General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 24 Mar 2019/13 Lizard
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Did the Aztecs have a term for religion?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Kurt: Did the Mexica, or the Aztec Empire collectively, have a term for the state religion or religious traditions in general? I’ve not found a mention of this anywhere, nor have I been able to find a word relating to ‘belief’, ‘worship’, or ‘religion’ in Nahuatl. Thanks for maintaining such an informative website (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Reconstructed pre-Hispanic tomb, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Sala Oaxaca)
Reconstructed pre-Hispanic tomb, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Sala Oaxaca) (Click on image to enlarge)

Excellent question! We think you’re right, there WAS no Mexica term for religion/belief/worship, just as there wasn’t a term for ‘human sacrifice’ as we use the phrase. There’s a lot of argument over this, and we’re far from being experts. It’s clear that the Aztecs practiced both private worship in their own homes as well as public religion in open plazas at the foot of temples. There IS one all-encompassing term that many scholars refer to in this ares, namely teotl, which we could translate as soul/spirit/life force/energy. There’s plenty of evidence that the Mexica believed there is teotl not only in humans and animals but also in flowers, plants, trees and indeed in inanimate things too - from stones and pots to mountains and rivers. Hence their tremendous respect for the natural environment in which they lived.
We have two excellent explanations of this idea on our site: the first link is an ‘easy’ introduction, the second is superb but a helluva lot harder to understand...!

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Mexicolore replies: You’re very welcome, and thank you, Kurt, for sharing such an interesting question with our community...