Both Christians, Aztecs and Incas envisioned a divine creation, but they had different notions of the time for the creation.
From the Bible, Christians knew that the creation had lasted six days. Irish Archbishop James Ussher would argue rationally for the Bible and calculated the first day of creation to have been on Sunday, October 23, 4004 years before the birth of Christ.
The Aztecs did not have an exact time for creation, but six hundred years after the four god-brethren were born followed five Suns and thus creations, and the first four had lasted 2704 years, and now they were in The Fifth Sun.
The Incas did not date the time of the creation, but to Spaniards they explained several divine creation processes before the Incas had arrived.
The Christian faith was linear with Last Judgment and Gods Salvation as releasing, eternal final stage; earthly life tried in all its forms to prepare and raise to the heavenly.
Indian cultures, on the other hand, were based on a cyclical concept of life without ending: everything was so to speak running in a circle, even though Aztecs believed that there had been leaps between the Suns and the Incas believed that there had been several creation processes. But overall, Indian faith had no other goal than a continuing existing cosmos.
According to Christianity, there was only one god. God had created everything and much later his son Jesus was born, and after this death and resurrection the Holy Spirit appeared. After theological discussions, Jesus Christ was exalted to God. Around the year 200, theologians agreed on the understanding of the Holy Spirit and thus the Trinity.
Later, Gods mother was worshipped in various forms of appearance: Some Europeans spoke of Virgin Mary, Spanish conquerors in Mexico prayed to Virgin of Comfort, La Virgin de los Remedios, and shortly after the Spanish conquest, Christian Indians began worshipping Virgin of Guadalupe, La Virgin de Guadalupe. Also angels and saints people in the Christian world needed, but officially, according to Christians, there was still only one God!
According to the Aztecs, the creator god had two aspects: Tonacatecli and Tonacaçiguatl, who gave birth to the four gods: Tlaclau Queteztzatlipoca, Yayanque Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl and finally Huitzilopochtli, the tribal god of the Aztecs. The divine world of the Aztecs was expanded, so it among others consisted of gods for spring and for birth, for white and for red corn, for war and for fire, for rain and for wind, and for the kingdom of death and many more.
According to the Incas, there was originally a creator of everything, Ticiviracocha, but then Viracocha showed up and became father of the Sun Inti. As the Incas conquered other tribes and expanded the empire, still more gods were worshipped. Inti and the moon Quilla became parents of the earthcreatorgod Pachacamac who married Pachamama, Mother Earth. Cuichu, the Rainbow, Illapa, Lightning, Mayu, the Milky Way, with stars and the black holes: Machacuay, the Great Water Snake, Yutu, the Partridge, Jamp’atu, the Toad, Llama Ñawi, the Lama with baby – and many more.
Both Aztecs and Incas had notions of a first creator god, which some Christians sought to exploit in the mission, but this creatorgod had several god-children who had a great, perhaps even greater, or more active significance than the creator god himself.
Divine shifts of power are interpreted by scholars of religion from the shifts of power among chiefs and cultures.
Despite the biblical prohibition of making images of God, Christians portrayed God as a serious man with a beard. Jesus was often portrayed as the crucified or the helpful, and the Holy Spirit as a dove. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit together made up the Trinity.
Aztec shaped figures – of a mixture of blood and seeds – who imagined their tribal god Huitzilopochtli; skulls with a flint knife at the nose are also believed to have represented Huitzilopochtli.
Incas had a giant Virachocha figure on the cliff wall in Ollantaytambo and in Coricancha a gold figure representing the Creator, who was called Viracocha Pachayachachi, and they also had the Sun disk.
Strange to Europeans was that both the Aztecs and the Incas world of gods were crowded with divine teasers, which challenged each other but which was not devils, the negation of God.
The devil did not exist in the Indian notions, regardless of whether diablo and demonio are mentioned in Spanish Catholic renditions of Indian stories of gods.
Aztecs had Mictlantecutli, god of the realm of death. Incas had Supay, but they were gods and not devils. Christianity had the devil, who was given names like Satan, Lucifer and Antichrist, but he could not be a god, for there was only one God. The devil was Gods counter-image
Christians referred to Indian gods as diablo; Indian believers became enemies of Christians!
According to Christianity, God had created the people in his image, had blessed them and said:
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
God had COMMANDED men to be rulers of the earth, of the sea and of heaven!
