Central and South American religion

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Maya Corn King on a plate

Maya Corn King on a plate

The people who lived in South and Central America before 1500 were polytheistic – they believed in many different gods. Because they lived pretty near one another, and ate many of the same foods, some of their gods were pretty much the same. The Mayan Corn God, for example, had a matching Aztec god too. But other gods and stories were different from culture to culture.

All of the Central American and South American religious traditions involved animal sacrifice, and in some cases also human sacrifice. This, too, was like other religions around the world. Human sacrifice seems to have been common everywhere in the world in the Bronze Age. Slowly animal sacrifice replaced it. Then slowly sacrifices of incense and flowers replaced that, or the Christian Communion ritual. But in early Central America and South America, they were doing human and animal sacrifices.

Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70.

An Aztec human sacrifice (Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70)

These religions, like other religions in other parts of the world, also used astronomy to figure out when to hold some of their religious ceremonies. Other ceremonies happened in the appropriate season. The Green Corn Ceremony, for example, was held when the corn was ripe, around the beginning of summer in most Central American and South American climates.

More about Maya religion
More about the Green Corn Ceremony
And more about Maize Mountain

Bibliography and further reading about early Central and South American religion:


Aztec people
Inca people
Quatr.us home

By |2017-09-10T10:53:07+00:00September 10th, 2017|Central America, Religion, South America|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Central and South American religion. Quatr.us Study Guides, September 10, 2017. Web. January 24, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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