TEOTIHUACAN: History, Legend and Religion
TEOTIHUACAN: HISTORY, LEGEND AND RELIGION
Teotihuacán ruins are among the most remarkable in Mexico and some of the most important ruins in the world. Teotihuacán ("teh-oh-tee-wa-KHAN") means "city where gods were born," reflecting the Aztec belief that the gods created the universe at this place. The holy city was constructed around 300 AD and characterized by the vast size of its monuments, carefully laid out on geometric and symbolic principles. Its most monumental structures are the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Sun (the third-largest pyramid in the world) and the Pyramid of the Moon.
ANCIENT CITY OF TEOTIHUACAN
The earliest history of Teotihuacán is shrouded in mystery. Little is known about its ancient builders, their names, religious beliefs, or language. The city became the epicenter of culture and commerce for ancient Mesoamerica, yet its inhabitants suddenly abandoned it for unknown reasons.
People first moved to the area around 500 BC, sometime after 100 BC, construction of the enormous Pyramid of the Sun commenced. Teotihuacán's rise thus coincided with that of classical Rome, and with the beginning of cultures in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, Oaxaca, and Puebla.
PYRAMID OF THE SUN
At its zenith around 500 AD, Teotihuacán's magnificent pyramids and palaces covered 12 square miles (31 sq km) and the city was larger in size and population than Rome. Through trade, Teotihuacán's influence was felt as far south as the Yucatán and Guatemala. Still, remarkably little information about the city's inhabitants survives. Evidence from their murals indicates that the Teotihuacános were formidable warriors and that their aim in warfare was not conquest of territory but the capture of prisoners who were sacrificed to avert the end of the world.
REPLICA OF SACRIFICIAL VICTIMS – TEOTIHUACAN MUSEUM
LEGEND AND MYTH
According to the mythology shared by most ancient peoples of Central America, the world had undergone four cycles or "suns." They lived in the fifth sun, which was already old. Thus they expected the end of the world at any moment, which was expected to happen by earthquakes.
In an effort to postpone this cataclysmic event, humans were sacrificed by the thousands. Humans also seem to have been sacrificed to dedicate a new or expanded building. In the Pyramid of the Sun, the corner of each step contained skeletons of children. Discovered below the Temple of Quetzalcoatl were three burial pits full of skeletons.
Image Credit from Wikimedia Commons
GREAT GODDESS OF TEOTIHUACAN
It appears that the primary deity at Teotihuacán was a female, called the "Spider Woman" by scholars. There are also depictions of other female deities, including a Water Goddess. According to archaeologist-astronomer John B. Carlson, the cult of the planet Venus that determined wars and human sacrifices elsewhere in Mesoamerica was prominent at Teotihuacán as well. Ceremonial rituals were timed with the appearance of Venus as the morning and evening star. The symbol of Venus at Teotihuacán appears as a star or half star with a full or half circle.
PYRAMID OF THE FEATHERED SERPENT
Other important deities at Teotihuacán included: the Rain God (called Tlaloc by the Aztecs); Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent; the Sun God and Moon Goddess; and Xipe Totec (Our Lord the Flayed One, associated with renewed vegetation). Incense burners have been found related to the Old Fire God, a creator divinity possibly associated with the Spider Woman.
For reasons that are not known for certain, the inhabitants of Teotihuacán gradually abandoned their great city around 700 AD. Scholars believe the decline was probably caused by overpopulation (around 200,000) and depletion of natural resources. But really, NO one knows why.
About 50 years after its abandonment, Teotihuacán was destroyed by fire, leaving some of its greatest monuments buried under millions of tons of earth. It is possible that the city was deliberately burned by its former inhabitants or by invaders that regarded the religion of Teotihuacán as a false one - the Toltecs have been suggested as possible culprits.
It was the Aztecs who gave Teotihuacán its name, when they arrived here in about 1320. The name means "City of Gods," and they believed the gods had gathered here to create the sun and moon after the last world ended. Teotihuacán was highly revered by the Aztecs and used as a pilgrimage center from their base in Tenochtitlán, modern Mexico City.
Already astonished at the size and sophistication of Mexico City (Tenochtitlán), we can only imagine the reaction of Fernando Cortes and his men when they stumbled upon the great ceremonial center of Teotihuacán in 1520. Legend has it that one of the reasons the Aztecs were defeated so quickly by the outnumbered Spaniards was that they mistook him for Quetzalcoatl, who was expected to arrive from the Atlantic in the form of a bearded white man.
According to legend, after the fall of Teotihuacan, two major paths of sacred knowledge formed. One Toltec path went to Tula near present day Hidalgo. The magic of Tula can be compared to what our culture might term "black magic." The generally more enlightened path called the Path of Freedom went south toward Xochicalco, near present day Cuernavaca, and also eventually went into hiding.