According to Indian cultures, gods created everything, including humans, on several occasions. The starting point for Indian thinking was cosmos, that can lead to a harmonious whole. Overall, everything was animated, everything could be soul; Indians saw themselves as part of the world, and the world was part of them. Not like those who were to submit to the earth and rule over it.
Pachamama, Mother Earth, was of crucial importance to the Incas. Humans should become fertile, live with the plants of the earth, the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all animals that move on and below the earth. Fertility, childbirth and the rebirth of everything were ritually worshipped by Indians.
Christian Spaniards waged war on Indians because they searched for gold and to propagate Christianity. So, behind the war, were Christians notions of Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Christianity was based on a vision of a violent war in which the sun would be darkened and the stars would fall, the deads would be judged for their deeds, and to those who were noted of in the Book of Life the Son of Man would say:
The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Jesus had promised that the Son of Man should return soon. Later, Christians expected it to happen in the year 500, but it did not happen. Then other Christians expected it to happen in the year 1000, and when that did not happen, Christians also believed that 1500 should be the year of the Christians. A new date for the Second Coming was predicted …
Aztecs had originally waged war to obtain food for themselves and later prisoners of war who could be sacrificed to maintain the cosmic balance with the gods. Behind the war lay the Aztecs calendar worship and the notion that everything was predetermined.
The Aztecs were convinced that Quetzalcoatl would return in the year called Ce Atl, ie. 1 Reed. The year could mean different years: eg. 1519.
In the period up to 1519 there had been several omens, so the Aztecs expected something great, and they were prepared for the Spaniards who entered the country in 1519 to be or represent Quetzalcoatl, of which the Aztecs were aware, would lead to the end of The Fifth Sun and the beginning of The Sixth Sun without the Aztecs. Thus, according to the Aztecs, a divine doom for themselves, but not for cosmos.
Moctezuma expressed pride that it happened during his time.
Initially, the Incas had waged looting wars to obtain food; later in the Inca Empire, they fought for resources for the new Sapa Incas power apparatus, as the deceased Incas estate was to be transferred to his panaca, ie. his heirs. Behind the war lay the Incas ancestral worship.
After 1528, two Inca sons fought a bloody war of succession and it was during this that a small group of Spaniards invaded the country. After the first meeting in 1532, the Spaniards were not feared, because the Inca War of Brothers was so unbelievably bloody. Intrigues were not unknown to Inca rulers, and perhaps the invading Spaniards could be exploited in the game of power.
Incas had notions of the wanderings of the gods Ticiviracocha and Viracocha, and some of the first Andean Indians who had contact with Spaniards believed these to be viracochas. However, that the Spaniards should be returned viracochas was rejected by the Inca high priest based on the Spaniards behavior in Cusco. The Incas had no religious notions that the Sun Inti or the cosmos would fall apart and crash; soul existed forever.
Both Christians, Aztecs and Incas imagined a Savior light in skin. Immediately a white god in the Middle East, Southern Europe, North America and South America sounds surprising, because there people are dark in the skin. Many religions claim that god created man in his image; religious scholars object that humans create their god in their own image.
The color white can be chosen to contrast the color of dark people. The color white may also have expressed a divine existence, the omnipresence of god and transparency.
Indians have limited beard growth, so greater beard growth can be interpreted as the wisdom of old age – and divinity.
Christians worshipped God and his son Jesus, who, after the great destruction, would come back and take seat on a white throne. As the Primitive Church expanded in Europe, some saints were portrayed light in the skin and with beards.
The Aztecs were expectant with Quetzalcoatls return. Moctezuma, the Tlatoani of the Aztecs, described to Cortés the Aztecs awareness of not being the native population of the country and that it was decided that Quetzalcoatl would return. And he was referred to as light in skin and with beard.
The Incas spoke of the peace-making Ticiviracocha, which had wandered to the north. Later, a similar man had appeared, Viracocha, who had healed the sick, but when the people asked for help and forgiveness he became furious and the sky was blazed. Viracocha was described as light in the skin and with a beard.
Indians notions that a bright, stranger with beard represented their god may have given the Spanish conquerors a tactical advantage.
When Cortés was received on the beach at Vera Cruz on April 22, 1519, he may have sensed – but apparently not understood – the Aztecs religious expectations which Moctezuma formulated directly to him in Tenochtitlán on November 8 of that year. Also Cauthemoc, Moctezumas successor who surrendered to Cortés, thought this was his destiny.
