Kukulkan (Maya ) NICKNAMES:
"Feathered Serpent", "Precious Twin"
MAJOR CULT CENTER
Temple of the Feathered Serpent ,
Quetzalcoatl as depicted in the
Quetzalcoatl in feathered serpent form as depicted in the Codex
QUETZALCOATL (English: /ˌkɛtsɑːlˈkoʊɑːtəl/ ; Spanish
pronunciation: ( listen )) (Classical
Nahuatl : Quetzalcohuātl ,
Nahuatl pronunciation (help ·info )) forms part of
Mesoamerican literature and is a deity whose name comes from the
Nahuatl language and means "feathered serpent". The worship of a
feathered serpent is first documented in
Teotihuacan in the first
century BC or first century AD. That period lies within the Late
Preclassic to Early Classic period (400 BC – 600 AD) of Mesoamerican
chronology , and veneration of the figure appears to have spread
Mesoamerica by the Late Classic period (600–900 AD).
In the Postclassic period (900–1519 AD), the worship of the
feathered serpent deity was based in the primary Mexican religious
center of Cholula . It is in this period that the deity is known to
have been named "Quetzalcoatl" by his Nahua followers. In the Maya
area, he was approximately equivalent to
Gukumatz , names
that also roughly translate as "feathered serpent" in different Mayan
Aztec god of wind and learning, wears around his
neck the "wind breastplate" ehecailacocozcatl, "the spirally voluted
wind jewel" made of a conch shell. This talisman was a conch shell cut
at the cross-section and was likely worn as a necklace by religious
rulers, as they have been discovered in burials in archaeological
sites throughout Mesoamerica, and potentially symbolized patterns
witnessed in hurricanes, dust devils, seashells, and whirlpools, which
were elemental forces that had significance in
Aztec mythology . In
Xolotl were both pictured as wearing
an ehecailacocozcatl around each of their necks. There has
additionally been at least one major cache of offerings with knives
and idols adorned with the symbols of more than one god, some of which
were adorned with wind jewels.
In the era following the 16th-century Spanish conquest of the Aztec
Empire , a number of sources were written that conflate Quetzalcoatl
Ce Acatl Topiltzin , a ruler of the mythico-historic city of
Tollan . It is a matter of much debate among historians to which
degree, or whether at all, these narratives about this legendary
Toltec ruler describe historical events. Furthermore, early Spanish
sources written by clerics tend to identify the god-ruler Quetzalcoatl
of these narratives with either
Hernán Cortés or Thomas the Apostle
—an identification which is also a source of diversity of opinions
about the nature of Quetzalcoatl.
Among the Aztecs , whose beliefs are the best-documented in the
Quetzalcoatl was related to gods of the wind, of
Venus , of the dawn, of merchants and of arts, crafts and
knowledge. He was also the patron god of the
Aztec priesthood, of
learning and knowledge.
Quetzalcoatl was one of several important
gods in the
Aztec pantheon , along with the gods
Tlaloc , Tezcatlipoca
Huitzilopochtli . Two other gods represented by the planet Venus
are Quetzalcoatl's ally
Tlaloc who is the god of rain, and
Quetzalcoatl's twin and psychopomp , who is named
Animals thought to represent
Quetzalcoatl include resplendent
quetzals , rattlesnakes (coatl meaning serpent in Nahuatl), crows, and
macaws . In his form as
Ehecatl he is the wind, and is represented by
spider monkeys , ducks, and the wind itself. In his form as the
morning star, Venus, he is also depicted as a harpy eagle . In
Mazatec legends, the astrologer deity
Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli , who is
also represented by Venus, bears a close relationship with
Feathered serpent deity in
* 1.1 Iconographic depictions
* 1.2 Interpretations
* 2 In
* 3 Myths
* 3.1 Attributes
* 4 Belief in Cortés as
* 5 Contemporary use
* 5.1 Mormonism
* 5.2 Films and video games
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
FEATHERED SERPENT DEITY IN MESOAMERICA
Feathered Serpent (deity)
Feathered Serpent (deity)
A feathered serpent deity has been worshiped by many different
ethno-political groups in Mesoamerican history. The existence of such
worship can be seen through studies of iconography of different
Mesoamerican cultures, in which serpent motifs are frequent. On the
basis of the different symbolic systems used in portrayals of the
feathered serpent deity in different cultures and periods, scholars
have interpreted the religious and symbolic meaning of the feathered
serpent deity in Mesoamerican cultures.
