Mexican mythology­ the sacerdotal order­



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CHAPTER III

MEXICAN MYTHOLOGY­

THE SACERDOTAL ORDER­

THE TEMPLES-HUMAN SACRIFICES


1 nothaavTES eEoyovigv "EXgat. Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 53.-Heeren hazards a remark

equally strong, respecting the epic poets of India, "who," says he, "have supplied the nu­merous gods that fill her Pantheon." Historical Researches, Eng. trans., (Oxford, 1833,) vol. III. p. 139.


2 The Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone has fallen into a similar train of thought, in a compari­son of the Hindoo and Greek Mythology, in his "History of India," published since the re­marks in the text were written. (See Book I. ch. 4.) The same chapter of this truly philosophic work suggests some curious points of resemblance to the Aztec religious institutions, that may furnish pertinent illustrations to the mind bent on tracing the affinities of the Asiatic and American races.
3 Ritter has well shown, by the example of the Hindoo system, how the idea of unity suggests, of itself, that of plurality. History of Ancient Philosophy, Eng. trans., (Oxford, 1838,) book 2, ch. 1.
4 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espafia, lib. 6, passim.-Acosta, lib. 5, ch. 9.-Boturini, Idea, p. 8, et seq.-Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 1.-Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

The Mexicans, according to Clavigero, believed in an evil Spirit, the enemy of the human race, whose barbarous name signified "Rational Owl." (Stor. del Messico, tom. II. p. 2.) The curate Bernaldez speaks of the Devil being embroidered on the dresses of Columbus's Indi­ans, in the likeness of an owl. (Historia de los Reyes Catolicos, MS., cap. 131.) This must not be confounded, however, with the evil Spirit in the mythology of the North American Indi­ans, (see Heckewelder's Account, ap. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, vol. I. p. 205,) still less, with the evil Principle of the Oriental nations of the Old World. It was only one among many deities, for evil was found too liberally mingled in the natures of most of the Aztec gods,-in the same manner as with the Greek,-to admit of its personification by any one.


5 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espafia, lib. 3, cap. 1, et seq.-Acosta, lib. 5, ch. 9.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 6, cap. 21.-Boturini, Idea, pp. 27, 28.

Huitzilopotchli is compounded of two words, signifying "humming-bird," and "left," from his image having the feathers of this bird on its left foot; (Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. If. p. 17;) an amiable etymology for so ruffian a deity.-The fantastic forms of the Mex­ican idols were in the highest degree symbolical. See Gama's learned exposition of the de­vices on the statue of the goddess found in the great square of Mexico. (Description de las Dos Piedras, (Mexico, 1832,) Parte 1, pp. 34-44.) The tradition respecting the origin of this god, or, at least, his appearance on earth, is curious. He was born of a woman. His mother, a devout person, one day, in her attendance on the temple, saw a ball of bright-colored feath­ers floating in the air. She took it, and deposited it in her bosom. She soon after found herself pregnant, and the dread deity was born, coming into the world, like Minerva, all armed,­with a spear in the right hand, a shield in the left, and his head surmounted by a crest of green plumes. (See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. If. p. 19, et seq.) A similar notion in respect to the incarnation of their principal deity existed among the people of India beyond the Ganges, of China, and of Thibet. "Budh," says Milman, in his learned and luminous work on the History of Christianity, "according to a tradition known in the West, was born of a vir­gin. So were the Fohi of China, and the Schakaof of Thibet, no doubt the same, whether a mythic or a real personage. The Jesuits in China, says Barrow, were appalled at finding in the mythology of that country the counterpart of the Virgo Deipara." (Vol. I. p. 99, note.) The existence of similar religious ideas in remote regions, inhabited by different races, is an in­teresting subject of study; furnishing, as it does, one of the most important links in the great chain of communication which binds together the distant families of nations.


6 Codex Vaticanus, Pl. 15, and Codex Telleriano-Remensis, Part 2, Pl. 2, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols. I., VI.-Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 3, cap. 3, 4, 13, 14.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 6, cap. 24.-Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 1.-Gomara, Cronica de la Nueva Espana, cap. 222, ap. Barcia, Historiadores Primitivos de las Indias Occidentales, (Madrid, 1749,) tom. 11.

