Aztec: Religious Beliefs

The Florentine Codex is a 16th-century ethnographic research study in Mesoamerica by the Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. Sahagún originally titled it: La Historia Universal de las Cosas de Nueva España. This opus is the major source of our knowledge of Aztec religion.

The article that follows is a good overview of the witness provided by Bernardino de Sahagún and others such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo. Found in Ancient Faiths and Modern: A Dissertation upon Worships, Legends and Divinities In Central And Western Asia, Europe, And Elsewhere, Before The Christian Era Showing Their Relations To Religious Customs As They Now Exist, the article is authored by Thomas Inman. Thomas Inman (27 January 1820 – 3 May 1876) was a house-surgeon to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary. In his lifetime he had numerous medical papers published. He was also an amateur mythologist, and wrote Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism, among other works. He lectured on Botany, Medical Jurisprudence, Therapeutics, Materia Medica, And The Principles And Practice Of Medicine, In the Liverpool School Of Medicine (UK).

The Mexica [Aztecs] had a coherent theology with hierarchical monastic traditions, very unlike the fluid oral spirituality north of the Rio Grande. The language of the article is 19th century but accessible. The obiter dicta reflects the temper of the times.

The author cites among others the work of Godfrey Higgins (January 30, 1772 in Owston, Yorkshire – August 9, 1833 in Cambridge) an English magistrate and landowner, a prominent advocate for social reform, historian, and antiquarian. He is now best known for his writings on ancient myths, especially his posthumously published book Anacalypsis, in which he asserts a commonality among various religious myths, which he traces back to the supposed lost religion of Atlantis.
— Orly

Without speculating upon the probable connexion between the mound-builders and the inhabitants of ancient Mexico, we will endeavour, with the aid of [William Hickling] Prescott, and other writers, to ascertain something of the faith professed by Montezuma and his subjects. Derived from two sources, there were two distinct elements in the Mexican religion; one of these was gentle and mild as the teaching of Christ, and the other, ferocious and cruel, like the practice of such of his followers as the sensual Crusaders, the persecuting Popes of Italy, and the brutal, money-grubbing Spaniards. The former gradually dried up, like primitive Christianity, and the harmlessness of the dove was replaced by the ferocity of the wolf. It is in strict accordance with human nature, that virtues are harder to maintain than vices, hence malignancy swelled itself up and became dominant. The priests of the sanguinary class contrived as burdensome a ceremonial as ever existed in Judea, Greece, Spain, or Modern Rome, and they surrounded their deities with conceptions as grotesque as those which are clustered round the Hindoo gods of to-day, the divinities of the Greeks and Romans, and the innumerable virgins, saints, and martys of mediaeval and modern papal Christianity. The power and the inclination to make fetish is certainly not confined to African negroes. The Mexicans recognized a supreme Creator as the God by whom we live, one who was, for them, omnipresent and omniscient—the giver of all good things, "without whom man is as nothing." He was said to be "invisible, incorporeal, a being of absolute perfection and perfect purity," "under whose wings men may find repose and a sure defence." But this deity, though single, was subdivided by the Mexican theologians, much in the same way as Jehovah became separated into an innumerable host of angels, archangels, and devils, and as Zeus was split up into an equally numerous army of gods, goddesses, and demigods. The Mexicans had thirteen major, and about two hundred minor, divinities, to one or other of whom each day was devoted, much in the same way as certain modern Christians believe in one Creator, four persons, three of whom are male and the other female, seven archangels, and some hundreds of saints, virgins, or martyrs, to each of whom one day of the year is consecrated. There are more gods and goddesses in the Papal calendar than in that of Ancient Mexico, Greece, or even Rome.

At the head of the celestial army was "the god of war," "the patron of the kingdom," whose temples were more noble in their barbaric majesty than any other, and to whom human beings were sacrificed in abundance. They were the noblest creatures that could be found, and in truth, there were very few other animals to offer in their place.

