The Grail Code 
The Blood Is the Life

A remarkable excavation is going on right now in the venerable city of Mexico, an ancient metropolis that was the capital of the great Aztec empire long before it became the capital of New Spain. This article gives some more details, and it also has some very interesting things to say about the Aztecs themselves.

Most of all, what caught my eye was the way the article describes the Aztecs as a “deeply religious people.” It sounds like some sort of political correctness at first: the Aztecs have been called superstitious savages far too often, so now we call them “deeply religious” to atone for the sins of our imperialist ancestors.

But it’s absolutely true. The Aztecs were deeply religious, more deeply religious than most of us can ever imagine being. I’m not being facetious (for a change) when I say that human sacrifice on an industrial scale requires a deep religious commitment.

The Aztecs were famous, or notorious, for the frequency and quantity of their sacrifices. The constant demand for human victims was one of the things that made many of their subject peoples hate the Aztec rulers, and indeed the main reason Cortez was able to conquer one of the world’s mightiest empires with only a handful of Spanish soldiers was that he had legions of American soldiers to back him up, all drawn from discontented victims of Aztec tyranny.

Human sacrifice is not something that sits well with those of us who have inherited the Judeo-Christian tradition. It was the sin that was always most horrifying to the Old Testament prophets—especially the sacrifice of children, a common ritual in Canaanite religion.

Yet it was also the sin to which the ancient Israelites were most susceptible.

Why? Certainly not because they weren’t religious. Quite the contrary: they had a superfluity of religion.

The Law of Moses specified exactly what sacrifices were necessary and acceptable to God, but to a really religious Israelite they just didn’t seem like enough. It just wasn’t safe to neglect the ultimate sacrifice. That, at least, is how it must have seemed to the unfailingly religious Israelites who crossed the line and entered the temple of Molech.

The Aztecs had that same sort of religious fervor, but they had it in even greater depth and abundance. Mexican chronicles tell of occasions when thousands of victims were sacrificed in one day. Those must have been proud days for every sincerely religious Aztec.

The Aztecs were hardly unique in their devotion to human sacrifice. It seems that every Central American people worshiped gods who demanded human blood now and then. The only thing that really distinguished the Aztecs was the scale of the operation. They had refined sacrifice into an industry; being a highly civilized people, they had a highly civilized factory system for dispatching human victims to the gods.

These are all facts of history that are not in dispute, but what we do with those facts tends to divide us along religious and cultural lines. Christian writers among the Spanish conquerors, and some of the historians who followed them, have tended to dwell on the horror of human sacrifice in contrast to the Christian religion that replaced it. On the other hand, many recent writers treat the same subject as an irreducible fact of anthropology. We can neither condemn nor understand it, because the Aztecs were utterly different from us.

Both views, I think, miss the point, and for the same reason. Both treat the ancient Mexicans as if they were utterly different from us, which helps us avoid the extremely uncomfortable fact that they were actually just like us. If they are different, we don’t have to worry about them. We couldn’t be like that; it’s an Aztec thing.

But if they’re people just like us, we have to admit that we are perfectly capable of human sacrifice.

The Holy Grail, after all, is filled with the real blood of Christ, the one perfect human and thus the one perfect human sacrifice. We are very little different from the Aztecs.

But what a big difference that very little difference makes!

Our religions are both founded on human sacrifice, and for exactly the same reason: no other sacrifice is good enough. The animal sacrifices of the Old Law could not take away sin, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us.

But the human sacrifices of the Aztecs and the Canaanites didn’t take away sin, either. On the contrary, they compounded and multiplied sin. If no sacrifice was great enough to atone for our ordinary sins, what could possibly atone for murder?

No, there was only one sacrifice that could be good enough to make us right with God, and that was the sacrifice of himself that God willingly made.

That is the deep and basic difference between the Aztec idea of human sacrifice and the Christian idea of human sacrifice. The Aztecs’ gods demanded a constant flow of blood, and too much was never enough. Our God demanded one perfect sacrifice, and he provided the victim himself.

When you read in the weeks to come about the magnificent discoveries coming out of Mexico City, don’t shake your head and wonder at the benighted savagery of the Aztecs. Instead, admire the wisdom and true religious spirit of a great and philosophical people, and understand that they were horribly wrong precisely because they were so very close to being right.

2 Responses to “The Blood Is the Life”

  1. Dr. Platypus » Blog Archive » Sacrifice, (Central) American Style Says:

    [...] Here’s an interesting reflection from The Grail Code on the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. Christian writers among the Spanish conquerors, and some of the historians who followed them, have tended to dwell on the horror of human sacrifice in contrast to the Christian religion that replaced it. On the other hand, many recent writers treat the same subject as an irreducible fact of anthropology. We can neither condemn nor understand it, because the Aztecs were utterly different from us. [...]

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