Quetzalcoatl signifies "feathered serpent." The last syllable means, likewise, a "twin"; which furnished an argument for Dr. Siguenza to identify this god with the apostle Thomas, (Didymus signifying also a twin,) who, he supposes, came over to America to preach the gospel. In this rather startling conjecture he is supported by several of his devout country­men, who appear to have as little doubt of the fact as of the advent of St. James, for a similar purpose, in the mother country. See the various authorities and arguments set forth with be­coming gravity in Dr. Mier's dissertation in Bustamante's edition of Sahagun, (lib. 3, So­plem.,) and Veytia, (tom. 1. pp. 160-200.) Our ingenious countryman, McCulloh, carries the Aztec god up to a still more respectable antiquity, by identifying him with the patriarch Noah. Researches, Philosophical and Antiquarian, concerning the Aboriginal History of America, (Baltimore, 1829,) p. 233.


7 Cod. Vat., Pl. 7-10, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols. I., VI.-Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap 1. M. de Humboldt has been at some pains to trace the analogy between the Aztec cos­mogony and that of Eastern Asia. He has tried, though in vain, to find a multiple which might serve as the key to the calculations of the former. (Vues des Cordilleres, pp. 202-212.) In truth, there seems to be a material discordance in the Mexican statements, both in regard to the number of revolutions and their duration. A manuscript before me, of Ixtlilxochitl, re­duces them to three, before the present state of the world, and allows only 4394 years for them; (Sumaria Relation, MS., No. 1;) Gama, on the faith of an ancient Indian MS., in Bo­turini's Catalogue, (VIII. 13,) reduces the duration still lower; (Description de las Dos Piedras, Parte I, p. 49, et seq.;) while the cycles of the Vatican paintings take up near 18,000 years.-It is interesting to observe how the wild conjectures of an ignorant age have been con­firmed by the more recent discoveries in geology, making it probable that the earth has expe­rienced a number of convulsions, possibly thousands of years distant from each other, which have swept away the races then existing, and given a new aspect to the globe.
8 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 3, Apend.-Cod. Vat., ap. Antiq. of Mexico, Pl. 1-5.­Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 48.

The last writer assures us, "that, as to what the Aztecs said of their going to hell, they were right; for, as they died in ignorance of the true faith, they have, without question, all gone there to suffer everlasting punishment!" Ubi supra.


9 It conveys but a poor idea of these pleasures, that the shade of Achilles can say, "he had rather be the slave of the meanest man on earth, than sovereign among the dead." (Odyss. A. 488-490.) The Mahometans believe that the souls of martyrs pass, after death, into the bod­ies of birds, that haunt the sweet waters and bowers of Paradise. (Sale's Koran, (London, 1825,) vol. 1, p. 106).-The Mexican heaven may remind one of Dante's, in its material enjoy­ments; which, in both, are made up of light, music, and motion. The sun, it must also be re­membered, was a spiritual conception with the Aztec;

"He sees with other eyes than theirs; where they Behold a sun, he spies a deity."


10 It is singular that the Tuscan bard, while exhausting his invention in devising modes of bod­ily torture, in his "Inferno," should have made so little use of the mortal sources of misery. That he has not done so.might be reckoned a strong proof of the rudeness of the time, did we not meet with examples of it in a later day; in which a serious and sublime writer, like Dr. Watts, does not disdain to employ the same coarse machinery for moving the conscience of the reader.
11 Carta del Lic. Zuazo, (Nov., 1521,) MS.-Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 8.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 13, cap. 45.-Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 3, Apend.

Sometimes the body was buried entire, with valuable treasures, if the deceased was rich. The "Anonymous Conqueror," as he is called, saw gold to the value of 3000 castellanos drawn from one of these tombs. Relatione d' un gentil' huomo, ap. Ramusio, tom. III. p. 310.


