Aztec Mythology


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Aztec Mythology

When Columbus set sail on his famous journey, parts of America were already civilized — and had been since nearly 700 years before the Golden Age of Greece. Though Columbus never saw them, three civilizations occupied the lands he claimed in Spain’s name. The Aztec empire was just reaching the zenith of its power, dominating an area that included much of what is central Mexico today. Farther south, the ancient civilization of the Mayans was waning and had broken up into independent states that still controlled the Yucatan peninsula. And even farther south, in South America, the mighty empire of the Incas was the best-administered nation on Earth, controlling an area extending from southern Columbia to central Chile.

From a modern perspective, the most amazing thing about these societies was their isolation. Shielded from Europe by the vast Atlantic Ocean and from the Orient by the even more mighty Pacific, they had evolved from the simplest beginnings into complex societies in near-total seclusion. Their people did not suspect that the rest of the world existed, and no hint of their splendor had reached Europe or Asia.
Regional History

Like those of all American Indians, the primitive ancestors the Aztecs migrated to the New World in prehistoric days, crossing the Bering Strait over the frozen sea or during periods of low ocean levels. Gradually, these waves of hunters and gatherers drifted south settling on both continents of the Americas. Then, about 3,400 BC, some of the Indians in the Middle Americas made a crucial discovery: they learned how farm corn and other crops. With the abundance of food provided by a sound agricultural system, the Olmec people developed the first civilization of the Americas, which lasted from approximately 1,200 to 300 BC.

The Olmecs left a legacy of three vital inventions that shaped American cultures for the next two thousand years. First, their religion was marked by the cult of the supernatural jaguar-man, vestiges of which seem to have been part of most cultures more than a thousand years later. A more important contribution was the system of elite religious leadership which lay at the heart of all ancient American nations. Late in their culture’s development, the Olmec priests invented a primitive form of glyph writing that was the basis for all later written languages in Middle America.

About 300 BC, the Olmec religious center at La Venta is sacked by invaders and their culture faded away. Civilization did not perish from Middle America, however. The Olmecs were followed by a succession of later cultures, including the Mayan (in 300 AD), which was perhaps the high point of Middle American artistic culture.

The Mayan priests supervised the construction of religious complexes dominated by steep pyramids, where they worshipped a wide range of deities associated with nature and their agrarian pursuits. Properly speaking, the cultural centers were not cities. These religious complexes were inhabited by the priestly elite, who were supported by farmers from the neighboring countryside.

When their civilization began to decline, sometime before 1,000 AD, it was invaded by the Toltecs, a warlike people from whose heritage the fierce Aztecs would soon rise. With the invasion, the bloodthirsty gods of the Toltecs replaced many of their gentler Mayan counterparts, accounting for many of the similarities between the late-Mayan and Aztec pantheons. The revitalized Mayan civilization flourished until 1,200 AD, when the Toltecs abandoned their capitol in the Yucatan. Again, the Mayans were invaded, this time from the south, and within 200 years their once-proud civilization was coming apart at the seams.

The Valley of Mexico

While Mayan culture was rising to its great heights in the Yucatan area, another civilization was taking shape farther north, in the Valley of Mexico. Located where modern day Mexico City now stands, the valley was filled with lakes and surrounded by protective mountains, an ideal location for the early development of agriculture. By 300 AD, its inhabitants had developed the first true city in the New World, Teotihuacan. Located thirty miles northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan was planned by master architects with a taste for austere lines and magnificent proportions. A three mile avenue ran through the middle of the city, connecting a complex of three pyramids that remains one of the most spectacular sights in Mexico.

But, as in any land, where there is wealth, there were those determined to take it. In 700 AD, Chichimec nomads from northern Mexico invaded the valley, overthrowing Teotihuacan and claiming peaceful city after city for their own. For the next two hundred years, the valley sank into constant warfare as the invaders fought each other for control of the conquered lands, and as wave after wave of Chichimec nomads arrived to join in the spoils.

