Mesoamerican or Aztec Beliefs About Creation and the First People

Mosaic Mask of Xiuhtecuhtli

Máscara de Xiuhtecuhtli- Dated approximately 1400 - 1521
Máscara de Xiuhtecuhtli- Dated approximately 1400 - 1521 | Source

Fire god Xiuhtecuhtli - Close up of The Codex Fejervary-Mayer, 15th century.

Xiuhtecuhtli
Xiuhtecuhtli

What Did the Aztec People Believe about Creation?

The ancient Aztecs are no different than so many other people groups that long ago, wondered about their own origins. For these people, they made sense of things by looking at the four cardinal directions. They thought there was a central anchoring point. This point was likely the Great Pyramid in Tenochtitlan, which they thought was the center of the Earth. From that point, they believed the four directions spread out in a vast and flat expanse. The four directions are of course the north, south, east, and west and each one was associated with an "age." Thus, they believed in four "suns" or ages.

The creator of this world, and thus the four directions, or ages, was named Ometeotl. This god was both male and female and gave birth to the Tezcatlipocas, or North, South, East, and West. From this same god, came all the rest of the world and all other deities. At some point, light was to be given to humans. In order to do this, each god in the different age, had to sacrifice themselves. The first one, did so with fire.

Tezcatlipoca - The North

The first age for the Aztecs was associated with Tezcatlipoca, or the north. According to one account, the world at this time was inhabited by giants. This world came to an end when the giants were devoured by jaguars.

Quetzalcoatl - The West

This age was controlled by Quetzalcoatl, and linked to the west. The earth was populated with humans at this time, and the world once again came to an end. It ended because of hurricanes and floods. As the story goes, the survivors of these catastrophes fled to the tops of trees and were then transformed into other creatures, perhaps monkeys.

Tlaloc - The South

Tlaloc was a rain god, and he governed the south. The people who lived in this world or during this time frame ate what is called "aquatic seeds." The world or time for this age came to an end when Quetzalcoatl caused it to rain both fire and ashes. Many people died, but the survivors transformed into birds. The others were supposedly replaced by other animals.

Chalchiuhtlicue - The East

Chalchiuhtlicue was connected to the east. Chalchiutlicue was Tlaloc's consort. A similar account says that Chalchiuhtlicue was sister and wife to Tlaloc. What marked the end of this world, was a great flood and people were then transformed into fish.

There is a further version of how this part of mythological story ends. Evidently many gods gathered at Teotihuacan, and the topic for discussion was who would sacrifice himself or herself in order for a new world to begin. There was an old fire god named Huehueteotl, and he was happy to start the sacrificial bonfire, but not to be the sacrifice. Evidently, the god named Nanahuatzin did have enough courage to jump into the sacrificial flames, and upon doing so, became the new sun.

Xiuhtecuhtli - The Fifth "Sun" or Age

This was the contemporary age, and was linked to the center. The number of the center is five. This area was under the control of the fire god, Xiuhtecuhtli. This is the one depicted in the photos here, both the mask, and the images on the codex.

I came across a different version of this "age", and also wanted to share it here. It agreed that it was the current age, the age in which the Aztecs lived. It said it was ruled however, by Tonatiuh. Tonatiuh was the ruling god. I am less sure of this however, as the codex shows the god, Xiuhtecuhtli in the center of the fifth age.

It is said that the Aztecs considered themselves the people of the sun. They believed it was their duty, in part, to nourish this sun god through blood offerings and sacrifices. Some believed that to fail to do this, would cause the end of the world, the end of the sun. There are some that say this world is characterized also by a sign called Ollin. Ollin means movement, and it was indicated somewhere along the way that this world would end through earthquakes. I thought that to be rather interesting as well.

Codex Borbonicus

Page 9 of the Codex Borbonicus, From the 16th Century
Page 9 of the Codex Borbonicus, From the 16th Century | Source

Aztec Cosmology

The earth was flat, in ancient Aztec cosmology. This flat earth had thirteen layers rising up out of it. It was thirteen layers of heaven. It was here, that Ometeotl lived. The Aztecs thought Ometeotl was the supreme creator of all.

Beneath this same flat earth, there are nine layers of the underworld. They called this Mictlan, which was presided over by Mictlantecuhtli. He was the god of that realm. He had a consort, or Mictecacihuatl.

There are some accounts, where water encircled everything. In fact, the waters encircled the whole earth, even the farthest reaches in each direction, north, south, east, and west. Then it curved up above the land itself, to make the sky. They believed the gods could decree that the sky waters could fall down, or come down to wipe out all men and all their achievements in one huge flood. I found that to be rather interesting.

The Four Pillars, or Trees

In this Mesoamerican universe, there stood four pillars or trees. These trees both supported and connected the three different levels of the cosmos, the flat earth, the heavens, and the underworld. Of interest also, is that there is a fifth tree in the middle. It was said that the roots reached deep down into the underworld. At the same time, the uppermost branches reached high into the heavens.

It is not uncommon when looking at the history of these different people groups, to see how much trees meant to them. There were depictions of world trees found in many different cultures actually. They are filled with meaning in directional and central aspects as we saw here. The cultures this occurs with include the Maya, Olmec, Aztec, Izapan, and Mixtec. There are more as well and can be seen in their art and mythological traditions. They date to at least the middle to late formative periods of Mesoamerican chronology.

I find learning about other cultures to be fascinating. They didn't have much to go with, but their beliefs were very strong. Their understanding helped them to make sense of their world as they knew it. For them, it was enough, and what had been revealed to them at that time. I think its wonderful that we able to learn about these far distant cultures, even though it can sometimes be a bit strange or even sad at times. To them, I am sure it wasn't so awful, but a way of life and survival.

