Quetzalcoatl ("feathered serpent" or "plumed serpent") is the Nahuatl name for the Feathered-Serpent deity of ancient Mesoamerica, one of the main gods of many Mexican and northern Central American civilizations and also the name given to some Toltec rulers, the most famous being Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl.
The Feathered Serpent deity was important in art and religion in most of Mesoamerica for close to 2,000 years, from the Pre-Classic era until the Spanish conquest. Civilizations worshipping the Feathered Serpent included the Olmec, Mixtec, Toltec, Aztec, who adopted it from the people of Teotihuacan, and the Maya.
The name quetzalcoatl literally means "quetzal-bird snake", signifying a serpent with feathers (Amphitere) of the Resplendent Quetzal (which implies something divine or precious) in the Nahuatl language. The meaning of his local name in other Mesoamerican languages is similar. The Maya of Mexico knew him as Kukulkán; the Quiché-Maya of Guatemala, as Gukumatz.
The cult of the serpent in Mesoamerica is very old; there are representation of snakes with bird-like characteristics as old as the Olmec preclassic (1150-500 BC). The snake represents the earth and vegetation, but it was in Teotihuacan (around 150 BC) where the snake got the precious feathers of the Quetzal, as seen in the Murals of the city. The most elaborate representations come from the old Quetzalcoatl Temple built around 200 BC, which shows a rattlesnake with the long green feathers of the quetzal. Teotihuacan was dedicated to Tlaloc, the water god, at the same time Quetzalcoatl, as a snake, was a representation of the fertility of the earth, and it was subordinate to Tlaloc. As the cult evolved, it became independent.
Quetzalcoatl and other Gods
In time Quetzalcoatl was mixed with other gods, and acquired their attributes. Quetzalcoatl is often associated with Ehecatl, the wind god, and represents the forces of nature, and is also associated with the morning star (Venus).
Quetzalcoatl became a representation of the rain, the celestial water and their associated winds, while Tlaloc would be the god of earthly water, the water in lakes, caverns and rivers, and also of vegetation. Eventually Quetzalcoatl was transformed into one of the gods of the creation (Ipalnemohuani). The Teotihuacan influence took the god to the Mayas, who adopted him as Kukulkán. The Maya regarded him as a being who would transport the gods. In Xochicalco (700-900 CE), the political class began to claim that they ruled in the name of Quetzalcoatl, and representations of the god became more human. They influenced the Toltec, and the Toltec rulers began to use the name of Quetzalcoatl. The Toltec represented Quetzalcoatl as man, with god-like attributes, and these attributes were also associated with their rulers. The most famous of those rulers was Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl. Ce Acatl means "one reed" and is the calendaric name of the ruler (923 - 947), whose legends became almost inseparable from accounts of the god. The Toltecs would associate Quetzalcoatl with their own god, Tezcatlipoca, and make them equals, enemies and twins. The legends of Ce Acatl told us that he thought his face was ugly, so he let his beard grow to hide it, and eventually he wore a white mask. This legend has been distorted so representations of Quezalcoatl as a white bearded man have become common.
The Nauhas would take the legends of Quetzalcoatl and mix them with their own. Quetzalcoatl would be considered the originator of the arts, poetry and all knowledge. The figure of Ce Acatl, would become inseparable from the image of the god.
The worship of Quetzalcoatl sometimes included animal sacrifices, and in other traditions Quetzalcoatl was said to oppose human sacrifice. Mesoamerican priests and kings would sometimes take the name of a deity they were associated with, so Quetzalcoatl and Kukulcan are also the names of historical persons. The reason being that Quetzalcoatl called one man, to whom he gave his rights, privileges, and powers, to administer in his religious duties who took on the name of the Deity, to show that the power had been given to him. The name was pronounced differently, to denote this man a mortal, in contrast to Quetzalcoatl, Kate-Zal, or Kukulcan the God of wind and waves. One noted Post-Classic Toltec ruler was named Quetzalcoatl; he may be the same individual as the Kukulcan who invaded Yucatán at about the same time. The Mixtec also recorded a ruler named for the Feathered Serpent. In the 10th century a ruler closely associated with Quetzalcoatl ruled the Toltecs; his name was Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl. This ruler was said to be the son of either the great Chichimeca warrior, Mixcoatl and the Culhuacano woman Chimalman, or of their descendant.
