QUETZALCOATL | Feathered Serpent | HISTORY AND MYTHOLOGY OF THE AZTEC GOD

QUETZALCOATL | Feathered Serpent | HISTORY AND MYTHOLOGY OF THE AZTEC GOD

Quetzalcoatl or Quetzalcohuatl (= feathered serpent, from coatl = snake, and quetzal = green feather, the feather of the quetzal bird), in Aztec mythology, he is a serpent, then man, and initially linked to the cult of Tlaloc. He will be the god of knowledge, knowledge, protector of humanity. Associated with the planet Venus, he was also recognized as having an evil action. He was revered as one of the essential deities in the pantheon and the creator of humanity and earth. In essence, he was often revered as an ancestor god who, in the mythical narrative, "carved" the lineage of the various Mesoamerican groups.

quetzalcoatl snake mythology

1. WHAT DOES QUETZALCOATL REPRESENT?

Many descriptions of Quetzalcoatl refer to a snake, the oldest known symbol of the god having been found at the Olmec site of La Venta. A stele, dating from a period between 1200 and 400 BC, depicts a snake raising its head behind a person (possibly a priest). More elaborate representations of the feathered serpent version can be found in the six-story pyramid built in honor of the god at Teotihuacan, dating from the third century A.D. 

Nevertheless, in Meso-America and the ever-changing nature of myths and traditions, Quetzalcoatl was also represented in forms that went beyond the morphology of snakes. To this end, dating from the years 700 - 900, there are some representations of Quetzalcoatl, particularly from the site of Xochicalco (a pre-Columbian site that was colonized by Mayan traders) that have a distinctly human form. 

feathered serpent xochicalco

Incredibly enough, Quetzalcoatl's "human" nature influenced the last Toltec rulers, so much so that they could even worship and equate Quetzalcoatl with a king. To this end, the exploits of the Toltec king Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl, who is said to have reigned over the mythical and historic city of Tollan, are almost inseparable from the legends of the god himself.

Quetzalcoatl was worshiped in many aspects. For example, in his character of Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl, the god was represented with a protruding duck beak mask with fangs and shell jewelry known as ehecailacocozcatl. As for his Quetzalcoatl-Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli appearance, the deity was served with a threatening black cover, completed by an opulent headdress and arrows representing the rays of the morning star.

quetzalcoatl ehecatl and tlahuizcalpantecuhtli

2. ORIGINS AND MYTH OF QUETZALCOATL

As mentioned above, the cult of the snake in Mesoamerica predates the Aztecs by nearly 2,000 years. The awe about the "Feathered Serpent" as an absolute deity may have begun in Teotihuacan, the largest city in pre-Columbian America, around the 1st century A.D. After the fall of Teotihuacan at the beginning of the 7th century A.D., the submission of the Feathered Serpent did not stop but spread to other Mesoamerican urban centers, including Xochicalco, Cholula and even Chichen Itza of the Mayan people - as can be seen in the iconography of the time. 

Thus, the feathered serpent was also known as Kukulkan for the Yucatan Maya (the war serpent or the vision serpent) and Gucumatz (or Qʼuqʼumatz) for the Guatemalan Quiché. And as described above, the Toltec leaders continued the tradition of worshipping Quetzalcoatl through their own mythical-historical rulers' association with the deity. For example, there may have been a Toltec warlord with his namesake Quetzalcoatl, also known as Kukulkán, who invaded Yucatan in the early post-classical period (around 900). Similarly, another legendary Toltec leader, Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl, was hailed as the son of Mixcoatl, a renowned Chichimeca warrior. 

kukulkan

3. THE MYTH OF QUETZALCOATL

The Toltecs, the older people of Anahuac, whose capital was the city of Tollan, said they came from the country of HuehuetlapaIlan. When the gods were still living among humans at a relatively remote time, they were governed by a certain Quetzalcoatl, who enjoyed priestly authority and by a king named Huemac

Then all the animals, even humans, lived in peace; the earth produced the richest harvests without cultivation; the corn was so big that a single ear was enough to make a load; the gourds were the size of a man, and it was useless to dye the cotton because it grew naturally in all colors; the air was filled with a multitude of birds admirable for the melody of their song and the brightness of their plumage.

quetzalcoatl ring

Everybody lived in abundance, and Quetzalcoatl was so rich that he had palaces of gold and silver, and he was also very skillful and was believed to have invented the art of melting metals and cutting precious stones. He also possessed great wisdom, as he showed by his behavior and the laws he gave to humans. It says that when he wanted to make a law, he ordered a man to climb the Tzatzitepec (mountain of cries), and from there, his voice echoed from a distance of more than 100 km.

