Religion and rituals

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By Gillian Goddard — senior lecturer, Liverpool Hope University

As a society with extremely strong religious beliefs, the Aztecs believed that worshipping was a crucial part of their everyday life

The Aztec religion developed from the earlier Mayan faith and was a mixture of the old farming traditions and a newer, warrior culture. Religion was a dominant force in the Aztec society, at every level and in every sphere of life. Impressive temples were the most important buildings in the cities. Priests were the most highly-educated people in the communities and, like nobles, were drawn from the highest ranks of society.


The Aztecs worshipped many gods, both male and female, most of whom were central to nature and their survival needs (see small poster). Important Aztec gods include the sun god, the rain god and the god of maize – their principle crop. War gods were also worshipped. The gods were represented in the form of statues and masks. They were worshipped in temples and were offered propitiatory gifts and sacrifices. The Aztecs believed the gods to be capable of severe destruction as well as beneficence, and so worship had a significant role in their lives.


Many gifts to the gods took the form of animal or human sacrifice. Human sacrifices were generally young, healthy males – often captured warriors – who were prized members of society. These men were considered to be fitting gifts to powerful gods. Most sacrifices were undertaken to ‘feed’ the sun god. The Aztecs believed that the sun god would die unless strengthened by human blood. This made human sacrifice an absolute necessity, in order to ensure that the sun rose the following day. The human sacrifice aspect of Aztec religion can present a problem for teachers; children tend to relish the detail of the act, but instilling respect for this alternative culture can be difficult. The focus of their study should, therefore, be on the reasons for human sacrifice rather than on the act itself.

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