The Toltecs had a dualistic belief system. Quetzalcoatl's opposite was Tezcatlipoca, who supposedly sent Quetzalcoatl into exile. Alternatively, he left willingly on a raft of snake s, promising to return. When the Aztecs adopted the culture of the Toltecs, they made twin gods of Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, opposite and equal; Quetzalcoatl was also called White Tezcatlipoca, to contrast him to the black Tezcatlipoca. Together, they created the world; Tezcatlipoca lost his foot in that process. Because white was the color symbol of Quezalcoatl, it does not mean Quezalcoatl was white. Along with other gods, like Tezcatlipoca, and Tlaloc, Quetzalcoatl would be called "Ipalnemohuani", which means "by whom we live", a title reserved for the gods directly involved in the creation. Because the name, Ipalnemohuani is singular, this had lead to speculations that the Aztec were becoming monotheist, and all the main gods, were only one. While this interpretation cannot be ruled out, it is probably an oversimpification of the Aztec religion.
- In some rural parts of Mexico, there still exists a belief that in some caves, near certain towns, there lives a monster, a great feathered snake that can only be seen by special people. The monster must be placated for there to be plentiful rain. The feathered snake is also still worshipped by Huichol and Cora Indians.
- The cult of Quetzalcoatl has been more or less idealized, and the image of a "white god" has became part of the popular culture.
- Some modern esoteric groups, sometimes called "Mexicanistas", have mixed the cult of Queztalcoatl with modern esoteric practices. There are also claims that Quetzalcoatl was either a lone viking, Jesus, a survivor from Atlantis, or even an extraterrestrial, although this ignores the long history of the cult.
The exact significance and attributes of Quetzalcoatl varied somewhat between civilizations and through history. Quetzalcoatl was often considered the god of the morning star, and his twin brother Xolotl was the evening star (Venus). As the morning star he was known by the title Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, meaning "lord of the star of the dawn." He was known as the inventor of books and the calendar, the giver of maize corn to mankind, and sometimes as a symbol of death and resurrection. Quetzalcoatl was also the patron of the priests and the title of the Aztec high priest. Most Mesoamerican beliefs included cycles of worlds. Usually, our current time was considered the fifth world, the previous four having been destroyed by flood, fire and the like. Quetzalcoatl allegedly went to Mictlan, the underworld, and created fifth-world mankind from the bones of the previous races (with the help of Cihuacoatl), using his own blood, from a wound in his penis, to imbue the bones with new life. His birth, along with his twin Xolotl, was unusual; it was a virgin birth], to the goddess Coatlicue. Alternatively, he was a son of Xochiquetzal and Mixcoatl.
One Aztec story claims that Quetzalcoatl was seduced by Tezcatlipoca into becoming drunk and sleeping with a celibate priestess, and then burned himself to death out of remorse. His heart became the morning star.
It is generally accepted that the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II initially believed the landing of Hernán Cortés in 1519 to be Quetzalcoatl's return. This has been questioned by historian Victor Frank, who argues that the Quetzalcoatl-Cortés connection is asserted in no documents created independently of post-Conquest Spanish influence, and that there is little proof of a pre-Hispanic belief in Quetzalcoatl's return. Most documents expounding this theory are of entirely Spanish origin, such as Cortés's letters to Charles V of Spain, in which Cortés goes to great pains to present the naïve gullibility of the Mexican in general as a great aid in his conquest of Mexico. But Frank's Mexican colleagues disagree. The connection with Quetzalcoatl was also documented from Aztec sources, as in the Matritense Codex and especially in the Florentine Codex, and is also mentioned in the Anales de Cuahtitlan. As a gift, Moctezuma specifically sent Cortés treasures of Quetzalcoatl. One item of those treasures, the headdress of the statue of Quetzalcoatl, is now in Vienna, mislabeled as the "headdress of Moctezuma" ("El retorno de Quetzalcoatl," Arqueologia mexicana, February 2002).
It is believed by many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that Quetzalcoatl was a name given, and story told, and changed over time, of Jesus Christ's visit to the Nephites (or group of Native Americans Circa 600 B.C. - 421 A.D.) on the American continent shortly after his resurrection, as is depicted in The Book of Mormon.
- In the classic French/Japanese anime "The Mysterious Cities of Gold", statues of Quetzalcoatl appear as a recurring plot device. Typically the statues offer some written clue to help the show's protagonists on their quest for the seven cities of gold. As for Quetzalcoatl himself, not much is revealed. Yet in Ep. 23, "The Jade Mask," the character Tao translates some hieroglyphics on the wall of a temple: "A long time ago, in the land of the Mayas, there lived a man who was very intelligent, and he understood the heaven and the earth. He was called the Winged Serpent." It is additionally inscribed that he "built a gigantic furnace," which is later revealed to be a nuclear reactor.
