In Aztec cosmology, the soul intakes a journey to the Underworld after death and they have four destinations: the Sacred Orchard of the Gods, the Place of Darkness, the Kingdom of the Sun, and a paradise called the Mansion of the Moon.
The most common destination for a soul is Mictlán (Place of Darkness) with nine levels, crashing mountains and rushing rivers, and four years of struggle. There are 13 Heavens over which various gods and goddesses preside and provides the cultural basis for the Day of the Dead customs and celebrations.
Mictlantecuhtli is the skeletal Lord of the Land of the Dead – the supreme ruler of Mictlán. He oversees the place of eternal smoke and darkness along with his consort Mictlancihuatl.
Mictlán ruled by its Lord and Lady, is a gloomy place a soul reaches only after wandering for four years beneath the Earth, accompanied by a “soul-companion,” usually a do which was customarily cremated with the body.
Aztec myth tells how Quetzalcoatl (Nahuatl language means “feathered serpent”) journeyed into Mictlán at the dawning of the Fifth Sun (the present world era), and restored humankind to life with from the bones of those who had lived before. Bones are like seeds: everything that dies goes into the Earth, and from it new life is born in the sacred cycle of existence.
Quetzalcoatl’s Descent To Mictlán
At sunset, Mictlantechutli (Lord of Underworld) and Tonatiuh (Star God) take their place to illuminate the world of the dead.
Legend tells that after Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca created the world, the day and night, they placed Mictalntecuhtli and his wife Mictlancihuatl as Lord and Lady of the underworld.
The counterpart of Mictlán is the paradise known as Tlalocán, or the home of the god Tlaloc, where the dead who drowned or were struck by lightning would dwell.
The 4 houses of the dead:
Chichihuacuauhco is the first mansion, a place of dead children. In its middle there is a large tree whose branches drip milk so the children could might feed and gain strength. These children will return to the Earth when our world of the Fifth Sun is destroyed. That is why children died young so they might repopulate the Earth for the future.
Mictlán is the second house. Those who succumbed to illness and old age went to dwell in Mictlán. The soul must make a 4 year journey and pass through nine layers of the Underworld and various daunting tests. These included the dead coming to the river Apanohuaya which is impossible to cross without the help of an Itzcuintli (xoloitzcuintle), a special dog each family raised and cremated alongside the mourned deceased.
Among the Aztecs, the god Xolotl was a monstrous dog. During the creation of the Fifth Sun, Xolotl was hunted by Death and escaped him by transforming himself first into a sprout of maize, then into maguey leaves and finally as a salamander in a pool of water. The third time that Death found Xolotl, he trapped and killed him. Three important foodstuffs were produced from the body of this mythological dog.
Mictlantecuhtli, Lord of the Dead, had kept the bones of a man from a previous creation. Xolotl descended to the Underworld trying to steal these bones so that man could be reborn into the new world of the Fifth Sun. Xolotl recovered the bones and brought man to life again by piercing his penis and bleeding upon them. Xolotl is seen as an incarnation of the planet Venus as the Evening Star (the Morning Star was his twin brother Quetzalcoatl).
Xolotl is the canine companion of the Sun, following its path through both in the sky and the Underworld. Xolotl’s strong connection with the Uderworld, death and the dead is demonstrated by the symbols he bears. In the Codex Borbonicus Xolotl is pictured with a knife in his mouth (symbol of death), and has black wavy hair like the hair worn by the gods of death.
Upon recognising his dead master, the dog barks, then rushes to help the deceased to cross the river and carries its master upon his back while swimming.
After the crossing, the soul is stripped of all clothes, beginning the second part of his journey between two mountains that conflicted with each other. This pass is called Tepetl Monamiclia, where the deceased would make warily make their way hoping the two mountains wouldn’t clash and crush the passing traveler.
At the end of the pass, a descent down a hill strewn with flints and sharp obsidian (same material used to make knives) and the soul would call to Ilztepetl. But the stones still mercilessly cut the feet of the dead as they passed.
Celhuecayan, the eight mountains is covered i perpetual snow that falls constantly and is whipped up by strong winds.
The soul the arrives at the foot of a hill, the last part in the journey called Paniecatacoyan. These moors here are cold and large, where the dead would walk endlessly crossing the desolated land.
The soul then take a long path, where they are struck with arrows. This place is Temiminaloyan and the arrows are fired by unseen hands.
At the end of the path is Tecoylenaloyan, where the soul exists with thousands of fierce beasts. When any of the beasts reached them, the souks would throw open their chests and let the beasts eat their hearts.
The souls os then forced to dive into the Apanuiayo (black water river), and where the Xochilonal dwells. The soul must swim in this lake, dodging the animals, including the terrifying lizard to get to the next test.
Finally, tired, injured and exhausted with suffering, the soul reaches Chicunamictlan, where they would meet Mictlantecuchtli, the fierce God of the Death who would receive them with vengeance.
Here the soul’s cycle ends forever and here they would live until their bodies and their lives extinguish.
The long journey lasted for four years, in which the deceased came to his eternal rest.
The mansion where most of the dead arrived were those who would diedof natural causes.
The is the Kingdom of the Sun.
Here the warriors, slaughtered at the hands of their enemies, rest. Those souls of women who died in childbirth are counted among these. For among the Aztecs, pregnant women were like warriors who symbolically capture her child for the Aztec state in the painful and bloody battle of birth. Considered as female aspects of defeated heroic warriors, women dying in childbirth became fierce goddesses who carried the setting sun into the netherworld realm of Mictlán.
Mictlán is a place outside of the time. A wonderful infinite place, and a beautiful plain, at every day the sun rose, warriors beat their shields.
After four years, these warriors would turn into rich bird-feathers, small, living creatures eating the flowers.
Those who had died by drowning, lightning, and other deaths related to water and rain arrived at Tlalocán, the Mansion of the Moon, a place of unending springtime and a paradise of green plants. This place belongs to Tlaloc.
Tlaloc is also associated with caves, springs, and mountains, most specifically the sacred mountain in which he was believed to reside. His animal forms include herons and water-dwelling creatures such as amphibians, snails, and possibly sea creatures, particularly shellfish.
The dead arriving here would be happy, fresh and unconcerned. These dead hadn’t been cremated, but buried.
And so, between the mansions the dead Aztecs were divided, each person going to their designated place in the Mexican Underworld.
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