« PreviousContinue »
over, if the laws of history permitted, to prevent the disgust which the description of such abominable acts of cruelty must cause our readers; for altho' there has hardly been a nation which has not practised similar sacrifices, it would be difficult to find one which has carried them to so great an excess as the Mexicans appear to have done.
We are ignorant what sort of sacrifices may bave been practised by the ancient Toltecas. The Chechemecas continued long without using them, having at first neither idols, temples, nor priests, nor offering any thing to their gods, the Sun and Moon, but herbs, flowers, fruits, and copal. Those nations never thought of sacrificing human victims, until the example of the Mexicans banished the first impressions of nature from their minds. What they report concerning the origin of such barbarous sacrifices, we have already explained; namely, that which appears in their history, concerning the first sacrifice of the four Xochimilcan prisoners, which they made when in Colhuacan. It is probable, that at the time when the Mexicans were insulated in the lake, and particularly while they remained subject to the Tepanceas, the sacrifice of human victims must have bappened very seldom, as they neither bad prisoners, nor could purchase slaves for sacrifices. But when they had enlarged their dominions, and multiplied their victories, sacrifices became frequent and on some festivals the victims were numerous.
The sacrifices varied with respect to the number, place, and mode, according to the circumstances of the festival. In general the victims suffered death by having their breasts opened; but others were drowned in the lake, others died of hunger shut up in caverns of the mountains, and lastly, some fell in the gladiatorian sacrifice. The customary place was the temple, in the upper area of which stood the altar destined for ordinary sacrifices.
The altar of the greater temple of Mexico was a green stone (probably jasper) convex above, and about three feet high, and as inany broad, and more than five feet long. The usual ministers of the sacrifice were six priests, the chief of whom was the Topiltzin, whose dignity was pre-eminent and hereditary ; but at every sacrifice he assumed the name of the god to whom it was made. For the performance of this function, he was clothed in a red habit, similar in make to the scrapulary of the moderns, fringed with cotton ; on his head he wore a crown of green and yellow feathers, at his ears hung golden ear-rings and green jewels, (perhaps emeralds,) and at his under lip a pendant of turquoise. The other five ministers were dressed in white habits of the same make, but embroidered with black; their hair was wrapped up, their heads were bound with leathers thongs, the foreheads armed with little shields of paper painted of various colours, and their bodies dyed all over black.
These barbarous ministers carried the victim entirely naked to the upper area of the temple, and after having pointed out to the idol to whom the sacrifice was made, that they might pay their adoration to it, extended him upon the altar; four priests held his legs and arms, and another kept his head firm with a wooden instrument made in form of a coiled serpent, which was put about his neck; and on account of the altar being convex, the body of the victim lay arched, the breast and belly being raised up and wholly prevented from the least movement. The inhuman Topiltzin then approached, and with a cutting knife made of flint, dexterously opened his breast and tore out his heart, whichi, wbile yet palpitating, he offered to the sun, and afterwards threw it at the feet of the idol; then taking it up again he offered it to the idol itself, and afterwards burned it preserving the ashes with the utmost veneration. If the idol was gigantic and hollow, it was usual to introduce the heart of the victim into its mouth with a goldeu spoon. It was customary also to anoint the lips of the idol and the cornices of the door of the sanctuary with the victim's blood. If he was a prisoner of war as soon as he was sacrificed they cut off bis head to preserve the skull, and threw the body down the stairs to the lower area, where it was taken up by the officer or soldier to whom the prisoner had belonged, and carried to bis house to be boiled and dressed as an entertainment for his friends. If he was not a prisa oner of war, but a slave purchased for a sacrifice, the proprietor carried off the carcase from the altar for the same purpose. They eat only the legs, thighs, and arms, and burned the rest, or preserved it for food to the wild beasts or birds of prey which were kept in the royal palaces. The Otomies, after having killed the victim, tore the body in pieces, which they sold at market. The Zapotecas sacrificed men to their gods, women to their goddesses, and children to some other diminutive deities.
This was the most common mode of sacrifice, but often attended with some circurastances of still greater cruelty, as we. shall see hereafter; other kinds of sacrifices which they used were much less frequent. At the festival of Teteoinan, the woman who represented this goddess was beheaded on the shoul. ders of another woman. At the festival of the arrival of the gods, they put the victims to death by fire. At one of the festivals made in honour of Tlaloc, they sacrificed two children of both sexes by drowning them in a certain place of the lake. At another festival of the same god, they purchased three little boys of six or seven years of age, shut them up inhumanly in a cavern, and left them to die of fear and hunger.
The most celebrated sacrifice among the Mexicans was that called by the Spaniards with much propriety the gladiatorian. This was a very honourable death, and only prisoners who were renowned for their bravery were permitted to die by it. Near to the greater temple of large cities, in an open space of ground sufficient to contain an immense crowd of people, was a round terrace, eight feet bighi, upon which was placed a large round stone, resembling a mill-stone in figure, but greatly larger, and almost three feet high, well polished with figures cut upon it.On this stone, which was called the Temalacat), the prisoner was placed, armed with a shield and a short sword, and tied by one foot. A Mexican officer or soldier, better accoutred in arms, mounted to combat with him.