12 This interesting rite, usually solemnized with great formality, in the presence of the assem­bled friends and relatives, is detailed with minuteness by Sahagun, (Hist. de Nueva Espafia, lib. 6, cap. 37,) and by Zuazo, (Carts, MS.,) both of them eyewitnesses. For a version of part of Sahagun's account, see Appendix, Part 1. note 26.
13 "~ Es posible que este azote y este castigo no se nos da para nuestra correction y enmienda, sino para total destruction y asolamiento?" (Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 6, cap. 1.) "Ye esto por Bola vuestra liberalidad y magnificencia to habeis de hater, que ninguno es digno ni merecedor de recibir vuestras larguezas por su dignidad y merecimiento, sino que por vuestra benignidad." (Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 2.) "Sed sufridos y reportados, que Dios bien os v6 y responders por vosotros, y 61 os vengara (s) sed humildes con todos, y con esto os hors Dios coerced y tambien honra." (Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 17.) "Tampoco mires con curiosidad el gesto y disposition de la gente principal, mayormente de las mugeres, y sobre todo de las casadas, porque dice el refran que 61 que curiosamente mira s la muger adultera con la vista." (Ibid., lib. 6, cap. 22.)

14 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 2, Apend.; lib. 3, cap. 9.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, cap. 20; lib. 9, cap. 3, 56.-Gomara, Cr6n., cap. 215, ap. Barcia, tom. II.-Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Pane 1, cap. 4.

Clavigero says that the high-priest was necessarily a person of rank. (Stor. del Messico, tom. II. p. 37.) I find no authority for this, not even in his oracle, Torquemada, who expressly says, "There is no warrant for the assertion, however probable the fact may be." (Monarch. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 5.) It is contradicted by Sahagun, whom i have followed as the highest au­thority in these matters. Clavigero had no other knowledge of Sahagun's work than what was filtered through the writings of Torquemada, and later authors.
15 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, ubi supra.-"Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 25.­Gomara, Cron., ap. Barcia, ubi supra.-Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 14, 17.

16 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 1, cap. 12; lib. 6, cap. 7.

The address of the confessor, on these occasions, contains some things too remarkable to be omitted. "O merciful Lord," he says in his prayer, "thou who knowest the secrets of all hearts, let thy forgiveness and favor descend, like the pure waters of heaven, to wash away the stains from the soul. Thou knowest that this poor man has sinned, not from his own free will, but from the influence of the sign under which he was born." After a copious exhortation to the penitent, enjoining a variety of mortifications and minute ceremonies by way of penance, and particularly urging the necessity of instantly procuring a slave for sacrifice to the Deity, the priest concludes with inculcating charity to the poor. "Clothe the naked and feed the

17 The Egyptian gods were also served by priestesses. (See Herodotus, Euterpe, sec. 54.) Tales of scandal similar to those which the Greeks circulated respecting them, have been told of the Aztec virgins. (See Le Noir's dissertation, ap. Antiquites Mexicaines, (Paris, 1834,) tom. II. p. 7, note.) The early missionaries, credulous enough certainly, give no countenance to such reports; and father Acosta, on the contrary, exclaims, "In truth, it is very strange to see that this false opinion of religion hath so great force among these young men and maidens of Mexico, that they will serve the Divell with so great rigor and austerity, which many of us doe not in the service of the most high God; the which is a great shame and confusion." Eng. Trans., lib. 5, cap. 16.


18 Toribio, Hist. de Ins Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 9.-Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espaiia, lib. 2, Apend.; lib. 3, cap. 4-8.-Zurita, Rapport, pp. 123-126.-Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 15, 16.-Torque­mada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 9, cap. 11-14, 30, 31.

"They were taught," says the good father last cited, "to eschew vice, and cleave to virtue, according to their notions of them; namely, to abstain from wrath, to offer violence and do wrong to no man,-in short, to perform the duties plainly pointed out by natural reli­gion."


19 Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 8, cap. 20, 21.-Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.

It is impossible not to be struck with the great resemblance, not merely in a few empty forms, but in the whole way of life, of the Mexican and Egyptian priesthood. Compare Herodotus (Euterpe, passim) and Diodorus (lib. 1, sec. 73, 81). The English reader may con­sult, for the same purpose, Heeren, (Hist. Res., vol. V. chap. 2,) Wilkinson, (Manners and Cus­toms of the Ancient Egyptians, (London, 1837,) vol. I. pp. 257-279,) the last writer especially,-who has contributed, more than all others, towards opening to us the interior of the social life of this interesting people.

