Mexican Religion


The Mexica made reference to at least two manifestations of the supernatural: teotl and teixiptla. Teotl, which the Spaniards and European scholars routinely mistranslated as god or demon, referred rather to an impersonal force that permeated the world. Teixiptla, by contrast, denoted the physical representations (idols, statues and figurines) of the t??tl as well as the human cultic activity surrounding this physical representation. The Mexica gods themselves had no existence as distinct entities apart from these t?ixiptla representations of teotl (Boone 1989).

Veneration of Huitzilopochtli, the personification of the sun and of war, was central to the religious, social and political practices of the Mexicas. Huitzilopochtli attained this central position after the founding of Tenochtitlan and the formation of the Mexica city-state society in the 14th century. Prior to this, Huitzilopochtli was associated primarily with hunting, presumably one of the important subsistence activities of the itinerant bands that would eventually become the Mexica.

Human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano.

According to myth, Huitzilopochtli directed the wanderers to found a city on the site where they would see an eagle devouring a snake perched on a fruit-bearing nopal cactus. (It was said that Huitzilopochtli killed his nephew, Copil, and threw his heart on the lake. Huitzilopochtli honoured Copil by causing a cactus to grow over Copil’s heart.) Legend has it that this is the site on which the Mexicas built their capital city of Tenochtitlan. This legendary vision is pictured on the Coat of Arms of Mexico.

According to their own history, when the Mexicas arrived in the Anahuac valley (Valley of Mexico) around Lake Texcoco, the groups living there considered them uncivilized. The Mexicas borrowed much of their culture from the ancient Toltec whom they seem to have at least partially confused with the more ancient civilization of Teotihuacan. To the Mexicas, the Toltecs were the originators of all culture; “Toltecay?tl” was a synonym for culture. Mexica legends identify the Toltecs and the cult of Quetzalcoatl with the mythical city of Tollan, which they also identified with the more ancient Teotihuacan.

For most people today, and for the European Catholics who first met the Aztecs, human sacrifice was the most striking feature of Aztec civilization. While human sacrifice was practiced throughout Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, if their own accounts are to be believed, brought this practice to an unprecedented level. For example, for the reconsecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days, reportedly by Ahuitzotl, the Great Speaker himself.

However, most experts consider these numbers to be overstated. For example, the sheer logistics associated with sacrificing 84,000 victims would be overwhelming, 2,000 being a more likely figure. A similar consensus has developed on reports of cannibalism among the Aztecs.

In the writings of Bernardino de Sahagún, Aztec “anonymous informants” defended the practice of human sacrifice by asserting that it was not very different from the European way of waging warfare: Europeans killed the warriors in battle, Aztecs killed the warriors after the battle.

Accounts by the Tlaxcaltecas, the primary enemy of the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish Conquest, show that at least some of them considered it an honor to be sacrificed. In one legend, the warrior Tlahuicole was freed by the Aztecs but eventually returned of his own volition to die in ritual sacrifice. Tlaxcala also practiced the human sacrifice of captured Aztec warriors.

The Aztecs


The term, Aztec, is a startlingly imprecise term to describe the culture that dominated the Valley of Mexico in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Properly speaking, all the Nahua-speaking peoples in the Valley of Mexico were Aztecs, while the culture that dominated the area was a tribe of the Mexica (pronounced “me-shee-ka”) called the Tenochca (“te-noch-ka”). At the time of the European conquest, they called themselves either “Tenochca” or “Toltec,” which was the name assumed by the bearers of the Classic Mesoamerican culture. The earliest we know about the Mexica is that they migrated from the north into the Valley of Mexico as early as the twelfth century AD, well after the close of the Classic Period in Mesoamerica. They were a subject and abject people, forced to live on the worst lands in the valley. They adopted the cultural patterns (called Mixteca-Pueblo) that originated in the culture of Teotihuacán, so the urban culture they built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is essentially a continuation of Teotihuacán culture.

The peoples of Mesoamerica distinguished between two types of people: the Toltec (which means “craftsman”), who continued Classic urban culture, and the Chichimec, or wild people, who settled Mesoamerica from the north. The Mexica were, then, originally Chichimec when they migrated into Mexico, but eventually became Toltecs proper.