Then, in about 970 AD, one of the tribes, the same Toltecs who later invaded the Maya civilization, finally conquered the Valley of Mexico. After consolidating their hold on the valley and founding the Toltec capitol at Tula, their armies marauded over most of Mexico, and they managed to hold off the new waves of Chichimec invaders until about 1160 AD, when their capitol also fell to their barbarian kinsmen.

This time, however, the Valley of Mexico did not sink into anarchy. It was filled with fortified city-states populated by ferocious warriors, and many of these city states held out against the fresh bands of Chichimec invaders.

Early Aztec History

One of these new tribes was the Aztecs, a group of impoverished nomads who, according to their early legends, had emerged from a cave in Aztlan, an unidentified location in northwestern Mexico. In their wanderings, they carried with them their one cherished possession, the wooden image of their terrible god, Huitzilopochtli.

When the worshipers of Huitzilopochtli entered the Valley of Mexico, all the good land was taken and they were too weak to conquer any of the established city-states. Largely because of their brutal religious practices, they were branded as savage outlaws and chased from place to place by the descendants of their own Chichimec heritage. At last, however, they persuaded Coxcox, the ruler of Culhuacan, to let them have a patch of sterile, snake-infested land near his city.

Here, they built a temple to their god and lived by killing and eating the snakes which infested their new home. But they quickly alienated their benefactor by brutally murdering his daughter. Coxcox mustered his forces and set out to destroy the Aztecs.

They were quickly driven into the marshes of Lake Texcoco, where they escaped by hiding among the reeds. Their god, Huitzilopochtli, told them they would be safe on an island where an eagle perched on a cactus holding a snake in its beak. The Aztecs duly found the island, hardly more than a few rocks protruding out of the waters. As their god instructed, they made this their new home.

Huitzilopochtli’s advice was sound. The island was in the center of three powerful mainland cities, but was not strongly claimed by any. In addition, surrounded as it was on all sides by water, it could be easily defended. The Aztecs had no difficulty holding their island, and built their city, Tenochtitlan, upon it.

They soon learned to increase the area of their island by filling the marshes with dirt and rocks, and by building chinampas, islets made by anchoring wicker enclosures to the bottom of the lake and filling them with silt, reeds, and refuse. These chinampas made remarkably fertile croplands, so the Aztecs had even found a stable supply of food on their island.

As the Aztecs filled in the swamp surrounding their city, Tenochtitlan grew rapidly, reaching a population of 300,000 at the beginning of the sixteenth century. As an aside, this was five times the size of London at the time. It was surrounded by an ever widening belt of chinampas planted with flourishing crops of fruits and vegetables. In the middle of the chinampas, connected to the mainland by three long causeways, rose the city. It was cut into blocks by a gridwork of canals bordered by narrow pedestrian lanes and crossed by plank footbridges. These streets were completely dedicated to foot traffic, for the Aztecs made little use of the wheel and had no carts or wagons. This was probably due to the lack of beasts of burden. Before the Spanish came, there were no horses, oxen, cows or other large domesticated animals in the New World.

The humbler houses were made from adobe and the better ones from stone and stucco, but all were cleanly whitewashed and most had small courtyards. Everywhere, the city was immaculately clean and filled with blooming flowers, which the Aztecs loved almost to excess. Near the center the city rose the great palaces of the Emperor, nobles, a high priests. In the exact center, enclosed by the “Wall Snakes", rose the temple-pyramids and other ceremonial buildings.

Protected by their invulnerable island fortress, the Aztecs were free to pursue their favorite occupation: war. They began to ally themselves with older city-states, who where willing to offer large rewards for the help of the fierce Aztec warriors. Eventually, they learned to play these city-states against each other, and gained their first significant hold the mainland when they betrayed one ally and helped other defeat it. After this victory, they quickly learned to exploit conquered cities with unparalleled vigor, and by 147 AD they were the undisputed masters of the Valley of Mexico, and therefore of Mexico itself.

