Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at ancient Aztec funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about ancient Mayan funeral traditions and Zambian funeral traditions, among others.
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Ancient Aztec Human Sacrifices
The ancient Aztec religious beliefs influenced their death rituals. They believed in making human sacrifices to the gods to nourish them and keep the cosmic balance. By providing human sacrifices, the gods made sure the sun and rain continued to nourish the Earth. The reasoning behind this goes back to the belief that several gods sacrificed themselves to nourish the weak god who created the sun.
Historians believe the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people per year. The sacrifices were anyone from Aztec empire members to sometimes even children. When upper-class members died, they buried alive their wives and slaves with them to serve them in the afterlife.
Ancient Aztec Death Beliefs
The way you died is what decided where you ended up in the afterlife. They believed there were several afterlife locations: thirteen heavens and the underworld. The ancient Aztec praised those who died a heroic or tragic death over those who died naturally. If you died a violent death or from disease, you went to one of the paradises. However, if you simply died of old age, you went to the underworld.
Warriors who died in battle were heroes and went to one of the paradises or joined the war god in battle. They thought a warrior’s death honored the sun god and helped them find paradise using the sun’s rays. They also treated women who died in childbirth as heroes, and they went to a paradise. Children who died went to a garden paradise.
Burial and Cremation Practices
Your social status and occupation influenced your funeral arrangement method. They cremated merchants, while they buried the lower-class members under the floors of their home, so they were close to their family. When the king died, they sacrificed a red dog to bury with the king. This way, the dog could carry the king on his back through the streams of the underworld. They also buried items with the deceased to help them in their afterlife journey.