By the time the Aztec civilization began to flourish in the Valley of Mexico, the ancient city of Teotihuacan had already been long abandoned and was simply a place with gigantic monuments. The Aztec gave this place the name Teotihuacan, which means “birthplace of the gods.”
According to Aztec mythology, Teotihuacan was the place of the most recent creation. The Aztec creation story tells of five successive Suns. The first Sun was ruled by Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror) and was inhabited by giants. This Sun ended when Quetzalcóatl (Plumed Serpent) caused the giants to be devoured by jaguars. This second Sun, ruled by Quetzalcóatl was destroyed by winds and its people turned into monkeys. The third Sun was ruled by the rain god Tláloc. It was destroyed by a rain of fire and its inhabitants turned into birds. The fourth sun was ruled by Chalchiútlicue, Tláloc’s sister. It was destroyed by floods and its inhabitants turned into fish.
Teotihuacan was where all of the gods gathered in council to determine which god would be willing to sacrifice himself to restart the world’s cycle. At this time the entire world was in darkness. Two of the gods came forward: a warrior god (Tecuciztécatle, who was headstrong and haughty) and a humble god (Nanahuatzin, who was weak and cowardly).
The gods then built a great fire. According to Aztec tradition, the fire was so great that no one could get near it without burning and almost suffocating. The warrior god found that he could not bring himself to throw himself into the flames of this great fire. Three times he tried to throw himself into the fire; three times he ran at the fire, and three times he stopped before he got to the fire. The humble god, on the other hand, ran directly into the fire. He was turned to ashes and then he rose as the sun, a great shining disk to light the new world and the new cycle of the world.
The warrior god, shamed by the actions of the humble god, then leapt into the flames and rose into the heavens as the moon. At first, both the sun and the moon were equally bright, but then one of the gods obscured the brightness of the moon by throwing a rabbit into its face.
The sun and the moon, however, simply sat in the heavens. The rest of the gods then realized that all of their deaths would be needed to restart the cycle. It was only by this action that they could be resurrected and renewed. Thus the gods immolated themselves in the primal fire. One of the gods went through the fire and emerged as the wind. The god of the wind blew through the heavens and set the sun and the moon in motion. In this way the sun began to pass through the heavens during the day and the moon by night.
Note: this is only one version of the story. There are a number of other variations of it.
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