The history of the Tenochca is among the best preserved of the Mesoamericans. They date the beginning of their history to 1168 and their origins to an island in the middle of a lake north of the Valley of Mexico. Their god, Huitzilopochtli, commanded them on a journey to the south and they arrived in the Valley of Mexico in 1248. According to their history, the Tenochca were originally peaceful, but their Chichimec ways, especially their practice of human sacrifice, revolted other peoples who banded together and crushed their tribe. In 1300, the Tenochcas became vassals of the town of Culhuacan; some escaped to settle on an island in the middle of the lake. The town they founded was Tenochtitlan, or “place of the Tenochcas.”

A peice of Mayan Jade showing the high level of artistry achieved by mesoamerican craftsmen.

Relations between the Tenochcas and Culhuacan became bitter after the Tenochcas sacrificed a daughter of the king of Culhuacan; so enraged were the Culhuacans that they drove all the Tenochcas from the mainland to the island. There, the Tenochcas who had lived in Culhuacan taught urban culture and architecture to the peoples on the island and the Tenochcas began to build a city. The city of Tenochtitlan is founded, then, sometime between 1300 and 1375.

The Tenochcas slowly became more powerful and militarily more skilled, so much so that they became allies of choice in the constant conflicts between the various peoples of the area. The Tenochcas finally won their freedom under Itzacoatl (1428-1440), and they began to build their city, Tenochtitlan, with great fervor. Under Itzacoatl, they built temples, roads, a causeway linking the city to the mainland, and they established their government and religious hierarchy. Itzacoatl and the chief who followed him Mocteuzma I (1440-1469) undertook wars of conquest throughout the Valley of Mexico and the southern regions of Vera Cruz, Guerrero, and Puebla. As a result, Tenochtitlan grew dramatically: not only did the city increase in size, precipitating the need for an aqueduct system to bring water from the mainland, it grew culturally as well as the Tenochcas assimilated the gods of the region into their religion.

A succession of kings followed Mocteuzma I until the accession of Mocteuzma II in 1502; despite a half century of successful growth and conquest, Tenochca culture and society began to suffer disasters under Mocteuzma II. First, tribute peoples began to revolt all over the conquered territories and it is highly likely that Tenochca influence would eventually have declined by the middle of the sixteenth century. Most importantly, the reign of Mocteuzma II was interrupted by the invasion of the Spaniards under Cortez in 1519-1522.

The kingdom of Mitanni – ancient torkey

The kingdom of Mitanni

The kingdom of Mitanni was a feudal state led by a warrior nobility of Aryan or Hurrian origin. Frequently horses were bred on their large landed estates. Documents and contract agreements in Syria often mention a chariot-warrior caste that also constituted the social upper class in the cities.

Below: The Hittites Kingdom at it’s height

The aristocratic families usually received their landed property as an inalienable fief. Consequently, no documents on the selling of landed property are to be found in the great archives of Akkadian documents and letters discovered in Nuzi, near Kirkuk. The prohibition against selling landed property was often dodged, however, with a stratagem: the previous owner “adopted” a willing buyer against an appropriate sum of money. The wealthy lord Tehiptilla was “adopted” almost 200 times, acquiring tremendous holdings of landed property in this way without interference by the local governmental authorities. He had gained his wealth through trade and commerce and through a productive two-field system of agriculture (in which each field was cultivated only once in two years). For a long time, Prince Shilwa-Teshub was in charge of the royal governmental administration in the district capital. Sheep breeding was the basis for a woolen industry, and textiles collected by the palace were exported on a large scale. Society was highly structured in classes, ranks, and professions. The judiciary, patterned after the Babylonian model, was well organized; the documents place heavy emphasis on correct procedure.

Native sources on the religion of the Hurrians of the Mitanni kingdom are limited; about their mythology, however, much is known from related Hittite and Ugaritic myths. Like the other peoples of the ancient Middle East, the Hurrians worshiped gods of various origins. The king of the gods was the weather god Teshub. According to the myths, he violently deposed his father Kumarbi; in this respect he resembled the Greek god Zeus, who deposed his father Kronos. The war chariot of Teshub was drawn by the bull gods Seris (“Day”) and Hurris (“Night”). Major sanctuaries of Teshub were located at Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk) and at Halab (modern Aleppo) in Syria. In the east his consort was the goddess of love and war Shaushka, and in the west the goddess Hebat (Hepat); both were similar to the Ishtar-Astarte of the Semites.

