Over at Archaeology News, Jasmyne Pendragon (gotta love that name!) has posted the first and second installments of a three part series on “The Purpose of Aztec Blood Rituals.” Helpfully, the articles contain numerous citations and complete references. In part one, Pendragon briefly sets the historical stage before laying out the details of Aztec beliefs:
The blood rituals were considered part of a reciprocal relationship between humankind and god; the ultimate gift is blood and is amongst the highest honour one can pay to the gods. Aztec blood rituals were an act of reciprocity for the blood the gods sacrificed of themselves in order to create the sun and the cosmos. Blood sacrifices ensured the gods would remain helpful and they ensured the sun would continue to shine, the fields would grow abundant crops and the wheels of life would continue to turn.
In part two, Pendragon continues along these lines and suggests that Aztec bloodlust is linked primarily to ideas:
Fear of pain and suffering inflicted by the gods in retribution for any lack of blood sacrifice would have been an overwhelming incentive to constantly sacrifice and appease the vengeful gods.
While there can be little doubt that ideas had something to do with the almost unimaginable amounts of blood spilled by the Aztecs, the “purpose” of such rituals extends far beyond the realm of emic beliefs or priestly rationalizations.
The Aztecs were a militaristic and imperial society situated in an impoverished and precarious ecological environment. By the time they achieved dominance (circa 1460 CE), the Valley of Mexico had been intensively exploited for thousands of years. The deer were gone and soils impoverished. The empire was sustained in large part by warfare and conquest — taking resources from others. Such taking is of course a bloody business.
It is therefore no accident that the Aztecs focused their ritualistic activities on blood (coming mostly from prisoners taken in warfare). While the Aztecs may have believed their gods were insatiable, this appears to have been little more than a projection of their own thirsts and needs.