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Aztec & Mayan Mythology

 

In about 970 AD, the Toltecs (who later invaded the Maya civilization) finally conquered the Valley of Mexico. After consolidating their hold on the valley and founding the Toltec capitol at Tula, their armies marauded over most of Mexico, and they managed to hold off the new waves of Chichimec invaders until about 1160 AD, when their capitol also fell to their barbarian kinsmen. This time, however, the Valley of Mexico did not sink into anarchy. It was filled with fortified city-states populated by ferocious warriors, and many of these city states held out against the fresh bands of Chichimec invaders. One of these new tribes was the Aztecs, a group of impoverished nomads who, according to their early legends, had emerged from a cave in Aztlan, an unidentified location in northwestern Mexico. In their wanderings, they carried with them their one cherished possession, the wooden image of their terrible god, Huitzilopochtli. When the worshipers of Huitzilopochtli entered the Valley of Mexico, all the good land was taken and they were too weak to conquer any of the established city-states. Largely because of their brutal religious practices, they were branded as savage outlaws and chased from place to place by the descendants of their own Chichimec heritage. At last, however, they persuaded Coxcox, the ruler of Culhuacan, to let them have a patch of sterile, snake-infested land near his city.

Here, they built a temple to their god and lived by killing and eating the snakes which infested their new home. But they quickly alienated their benefactor by brutally murdering his daughter. Coxcox mustered his forces and set out to destroy the Aztecs. They were quickly driven into the marshes of Lake Texcoco, where they escaped by hiding among the reeds. Their god, Huitzilopochtli, told them they would be safe on an island where an eagle perched on a cactus holding a snake in its beak. The Aztecs duly found the island, hardly more than a few rocks protruding out of the waters. As their god instructed, they made this their new home. Huitzilopochtli’s advice was sound. The island was in the center of three powerful mainland cities, but was not strongly claimed by any. In addition, surrounded as it was on all sides by water, it could be easily defended. The Aztecs had no difficulty holding their island, and built their city, Tenochtitlan, upon it. They soon learned to increase the area of their island by filling the marshes with dirt and rocks, and by building chinampas, islets made by anchoring wicker enclosures to the bottom of the lake and filling them with silt, reeds, and refuse. These chinampas made remarkably fertile croplands, so the Aztecs had even found a stable supply of food on their island.

As the Aztecs filled in the swamp surrounding their city, Tenochtitlan grew rapidly, reaching a population of 300,000 at the beginning of the sixteenth century. As an aside, this was five times the size of London at the time. It was surrounded by an ever widening belt of chinampas planted with flourishing crops of fruits and vegetables. In the middle of the chinampas, connected to the mainland by three long causeways, rose the city. It was cut into blocks by a gridwork of canals bordered by narrow pedestrian lanes and crossed by plank footbridges. These streets were completely dedicated to foot traffic, for the Aztecs made little use of the wheel and had no carts or wagons. This was probably due to the lack of beasts of burden. Before the Spanish came, there were no horses, oxen, cows or other large domesticated animals in the New World. The humbler houses were made from adobe and the better ones from stone and stucco, but all were cleanly whitewashed and most had small courtyards. Everywhere, the city was immaculately clean and filled with blooming flowers, which the Aztecs loved almost to excess. Near the center the city rose the great palaces of the Emperor, nobles, a high priests. In the exact center, enclosed by the "Wall Snakes", rose the temple-pyramids and other ceremonial buildings.

Protected by their invulnerable island fortress, the Aztecs were free to pursue their favorite occupation: war. They began to ally themselves with older city-states, who where willing to offer large rewards for the help of the fierce Aztec warriors. Eventually, they learned to play these city-states against each other, and gained their first significant hold the mainland when they betrayed one ally and helped other defeat it. After this victory, they quickly learned to exploit conquered cities with unparalleled vigor, and by 147 AD they were the undisputed masters of the Valley of Mexico, and therefore of Mexico itself. The Aztecs were aided in their conquests by a peculiarly bloody religion which encouraged warfare, especially for purposes of taking captives. The emphasis on taking prisoners had nothing to do with mercy, however. After capture, prisoners were killed to appease the more bloodthirsty of Aztec deities. As brutal as this aspect of Aztec society seems to the modern reader, it was not unusual in the Valley of Mexico. Most of the inhabitants of the region were descended from the same Chichimec nomads as the Aztecs. They shared many of the same convictions, and also believed in the beneficial properties of eternal warfare. Like the Aztecs, their soldiers had no fear of death, and thought that perishing in war guaranteed a glorious afterlife. There are even stories of prisoners preferring death to being set free.

