Daniel Peterson: The myths of the man and god named Quetzalcoatl

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Daniel Peterson: The myths of the man and god called Quetzalcoatl

Perhaps the most important god in the mythology of historic Mesoamerica — and surely just one of the most advanced and difficult to realize — is Quetzalcoatl.

When trying to take pleasure in the role of this god in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, it is essential, first, to distinguish between the mythic god himself and the legendary Toltec priest and king Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl with whom he is quickly baffled. Next, it is important to spend incredibly thorough attention to the dates and locations of the a variety of features of the mythology.

The Aztec title “Quetzalcoatl” usually means “quetzal-feathered serpent,” referring to the wonderful blue and inexperienced plumage of the quetzal chicken. In Maya dialects he is recognised as Kukulcan. Archaeological proof exists for the worship of Quetzalcoatl from at least the to start with century in Teotihuacan, the large city centre and temple-advanced whose renowned pyramids are found in the vicinity of fashionable Mexico Town. Iconographic factors of his cult can be traced again even further. But the veneration of Quetzalcoatl rises to its biggest importance just after A.D. 900 between the Toltecs of Tollan (Tula), the post-Classical Maya of the Yucatan, and the Aztecs.

We ought to retain in intellect, nevertheless, that the most critical surviving penned resources for the legends of Quetzalcoatl derive from 16th-century (i.e., write-up-conquest) Spanish translations and descriptions of Aztec background, religion, literature and legends. It is unsure how significantly back in time quite a few features of the Quetzalcoatl legends can be traced, and it is difficult to know how accurately the Spanish comprehended and recorded them.

Mythologically, Quetzalcoatl performs an critical part in both the creation of the universe and the invention of tradition, including the discovery of agriculture, science, the arts and fireplace. He is routinely worshiped as the patron god of science and understanding.

In mythic occasions, he participated in a primordial sacrifice, in which he descended into the underworld, outwitted the god of the dead (Mictlantecuhtli), and rescued mankind from the power of demise. Thereafter, he ascended into heaven, in which he turned the evening-and-morning star Venus (in Aztec, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli). Temples dedicated to Quetzalcoatl were being usually centrally placed in Mesoamerican cities, and his rites were carefully connected with the astronomical phases of Venus.

But Aztec legends also report the tale of the semi-divine priest-king Topiltzin (“Our Youthful Prince”) Quetzalcoatl, who ruled more than the golden age at the paradisiacal city of Tollan. Although the Aztecs related their legendary Tollan with the 11th century ruins of the Toltec metropolis Tollan, the place the cult of Quetzalcoatl was primarily important, the Tollan of Quetzalcoatl is very best seen as a primordial mythic city, no matter what its specific romantic relationship to everyday secular background could have been.

Quetzalcoatl is mentioned to have had a cosmic vision of the substantial-god Ometeotl, and to have ruled by his authority. Less than his rule, Tollan was the middle of ceremonial buy, righteousness, abundance and wealth, social harmony and inventive brilliance. Human sacrifice was forbidden by Quetzalcoatl, who ruled with mercy and justice. As the excellent priest-king, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl presented the prototype for subsequent Mesoamerican leaders, legitimizing the social, religious and political buy of kings and monks boasting to rule soon after him and by his authority. Without a doubt, Aztec large clergymen by themselves ended up named “Quetzalcoatl.”

This ideal purchase was destroyed, having said that, by the intervention of the demonic Tezcatlipoca (“Smoking Mirror”), who, by the electricity of a magic obsidian mirror, tricked Quetzalcoatl into betraying his priestly vows. Tezcatlipoca thereupon usurped authority, demanding human sacrifice, and the golden age disintegrated. Curiously, the tale has two diverse endings: In the initial, Quetzalcoatl sacrifices himself on a funeral pyre, finally ascending into heaven to turn into the world or star Venus. In the 2nd, he sails off into the sea, promising to return a person day, overthrow Tezcatlipoca, and restore his ideal kingdom.

The fantasy of the return of Quetzalcoatl performed an vital job in the subsequent record of Mesoamerica. When Hernan Cortes and the conquistadors arrived in Mexico in 1517, the Aztec king Moctezuma II was confident that the Spaniard was Quetzalcoatl, returning as he experienced promised to do. Appropriately, Moctezuma despatched great treasures to Cortes, inviting him to assume rule of the kingdom. Of course, Spanish cruelty and treachery soon disabused the Aztecs of their confusion but, by then, the conquistadors ended up effectively established and experienced elevated 1000’s of allies from the disgruntled Indigenous American vassals of the Aztecs. The conquest of Mexico was thus in portion stimulated by the great religion of the Aztecs that Quetzalcoatl would a person working day return as he experienced promised.

Daniel Peterson teaches Arabic scientific tests, launched BYU’s Center Eastern Texts Initiative, directs MormonScholarsTestify.org, chairs mormoninterpreter.com, weblogs daily at patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson, and speaks only for himself.