This great Mexican divinity was essentially the same as the Jehovah Tsebaoth of the Hebrew Scriptures; the Lord of Hosts of whom we read in Exod. xv. 3, "The Lord (Jehovah) is a man of war, the Lord (Jehovah) is His name;" and in Ps. xxiv. 8, "Who is this King of glory?—the Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, mighty in battle;" and again, the same idea appears in verse 10 of the same Psalm; see also 1 Chron. xvii. 24, "The Lord of Hosts is the God of Israel." Indeed, we should weary the reader if we were to quote all the texts to be found in the Old Testament, which prove that the Hebrew Jehovah was as much a god of war as was the chief deity of the Mexicans. Modern civilization may frame the belief that God is not "the author of confusion, but of peace" (1 Cor. xiv. 33); but the Hebrews in the East, and the Mexicans in the West, held a different opinion. Besides the god of war there was a god of the air, who once lived on earth, and taught metallurgy, agriculture, and the art of government. He was essentially a human benefactor, who caused the earth to teem with fruit and flowers, without the trouble of laborious cultivation—his reign was analogous to the golden age of the Greeks and Romans. But he was not wholly satisfactory, and was banished; yet he is to have a second coming, like Elias, and a modern deity of the Eastern world. His portrait is identical, apparently, with the commonly received likeness of Jesus. In Christian mythology (see Eph. ii. 2), "the prince of the power of the air" is regarded as "the adversary," or a devil. No other deities are described in detail by [William Hickling] Prescott, but he says that every household had its "penates," or household gods. On turning to [Godfrey] Higgins , who quotes entirely from Lord Kingsborough's Mexican Antiquities, we find that the Mexicans baptized their children with what they called "water of regeneration." Their king also danced before his god, as David did, to his chaste wife's disgust, and was consecrated and anointed by the high priest with a holy unction as Saul and the son of Jesse were. On one day of the year all the fires in the Mexican kingdom were extinguished and lighted again from one sacred hearth in the temple, which again reminds us of the Vestal Virgins, whose business was to keep up a holy fire in Rome, and of the lamp which was to burn perpetually in the Jewish temple (Exod. xxvii. 20). At the end of October the Mexicans had a feast resembling our "All Souls," or "Saints," day, which was called "the festival of advocates," because each human being had an advocate in the heaven above to plead for him, which again reminds us of Jesus' dictum, that children have guardian angels, who are always in God's presence (Matt, xviii. 10)

The same people had a forty-days' fast, in honour of a god who was tempted forty days upon a mountain, and thus resembled the Prophet of Nazareth. He was called the morning star, and thus is to be identified with Lucifer as well as Jesus (Isa. xiv. 12, Rev. xxii. 16), and carried a reed for an emblem (see Eev. xxi. 15). The Mexicans honoured a cross, and the god of air was represented sometimes as nailed to one, and even occasionally between two other individuals.*

* As we cannot imagine that the Mexicans were aware of the manner in which modern Christians depict Jesus on the cross, we most, I think, seek for some idea which was common to both the East and West. In Payne Knight's work, so often referred to by us, there is a picture which represents a cock with a lingam instead of a head and beak; on its pediment there is in Greek the words, soteer kosmou, "the saviour of the world." This is also an epithet of Siva, and he is sometimes represented as a phallus. In this he is the Asher or Bel of the Assyrian triad, erected higher than the other two. In Christian history the outsiders are said to be thieves, but it was not so in Mexico. The three crosses are simply emblems of the "trinity."

A virgin and child were also adored, as they were in Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, and Hindostan, and as they are in a great part of Europe at the present time. The people believed in vast cycles of years, at the end of each of which there was to be a general destruction of life, and a perfect regeneration, an idea which Higgins has shown to have existed amongst Persians, Romans, and Jews alike. The Mexicans still further believed in a threefold future state—a heaven for the brave, and those who were sacrificed, there being, so far as I can discover, no abstract idea of what we call "virtue"; a hell for the wicked; and a sort of quiet limbo for those who were in no way distinguished. Heaven was located in the sun, and the blessed were permitted to revel amongst lovely clouds and singing birds, enjoying, unharmed, all the charms of nature: a conception which is to the full as poetical, and, probably, quite as near the truth, as that given in "Revelation." When a man died he was burned, and, if rich, his slaves were sacrificed with him, the Mexicans, in this respect, resembling the ancient Scythians, with whom they had much in common. When the ceremony of giving a name to children was gone through, their lips and bosom were sprinkled with water, and the Lord was implored to permit the holy drops to wash away the sin that was given to the child before the foundation of the world, so that the infant might be born anew, or, in modern terms, regenerated (Prescott, ch. 3). Amongst their prayers, or invocations, were the formulas, "Wilt Thou blot us out, O Lord, for ever? Is this punishment intended, not for our reformation, but for our destruction?" again, "Impart to us, out of Thy great mercy, Thy gifts which we are not worthy to receive through our own merits;" "Keep peace with all;" "Bear injuries with humility, God who sees will avenge you;" "He who looks too curiously on a woman commits adultery with eyes." These Mexican maxims so closely resemble those to be found in the Bible, that it is difficult to believe that the Spaniards really told the truth respecting them. The sacerdotal order amongst the Mexicans was a numerous one, well arranged and powerful. The priests used musical choirs in their worship, arranged the calendar, and appointed the time for festivals. They superintended the education of youth, and wrote up the traditions, like the "recorders" of the Jews, Persians, other Orientals, and Christian monks, and looked to the conservancy of the hieroglyphic paintings. There were two high priests, who alone had to undertake the duty of offering human sacrifices, and these were elected by the king and nobles, quite irrespective of previous rank, and, when elected, they were inferior only to the sovereign. When reading this, anyone who is familiar with biblical history will bethink him of Luke iii. 3, "Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests," the plural, not the singular, number being used, and of the dictum of Caiaphas, John xi. 50, "It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, that the whole nation perish not." We may put what construction we please upon these facts, but, whatever interpretation we may adopt, we must acknowledge that the Hebrews, at the time when our era commences, had two high priests who were concerned in human sacrifice.

