General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 8 May 2021/9 Flower
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Mexica (Aztec) burial depiction - mural detail

Basic Aztec facts: AZTEC BURIALS

The Aztecs believed in 13 ‘heavens’ and 9 ‘underworlds’ - where you ended up depended more on how you died than on how you lived. Most took a (4-year) trip down to Mictlan, the end of the line. On the journey there were 9 dangerous stops... (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Most Aztecs were buried rolled and wrapped up as a kind of ‘mummy bundle’
Pic 1: Most Aztecs were buried rolled and wrapped up as a kind of ‘mummy bundle’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Assuming you died a natural death, as an ‘average Aztec’ you were buried - often under your own home - along with your possessions and everything you needed for the journey: food, drink, clothes, valuables, tools, weapons, and a gift for the Lord or Lady of the Underworld who would receive you...

Pic 2: Sheets/strips of fig tree bark paper, lying on a ‘petate’ reed mat
Pic 2: Sheets/strips of fig tree bark paper, lying on a ‘petate’ reed mat (Click on image to enlarge)

First, your eyes were closed (pic 1), a vase of water was poured on your head (you were going back to the watery womb of the earth), you were dressed to match your job and status, and a jade stone placed under your tongue - travel ‘money’. Then pieces of amatl (fig tree) bark paper (pic 2) were laid on you - each a ‘ticket’ to help you get through the 9 stations coming...

Pic 3: Once rolled up, your death ‘bundle’ was usually buried in an upright sitting position
Pic 3: Once rolled up, your death ‘bundle’ was usually buried in an upright sitting position (Click on image to enlarge)

En route you had to face these 9 underworld challenges:-
• a mountain pass
• a road guarded by a dangerous serpent
• a giant crocodile swamp
• wide deserts
• a series of very high hills
• a razor-sharp wind
• a rapid-flowing river*
• a storm of flying arrows
• heart attack territory.

Pic 4: Professional Aztec women mourners
Pic 4: Professional Aztec women mourners (Click on image to enlarge)

Your physical burial didn’t take place for 80 days - plenty of time for family to assemble and mourn your death, bringing in professional mourners (pic 4) to help. In the first 4 days after your death small effigies (statues, busts or models) would be made to look like you - a focus for family tears. They’d then be burnt in a special ceremony at night.

Pic 5: A wealthy Mexica (Aztec) burial
Pic 5: A wealthy Mexica (Aztec) burial (Click on image to enlarge)

If you came from a rich noble family, you were buried with noble gifts such as jaguar skins, beautiful feathers and fine jewellery (pic 5), your effigies that much more elaborately dressed, and the speeches given in your honour that much longer and more special.

Pic 6: An Aztec death bundle being burnt
Pic 6: An Aztec death bundle being burnt (Click on image to enlarge)

The higher up in society, the more likely you were to be cremated, alongside the tools of your trade and other offerings. Once burnt, your ashes would be collected in a pottery vase (pic 6), which also held the green chalchihuitl jewel that would be your soul’s heart on the coming journey. The vase would be buried in a deep hole at your home, covered with food-and-drink offerings.

NOTE: Much of the evidence for these facts comes from the Florentine Codex - also the source of pix 1 & 6 above.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Apr 01st 2016

emoticon Q. What did the Aztecs invent that commuters use today in London?
A. Travel zone passes on the Underground!

* Meet the dog that helped you cross the river!

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Thanks for kind comments. Yes, there certainly were differences here. Dying in battle or on the sacrificial stone was the ‘best’ way to go, and not surprisingly you went as a result to one of the very highest heavens. If you died in a flood you went to a special watery heaven, a kind of paradise. If you died in childbirth you were treated as if you had been a warrior in battle, so again you went to one of the top heavens, etc. This is, of course, all hugely in contrast to the ‘English’ way of looking at these things - recall Samuel Johnson’s phrase ‘It matters not... [how a man dies]’