At the root of the Aztec religion is their peculiar view of time and space, one of the forces behind the creation of their elaborate calendar. Like most Middle Americans, to them time and space are the same thing. On the highest level they merge together into the absolute being of the all powerful deity who exists outside material creation. To the consternation of all living things, time-space has unraveled. It is the duty of the gods to keep it from unraveling further, and the duty of men to help the gods in their task. To understand the Aztec association of time-space, it may be helpful to picture a wheel with four broad spokes. One spoke points in each direction: north, south, east, and west. There is also the hub of the wheel, which counts as a separate place. When the wheel is spinning, the entire thing appears solid and at rest. When it is truly at rest, however, it looks like it is made up of separate parts.

In the Aztec view, the hub and each spoke represent different cosmic age-places, called "suns". Each sun was associated with a different direction, colour, and group of deities. Although the suns exist simultaneously side by side, they also rotate in a sequential pattern that gives the evolution of the universe a cyclical nature. As the wheel revolves, different suns gain predominance over the physical world. Within each sun, only certain forms of earthly life can survive. So the changing of a sun is always catastrophic, bringing about great transformations. The Aztecs live in the Fifth Sun, located in hub of the wheel. In some ways, it is the culmination of all the other suns, and the only one in which mankind has been able to survive. In order to keep the Fifth Sun from passing, the Aztecs must feed and strengthen their gods — and the penalty for failure is the end of creation! The Aztecs also believe in a "world above" and a "world below" separate from the horizontal structure of the suns. These worlds are divided into many levels. For our purposes, the most important aspect of these worlds is that the world below is the home of the dead, and the world above is the home of the gods, night and day, shooting stars and fiery snakes, birds, heavenly bodies such as Venus, the Sun, the Moon, and the Milky Way, and the clouds. The progenitor of the gods, Ometeotl, lives in the uppermost plane of the world above, which embodies all of existence.

Ometeotl is a personification of the principle of duality which pervades much of Aztec thought. He is male and female, negative and positive, light and shadow, and could also be thought of as two separate gods, Ometecutli and Omeciuatl. Most of the gods of the Aztec pantheon, in fact, had a counterpart of the opposite sex who performed a function similar to their own. On a more human level, duality is important in the special relationship existing between every human and his animal counterpart. At the moment of birth, every human develops a spiritual bond with a particular animal and their destinies are linked from that point forward. It is possible, the Aztecs believe, to bring a man harm by finding his counterpart and doing it harm. These beliefs may well be a vestige of the Olmecs’ worship of the jaguar-man. Unlike the gods of other mythol, the gods of the Aztecs do not inhabit the planes. Instead, many of them live in space. It is even possible for humans to visit their homes (for instance, by using the space-travel rules in the SPELLJAMMER" game). Should a mortal dare such an act uninvited, there is only a 5% chance that the deity will be at home. If he is home, there is only a l% chance per level of the character that the god will not disapprove of the visit (priests of that deity’s mythos receive a 10% bonus to this chance).

 

Acuecucyoticihuati

Goddess of the ocean

Sphere

Water

Alignment

Unprincipled

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Liquid, Hydrokinesis
Bestowed Minor Powers Ice Expulsion, Radar

 

Ah Wink-ir Masa

Nature goddess. Protector of wild animals, especially deer

Sphere

Animals and Nature

Alignment

Anarchist

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Animal, Control Animals
Bestowed Minor Powers Alter Form Insect, Plant Abilities

 

Alaghom Naom Tzentel

Ancient Maya goddess of thought and intellect

Sphere

Knowledge

Alignment

Scrupulous

Bestowed Major Powers

Cosmic Awareness, Genius, Telepathy

 

Camaxtli

God of hunting and of fate. Leader of warriors slain in battle whose souls ascend as stars in the sky

Sphere

Skill and fate

Alignment

Scrupulous

Bestowed Major Powers

Adaptable Defense, Karma, Photographic Reflexes

 

Hurakan

God of thunderstorms and hurricanes

Sphere

Sky

Alignment

Unprincipled

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Air, Celestialkinesis
Bestowed Minor Powers Electrical Expulsion, Telescopic Vision

 

Quetzalcoatl

Means "plumed serpent". One legend says he was the god of creation, who with Tezcatlipoca, pulled the earth goddess, Coatlicue, down from the heavens, and in the form of great serpents, ripped her into two pieces to form the earth and sky. Another that he was the son of the sun god and of Coatlicue, one of the five goddesses of the moon. He was the god of vegetation, earth and water. He was also worshipped as Ehecatl, a god of the wind. Originally he was a Toltec god

Sphere

Earth

Alignment

Anarchist

Bestowed Major Powers

Alter Physical Structure Stone, Terrakinesis
Bestowed Minor Powers Magma Expulsion, Plant Abilities

 

 

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