The sun god Shimegi and the moon god Kushuh, whose consort was Nikkal, the Ningal of the Sumerians, were of lesser rank. More important was the position of the Babylonian god of war and the underworld, Nergal. In northern Syria the god of war Astapi and the goddess of oaths Ishara are attested as early as the 3rd millennium BC.

Below: The Hittites were some of the first warriors to use the chariot.

In addition, a considerable importance was attributed to impersonal numina such as heaven and earth as well as to deities of mountains and rivers. In the myths the terrible aspect of the gods often prevails over indications of a benevolent attitude. The cults of sacrifices and other rites are similar to those known from the neighbouring countries; many Hurrian rituals were found in Hittite Anatolia. There is abundant evidence for magic and oracles.

Temple monuments of modest dimensions have been unearthed; in all probability, specific local traditions were a factor in their design. The dead were probably buried outside the settlement. Small artifacts, particularly seals, show a peculiar continuation of Babylonian and Assyrian traditions in their preference for the naturalistic representation of figures. There were painted ceramics with finely drawn decorations (white on a dark background). The strong position of the royal house was evident in the large palaces, existing even in district capitals. The palaces were decorated with frescoes. Because only a few Mitanni settlements have been unearthed in Mesopotamia, knowledge of Mitanni arts and culture is as yet insufficient.

TUTANKHAMUN’S LIFE

TUTANKHAMUN’S LIFETutankhamun lived over 3,300 years ago during the period known as the New Kingdom. Tut's MaskFor two centuries, Egypt had ruled as a world superpower, while its Royal family lived the opulent lifestyle. The powerful priesthood of the god Amun had controlled vast temples and estates.

All that changed during the reign of Amenhotep IV when he renounced the multitude of gods worshipped by the Egyptians and abolished the priesthood of Amun. Amenhotep established a new order to worship the sun god Aten and changed his own name to Akhenaten, meaning “servant of the Aten.”

A new capital was established well to the north of Thebes (modern Luxor) – the home of the main temples of Amun. His new city was named Akhetaten, meaning “Horizon of the Aten.” Akhenaten

It was here that Akhenaten (left) ruled with his chief wife, Nefertiti, who bore him six daughters, but no son to carry on as Pharaoh. It is now believed that Akhenaten and a lesser wife named Kiya were the parents of Tutankhaten, as Tutankhamun was known at first.

He would have spent most of his early years in the palaces of Akhetaten, being tutored in many skills, including reading and writing.

Much is uncertain about this period and, in time, both Nefertiti’s and Kiya’s names ceased to appear in written records. A shadowy figure emerged by the name of Smenkhkare – he may have been a brother of the king and briefly ruled alongside him.

In any case, soon after the deaths of Akhenaten and Smenkhkare, Tutankhaten became a Boy King at the age of about nine. He married a slightly older Ankhesenpaaten (below right), one of the daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.

Soon their names were changed to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun to reflect the return to favour of the Amun hierarchy and the ousting of the Aten power base. The temples of Amun were restored.

At such a young age, Tutankhamun would not have been responsible for the real decision making. This would have been handled by two high officials called Ay (possibly the father of Nefertiti) and Horemheb, commander-in-chief of the army.

Sometime around the ninth year of Tutankhamun’s reign, possibly 1325 BC, he died and Ay is depicted in tomb paintings as overseeing Tutankhamun’s burial arrangements which lasted 70 days.

Meanwhile, Ankhesenamun was left in a dilemma – there was no heir to the throne. (Two stillborn female foetuses were found in the tomb). It is possible that she was the Queen who wrote in desperation to Suppiluliumas I, king of the Hittites, asking him to send one of his sons to marry her and become Pharaoh. Being an enemy of Egypt, the Hittite king suspected a trick and sent an envoy to check. The widow’s situation was confirmed and he then sent a son who was murdered at the border – probably by agents sent by general Horemheb. (It is also possible that the correspondence to the Hittites may have been written some years earlier by Nefertiti after the death of her husband, Akhenaten.)

The ageing Ay became Pharaoh and took Ankhesenamun as his queen to legitimise his rule. What happened to her after that is not known. Ay ruled for only four years and after his death Horemheb grabbed power. He soon obliterated evidence of the reigns of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Ay and substituted his own name on many monuments.