The priests, in general, were devoted to the service of some particular deity, and, during the time of their attendance, lived in the temple, celibate; but, when not on duty, they resided with their wives and families. Thrice during the day, and once at some period of the night, they were called to prayer, much like all the varieties of Christian monks and nuns. They were frequent in their ablutions, in which habit they may be contrasted with those saintly hermits, who regarded dirt as a divine ordinance, and never washed; and they mortified the flesh by long vigils, fasting, and cruel penance, drawing blood from their bodies by flagellation, or by piercing them with the thorns of the aloe. The resemblance of the Mexican sacerdotalism with Jewish and Christian customs is thus shown to be wonderful and striking, so much so, that the Spaniards started the idea that they had been taught by some stray apostle of Jesus. The great cities of Mexico were divided into districts, each of which was placed under the charge of a sort of parochial clergy, who regulated every act of religion within their precincts, and who administered the rites of confession and absolution. The secrets of the confessional were held inviolable, and penances were imposed, of much the same kind as those enjoined by the Roman Catholic Church upon her votaries.

It was a tenet of Mexican faith, that a sin once atoned for, was, if repeated, inexpiable a second time; consequently, confession was only once resorted to, and that late in life; a good plan, upon the whole, for it enabled a man whose days were numbered to get pardon "for good and aye." It was also held that sacerdotal absolution was equivalent to magisterial punishment. The formula of absolution contained this, amongst other things, "O merciful Lord, Thou who knowest the secrets of all hearts, let Thy forgiveness and favour 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." This idea may well be compared with the current doctrine of the phrenologists, many of whom assert that a man acts according to the configuration of his brain and cranium, and is, therefore, only partially culpable for the commission of certain crimes. After a copious exhortation to the penitent, in which he was enjoined to undergo a variety of mortifications, and to perform minute ceremonies, by way of penance, he was particularly urged to procure, with the smallest possible delay, a slave, who was to be utilized in sacrifice to the Deity; the priest then concluded with inculcating charity to the poor—"Clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, whatever privations it may cost thee, for remember their flesh is like thine."

The necessity of sacrifice, as an atonement for sin, forms an essential, though bloody, part of both the Hebrew and the Christian faiths, and history has long taught us that the slaughter of a man, woman, or child, formed, in the estimation of the Ancient Greeks, and other nations, one of the most acceptable of the forms of homage paid by a human being to the Creator. This idea is at the very basis of the Christian theology. It has been held, from the time of the apostle Paul to the present day, that Jehovah would not look favourably upon mankind until He had been propitiated, not by the sacrifice of an ordinary individual, but by the murder, in the crudest of modes, of a being whom He personally begat, for the purpose of killing him when arrived at maturity. In Hebrews x. 12, we find this doctrine very distinctly enunciated, in the words, "this man, after he had offered one sacrifice of sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God," and subsequently, v. 14, "by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Again, in Heb. ix. 26, "once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself;" and in Heb. x. 10, "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ;" and in ix. 28, "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." The philosopher may doubt whether the God whom the Christians have made for their own adoration, is in any way different to that of King Mesha, who offered up his own son in sacrifice, or to the Mexican one, who was contented with the blood of a slave.*

