Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent, was a central figure of the pantheon of gods in pre-Columbian Mexico. References to a Feathered Serpent have been found in the art of the Teotihuacán, Toltec, and Aztec cultures spanning from approximately the 3rd century AD to the 16th. Quetzalcóatl’s exploits are most thoroughly documented by the Aztecs, and even now he remains a potent symbol of their culture’s golden age. Let’s learn about this crafty and cunning god, for whom Hernan Cortés may or may not have been mistaken.
By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Quetzalcóatl. THE FIFTH WORLD Quetzalcóatl plays an important role in the Aztec creation myth. The Aztecs believed that their current time was known as the Fifth World, and that it had been preceded by four others, all of which had been destroyed. According to the myth of the fifth world, Quetzalcóatl populated the fifth world with humans. He created humans by descending into the underworld, known as Mictlān, and spilling his blood upon the bones there. This sacrifice returned the bones to life and formed the humans who live today.
Xolotl (pronounced shuh-LAHT) was Quetzalcóatl’s twin brother. Xolotl is a psychopomp, meaning that he leads the dead into the underworld. Like his brother, Xolotl carries a device known as the wind jewel, which allows him to control winds. However, Xolotl’s canine face distinguishes his appearance from his twin brother’s.
Tezcatlipoca was another significant figure in the Aztec pantheon. According to myth, Tezcatlipoca was seen as something of an opposite to and rival of Quetzalcóatl. The war-like Tezcatlipoca’s name is translated from the Nahuatl as “Smoking mirror,” and his bellicose nature further distinguishes him from the more traditionally peaceful Quetzalcóatl. The distinction is evident in terms of appearance as well, with Tezcatlipoca associated with the color black and Quetzalcóatl associated with the color white.
Quetzalcóatl is associated with the planet Venus in Aztec mythology. According to one legend, this association originates with Tezcatlipoca intoxicating Quetzalcóatl, resulting in the latter assaulting a priestess. Consumed with guilt over his actions, Quetzalcóatl burned himself alive. The god’s heart rose into the sky and became Venus.
SAILING EAST ON A RAFT OF SNAKES
According to another variant on the above legend, Quetzalcóatl did not immolate himself, but rather exiled himself from Mexico. This legend maintains that Quetzalcóatl sailed to the east aboard a raft made of snakes. Further accounts claimed that Quetzalcóatl would return on a “Reed Year,” one of several designations applied to years on the Aztec calendar. Unfortunately for the Aztecs and their last king, Monteczuma II, the conquistador Hernán Cortés landed in 1519, a year that happened to be a Reed Year. This may have led to the Aztecs’ fatal decision to show deference to Cortés at first, believing him and his men to be divine envoys.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Some religious traditions identify parallels between Quetzalcóatl and other religious figures.
View this website for a crash course on the Aztec calendar!
The Aztecs utilized unique and revolutionary systems of farming to help develop their complex, urban culture.
Check out this video to learn more about the myth of the five suns.
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