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Quetzalcoatl

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The plumed serpent, Quetzalcoatl, at Teotihuacán, Mexico. To me, these plumes look like the flames from a rocket.

There’s a class of ancient stories about knowledge bringers. These were highly accomplished beings who came from the sky and taught the people the skills they needed to survive and thrive. Not surprisingly, many of these knowledge bringers are known as gods, usually creator gods. One of my favorite knowledge bringers is Quetzalcoatl. Lots of people have loved him through the ages, and love him still.

According to Graham Hancock in Fingerprints of the Gods, Quetzalcoatl was the main god of the ancient Mexicans. Hancock cites descriptions of Quetzalcoatl that sound much like Viracocha: “a fair and ruddy complexioned man with a long beard”, “a white man, a large man, broad browed, with huge eyes, long hair, and a great, rounded beard”, also:

…a mysterious person … a white man with strong formation of body, broad forehead, large eyes, and a flowing beard. He was dressed in a long, white robe reaching to his feet. He condemned sacrifices, except of fruits and flowers, and was known as the god of peace…. When addressed on the subject of war he is reported to have stopped up his ears with his fingers.

Another source cited by Hancock, The Mythology of Mexico and Central America, by John Bierhorst, says that the “wise instructor” Quetzalcoatl:

… came from across the sea in a boat that moved by itself without paddles. He was a tall, bearded white man who taught people to use fire for cooking. He also built houses and showed couples that they could live together as husband and wife; and since people often quarreled in those days, he taught them to live in peace.

In Fair Gods and Stone Faces, by Constance H. Frick Irwin, Quetzalcoatl is described as arriving at Coatzecoalcos (Serpent Sanctuary) by sea in vessels “with sides that shone like the scales of serpents’ skins”.

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Quetzalcoatl in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, 16th century CE.

The legends say that Quetzalcoatl had come from very far away, across the Eastern Sea. They also say he left, with much sadness, supposedly from Coatzecoalcos (Serpent Sanctuary), sailing on a “raft of serpents,” saying he would be back someday [like Viracocha]. Hancock cites The New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology: “[Quetzalcoatl] burned his houses, built of silver and shells, buried his treasure, and set sail on the Eastern Sea preceded by his attendants who had been changed into bright birds.”

Since the sixteenth century it has been widely held 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 ethno-historian Matthew Restall (and a great majority of others) who argues 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 naïve gullibility of the Aztecs in general as a great aid in his conquest of Mexico. (Read more.) —http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatl

Like Viracocha in South America, Quetzalcoatl went by different names in different parts of Mexico and Central America. He was Gucumatz to the Quiche Maya; he was Kukulkan to workshipers at Chichen Itza. All three of these names mean “Feathered Serpent”. Quetzalcoatl may also be at the core of the Mayan gods Votan and Itzamana. Quetzalcoatl was known to travel with assistants, so the numerous similar stories may reflect multiple “gods” spread across the New World.

Certain myths set out in the Ancient Mayan religious texts known as the Books of Chilam Balam, for instance, reported that “the first inhabitants of Yucatan were the “People of the Serpent”. They came from the east in boats across the water with their leader Itzamana, “Serpent of the East”, a healer who could cure by laying on hands, and who revived the dead.

“Kukulkan,” stated another tradition, “came with nineteen companions, two of whom were gods of fish, two others gods of agriculture, and a god of thunder…. They stayed ten years in Yucatan. Kukulkan made wise laws and then set sail and disappeared in the direction of the rising sun…. —Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods

Quetzalcoatl and his kind were credited with introducing writing, mathematics, the calendar, masonry, architecture, metallurgy, astronomy, agriculture, medicine, herbalism, law, and arts and crafts. He also forbade human sacrifice, although it reappeared after he left.

Quetzalcoatl was defeated by an evil god called Tezcatilpoca (Smoking Mirror) at Tollan, modern-day Tula (in Hidalgo, central Mexico). Supposedly, Tezcatilpoca had a magic mirror, called Tezcat, in which he could see things from far away, and from which other mirrors were made for wizards.

Graham Hancock has noted that idols in the Tula ruins are holding weapons similar to those held by Viracocha-related idols in the Kalasasaya Temple at Tiahuanaco —weapons unidentifiable as anything known. He suggests they may be the legendary xiuhcoatl,fire serpents— weapons of the gods. He references An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, by Mary Ellen Miller and Karl Taube, that these fire serpents “apparently emitted burning rays capable of piercing and dismembering human bodies.”

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The Mayan Fire Serpent Xiuhcoatl.

