Short Fiction, Writing

Aztec Rituals & the God of Death

One of the most interesting folklore research I did recently involved the Aztec Empire in Mesoamerica. I have always been fascinated by the Aztec Empire and the many intriguing mythologies and my latest research was into the god of Underworld, Mictlantecuhtli. The death-god is often depicted in constant combat with the opposing force, the god of renewal Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. The two gods are constantly locked in a fight for supremacy, the balance between life and death.

The Aztecs practised human sacrifice on a colossal scale in the late stages of the empire. Recent archaeological excavations in the sacred city of Tenochtitlan at the base of one of the largest pyramid temples, the Tempo Mayor, huge wooden racks of skulls were offerings to the gods of war and rain. The extreme numbers of suggested human sacrifices coincided with Aztec empire expansion, it was probably considered necessary to appease the gods who could provide battle success and the rains to grow crops and support an increasing population.

The Aztec Underworld or Mictlán was ruled by god Mictlantecuhtli. To the Aztecs, every soul no matter the privilege or poverty during life, would descend through the nine layers of Mictlán to face Mictlantecuhtli. Not surprisingly, worship of Mictlantecuhtli was important to all Aztecs and during the Aztec month of Tititl , the temple Tlalxicco conducted a specific ritual human sacrifice. A chosen sacrifice became the embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli and sacrificed at night to honour the god.

In my flash fiction story, I was inspired by the elaborate skeletal depictions of Mictlantecuhtli and the creation myth where Quetzalcoatl is deliberately delayed in the Underworld while searching for the bones of every creature destroyed in the previous world. The Aztecs, like many past civilisations, had a cyclic view of time rather than a linear one. Drawing on inspiration from depictions of Mictlantecuhtli adorned in carved bones or as a skeletal figure, my flash fiction story was set during the Aztec month of Tititl at night at the temple Tlalxicco. Here the ritual sacrifice gruesomely transforms the flesh embodiment of Mictlantecuhtli into a skeletal representation of the death-god before sunrise.

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