The Native Religions of Mexico and Peru/Lecture I

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

My first duty is to acknowledge the signal honour which the Hibbert Trustees have done me in inviting me to follow such a series of eminent men as the previous occupiers of this Chair, and to address you, in the free and earnest spirit of truth-loving and impartial research, on those great questions of religious history which so justly pre-occupy the chosen spirits of European society. Our age is not, as is sometimes said, an age of positive science and of industrial discoveries alone, but also, and in a very high degree, an age of criticism and of history. It is to history, indeed, more than to anything else, that it looks for the lights which are to guide it in resolving the grave difficulties presented by the problems of the hour, in politics, in organization, and in social and religious life. Penetrated more deeply than the century that preceded it by the truth that the development of humanity is not arbitrary, that the law of continuity is no less rigorously applicable to the successive evolutions of the human mind than to the animal and vegetable transformations of the physical world, it perceives that the present can be no other than the expansion of germs contained in the past; it attempts to pierce to the very essence of spiritual realities by investigating the methods and the laws of their historical development; it strives, here as elsewhere, to separate the permanent from the transient, the substance from the accident, and is urged on in these laborious researches by no mere dilettante curiosity, but rather by the hope of arriving at a more accurate knowledge of all that is true, all that is truly precious, all that can claim, as the pure truth, our deliberate adhesion and our love. And in the domain of Religion, more especially, we can never lose our confidence that, if historical research may sometimes compel us to sacrifice illusions, or even beliefs that have been dear to us, it gives us in return the right to walk in the paths of the Eternal with a firmer step, and reveals with growing clearness the marvellous aspiration of humanity towards a supreme reality, mysterious, nay incomprehensible, and yet in essential affinity with itself, with its ideal, with its all that is purest and sublimest. The history of religion is not only one of the branches of human knowledge, but a prophecy as well. After having shown us whence we come and the path we have trodden, it shadows forth the way we have yet to go, or at the very least it effects the orientation by which we may know in which direction it lies.

Gentlemen, in these Lectures I shall be loyal to the principles of impartial scholarship to which I understand this Chair to be consecrated. Expect neither theological controversy nor dogmatic discussion of any kind from me. It is as a historian that I am here, and as a historian I shall speak. Only let me say at once, that, while retaining my own very marked preferences, I place religion itself, as a faculty, an attribute, a tendency natural to the human mind, above all the forms, even the most exalted, which it has assumed in time and space. I can conceive a Templum Serenum where shall meet in that love of truth, which at bottom is but one of the forms of love of God, all men of upright heart and pure will. To me, religion is a natural property and tendency, and consequently an innate need of the human spirit. That spirit, accidentally and in individual cases, may indeed be deprived of it; but if so, it is incomplete, mutilated, crippled. But observe that the recognition of religion itself (in distinction from the varied forms it may assume), as a natural tendency and essential need of the human mind, implies the reality of its object, even if that sacred object should withdraw itself from our understanding behind an impenetrable veil, even could we say nothing concerning it save this one word: It is! For it would be irrational to the last degree to lay down the existence of such a need and such a tendency, and yet believe that the need corresponds to nothing, that the tendency has no goal. Religious history, by bringing clearly into light the universality, the persistency and the prodigious intensity of religion in human life, is therefore, to my mind, one unbroken attestation to God.

And now it remains for me to express my lively regret that I am unable to address you in your own tongue. I often read your authors: I profit much by them. But I have emphatically not received the gift of tongues. By such an audience as I am now addressing, I am sure to be understood if I speak my mother-tongue; but were I to venture on mutilating yours, I should instantly become completely unintelligible! Let me throw myself, then, upon your kind indulgence.


I am about to speak to you on a subject little known in general, though it has already been studied very closely by specialists of great merit—I mean the religions professed in Mexico and Peru when, in the sixteenth century, a handful of Spanish adventurers achieved that conquest, almost like a fairy tale, which still remains one of the most extraordinary chapters of history. But I shall perhaps do well at the outset briefly to explain the very special importance of these now vanished religions.

The intrinsic interest of all the strange, original, dramatic and even grotesque features that they present to the historian, is in itself sufficiently great; for they possessed beliefs, institutions, and a developed mythology, which would bear comparison with anything known to antiquity in the Old World. But we have another very special and weighty reason for interesting ourselves in these religions of a demi-civilization, brusquely arrested in its development by the European invasion.