Feathered Serpent head at the Ciudadela complex in
The earliest iconographic depiction of the deity is believed to be
Stela 19 at the
Olmec site of
La Venta , depicting a serpent
rising up behind a person probably engaged in a shamanic ritual. This
depiction is believed to have been made around 900 BC. Although
probably not exactly a depiction of the same feathered serpent deity
worshipped in classic and post-classic periods, it shows the
continuity of symbolism of feathered snakes in
Mesoamerica from the
formative period and on, for example in comparison to the Mayan Vision
Serpent shown below. Vision Serpent depicted on lintel 15 from
The first culture to use the symbol of a feathered serpent as an
important religious and political symbol was
Teotihuacan . At temples
such as the aptly named "
Quetzalcoatl temple" in the Ciudadela
complex, feathered serpents figure prominently and alternate with a
different kind of serpent head. The earliest depictions of the
feathered serpent deity were fully zoomorphic, depicting the serpent
as an actual snake, but already among the Classic Maya the deity began
acquiring human features.
In the iconography of the classic period Maya serpent imagery is also
prevalent: a snake is often seen as the embodiment of the sky itself,
and a vision serpent is a shamanic helper presenting Maya kings with
visions of the underworld .
The archaeological record shows that after the fall of Teotihuacan
that marked the beginning of the epi-classic period in Mesoamerican
chronology around 600 AD, the cult of the feathered serpent spread to
the new religious and political centers in central Mexico, centers
Cacaxtla and Cholula . Feathered serpent
iconography is prominent at all of these sites. Cholula is known to
have remained the most important center of worship to Quetzalcoatl,
the Aztec/Nahua version of the feathered serpent deity, in the
During the epi-classic period, a dramatic spread of feathered serpent
iconography is evidenced throughout Mesoamerica, and during this
period begins to figure prominently at cites such as
Chichén Itzá ,
El Tajín , and throughout the Maya area. Colonial documentary sources
from the Maya area frequently speak of the arrival of foreigners from
the central Mexican plateau, often led by a man whose name translates
as "Feathered Serpent." It has been suggested that these stories
recall the spread of the feathered serpent cult in the epi-classic and
early post-classic periods.
The Plumed Serpent, an ideogram of the metaphor of Quetzalcoatl,
alludes to one of the most powerful forces of nature. Said metaphor is
recorded in the
Quetzalcoatl: he was the wind; he was the guide, the road sweeper of
the rain gods, of the masters of the water, of those who Brough rain.
And when the wind increased, it was said, the dust swirled up, it
roared, howled, became dark, blew in all directions; there was
lightning; it grew wrathful.
The metaphor served to not only describe a powerful seasonal
phenomenon, but was also the title of rulership and priestly office;
additionally, the name figured in
Toltec ties as a military title and
In the post-classic Nahua civilization of central
Mexico (Aztec), the
Quetzalcoatl was ubiquitous. The most important center was
Cholula where the world\'s largest pyramid was dedicated to his
Aztec culture, depictions of
Quetzalcoatl were fully
Quetzalcoatl was associated with the windgod Ehecatl
and is often depicted with his insignia: a beak-like mask.
Temple of the Feathered Serpent at
Xochicalco , adorned with a
fully zoomorphic feathered Serpent.
On the basis of the
Teotihuacan iconographical depictions of the
feathered serpent, archaeologist
Karl Taube has argued that the
feathered serpent was a symbol of fertility and internal political
structures contrasting with the War Serpent symbolizing the outwards
military expansion of the
Teotihuacan empire. Historian Enrique
Florescano also analysing
Teotihuacan iconography argues that the
Feathered Serpent was part of a triad of agricultural deities: the
Goddess of the Cave symbolizing motherhood, reproduction and life,
Tlaloc, god of rain, lightning and thunder and the feathered serpent,
god of vegetational renewal. The feathered serpent was furthermore
connected to the planet
Venus because of this planet's importance as a
sign of the beginning of the rainy season. To both
Mayan cultures ,
Venus was in turn also symbolically connected with
While not usually feathered, classic Maya serpent iconography seems
related to the belief in a sky-, Venus-, creator-, war- and
fertility-related serpent deity. In the example from Yaxchilan, the
Vision Serpent has the human face of the young maize god, further
suggesting a connection to fertility and vegetational renewal; the
Maize god was also connected to Venus.
