The Aztecs seemed to believe that sacrificing humans to the specific gods would bring them anything that they wanted, from a season of good rain, to a well-built temple, to a victory against an enemy. If things were not going the way they were planned it was often thought that the particular god was not pleased with the sacrifice so more would have to be made. For example when building the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan the Aztecs sacrificed more than eighty thousand prisoners, approximately ten per minute during the four day building process. Many of the sacrifices could have had more backing by political reasons though.
It is believed that the Kings would sacrifice as many people as possible to demonstrate their strength and influence as well as make sure that all of the servants obey. The Aztecs held a lot of land at their peak that was occupied by people who were not Aztec descendants so they had to be kept in line; the thousands of human sacrifices could have been the annual tributes that these villages each had to pay to stay protected by the Aztec empire.
Not only did this have a strong effect on the people living in the civilization it could also have been an intimidation factor for the civilizations around. In his book, City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization, David Carrasco explains the role of the sacrifices in instilling fear in the surrounding populations;.
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Some even think that the numbers of sacrificed could be much lower than is believed and reported by the Aztecs because the number of deaths were inflated to scare their enemies. The Mayans were a very advanced civilization living on the Yucatan peninsula in Mesoamerica starting during the pre-classic period and reaching its peak between and AD. The Maya were a very progressive civilization for their time having creating a written language as well as mathematical and astrological systems.
Unlike the Aztecs, the Mayan people were not as inclined to participate in human sacrifices, yet they often had blood rituals. The Mayans had a large number of religious festivals and rituals throughout their calendar year but as researchers have found none included the sacrifices of humans. The festivals based off of the calendar had a few animal sacrifices and most importantly all had some sort of bloodletting ceremony.
These bloodletting rituals could be performed by practically anyone, such as a young boy or a servant male but for the large gatherings it would be the king or the priests preforming public bloodletting. The bloodletting would be done by sticking a barbed rod through the tongue, ear, or foreskin and blood would be collected on a piece of parchment and then burned for the gods.
The foreskin or the vagina was the most common places where blood would be taken from because of the great significance of these body parts. For obvious reasons the blood from these locations was considered to have fertile qualities and was used in ceremonies concerned with the plant life and the growing of crops. One of the most important reasons for bloodletting and any blood ritual was to see the Vision Serpent.
The serpent was by far the most important social and religious symbol for the Mayans and the Vision Serpent was the most important of all serpents.
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Often the purpose of the bloodletting was to contact and communicate a deceased relative or a god. During a successful bloodletting the participants would see the Vision Serpent and out of its mouth would form the head of the god or ancestor they are contacting. The Vision Serpent was a direct link for the Mayan people from the physical world to the spiritual world.
One of the most famous depictions of bloodletting from the Mayans is found on a limestone carving called Lintel 24 which was discovered in Yaxchilan by a British archeologist named Alfred Maudslay in This lintel depicts the ruler Shield Jaguar holding a torch while Lady Xoc pulls a rope with shards on it through her tongue to produce the vision serpent.
The hieroglyphs state that the carving dates back to the 28th of October and also give the names of the two represented. Depictions like these were popular in Mayan civilizations and adorned many tombs demonstrating the importance of these rituals. During excavations of various pyramids and other influential sites bodies were found that told a very different story.
The Mayans were a very aggressive civilization and often participated in war, even with other Mayan groups. When this would occur any prisoners that would be taken would usually be sacrificed in grandiose celebrations.
Should Historians Put More Emphasis on the Aztecs Human Sacrifice or Agriculture?
These sacrifices were a way to induct a new king or simply show how powerful and successful a current king was. Often after a king died, his son would not be allowed to rule until he brought back prisoners from an enemy tribe and sacrificed them. If during this escapade he would be murdered himself, that would be his fate and the next in line for the thrown would have to do what he failed to accomplish.
While both the Aztecs and the Maya had very elaborate blood rituals, both were very different. The Mayans only used human sacrifice as a way to demonstrate that a King was worthy of ruling the city, otherwise for the most part human sacrifices were shunned.
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While the Aztecs would sacrifice thousands to ask the gods to help them construct a great pyramid the Mayan people chose to sacrifice animals instead. In comparison with the neighboring civilizations of the same magnitude the Mayan people can be considered to have had very mild blood rituals. Unlike the Mayan and Aztec decedents, the Kuna tribes of today still participate in the same, or at least very similar, blood rituals as they had before the Spanish invasion. A significant difference between the Kuna and most other Mesoamerican tribes and civilizations is the great emphasis that they put on women in their society.
The Kuna are matriarchal and women are held as the ultimate symbol, participating in many tribal decisions and gatherings that would in most other cases be solely for males. Similarly, most ceremonies are centered around women and in a few of them blood plays a substantial role. The inna tunsikkalet ceremony is the second largest ceremony that revolves around Kuna women. This is a two day puberty ceremony which is this first in a series of coming of age rituals and is very similar to the inna suid rite, or the hair cutting ritual, that is held later once the girl is ready to be married.
During this time the young girls are isolated from the rest of the community and are not allowed to touch the ground with their feet and have to be carried if they need to leave their room for whatever reason. During this ceremony it is believed by the Kuna that the young girls are getting rid of all of the bad in their bodies through this blood. They are expelling any evil spirits from their bodies through the flow of blood.
This time they are put in a surba, or a small, rectangular, wooden enclosure where they are painted in a black dye from the genipa fruit.
In comparison with the Maya and the Aztec the Kuna did not participate in any animal sacrifices nor did they see it necessary to sacrifice humans to appease the gods. The use of blood in their ceremonies was purely symbolic and was not forced out of the body in any way. Unlike the other people of Mesoamerica the Kuna did not see a need to feel pain or show penance during their blood rituals and in this way can be considered a more advanced and civilized tribe of their time.
The differences between the Kuna and the other people of Mesoamerica can be attributed to the small communities that never fought, but also were never conquered. They never saw any gruesome battles or bloodshed and for the most part have been a peaceful tribe.
For this reason many of their blood ceremonies and rituals are not as extreme as the Aztec or Mayan sacrifices. Yet blood was still an all important part of their lives, without it there would be no inna tunsikkalet, or puberty rite. Blood played an integral part in just about every civilization and tribe throughout Mesoamerican history. While human sacrifices have long been gone from our world, some religions, such as the Santeria, still participate in animal sacrifices as a way of healing.
One of the possible explanations for the importance of blood in so many different cultures and societies over such a long period of time is that blood is practically the same in just about everyone. Whether one was a Mayan king or a humble servant he still had blood that flowed in exactly the same way. The story of the little boy resonates so deeply within me because it's an example of a large gain from a minimal act of self-denial.
Unfortunately the light at the end of the tunnel can seem oh so far off when one lies in the midst of a trying situation. In the case of my soccer team state champions season we all are driven by an inbred love of the sport, and a natural camaraderie that comes only from However the very seams of our affection for the game are tested during the "two a day" practices in the scorching early August heat. This very test of human resolve is especially tough on high school boys because these practices require the player to give up of the precious last month of summer. In exchange for this month, one receives a 6 a.
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