Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Religious and Theological Studies

First Advisor

Annabeth Headrick, Ph.D.


Aztec, Human Sacrifice, Mixtec, Phenomenology, Ritual, Shamanism


Human sacrifice in the sixteenth-century Aztec Empire, as recorded by Spanish chroniclers, was conducted on a large scale and was usually the climactic ritual act culminating elaborate multi-day festivals. Scholars have advanced a wide range of theories explaining the underlying motivations and purposes of these abundant and regulated ritual massacres. Recent scholarship on human sacrifice in ancient Mexico has observed far more complexity, nuance, and fluidity in the nature of these rituals than earlier mono-causal explanations. Several recent examinations have concentrated their analysis on the use of sacred space, architecture, movement, and embodiment in these festivals. As an extension of these efforts, this dissertation uses a phenomenological approach to examine the "experience" of sacrificial rituals. It explores the sensory-emotive and physiological responses to the celebrations and the violence associated with human sacrifice. Using modern bio-social-psychological theory, this study reveals that the brutal treatment of captive enemy bodies in human sacrificial rituals provided physiological, psychological, and social rewards that turned these spectacular events into a form of enthralling entertainment. Several other recompenses for officiants and other spectator-participants included a sense of security, management of anxiety, and social bonding. In addition, this dissertation reveals that these ceremonies incorporated different shamanic elements that fostered communally experienced "altered states of consciousness" which further contributed to physiological rewards, the reduction of social anxieties, and an increase in social solidarity. The significance of this research is that it offers additional explanations for the massive scale and longevity of the practice of human sacrifice amongst the ancient Aztec. It also offers other reasons why the lower echelons of society supported these celebrations despite the possibilities that they could be demoted to slave status and become sacrificial victims themselves. This study also presents possible future explorations of ritual violence in other ancient and modern cultures.


Copyright is held by the author.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Linda Jane Hansen

File size

366 p.

File format





Regional Studies, Archaeology, Latin American History