January 15, 2022
The Aztecs had a 52 year cycle and a 260 day year. At the end of a 52 year cycle, the New Fire Ceremony took place.
Every 52 years, the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan threw away images of their gods and let the fires of their homes and temples go out. Priests would walk from the Templo Mayor (or Main Temple) to a mountain called Huixachtlan (also known as Cerro de la Estrella), on the eastern bank of what was then Lake Texcoco. There, they performed a ceremony to light the new fire. If the new fire did not alight, the belief was that the world would end – the stars would turn into monsters and devour humankind. Five days before the ceremony, the people destroyed all their household belongings, fasting and crying as they waited for the catastrophe.
The remains of one of the last New Fire ceremonies have been discovered by INAH. The investigators uncovered objects such as cajetas (a type of bowl), molcajetes (a stone tool similar to a mortar and pestle) and clay figurines.
“The pieces were found in San Fernando pantheon near San Hipólito church, in the old neighborhood of Cuepopan, which adjoins Tlatelolco, where Guerrero neighborhood is now located.
During the ceremony, the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan would throw away the figures representing deities from their home altars; and destroy all their belongings – clothes, dishes and even the tenamaztli (a sacred stone stove). Everything was burnt or thrown into ditches.
Pregnant women were locked up in farmhouses out of fear that they would turn into wild animals and children were made to walk and stay awake for fear that they would fall asleep on the fatal night and turn into rats. The house was also completely cleaned, with everything put in order, and the fires were put out, leaving complete darkness.
In the precise moment the stars passed the meridian, the priests took a wooden tool and lit a fire in the open chest of a victim who had been sacrificed for this purpose. Priests, caciques (a type of prince) and the common people became delirious with happiness. Special runners lit torches with the fire and relit the fires at the altars in the temples of all the local people.
If the world didn’t end and the stars did not turn into deadly monsters, the Mexica people would cheer up, clean up their homes, restore their temples and make new tools. As an extra sign of their appreciation, they would hold large feasts with special food and sacrifices – both of their own blood and that of their prisoners.
El Pais has the report here: