Human sacrifice and other practices

Throughout my education, all the history and geography courses I have taken have always talked about the Mesoamerican peoples. Everyone has heard of the Mayan, Aztecs, and the Incans. Learning about some of their practices and other traditions as well as seeing photos of the massive pyramids they built were all part of the curriculum. With knowing this, I am glad we went over these ethnic groups in this course and it has just further peaked my interest. Like most people, I am particularly interested in the Aztecs and their human sacrifice rituals. I think the reason this is so fascinating to us is because we see this practice as cruel and so different than anything we do now. As I have come to find out, the Aztecs had their reasons for doing it and it seemed like they had no intent on stopping.

The Aztecs had one huge ideology: that the sun god needed to be nourished to keep the universe running. Let me explain: the Aztecs believed that the sun god was in constant struggle with darkness and in order to keep the darkness at bay and the universe running, the sun god needed to be nourished by sacrifice. These sacrifices were both animals and people. Most of the human sacrifices were captured prisoners of war (P.O.W.s) The Aztecs believed that every 52 years, the universe cycled. Meaning, that the sun god needed nourishment (blood of sacrificial claims) to keep the universe running.

Why does this interest us so much? I think the fact that the Aztecs sacrificed humans is what catches our attention. Though the Spanish did publicize and overly state how much and how often the Aztecs practiced human sacrifice to portray them as barbarians and uncivilized people, the fact is that they still did it and this is what fascinates us. Many other cultures have interesting practices, but when murder is involved you can bet that people will be more than interested to learn about it. I think something that is equally as fascinating as the Aztecs need for human sacrifice are the monuments erected in their name. Just like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the Mesoamerican people built enormous structures that are still standing today. The fact that they were organized and skilled enough to build such lasting monuments is awe-inspiring and something that proves the intelligence of these people. I would love to be able to visit Mexico and see these awesome structures one day.

2 thoughts on “Human sacrifice and other practices”

  1. You are quite right about the seemingly endless attraction humanity seems to have with the sacrificial practices of the Mesoamerican peoples. Certainly, we have the Spanish and the concept of colonialism to thank for the interest during the centuries prior, but for it to last still today is sort of a mixed bag. While it may serve as a source of interest for people (possibly drawing someone into the field of anthropology to learn more), it is at the same time a grim reminder of how little far we seem to have progressed in terms of moving past our tendencies of morbid curiosities. I have studied genocide, have seen some of the worst tragedies ever conducted on a grand scale, but the majority of these events in the eyes of the world seem to fall into the shadows compared to the ritual sacrifices of the Aztecs and others. Perhaps it is just that we can accept or choose not to accept mass executions and destruction of entire nations, but we cannot seem to believe that any human could readily accept death in the face of ritual beliefs, despite our acceptance of religious wars, for example.

    It is interesting how you point to conquest as one of the potential sources of human sacrifices for the Aztecs. When you think about all the great campaigns of generals, emperors, and others of the past long after the Aztecs themselves were conquered, you have to think about how many conquered people in these campaigns were forced to die in one form or another. In many respects it was the same for them as it was for the sacrificial humans of the Aztecs.

  2. I also wrote my blog post about human sacrifice, you are correct, we seem to have an obsession about it.

    I think, like you mentioned, our obsession and shock at this practice is because humans were being killed against their will. Life is a right that we greatly value today, but I don’t think it has always been like that and isn’t quite like that all across the world. There are and have been many cultures where giving up one’s life is an honor when done for the right cause. Even in the United States, death for a noble cause is revered. One major difference between this ideal and the human sacrifices done by the Aztecs is that the individuals sacrificed were not doing so to gain honor, they didn’t have a choice in the matter.

    In addition, these were prisoners of war. I don’t want to get into a debate here, and have little knowledge on the matter, but I’m sure there are terrible things done even today to prisoners of war. And to put it in perspective, if they didn’t make these sacrifices, the entire universe would be in trouble. If you had that kind of responsibility on your shoulders, can you really say you’d never think to do what the Aztecs did?

    I think most people are appalled merely because of the morbid nature of the sacrifice, and because they don’t place the act in a proper perspective.

Leave a Reply