Pizarro did not know much about Viracocha, but the inhabitants of the northern Inca Empire called the Spaniards viracochas when they saw them in glossy armors. Atahualpa heard about strangers on unknown animals and must have thought that these few hundred men would have no chance opposing his vast army: I AM INVINCIBLE! Apparently he did not believe that the Spaniards were divine representatives. When a couple of posted Spaniards met some Indians, they received the Spaniards as viracochas – the Spaniards themselves boasted to their fellow soldiers.
A fundamental difference between Christianity and Indian notions of faith was that, according to Christianity, God had urged humans to subdue the earth; rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the animals that move on the earth! The Christian world concept was centered around the so-called God-created man.
Aztecs were by Huitzilopochtli promised that they would become the great ruling tribe. There were differences between gods and humans, but humans united with their gods by sacrificing people in rituals. Aztecs worshipped the agricultural god Xipe-Totec by wearing skin of sacrificed humans.
Incas believed that everything was animated and therefore everything should be respected; the ancestors were important and should be asked for advice, but the daily offering of three coca leaves were for Pachamama, Mother Earth. The Indian world concept contained the entire cosmos, including humans.
Differences between Christian and Indian world concepts appeared in their relationship with deceased, specifically in their burial practices. Christians wanted to bury their dead in or below a church for these to be a little distant, but close to the altar where God was worshipped. The earthly body definitely died after the Purgatory, but Christianity promised eternal life through the Resurrection of the flesh.
Many Indians kept their dead close by, under the house floor or inside the house, so that they could maintain contact with their ancestors on a daily basis. There was a confidential relationship with the deceased, for death constituted just another state.
When fights between Spaniards and Aztecs respectively Incas raged, when adrenaline signaled to the brain and heart, when a bullet had been released with the force of gunpowder to Indians with their sharp knives and swinging clubs, then every one bit. Then everyone tried to survive. Then it was about saving life. Ones own!
The Christian perception of life here and now and the perception of what happened after death could cause Spanish soldiers in the unknown foreign to fight fiercely. The Spaniards were desperate few, they knew it, they were scared of the unknown and could not just sail to Spain or find a safe haven in the perilous country. They had fantasies of free gold plus abstract promises of the Kingdom of Heaven and, not least, the awareness of being equipped with the best weapons. Now it was about defeating the enemy!
The cyclical perception was embedded in every Indian and made the warrior fight intrepidly against the strangers.
The Aztec warrior would fight with the awareness that although his body was bleeding, he would not disappear, because as a warrior he was promised to be united with the gods of Mictlán.
The Inca warrior would fight with the awareness that the soul would not disappear, for it was eternal and omnipresent.
Indian faiths made warriors fight fiercely and not sparing themselves. But they also knew the worth of life; no Indian let him og her be killed by a Spaniard just to die.
Christian soldiers fought for winning on this earth and for propagating Christianity. Their linear faith gave comfort to those who died to spread the message of Christ: I will have a place with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven. But it was the few Spanish conquerors who were suicidal soldiers who were in fact seeking martyrdom, but through earthly life in all its forms they sought to prepare for the heavenly.
Whatever priests had preached, the conquest of the New World was not blessed by the Pope as a Christian crusade. And most Spanish soldiers in a foreign country knew that there was a crucial difference between death and life, for example:
POWER AND GOLD, WOMEN AND DRINKS!
As the few conquistadors were ascetics, priests had to continue preaching against the seven deadly sins: arrogance, greed, lust, envy, slander, anger and laziness.
Le Clézio writes that in the clash between America and Europe, between the gods and the gold, one clearly sees who is the civilized and who is the barbarian. Despite blood sacrifices, despite ritual cannibalism, despite the tyrannical structure of this theocracy, there is no doubt that it is the Aztecs – and the Mayans or the Purépechas – who represent the civilization. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, as well as anyone involved in the colonization, would like to think that the destruction of the Indian world could be justified because it was about a world devoted to the demons. That is why he justifies like Motolinía the massacre in Cholula, since it was the one that led to the conversion of the Indians; therefore, he justifies the massacre in Tlatelolco and the bloody annihilation of the city of Mexico. Yet it is in the words and actions of the defeated that one finds the grandeur of the lost civilization.
The Spaniards defeated the Indians. Militarily. Bloody. Cruelly. Cortés respectively Pizarro gained power in Mexico respectively Peru. They could hold power for less than ten years, then other Spaniards tore it out of their bloody hands.
Centuries later, the countries became independent. Did the Christian world prevail? Yes immediately! But Christianitys divinely imposed human dominance over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth led to the disaster of our all.
(pp. 444-451 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
476 pages + 540 pages. Richly illustrated in colors
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