The Formation and Structure of the Aztec Universe

The Aztec world view stems from the idea of four previous suns before the present-day fifth sun. The five suns account for the long Aztec history of the universe. The Aztecs believe in a supreme creator of all, Ometeuctli, often referred to as the lord of duality because he is both male and female. Ometeuctli's cosmic coupling gives birth to four creator-gods, who later create the five suns. Each creator-god struggles for supremacy over the others using his own unique cosmic force--earth, fire, wind, or water. when these cosmic forces are in equilibrium, there exists an age or sun. When the cosmic balance is disrupted, destruction of the sun, earth and man results.

The first sun is created by Tezcatlipoca, the God of Earth. He mistakenly creates men as giants and furthermore creates only half a sun. The human giants are forced to survive only on acorns and pine nuts, and as a result grow feeble and slow. Jaguars devour the half-sun, and in the darkness, the are able to kill the giants. The second sun is created by Quetzalcoatl, the God of Wind. In the is sun, man survives on mesquite tree seed, but still the seeds are not enough nourishment to survive the harsh winds. Hurricanes eventually blow the humans away. However, some people are able to survive by transforming into monkeys.

Tlaloc, the God of Fire, is the creator of the third sun. During this age, men harvest grain for survival. Huge volcanoes erupt and cinders rain from the sky to consume the world. However, a few men are able to change in to birds to escape the scalding heat. Chalchiuhtlicue, the Goddess of Water, creates the fourth sun. Men attempt to survive on a seed called acicintli, but it is not enough food for the humans who must fight the great floods. Water springs from the center of the earth causing the sky to collapse. Most men drown, but some are turned into fish.

After the failure of the four previous suns, Nanahuatl, another god created by Ometeuctli, sacrifices himself by throwing himself into the Divine Fire, a mythological firepit. Slowly the other gods see a new sun rising in the east. The sun's flares are so intense that no one can look at it. In order to avoid the destruction of the fifth sun, the Aztecs believe that they must sacrifice captives of war. By giving blood to the sun, it will continue to rise each morning. The Aztecs believe blood is the most important element that keeps men alive, and it will do likewise for the fifth sun. On the other hand, if blood is not given to sustain the fifth sun, the world will be destroyed by earthquakes. The fifth sun will be the final end when the earthquakes shake the stars down from the sky. There will be no sixth sun. The structure of the universe remains constant despite the destruction of suns. During all five suns, man lives on earth, a huge disc situated in the center of the universe. Surrounding earth is a large ring of water, which connects the earth with the heavens. Above the earth are thirteen heavens that serve as homes to gods. The first four levels, known as Teteocan, are occupied by the storms, sun, sky, stars, moon, etc. The next levels of the heavens are called Ilhuicatl. The Red God of Fire, the Place of the Yellow Sun God and the Place of the White Evening Star God live in the Ilhuicatl. At the very top level is Omecteuctli, the supreme creator of all.

Below the earth are nine underworlds. These underworlds are called Mictlan, place of the dead. In the lowest level lives Mictlanteuctli, the God of Death. The underworlds are the most common place for the dead. The struggle through the underworlds is extremely tedious. Much suffering occurs until one finally reaches the ninth underworld, where one rests eternally with Mictlanteuctli. However, if one dies for a good cause, one may go to the heavens. For example, if a woman dies in childbirth or a warrior is killed in battle, they may go to Tlalocan, the first level of the heavens.

The basic structure of the Aztec universe consists of three levels--the heavens, earth, and underworlds. One's life on earth depends whether one will live in the heavens or underworlds. The Aztec idea of the formation of the universe begins with the first sun. After the destruction of the first sun, four more have been created. Aztecs believe that today they live in the fifth sun, and it ultimately will be destroyed by earthquakes.

Written by Wes Dunn.