The aztecs had two calendars that determined their religious ceremonies. The most important was the one called tonalpohualli. It was a combination of a series of twenty signs with another series of numbers from 1 to 13, the signs and the numbers being combined in such a way that both series followed an invariable order. The same combination of sign and number was not repeated until 13 times 20 or 260 days had passed.

The series of signs as follows:

Alligator Monkey
Wind Grass
House Reed
Lizard Jaguar
Serpent Eagle
Death King Buzzard (vulture)
Deer Earthquake
Rabbit Flint (knife)
Water Rain
Dog Flower

The series of the thirteen numbers follows the normal order: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13.

By combining both series, one gets "1 Alligator" as the name of the first day; of the second, "2 Wind"; of the third, "3 House"until one reaches the day "13 Reed." The following day is called "1 Jaguar"; the next, "2 Eagle," and so on. When the day "Flower" is reached, it is necessary to start counting the day "Alligator" over again with its corresponding number.

This ritual calendar, or tonalpohualli, is one of the most original developments of the indigenous cultures of Mesoamcrica. It is very ancient, for we find it already in use in Oaxaca at the time of me first culture that flourished in the valley, several centuries before the Christian era, and that is known to us as Monte Alban I. This calendar was essentially the basis for all the other calendar computations, such as the Mayan, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, the Totonac, the Huaxtec, the Teotihuacan, the Toltec, and the Aztec.

All the peoples of Mesoamcrica were familiar with and used this calendar, and the day known in Mexico, for example, by the name "13 Serpent" was likewise known by a similar or corresponding name in the entire Mesoamerican area from Panuco to Nicaragua and from Sinaloa to Yucatan.

The period of the 260 days, or the tonalpohualli, was recorded in special books called tonalamatl, "paper or book of the days." Hence the priests who interpreted its signs and the succession of events according to the propitious days and the evil days were known as the tonalpouque.

We do not know where this ritual calendar originated. It is so important and so characteristic of Mexico and Central America that the Mesoamcrican zone could be called the zone of the tonalpohualli. Its development is without doubt very old, and it must have been the creation of a people who attained a high degree of culture prior to that of all the peoples with whose cultures we are now familiar.

This period of 260 days, consisting of different names, according to the number or the sign, was a magic period that helped the Aztec astrologers predict and avoid the evil fortune that befell a man born on a day of evil omen, for a child was given the name of the day on which he was born. But since the gods also took the names of the days on which they were born or of those on which they had performed some important deed that was to be commemorated, the ceremonies celebrated for this reason took place each 260 days, that is, when the name of the day in the tonalpohualli was repeated again.

The ceremony in honor of the sun is particularly notable. It fell on the day called "4 Movement" or "Earthquake" and commemorated the day on which the sun was to be destroyed by earthquakes, as was explained in the discussion of the creation of the present sun.

This festival probably took place before the stone we now know by the name of the Aztec Calendar, in an edifice called Quauhxicalco. One of the prisoners of war, whose body was painted like that of the stellar gods, white with red stripes, huahuantin, was given a staff, a buckler, and a bundle containing eagle feathers and white paintings. He was then led to the temple, where, just before he mounted the steps, the people besought him to take all these objects to the sun as a gift and implored him to pray for the health and good fortune of the Mexican people. Then the captive began slowly to ascend the temple steps, pausing on each step to symbolize the passage of the sun. On his arrival at the summit of the temple he was sacrificed by the priests, who tore out his heart and offered it to the sun. On that day all the people practiced the rite of self-sacrifice by pricking blood from their ears or from other parts of their bodies and observing a rigorous fast until midday. In the afternoon the nobles danced, adorned in their best finery, for this was a festival of the nobles and particularly of the military orders of the eagles and the jaguars, two orders dedicated to the worship of the sun.

The Aztecs considered the calendar day called "i Serpent" especially lucky and prosperous. It was believed to be favorable to merchants and traders, especially those who traveled in foreign lands selling and buying merchandise, who were called pochtecas. Because of this belief, merchants waited until the day "i Serpent" to set out on commercial expeditions. When this day arrived, they held a great banquet to which they invited the elder merchants, known as pochtecatlatohque, and the most distinguished men of their clan, the calpulli, to whom they disclosed their plans for the trip.

When the banquet was over, the elder merchants arose and counseled them how to proceed. They told of the dangers and the hardships of the business, at the same time pointing out the advantages of wealth and honor that it brought. One merchant then arose and delivered an elegant discourse in answer to the old men. He thanked them for the words that they had spoken, "words taken from the treasure that you guard in your hearts, words that are beautiful as gold and precious stones and rich feathers," and as such he received them and esteemed them.