Aztec Culture

The Aztecs were aided in their conquests by a peculiarly bloody religion which encouraged warfare, especially for purposes of taking captives. The emphasis on taking prisoners had nothing to do with mercy, however. After capture, prisoners were killed to appease the more bloodthirsty of Aztec deities.

As brutal as this aspect of Aztec society seems to the modern reader, it was not unusual in the Valley of Mexico. Most of the inhabitants of the region were descended from the same Chichimec nomads as the Aztecs. They shared many of the same convictions, and also believed in the beneficial properties of eternal warfare. Like the Aztecs, their soldiers had no fear of death, and thought that perishing in war guaranteed a glorious afterlife. There are even stories of prisoners preferring death to being set free.

The Aztec preoccupation with war was so great that when they were not engaged in a real one, they would arrange a mock battle called a “War of Flowers” with one of their neighbors. Equal numbers of warriors would meet in a special place and fight until a certain number of warriors had been captured.

Aztec weapons were crude by European standards. swords, which are treated as short sword for game purposes, were made of wood and edged with obsidian. They also employed spears launched by spear throwers which are treated as javelins. Their spear throwers increased the javelin’s age by +2 and added 25% to the range of such weapons. They also occasionally used such basic weapons as clubs rocks. Their armor was of quilted cotton (AC 8), and they wore helmets shaped like the heads of fantastic beasts.

As absorbed with war and death as the Aztecs were, these grisly preoccupations did not entirely dominate their lives. Every twenty days, they held joyous festivals with feasting, music, and dancing. The same nobles that supervised grisly religious rites wore robes of gloriously colored feathers and carried ornate bouquets of flowers in accordance with fastidious etiquette. Merchants and craftsmen exchanged their wares in a huge marketplace that held 60,000 people.

Like most of the ancient peoples in Middle America, the Aztecs used a rubber ball to play a game that resembled a cross between volleyball and basketball. On courts of paved stone, the players used their torsos, rear ends, and elbows (never their forearms, hands, or feet) to try knocking the ball through stone hoops suspended on the sides of the courts. The games were symbols of the play of cosmic forces, and the outcome may have been used to divine the future. But, undoubtedly, they were also enjoyed as sport.

In theory, Tenochtitlan was a democracy. In practice, it was an absolute monarchy whose semi-divine emperor was chosen by a council of noblemen from a single royal family. The emperor oversaw the appointments of the high-ranking dignitaries and bureaucrats who helped him rule the city and its conquests. The bulk of Tenochtitlan’s population consisted of artisans, merchants, peasants, and slaves captured in battle or sold into bondage to pay their debts.

One of the most remarkable achievements of Middle American culture was a complicated calendar, which they could correct in such a way that it was more accurate than the one commonly used today. Basically, it consisted of eighteen-day months and twenty-month years. At the end of the year were added five days that were “outside” the calendar, to form a year 365 days in length. During this last five day period, people were careful not to perform any unpleasant activities, for they believed it was possible that whatever they did during these “outside” days they would do forever.

The Aztecs also observed a secondary, divinatory calendar consisting of 20 “signs” of thirteen days each. Each sign was ruled by a different deity.

Because celestial cycles were a key part of the Aztec religion, they were excellent astronomers. The combination of their solar and divinatory calendars allowed them to make very exact descriptions of earthly time in relationship to heavenly bodies.
Aztec Religion

The Aztec pantheon is one of the largest and most complicated known. They had a god who was responsible for all the major forces in nature, and for many social aspects of their culture as well. The size of the Aztec pantheon may be due, in part, to their fondness for war. Whenever they conquered another tribe, they felt it was important to incorporate that tribe’s god into their own pantheon. As a consequence, their pantheon grew at an impressive rate.

At the root of the Aztec religion is their peculiar view of time and space, one of the forces behind the creation of their elaborate calendar. Like most Middle Americans, to them time and space are the same thing. On the highest level they merge together into the absolute being of the all powerful deity who exists outside material creation. To the consternation of all living things, time-space has unraveled. It is the duty of the gods to keep it from unraveling further, and the duty of men to help the gods in their task.

