The Aztecs believed that every 52 years, one full cycle of their solar year, the world would end and in order to prevent that from happening they preformed Toxhiuhmolpilia, the New Fire Ceremony. They considered fire to be one of the essential elements of the universe and their god of fire, Xiuhtecuhtli, was the generative force for the ceremony.
To prepare for Toxhiuhmolpilia, all fires were extinguished, the city was cleaned, pregnant women were locked away and their faces were painted blue so they wouldn’t turn into monsters, and children’s faces were also painted and they were kept from falling asleep in order to keep them from turning into mice. Then all commotion was stopped and people climbed onto their roofs to wait for the new fire.
The priests who conducted the ceremony would lead a war captive to the peak of the volcanic mountain, Mt. Uixachtecatl, just outside the main city. The priests were extravagantly dressed as their gods wearing intricate masks, feathers, and cloaks. When the the Pleiades constellation reached it’s zenith, and the Yohualtecuhtli star was shined bright in the middle of the sky, the human sacrifice began. The High Priest, dressed as Xiuhtecuhtli, cut out the war captive’s heart then started a fire in his chest cavity. If the fire did not die, then Xiuhtecuhtli was reborn and the sun would be renewed. The new fire was carried across the empire signaling the world/universe had not ended. On the other hand, if the fire failed to light in the sacrifice, then the Tzitzimime (star demons) would come down to earth and slaughter every human, ending the Aztec Empire and destroying the world.
Photo by Mr.Thomas