This is part of our varied Expression the Grief series, composed by hilary Dockray. This write-up is intended together an educational piece to share other cultures’ beliefs roughly death, grief, and the afterlife. By analyzing other societies throughout our history, we can see how our current-day thoughts bordering death and grief may have been shaped and also gain insight into our existing understanding of these matters.

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Aztec Calendar

Ancient Aztec Civilization: Life and Afterlife

The ancient Aztec people had a perspective on life and immortality that is remarkably various from the perspectives the many modern cultures. It was mainly shaped by your religion, which permeated practically every aspect of ancient Aztec life.

Background on old Aztec Civilization

The ax Aztec can refer to specific native ethnic groups that have actually lived in what is today Mexico. It can additionally refer come those civilization who speak the Nahuatl language and also lived in Mesoamerica native the 14th come 16th centuries. The most particular group of civilization the term Aztec have the right to refer to, and also is the definition most world relate to the term, room the people of Mexica ethnic descent who established the city the Tenochtitlan in 1325 and subsequently emerged the Aztec empire. Tenochtitlan to be the capital of the empire until Spanish dominate in 1521 and also was the heart of ancient Aztec civilization.

The old Aztec civilization was highly advanced, claiming success in architecture, mathematics, medicine, language, farming, and technology. The Aztecs also developed and lived by two calendar solution that served various purposes: a solar calendar the measured time, and also a ritual calendar for religious festivals. Their government, political, military, and class structures were highly developed and also complex. Castle entertained themselves through art, poetry, games, and sports, the latter being so main to Aztec life the the celebrity the their successful athletes rivaled the of modern-day professional athletes.

But what the Aztecs might be many notable for was your religion, and also specifically the mass human being sacrifice it called for. Person sacrifice brought out for religious purposes is not unique to old Aztec civilization, however the scale of human sacrifice the Aztecs carry out is; chroniclers estimate the the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people every year. Civilization within the Aztec realm were provided for person sacrifice, but the Aztecs also warred with outsiders because that the express function of capturing an ext candidates for person sacrifice.

Why go the Aztecs commit person sacrifice, and also in such good numbers? They thought that those who were sacrificed provided critical nourishment to plenty of of their deities who would subsequently keep nature and also the cosmos in balance. In the Aztec’s production story, number of gods had to sacrifice us in order to sustain the weak god that nobly sacrificed self to develop the sun. This initial fixed sacrifice by the deities was not enough, however; they likewise called ~ above the Aztecs to continually perform human sacrifices as a way to maintain the movement of the sun as well as to repay the divine beings for their sacrifices.

Aztec perspective on Life, Death, and also the Afterlife

Since person sacrifice and also obtaining candidates for human sacrifice conquered much of Aztec life, warriors and those that were sacrificed received good glory and honor because that what they did. However the trade-off the this was that life might be tenuous and also short. Exactly how did these problems for life influence how the Aztecs regarded death? Many people in the past and today believe that if people have afterlives, what a person’s afterlife is prefer is identified by just how that human lived. In contrast, the Aztecs thought that exactly how a human being died identified what the person’s immortality was like.

There were various realms a person could go to in your afterlife. Warriors who died in fight or by sacrifice either saw a sky in the east and joined the sun’s rising in the morning, or joined the battle god Huitzilopochtli in battle. Ladies who passed away in childbirth were taken into consideration just together courageous and honorable as warriors that died, and thusly checked out a paradise in the west and joined the sun’s lower in the evening. World who passed away from lightning, drowning, details diseases, or specifically violent deaths saw Tlalocan, a paradise presided over by the god Tlaloc located within the Aztec’s thirteen heavens.

In contrast, those who passed away of most illnesses, old age, or one unremarkable death went come Mictlan, the Aztec underworld. Once in Mictlan, a person had to traverse v a harsh terrain with countless trials in order come descend from Mictlan’s top level to its final ninth level. This grim path for those who passed away in more ordinary ways highlights exactly how Aztecs regarded both life and death; in general, over there was greater esteem for world who died from premature yet honorable deaths than for civilization who avoided this endings and managed to prosper into old age.

Aztec expressions of Grief in Writing

The Aztec’s mass human sacrifices and grim afterlife in Mictlan paints a picture of a civilization that can be harsh both in life and death. Aztec poetry and prayers administer a softer contrast to this harshness, however, such as in this prayer:

Oh, just for so brief a if you have actually loaned united state to each other,because us take form in her act of illustration us,and us take life in your painting us, and we breath in your singing us.But just for so quick a while have you loaned united state to each other.Because even a drawing cut in obsidian fades,and the eco-friendly feathers, the crown feathers, that the Quetzal bird shed their color,and also the sounds of the waterfall die out in the dried season.So, we too, because only for a quick while have you loaned us to every other.

This prayer reveals a tenderness because that the bonds made between people in life that might not also be turn off by the respect that come from death in sacrifice or battle. Words captured loss and also grief again for the Aztecs in city on the fall of the empire to the Spanish conquistador Cortés, such together in this poem created by an Aztec poet in the mid 1520s:

Nothing but flowers and songs the sorrow

are left in Mexico and Tlatelolco,

where as soon as we experienced warriors and wise men.

We know it is true

that we need to perish,

for we space mortal men.

You, the Giver of Life,

you have actually ordained it.


We hover here and also there

in our desolate poverty.

We are mortal men.

We have seen bloodshed and also pain

where when we witnessed beauty and also valor.


We are crushed to the ground;

we lied in ruins.

There is nothing but grief and suffering

in Mexico and also Tlatelolco,

where once we experienced beauty and valor.


Have girlfriend grown weary of her servants?

Are you angry through your servants,

O Giver the Life?


The poetry about the loss of the empire is an especially wrenching because the Aztecs mourned not only the lose of every one of those that died, but likewise the lose of their home and also their method of life. While often vilified for your mass human sacrifices, the Aztecs were additionally an progressed civilization through a rich culture. Many human being think their beliefs were incomprehensible or anathema and also therefore cannot relate come the Aztecs, however they lost nearly everything lock knew, created, and achieved, and that is a emotion that many throughout human background could called to.

But if the realm was gone, the Aztecs did not disappear entirely; Tenochtitlan came to be Mexico City, and many modern-day people of mexican descent can case Aztec/Mexica ancestry. Some human being were believed to reincarnate after death into a various living being, sometimes into butterflies or birds. The Aztec empire, in a way, reincarnated into something different as well.

About the Author

Hilary Dockray came to know The Christi center through she full-time field internship as a graduate college student from The college of Texas in ~ Austin’s college of society Work. She is expecting she MSSW in December the 2012 and also hopes to work-related in nonprofit administration and management. She is an support for the knowledge of grief and also the assistance of those that grieve in both her personal and professional lives. Her favourite hobby is writing, therefore she is happy to it is in a guest blogger because that The Christi Center.

Here are just some the the web links I supplied to create this entrance of the diverse Expressions of Grief series, and also where girlfriend can also learn much more about the old Aztec civilization and its view on life and afterlife:

General info on the Aztecs:

In-depth account ~ above the loss of the Aztec realm to the Spanish:

Information around Aztec ideas on afterlife:

Source because that Aztec prayer: Rupp, J. (1988). Praying our goodbyes. Ave Maria Press.

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Source for Aztec poem: (1973). L. Hanke (Ed.), Latin America: A historic Reader. The publication Service Ltd.