To render this motive as clear as possible, allow me a supposition. Suppose, then, that by a miracle of human genius we had found means of transporting ourselves to one of the neighbouring planets, Mars or Venus for example, and had found it to be inhabited, like our earth, by intelligent beings. As soon as we had satisfied the first curiosity excited by those physical and visible novelties which the planetary differences themselves could not fail to produce, we should turn with re-awakened interest to ask a host of such questions as the following: Do these intelligent inhabitants of Mars or Venus reason and feel as we do? Have they history? Have they religion? Have they politics, arts, morals? And if it should happen that after due examination we found ourselves able to answer all these questions affirmatively, can you not imagine what interest there would be in comparing the history, politics, arts, morals and religion of these beings with our own? And if we found that the same fundamental principles, the same laws of evolution and transformation, the same internal logic, had asserted itself in Mars, in Venus and on the Earth, is it not clear that the fact would constitute a grand confirmation of our theories as to the fundamental identity of spiritual being, the conditions of its individual and collective genesis—in a word, the universal character of the laws of mind?

And now consider this. For the Europeans of the early sixteenth century, America, especially continental America, was absolutely equivalent to another planet upon which, thanks to the presaging genius of Christopher Columbus, the men of the Old World had at last set foot. At first they only found certain islands inhabited by men of another type and another colour than their own, still close upon the savage state. But before long they had reason to suspect that immense regions stretched to the west of the archipelago of the Antilles; they ventured ashore, and returned with a vague notion that there existed in the interior of the unknown continent mighty empires, whose wealth and military organization severed them widely indeed from the poor tribes of St. Domingo or Cuba, whom they had already discovered and had so cruelly oppressed. It was then that a bold captain conceived the apparently insane project of setting out with a few hundred men to conquer what passed for the richest and most powerful of these empires. His success demanded not only all his courage, but all his cold cruelty and absolute unscrupulousness, together with those favours which fortune sometimes reserves for audacity. At any rate he succeeded, and the rumours that had inflamed his imagination turned out to be true. On his way he came upon great cities, upon admirably cultivated lands, upon a complete social and military organization. He saw an unknown religion display itself before his eyes. There were temples, sacrifices, magnificent ceremonies. There were priests, there were convents, there were monks and nuns. To his profound amazement, he noticed the cross carved upon a great number of religious edifices, and saw a goddess who bore her infant in her arms. The natives had rites which closely recalled the Christian baptism and the Christian communion. As for our captain, neither he nor his contemporaries could see anything in all this parade of a religion, now so closely approaching, now so utterly remote, from their own, but a gigantic ruse of the devil, who had led these unhappy natives astray in order to secure their worship. But for us, who know that the devil cannot help us to the genesis of ancient mythologies and ancient religions—who know likewise that the social and religious development of Central America was in the strictest sense native and original, and that all attempts to bring it into connection with a supposed earlier intercourse with Asia or Europe have failed—the question presents itself under a very different aspect. In our Old World, the natural religious development of man has produced myths and mythologies, sacrificial rites and priesthoods, temples, ascetics, gods and goddesses; and on the basis of the Old World's experience we might already feel entitled to say, "Such are the steps and stages of religious evolution; such were the processes of the human spirit before the appearance of the higher religions which are in some sort grafted upon their elder sisters, and have in their turn absorbed or spiritualized them." But there would still be room to ask whether all this development had been natural and spontaneous, whether successive imitations linking one contiguous people to another had not transformed some local and isolated phenomenon into an apparently general and international fact—much as took place with the use of tea or cotton—without our being compelled to recognize any necessary law of human development in it. But what answer is possible to the argument furnished by the discovery of the new planet—I mean to say of America? How can we resist this evidence that the whole organism of mythologies, gods, goddesses, sacrifices, temples and priesthoods, while varying enormously from race to race and from nation to nation, yet, wherever human beings are found, develops itself under the same laws, the same principles and the same methods of deduction; that, in a word, given human nature anywhere, its religious development is reared on the same identical bases and passes through the same phases?

Mr. Max Müller, one of my most honoured masters, and one of those who have best deserved the gratitude of the learned world, has declared, with equal justice and penetration, in his Preface to Mr. Wyatt Gill's "Myths and Songs," that the possibility of studying the Polynesian mythology is to the historian what an opportunity of spending a time in the midst of the plesiosauri and the megatherions would be to the zoologist, or of walking in the shade of the vast arborescent ferns that lie buried under our present soil to the botanist. Polynesian mythology has in fact preserved, down to our own day, the pre-historic ages. And, similarly, the religions of Mexico and Peru (for the empire of the Incas held the same surprises and the same lessons in store for its explorers as that of Montezuma had done) has enabled history to carry to the point of demonstration its fundamental thesis of the natural development, in subjection to fixed laws, of the religious tendency in man. All those curious resemblances, amidst the differences which we shall also bring out, between the religious history of the New World and that of the Old, are not at bottom any more extraordinary than the fact that, in spite of the differences of physical type which separated the natives from their conquerors, they none the less saw with eyes, walked on feet, ate with a mouth and digested with a stomach.