Every one will be able to imagine the efforts made by the desperate victim to defend his life, and also those of the Mexicaa to save his honour and reputation, before the multitude of peoble that assembled at such a spectacle. If the prisoner remained vanquished, immediately a priest named Chalchialtepehua, carried hiin dead or alive to the altar of the common sacrifices, opened his breast, and took out his heart, while the victor was applauded by the assembly, and rewarded by the king with some military honour. But if the prisoner conquered six different combatants, who came successively to fight with him, agreeably to the account given by the conqueror Cortes, he was granted his life, his liberty, and all that had been taken from him, and retarned with glory to liis vative country. The same author relates, that in a batile between the Cholulans and Huesotzincas, the principal lord of Cholula grew so warm in the contest, that having inadvertently removed to a great distance from his own people he was made prisoner in spite of his bravery, and conducted to Huexotzinco, where being put upon the gladiatorian stone, he conquered seven combatants which were opposed 10 him, and gained his liberty; but the Huexotzincas foreseeing, that ou accomt of his singular courage he would become the cause of many disasters to them if they granted him his liberty, put him to death contrary to universal custom; by which act they rendered themselves eternally infamous among those nations.
An account of festivals in honour of Idols among the ancient
Mexicans. There was no month in which the Mexicans did not celebrate some festival or other, which was either fixed and established to be held on a certain day of the month, or moveable, from being annexed to some signs which did not correspond with the same days in every year. The principal moveable festivals, according to Boturni, were sixteen in number among, which the fourth was that of the god of wine, and the thirteenth, that of the god of fire.
With respect to those festivals which were fixed, we shall mention as concisely as possible, as much as we judge will be sufficient to convey a competent idea of the religion and the superstitious disposition of the Mexicans.
On the second day of the first month, they made a great festival to Tlaloc, accompanied with sacrifices of children, which were purchased for that purpose, and a gladiatorian sacrifice; these children, which were purchased, were not sacrificed all at once, but successively so, in the course of three months, which corresponded to those of March and April, to obtain from this god the rains which were necessary for their maize.
On the first day of the second month, wirich, in the first year of their century, corresponded to the 18th of March, they made a inost solemn festival to the god Xipe, the sacrifices offered at which were extremely cruel. They dragged the victims by their hair to the upper area of the temple, where, after they were sacrificed in the usual manner, they skinned them, and the priests clothed themselves in their skins, and appeared for some days in these bloody coverings. The owners and prisoners that were sacrificed were bound to fast for twenty days, after which they made great banquets, at which they dress the flesh of the victims. The stealers of gold or silver were sacrificed along with prisoners, the law of the kingdom having ordained that punishment for ciem. The circumstance of skinning the victims, obtained to this month the name of Tlacaxipehualiztli, or the skinning of men. At this festival, the military went through sev. eral exercises of arms and practices of war, and the nobles celebrated with songs, the glorious actions of their ancestors. In Tlascala, the nobles, as well as the plebeians had dances, at which they were all dressed in skins of animals, and embroidery of gold and silver. On account of these dances, which were Comhion to all ranks of people, they gave the festival as well as the month the name of Coalbuitl, or the general festival.
In the third month, which began on the 7th of April, the second festival of Tlaloc was celebrated with the sacrifice of some children. The skius of the victims which were sacrificed to the god Xipe, in the preceding month, were carried in procession to il temple called Jopico, which was within the enclosure of the greater temple, and there deposited in a cave. In this same inonth the Xochimanqui, or those who traded in flowers, celebrated the festival of their goddess Coatlicue, and presented ber garlands of flowers curiously woven. But before this offering was made, no person was allowed to smell these flowers. The ininisters of the temples watched every night of this month, and ou that account made great fire; hence the month took the name of Tozoztonli, or little watch.
The fourth month was called Hueitozoztli, or great watch ; because, during this month, not only the priests, but also the nobility, and populace kept watch. They drew blood from their ears, eye-brows, nose, tongue, arms, and thighs, to expiate the faults committed by their senses, and exposed at their doors leaves of the sword-grass, coloured with blood, but with no other intention, probably, than to make ostentation of their penance. In this manner they prepared themselves for the festival of the goddess Centeotl, which was celebrated with sacrifices of human victims and animals, particularly of quails, and with many warlike exercises, which they performed before the temple of this goddess. Little girls carried ears of maize to the temple, and after offering them to that false divinity, carried them to granaries, in order that these ears, thus hallowed, might preserve all the rest of the grain from any destructive insect. This month commenced on the 27th of April.
The fifth month, which began upon the 17th of May, was almost wholly festival. The first, which was one of the four principal festivals of the Mexicans, was that which they made in honour of their great god Tezcatlipoca. Ten days before it a priest dressed himself in the same habit and badges which distinguished that god, and went out of the temple with a bunch of flowers in his hands, and a little flute of clay which made a very shrill sound. Turning his face first towards the east, and afterwards to the other three principal winds, he sounded the fluie loudly, and then taking up a little dust from the earth with his finger, he put it to his mouth and swallowed it. Upon hearing the sound of the flute all kneeled down ; criminals were thrown into the utmost terror and consternation, and with tears implored that god to grant a pardon to their transgressions, and hinder them from being discovered and detected; warriors prayed to him for courage and strength against the enemies of the nation, successful victories, and a multitude of prisoners for sacrifices, and all the rest of the people, using the same ceremony of taking up and eating the dust, supplicated with fervour the clemency of the gods. The sound of the little flute was repeated every day until the festival. One day before it, the lords carried a new habit to the idol, which the priests immediately pat upon it, and kept the old one as a relique in some repository of the temple; they adorned the idol with particular ensigns of gold and beautiful feathers, and raised np the tapestry, which always covered the entrance of the sanctuary, that the image of their god might be seen and adored by the multitude.
When the day of the festival arrived, the people flocked to the lower area of the temple. Some priests painted black, and dressed in a similar habit with the idols, carried it aloft upon a lit