* It is doubtful whether any Christian has ever paid real attention to the doctrines which are familiar to his ear, or to the hymns which an most frequently on his tongue. In the usual fashion which is prevalent amongst ministers and hearers, everything which is told by missionaries of heathen deities is taken as true. Thus it has become the general belief that the Mexican theology, which required an annual sacrifice of human beings, whose hearts were cut out, and offered warm, palpitating and full of blood, to a God who was supposed to be present in a sacred stone statue, was beyond measure atrocious. But in what consists the horror, unless in the fact that the sacrifice was seen by the worshippers? In Christendom people are never called upon to see a man killed by nailing him to a cross. If they were condemned to this penance, very little would any of them talk of blood. As it is, the minds of the majority are lulled to sleep by the substitution of words for facts, and texts of Scripture for ideas; and those who are unable to look upon a cut finger without fainting, and would not for worlds go to see a man decapitated, talk in the serenest manner on most sanguinary topics. A reference to a few hymns which are general favourites will illustrate what I mean. In "Rock of Ages," for example, we have the lines— "Let the water and the blood From thy riven side that flowed, Cleanse from sin and make me pure." Another equally popular hymn begins "From Calv'ry's cross a fountain flows Of water and of blood, More healing than Bethesda's pool, Redeeming Lord, thy precious blood Shall never lose its power..." and again— "There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuels veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains." No congregation of Christian, or any other men, would tolerate for a moment the introduction into divine worship of a bath of blood, into which all those should plunge who desired salvation. Not one would endeavour to wash his sins away in a sanguine stream, drawn from any source whatever. The horror which would be produced by the doctrine that such things are necessary to appease our God, would make every thinking being detest it. Yet, when we only play with the idea, we can talk of such matters with holy complacency. If any Christian wants to test his faith, let me advise him to get a basinful of blood and place it in his bed-room, and say twice a day, when looking on it, that's the stuff which propitiates my God! It would not be long ere he saw the absurdity of his theological tenets, and the coarseness of the hierarchy which invented so frightful an idea of the Omnipotent.


For the education of the youth of Mexico a part of the temples was allotted, where the boys and girls of the middle and higher classes were placed at an early period—the girls to be taught by the priestesses, the boys by priests; and from a note in [William H.] Prescott's corrected edition, 1866, p. 22, we learn that the former were even more generally pure in life than, we have reason to believe, the Egyptian priestesses and Christian nuns proved themselves to be, Father Acosto saying, "In truth, it is very strange to see that this false opinion of religion hath so great force amongst these young men and maidens of Mexico, that they will serve the Devil with so great vigour and austerity, which many of us do not in the service of the most high God, the which is a great shame and confusion." It is curious to notice how the Christian priest considers that chastity may be a snare of the Devil, as well as an ordinance of Jehovah. The boys, in these scholastic parts of the sacred temples, were taught the routine of monastic discipline—to decorate the shrines of the gods with flowers, to feed the sacred fires, and to chant in worship and at festivals. The Abbé Hue, in an account of his travels in Thibet and Tartary, has told us repeatedly of the similarity between the rites, practices, and ceremonies of the Romish Church and those in use amongst the followers of the Great Lama. It is equally marvellous to discover that the Mexican ritual resembles both. The Papalist endeavours to explain this, by the monstrous assumption that both Tartary and Mexico were evangelized by two different Christian Apostles. But it seems to us more probable that the Romanists, who are known to have adopted almost every ancient ceremony, symbol, doctrine, and the like, have unknowingly copied from travelled Orientals, than that the cult of the people of Thibet has travelled into America, as well as into Europe. Into the identity of the Tartars with the Red Indians it is not my intention to enter. The higher Mexicans were taught traditionary lore, the mysteries of hieroglyphics, the principles of government, and such astronomical and scientific knowledge as the priests would, or, probably, could, impart. The girls learned to weave and embroider coverings for the altars of the gods. Great attention was paid to morality, and offences were punished with extreme rigour, even with death itself. Youths were taught to eschew, vice and cleave to virtue, to abstain from wrath, to offer violence or do wrong to no man, and to do good where possible.

When of an age to marry, the pupils were dismissed from the convent, and the recommendation of the principal thereof often introduced those whom he regarded as the most competent of the students, to responsible situations in public life. Such was the policy of the Mexican priests, who were thus enabled to mould the mind of the young, and to train it early to the necessity of giving reverence to religion, and especially to its ministers—a reverence which maintained its hold on the warrior long after every other vestige of education had been effaced. In this matter America showed an astuteness equal to that exhibited by Papal hierarchs in Rome.

To each of the principal temples, lands were annexed, for the maintenance of the priests, and these glebes were augmented by successive princes, until, under Montezuma, they were of enormous extent, and covered every district of the* empire. The priests took the management of their property into their own hands, and treated their tenants with liberality and indulgence. In addition to this source of income, they had "first fruits," and other offerings, dictated by piety or superstition. The surplus was distributed in alms amongst the poor, a duty strenuously prescribed by their moral code. Thus we find, adds Prescott, whom we are closely, and almost verbatim, following, the same religion inculcating lessons of pure philanthropy and of merciless extermination—an inconsistency not incredible to those familiar with the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the early ages of the Inquisition.

In the course of a not very long life, I have heard, upon many occasions, the argument that the persistency of the Roman Catholic Church, in spite of its abominable corruptions, its utter contempt for truth, its outrageous cruelty, its glaring superstition, its intolerable arrogance, and its rapacious covetousness, proves that it is, and must ever be regarded as a divine institution. But this argument loses all its weight when we find that the religion of the Mexicans, which the Spaniards declared to have sprung from the Devil, had the virtues, as well as many vices, of the Roman faith. If one came from Heaven, the other could not have come from Hell. The simple truth seems to be, that crafty and designing men are always able to find dupes, and that red men and black, the haughty Italian and the lively Frenchman, the stolid boor and the polished orator, may all suffer alike from an education which has taught them, in youth, to believe in the reality of a revelation given to a class of human beings who, by its means, assume to be divine.