We shall begin our study with Mexico. But a few preliminary ethnographical remarks are indispensable. I spare you the catalogue of the numerous sources and documents from which a detailed knowledge of the Mexican religion may be drawn.[1] Such a list is in place in a book rather than in a lecture. I will only direct your attention to the

noble collection made in 1830 by one of your own compatriots, Lord Kingsborough, under the title of


P. 17, note, lines 8 and 9, for "Ixtilxochitl" read "Ixtlilxochitl."

See also list of addenda et corrigenda on p. xi.

"Antiquities of Mexico," a work of extreme importance, which reproduces, in facsimile or

engravings, the monuments and ruins of ancient Mexico;[2] and the very remarkable work of Mr. H. H. Bancroft, "Native Races of the Pacific States of North America."[3]


The region with which we are now to occupy ourselves comprises the space bounded on the South by the Isthmus of Panama, washed East and West by the oceans, and determined, roughly speaking, towards the North by a line starting from the head of the Gulf of California, and sweeping round to the mouths of the Mississippi with a curve that takes in Arizona and Southern Texas. In our day, this southern portion of North America is broken into two great divisions, the first and most southern of which is known collectively as Central America, and embraces the republics of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, San Salvador and Panama. The great peninsula of Yucatan, which is now Mexican, formerly belonged to this group of Central American peoples. The second portion of the territory we are to study corresponds to the present republic of Mexico. I shall presently explain the sense in which it might be called the Mexican empire in the time of Fernando Cortes. For the present, let me ask you to remember that we are now about to speak, in a general and preliminary manner, of the region which pretty closely corresponds to the present Central America and Mexico.

To begin with, we treat these two districts as a single whole, because the Europeans found them inhabited by a race which was divided, it is true, into several varieties, but was distinguished clearly from the Red-skins on the North, and still more from the Eskimos, and alone of the native races of North America had proved itself capable of rising by its own strength to a veritable civilization. The general physical type of the race is marked by a very brown skin, a medium stature, low brow, black coarse hair, prominent jaw, heavy lips, thick eye-brows, and a nose generally large and often hooked. The noble families as a rule had a clearer complexion. The women are thick-set and squab, but not without grace in their movements. In their youth they are sometimes very pretty, but they fade early. We must leave it to ethnological specialists to decide whether this type is not the result of previous crossings.

So much is certain, that at an epoch the date of which it is impossible to fix, but which must have been remote, this race, cut off from all the world by the sea and the profoundest savagery, developed a civilization sui generis, to which the traditional reminiscences of the natives and a series of most remarkable ruins, discovered especially in Central America, bear witness. For it is in this southern district that we find the monumental ruins of Palenque, of Chiapa, of Uxmal, of Utatlan, and of other places, the list of which has again begun to receive additions in recent years. When the Spaniards conquered the New World, the centre of this civilization had shifted further north, to Mexico proper, to the city of Mexico, to Tezcuco and to Cholula. But the consciousness that the Mexican civilization was affiliated to that of the isthmic region had by no means been lost. It was a nation or race called Maya, the name of which seems to indicate that it considered itself indigenous, and the proper centre of which lay in Yucatan, that produced this American civilization—capable of organizing states and priesthoods, of rearing immense palaces, of carving stone in great perfection and with a true artistic sense, and of realizing a high degree of physical well-being. There is reason to believe, however, that this civilization, resembling in some respects that of ancient Canaan, had more refinement in its pursuit of material comfort than vigour in its morality. A certain effeminacy, and even the endemic practice of odious vices, appears to have early enervated it. When the Spaniards arrived in America, wars and devastating invasions had shattered the old and powerful monarchies of the central region and reduced the great monuments of antiquity to ruins, and that too so long ago that the natives themselves, while retaining a certain civilization, had lost all memory of the ancient cities and the ancient palaces that the Europeans rescued from oblivion. We may still see figured amongst the monuments of Mexico those beautiful ruins of Palenque, where stretches a superb gallery, vaulted with the broad ogives that recal the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra; while at Tehuantepec an immense temple has been discovered, hollowed out of a huge rock, like certain temples in India. The cultivation of maize was to this region what that of wheat was to Egypt and Mesopotamia, or of rice to India and China, the material condition, namely, of a precocious civilization. For, as has been remarked, the primitive civilizations could not be developed except where an abundant cereal raised man above immediate anxiety for his subsistence, and rescued him from the all-engrossing fatigues and the dangerous uncertainties of the hunter's life.

