In order to fully comprehend Aztec mythology, it is important to have a basic knowledge of how the Aztec empire came to be. The Aztecs lived in central Mexico beginning in the twelve hundreds. They weren’t composed of a single group of people, but of multiple groups with varying stories and beliefs. During the thirteen hundreds, the Aztecs formed a city state known as Tenochtitlan, located in current day Mexico City. They continued to grow in unity, and by the late fourteen hundreds successfully conquered a large empire. The diverse population greatly influenced their beliefs, deities, and mythologies.
The ancient myths revolved around three basic themes. First, the Aztecs emphasized the value of sacrifice. They believed that their gods continually sacrificed their lives to better the earth. In an attempt to satisfy their gods, they made sacrifices often. Thoughts of sacrifice and death did not have a negative connotation, but instead brought thoughts of fertility and rebirth. The second theme to keep in mind is the idea that all people had a predetermined fate. They tried to determine the positive or negative influences of gods on their destiny. Many people are familiar with the game played by Aztecs in courts with a rubber ball, in which participants attempt to shoot the ball through a hoop with various body parts. What most people do not realize is that the game was actually a religious ritual that signified the earthly desire to control destiny. The third theme to watch for in Aztec mythology is that of duality. In reading ancient mythology, one will find that most gods or goddesses have two roles. They usually came in pairs, and sometimes could be found with more than one identity.
Many Aztec myths involve the creation of some element in nature. The most common myths include the creation of the earth, the creation of the Milky Way, the creation of the sun and moon, and the creation of people. There was also the story of five suns. This story says that there were four worlds that existed before the Aztecs, plus the one in which they lived. Each world ended with some disastrous event, such as a hurricane or fire, which destroyed everything. The fourth world ended with a flood. This leads into the creation of the fifth sun, or our current earth.
After the flood, two gods found the earth with a vicious monster in the sea. They knew people could never inhabit the earth while the monster could cause harm with her sharp teeth. To defeat the monster, they descended to earth and transformed into two powerful serpents. Together, they tore the monster into two halves. The upper half of the body became the sky, while the lower half became the earth. Other parts of her body were used to form different natural elements. For example, her crocodile back formed mountains, her hair formed trees and shrubs, her skin formed grass, rivers flowed from her mouth, and her eyes formed small ponds. The identifiable theme in this myth is that of duality, since two gods worked together to defeat the monster.
Following the creation of the earth, the gods realized the need to bring warmth to the earth using the sun. In order to do so, one god needed to sacrifice himself by stepping into a fire. One god deemed himself the most worthy of the sacrifice due to his wealth and offerings. However, a second, more humble, god also approached the fire and prayed for courage to sacrifice himself. After four days of praying, the wealthy god approached the fire. However, he was too cowardly and could not commit the sacrifice. On the other hand, the humble god was brave enough to jump into the fire. Feeling angry and worthless, the wealthy god sacrificed himself in an attempt to steal the glory. This angered the rest of the gods who decided one light should not shine as bright as the other, and should always follow the first. Thus, the second light became the moon. In this myth, two themes are easily recognizable, one being the need for sacrifice and the other being the idea of duality, since there were two sacrifices.
The next few myths involve the creation of the Milky Way, the creation of people, and the creation of food. To read about these myths, a more detailed version of the myths I already explained, or many other myths, visit this site, which contains excerpts from the book The Eagle on the Cactus: Traditional Tales from Mexico.
Also, to read more about the background of Aztecs and their myths, the site I used is http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Ar-Be/Aztec-Mythology.html.