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Quetzalcoatl

by Micha F. Lindemans
"Feathered Snake". One of the major deities of the Aztec, Toltecs, and other Middle American peoples. He is the creator sky-god and wise legislator. He organized the original cosmos and participated in the creation and destruction of various world periods. Quetzalcoatl ruled the fifth world cycle and created the humans of that cycle. The story goes that he descended to Mictlan, the underworld, and gathered the bones of the human beings of the previous epochs. Upon his return, he sprinkled his own blood upon these bones and fashioned thus the humans of the new era. He is also a god of the wind (the wind-god Ehecatl is one of his forms), as well as a water-god and fertility-god.

He is regarded as a son of the virgin goddess Coatlicue and as the twin brother of Xolotl. As the bringer of culture he introduced agriculture (maize) and the calendar and is the patron of the arts and the crafts.

In one myth the god allowed himself to be seduced by Tezcatlipoca, but threw himself on a funeral pyre out of remorse. After his death his heart became the morning-star, and is as such identified with the god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli. In dualistic Toltec religion, the opposing deity, Tezcatlipoca ("Smoking Mirror"), a god of the night, had reputedly driven Quetzalcoatl into exile. According to yet another tradition he left on a raft of snakes over the sea. In any case, Quetzalcoatl, described as light-skinned and bearded, would return in a certain year. Thus, when the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés appeared in 1519, the Aztec king, Montezuma II, was easily convinced that Cortés was in fact the returning god.

The Aztec later made him a symbol of death and resurrection and a patron of priests. The higher priests were called Quetzalcoatl too. The god has a great affinity with the priest-king Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl, who ruled the Toltecs in Tula in the 10th century. The cult of Quetzalcoatl was widespread in Teotihuacan (ca. 50km northeast of Mexico City), Tula (or Tullán, capitol of the Toltecs in middle Mexico), Xochilco, Cholula, Tenochtitlan (the current Mexico City), and Chichen Itza.


Article details:

  • Pronunciation:
    keht-sahl-coh'-atl

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