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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 6. Mexican Ethics.

The recital of these facts may load some to conclude that the

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[paragraph continues] Mexican priesthood must have been the most atrocious multitude of miscreants the world ever saw. But that would be a complete misconception: they were as conscientious a priesthood as history bears record of. The strangest thing of all is that their frightful system of sacrifice was bound up not only with a strict and ascetic sexual morality, but with an emphatic humanitarian doctrine. If asceticism be virtue, they cultivated virtue zealously. There was a Mexican Goddess of Love, and there was of course plenty of vice; but nowhere could men win a higher reputation for sanctity by living in celibacy. Their saints were numerous. They had nearly all the formulas of Christian morality, so-called. The priests themselves mostly lived in strict celibacy; 1 and they educated children with the greatest vigilance in their temple schools and higher colleges. 2 They taught the people to be peaceful; to bear injuries with meekness; to rely on God's mercy and not on their own merits: they taught, like Jesus and the Pagans, that adultery could be committed by the eyes and the heart; and above all they exhorted men to feed the poor. The public hospitals were carefully attended to, at a time when some Christian countries had none. They had the practice of confession and absolution; and in the regular exhortation of the confessor there was this formula: "Clothe the naked and feed the hungry, whatever privations it may cost thee; for remember, their flesh is like thine, and they are men like thee; cherish the sick, for they are the image of God." And in that very same exhortation there was further urged on the penitent the special duty of instantly procuring a slave for sacrifice to the deity3

Such phenomena carry far the challenge to conventional sociology. These men, judged by religious standards, compare closely with our European typical priesthood. They doubtless had the same temperamental qualities: a strong irrational sense of duty; a hysterical habit of mind; a certain spirit of self-sacrifice; at times a passion for asceticism; and a feeling that sensuous indulgence was revolting. Devoid of moral science, they had plenty of the blind instinct to do right. They devoutly did what their religion told them; even as Catholic priests have devoutly served the Inquisition. That is one of the central sociological lessons of our subject. The religious element in man, being predominantly emotional and traditional, may ally itself with either good or evil; and no thanks are due to religion, properly speaking, if it is ever in any degree identified with good.

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[paragraph continues] How comes it that Christianity is not associated with human sacrifice while the Mexican cultus was? Simply by reason of the different civilisations that went before. It is civilisation that determines the tone of religion, and not the other way. Christianity starts with a doctrine of one act of human sacrifice; and Christians are specially invited each year at the sacred season to fasten their minds on the details of that act. Their ritual keeps up the mystic pretence of the act of ritual cannibalism which of old went with the human sacrifice: they harp on the very words, "body and blood." They mystically eat the body of the slain God. Now this very act was performed by the Mexicans not only literally, as we have seen, but in the symbolic way also; and they connected their sacraments with the symbol of the cross.

Of the Tlascalans it is told that at one festival they fixed a prisoner to a high cross and shot arrows at him; and that at another time they fastened one to a low cross and killed him by bastinado. 1 In the sacrifice of a maiden to the Maize-Goddess Centeotl above mentioned, the priest who wore the slain victim's skin stood with his arms stretched out, cross-wise, before the image of Huitzilopochtli, so representing the Goddess; and the skin (presumably stuffed) 2 was hung up with the arms spread in the same attitude, and facing the street. 3 The Mexicans, finally, had a festival in honour of Xiuhteuctli, the God of Fire, 4 the crowning act of which was the making a dough image of the God (as was also done in the worship of Huitzilopochtli at the festival called "Eating the God") and raising it on a cross5 the image being then climbed for and thrown down, and the fragments eagerly eaten by the crowd as possessing a sacred efficacy. 6 They felt they were brought into union with the God in that fashion. As has been above noted, there is some evidence that among the first Christians the Eucharist was sometimes a baked dough image of a child: 7 and on any view the irresistible

