Aztecs imagined that there had been five processes of creation and that after each of the first four, the world had collapsed and a new one had been created. Therefore, the Aztecs called their own age The Fifth Sun, which they also assumed would end violently. Presumably there would follow a Sixth Sun – but that would happen without them, the Aztecs.
The original god of creation was Tonacatecli and his wife Tonacaçiguatl, and in their thirteenth heaven they had four sons. Their third son was Quetzalcoatl, The Feathered Serpent.
About him was in the 1530s written in History of the Mexicans as Told by Their Paintings:
And when the four gods had seen that the heaven had fallen on the earth, which took place in the first year of the four after the Sun had ended, and the rain had fallen, which was the year tochili, they ordained that all the four should make through the centre of the earth four roads by which to enter it in order to raise the heaven, to assist in which task they created four men; one they called Cotemuc, another Yzcoaclt, another Yzmali, and the fourth Tenesuchi.
These four men having been created, the two gods, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, then formed themselves into enor-mous trees, Tezcatlipoca becoming the one known as Tazcaquavilt, meaning the tree of the mirror, and Quetzalcoatl, the Queçalhesuch, and gods and men and trees together raised on high the heaven and the stars, just as they are today, and as a recompense for having raised them, Tonacatecli, the father, made them lords of the heaven and the stars; and when the heaven was raised, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl walked through it, and made the road which we now see there, and met in it, and remained there in it, and held their abode there.
Thus a Spaniard shortly after the conquest noted an Aztec explanation of Quetzalcoatl/The Feathered Serpent and Tezcatlipoca, also known as Smoking Mirror.
A generation later in another codex was written:
Then Quetzalcoatl went to the dead land, and when he came to the dead land lord, the dead land lady, he said to him, I’ve come for the precious bones that you are keeping. I’ve come to get them.
Then he said, To do what, Quetzalcoatl?
And he answered him, It’s because the gods are sad. Who will there be on earth?
The dead land lord replied, Very well. Blow my conch horn and circle four times around my precious realm. But this conch horn was not hollow.
Then he summoned worms, who hollowed it out. Then bumblebees and honeybees went in. Then he blew on it, and the dead land lord heard him.
Then the dead land lord answered, Very well, take them! But he said to his messengers, the dead land people, Spirits, go tell him he has to leave them here.
But Quetzalcoatl said, No, I’m taking them forever.
And then his nahual said to him,Tell them, I’ll leave them with you.
Then he said to them, he shouted to them, I’ll leave them with you! And he quickly ascended.
Then he takes the precious bones. The male bones are in one pile, the female bones are in another pile. Then Quetzalcoatl takes them, wraps them up, and comes carrying them off.
Again, the dead lord said to his messengers, Spirits, Quetzalcoatl is really taking the precious bones away. Spirits, go dig him a pit. Then they went and dug it for him.
So he fell into the pit, stumbled and fell, and quail frightened him and he lost consciousness.
Then he spilled the precious bones, and the quail bit into them, nibbled them.
And when Quetzalcoatl came to, he cried. Then he said to his nahual, My nahual, how will they be?
And he said to him, How will they be? They’ve been ruined. Let them go that way.
Then he gathered them together, picked them up, wrapped them. Then he carried them to Tamoanchan. And when he had brought them, the one named Quilaztli, Cihuacoatl, ground them up. Then she put them into a jade bowl, and Quetzalcoatl bled his penis on them.
Then all the gods, who have been mentioned, did penance: Apanteuctli, Huictlolinqui, Tepanquizqui, Tlallamanac, Tzontemoc, and number six Quetzalcoatl.
Then they said, Holy ones, humans, have been born. It’s because they did penance for us.
The myth originates from Codex Chimalpopoca, which was written after the Spanish conquest. In fact, it is not a single codex, but three independent texts. The first, Annals, is almost a history book. The second text, Legend of the Suns, was apparently written in 1558 while a person pointed and explained an older picture-writing. The third text,Brief description of pagan gods and rites, is written in Spanish and probably younger than the first two which are written in Nahuatl, and has no relation with these.
