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

§ 8. The Fatality of the Priesthood.

The main hope of the humaner thinkers would probably lie in the substitution of a symbolic for an anthropophagous sacrament: if baked effigies could be eaten, effigies might be sacrificed. But in some even of the symbolic sacraments blood was a constituent. Thus in the cult of Huitzilopochtli, for the baked image made of seeds for the winter festival of the solstice—Christmas—the blood of slain children was the cementing moisture. 1 Here again we have the primitive "sympathetic magic": the image, which was transfixed with an arrow before being eaten, represented the potentialities of new vegetable life at the time of year when vegetation was dead, and the blood of children was the deadly symbol of the moisture that was the life of all things, besides being a means of as it were vitalising the image. 2 Such a cult was indeed far from reducing anthropophagy to a mere symbol.

So with the cult of Xiuhteuctli, the Fire-God. Alongside, apparently, of the remarkable symbolic sacrament above mentioned there were anthropophagous sacraments to the same God. He was one of the most widely honoured of all, the first drink at every meal in every household being taken in his name—a correlation which again suggests derivation from an Asiatic fire-cult such as is seen blended in that of Agni in the Vedas. In his name, too, every child was passed through the fire at birth—another notable parallel to ancient Asiatic usages; 3 and from his six hundred temples burned as many perpetual fires. Every four years a great feast was held in his honour at Quauhtitlan, not far from the city of Mexico; the first act being to plant six high trees before the temple on the day previous, and to sacrifice two slaves, who were flayed. On the feast day, two priests appeared clad in those victims’ skins, hailed with the cry, "See, there come our Gods"; and all day they danced to wild music, the while many thousands of quails were sacrificed to the God. Finally the priests took six prisoners and bound or hanged them to the tops of the six trees, where they were shot through with arrows. When dead they were taken down and their hearts cut out

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in the usual way, the priests and nobility finally eating the flesh of both the men and the quails as a sacrament. 1

It is not clear at what place and period the symbolical sacrifice in this cult arose; but the essential problem is, whether it could have ousted the other. And the answer must be that inasmuch as the human sacrifice was specially associated with the power of the priests, and was obviously to the tastes of the mass of the people of all grades, nothing short of an overthrow of the existing polity by another could have effected the transformation, there being no native culture in the surrounding States that could give the requisite moral lead on a large scale. Such violent subversion, it will be remembered, was a common condition of religious evolution in the Old World in antiquity; and the history of the great) priestly systems of Egypt, India, and Babylon points to the conclusion that not otherwise than by the fiat of powerful autocrats, or forcible overthrow at the hands of neighbouring and kindred races, in the absence of peaceful culture-contacts of a higher kind, could such systems be made to loosen their grasp on social and intellectual life.

It will be observed that in the cult under notice the priest represents the God even as does the victim. The same phenomenon occurs, sometimes, though not always, with the same procedure of donning the victim's skin, in many of the American sacrificial cults, Aztec and other. 2 A recent hierologist has argued, in view of the various instances in which priest-kings and sacrificial priests have been themselves annually sacrificed, that "it was as the shedder of divine [victim's] blood that the king-priest's blood was shed," and that he was originally distinguished from his fellow-worshippers" only by his greater readiness to sacrifice himself for their religious needs." 3 We need not dwell here on the fallacy of thus imputing a calculated and reasoned self-devotion in the case of an act which, among savage men, would stand just as much for lack of imagination or forethought. Assuming the theory to be true, however, we must recognise that in the case of the historic Mexican priesthood any ancient liability of the kind had long disappeared. According to Herrera, the private chaplains of the nobles were slain at the death of their masters; but this was as slaves or attendants, not as public priests, and not as true sacrifices. 4 In not a single case do we learn

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that the victim was furnished by the priestly class. 1 That class indeed practised in some measure, as we have seen, the asceticisms common to most ancient priesthoods, but it had long made an end of any serious penalties attaching to its profession. 2 The priests, in short, were the dominant force in the Mexican society; and under them it was on the one hand being economically ruined in the manner of most ancient empires, and on the other being anchylosed in its moral and intellectual life. To say this is of course not to select the priests for blame as being the sole or primary causes of the fatal development: their order was but the organised expression of the general religious tendency. But they dramatically exhibit, once for all, the capacity of "religion" in general to darken life and blight civilisation.