20 Rel. d' un gent., ap. Ramusio, tom. III. fol. 307.-Camargo, Hist. de Tlascala, MS.-Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 13.-Gomara, Cr6n., cap. 80, ap. Barcia, tom. II.-Toribio, Hist. de Ins Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 4.-Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.

This last writer, who visited Mexico immediately after the Conquest, in 1521, assures us that some of the smaller temples, or pyramids, were filled with earth impregnated with odor­iferous gums and gold dust; the latter, sometimes in such quantities as probably to be worth a million of castellanoil! (Ubi supra.) These were the temples of Mammon, indeed! But I find no confirmation of such golden reports.


21 Cod. Tel.-Rem., pl. 1, and Cod. Vat., passim, ap. Antiq. of Mexico, vols. I., VI.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 10, et seq.-Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 2, passim. Among the offerings, quails may be particularly noticed, for the incredible quantities of them sacrificed and consumed at many of the festivals.


22 The traditions of their origin have somewhat of a fabulous tinge. But, whether true or false, they are equally indicative of unparalleled ferocity in the people who could be the subject of them. Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. 1. p. 167, et seq.; also Humboldt, (who does not ap­pear to doubt them,) Vues des Cordilleres, p. 95.

23 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espafia, lib. 2, cap. 2, 5, 24, et alibi.-Herrera, Hist. General, dec. 3, lib. 2, cap. 16.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, cap. 19; lib. 10, cap. 14.-Rel. d' un gent., ap. Ramusio, tom. III. fol. 307.-Acosta, lib. 5, cap. 9-21-Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.-Rela­cion por el Regimiento de Vera Cruz, (Julio 1519,) MS.

Few readers, probably, will sympathize with the sentence of Torquemada, who concludes his tale of woe by coolly dismissing "the soul of the victim, to sleep with those of his false gods, in hell!" Lib. 10, cap. 23.
24 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espafia, lib. 2, cap. 10, 29.-Gomara, Cr6n., cap. 219, ap. Barcia, tom. II.-Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 6-11.

The reader will find a tolerably exact picture of the nature of these tortures in the twenty-first canto of the "Inferno." The fantastic creations of the Florentine poet were nearly realized, at the very time he was writing, by the barbarians of an unknown world. One sacri­fice, of a less revolting character, deserves to be mentioned. The Spaniards called it the "glad­iatorial sacrifice," and it may remind one of the bloody games of antiquity. A captive of distinction was sometimes furnished with arms, and brought against a number of Mexicans in succession. If he defeated them all, as did occasionally happen, he was allowed to escape. If vanquished, he was dragged to the block and sacrificed in the usual manner. The combat was fought on a huge circular stone, before the assembled capital. Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espafia, lib. 2, cap. 21.-Rel. d'un gent., ap. Ramusio, tom. III, fol. 305.

64 - History of the Conquest of Mexico

View of the Aztec Civilization - 65


25 Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 2, cap. 1, 4, 21, et alibi.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 10, cap. 10.-Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. 11. pp. 76,82.
26 Carta del Lic. Zuazo, MS.-Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, cap. 19.-Herrera, Hist. Gen­eral, dec. 3, lib. 2, cap. 17.-Sahagun, Hist. de Nueva Espana, lib. 2, cap. 21, et alibi.-Toribio, Hist. de los Indios, MS., Parte 1, cap. 2.
27 To say nothing of Egypt, where, notwithstanding the indications on the monuments, there is strong reason for doubting it. (Comp. Herodoms, Euterpe, sec. 45.) It was of frequent occur­rence among the Greeks, as every schoolboy knows. In Rome, it was so common as to require to be interdicted by an express law, less than a hundred years before the Christian era,-a law recorded in a very honest strain of exultation by Pliny; (Hiss. Nat., lib. 30, sec. 3, 4;) notwith­standing which, traces of the existence of the practice may be discerned to a much later pe­riod. See, among others, Horace, Epod., In Canidiam.
28 See Clavigero, Stor. del Messico, tom. II, p. 49.