X-rays taken in 1968 seemed to indicate the possibility of an injury to the skull that had time to partly heal. This was thought by some to be evidence of a blow to the skull – perhaps murder. Others thought it may have been the result of a fall from his horse-drawn chariot.

In January 2005, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities arranged for a van equipped with a portable CAT-scanner (the latter donated by Siemans Ltd and the National Geographic Society) to be driven to the Valley of the Kings as part of its Egyptian Mummy Project. Tutankhamun’s mummy was removed briefly from his tomb and caried to the van outside for the CAT scans. These detailed scans showed no evidence of a blow to the skull. They did provide a wealth of data about Tutankhamun, including that he had an impacted wisdom tooth. From the scans, it was estimated that he was about 168cm (5 foot 6 inches) tall, of slight build but well fed, and about 19 years old when he died.

The scans also showed that the Pharaoh had a fracture of the left femur with broken skin and bone. The left knee cap was also detacted. His injuries could have occurred as much as a few days before his death and, if infection had set in, it may have been fatal. Perhaps he was thrown from a chariot or injured in battle, but we will probably never know.

Amun

Appearance:

  • Man with a ram-head
  • A ram
  • Man wearing an ostrich plumed hat


Amun was one of the most powerful gods in ancient Egypt.
At the height of Egyptian civilisation he was called the ‘King of the Gods’.

Amun
Amun
Amun was important throughout the history of ancient Egypt. However, when Amun was combined with the sun god Ra he was even more powerful. He was then called Amun-Ra.

A large and important temple was built at Thebes to honour Amun.

Isis, Egyptian Goddess of Magic and Giver of Life

Isis, Egyptian Goddess

of  Magic and Giver of Life

Isis, the Egyptian goddess of rebirth remains one of the most familiar images of empowered and utter femininity. The goddess Isis was the first daughter of Geb, god of the Earth, and Nut, the goddess of the Overarching Sky. Isis was born on the first day between the first years of creation, and was adored by her human followers.

Unlike the other Egyptian goddesses, the goddess Isis spent time among her people, teaching women how to grind corn and make bread, spin flax and weave cloth, and how to tame men enough to live with them (an art form on which many of us would welcome a refresher course!)

Isis taught her people the skills of reading and agriculture and was worshipped as the goddess of medicine and wisdom.

Isis

More than any other of the ancient Egyptian goddesses, Isis embodied the characteristics of all the lesser goddesses that preceded her. Isis became the model on which future generations of female deities in other cultures were to be based.

As the personification of the “complete female”, Isis was called “The One Who Is All”, Isis Panthea (“Isis the All Goddess”), and the “Lady of Ten Thousand Names”.

The goddess Isis, a moon goddess, gave birth to Horus, the god of the sun. Together, Isis and Horus created and sustained all life and were the saviors of their people.

Isis

Isis became the most powerful of the gods and goddesses in the ancient world. Ra, the God of the Sun, originally had the greatest power. But Ra was uncaring, and the people of the world suffered greatly during his reign.

The goddess Isis tricked him by mixing some of his saliva with mud to create a poisonous snake that bit him, causing him great suffering which she then offered to cure. He eventually agreed.

Isis informed Ra that, for the cure to work, she would have to speak his secret name (which was the source of his power over life and death). Reluctantly, he whispered it to her.

When Isis uttered his secret name while performing her magic, Ra was healed. But the goddess Isis then possessed his powers of life and death, and quickly became the most powerful of the Egyptian gods and goddesses, using her great powers to the benefit of the people.

Isis


Isis was called the Mother of Life, but she was also known as the Crone of Death. Her immense powers earned her the titles of “The Giver of Life” and “Goddess of Magic”. Her best known story illustrates why she is simultaneously known as a creation goddess and a goddess of destruction.

Isis was the Goddess of the Earth in ancient Egypt and loved her brother Osiris. When they married, Osiris became the first King of Earth. Their brother Set, immensely jealous of their powers, murdered Osiris so he could usurp the throne.

Set did this by tricking Osiris into stepping into a beautiful box made of cedar, ebony and ivory that he had ordered built to fit only Osiris. Set then sealed it up to become a coffin and threw it into the river. The river carried the box out to sea; it washed up in another country, resting in the upper boughs of a tamarisk tree when the waters receded.

As time passed, the branches covered the box, encapsulating the god in his coffin in the trunk of the tree.