Then there began for the family of the traveling trader a period of mourning. Only once every four months could they wash their heads and faces, although they were allowed to bathe their bodies. If the merchant died on the road, within four days after receipt of the death message they could bathe and wash their faces. If he had died at the hands of an enemy, they made an image of sticks, tied together and decked with papers and other ornaments used for this purpose. Then they took the image to the temple of the calpulli to which the merchant belonged; there it was left for a whole day while the family stood before it lamenting the departed. At midnight they removed the statue and placed it in the courtyard of the temple, where it was burned. This concluded the ceremonies in honor of the deceased. The majority of the festivals and religious ceremonies, however, were regulated by the annual calendar, which was divided into eighteen months of twenty days each, plus five additional days called nemontemi. Since the latter were considered days of ill omen, no festivals were held on those days.

As the months were dedicated to the major deities, the ceremonies held each month varied, although they generally had as their purpose the symbolic portrayal of the life or birth of a god. In this manner the Aztecs besought the god to continue his favors.

Naturally, since the annual calendar was an agricultural calendar, many of these festivals were held in honor of Tlaloc or the deities of vegetation. There were others, however, dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, to Tezcatlipoca, and to other major gods.

A ceremony interesting because of its symbolism took place in the sixth month, called Toxcatl. A young warrior who had been captured in battle was selected as a symbol or incarnation of the god Tezcatlipoca. For one whole year the priests taught him how to conduct himself as a personage of the court by instructing him in the manners of a noble.

They also taught him to play the clay flutes and gave him a select entourage to accompany him and attend to his wants as if he were a lord. Dressed in the attire of the god, he strolled through the city streets carrying a bouquet of flowers in the manner of the nobles and smoking tobacco from a richly gilded reed pipe. Whoever met this living representation of Tezcatlipoca paid him great reverence and held him in as much esteem as if he were the king himself.

At the beginning of the month of Toxcatl, or twenty days before the celebration of the festival, his dress was changed to that worn by the great captains and war lords. He was married to four young maidens called Xochiquetzal, Xilonen, Atlatonan, and Huixtocihuatl, incarnations of the wives of the god of providence.

When the day of the festival arrived, great ceremonies, dances, and banquets were held in honor of the youth. Everyone, nobles as well as plebeians, honored and praised him as if his reign were to last forever.

On the day of the festival he, along with his new wives and court, was taken in one of the royal canoes to a small, neglected temple on the shore of a lake. Here, the wives who had been with him during the time of his prosperity left him, as did the brilliant entourage that had kept him company. Now, almost alone, with only a few pages, he began to walk toward the temple, carrying in his hands the clay flutes which he had played when he was regarded as a great lord.

At the temple steps even his pages abandoned him. Alone, he began the ascent, breaking one of the small flutes, a symbol of his past grandeur, on each of the temple steps. Slowly he ascended the steps of the temple. When he arrived at the summit, the priests were already awaiting him. Stripping him of his last finery, they stretched him out on the sacrificial stone and tore out his heart. "They said," Sahagun tells us, "that this signifies that those who enjoy wealth and pleasures in this life will end in poverty and in sorrow."

As soon as this youth had died, another was chosen to represent the god, and he, too, was regaled and cared for in the same way until the following year when the month of Toxcatl returned, bringing with it the end of his life.

Another ceremony, curious because of the resemblance it bears to certain popular European festivals, was celebrated during the month of Xocotlhuetzi. During the preceding month the people went into the forest and cut a very tall tree, approximately fifteen meters in height, perfectly straight and so great in circumference that a man could not reach around it.

With much ceremony they brought this tree, called xocotl, from the forest, dancing and singing to it as if it were a god, carrying it upon other logs so that the bark would not be injured. When they drew near the city, the women of the nobility came out to receive them, with jugs of chocolate and with garlands of flowers which they hung upon the necks of the bearers. Later they dug a hole in the plaza and set the xocotl in it. On the upper part of the trunk they tied two logs together to form a cross, and from the seed of the amaranth tree they made an image of the god. They clothed the image in white paper garments and decorations, and these great strips of paper of varying length fluttered in the breeze like pennants. Also hanging from the tree were heavy ropes which reached almost to the base.