The Mexican temples—teocallis, or "houses of God "—were very numerous, indeed there were several hundreds in each of the principal cities of the kingdom; but we need not describe them more minutely than to say that they were truncated pyramids terminating in a level surface, upon which blazed the sacred fire. All religious services were public, as in Roman Catholic countries. There were long processions of priests, and numerous festivals of unusual sacredness, as well as monthly and daily appropriate celebrations of worship, so that it is difficult to conceive how the ordinary business of life was carried on. The sun was an universal object of reverence. At a period not long prior (about 200 years) to the Spanish conquest, human sacrifices were adopted for the first time, and they speedily became common, both as regards repetition and the numbers of victims slaughtered. In some instances the oblations terminated with cannibalism. The burnt offering was roasted, not incinerated, and, like the Paschal lamb, was devoutly devoured. Sexual rites, symbols, or worship, appear to have been very rare, for I can only find one or two doubtful references to them. In this matter the Mexicans were far superior to all the old Shemitic and Egyptian, as well as the Hindoo, races. So far Prescott.

Whilst writing the foregoing, it has required some determination not to comment very extensively upon the facts recorded, for they do, indeed, set the thoughtful mind on fire. Amongst the questions which they provoke, the first is, "how far the accounts given to us are to be depended upon?" In answering this query, we readily recognize that our authorities can only have been Spaniards, who were, to a great extent, implacable enemies of the Mexicans, to a great extent ignorant of their language, and bitterly hostile to them in matters of religion. But this recognition leads us to trust the accounts which they give, for, if the invaders had been able to treat the natives as unmitigated savages, they would have had the more excuse for pillaging their sacred stores, temples, and palaces, and exterminating the pagan worshippers. Again, if the picture thus painted were a fancy one, having no real existence save in the mind of the writer, we should be able readily to recognize its counterpart in the Spanish history of the Peruvians, just as we are able to ascertain the identity of the authorship of certain anonymous works by Lord Lytton, by the existence therein of his marked peculiarity of style. The best testimony, however, to the substantial truth of the accounts given of the nature of the Mexican faith, is to be found in various minute episodes of their general history, in the behaviour of the Aztecs with each other, and towards their invaders, and the general customs which are recorded. That the Spanish writers had a real belief in the account of which Prescott has given us so admirable a resume, we may feel assured, for one of them introduced the naïve remark, "that the Devil had positively taught to the Mexicans the same things which God had taught to Christendom."

When once we have satisfied ourselves of the truth of the Spanish accounts of the ancient Mexican institutions, we find ourselves in the presence of some very striking religious and political facts. We see before us a nation who had attained to as distinct a conception of the Almighty as we have ourselves; who had discovered a heaven, a hell, and an intermediate place, without the assistance of Jew or Greek, Babylonian or Persian; who had instituted a sacerdotal class, and made provision for their subsistence, without any assistance from Melchizedek or Moses; who had adopted a principle of national education long before such a thing was thought of in England, or in Europe. In fine, the Aztec faith and policy were, at least, as praiseworthy, if not far nearer to perfection, than the faith and policy which obtained in Christian Italy, France, and Spain, during the dark and the middle ages. There is not, indeed, any one point in which the contrast is not favourable to the Aztecs, except in the single point of human sacrifice. Christianity can, apparently, make a heavy accusation against the Aztec religion on this point, and may fairly seem to reproach it for that frequency of human sacrifice, and even cannibalism, which formed, at the time of the Spanish conquest, an essential part of the Mexican faith.

Yet, when we dive below the surface, and examine this matter with philosophic care, we readily see that the charge is deprived of much of its weight. Who, for example, can compare the practice of the people of Montezuma with that of Spaniards under the sway of Ferdinand and Isabella, without seeing that in Spain there were human sacrifices, which were conducted with far more cruelty than those in Mexico. We find, in the first place, that the custom of sacrificing human beings was no more an essential part of the Aztec, than it was of the Christian, faith; it was only in existence two hundred years before the Spanish invasion, and many centuries, bloodless of human offerings, had passed away ere the period of what we may term brutality arrived. Just so it was with the religion of Jesus; for centuries it was unstained by blood, and comparatively meek and humble, yet, when its priesthood rose to power, they indulged in human holocausts on a most extended scale. The Spaniards give accounts of thousands of victims offered up at once to the Mexican god of war; but what are these in comparison to the victims of Paris, sacrificed by Papists on the eve and day of St. Bartholomew, and those at Beziers.