Most Mesoamerican beliefs included cycles of suns. Usually, our current time was considered the fifth sun, the previous four having been destroyed by flood, fire and the like. Quetzalcoatl allegedly went to Mictlan, the underworld, and created fifth-world mankind [us] from the bones of the previous races (with the help of Chihuacoatl), 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.[citation needed] 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 (in some accounts, his sister Quetzalpetlatl) and then burned himself to death out of remorse. His heart became the morning star (see Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli). — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatl

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Quetzalcoatl, as depicted in the Codex Magliabechiano, 16th century CE.

Speaking of a relief found carved on granite at La Venta, an Olmec site near the port of Coatzecoalcos (Serpent Sanctuary) on the Gulf of Mexico, and now obliterated by petroleum interests, Graham Hancock says:

The relief…showed a man sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him as though he were reaching for pedals with his feet. He held a small, bucket-shaped object in his right hand. With his left he appeared to be raising or lowering a lever. The “head-dress” he wore was an odd and complicated garment. To my eye it seemed more functional than ceremonial, although I could not imagine what its function might have been. On it, or perhaps on a console above it, were two x-shaped crosses.

I turned my attention to the other principal element of the sculpture, the “feathered serpent”. On one level it did, indeed, depict exactly that: a plumed or feathered serpent, the age-old symbol of Quetzalcoatl, whom the Olmecs, therefore, must have worshipped (or at the very least recognized). Scholars do not dispute this interpretation. It is generally accepted that Quetzalcoatl’s cult was immensely ancient, originating in prehistoric times in Central America and thereafter receiving the devotion of many cultures during the historic period.

The feathered serpent in this particular sculpture, however, had certain characteristics that set it apart. It seemed to be more than just a religious symbol; indeed, there was something rigid and structured about it that made it look almost like a piece of machinery. —Graham Hancock, Fingerprints of the Gods

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Quetzalcoatl, left, and Tezcatlipo.
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Resplendent Quetzal (Male).
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'Quetzalcoatl, using the attributes of Ehecatl the wind god, thus representing the winds that bring the rain. Also known as the feathered serpent.'
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Quetzalcoatl as depicted in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, 16th century CE.
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'Man in Serpent', Olmec stele from La Venta, in Mexico. Click to enlarge.
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Quetzalcoatl
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Thunder Gods, Such as Yahweh…

Thunder gods, such as Yahweh, are popular all over the world. Making big noise and throwing lightning bolts, they get people’s attention, and fearful obedience. Wind gods and sky gods may also be thunder gods—sky gods tend to speak with voices of thunder and cause strong winds. There is further overlap between thunder gods, weather gods, storm gods, war gods, fire gods, and sun gods. A lot of deities tend to be noisy and flaming, up in the sky.

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This Two-Fold Paper Screen, from the Tokyo National Museum, painted by Tawaraya Sota in the 17th century, shows the Japanese thunder god, left, and Wind God, right.

Thunderbolts as divine retribution are popular not only in the Bible, but in many ancient cultures. The Hindu lightning god Indra has the thunderbolt Vajra as his preferred weapon. Teshub, the Hurrian sky and storm god, has a triple thunderbolt; Zeus has his thunderbolt, given to him by the Cyclopes; and the Norse thunder god Thor has his magic hammer, Mjölnir (Pulverizier), which not only zaps what he aims at, but returns to him so he can fire again. The Mayan god Huracan is sometimes depicted as three bolts of lightning, and, as his name suggests, he was known for creating powerful whirlwinds.

Amadioha, the thunder and lightning god of Nigeria’s Igbo people, administers justice using thunderstones he hurls down to Earth. He is still a popular god these days, and, as with Yahweh, people swear the truth of what they’re saying by asking the god to strike them dead by lightning if they lie. If Amadioha strikes someone dead with lightning, the priests reportedly see it as the god’s will, and take the dead person’s property, leaving the body unburied. If a person has been cursed in Amadioha’s name, he can only release himself by transferring the curse to a goat that he releases into the wild. This is reminiscent of the Old Testament scapegoat, to whom the high priest of Israel confesses all his people’s sins, before releasing it. The Igbo phrase that translates as “Amadioha will punish you” is like the “God will get you” of Yahweh’s followers.

Perkele, the name of the Finnish thunder god, is a frequently used swear word in Finland. “Management by Perkele” is an expression for a Finnish leadership approach that takes fast action instead of considering everyone’s point of view.

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The Japanese Thunder God Raijin, right, is in the form of a netsuke, a kind of button used in 17th- and 18th-century Japan to fasten men’s purses to the sashes of their robes.