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presumption is that in all cases alike the symbolical usage grew out of a more ancient practice of ritual cannibalism. Christianity coming among a set of civilised peoples, the symbol became more and more mystical, though the priesthood adhered tenaciously to the doctrine of daily mystical sacrifice. In Mexico, certain cults had similarly substituted symbolism for actual sacrifice; among the modifying practices being the drawing of a little blood from the ears and other parts of the children of the aristocracy. 1 But the thin end of the wedge was in, so to speak, in the survival of actual human sacrifices; and the Aztec priesthood drove the wedge deeper and deeper, in virtue of their collective economic interest as well as of what we may term the master tendency of all religions—the fixation of ideas and usages. The more piety the more priests; the more priests the more sacrifices; and the constant wars of the Aztecs supplied an unfailing stream of captives for immolation. 2 Many wars were made for the sole purpose of obtaining captives: 3 in fact, the Aztec kings made a treaty with the neighbouring republic of Tlascala and its confederates, a treaty which was faithfully kept, to the effect that their armies should fight on a given ground at stated seasons, in order that both sides should be able to supply themselves with sacrificial victims. At all other times they were quite friendly; and the Aztec kings avowedly kept up the relation purely in order to have captives for sacrifice. 4 An arrangement like that, once set up, would flourish more and more up to the point of national exhaustion, especially as death in battle was reckoned a sure passport to Paradise; and the priesthood would at the same time grow ever more and more numerous, the only limit being the people's power of endurance. There can be little doubt that the Aztec empire would ultimately have broken down under its monstrous burden if the Spaniards had not destroyed it; for the taxation necessary to support the military and aristocratic system alongside of the allocation of enormous untaxed domains 5 to the ever-multiplying myriads of priests was becoming more insupportable year by year, so that the deep disaffection of the common people was one of the chief supports to the campaign of Cortès. 6 It may well be that some of the previous civilisations 7 had succumbed in the same way, literally destroyed by religion, to the extent, that is, of inviting conquest by less "civilised" tribes. Among some of the Maya peoples, who preceded the Aztecs,

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the office of sacrificer had come to be regarded as degraded; 1 but even there the sacrifices never ceased; and the Maya civilisation failed to hold its ground before the others.

Strangely enough, there was current among the Aztecs themselves a belief that their State was doomed to be overthrown. 2 Here, doubtless, we have a clue to the existence of civilising forces, and of a spirit of hostility to the religion of bloodshed which, however, felt driven to express itself in terms of despair. To this spirit of betterment, then, we turn with the doubled interest of sympathy.


367:1 Clavigero, B. vi, §§ 15, 17, 22; vol. i, 274, 277, 286.

367:2 Spencer, D. S. ii, 20, col. 1, citing Torquemada.

367:3 Sahagun, 1, vi, c. 7; French trans. pp. 342-3; Prescott, as cited, p. 33. The overplus of grain belonging to the priests was given to the poor. Clavigero, vi, 13 (i, 270).

368:1 Clavigero, B. vi, § 20 (i, 283); Gomara. as cited, p. 446, col. 1 (end). Cp. Pl. ii of art. America in Encyc. Brit. 11th ed., i, 809.

368:2 Above, Part II, p. 270.

368:3 Bancroft, iii, 355-9.

368:4 See above, Part II, p. 271, as to the details of one sacrifice to this God in which the victim was painted red.

368:5 There can be no question as to the pre-Christian antiquity of the symbol of the cross in Mexico as elsewhere. See Müller. pp. 496-500. The cross figured in Mexico as a sacred symbol also in connection with the Rain-God, and was expressly known as the "Tree of our life." Yet Dr. Brinton has confidently decided (Myths of the New World, p. 96; American Hero Myths, p. 155) that it simply signified, with its four points, the cardinal points and the four winds. This explanation, which is a fair guess, has been dogmatically put forward by several writers, including Dr. Réville (Lectures, p. 38). But why should the cardinal points be represented by an upright cross? And why should it be called "Tree of our life" and specially associated with Tlaloc and other Gods of rain? Were all four winds alike "rain-bringers"? Quetzalcoatl, as we shall see, was God of one rain-bringing wind, and his mantle was marked with crosses (Müller, p. 581. Cp. p. 500). Certainly the number four figured in Tlaloc's worship (Bancroft, iii, 348), but so did the image of the snake. Is not the more plausible hypothesis this, that in such a connection the primary significance of the cross was phallic?

368:6 Sahagun, pp. 128, 133 (1, ii, ch. 29); Bancroft, iii, 329-331.

368:7 See Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 205, and above, pp. 207.

369:1 Herrera, General History, iii, 216, cited in Spencer's Descriptive Sociology. Cp. Bulletin 28 of Amer. Bureau of Ethnol. as cited, pp. 277, 282.

369:2 The priests actually went into battle to help in securing captives, and were conspicuous for their fury. Prescott, p. 39.

369:3 Müller, p. 638.

369:4 Id. ib.

369:5 Prescott, B. i, c. 3.

369:6 Ib. B. ii, c. 6.

369:7 Cp. Nadaillac, p. 267.

370:1 Herrera, Hist. Gen. dec. iv, 1. x, c. 4, cited by Nadaillac.

370:2 J. G. Müller, p. 657.

Next: § 7. The Mexican White Christ