To understand the Aztec association of time-space, it may be helpful to picture a wheel with four broad spokes. One spoke points in each direction: north, south, east, and west. There is also the hub of the wheel, which counts as a separate place. When the wheel is spinning, the entire thing appears solid and at rest. When it is truly at rest, however, it looks like it is made up of separate parts.

In the Aztec view, the hub and each spoke represent different cosmic age-places, called “suns”. Each sun was associated with a different direction, color, and group of deities. Although the suns exist simultaneously side by side, they also rotate in a sequential pattern that gives the evolution of the universe a cyclical nature. As the wheel revolves, different suns gain predominance over the physical world.

Within each sun, only certain forms of earthly life can survive. So the changing of a sun is always catastrophic, bringing about great transformations. The Aztecs live in the Fifth Sun, located in hub of the wheel. In some ways, it is the culmination of all the other suns, and the only one in which mankind has been able to survive. In order to keep the Fifth Sun from passing, the Aztecs must feed and strengthen their gods — and the penalty for failure is the end of creation! The Aztecs also believe in a “world above” and a “world below” separate from the horizontal structure of the suns. These worlds are divided into many levels. For our purposes, the most important aspect of these worlds is that the world below is the home of the dead, and the world above is the home of the gods, night and day, shooting stars and fiery snakes, birds, heavenly bodies such as Venus, the Sun, the Moon, and the Milky Way, and the clouds. The progenitor of the gods, Ometeotl, lives in the uppermost plane of the world above, which embodies all of existence.

Ometeotl is a personification of the principle of duality which pervades much of Aztec thought. He is male and female, negative and positive, light and shadow, and could also be thought of as two separate gods, Ometecutli and Omeciuatl. Most of the gods of the Aztec pantheon, in fact, had a counterpart of the opposite sex who performed a function similar to their own.

On a more human level, duality is important in the special relationship existing between every human and his animal counterpart. At the moment of birth, every human develops a spiritual bond with a particular animal and their destinies are linked from that point forward. It is possible, the Aztecs believe, to bring a man harm by finding his counterpart and doing it harm. These beliefs may well be a vestige of the Olmecs’ worship of the jaguar-man.

Unlike the gods of other mythol, the gods of the Aztecs do not inhabit the planes. Instead, many of them live in space. It is even possible for humans to visit their homes (for instance, by using the space-travel rules in the SPELLJAMMER” game). Should a mortal dare such an act uninvited, there is only a 5% chance that the deity will be at home. If he is home, there is only a l% chance per level of the character that the god will not disapprove of the visit (priests of that deity’s mythos receive a 10% bonus to this chance).

New Spells

Locate Spirit Animal (Greater Divination)

Fourth Level Priest

Sphere: Divination

Range: Special

Components: V, S, M

Duration: 1 day

Casting Time: 1 turn

Area of Effect: 1 person

Saving Throw: Negate

A priest using a locate spirit animal spell learns the location of the spiritual counterpart of his subject. For a full day afterwards, he knows the current location of the animal.

This spell is often used to capture a person’s spiritual counterpart, for both good and ill effects. When the caster wishes to inflict harm on his subject, he can often do so by injuring, or even killing, the counterpart. The victim of such an attack suffers symptoms identical to those of the animal (save that he does not necessarily die if the animal dies), and loses the same number of hit points as his counterpart. If the animal dies and the human does not, he permanently loses that number of hit points. Such a person can never be subjected to an attack upon his spiritual counterpart again.

This spell is often used for beneficial purposes when a person is suffering from a mysterious ailment. Often, the cause of such ailments is an injury or sickness affecting the spiritual counterpart. If the animal can be found and cured, the person will recover from his mysterious ailment.

Unfortunately, just because a priest knows the location of a spiritual counterpart, that does not mean he can reach the animal. The animal may be anywhere within an area of 1d100 x 10 miles of the subject. Often, the priest must undertake a long journey in order to track down the animal.