The mere number of the priests was so great as to constitute a force of fixation such as has never been countervailed in modern European countries, where forces relatively less powerful have only slowly been undermined by culture influences from more advanced neighbouring communities. When we note that the temple of the Mexican Wine-God alone had four hundred priests, 3 we realise that we are in presence of social conditions which mere humanism could not avail to transform, even if it found a hearing among the priest-hoods. À fortiori, no philosophic developments on the sacerdotal side could have availed. The growth of a pantheistic philosophy among the priesthoods of ancient India and Babylonia and Egypt, and the growth of a monotheistic doctrine among those of Jewry, were equally without effect on the sacerdotal practices as a whole, these remaining in all cases alike primitively sacrificial, though, for extra-sacerdotal reasons already noted, they ceased to include human sacrifice. And in Mexico, of course, the philosophic developments were slight at best. The figuring of Tezcatlipoca as "the soul of the world" 4 does not appear to have stood for any methodically

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pantheistic thought, being apparently an expression of henotheism common in solar worships. The entire Mexican civilisation, in short, was being arrested at a stage below that attained in the Mesopotamian empires long before the Christian era.


373:1 Bancroft, iii, 297-300.

373:2 Müller, pp. 605-6. See above, p. 144.

373:3 Dr. Müller remarks (p. 569) in this connection that the entire Aztec religion has many resemblances to the fire-worship of Siva. But the primary fire-worship traced among the Sumer-Akkadians is to be looked to as the possible source of that and the later Semitic as well as of the American forms.

374:1 Müller, pp. 568-9; Clavigero, B. vi, § 21 (i, 283-4); Humboldt, Monuments, 186, 206, 213.

374:2 Müller, pp. 77, 493, 570, 577, 581, 591, 599, 600, 604, 606, 635, 640.

374:3 Jevons, Introd. to the Hist. of Religion, pp. 294, 296.

374:4 Herrera, General History, Eng. tr. 1725-6, iii, 220, cited in Spencer's Descriptive Sociology, No. II, p. 20, col. 1.

375:1 Thus Dr. Jevons’s remark (p. 283) that "in Mexico the priest was allowed to evade the violent death which attached to his office on condition that he found a substitute (a war captive)," is apt to mislead; though it may be the true explanation of the origin of the priestly habit of joining in the fighting.

375:2 We even find that among the Native Americans boys spared from sacrifice were made priests, being thus safe. Waltz, iii, 207, citing Strachey, Hist. of Travaile into Virginia, ed. 1849, p. 93.

375:3 Müller, p. 570.

375:4 It is remarkable that the doctrine of the Logos is here adumbrated in connection with the Winter Sun, who would presumably be born at the winter solstice (when the reign of Huitzilopochtli ended) and pass away at the vernal equinox. As God of Drought, however, he was further God of Death, of the Underworld, and of Judgment (Müller, pp. 614, 618-9, 621)—a combination out of the common line of evolution, the God of Souls and of Wisdom being usually one of the Beloved Gods. The special evolution seems to be due to the fact that he was originally the God of the Tlailotlaks, turned by the Aztecs to special account. Tezcatlipoca was nominally the "greatest God" (Clavigero, B. vi, § 2, p. 244), though Huitzilopochtli got more attention. "Tezcatlipoca was the most sublime figure in the Aztec Pantheon" (Dr. Brinton, American Hero Myths, 1882, p. 69). See his titles (Id. p. 70). He was the Night God (p. 71); and Clavigero notes that his statue was of black stone.

Next: § 9. The Religion of Peru