It may be doubted by the philosopher whether the Christian religion was not, from its very commencement, as intolerant of opposition and as persecuting as it became hereafter.

The story of Jesus cursing a fig tree, which did not bear fruit out of its season (Mark xi. 13, 14, 21), shows that even he, whom the Christians take for an example, was quite capable of that pettiness, which visits upon the innocent the vexation felt by one's self. But when we read the story in Acts, v., about Ananias and Sapphira, we see, in all its naked horror, a fearful Christian persecution. The victims were done to death for deceiving an apostle. But why should we be surprised at the followers of "the Son" doing that which "the Father" ordained? Is there any human king who ever promulgated a more bloody order than did Jehovah Sabaoth, the God which, amongst the Hebrews, corresponded to the Mexican god of war, when he commissioned Samuel to say to Saul (1 Sam. xv. 3), "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass!" After such a destruction of the Midianites as is narrated in Numb, xxxi., the fearful slaughter, effected by Crusaders, of Jews, Turks, and heretics is scarcely worth mentioning.

There was a teacher who remarked, "he who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone" at the culprit; and surely, when our Bible, which is treasured by so many as the only rule of faith amongst us, details such horrible religious slaughters as are to be found in its pages, and abounds with persecuting precepts, we had better not talk too much about Mexican sacrifice. Was there any Aztec minister so brutal in his religious fury as Samuel was (1 Sam. xv. 33), who hewed Agag into pieces? The Mexican was merciful to his victim; the Hebrew was like a modern Chinese executioner, who kills the criminal by degrees. His cruelty has been emulated in Christian France, and under the reign of two of her kings, we have seen a Ravaillac and Damiens tortured slowly to death, by means too horrible to dwell upon.

The writers upon Mexico tell us of a lovely youth, who was educated for a whole year to become a victim, and how, at the end of that time, he was feted, adorned, and even worshipped; how four of the most charming maidens of Mexico were selected as his wives, and how he remained in the enjoyment of the highest honour until the time of his sacrifice arrived, and we feel due horror at the recital. Yet, what is it compared with the accounts we read of miserable men and women racked, in hideous dungeons, by the most horrible tortures which an enlightened Christian ingenuity could devise, and who then, with limbs whose loosened fibres could scarcely sustain their bruised and mangled bodies, were led, or driven at the sword's point, to a stake fixed in the ground, there to be tied and burned, whilst devout Christian multitudes stood around, rejoicing, like demons, over the hellish scene.

No one can gloat over the imaginary torments of Hell without being a persecuting devil at heart.

Surely the Christians have too much sin amongst themselves to cast a stone at the inhabitants of Mexico.

We find a strong offset to the horror of Aztec cruelty in the very Bible, which we regard as the mainstay of our religious world. What, for example, is the essential difference between a Mexican monarch sacrificing one or ten thousand men taken in battle, and Moses commanding the extermination of the inhabitants of Canaan, and only saving, out of Midian, thirty-two thousand virgins, that they might minister to the lust of his Hebrew followers? What, again, are we to say of David's God, who would not turn away his anger from Judah until seven sons of the preceding king had been offered up as victims? And lastly—thought still more awful! what must we say of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, that Jehovah Himself sacrificed His own Son by a cruel death; and not only so, but that He had intercourse with an earthly woman, and had thus a son by her, for the sole purpose of bringing about his murder? Can we object to religious cannibalism in the Aztec, when Jesus of Nazareth is said to have urged his followers to eat his body and to drink his blood; and when hundreds of priests have shed the blood of millions of men, who, disbelieving the power of any man to convert bread and wine into flesh and blood, have refused to profane their lips by a cannibal feast?

Having now examined the nature of the Aztec faith, let us, for a while, linger upon the fruits which it produced. Who can read the mournful story of the fall of Mexico without contrasting, in his own mind, the respective characters of the conquerors and the conquered? In every so-called Christian virtue Montezuma proved himself to be superior to the lying, unscrupulous, rapacious and covetous Cortez. Even the greatest fire-eater who ever lived cannot fail to see that the Spaniard would not have been victorious over the Mexican, if the latter had been equally well equipped with arms, armour, and horses, as the former was. We can only tell vaguely what was the condition of Anahuac prior to the invasion of Cortez; but, from the testimony given by Prescott, we believe that there were annual wars between adjoining tribes, who met solely to obtain from their enemies victims for sacrifice, the battles always ending with the day, and never being resumed for conquest, or for the plunder of maidens to be an indulgence of a victor's lust. What the condition of the same country under Christian rule has been, and still is, every reader of modern and contemporary history knows; and he sees, with regret, that Jehovah Sabaoth, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Holy Spirit, with an army of saints, angels, virgins, and martyrs, as well as ancient gods of the Eastern Hemisphere are, if they are to be judged by the acts of their worshippers, as cruel, revengeful, and malignant, as were the deities of the Mexican kingdom.

