CREDOS: Early religions — IV

Their leadership structure seems to have been partly expressed religiously, with government and religion closely interwoven into a highly organised whole. The religion of the Olmecs, who lived between about 1,200 and 500 BCE in what is now Mexico, centred on the sacred jaguar, who seems sometimes to have combined with other animals or birds to form new deities.

Successors to the Olmecs were the Maya, whose state religion was based on ceremonial centres dominated by imposing pyramidal temples. Mayan gods, also frequently a combination of animals and birds, were deemed to require regular offerings, which frequently took the form of human sacrifice.

The Aztecs, a martial race living in Central America from around 12th century CE until the Spanish conquest in 1532, worshipped the sun and sacrificed to it a constant stream of human victims. Perhaps as many as 20,000 prisoners of war were slain each year.

The Inca civilisation of Peru existed at roughly the same time as that of the Aztecs. Their religion, founded on ritual, divination and sacrifice, was not so much spiritual as practical, with the cohesion it offered providing the framework for an efficient network of the supply of food to a widely spaced population.

Many other South American peoples worshipped moon deities of feline cults. The imposition of Roman Catholicism saw an end to all the folk religions of South and Middle America. — Religions Of The World