The following is a fictional interview with Barry Braiselthwaite, High Priest of the Reconstituted Temple of Huizilopochtli. Barry grew up in Des Moines, Iowa in a Pentecostal family but was dissatisfied with the religion of his birth. After a bad break up sent him on a spiritual journey, he found Huizilopochtli in the late 1990s. He moved to southern Arizona to attend the prestigious Quezelcoatl Seminary and entered the clergy in 2002. Since then he has moved through the ranks, becoming High Priest of the Reconstituted Temple in 2009. He is frequently in the media defending his religion against bigotry and has been published in Slate, The New York Times, The Guardian and Al Jazeera.
Who is Huizilopochtli?
Huizilopochtli, the Turquoise Prince, Our Lord, may his strength endure forever, is the Aztec god of the Sun and of war. His name in Nuahatl means Resuscitated Hummingbird Warrior of the South and when he visits the earth he takes the form of an eagle. We, his followers, are the People of the Sun.
Why does he need hearts freshly cut from the chests of sacrificial human offerings?
If he doesn’t get his hearts, the Turquoise Prince will lack the strength to lift the sun into the sky in the morning. Obviously this is a big deal because then the endless night will overtake the world and there will be nothing but coldness and darkness. No one wants that to happen. That’s why he needs a constant diet of blood for those who sacrifice themselves for his sake, to keep him strong.
Those who give themselves to our lord in this way are “the eagle’s people” and after death will live forever as hummingbirds by his throne. It’s actually an honor to be sacrificed to him.
This sounds like you actually cut out people’s hearts. Do you?
Not at all! Huizilopochtli is a god of peace. Even though he is a god of war, he’s the god of war in self defense, which is a legitimate way to preserve peace. There are a lot of people who are prejudiced against the Turquoise Prince who always want to delegitimize and slander us by repeating the unfounded slur that we want to cut out people’s hearts. We are the victims of a vicious media campaign and we call on all Americans to stand up for our constitutionally-guaranteed rights of freedom of religion.
However, I am grateful for this opportunity to debunk some common myths. Let me take a common example. There’s a moment at the height of our ceremonies, when the drummers are drumming their loudest where the priest (usually me) screams “cut out of the heart of the sacrificial offering!” The congregation responds by chanting “blood for the blood god!” This should not be taken literally.
It’s the soul-energy of a person that nourishes our god, not the physical heart per se. No one is physically sacrificed. Instead, selected devotees lie on the altar and offer themselves to Huizilopochtli. He then absorbs their hearts over the course of the ritual as they sublimate themselves to him. It’s actually a very powerful and moving experience. I invite you to come to a temple service and experience it yourself some time, we are open to all.
Surely you acknowledge that historically the Aztecs did cut out the still beating hearts of thousands of prisoners in sacrifices. Is that not true? Were they not true People of the Sun?
Yes, the original People of the Sun did do that. But even at that time the spiritual offering of the heart’s energy was more important than cutting open the chests of captives, ripping out their hearts and holding them aloft and draining the blood into the sacred vessels. Those practices were only ever secondary, but in any case are no longer applicable in the modern generation.
Why not? Does Huizilopochtli not really need the physical heart and blood? Did those people die for nothing?
No, he does need the blood. Those sacrifices were offered righteously to stave off the endless night.
So what changed? Why does he only need the spiritual energy now but he needed the physical heart before?
It’s all about context. Although his teachings are timeless and he himself of course is an immortal deity, the context in this world changes over the centuries. What is suitable for one age is not necessarily suitable for another. How to tell is a matter for the scholars. You have to be able to read and interpret the sacred texts in the original Nuahatl, in accordance with our oral tradition, to explore the depth of this question. We do not have time to go into it in this short interview.
If it’s all about context, why do so many young People of the Sun carry portraits of Moctezuma, who personally cut out the hearts of thousands of captives during the inauguration of the Great Temple in Tenochtitlan? Why do they call to restore the original purity of the faith and constitute an ‘Authentic Aztec Government’? Isn’t that going backwards?
You are talking about the ‘New Dawn of the Sun’ movement. They yearn for the days when the People of the Sun were strong and powerful, and not oppressed and marginalized by Western imperialism. Then we had dignity and independence, not like today when we are a despised minority at risk from the increasingly authoritarian and bigoted Trump administration. The reason for this loss of power is complex (and mostly the fault of colonialist militarism) but the ‘New Dawn of the Sun’ feel that if we restored the piety and purity of worship we had in those days, we could regain some of that lost self-respect and respect from others. I don’t support them personally but I can understand their frustrations and motives.
Decolonization is a complex process. It is important that our young people are able to look up to great figures from our past and that we are able to run our societies on our own terms free from Western influence. New Dawn of the Sun is also not a monolithic movement. Members have a range of views about the role an emperor would play, the exact nature of the reconstituted temple, etc. Cutting out hearts is a very small part of the system, which people always unduly focus on. Most of it is about social justice.
Most are not talking about restarting human sacrifices at the great temple, but an authentic Aztec government inspired by the eternal principles of the Turquoise Prince.
What about the terrorist group Army of The Eagle King? They seized control of an area in the Mexican desert and cut out the hearts of 300 people as an offering to Huizilopochtli only last week. Their leader styles himself Moctezuma III and proclaimed himself Emperor.
I condemn them utterly. They are not People of the Sun. They do not represent us or the teachings of Huizilopochtli. They are manipulating our religion for their own murderous purposes. I have no idea where they would have got these horrible ideas.