The followers of the cross will appear to be quite as despicable when we contrast them with the Peruvians, as they were when compared with the inhabitants of Anahuac.

There is something very fascinating in the history of Peru, as recorded by the Spanish authors, and rendered into the English language by Prescott. There is no account of ancient or modern people extant which has interested me so much as those of the realm of Manco Capac. To hear of a nation, separated by an ocean, we may, indeed, say two, and a vast continent, from the civilized portions of Asia, Europe, and Africa, located in a mountainous tract, where soil and water were scanty, and locomotion was rendered difficult from the configuration of the land; whose country was surrounded by strong natural enemies of all kinds; whose people were unable to use such agents as steel and gunpowder, and who were yet enabled to construct vast cities and temples, to quarry, remove, and use in buildings, fragments of rock thirty-eight feet long, eighteen feet broad, and six feet thick, and to transport these to distances varying from 12 to 45 miles, to form good roads along the mountain tops, for an extent of nearly two thousand miles, necessitating the filling up chasms of enormous depth, and the making of suspension bridges over rivers whose stream was too furious to bridge in the ordinary European fashion, is perfectly astonishing.

The far-sighted Incas, to make these roads still more useful, accompanied them by the erection of large residences, like modern European bungalows in India, fit for the reception of a monarch with his army, and by vast magazines of provisions, sufficient to supply the wants of a warlike expedition, or of a population starving from an accidental failure of crops. The Peruvians, moreover, surrounded their chief towns with strong walls, in comparison with which the Cyclopean constructions of the old world seem small, stunted, and almost contemptible. It appears, in addition, that they knew how to form long tunnels, either for the passage of troops, for the benefit of travellers, or for the conveyance of water. All these, I say, are enough to fire the imagination of the dullest reader of history, and to shake the belief that civilization cannot be developed in the midst of what we have been accustomed to call savage life, and can only be brought to a moderate perfection by the influence of the Hebrew and Christian writings.

Our wonder is not, however, bounded by the physical results produced by the industrious population of Peru, it is still farther exercised by the descriptions which are given of their wonderful domestic and foreign policy. It would be difficult to conceive, and still more difficult to carry into execution for many generations, a plan of government so eminently fitted to give the greatest happiness to the greatest number, as that which the Incas elaborated. The rulers were specially educated to fulfil their duties in every respect, and were not permitted, as modern princes are, to enter into the ranks of chivalry until they had undergone a public examination, which was conducted by the oldest and the most illustrious chiefs. The trial included tests of every warlike and manly quality. It lasted thirty days, during which time every competitor fared alike, living on the bare ground, and wearing a mean attire. Those who passed the ordeal honourably were admitted formally into the knightly order, the ceremony including an investiture of the youth with sandals put on by the most venerable noble, equivalent to the donning of the toga virilis in Ancient Rome, and having the ear pierced with a golden bodkin by the reigning monarch. To take off the shoe was a ceremony exacted from all those who came into the Inca's presence, to have it put on by a grandee was great honour.

That the rulers might understand the condition of the kingdom, they systematically travelled, much in the same way as James V. of Scotland, and the Caliph Haroun Alraschid, are said to have done. The Incas, in addition to their other plans for good government, inaugurated a postal system: divided their peoples into tens, fifties, hundreds, five hundreds, thousands, and ten thousands, much in the same way as the Saxon King Alfred is said to have done, whose plan is, in many respects, conserved to the present day; and the head man of each division was in all respects its ruler, to repress crime, to announce to his superior officer all unusual occurrences, and to report, generally, the actual state of his division to the chief above him. All legal trials, or appeals, were decided in less than five days, and a code was established, which all might readily know, a thing only attained by the French under the first Napoleon, and long desired by England, but in vain. Punishments were never attended with torture, or unnecessary cruelty. In this respect the Peruvians differed from every other civilized nation of which I have yet read. The Chinaman methodically inflicts painful punishments which have only been surpassed by the followers of the "gentle Jesus." The Persians and Turks have, certainly, shown their capacity for giving pain to those who are brought before their ministers of justice, and the Red Indians, during their day, reduced the art of tormenting themselves, but, still more, their prisoners, almost to perfection. The Babylonians had discovered that a death of agony could be accomplished by means of myriads of ants. It was reserved to Christians, eager to uphold the faith promulgated by a God of mercy, to find out the most exquisite of torments. Even Frenchmen, who have for centuries assumed the position of leaders of civilization, were, until the great Revolution beat down their kings and prelates, more ruthlessly cruel than the most fierce redskin. The Inquisition, which arrogated to itself the power to keep the Christian religion pure, was distinguished by the atrocity with which it gave anguish to its victims, and it held its head high until it was put down, we may hope for ever, by fiery republican enthusiasts, whom priestly demons, baulked of their prey, declared to be devils incarnate. More modern hierarchs are obliged to content themselves with making a hell for their enemies—with foretelling a variety of punishments to be inflicted hereafter, which cannot be enforced here.