- The manga "Spriggan" depicted Quetzalcoatl as a being who assisted Yu Ominae and the Sasakura sisters in sealing the power of the Mask of Palenque.
- In the comic book "Tom Strong" an alternate dimensional empire is run by an Aztec-like culture. Their main method of maintaining their empire is an advanced computer modeled after Quetzalcoatl. Eventually this computer gains sentience and creates its own multi-dimensional theocracy.
- The early 20th-century English writer D H Lawrence wrote a novel set in Mexico, The Plumed Serpent (1926), describing the revival of a pre-Christian religion. The first draft of this text was called Quetzalcoatl.
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel people of the Tezumen Empire worshipped a creature described as a "feathered boa" called Quezovercoatl. He is described as half man, half chicken, half jaguar, half serpent, half scorpion and half mad (a total of three homicidal maniacs).
- Chris Heimerdinger's fictional novels: Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites: The Feathered Serpent, Part One and Part Two, explore the idea of the legend of Quetzalcoatl having been inspired by the visitation of Jesus Christ to the America's after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.
- In the 1980's the book "The Lost Realms" by Zecharia Sitchin about the study of the archaeologist's findings in the pyramids from Central America as well as from Peru, depict Quetzalcoatl as an extra-terrestrial that promised to come back in the 20th century. In Latin-America some believe that the promised become true when there were massive UFO sightings reported in Mexico during the 6th solar eclipse (July 11, 1991). Today esoteric groups sometimes called "Mexicanistas" have mixed the cult of Queztalcoatl with modern esoteric practices.
- The title of a song from the Swedish symphonic metal group Therion on the album Lemuria (2004). The song is about Quetzalcoatl as God of the Sun.
- Referenced in a rock song performed by Clutch called "Oregon" on the "Slow Hole to China" album.
- The Mountain Goats, the stage name for American singer/songwriter John Darnielle, has several songs revolving around Quetzalcoatl.
- In the computer game Rise of Legends, there is a playable race called Cuotl. There are also air units in this race's army called 'Quetzals'.
- In the video game Final Fantasy VIII, Quetzalcoatl is a lightning-based elemental creature that can be summoned into battle, however spelled "Quezacotl" due to character-space limit.
- It also the name of one of the servers in Final Fantasy XI.
- In the warcraft universe the serpent like god "Hakkar the soulflayer" strongly resembles Quetzalcoatl.
- In the computer game "Serious Sam: The Second Encounter", Kulkulkan is the end boss of the Mayan levels.
- In the Nintendo Game Boy Advance game Riviera: The Promised Land, the Quetzalcoatl is also a lightning-based elemental enemy belonging to the Giant Wyrm Family
- In Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS, one of the monsters is called Quetzalcoatl and is a bone serpent with a little guy riding on his neck.
- In the video game Culdcept, Quetzalcoatl is a powerful yellow creature card of "strange" rarity that gives +10 strength to creatures with the first strike ability.
- In the video game Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich, Quetzalcoatl is a superhero that has been summoned by a mysterious energy.
- In the Crossfire multiplayer RPG, Quetzalcoatl is a race that a player can choose for their character.
- In the video game Fahrenheit, the main characters are in pursuit of a serial killer who is a shaman of the Maya faith and commits the murders in order to evoke the Maya god Quetzalcoatl.
- In the game Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, Quetzalcoatl is a giant serpent with a feathered mane that defends Azerim's Part in the Olmec Valley level.
- In Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000 fictional universes the Chaos god Tzeentch is based off of Quetzalcoatl.
In the game, Tzeentch is the god of mutation and change, and is represented by the greater demon the Lord of Change as a big, wire-like bird-demon.
- In the Star Trek Animated Series episode How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise run into a being who claims to be Kukulkan the ancient god of the Mayan and Aztec peoples of Earth. He states he is actually a very long-lived benevolent entity who wants the humans to worship him just as the Mayans and Aztecs did centuries ago when he had visited Earth's distant past and influenced Mesoamerican cultures.
- A 1996 X-Files novel by Kevin J Anderson entitled "Ruins" also centres around Quetzalcoatl, and speculates that the god was in fact an extra-terrestrial.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode Crystal Skull, the giant mist alien who appears at the end of the episode identifies itself as Quetzalcoatl. As with other races in the series, such as the Goa'uld and the Asgard, there is no clear indication as to whether the alien inspired the legend or was merely playing on it.
- The late Cretaceous pterodactyloid Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus was named after Quetzalcoatl.