When all the other ceremonies for the month of Xocotlhuetzi were completed, the people ran to the plaza where the tree stood. At its foot the leaders of the young men were stationed to prevent anyone from getting a head start, beating off the boldest to keep them from taking advantage of their companions. But when the signal was given for the game to begin, all the youths rushed forward as one and tried to climb the ropes to the top of the trunk where the amaranth-seed image of the god had been placed.

Veritable clusters of youths hung from each rope, for all were eager to attain the great honor of reaching the image first. Those who were shrewd waited until the ropes were swarming with men and then, climbing up over the shoulders of one after another, made their way to the highest point, reaching it ahead of the more impatient ones. The first youth to reach the top seized the idol, together with its shield, darts, dart hurler, and several large pieces of bread, or tamales, made from the same paste as the idol, and broke the image and the bread into small pieces and scattered them over the heads of the people in the plaza below. Everyone attempted to catch a piece, even though it was no more than a small bit of the dough from which the god was made, for it was to be eaten in the manner of taking communion. When the victor descended with the arms which he had taken from the god as from an enemy, the crowd below received him with loud cheers, and the old men took him to the top of the temple, where they presented him with jewels and other regalia. They placed on his shoulders a tawny-colored mantle bordered in rabbit fur and feathers which only men who had accomplished such a feat were permitted to wear publicly. Dressed in this fashion, the youth descended from the temple, surrounded by the priests, with the eldest in the lead. Amidst a warlike clamor made by the conch shell trumpets and accompanied by the whole cortege, he carried the shield he had taken from the image to his home, where he deposited it as evidence of his feat.

A detailed description of the festivals that were celebrated during the other months cannot be given here. Anyone interested in these celebrations should consult the extensive accounts by Sahagun and Duran [Diego Duran (1537-1588), a Dominican friar, born in Seville, Spain, lived in Texcoco from childhood. He finished his Historia de las Indias de la Nueva Espana e Idas de Tierra Firme in 1581. It was published in Mexico in 1867 and 1880.]. But a brief resume of the different forms of sacrifice performed by the ancient Mexicans will be made.

It has already been said that the essence of human sacrifice among the Aztecs lay in the conception of the interdependence of man and his gods. Human sacrifice was not performed for the purpose of harming the sacrificed, nor was cruelty or vengeance its objective. It was something more than that, as was made clear during the discussion of sacrifice to the sun. The victim was considered a messenger to the gods, bearing the supplications of the Aztec people; witness the rite of sacrifice in the month of Toxcatl, in which the youth who represented Tezcatlipoca was treated and revered as if he himself were a god.

Human sacrifice among the Aztecs, however repugnant it may be to us, was nothing more than one of many such aberrations which assume a religious guise in the history of mankind, and which, based upon false premises considered valid, can lead quite logically to the most terrible consequences. Burning heretics in this life to save them from the everlasting fires of hell, destroying individuals of a supposedly inferior race to keep them from contaminating the Aryan, and the like, are examples of similar practices found frequently in the history of ideologies and religions. Human sacrifice was practiced in various forms by the Aztecs. Ordinarily it consisted in placing the victim on a stone called techcatl, similar in shape to a sugar loaf or cone with the top somewhat flattened out.

Four priests seized the victim by the arms and legs and laid him on his back on the techcatl in such a way that his chest was arched upwards. Then a fifth priest took the flint knife and plunged it into the breast, thrust his hand into the open wound, tore out the heart, and offered it to the gods.

At other times, during the ceremonies in Honor of the god Xipe, the prisoner was tied to the upper part of a kind of framework and then riddled by arrows until he died. The prisoner's blood spilling on the ground was thought to make it fertile and to stimulate by a sort of magical sympathy the fall of the other precious liquid, rain.

We have already discussed another type of sacrifice associated with Xipe and with the goddess of earth. In this rite the victim was flayed and the priest dressed in his skin. Decapitation and burning were also used as methods of sacrifice.

Gladiatorial sacrifice was reserved for those who had distinguished themselves by their valor. It consisted of a real duel between a prisoner captain and several of the most distinguished Aztec warriors, two of whom must be knights of the military Order of the Eagles and two of the Order of the Jaguars. It was not an equal fight, however, since the captive was bound, and to defend himself had only a wooden sword with small tufts of downy feathers attached to its edges instead of obsidian blades. His sponsor, or second, dressed like a bear, gave him four heavy sticks of pine to serve as spears to hurl at his enemies. The captive fought with one knight at a time. If the first should be defeated, another would take up the battle. If, in spite of his inferior weapons, the captive succeeded in vanquishing the four knights, a fifth, who was left-handed, generally killed him.