The Australian Aborigine god Mamaragan typifies thunder gods in that he speaks with a voice of thunder, rides a storm cloud, and throws lightning bolts. But his abode is not the high mountains or heavens like most thunder gods, rather just a puddle. The Chinese god Lei Gong specializes in thunder; he has four assistants to help him produce lightning, clouds, rain, and winds, including his wife, Dian Mu, the goddess of lightning, who uses mirrors to flash bolts across the skies. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder writes of nine Etruscan gods who were able to shoot thunderbolts of various colors.

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A Mayan Serpent God Scene from the ruins at Yaxchilan.

The ancient Roman religious deities, the Novensiles (sometimes identified as muses or as members of a divine council), specialize in “lightning readings”—revealing the divine intent behind lightning. Reportedly, Jupiter (or the Etruscan version, Tinia) can wield three types of lightning, from three different celestial regions. The first type, which he can use at his discretion, is perforating lightning,1 which is mild and meant as friendly persuasion or dissuasion.2 Crushing lightning, which is harmful, can be used only by approval of the Dii Consentes, a group of 12 major deities. Burning lightning, which is deadly, is used only by approval of the Dii Superiores et Involuti (hidden gods of the higher sphere).3



1. Massimo Pallottino, “The Doctrine and Sacred Books of the Disciplina Etrusca,” Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992), 43–44; Stefan Weinstock, “Libri fulgurales,” Papers of the British School at Rome 19 (1951), 125.
2. Georges Dumézil, La religion Romaine Archaïque (Paris 1974), 630, 633 (note 3), drawing on Seneca, Naturales Questiones 2.41.1–2 and 39.
3. Weinstock, Papers of the British School, 127.

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The Aztec Codex Borgia always has something interesting going on. These scenes constitute page 10 of the 1898 facsimile edition. See all 76 pages at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Codex_Borgia
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Maruts. These Hindu storm gods number from two to 180 depending on the story. They are extremely warlike, with lightning, thunderbolts, and iron teeth. They roar like lions as their fiery red horses pull their golden chariots through the skies.
Dios Cocijo ( Zapotec god of the rain ) found at Monte Alban, in the Valley of Oaxaca, circa 200-500 CE.source
Cocijo, Zapotec god of the rain, from Monte Alban, in Oaxaca, circa 200-500 CE.
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Zeus, the Greek version of Jupiter, is shown in his chariot, preparing to launch a lightning bolt.
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Chaac, the Mayan god of rain, lightning, and thunder, is shown here reproduced from the Dresden Codex, the oldest known book written in the Americas, from the 11th or 12th century CE.
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Falling Thunder God.
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Native American Thunderbird.

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Thunderbirds Shooting Lightning, old sign.

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Modern-Day Thunderbirds follow the leader.

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The Norse Thunder God Thor, above, in his Germanic version as Donner, uses his hammer to summon the storm clouds in Richard Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold.
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Horagalles is the god of sky, thunder, lightning, the rainbow, weather, oceans, and lakes for the northern European Arctic indigneous Sami people. He is usually shown with a nail in his head and holding a hammer.
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Haokah, above. In about 1880, the Lakota Sioux Chief Black Hawk illustrated a vision he had of himself as the horned thunder god Haokah, 'changed to a destroyer and riding a buffalo eagle.' The rainbow shown is the entrance to the spirit world, and the dots are hail.
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Papa (left) and Rangi. This Māori carving likely represents the primal creator couple, Papa the Earth Mother and Rangi the Sky Father, locked in embrace.
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Mississippian birdman. 'A digital illustration by the artist Herb Roe, based on a S.E.C.C. design whelk shell engraving from Spiro, Oklahoma.'
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Art of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex

Here are some examples of artwork from ancient Native North Americans who lived primarily in what is now the Southeastern United States.

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'A digital illustration by the artist Herb Roe, based on a S.E.C.C. design whelk shell engraving from Spiro, Oklahoma.'
A carving in shell.source
A carving in shell.
Prehistoric designs carved on shell, from southeastern USA.source
Prehistoric designs carved on shell, from southeastern USA.
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Prehistoric symbols (sun circles), Middle Mississippi Valley, southeastern USA.
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Shell gorget (throat-protecting armor, or ornamental throat ornament), from Spiro Mound in Oklahoma.
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Shell gorget (throat-protecting armor, or ornamental throat ornament), from Spiro Mound in Oklahoma.
Shell gorget (throat-protecting armor, or ornamental throat ornament), from Spiro Mound in Oklahoma.
Shell gorget (throat-protecting armor, or ornamental throat ornament), from Spiro Mound in Oklahoma.
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