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Aztec Religion: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The Aztec Empire grew to cover most of modern-day Mexico. One of its greatest legacies is the religious belief that the gods required human sacrifices. Learn about why Aztecs practiced these rituals and what gods they prayed to in this lesson.

From Me To You

A lot of religions emphasize the importance of sacrifice. If you're Catholic, or have Catholic friends, you sacrifice something important (like meat or chocolate or video games) for Lent. Jewish people do not eat during daylight of Yom Kippur, while Muslims go even further and do not eat during daytime during the entire holy month of Ramadan. Yet, it was the Aztecs that had the most extreme sacrifices because they believed their gods demanded the lives of humans. This concept made up the core of their religious beliefs.

Aztec sacrifice
Aztec sacrifice

All The Gods

The Aztec religion was polytheistic, meaning that they worshiped many gods rather than just one. Just like brothers and sisters on a car trip, the gods didn't always get along. The Aztecs believed that it took the gods five different attempts to create the world since they kept fighting each other. The fifth time, one god named Nanauatl (pronounced na-na-oo-a-tul) sacrificed himself to become the sun. The other gods sacrificed themselves to form a wind that would move the sun through the sky. This creation wasn't free, however: Aztecs believed that they had to sacrifice to repay the gods and keep the sun moving.

Give It Up

Historians believe that the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of people each year, perhaps as many as 20,000 in a single year, in order to pay respect to their gods. How did they get so many people to sacrifice? Some did so willingly: people who were sick, for instance, volunteered with the belief that they would live in paradise for their act. For the most part, however, the Aztecs sacrificed captives from war.

The Aztecs fought constantly with the other native peoples of Mexico. Some wars weren't about conquest, however. Instead, Aztecs had a type of war meant to capture enemies. This was known as the xochiyaoyotl (prounounced zho-chi-ya-yo-tul), which means 'flowery war.' In these battles, it wasn't important to kill the enemy, but to capture them alive so that they could be brought back and sacrificed.

Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli
Huitzilopochtli, war god

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