We are told, however, that a Tlaxcaltecan warrior named Tlahui-cole did succeed in defeating all five of the knights and was consequently pardoned. Thereafter he was given command of the Aztec forces in a campaign against the Tarascan Indians. After the war was over, he chose to die and was finally sacrificed. His action clearly indicates that, since he had been taken captive in battle, he considered himself as a chosen one of the sun, and therefore could not attribute his defeat to natural causes. It was not his strength and valor that had failed him; rather, it was the manifest will of the god that caused him to be taken prisoner; and therefore he could not flee or free himself without thwarting the divine will.

A much discussed and very important aspect of the Aztec ritual was cannibalism, or the eating of the flesh of the victims. Did the Aztecs eat human flesh as food, or simply as a ritual ceremony? Undoubtedly Aztec cannibalism was a rite performed as a religious ceremony, so much so that he who had captured a prisoner could not eat his flesh, because the captive was looked upon as his son. It should not be forgotten that in the minds of the Aztecs the human victims were the very incarnation of the gods whom they represented and whose attire they wore, and when they ate their flesh, they were performing a kind of communion with the divinity, just as when they ate the pieces of Huit-zilopochtli's image made from the seeds of the amaranth, they believed that their bodies would be mingled with that of the divine host and that they would miraculously receive the benefits of the communion.

Since we have already analyzed the bloody aspect of Aztec religious ceremonies, let us now examine their more pleasing manifestations. Worship of the gods also included hymns sung in the temples, dances, mock hunts and battles, games, masquerades, and theatrical performances.

Several sacred hymns sung in homage to the gods have come down to us; they either recall the glorious deeds or solicit the favor of the gods.

Songs dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, Tlaloc, to the mother of the gods, to the god of fire, to Xochipilli, to Xochiquetzal, to Xipe Totec, to the god of merchants, and others have been preserved. The following is a fragment of the song to Xipe Totec, the god of spring.

Thou, night drinker, Why must thou be coaxed?
Put on thy mask,
Put on thy golden garments.
Oh, my god, thy water of precious stones
Has fallen;
The tall cypress
Has changed into a quetzal bird.
The fire serpent
Has been changed into a plumed serpent.
The fire serpent has let me go free.
Perhaps he will disappear,
Perhaps he will disappear, and I will destroy myself,
I, the tender cornstalk.
Life unto the precious jade
My heart is green;

But I shall yet see the gold
And I shall rejoice if it has ripened, If the leader of the war is born.
Oh, my god, cause
Some of the stales of corn at least,
To bring forth grain in abundance;
Thy faithful follower turns his eyes towards thy mount,
Towards thee;
I shall rejoice if something ripens first, if I can say
That the leader of the war is born.

This song is an invocation to the god by the priest, who prays for rain, so that, as he says poetically, when the water of precious stones falls, the cypress will become as the feather of the quetzal bird, and the fire serpent, drought, will be changed into a serpent of precious plumes, or into green vegetation that will cover the earth. For that reason, the corn god, who depends on rain, makes this doleful supplication: "Perhaps he may disappear so that I may destroy myself, I, the tender stalk of corn." Later he says that his heart is still like a precious green stone, but that perhaps it will see the god, that is, it will grow into a yellow ear of corn.

Then, when the corn ripens into grain, a fragment of the hymn to Centeotl, the corn god, is sung:

The god of corn is born In Tamoanchan.
In the place where there are flowers The god "One Flower," The god of corn is born
In the place where there is water and moisture, Where the sons of man are made, In beautiful Michoacan.

These songs, which specialists in the Nahuatl language consider very difficult to translate, probably predate the Aztecs; they are likely of Toltec origin and are written in the esoteric language nahuatlatolli, which can only be made intelligible by a thorough knowledge of the myths and the indigenous religion.

Another form of ritual was the dance. The conquistadors and chroniclers who had the opportunity to observe them were greatly impressed by these native dances, which were sometimes performed by both men and women, sometimes by either men or women alone.

The dancers were arrayed in ditferent costumes according to the ceremony. At times they wore jewelry of immense value, especially during the dances of the nobles. Pedro de Alvarado's [Pedro de Alvarado (1485-1541) was a Spanish conquistador born in Badajoz, Spain. He was Cortes' right-hand man and most trusted lieutenant during the conquest of Mexico. He later conquered Guatemala and founded old Guatemala City. His brilliance as a leader and conquistador was marred by his excessive cruelty and greed] greed was so aroused on such an occasion that he staged the famous massacre of Toxcatl, one of his objectives being to seize the rich jewels worn by the Aztec nobles.