If the subject is aware of the casting of this spell and unwilling to have his spiritual counterpart located, he is entitled to a saving throw. A successful throw indicates that the priest did not find the counterpart, and an unsuccessful throw indicates that he did.

Once the animal is located, it usually regards any attempt to capture or injure it as hostile, even if performed for the benefit of its counterpart. It is entitled to fight as a normal member of its species in all ways. It is important to remember, however, that all magic and damage affecting the animal also affects the subject of the spell. In the case of spells, the human counterpart is allowed to make a separate saving throw (just as if the spell had been thrown directly against him), but with a -2 modifier.

New Magic Items

Murky Mirror

The murky mirror is small disc of polished silver that can be used in three different ways. When a normal man or woman holds it, he or she makes a Charisma check. If they fail the check, the murky mirror functions as a normal mirror. If they pass the check, the image in the mirror reflects the individual as others see them. A beautiful woman who considers herself ugly, for example, would see a ravishing image of herself. A bullying fighter would see in his face the image of a feared and hated ogre.

When a military leader of any rank looks into the mirror he sees his most threatening enemy. The image always shows the size and nature of the enemy’s forces. Leaders making a successful Intelligence check can often interpret the enemy’s location from landscape appearing in the image. No sound accompanies the image, and it cannot be controlled to focus in upon a desired area.

When a priest looks into the mirror, it issues a silverish smoke that engulfs his head and hides what he sees from view of anyone nearby. If the priest does not withdraw head, he sees a vision of the future. How far in the future depends upon his level, as does the scope of the vision:

Level Distance into future Scope of vision

1-3 1 day per level Self

4-6 1 week per level Self

7-9 1 month per level Party

10 1 year Party

11 2 years Party

12 3 years Party

13-15 1 year per level Country

16-20 5 years per level Country

21+ 10 years per level World

The vision always shows the future at the precise time listed for a priest of that level and cannot be changed. The scene it shows is what will happen if events continue a their current course and the priest does nothing to change them. At the lowest levels, the priest sees only his own future. At the middle levels, he sees the future of himself and 10 of his closest friends (the adventuring party, in the case PCs). When the priest reaches 13th level or above, he sees the future of the political unit to which he owes allegiance, such as a kingdom or city-state. At the highest levels, his vision tends to all of mankind.

After being used, the murky mirror leaps out of the holder’s hands and flies into the sky, where it becomes a bright shining star. Characters attempting to hold onto the mirror have a 5% chance per level (maximum 95%) of doing so, the mirror will attempt to fly into the sky after each use.

Ometeotl (greater god)

Ometeotl is “the god-above-all, of the near-and-close, he who is at the center”. He is the progenitor of the gods, who created first himself, then the other gods, and then everything else. In a certain sense, he is the embodiment of the universe, and all things are a part of him. No statue or depiction of Ometeotl has ever been made, for he is as invisible as the wind. The only image of Ometeotl that a man can see are his footprints. At will, Ometeotl can create anything he wishes without tiring.

Role-playing Notes: Ometeotl is the most aloof of all deities and never answers appeals for aid. The only time he will involve himself in human affairs is if those affairs threaten the order of the universe itself. In such cases, he will send his avatar to destroy or correct the problem.

Ometeotl seldom sends omens or warnings to worshipers. If they do something that angers him, he simply withdraws his favor. If they do something that threatens his power or the order of the universe, he sends his avatar to destroy them.

Statistics: AL n; WAL any; AoC creation; SY footprint.
Ometeotl’s Avatar (fighter 18, wizard 18)

Ometeotl’s avatar cannot be seen. He carries a razor sharp sword of pure obsidian. If unsheathed, this sword can be seen. Ometeotl’s avatar casts spells as an 18th level wizard and always has access to all spells of all schools.

Str 20 Dex 18 Con 18

Int 20 Wis 20 Cha 10

MV 20 SZ 7’ MR 40%

AC -4 HD 18 HP 144

#AT 2 THAC0 1 Dmg ld8/ld8 (sword) +8

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