In Xochicalco, depictions of the feathered serpent are accompanied by
the image of a seated, armed ruler and the hieroglyph for the day sign
9 Wind . The date 9 Wind is known to be associated with fertility,
Venus and war among the Maya and frequently occurs in relation to
Quetzalcoatl in other Mesoamerican cultures.
On the basis of the iconography of the feathered serpent deity at
sites such as Teotihuacan, Xochicalco, Chichén Itzá, Tula and
Tenochtitlan combined with certain ethnohistorical sources, historian
David Carrasco has argued that the preeminent function of the
feathered serpent deity throughout Mesoamerican history was as the
patron deity of the Urban center, a god of culture and civilization.
IN AZTEC CULTURE
Quetzalcoatl as depicted in the
Codex Borbonicus .
To the Aztecs,
Quetzalcoatl was, as his name indicates, a feathered
serpent, a flying reptile (much like a dragon ), who was a
boundary-maker (and transgressor) between earth and sky. He was a
creator deity having contributed essentially to the creation of
Mankind. He also had anthropomorphic forms, for example in his aspects
Ehecatl the wind god. Among the Aztecs, the name
also a priestly title, as the two most important priests of the Aztec
Templo Mayor were called "
Quetzalcoatl Tlamacazqui". In the Aztec
ritual calendar, different deities were associated with the
Quetzalcoatl was tied to the year Ce Acatl (One
Reed), which correlates to the year 1519.
Quetzalcoatl as depicted in the
Codex Magliabechiano .
The exact significance and attributes of
Quetzalcoatl varied somewhat
between civilizations and through history. There are several stories
about the birth of Quetzalcoatl. In a version of the myth,
Quetzalcoatl was born by a virgin named
Chimalman , to whom the god
Onteol appeared in a dream. In another story, the virgin Chimalman
Quetzalcoatl swallowing an emerald. A third story narrates
Chimalman was hit in the womb by an arrow shot by
nine months later she gave birth to a child which was called
Quetzalcoatl. A fourth story narrates that
Quetzalcoatl was born from
Coatlicue , who already had four hundred children who formed the stars
Milky Way .
According to another version of the myth,
Quetzalcoatl is one of the
four sons of
Omecihuatl , the four Tezcatlipocas, each
of whom presides over one of the four cardinal directions. Over the
West presides the White Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, the god of light,
justice, mercy and wind. Over the South presides the Blue
Huitzilopochtli , the god of war. Over the East presides
the Red Tezcatlipoca,
Xipe Totec , the god of gold, farming and
springtime. And over the North presides the Black Tezcatlipoca, known
by no other name than
Tezcatlipoca , the god of judgment, night,
deceit, sorcery and the Earth.
Quetzalcoatl was often considered the
god of the morning star , and his twin brother
Xolotl was the evening
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 priests. Some legends describe him as opposed to human
sacrifice while others describe him practicing it.
Most Mesoamerican beliefs included cycles of suns. Often our current
time was considered the fifth sun, the previous four having been
destroyed by flood, fire and the like.
Quetzalcoatl went to
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 he inflicted on his earlobes, calves, tongue, and penis,
to imbue the bones with new life.
It is also suggested that he was a son of
Codex Chimalpopoca , it is said
Quetzalcoatl was coerced by
Tezcatlipoca into becoming drunk on pulque , cavorting with his
sister, Quetzalpetlatl, a celibate priestess, and neglecting their
religious duties. (Many academics conclude this passage implies
incest.) The next morning, Quetzalcoatl, feeling shame and regret, had
his servants build him a stone chest, adorn him in turquoise, and
then, laying in the chest, set himself on fire . His ashes rose into
the sky and then his heart followed, becoming the morning star (see
BELIEF IN CORTéS AS QUETZALCOATL
Quetzalcoatl in human form, using the symbols of
Ehecatl , from
Codex Borgia .
