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I think it says something about the Aztecs that even the goddess associated with butterflies ended up being a terrifying monster. Namely, that they were pretty badass.

If you’re looking for cute deities in Aztec mythology, you’re looking in the wrong place entirely. While it’s true that not all of them were bloodthirsty monsters, most of them had at least one aspect that was…shall we say, less than pleasant. The butterfly goddess, Itzpapalotl, depicted in today’s comic, was a skeletal war goddess, known as the “clawed butterfly” or the “obsidian winged butterfly” amongst the Aztec. There are early tales about her seducing men only to tear them open and devour them. She was also thought to rule over one of the various paradise realms that human souls are lead to after death. I don’t know about you, but no paradise, no matter how beautiful, would seem pleasant with that sort of creature watching over you.

Like many cultures throughout history, the Aztec were consumed by the idea of understanding the transitory nature of life on planet earth. The duality of life and death, of suffering and pleasure, were major talking points in their philosophical discussions. Their mythology (though somewhat lifted from the cultural groups that came before their empire) ended up reflecting their philosophical ideas. Many of the gods and goddesses that made up their pantheon came in multiple flavors. For instance, Huitzilopochtli, the patron god of the mighty city of Tenochtitlan, was a devastatingly powerful war god and lover of human sacrifice. However, he was also associated heavily with the sun, the source of all life on planet earth. There is a sense, throughout the Aztec mythology, that death is life and vice versa.

As in all cultures, particularly in more advanced civilizations with codified philosophies like the Aztecs, nothing is ever as simple as it may first appear. While blood sacrifices are clearly a terrific waste of human life in the eyes of modern humans, it was the interconnected nature of life and death in the eyes of the Aztecs that compelled them to perform such grisly acts. In their culture, it was an honor to be offered up as a sacrifice to the many gods that ruled over human and earthly activities and, without blood, the essence of human life, the gods would turn their backs on humanity forever. By taking that most precious of gifts and giving it to these deities, the priests and priestesses of the Aztec religion hoped to bring a chaotic and terrifying world into order. Simply offering animal or plant sacrifices was not enough for most gods (though the mighty Quetzalcoatl was said to despise human sacrifice) to take notice.

In a system that hoped to gain favor for humans, only human life seemed a significant enough sacrifice to the Aztecs. As strange as it may seem, to the Aztecs, only killing and offering the life and blood of sacrificial victims could secure life from chaos for the rest of their civilization, a concept that has also been seen in many other parts of the world at one time or another.

Unfortunately for them, these sacrifices didn’t stop the coming of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500’s.

Guess the gods must have been on vacation then.