This Maya race, having adopted the agricultural and sedentary life, multiplied so greatly as to send out many swarms of colonists towards the North, where the Nahuas, that is to say, "the skilled ones" or "experts" (for so the emigrants from the Maya land were called), found men of the same race as themselves, to whom they imparted their superior knowledge. They kept on pushing northwards, established themselves on the great plateau of Anahuac, or "lake country," where the city of Mexico is situated, and advanced up to the somewhat indefinite limit opposed to their progress by the Red-skins. This migratory movement towards the North was evidently not the affair of a day. It must have continued for centuries; and during its process the Maya civilization may have experienced great developments and undergone numerous modifications; so that, without venturing to pronounce categorically upon a problem yet unsolved, I should myself be inclined to ascribe to a population, which either consisted of bands of emigrant Mayas or was affected by this Nahua movement, those "Mounds" which still throw their galling defiance at the modern methods of research, powerless to explain their origin in regions which have since been under the reign of the most absolute savagery.

However this may be, the movement by which in a remote antiquity the peoples of Central America ascended towards the North, carrying with them their relative civilization to Mexico and even beyond, was reversed at the epoch of our Middle Ages by a migration in the opposite direction. In this case it was the peoples of the northern regions that tended to beat back upon the South. They invaded, conquered and brought into subjection the peoples who had established themselves along the path followed by the previous migrations; and it is probably to invasions of this description that we must ascribe the fall of the ancient Maya society of the isthmic region. But the civilization of which it had sown the germs was not dead. Nay, the peoples who descended upon the South had in great measure themselves adopted it; and in the invaded districts there remained groups and nuclei of Nahua populations who maintained its principles, its arts and its spirit, to which their conquerors readily conformed. The last conquerors had been established as masters in the Mexican district for more than a century when the Spaniards arrived there. They were the Aztecs. They had conquered or shattered what was called the Chichimec empire, which in its turn had destroyed, some centuries earlier, the Toltec empire. But it would be a mistake to think of three successive empires, Toltec, Chichimec and Aztec, one supplanting the other in the same way as the Frankish empire, for example, took the place of that of Rome, which in its turn had replaced divers others more ancient yet. What really took place was what follows.

The prolonged migrations of the Nahuas towards the North had not spread civilization uniformly amongst all the tribes encountered on the route. Thus, down to the sixteenth century, there still existed in the heart of Mexico tribes very little removed from the savage state, such as the Otomis or "wanderers;" whereas, in other districts, the Nahuas had established themselves on a footing of acknowledged supremacy and developed a brilliant civilization. Thus they founded at the extreme north of the present Mexico the ancient city of Tulan or Tullan, the name of which passed into that of its inhabitants, the Toltecs, and this latter, in its turn, became the designation of everything graceful, elegant, artistically refined and beautiful. Ethnographically, it simply indicates the most brilliant foci of the civilization imported from Central America. In fact, there never was a Toltec empire at all, but simply a confederation of the three cities of Tullan, Colhuacan and Otompan, all of which may be regarded as Toltec in the social sense which I have just described. Many other small states existed outside this confederation. It was destroyed by the revolt or invasion of more northern tribes, hitherto held in vassalage and looked down upon as belonging to a lower level of culture and manners. These tribes received or assumed the name of Chichimecs or "dogs," which may have been a term of contempt converted into a title of honour, like that of the Gueux of the Low Countries. Thus arose a Chichimec confederation, of which Colhuacan (the name given for a time to Tezcuco), Azcapulzalco, the capital of the Tepanecs, and Tlacopan, were the principal cities. At Tezcuco the Toltec element was still powerful. Cholula, a sacred city, remained essentially Toltec, and in general the Chichimecs readily adopted the superior civilization of the Toltecs. This was so much the case that Tezcuco became the seat of an intellectual and artistic development, in virtue of which the Europeans called it the Athens of Mexico. It was from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, according to the historians, that what may be called the Chichimec era lasted.

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Aztecs—that is to say the white flamingos or herons (from aztatl), the last comers from the North, who had long been a poor and wretched tribe, and on reaching Anahuac had been obliged to accept the suzerainty of Tezcuco—began to assume great importance. They had founded, under the name of Tenochtitlan, upon an island that is now united to the mainland, the city which was afterwards called Mexico. But originally the name of Mexico belonged to the quarter of the city which was dedicated to the god of war, Mextli. At once warlike and commercial, the Aztecs grew in numbers, wealth and military power; they saved Tezcuco from the dominion of the Tepanecs, who tried to bring the whole Chichimec confederation into subjection; presently they threw off all vassalage, and in the fifteenth century they stood at the head of the new confederation which took the place of that of the Chichimecs, and of which Mexico, Tezcuco and Tlacopan (or Tacuba), were the three capitals.