Since the sixteenth century, it has been widely held that the Aztec
Moctezuma II initially believed the landing of Hernán Cortés
in 1519 to be Quetzalcoatl's return. This view has been questioned by
ethno-historians who argue that the Quetzalcoatl-Cortés connection is
not found in any document that was 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 naive gullibility of the Aztecs in general
as a great aid in his conquest of
Much of the idea of Cortés being seen as a deity can be traced back
Florentine Codex written down some 50 years after the conquest.
In the Codex's description of the first meeting between Moctezuma and
Aztec ruler is described as giving a prepared speech in
classical oratorial Nahuatl, a speech which, as described in the codex
written by the
Bernardino de Sahagún
Bernardino de Sahagún and his Tlatelolcan
informants, included such prostrate declarations of divine or
near-divine admiration as:
You have graciously come on earth, you have graciously approached
your water, your high place of Mexico, you have come down to your mat,
your throne, which I have briefly kept for you, I who used to keep it
You have graciously arrived, you have known pain, you have known
weariness, now come on earth, take your rest, enter into your palace,
rest your limbs; may our lords come on earth.
Subtleties in, and an imperfect scholarly understanding of, high
Nahuatl rhetorical style make the exact intent of these comments
tricky to ascertain, but Restall argues that Moctezuma's politely
offering his throne to Cortés (if indeed he did ever give the speech
as reported) may well have been meant as the exact opposite of what it
was taken to mean: politeness in
Aztec culture was a way to assert
dominance and show superiority. This speech, which has been widely
referred to, has been a factor in the widespread belief that Moctezuma
was addressing Cortés as the returning god Quetzalcoatl.
Other parties have also promulgated the idea that the Mesoamericans
believed the conquistadors, and in particular Cortés, to be awaited
gods: most notably the historians of the
Franciscan order such as Fray
Gerónimo de Mendieta . Some Franciscans at this time held
millennarian beliefs and some of them believed that Cortés' coming
to the New World ushered in the final era of evangelization before the
coming of the millennium . Franciscans such as Toribio de Benavente
"Motolinia" saw elements of Christianity in the precolumbian religions
and therefore believed that
Mesoamerica had been evangelized before,
possibly by St. Thomas whom legend had it had "gone to preach beyond
the Ganges". Franciscans then equated the original
St. Thomas and imagined that the Indians had long-awaited his return
to take part once again in God's kingdom. Historian Matthew Restall
The legend of the returning lords, originated during the
Spanish-Mexica war in Cortés' reworking of Moctezuma's welcome
speech, had by the 1550's merged with the Cortés-as-Quetzalcoatl
legend that the Franciscans had started spreading in the 1530s.
(Restall 2001:114 )
Some scholarship maintains the view that the
Aztec Empire's fall may
be attributed in part to the belief in Cortés as the returning
Quetzalcoatl, notably in works by
David Carrasco (1982), H. B.
Nicholson (2001 (1957)) and John Pohl (2016). However, a majority of
Mesoamericanist scholars such as
Matthew Restall (2003), James
Susan D. Gillespie (1989), Camilla Townsend (2003a,
Louise Burkhart , Michel Graulich and
Michael E. Smith (2001)
among others, consider the "Quetzalcoatl/Cortés myth" as one of many
myths about the Spanish conquest which have risen in the early
Quetzalcoatl as depicted in the
Tovar Codex .
