties in the priesthood. No where in my research did I find evidence of priests in the Aztec culture having the duty of conversion and spreading the true faith.
THE MILITARY CONNECTION
The Aztec religion incorporated the entire culture of the people. A large part of this culture rested on the military background of the warring tribes. The Aztecs’ nature to wage war on their neighbors was a large part of their rituals and sacrifices. If the Aztecs won a battle, the war god must have blessed them therefore they needed to bring all the hostages from the conquered land to be sacrificed to the war god. This worked the opposite way as well. If the Aztecs lost a battle then the war god was mad at them so they had to find twice as many victims as they could to sacrifice. As the Aztecs lust for expansion grew, so did Huitzilopochtli’s appetite for human blood.
The Spanish incorporated the military into their religion also but for different reasons. The Spanish inquisition was a church run military. In the name of the lord, soldiers would loot, torture, and kill people they saw as infidels. The church was also used to conquer people discovered in Spain’s new colonies. The people of the new world were seen as sub human creatures unable to understand the true religion. These people were either converted or killed. The monks on these expeditions were sent directly by the Catholic church. Many of the religious decrees presented to the newly discovered people were also signed or created by the Catholic church.
Both religions reflect the militant attitude of their cultures. Each incorporates violence in their religious practices in the name of their gods. The difference is the reasons for the violence. The Aztec’s reasons being to satisfy their god’s hunger for human blood. The Spanish reasons are to please their god by expelling the infidels.
The Aztec and Spanish religions were different in many ways, but they were also similar in many ways. Both of them reflected their cultures at that period of time. In both cases, we would find their actions to be repulsive. As the Aztecs waged war on neighboring tribes, the Spanish waged war on neighboring countries and religions. Neither religion was any better than the other; both religions had their good and bad features.