They Believed How a Person Died Determined Their Afterlife
The Aztecs were very focused on death and believed that it really didn’t matter how a person lived in terms of where they ended up in the afterlife. What truly mattered to the Aztecs was how a person died. There were different underworlds or paradises that a person could be sent to, where they would wait for 4 years in order to be reincarnated.
The Aztecs believed in Mictlan, 13 levels of heavens where the Gods resided and where only certain souls were sent. Babies who perished and men waiting to be reincarnated would be allowed to reside in one of the levels of heaven until their time came to be reincarnated. Mictlan also included the 9 levels of the underworld.
People who died normal deaths would go to the paradise of the North where they would reside before moving through the nine trials of the underworld. The soul would have 4 years to complete the trials which included a level where they would be pierced by arrows and a level where they would be beheaded. They would have to face icy winds or wild beasts and pass mountains. It was therefore common for Aztecs to be buried with things that would help them on their journey to reincarnation.
There were three other paradises in the underworld where a soul could be sent. The paradise of the East was the home of the souls who had been sacrificed to the Gods or died in combat. These souls would return to Earth as hummingbirds or butterflies after four years. The paradise of the West was the place for the souls of women who had died in childbirth. According to some myths, these women would return to earth as phantoms. The final paradise was that of the South and was reserved for those who drowned, were struck by lightning, or died from illnesses associated with the god of water and rain.