Bishop Zumarraga, in a letter written a few years after the Conquest, states that 20,000 victims were yearly slaughtered in the capital. Torquemada turns this into 20,000 infant. (Monarch. Ind., lib. 7, cap. 21.) Herrera, following Acosta, says 20,000 victims on a specified day of the year, throughout the kingdom. (Hist. General, dec. 2, lib. 2, cap. 16.) Clavigero, more cautious, infers that this number may have been sacrificed annually throughout Anahuac. (Ubi supra.) Las Casas, however, in his reply to Sepulveda's assertion, that no one who had visited the New World put the number of yearly sacrifices at less than 20,000, de­clares that "this is the estimate of brigands, who wish to find an apology for their own atroc­ities, and that the real number was not above 50!" (CEuvres, ed. Llorente, (Paris, 1822,) tom. I. pp. 365, 386.) Probably the good Bishop's arithmetic, here, as in most other instances, came more from his heart than his head. With such loose and contradictory data, it is clear that any specific number is mere conjecture, undeserving the name of calculation.


29 I am within bounds. Torquemada states the number, most precisely, at 72,344 (Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 63.) Ixtlilxochitl, with equal precision, at 80,400. (Hist. Chich., MS.) zQuien robe? The latter adds, that the captives massacred in the capital, in the course of that memorable year, exceeded 100,000! (Lot. tit.) One, however, has to read but a little way, to find out that the science of numbers-at least, where the party was not an eyewitness-is any thing but an exact science with these ancient chroniclers. The Codex Tel.-Remensis, written some fifty years after the Conquest, reduces the amount to 20,000. (Antiq. of Mexico, vol. 1. Pl. 19; vol. VI. p. 141, Eng. note.) Even this hardly warrants the Spanish interpreter in calling king Ahuit­zotl a man "of a mild and moderate disposition," templada y benigna condition! Ibid., vol. V. p. 49.
30 Gomara states the number on the authority of two soldiers, whose names he gives, who took the trouble to count the grinning horrors in one of these Golgothas, where they were so arranged as to produce the most hideous effect. The existence of these conservatories is at­tested by every writer of the time.
31 The "Anonymous Conqueror" assures us, as a fact beyond dispute, that the Devil introduced himself into the bodies of the idols, and persuaded the silly priests that his only diet was human hearts! It furnishes a very satisfactory solution, to his mind, of the frequency of sac­rifices in Mexico. Rel. d' un gent., ap. Ramusio, tom. 111. fol. 307.
32 The Tezcucan priests would fain have persuaded the good king Nezahualcoyotl, on occasion of a pestilence, to appease the gods by the sacrifice of some of his own subjects, instead of his enemies; on the ground, that, not only they would be obtained more easily, but would be fresher victims, and more acceptable. (Ixtlilxochitl, Hist Chich., MS., cap. 41.) This writer mentions a cool arrangement entered into by the allied monarchs with the republic of Tlas­cala and her confederates. A battlefield was marked out, on which the troops of the hostile nations were to engage at stated seasons, and thus supply themselves with subjects for sacrifice. The victorious party was not to pursue his advantage by invading the other's territory, and they were to continue, in all other respects, on the most amicable footing. (Ubi supra.) The historian, who follows in the track of the Tezcucan Chronicler, may often find occasion to shelter himself, like Ariosto, with

"Bettendolo Turpin, to metto anch'io."


33 Rel. d'un gent., ap. Ramusio, tom. III. Fol. 307.

Among other instances, is that of Chimalpopoca, third king of Mexico, who doomed himself, with a number of his lords, to this death, to wipe off an indignity offered him by a brother monarch. (Torquemada, Monarch. Ind., lib. 2, cap. 28) This was the law of honor with the Aztecs.


34 Voltaire, doubtless, intends this, when he says, "Ils n'etaient point anthropophages, comme un tres-petit nombre de peuplades Americaines." (Essai sur les Meeurs, chap. 147.)
35 Ixtlilxochitl, Hist. Chich., MS., cap. 45, et alibi.
36 No doubt the ferocity of character engendered by their sanguinary rites greatly facilitated their conquests. Machiavelli attributes to a similar cause, in part, the military successes of the Romans. (Discorsi sopra T Livio, lib. 2, cap. 2.) The same chapter contains some inge­nious reflections-much more ingenious than candid-on the opposite tendencies of Chris­tianity.


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