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TitleOld America - The Aztecs (Continued)
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1875
AuthorsOttinger, G.M.
MagazineJuvenile Instructor
Issue Number6
Date Published20 March 1875
KeywordsAncient America; Mesoamerica; Native Americans - Aztec

Series of articles dealing with archaeological, anthropological, geographical, societal, religious, and historical aspects of ancient America and their connections to the Book of Mormon, which is the key to understanding “old American” studies.

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The Mexican calendar stone was found buried in the great square during the year 1790, and is now preserved in the Museum of Antiquities in the City of Mexico, along with the sacrificial stone. The calendar is eleven feet eight inches in diameter, and was carved from a mass of porous basalt. It was a fixture of the Aztec temple. The Aztec year. like ours, consisted of three hundred and sixty-five days; or rather, it was composed of eighteen months, of twenty days each, which would make only three hundred and sixty days; but, at the end of the last month, they added five days, which they called "Nemontetni," or useless, because they did nothing in these days but receive and return visits. Nor did they add what is called the intercalary day every four years, as we do, but, at the expiration of every fifty second year added thirteen days. Their century consisted of fifty-two years, which was subdivided into four periods of thirteen years each. Two centuries -- one hundred and four years -- formed an age. The method adopted by the Aztecs to compute time was common to all the polished nations of Anahuca (Mexico), without any variation except in names and figures. The Chiapanese, a nation the most distant from the capital, instead of the names and figures of the rabbit, the cane, flint and house of the Aztecs, used the names of "Votan," "Lambat," "Been," and "Chinax;" these were the names of illustrious men among their ancestors.

The religion of the Aztecs was most cruel and superstitious. Clavigero says if we compare the religion of the Mexicans with the mythology of the Greeks and Romans we shall find the latter the most superstitious and ridiculous, the former the most cruel. Those nations of Europe imputed to their gods the most atrocious crimes, and stained their worship with the most scandalous ceremonies. The Mexicans imagined their gods perfect, and however cruel they were in their worship there was nothing about it repugnant to decency.

The Aztecs had an imperfect idea of a supreme independent Being, whom they acknowledged, feared and adored. They represented him in no external form, because they believed him to be invisible, and named only by the common appellation "Teotl" (God). At times they applied to him certain epithets denoting his power, such as "Ipalnemoani" -- he by whom we live; and "Tloque Nahuaque" -- he who has all in himself. They also believed in an evil spirit, called the "rational owl," and a place called "Mictlan," or hell; here reigned a god called "Mictlantetli" -- lord of hell. Among the many deities worshiped by the Mexicans there were thirteen principal or great gods. "Tezcatlipoca" -- Shining Mirror -- was the greatest after the invisible god. "Quetzalcoatl," the god of air, was of a fair complexion, and was called the "fair god." He was said to have once been high priest of Tula. He was worshiped by the nations of Mexico universally. Dr. Siguenza imagined this god was the apostle St. Thomas. The god most honored by the Aztecs was "Mexitli," or "Huitzilopochtli," the god of war; he was considered their chief protector. Of this god some said be was a pure spirit, others that he was born of woman without man's assistance.

It was this god they said conducted them for so many years in their pilgrimage and at length settled them where they afterwards built the great city of Mexico. It is from his name the word Mexico is derived. The Aztecs' gods were generally the same as those of the other nations of Anahuac, differing only in a greater or less celebrity in some of their rites. The god most celebrated in Mexico was "Mexitli;" in Cholula and Huexotzinco, "Quetzalcoatl;" among the Totonacas, "Centeotl; among the Otomics, "Mixcoatl." The Tlascalans, although the constant enemies of the Mexicans, worshiped the same gods, and their most favored one was Mexitli, but under another name -- "Camaxtle." The number of the images by which these deities were represented in the temples, streets, houses and groves, was infinite. They were made of stone, clay, wood, gold and other metals. The divinity of these gods was acknowledged by prayers, kneeling and prostrations, with vows, fasts and other austerities, with human sacrifices and offerings. They not only believed the soul of man, to be immortal, but that the same was the case with that of the brute. But "Quetzalcoatl" -- Feathered Serpent, or Fair God -- demands the most interest from us. They figured him tall and of a fair complexion, with long hair and beard. From a love of decency he always wore a long robe; he possessed the greatest industry; he was supposed to have had the most profound wisdom, which he displayed in the laws which he left to mankind; in fact, he is said to have been most rigid and exemplary in manners. Besides the decency and sweetness of his manners, he showed aversion to all kinds of cruelty, so much so that he could not bear to hear the very mention of war. To him they owed their knowledge of melting metals, the laws governing their religious rites, and by some to him is attributed the arrangement of the calendar. It was generally believed that he suddenly disappeared, but would in time return to the country and again, as their great high priest, govern the people. So firmly was this tradition impressed on the mind of Montezuma, and, in fact, upon the minds of the Aztecs generally, that when Cortez landed, the emperor summoned his council, consisting of the king of Tezcuco and other high dignitaries, and it was unanimously decided that he was the "fair god," returning to the country, as predicted, and this was one of the main causes of the easy subjugation of the emperor and his people.

The Aztecs had not only made a oreat proficiency in astronomy, but their political and military government, their social law and customs, their language, poetry, music, painting, sculpture, mosaic works and architectural knowledge were of an advanced order. Laying aside their inhuman sacrificial superstitions, their morality was above that of the fillibustering horde that subjugated them.

The Aztecs or Mexicans were themselves invaders, whose extended dominion was less than two hundred and fifty years old, although they had been much longer in the valley of Anahuac; in fact, but a few years previous to the landing of Cortez, they had completed this conquest. But they did not come from abroad; they belonged to the country, dwelling somewhere in the south in obscurity. By some writers it has been assumed that they came to Mexico from the north; but investigations have made it probable that they went from the south. Mr. Squire says: "The hypothesis of a migration from Nicaragua and Cuseutlan to Anahuac is altogether more consonant with probabilities and with tradition than that which derives the Mexicans from the north; and it is a significant fact that on the map of migrations, presented by Gemelli, the place of the origin of the Aztecs is designated by the sign of water -- "atl" --standing for Aztlan, a pyramidal temple with grades, and near these a palm tree. Humboldt and Baldwin also think this indicates a southern origin. According to the native histories, as reported by Clavigero, they began their migration about A. D. 1600 [sic - 1000?]. Another result of investigation is reached as follows. Says Mr. Baldwin: "The Mexicans stated that their calendar was reformed some time after leaving Aztlan, and that, in the year 1519, eight cycles of fifty-two years each, and thirteen years of a ninth cycle, had passed since the reform was made. This carries back the beginning of their migration beyond the year 1090 A. D. They grew to supremacy by conquest of the small states into which the country was divided, and learned from their more cultivated neighbors to reform their calendar."