3. Sacrificial Festivals and Acts

The Binding-of-the-Years, or the New Fire Ceremony, was a ceremony in which a victim was chosen to sacrifice to the gods. This ceremony took place every fifty-two years in November. The purpose was, according to Read (1998), to “give birth to the sun that would move on its path for another fifty-two years.”  This ceremony coincided with the start of the dry season. Before the ceremony began, all of the fires in the Aztec empire were extinguished to symbolize the beginning of a new era, a new flame. Read (1998) describes the ceremony taking place on a hill rising out of the city of Tenochtitlan, the hill was called Uixachtlan. Aztec priests took the chosen victim to the top of the hill. Read(1998) discusses that at the beginning of the New Fire Ceremony the Aztec priests would carry a victim to a high spot on the mountain above town and then attempt to start a fire in the chest of the chosen sacrificial victim, if the fire did not light there was a fear shared amongst every individual in the empire that the world would be consumed by the power and forces of the night. This ceremony was performed by the Aztec every 52 years because they believed for the new round of fifty-two years to begin again the fire must start in the victim’s chest and burn until the body of the sacrificial victim was consumed by flames. Read (1998) says that this was the fire that all other fires in the area were lit from.  This sacrificial ceremony allowed the Aztec people and those who were under their control to live for another fifty-two years in relative peace. This sacrifice allowed for the proper orderly state of the cosmos its continued existence.

One of the festivals where women took a leading role was the Festival of Huey Tecuilhuitl (Ingham 1984). A young woman was brought in to take the role of the goddess, called Xilolen. She was then made to sit before a brazier that represented the god of fire, Xiuhtecuhtli, while four male captives were half-roasted and then killed in front of her. Following this, the young woman would be placed on top of the four dead bodies and be sacrificed. Her blood was then spread across the fire. This rite was performed to commemorate the victory of the god Tezcatlipoca over Quetzalcoatl (Ingham 1984).

The Templo Mayor was not simply a burial pyramid to the Aztec, it was seen as a representation of the sacred mountain of Coatapec. It was on this sacred mountain that the mythic battle between the moon god and the sun god took place. “The newly born sun god Huitzilopochtli slew his warrior sister, the moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, and flung her to the bottom of the mountain”(Draper 2010). The Aztec paying homage to this important battle between night and day would collect warriors and march them to the top of the Templo Mayor, make them dance and take part in the festivities, and then harshly cut off their heads and throw them down the steps of the temple. This was a visual reminder to the citizens of Tenochtitlan that sacrifice was essential to appease the gods and the cosmos.

Another type of sacrifice in the Aztec world was the personal act of autosacrifice. Autosacrifice was a private act performed by many Aztecs. It was done as a means of communicating with the gods (Carrasco 1999). The act was widely performed all over the Aztec empire. It consisted of using a sharp object to cut perforations into fleshy areas of one’s body – usually earlobes, lips, tongue, chest, calves, etc. – and then placing the now bloody object into straw balls called zacatapayolli (Carrasco 1999).



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