The Incas exacted an annual report of the lands possessed by individuals, with their condition as regards culture; and also of every family. A register of births, marriages, and deaths was regularly kept, so that the government might always know the real condition of the nation, soil, and people.

As far as possible, families remained constant to their business, thus forming a sort of trade caste, but not a rigid one. The registers were always submitted to the perusal of the Inca, and, subsequently, kept in the capital.

By the arrangement of "posts," and roads, an insurrection or invasion was readily discovered, and it was speedily announced at the capital city. The march of troops to suppress it, under these circumstances, was easy and immediate, for every requisite for war was always at hand. In all circumstances, plundering by the soldiery, whether at home or in an enemy's country, was severely punished, and war was undertaken solely with a view to peace. If a neighbour was turbulent, he was conquered, and absorbed into the old state, and if a province was rebellious, its worst inhabitants were carried away to some other locality, where their power for mischief would be curtailed; a plan which, we are told, was pursued by the Assyrian Shalmaneser (2 Kings xvii. 6), indicated by Sennacherib (2 Kings xviii. 32), and carried out by Nebuzaradan (2 Kings xxv. 11.). In fine, we may repeat, that it would be difficult for a modern philosopher to conceive a better model of a really paternal government than that which, it is asserted, was found by the Spaniards when they invaded the kingdom of the Incas. Of the respective value of Christian Spanish government, and of the so-called Pagan Inca rule, none can doubt, who reads the present by the light of the past. The Peruvians kept up their roads, protected their subjects, respected life, and fostered everything which tended to increase the general happiness and prosperity of the kingdom—all these objects, have been for a long period neglected, and Peru, which was under the Spanish rule, one of the blots on the face of civilization and Christianity, is only just emerging from a long night, under the influence of Republican institutions.

Our next step will be to ascertain the religion of the people whose political condition contrasts so favourably with that of every other nation of whom travel and history have informed us. But we may, in the first place, remark, that there is no absolute or necessary connection between the happiness, or otherwise, of a nation and its dominant religion, as Buckle has already shown in his History of Civilization. The writer of to-day can find abundant evidence in recent history to illustrate the proposition here advanced. He can point to France, and its condition under a sacerdotal rule, prior to the time of the Revolution, and contrast it with its state since its rulers have tried to make the people prosperous and happy, independently of their religious faith. He can point to Austria and Spain, when they were laid at the feet of the Pope of Rome, and everything was made subservient to the demands of a powerful hierarchy, and to the same states now, when religion is subordinate to the material welfare of the majority. Who, that has read the story of modern Italy, or heard of the atrocities committed under the priest-led Ferdinand of Naples—better known in England by the sobriquet of Bomba; who, that knew anything of his brigand-rearing towns and cities, and has visited them since they have been ruled constitutionally, and with the priestly power curbed by a strong hand, can doubt which set of directors are the best? Christian Rome was never so happy under her Popes as she is now, when the so-called head of the church is subordinate to the chief of the state. But of all priest-ridden countries, one which would never have borne the popish sway as she has done, if her chieftains had been sensible and her people thoughtful, Ireland deserves our commiseration the most. Hibernian hierarchs of the Roman faith designate their country as a land of saints. So, perhaps, it is, if by the word is meant admirers of laziness and filth, who consider that attention to religion justifies murder, and every brutal crime against purse, person, and property.

As a rule, admitting of no exceptions, civil government has preceded sacerdotal rule, and a nation is generally in a weakly and fallen condition as soon as its affairs are directed by the priestly class. When first the Aryans invaded Hindostan, the hierarchy was second to the warrior caste; but as the first aggrandized their power, the second lost their supremacy, and under Brahminic rule the foundation was laid for pusillanimous and indolent luxury in the warrior. The power to plan, and the nerve to enforce laws, for the benefit of all classes of the community, is very different to that which is requisite to exalt and enrich the priestly order; and the well-being of a state depends far more upon the exercise of the first than of the second. Whenever, therefore, the executive government is entirely independent of the influence of the hierarchy, or is itself the head of that caste, it can produce good results for the nation, no matter what may be the dogmas of the priesthood, or the nature of the gods which are reverenced.


Tommaso Campanella : City of the Sun

Maya: Religious Beliefs of the Indians of Yucatan