The Aztecs

I spent an hour yesterday looking at artifacts from the very, very bloody Aztec empire. How to make sense of their passion for human sacrifice?

It seems to me they were coping with same problem as Anaximander; what the cosmos gives with one hand, it takes away with the other: "The origin of things is the Apeiron [unlimited]... It is necessary for things to perish into that from which they were born; for they pay one another penalty for their injustice according to the ordinance of Time."

I think the Aztec solution to the sense of tragedy this realization produces was to eagerly participate in the process themselves.


  1. I don't think they were trying to participate in the Universe's destruction of all things. I think the explanation is simpler: they were showing that they were willing to give up that which was dear to them for the sake of something which transcends the material world. And nothing in the material world was more dear to them than their fellow human beings.

    It's similar to how Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia so that the gods would allow his ships to get back home to Greece. He was showing he had such faith in that which he could not see that he was willing to sacrifice everything around him that he could see.

    1. Simpler still isn't it? A belief in false gods.

  2. Tangentially, I spent five minutes on Wikipedia and came across this:

    > The Aztec priests defended themselves as follows:
    > "Life is because of the gods; with their sacrifice they gave us life.... They produce our sustenance... which nourishes life."
    > What the Aztec priests were referring to was a central Mesoamerican belief: that a great, on-going sacrifice sustains the Universe.

    To me, that has some eerie parallels with a certain timeless understanding of Jesus' crucifixion (not extending as far as salvation though).

    1. 1) Keshav, see Matt's comment. I am no Aztec expert, but this quote suggests my interpretation is perhaps on target.
      2) Yes, Matt, the cosmic myths of the "cosmological empires" are compact versions of the more differentiated symbolisms of the universal religions.

  3. Gene, having finished 'The New Science of Politics', do you have any recommendations for philosophy and/or history of religious thought? I will be buying the Ecumenic Age by Voegelin (along with some secondary literature from contemporary Voegelin scholars like Eugene Webb), but I am interested in hearing any and all books that have given you insight into religions and transcendence.


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