In a state of inconsolable grief, Isis tore her robes to shreds and cut off her beautiful black hair. When she finally regained her emotional balance, Isis set out to search for the body of her beloved Osiris so that she might bury him properly.


Isis

The search took Isis to Phoenicia where she met Queen Astarte. Astarte didn’t recognize the goddess and hired her as a nursemaid to the infant prince.

Fond of the young boy, Isis decided to bestow immortality on him. As she was holding the royal infant over the fire as part of the ritual, the Queen entered the room. Seeing her son smoldering in the middle of the fire, Astarte instinctively (but naively) grabbed the child out of the flames, undoing the magic of Isis that would have made her son a god.

When the Queen demanded an explanation, Isis revealed her identity and told Astarte of her quest to recover her husband’s body. As she listened to the story, Astarte realized that the body was hidden in the fragrant tree in the center of the palace and told Isis where to find it.

Sheltering his broken body in her arms, the goddess Isis carried the body of Osiris back to Egypt for proper burial. There she hid it in the swamps on the delta of the Nile river.

Isis

Unfortunately, Set came across the box one night when he was out hunting. Infuriated by this turn of events and determined not to be outdone, he murdered Osiris once again . . . this time hacking his body into 14 pieces and throwing them in different directions knowing that they would be eaten by the crocodiles.

The goddess Isis searched and searched, accompanied by seven scorpions who assisted and protected her. Each time she found new pieces she rejoined them to re-form his body.

But Isis could only recover thirteen of the pieces. The fourteenth, his penis, had been swallowed by a crab, so she fashioned one from gold and wax. Then inventing the rites of embalming, and speaking some words of magic, Isis brought her husband back to life.

Magically, Isis then conceived a child with Osiris, and gave birth to Horus, who later became the Sun God. Assured that having the infant would now relieve Isis’ grief, Osiris was free to descend to become the King of the Underworld, ruling over the dead and the sleeping.

His spirit, however, frequently returned to be with Isis and the young Horus who both remained under his watchful and loving eye.

Isis

There are many other variations of this myth . . . in some Isis found the body of Osiris in Byblos, fashioned his penis out of clay. In others the goddess consumed the dismembered parts she found and brought Osiris back to life, reincarnating him as her son Horus.

In one of the most beautiful renditions, Isis turns into a sparrowhawk and hovers over the body of Osiris, fanning life back into him with her long wings.

Regardless of the differences, each version speaks of the power over life and death that the goddess Isis symbolizes. . . the deep mysteries of the feminine ability to create and to bring life from that which is lifeless.

To this day the celebration of the flooding of the Nile each year is called “The Night of the Drop” by Muslims. . . for it used to be named “The Night of the Tear-Drop” a remembrance of the extent of the Isis’ lamentation of the death of Osiris, her tears so plentiful they caused the Nile to overflow.

Isis


The Egyptian goddess Isis played an important role in the development of modern religions, although her influence has been largely forgotten.

She was worshipped throughout the Greco-Roman world. During the fourth century when Christianity was making its foothold in the Roman Empire, her worshippers founded the first Madonna cults in order to keep her influence alive.

Some early Christians even called themselves Pastophori, meaning the shepherds or servants of Isis. . . which may be where the word “pastors” originated. The influence of Isis is still seen in the Christian ikons of the faithful wife and loving mother.

Indeed, the ancient images of Isis nursing the infant Horus inspired the style of portraits of mother and child for centuries, including those of the “Madonna and Child” found in religious art.

The power of the goddess Isis in the “public arena” was also profound. Her role as a guide to the Underworld, was often portrayed with winged arms outstretched in a protective position. The image of the wings of Isis was incorporated into the Egyptian throne on which the pharaohs would sit, the wings of Isis protecting them.

Isis

The ancient Egyptian goddess Isis has many gifts to share with modern women. Isis embodies the strengths of the feminine, the capacity to feel deeply about relationships, the act of creation, and the source of sustenance and protection.

At times Isis could be a clever trickster empowered by her feminine wiles rather than her logic or brute strength, but it is also the goddess Isis who shows us how we can use our personal gifts to create the life we desire rather than simply opposing that which we do not like.

The myths of Isis and Osiris caution us about the need for occasional renewal and reconnection in our relationships. Isis also reminds us to acknowledge and accept the depths of our emotions.