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myth and legend of quetzalcoatl

The god Tezcatlipoca, either jealous of the prosperity that reigned among the Toltecs or desirous of making other peoples enjoy it, believed that the best way was to drive Quetzalcoatl out of the country he regenerated.   

Learning that he was ill, he took the form of an older man and announced that he was bringing him a cure. Admitted in his presence, he obtained a drink which, by making him immortal, was to inspire a taste for travel, and announced that it was the desire of the gods that he visits the kingdom of Huehue-Tlapallan, from where the Toltec nation originated. 

As soon as Quetzalcoatl had tasted it, he felt a new strength and a violent desire to go to his mission's goal. Still, before setting out on his journey, he destroyed all his palaces, changed the fruit trees into wild plants, and ordered all the birds to accompany him to amuse him along the way.

4. The Trip To The Great Pyramid Of Cholula

Quetzalcoatl moved towards Cholula. He found himself tired on the way and leaned against a rock, and the mark of his hand, which had remained there in Spanish times, was still visible. When he arrived in Cholula, he yielded to the authorities of the inhabitants, who offered him the government's reins. There he made himself loved by his gentleness and his love for peace, teaching them the art of smelting metals, the rites and ceremonies of religion, and even the calendar and the arrangement of the seasons. He ordered the great fasts of eighty days, regulated the Toltec year's intercalations, and did not want any other offerings to be made to the deity than the first fruits of the harvest. 

After spending twenty years in Cholula, Quetzalcoatl returned on the road, taking four of his principal disciples. However, when he arrived at the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos river ( = Where the serpent hides), he ordered them to return to Cholula and announce to Cholula's people that he would return in a few days to govern them and renew their happiness. By respect for his memory, the inhabitants chose the disciples of Quetzalcoatl as leaders of their republic. They became the heads of the four families who remained in charge until the arrival of the Spanish.

quetzalcoatl cholula trip

The rest of Quetzalcoatl's story is disputed: some say that he disappeared by the sea; others say that he went to Yucatan, where snakes entwined him in a raft and carried him to the kingdom of Tlillan-Tlapallan.  

5. Interpretations of the myth

This myth of Quetzalcoatl occupied many authors who wrote about ancient Mexico. Some have wanted to see in him the apostle Saint Thomas who, after converting the Indies, came through China and Japan to preach Christianity in Mexico, then appeared in New Granada, under the name of Bochica, and in Peru, under the name of Manco-Capac or Viracocha. Still, others made him merely a high priest of Tollan, located to the northwest, who came to settle in the town of Cholula and civilized it and the surrounding areas. We cannot help but see this myth to explain the disappearance of the Toltec culture. These interpretations of the myth cast in an evangelical filter only add another mythical layer to the legend. It is better to be content with seeing it as a mythological creature to be studied with religious anthropology's current tools.


bochica priest

 6. The Quetzalcoatl cult

Quetzalcoatl had a very high temple in Cholula, which was the object of a famous pilgrimage. His effigy was surrounded by piles of gold and silver, rare feathers, and valuable goods, making the Spaniards think he was the commerce god. He was the size of a man, with a bird's head that had a red beak, and on that beak a crest and warts, with several rows of teeth and the tongue hanging out. His head was covered with a kind of miter that ended, and his hand was armed with a scythe. His legs were decorated with various types of gold and silver jewelry. Quetzalcoatl also had temples in Mexico City that were round in shape, with doors that resembled the open mouth.

The guests danced while waiting for the feast. After eating their share, they would go to greet the statue of the god at sunrise, and continuing their rejoicing for the rest of the day. They disguised themselves in various forms; some represented birds, butterflies, frogs, wasps, and other insects; others simulated cripples, penguins, and cripples. They told pleasant stories of their accidents or metamorphoses, and the festival ended with dances.   

quetzalcoatl temple pilgrimage

7. Quetzalcoatl's return

Until the establishment of the Aztec Monarchy, Cholula's city remained the main seat of religion in Mexico, and ever since then, it has retained much of its former preponderance. It continued to govern itself as a republic, always hoping that Quetzalcoatl would one day come to take over government reins, as he had promised.

The whole empire shared this belief. Thus, the unfortunate Montezuma believed that he recognized in the comrades-in-arms of Cortez the descendants or emissaries of this holy legislator.


 

 


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