|Author||Charles River Editors|
|Publication Date||July 3, 2019|
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*Includes a bibliography for further reading
Gilgamesh, Hercules, Aeneas, and Lancelot are instantly recognized as mythological heroes in the West, evoking visions of Persian monsters, ghastly labors, and the founding and glorification of cities, but the name Quetzalcoatl is as mysterious as its spelling. Even those who have come across his name when learning about the history of Mesoamerica – particularly the Aztec and the god’s role in the Spanish conquest of their empire – are often unaware that the Mesoamerican deity has tales that equal any of those in the repertoire of the mythological figures mentioned above, and the tale of his transmission into modern times is no less fascinating.
As archaeologists quickly learned, there are numerous temples dedicated to Quetzalcoatl all across Mesoamerica. From the Aztec to the Maya, Quetzalcoatl - the Feathered Serpent - rears his beautiful head from magnificent relief carvings in temples no less grandiose than the largest pyramid in the region, that of Cholula in Mexico. Furthermore, thousands of people still gather in the great Mayan city of Chichén Itzá during the spring and autumn equinoxes to watch the shadow of the Feathered Serpent slither its way down the temple known as El Castillo.
Worship of the Feathered Serpent can be traced back 2,000 years, and the Serpent’s cults appear all across Mesoamerica. The Olmec, the Aztec, and both the Yucatec and K’iche Mayans all had different names for this deity, including Kukulkan, Q’uq’umatz, and Tohil, but his iconography is curiously consistent over several centuries across the region. Depending on who was worshipping him, the Feathered Serpent was a creator-god, the god of the winds, the god of the rains, or merely a near-divine ancestor whose militaristic ways won his followers land and riches before he was eventually marred by lavishness and iniquity, resulting in his demise.
To some of the invading Spanish conquistadores, Quetzalcoatl was little more than another demon the “natives” had been worshipping before they were kind enough to bring God to the New World. To others, however, Quetzalcoatl was precisely evidence of the spread of Christianity reaching Mesoamerica long before the conquistadores ever arrived. Much of what modern scholars depend on to understand Quetzalcoatl, however, comes from the period of the Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica, and therefore stories of his blowing the sun across the sky have become mixed with those linking him with Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, this makes for a fascinating picture of a deity whose image has been shaped by some of the most famous civilizations in history and continues to be adopted by people today, often for more than spiritual purposes (as is evident in the adoption of Quetzalcoatl imagery in Mexico’s struggle for independence). As a result, Quetzalcoatl was and remains one of the most interesting and enlightening stories ever to have come out of any civilization, and his stories offer a better understanding of the Mesoamerican world.
Quetzalcoatl: The History and Legacy of the Feathered Serpent God in Mesoamerican Mythology examines the origins of the deity and his place in the pantheon of gods. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about Quetzalcoatl like never before.
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