The Zapotec’s were a polytheistic society, which means they believed in multiple gods. Their most important gods were Cocijo who powered lightning and rain, Coquixee who controlled the supernatural, Zaa who controlled the clouds, Xoo controlled earthquakes, and Quiji controlled fire and so on. The Zapotec’s had partaken in many different ritual offerings. Particularly in sacrificing. The ones who did most of the sacrificing were called Ueza-Eche. The Zapotec sacrificed a lot of different animals including humans. After a human was sacrificed, they would bring the heart and blood to the Uija-Tao so that they could then be offered to the supernaturals. The Bigana (entry level priest) would be the ones to please all of the levels above. Some of those duties included burning incense, offering mainly small animals to be sacrificed, and even offering their own blood to be drawn from the vein under the tongue and behind the ear. The priest would use a sharp bone, a stingray spine, or long fingernail grown just for the purpose of bloodletting. The blood then would be caught on feathers or sometimes grass and offered to sacred beings. Of the human sacrifices prisoners would be sacrificed. Afterwards their flesh would be cooked and ate. Children were sacrificed if they received rain to honor Cocijo (god of lightning). Later on it was later discovered that the Zapotec had shaman-like caves where they took hallucinogenic mushrooms to reenact meetings with the gods, and as well talk to their dead ancestors

Power of the Priest

The priesthood had different levels of priest. High level priest were called Uija-Tao, ordinary priest were called Copa Pitao. Young men who were being educated into the priesthood and lesser religious workers were called Bigana, Pigana, or Pixana. It is said that the Uija-Tao or great seer was the one who saw the supernaturals and would have consultations with them about important matters and he would then transmit the messages to others. He would put himself in an ecstatic state (via hallucinogenic mushrooms) and would believe what he was seeing. The Uija-Tao recieved much respect from the Zapotec lord because of what he could do. Having the power to connect with the supernatural, he could direct what heavenly gifts and punishments were given out. The Zapotec lord would keep him closely to seek advice.

Picture of Monte Alban Temple of the Zapotec

Zapotec Architecture

The valley of Oaxaca was originally populated due to its prime central location where agriculture flourished. Every growing season, the Zapotec used canal irrigation to help water their crops. Their crops consisted of maize, beans, squash, sugarcane and coffee. This continued agricultural success led to the formation of religion, and eventually the building of temples to honor the deities who brought the Zapotec people grain and rain. The decision was made to build the temple, called Monte Alban on the valley floor of Oaxaca. This decision was made because of the ease of clearing trees and undergrowth from the Oaxana Valley floor. Kowalewski (1990) estimates that workers cleared the valley floor, consisting of 2150 km in around 4 years.

NW view across the main Plaza of Monte Alban