There was no Mexican empire, then, at the moment when Fernando Cortes disembarked near Vera Cruz, but there was a federation. On certain days of religious festivity a solemn public dance was celebrated in Mexico, in which the sovereign families of the three states, together with their subjects of the highest rank, took part. It began at noon before the palace of the Mexican king. They stood three and three. The king of Mexico led the dance, holding with his right hand the king of Tezcuco, and with his left the king of Tlacopan, and the three confederate sovereigns or emperors thus symbolized for several hours the union of their three states by the harmonious cadence of their movements.[4]


The widely-spread error that makes Montezuma, the Mexican sovereign that received Fernando Cortes, the absolute master of the whole district of the present Mexico, is explained by the fact, that of the three confederate states that of the Aztecs was by far the strongest, most warlike and most dreaded. It was constantly extending its dominion by means of a numerous, disciplined and admirably organized army, and little by little the other two states were constantly approaching the condition of vassalage. The Aztecs were no more recalcitrant to civilization than the Chichimecs, but they were ruder, more matter-of-fact and more cruel. They did no sacrifices to the Toltec graces, but developed their civilization exclusively on its utilitarian and practical side. They were no artists, but essentially warriors and merchants. And even their merchants were often at the same time spies whom the kings of Mexico sent into the countries they coveted, to study their resources, their strength and their weakness. Their yoke was hard. They raised heavy tributes. Their policy was one of extreme centralization, and, without destroying the religion of the peoples conquered by their arms, they imposed upon them the worship and the supremacy of their own national deities. Their warlike expeditions bore a pronounced religious character. The priests marched at the head of the soldiers, and bore Aztec idols on their backs. On the eve of a battle they kindled fresh fire by the friction of wood; and it was they who gave the signal of attack. These wars had pillage and conquest as their object, but also and very specially the capture of victims to sacrifice to the Aztec gods. For the Aztecs pushed the superstitious practice of human sacrifice to absolute frenzy. It was to these horrible sacrifices that they attributed their successes in war and the prosperity of their empire. If they experienced a check or had suffered any disaster, they redoubled their blood-stained offerings. But note this trait, so essentially pagan and in such perfect accord with the polytheistic ideas of the ancient world—they sacrificed to the gods of the conquered country too, to show them that it was not against them they were contending, and that the new régime would not rob them of the homage to which they were accustomed. The Aztec deities were not jealous. They confined themselves to vindicating their own pre-eminence. After each fresh conquest, the Aztecs raised a temple at Mexico bearing the name of the conquered country, and thither they transported natives of the place to carry on the worship after their own customs. It seems that they did not consider even this precaution enough; for they constructed a special edifice near the great temple of Mexico, where the supreme deities of the Aztec people were enthroned, and there they shut up the idols of the conquered countries. This was to prevent their escape, should the desire come over them to return to their own peoples and help them to revolt.[5]

All this will explain how it was that Fernando Cortes found numerous allies against Montezuma's despotism amongst the native peoples. For it is an error, generally received indeed, but contradicted by history, that the Spanish captain decided the fate of so redoubtable an empire, and of a city so vigorously defended as Mexico, with the sole aid of his thousand Europeans.

For the rest, we are forced to acknowledge that the Aztecs had developed their civilization, in its political and material aspects, in a way that does the greatest credit to their sagacity. Property was organized on the individual and hereditary basis for the noble families, and on the collective bases for the people, divided into communities. The taxes were raised in kind, according to fixed rules. Numbers of slaves were charged with the most laborious kinds of work. The merchants, assembled in the cities, formed a veritable tiers-état which exercised a growing political influence. There were markets, the abundance and wealth of which stupefied the Spaniards. The luxury of the court and of the great families was dazzling. No one dared to address the sovereign save with lowered voice, and—strange custom in our eyes!—no one appeared before him save with naked feet and clad in sordid garments, in sign of humility. Mexico had been joined to the mainland by causeways, along which an aqueduct conveyed the pure waters of distant springs to the city. The irrigation works in the country were numerous and in good repair. The streets were cleansed by day and lighted at night, advantages in which none of the European capitals rejoiced in the sixteenth century. And finally, for we cannot dwell indefinitely upon this subject, let us note the excellent roads that stretched from Mexico to the limits of the Aztec empire and the confederated states. Along these roads the sovereigns of Mexico had established, at intervals of two leagues, courier posts for the transmission of important news to them. Montezuma heard of the disembarkment of Fernando Cortes three days after it took place.

And now imagine that this people was always averse to navigation—was ignorant of use of iron, knowing only of gold, silver and copper—had no beast of traction or burden, neither horse, nor ass, nor camel, nor elephant, nor even the lama of Peru—was without writing (for though we find a kind of hieroglyph on the monuments of Mexico and Central America, yet the system was not of the smallest avail for ordinary life)—and, finally, had no money except an inconsiderable number of silver crosses and cacao berries, the mass of exchanges being effected by barter! On the other hand, they worked in stone with admirable skill. In their knives and lance and arrow heads, made of obsidian, they achieved remarkable perfection, and they excelled in the art of supplying the place of writing by pictures, painted on a kind of aloe paper or on cotton stuffs, representing the persons or things as to which they desired to convey information.