One of the most colorful dances was performed by many persons of different ages and ranks. The dancers formed a circle around a central altar, where an orchestra of drums, flutes, conch shell trumpets, and other kinds of timbrels was grouped. The oldest and most important people made up the first and inner circle, for their movements were slow and their steps measured. The farther away from the center a circle was, the less important and younger the dancers became, until the youngest formed the outside circle. This last group had to execute the dance steps with great speed in order not to lose their place in the circle.

In the ceremonies held in honor of Quetzalcoatl, theatrical pieces were used as a part of the worship of the god of wind. The actors took the parts of sick people making their way to the temple in search of health. They would invent dialogues which were amusing because of the physical defects of the people portrayed. Other actors disguised as animals related the stories of their lives, climbed up in trees, and were hunted by the priests. The sharp repartee between the hunters and the hunted caused laughter among the spectators. We have little information concerning these sketches, but they do indicate that a dramatic art had developed and was flourishing among the Mexicans and that, as usual, its origin was closely associated with religious observances.

Games and sports also played a part in ceremonies dedicated to the gods and hence had religious significance.

Among the most important of the sports was the ball game, which appears very early in the history of Mexico and Central America, for we find it being played in the cities of the classical age of the Mayans and among the old cultures of Oaxaca. Undoubtedly the Aztecs inherited this game from their predecessors.

It was played in special courts called tlachtli, laid out in the form of the letter "H," with the central bar longer than the laterals. The players used a solid rubber ball that could be struck only with the elbow, knee, or hip. The object of the game was to knock the ball from one field to another, driving it across the dividing line in the center of the court. But if one of the teams succeeded in knocking the ball through one of the two stone rings fixed to the lateral walls of the court, that team won the game, no matter how many points it had previously lost.

This solid rubber ball was so hard that a player struck by it might be seriously injured. Therefore, each member of the team wore a kind of leather apron and, to protect his stomach, a kind of leather belt stuffed with cotton. He wore a knee pad on the knee that touched the ground when he bent down to strike the ball with his hip or elbow, and he wore hard leather gloves to protect his hands when he had to rush to the ground to strike the ball. The impact of the ball was so great, many of the chroniclers tell us, that after the game was over the players' hips were so badly bruised from striking the ball that incisions had to be made with obsidian knives to drain the blood from the bruised areas.

This ball game was so important that certain Mixtec manuscripts show the great princes and kings in the ball court carrying gold and jade jewelry to wager on the game. In the Popol Vuh we are told that the Quiche demi-gods defeated the gods of the underworld in a ball game in Xibalba.

The game had religious significance and the ball court was in reality a temple. The ball symbolized a star, the sun, or the moon, or else the movement of the entire firmament. Among the edifices of the great Temple of Tenochtitlan mentioned by Sahagun, there were at least two such courts, dedicated to the sun and to the moon.

Another sport that had religious significance was the game we know by the name of volador. It is still played by the Totonacs of the northern part of the state of Veracruz.

This game required climbing a very tall, slick pole, near the top of which was fastened a square wooden frame. Each of the four players participating in this dangerous sport was tied to a corner of the framework. The four were dressed as macaws, birds sacred to the sun. A fifth idual stood atop the mast on a cylinder, which revolved as he played die flute. The four men tied to the corners of the frame jumped off at the same time, so that the ropes to which they were tied would unreel 2nd cause the wooden cylinder on which the flute player stood to turn around and around. Each player whirled around the pole thirteen times, and on the last revolution, as soon as his feet touched the ground, he began running. The four macaws jumping from the pole and whirling around it thirteen times are symbolic of the fifty-two years that make up the Aztec cycle of years, that is, the movement of the sun in the thir-:een-multiplied-by-four revolutions which equal fifty-two years.

Also symbolic of the fifty-two-year cycle is a game of dice similar to "royal goose," which was played with beans having certain markings or with split reeds that were marked on the concave side. Known as Patolli, this game was dedicated to Macuilxochitl and Ometochtli. In addition to its astronomical significance, it had a religious character, as is indicated by the invocation made while it was being played.

The ancient Mexicans performed many other religious and magic ceremonies on the occasion of births, baptisms, puberty, marriages, and deaths, and whenever they undertook a public or private business enterprise. But the limitations of this book do not allow us to dwell further on that subject.