Mesoamerican Why the need to Sacrifice?

Professor Watrall’s lectures about Mesoamerica really caught my attention and got me thinking about how things were back then.  How we see a lot rise and falls of many of capital and cities, how elites were gained and used their power, and how so many people were sacrificed to the gods. So as I was lost in my thoughts I kept thinking this movie I went to see with my dad a couple years ago called “Apocalypto”.  The film takes place in a Mayan civilization and is about this peaceful tribe that gets brutally attacked by warriors seeking slaves and human beings for sacrifice for their gods.  The chief’s son, Jaguar Paw, hides his pregnant wife and his son in a deep hole nearby their tribe and is captured while fighting with his people. Now the part of the film that stuck out was this fifteen minutes scene were the captured me of were brought to this giant temple and were sacrifice on this chacmool in front of the entire city. An eclipse spares his life from the sacrifice and later he has to fight to survive and save his beloved family but what really got me was that the elites paid these warriors top dollar to go out and hunt people to be sacrificed to their Sun god. Now this made me think about what other gods they may have worshipped, what other societies shared this or what roles religion played in their society.

So I decided to do a little research on Mesoamerica and came across this article entitled “Mesoamerican Religions” which had some pretty cool info about Mesoamerican religion.  So this article talks about not only Mayan religion but that of the Zapotec, Mixtec and the Aztec. What all of these distinct groups had in common was that they all had a concept of a vital force that separated the living from the nonliving. The Maya expressed this concept of “ik,” or wind, breath, or life; the Zapotecs expressed it with “pee” or wind, breath, or spirit; for the Mixtec it was “”yni” or “ini” or spirit, heart, or heat: and for the Aztec it was “tona” or vital energy, or heat. Due to their doctrine that the soul is the principle of life and health, they attributed life to many things. The idea of human sacrifice was one of the more notable shared concepts of these religions which were concerned with keeping the cosmos in balance through human action. The article goes on to talk about the perceived relationship between humans and supernaturals; principal beliefs and major gods; expression of religious themes in art and writing; the “ideological” function of religion in the society; and the religion and the needs of the state: the relationship between religion and political, military, and economic institutions for all of these societies in vast detail.

Here’s a link to article if you want to read it and there are also link to articles regarding Mesoamerica:

One thought on “Mesoamerican Why the need to Sacrifice?

  1. Allison Apland

    For my blog post this week, I looked into the ball courts of the Maya (and Mesoamerica in general), and I found similar themes. I think it’s interesting how culture weaves together different aspects of people’s lives with ideology and ritual. The ball games served a political purpose by providing an outlet for violence between communities in a controlled environment. One of the reasons this was a successful way to deal with conflict was because of the religious significance it was endowed with. I found the same theme you did of trying to balance the cosmos particularly between life and death. Human sacrifice could sometimes be wrapped up in the ball game because of that issue.

    Also, I think the idea of a dichotomy in their belief system is interesting because I think this is a common factor in religions. It could be the broad theme we see in our culture of “good vs. evil.” In Egypt, ideology and the role of the pharaoh were crucial for keeping balance between order and chaos. Just as the pharaoh performed ceremonies to help preserve order in Egypt, elites among the Maya had special religious roles to ensure that the balance of the cosmos was maintained. I wonder if it is fair to say that in the United States, leaders don’t have a role with that important ideological significance of keeping balance. I wonder if there is a way to apply what we know about these ancient cultures to a leader such as the President of the United States. Do we expect him to keep some sort of balance in our culture?

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