Such, then, is the singular people that Spain was destined to conquer in the sixteenth century, and whose civilization, though modified by the special Aztec spirit, rested after all upon the same bases that had sustained the more ancient civilization of Central America. And this is equally true of the religion, which, with all the varieties impressed upon it by the special genius or inclinations of the diverse peoples, reveals itself as resting upon one common basis, from the Isthmus of Panama to the Gulf of California and the mouths of the Rio del Norte.


One of the fundamental traits of this regional religion, then, is the pre-eminence of the Sun, regarded as a personal and animated being, over all other divinities. At Guatemala, amongst the Lacandones, he was adored directly, without any images. Amongst their neighbours the Itzas, not far from Vera Paz, he was represented as a round human head encircled by diverging rays and with a great open mouth. This symbol, indeed, was very widely spread in all that region. Often the Sun is represented putting out his tongue, which means that he lives and speaks. For in the American hieroglyphics, a protruded tongue, or a tongue placed by the side of any object, is the emblem of life. A mountain with a tongue represents a volcano. The Sun was generally associated with the Moon as spouse, and they were called Grandfather and Grandmother. In Central America, in the territory of Mexico, may be observed a number of stone columns which are likewise statues; but the head is generally in the middle, and is so overlaid with ornaments or attributes, that it is not very easy to discover it. These are Sun-columns. As he traced the shadow of these monoliths upon the soil day after day, the Sun appeared to be caressing them, loving them, taking them as his fellow-workers in measuring the time. These same columns were also symbols of fructifying power. Often the Sun has a child, who is no other than a doublet of himself, but conceived in human form as the civilizer, legislator and conqueror, bearing diverse names according to the peoples whose hero-god and first king he is represented as being. And for that matter, if we had but the time, we might long dwell on the myths of Yucatan, of Guatemala (amongst the Quichés), of Honduras, and of Nicaragua. By the side of the Sun and Moon, grandfather and grandmother, there were a number of great and small deities (some of them extremely vicious), and amongst others a god of rain, who was called Tohil by the Quichés and Tlaloc at Mexico, where he took his place amongst the most revered deities. His name signifies "noise," "rumbling." Amongst the Quichés he had a great temple at Utatlan, pyramidal in form, like all others in this region of the world, where he was the object of a "perpetual adoration" offered him by groups of from thirteen to eighteen worshippers, who relieved each other in relays day and night.

Human sacrifice was practised by all these peoples, though not to such an extent as amongst the Aztecs, for they only resorted to it on rare occasions. It was especially girls that they immolated, with the idea of giving brides to the gods. They were to exercise their conjugal influence in favourably disposing their divine consorts towards the sacrificers. In this connection we find a tragi-comic story of a young victim whose forced marriage was not in the least to her taste, and who threatened to pronounce the most terrible maledictions from heaven upon her slaughterers. Her threats had so much effect that they let her go, and procured another and less recalcitrant bride for the deity.[6]

Finally, we will mention a most characteristic deity (whom we shall presently recognize at Mexico under yet another name), variously known as Cuculkan (bird-serpent), Gucumatz (feathered-serpent), Hurakan—whence our "hurricane"—Votan (serpent), &c. He is always a serpent, and generally feathered or flying. He is a personification of the wind, especially of the east wind, which brings the fertilizing rains in that district. Almost everywhere he is credited with gentle and beneficent dispositions, and therefore with a certain hostility to human sacrifice. It was this deity, in one of his forms, who was worshipped in the sacred island of Cozumel, situated close to Yucatan, to which pilgrimages were made from great distances. It was there that the Spaniards, to their great surprise, first observed a cross surmounting the temple of this god of the wind. This was the starting-point of the legend according to which the Apostle Thomas had of old evangelized America. It is a pure illusion. The pagan cross of Central America and Mexico is nothing whatever but the symbol of the four cardinal points of the compass from which blow the four chief winds.