There is no question that the legend of
Quetzalcoatl played a
significant role in the colonial period. However, this legend likely
has a foundation in events that took place immediately prior to the
arrival of the Spaniards. A 2012 exhibition at the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art, "The Children of the
Plumed Serpent: the Legacy of
Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico,"
demonstrated the existence of a powerful confederacy of Eastern
Nahuas, Mixtecs and Zapotecs, along with the peoples they dominated
Mexico between 1200-1600 (Pohl, Fields, and Lyall
2012, Harvey 2012, Pohl 2003). They maintained a major pilgrimage and
commercial center at Cholula, Puebla which the Spaniards compared to
both Rome and Mecca because the cult of the god united its
constituents through a field of common social, political, and
religious values without dominating them militarily. This confederacy
engaged in almost seventy-five years of nearly continuous conflict
Aztec Empire of the Triple Alliance until the arrival of
Cortés. Members of this confederacy from Tlaxcala, Puebla, and Oaxaca
provided the Spaniards with the army that first reclaimed the city of
Cholula from its pro-
Aztec ruling faction, and ultimately defeated the
Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (
Mexico City). The Tlaxcalteca, along
with other city-states across the Plain of Puebla, then supplied the
auxiliary and logistical support for the conquests of Guatemala and
Mexico while Mixtec and Zapotec caciques (Colonial indigenous
rulers) gained monopolies in the overland transport of Manila galleon
trade through Mexico, and formed highly lucrative relationships with
the Dominican order in the new Spanish imperial world economic system
that explains so much of the enduring legacy of indigenous life-ways
that characterize southern
Mexico and explain the popularity of the
Quetzalcoatl legends that continued through the colonial period to the
Quetzalcoatl Mural in
Archaeology and the Book of Mormon , Proposed Book of
Mormon geographical setting , and
Some Mormons believe that
Quetzalcoatl was historically Jesus Christ
, but believe His name and the details of the event were gradually
lost over time. According to the Book of
Mormon , the resurrected
Christ came down from the clouds and visited the people of the
American continent, shortly after his resurrection.
not a religious symbol in the
Mormon faith, and is not taught as such,
nor is it in their doctrine.
LDS Church President John Taylor wrote:
The story of the life of the Mexican divinity, Quetzalcoatl, closely
resembles that of the Savior; so closely, indeed, that we can come to
no other conclusion than that
Quetzalcoatl and Christ are the same
being. But the history of the former has been handed down to us
through an impure Lamanitish source, which has sadly disfigured and
perverted the original incidents and teachings of the Savior's life
and ministry." (Mediation and Atonement, p. 194.)
Latter-day Saint scholar
Brant Gardner , after investigating the link
Quetzalcoatl and Jesus, concluded that the association amounts
to nothing more than folklore. In a 1986 paper for Sunstone , he
noted that during the
Spanish Conquest , the Native Americans and the
Catholic priests who sympathized with them felt pressure to link
Native American beliefs with Christianity, thus making the Native
Americans seem more human and less savage. Over time, Quetzalcoatl's
appearance, clothing, malevolent nature, and status among the gods
were reshaped to fit a more Christian framework.
FILMS AND VIDEO GAMES
Quetzalcoatl was fictionalized in the 1982 film Q as a monster that
terrorizes New York City. The deity has been featured as a character
in the manga and anime series
Beyblade and Miss Kobayashi\'s Dragon
Maid (portrayed as a female in the latter); the Persona video game
franchise; the video games
Fate/Grand Order ,
Final Fantasy VIII ,
Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV , Smite (as an alternate costume for his Mayan
counterpart, Kukulkan), and
Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine ;
and in the last of
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel books.
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Various theories about
Quetzalcoatl are popular in the New Age
movement, especially since the publication of
Tony Shearer 's 1971
book Lord of the dawn:
Quetzalcoatl and the Tree of Life. Shearer's
book was subsequently republished under the title Lord of the dawn:
Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent of Mexico.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to QUETZALCOATL .
Aztec mythology in popular culture
Five Suns , one of Quetzalcōātl and his brothers' legend.
Quetzalcoatlus , a pterosaur from the
Late Cretaceous named after
Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl
Children Who Chase Lost Voices
Children Who Chase Lost Voices ,
Quetzalcoatl are referred to as
Gatekeepers of Agartha
Jacques Soustelle (1997). Daily Life of the Aztecs. p. 1506.
* ^ The
Nahuatl nouns compounded into the proper name
"Quetzalcoatl" are: quetzalli, signifying principally "plumage", but
also used to refer to the bird—resplendent quetzal —renowned for
its colourful feathers, and cohuātl "snake". Some scholars have
interpreted the name as having also a metaphorical meaning of
"precious twin" since the word for plumage was also used
metaphorically about precious things and cohuātl has an additional
meaning of "twin"
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Aztec religion and mythology
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