The fire god Xiuhtecuhtli, is in the very middle of this codex, aka "center of the universe."

The Codex Fejervary - Mayer.  From the 15th century.
The Codex Fejervary - Mayer. From the 15th century. | Source

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Comments 4 comments

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oceansnsunsets 4 years ago from The Midwest, USA Author

Hello Mr. Maranatha, That is very interesting, and I think God can relate to humanity in many ways. There are some ruins of Meso Americans that I heard are buried under what turns out to be a Catholic church.

I understand the drive of missionaries, but I respect so much more, those that now try to relate to the cultures they come into contact with, and don't force anything on the people. Most do not do that, but in this case with ancient Meso Americans, I do wish they could do away with the Catholic church that built a mountain on top of ruins and then put their Catholic beliefs into place. That sounds very forceful, and not something Jesus would have ever done. This is my opinion, and those people can't have been known by their love.

Still, I am a very fair person, and don't just criticize willy nilly, and I am in fact a Christian myself. I also think there is more going on there with the age of the earth, though I understand that many think, through genealogies alone, that the earth can be "so old" by the Bible's standards. Star light and the distance of stars from the earth and what that means for the age of the universe, is something that cannot be ignored. I think it also means that the OT isn't demolished or false, or that a Christian need feel like he is giving in, or giving something up if he agrees with undeniable science in the world around us. I only mention this also because in regards to reaching people with the gospel, it ought to be something we at least study up on and not feel concerned about. I think with God, a day is as a thousand years..... We don't have to fit God in our box, of our simple understanding.

That all said, thanks again for your comment. I agree, with much of what you said and will add that it seems no coincidence at all, that people groups from unreached lands over history, still seemed to know there was so much more to this life than meets the eye. They wanted to give thanks to that being, they respected that being, etc. Very interesting....


oceansnsunsets profile image

oceansnsunsets 4 years ago from The Midwest, USA Author

Rcollester, I am so happy to share it. I enjoy finding and learning about this information too. I will continue to share more as I find it, and I am working on some things now. Thank you for your visit and comment.


rcollester3 profile image

rcollester3 4 years ago from Middle Tennessee

Thank you for this information. I have always had an interest in ancient Meso-American peoples and their religious traditions. I would be interested in reading any other information you might have access to.


MrMaranatha profile image

MrMaranatha 4 years ago from Somewhere in the third world.

This is something that someone sent me awhile ago.. Some of it is verifiable online... some of it is probably authors interpretation of what he has read in various places... enjoy:

The Inca of South America

At the zenith of the Inca Empire in South America (Peru, et. al.), King Pachacuti ruled from 1438 to 1471 A.D. He was the founder of the city of Machu Picchu which remained undiscovered until 1904. The Inca worshiped a sun god they called “Inti.”

In 1575, a Spanish priest named Molina wrote hymns and traditions about the Inca in the Inca language. He captured the “history” of Pachacuti only about 100 years after his reign. The writings of Molina were not translated until about 1970. Here is an account of what Molina wrote.

Pachacuti, the Emperor, observed three things about Inti (sun god). 1) Inti always followed a set path. 2) Inti always performed set tasks. 3) Inti always kept certain hours, like a common laborer! Pachacuti noted that Inti was overpowered by any passing cloud. He questioned, “If Inti is not God, then who is?”

Pachacuti looked at creation (a testimony of God according to Scripture) and merged it with an almost extinct Inca “legend” of a god called “Viracocha.” This almost forgotten Incan god was “the Lord, the omnipotent Creator of all things.” (Note: Viracocha-like figurines have been unearthed from Alaska to the tip of South America.)

Pachacuti called a Congress of the Upper Class men from all over his empire. The product of the Congress was a three point resolution about Inti: 1) Inti cannot be universal. He gives light to some, and not to others. 2) Inti cannot be perfect if he can not remain at ease (rest). 3) Inti cannot be all powerful if the smallest cloud can cover him.

Pachacuti’s lifelong quest for truth resulted in the following conclusions about Viracocha: “He is ancient, remote, supreme, and uncreated...He manifests himself as a trinity when he wishes...He created all peoples by his word...He is indeed the very principle of life...He warms the folk through his created son, Punchao...He brings peace and is an orderer...He has pity on men’s wretchedness...He judges and absolves men and enables them to combat their evil tendencies.”

Pachacuti died with only the general revelation of God derived from Creation and reasoning. Specific revelation, which can only be obtained from God’s Word, never reached his heart. At Pachacuti’s death, the “ancient religion” of Viracocha and His Son, Punchao had only been revived in his own heart and with some of the elite class of his society. Soon after the death of Pachacuti, the Spanish conquistadors, under the command of Francisco Pizarro, conquered the Incas with the sword and disease instead of the Sword of the Spirit.

What might have happened if Truth-bearing missionaries had “invaded” the Inca civilization during the lifetime of Pachacuti - before the arrival of Pizarro’s conquistadors?

The Inca are only one example out of hundreds worldwide in which God has obviously dealt with unreached Peoples. God prepares whole nations of people for the arrival of His missionaries. Unfortunately, not all missionaries obey God’s call, and whole nations perish without Christ.

If the world is only about 6000 years old as the Bible declares it to be, then it is not unreasonable to assume that cultures today will have ancient folklore dating all the way back to the family of Noah. In hundreds of cultures, there are such ancient “legends” with roots in the truth that have been passed down orally suffering distortion/corruption over the generations. But, God often uses these ancient oral traditions to prepare people groups for the coming of Gospel-preaching missionaries! The oral traditions are the Providentially-preserved remnants of Revelation about God so that the culture is never totally devoid of the knowledge of God.

I have a Bunch of stuff like this... Chinese, Korea, India.. various cultures. If you have any interest in them let me know...

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