Sacrifice was used to maintain the cosmos in an ordered state of existence. If the Aztec wanted the cosmos to provide them with the resources for their survival, they believed that they must feed the cosmos in return. Read (1998) argues that each individual believed that there was a connection between all other beings in their cosmology and that they were all responsible for the health of these beings. It is for this reason that all members of the Aztec society took their sacrificial duties very seriously, it was a common known fact that the weight of the cosmic universe rested on every members’ shoulders. Everyone knew they had a part to play in keeping the cosmos balanced. Cosmologies and beliefs were carried out in numerous ways, with some of the most important during Aztec ceremonies. As mentioned previously, a central belief in Aztec religion was that their gods sacrificed themselves for humans; this is where the Aztec belief that a “debt” was created which could only be satisfied through offerings of human lives and blood came from (Smith 1996).
In December of 1790, workers uncovered a twenty six pound stone monolith buried in what was once the spot of a corner of the religious Templo Mayor. This monolith, depicted below, was carved with the markings of the Aztec universe and calendar.
According to Read (1998), Aztec sacrifices involved the ritual sharing of a variety of plant, animal and human comestibles. Comestibles are any substances that can be used as food (Read 1998). He believes that the logic behind the act of sacrifice was deeply embedded in the Aztec cosmological belief system. Draper wrote about the Aztec belief system and their ideas about the afterlife, mentioning that the Aztecs saw their universe as being “a plot of land surrounded by water” and that this was connected on a vertical axis to 13 “heavens” and 9 levels of the “underworld” (Draper 2010).
Archaeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan was part of the archaeological team that unearthed a twelve-ton monolith depicting the earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli, who was a symbol for the Aztec of their “life and death cycle”, on the monolith she is depicted giving birth while drinking her own blood (Draper 2010). Lopez and his teamed later unearthed a large pit containing several chambers full of artifacts, including several sacrificial daggers believed to have been used by Aztec priests to spill their own blood as well as the blood of their sacrificial victims. Lopez (2010) believes that these chambers may represent different layers on a soul’s journey to the underworld. Each chamber was filled with a different offering, including two golden eagles, a wolf, marine shells and animals as well as numerous sacrificial knives mentioned above (Lopez 2010).
From these examples it is fair to assume that the Aztec relied heavily on the sacrifice of humans as well as other animals. These sacrificial rituals of animals and humans alike allowed the Aztec people to provide sustenance to the gods which created a balance in their universe.
Above is an example of a victim’s skull with sacrificial knives inserted through the nose and mouth area. This skull was found on site, close to where Templo Mayor once stood.