The Formation and Structure of the Aztec Universe
The Aztec world view stems from the idea of four previous
suns before the present-day fifth sun. The five suns account
for the long Aztec history of the universe. The Aztecs believe
in a supreme creator of all, Ometeuctli, often referred to as
the lord of duality because he is both male and female. Ometeuctli's
cosmic coupling gives birth to four creator-gods, who later create
the five suns. Each creator-god struggles for supremacy over
the others using his own unique cosmic force--earth, fire, wind,
or water. when these cosmic forces are in equilibrium, there
exists an age or sun. When the cosmic balance is disrupted, destruction
of the sun, earth and man results.
The first sun is created by Tezcatlipoca, the God of Earth.
He mistakenly creates men as giants and furthermore creates only
half a sun. The human giants are forced to survive only on acorns
and pine nuts, and as a result grow feeble and slow. Jaguars
devour the half-sun, and in the darkness, the are able to kill
the giants. The second sun is created by Quetzalcoatl, the God
of Wind. In the is sun, man survives on mesquite tree seed, but
still the seeds are not enough nourishment to survive the harsh
winds. Hurricanes eventually blow the humans away. However, some
people are able to survive by transforming into monkeys.
Tlaloc, the God of Fire, is the creator of the third sun.
During this age, men harvest grain for survival. Huge volcanoes
erupt and cinders rain from the sky to consume the world. However,
a few men are able to change in to birds to escape the scalding
heat. Chalchiuhtlicue, the Goddess of Water, creates the fourth
sun. Men attempt to survive on a seed called acicintli, but it
is not enough food for the humans who must fight the great floods.
Water springs from the center of the earth causing the sky to
collapse. Most men drown, but some are turned into fish.
After the failure of the four previous suns, Nanahuatl, another
god created by Ometeuctli, sacrifices himself by throwing himself
into the Divine Fire, a mythological firepit. Slowly the other
gods see a new sun rising in the east. The sun's flares are so
intense that no one can look at it. In order to avoid the destruction
of the fifth sun, the Aztecs believe that they must sacrifice
captives of war. By giving blood to the sun, it will continue
to rise each morning. The Aztecs believe blood is the most important
element that keeps men alive, and it will do likewise for the
fifth sun. On the other hand, if blood is not given to sustain
the fifth sun, the world will be destroyed by earthquakes. The
fifth sun will be the final end when the earthquakes shake the
stars down from the sky. There will be no sixth sun. The structure
of the universe remains constant despite the destruction of suns.
During all five suns, man lives on earth, a huge disc situated
in the center of the universe. Surrounding earth is a large ring
of water, which connects the earth with the heavens. Above the
earth are thirteen heavens that serve as homes to gods. The first
four levels, known as Teteocan, are occupied by the storms, sun,
sky, stars, moon, etc. The next levels of the heavens are called
Ilhuicatl. The Red God of Fire, the Place of the Yellow Sun God
and the Place of the White Evening Star God live in the Ilhuicatl.
At the very top level is Omecteuctli, the supreme creator of
Below the earth are nine underworlds. These underworlds are
called Mictlan, place of the dead. In the lowest level lives
Mictlanteuctli, the God of Death. The underworlds are the most
common place for the dead. The struggle through the underworlds
is extremely tedious. Much suffering occurs until one finally
reaches the ninth underworld, where one rests eternally with
Mictlanteuctli. However, if one dies for a good cause, one may
go to the heavens. For example, if a woman dies in childbirth
or a warrior is killed in battle, they may go to Tlalocan, the
first level of the heavens.
The basic structure of the Aztec universe consists of three
levels--the heavens, earth, and underworlds. One's life on earth
depends whether one will live in the heavens or underworlds.
The Aztec idea of the formation of the universe begins with the
first sun. After the destruction of the first sun, four more
have been created. Aztecs believe that today they live in the
fifth sun, and it ultimately will be destroyed by earthquakes.