Such is the common religious basis, which we have simply sketched in its most general outlines, and upon which the more elaborate and sombre religion of the Aztecs, which we shall examine at our next meeting, was reared. Pray observe that we find in this group of connected beliefs and worships something quite analogous to the polytheism of the ancient world. The only notable difference is, that the god of Heaven, Dyaus, Varuna, Zeus, Ahura Mazda, or (in China) Tien, does not occupy the same pre-eminent place in the American mythology that he takes in its European and Asiatic counterparts. For the rest, the processes of the human spirit are absolutely identical in the two continents. In both alike it is the phenomena of nature, regarded as animated and conscious, that wake and stimulate the religious sentiment and become the objects of the adoration of man. At the same time, and in virtue of the same process of internal logic, these personified beings come to be regarded more and more as possessed of a nature superior in power indeed, but in all other respects closely conforming, to that of man. If nature-worship, with the animism that it engenders, shapes the first law to which nascent religion submits in the human race, anthropomorphism furnishes the second, disengaging itself ever more and more completely from the zoomorphism which generally serves as an intermediary. This is so everywhere. And thus we may safely leave to ethnologists the task of deciding whether the whole human race descends from one original couple or from many; for, spiritually speaking, humanity in any case is one. It is one same spirit that animates it and is developed in it; and this, the incontestable unity of our race, is likewise the only unity we need care to insist on. Let us recognize it, then, since indeed it imposes itself upon us, and let us confess that the gospel did but anticipate the last word of science in proclaiming universal fraternity.

And here, Gentlemen, we reach one of those grand generalizations which must finally win over even those who are still inclined to distrust the philosophical history of religions as a study that destroys the most precious possessions of humanity. In setting forth the intellectual and moral unity of mankind, everywhere directed by the same successive evolutions and the same spiritual laws, it brings into light the great principle of human brotherhood. In demonstrating that these evolutions, in spite of all the influences of ignorance, of selfishness and of grossness, converge towards a sublime, ideal goal, and are no other than the mysterious but mighty and unbroken attraction to that unfathomable Power of which the universe is the visible expression, it founds on a basis of reason the august sentiment of the divine fatherhood. Brother-men and one Father-God!—what more does the thinker need to raise the dignity of our nature, the promises of the future, the sublimity of our destiny, into a region where the inconstant waves of a superficial criticism can never reach them? Such is the vestibule of the eternal Temple; and in approaching the sanctuary—albeit I may not know the very title by which best to call the Deity who reigns in it—I bow my head with that union of humility and of filial trust which constitutes the pure essence of religion.

But from these general considerations we must return to our more immediate subject. At our next meeting, Gentlemen, we are to study the special beliefs and mythology of ancient Mexico.

  1. The second, third and fourth despatches (the first is lost) from Fernando Cortes to Charles V., written in 1520, 1522 and 1524 respectively. Original editions as follows: "Carta de relatcion embiada a su S. majestad del emperador nuestro señor . . . por el capitan general de la nueva spaña: Llamado fernando cortes," &c.: Seville, 1522. "Carta tercera de relacion: embiada por Fernando cortes," &c.: Seville, 1523. "La quarta relacion que Fernando cortes gouernador y capitan general . . . embio al muy alto . . . rey de España," &c.: Toledo, 1525. Recent edition, with notes, &c.: "Cartas y Relaciones de Hernan Cortés al Emperador Carlos V. colegidas é ilustradas por Don Pascual de Gayangos," &c.: Paris, 1866. English translation: "The Despatches of Hernando Cortes," &c., translated by George Folsom: New York and London, 1843.—Francisco Lopez de Gómara (Cortes' chaplain): "Hispania Victrix. Primera y segunda parte de la historia general de las Indias con todo el descubrimiento, y cosas notables que han acaescido dende que se ganaron hasta el año de 1551. Con la conquista de Mexico y dela nueva España:" Modina del Campo, 1553. Also printed in Vol. XXII. of the "Biblioteca de Autores Españoles:" Madrid, 1852 (to the pagination of which references in future notes will be made). There is an old English translation of Part II. of this work, entitled, "The Pleasant Historie of the Conquest of the Weast India, now called new Spayne, Atchieved by the worthy Prince Hernando Cortes, Marques of the Valley of Huaxacac, most delectable to Reade: Translated out of the Spanishe tongue by T. N. [Thomas Nicholas], Anno 1578:" London.—Bernal Diaz: "Historia Verdadera de la Nueva España escrita por el Capitan Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Uno de sus Conquistadores. Sacada a luz por el P. M. Fr. Alonso Remon," &c.: Madrid, 1632. English translation: "The Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, written by Himself," &c.: translated by John Ingram Lockhart, F.R.A.S. 2 vols.: London, 1844. There is also a good French translation: "Histoire Véridique de la conquête . . . . par le Capitaine Bernal Diaz del Castillo," &c., by Dr. Jourdanet. Second edition: Paris, 1877.—Las Casas. Numerous works collected by Llorente: "Collecion de las obras del Venerable Obispo de Chiapa, Don Bartolomé de las Casas, Defensor de la Libertad de los Americanos." 2 vols.: Paris, 1822. Also translated into French, with some additional matter, by the same Llorente, and published in the same year at Paris. His "Historia de las Crueldades de los Españoles," &c., was translated into English in 1655 by J. Phillips, under the title of "The Tears of the Indians," &c., and dedicated to Oliver Cromwell. [N.B. Translations in full or epitomized of several of the above works, together with others, may be found in Vols. III. and IV. of "Purchas his Pilgimes," &c.: London, 1625-26.]—Sahagun's history of New Spain, a work of the utmost importance for the religious history of Mexico, remained unpublished till the present century, and appeared almost simultaneously in Mexico and London: "Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España . . . escribió el R. P. Fr. Bernardino de Sahagun . . . uno de los primeros predicadores del santo evangelio en aquellas regiones," &c. 3 vols.: Mexico, 1829-30. The same work appeared in Vols. V. and VII. of Lord Kingsborough's collection. Vid. infr. A French translation by Jourdanet appeared in 1880.—Acosta: "Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias . . . compuesta por el Padre Joseph de Acosta Religioso de la Campañia de Jesus," &c.: Seville, 1590. English translation: "The Naturall and Morall Historie of the East and West Indies," &c.: translated by E. G.: London, 1604.—Torquemada: "Los veynte y un libros Rituales y Monarchia Yndiana . . . Compuesto por Fray Ivan de Torquemada," &c. 3 vols.: Seville, 1615. Printed again at Madrid in 1723.—Herrera (official historiographer of Philip II.): "Historia General de los Hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas i Tierra Firme del mar Oceano," &c., by Antonio de Herrera; to which is prefixed, "Descripcion de las Indias Ocidentales," &c., by the same. 4 vols.: Madrid, 1601. English translation by Capt. John Stevens, "The General History of the vast Continent and Islands of America," &c. 6 vols.: London, 1725-26.

    The following native writers may also be consulted. Ixtilxochitl (Fernando de Alva): "Historia Chichimeca" and "Relaciones," in Lord Kingsborough's "Mexican Antiquities," Vol. IX. (vid. infr.). French translations in Vols. VIII. XII. and XIII. of H. Ternaux-Compans' collection: "Voyages, Relations et Memoires originaux pour servir a l'histoire de la Découverte de l'Amérique:" Paris, 1837-41.—Camargo: "Histoire de la Republique de Tlaxcallan, par Domingo Muñoz Camargo, Indien, natif de cette ville," translated from the Spanish MS. in Vols. XCVIII. and XCIX. of the "Nouvelles Annales des Voyages," &c.: Paris, 1843.—Pomar (J. B. de): "Relacion de las Antiquedades de los Indios." Pomar was a descendant of the royal house of Tezcuco, and his memoirs were made use of in MS. by Torquemada.

    Amongst later authorities may be mentioned (in addition to Prescott's well-known work, and those cited in the following note): W. Robertson: "History of America."—Alx. von Humboldt: "Vues des Cordillières et Monuments des peuples de l'Amérique:" Paris, 1810; forming the "Atlas Pittoresque" of Part III. of "Voyage de Humboldt et Bonpland."—Francesco Saverio Clavigero: "Storia antica del Messico," &c. 4 vols.: Cesena, 1780-81. English translation by Charles Cullen: "The History of Mexico," &c. 2 vols.: London, 1787.—Th. Waitz: "Anthropologie der Naturvölker," Vol. IV.: Leipzig, 1864.—Brasseur de Bourbourg: "Histoire des Nations civilisées du Mexique et de L'Amérique-centrale," &c. 4 vols: Paris, 1857-59.—Müller (Joh. George), Professor at Bâle: "Geschichte der Amerikanischen Urreligionen." Second edition: Basel, 1867.—To these should be added the narratives and works of M. D. Charnay, still in the course of publication.

    References will be given to the originals, but in such a form, wherever possible, as to serve equally well for the English and French translations. Where, as is not unfrequently the case, the chapters or sections of the translations do not correspond to the originals, a note of the vol. and page of the former will generally be added.
  2. The original collection is in seven magnificent folio volumes. "Antiquities of Mexico: comprising Facsimiles of Ancient Mexican Paintings and Hieroglyphics... together with The Monuments of New Spain, by M. Dupaix... the whole illustrated by many valuable inedited Manuscripts by Augustine Aglio:" London, 1830. Two supplementary volumes, on the title-page of which Lord Kingsborough's own name appears, were added in 1848, and a tenth volume was projected, but only a small portion of it (appended to Vol. IX.) was printed.
  3. Five volumes: New York, 1875-76.
  4. See Bancroft, Vol. II. pp. 311, 312.
  5. See Sahagun, Tom. I. p. 201, Appendix to Lib. ii. (Vol. II. p. 174, in Jourdanet's translation).
  6. The story is given by Bancroft, Vol. III. p. 471, on the authority of Lopez Medel.