What I quoted stems from Legend of the Suns and is about the transition from The Fourth Sun to The Fifth Sun. The lost bones explain why humans became so different.
Codex Chimalpopoca – named in modern times after the Mexican linguist Faustino Galicia Chimalpopoca – was to be located at Mexicos Institute of Anthropology and History as Collección Antiguo no. 159, but it has gone!
It is almost as if the fate of the crushed precious bones has been reflected in the writing itself, but the fate of the manuscript is probably more human. Maybe it’s been stolen or just filed incorrectly. That can also happen at a Mexican library!
Fortunately, there is a photographic copy from 1945; and besides, scholars believe that the missing original was just a copy of an older writing.
This I tell you so you can sense the mood when chasing a core of history and think you are about to catch it.
Back to Quetzalcoatl!
The other gods have sent him into the underworld to get the precious bones, this concentrate of sacrificed men and women – that is dead in compressed form. The fight for the bone can so to speak represent the struggle for the cyclical nature of life: generation must follow generation. But this shall not end up dead seriously! The bone can turn into a flute; the flute appears in many mythological contexts and can not only emit gentle wind music that approaches the celestial, but also acts as a sex symbol.
In Tamouanchan, the mythical home of primitive gods, the tribes and the maize, one of the lunar- and earthgoddess Ciuacouatl-Quilaztlis inclinations pours the broken bones into a bowl. Then Quetzalcoatl blends the bonepowder with blood from his penis and thereby gives birth to humans, because they originate from the same place as they end. Life runs in a divine ring, existence is eternal.
The Death God encourages Quetzalcoatl to blow in the conch horn, that is signal and power of the Death God, but Quetzalcoatl has come to fetch the precious bones and makes worms gnaw in the conch horn of the Death God, so that it can be played.
The tactic can characterize Quetzalcoatls power against the Death God, but also his love to humans on behalf of the gods and emphasize Quetzalcoatls interest in handicraft.
We do not live by mind alone, we also need something to eat, so the story continues in Codex Chimalpopoca:
Again, they said, Gods, what will they eat? Let food be looked for.
Then the ant went and got a kernel of corn out of Food Mountain, and Quetzalcoatl met the ant and said: Where did you get it? Tell me.
But it won’t tell him. He insists. Then it says: Over there, and it shows him the way.
Then Quetzalcoatl changed into a black ant.
It shows him the way, and he goes inside. Then they carry it out together.
The red ant, it seems, showed Quetzalcoatl the way.
Outside he lays down the kernels, then he carries them to Tamoanchan. Then the gods chew them and put them on our lips.
That’s how we grew strong.
Then they said: What will we doo with Food Mountain? Then Quetzalcoatl went and tried to carry it, tied it with ropes, but he couldn’t lift it.
Then Oxomoco counted it out, and Oxomocos wife, Cipactonal, also counted its fate. The woman is Cipactonal.
Then Oxomoco and Cipactonal said, Nanahuatl will strike Food Mountain, for they had counted it out.
Then all the tlalocs are summoned, blue tlalocs, white tlalocs, yellow tlalocs, red tlalocs.
Then Nanahuatl strikes it, and the foods are stolen by the tlalocs.
The white, black, and yellow corn, the red corn, the beans, the amaranth, the chia, the fish amaranth, all the foods were stolen.
In some versions of the myth, among others in Sahagúns Codex Florentino, the names are used the other way around: Oxomoco is the wife and Cipactonal man. No matter who is named, these maize eaters were the first godborn people, the Aztec Adam and Eve so to say.
We can characterize Quetzalcoatl as god even it may sound rather humane that not everything is succeeding for him.
In Codex Florentino there is a drawing of Quetzalcoatl: A man in sandals, a round sign is tied to his waist, from the back grows wings, on the head a hat with raised feathers, and in the left hand a short curb – his right hand is not drawn, but Quetzalcoatl looks gentle.
In Codex Florentino Sahagún explained:
Quetzalcoatl, it is the wind, the forerunner, the one who paves the way for the raingods, the one who brings the rain, the torrential rain. And when the wind enforces, one calls it the dust, it thunders, it roars, it gets dark, it blows, it cracks, it rages.
And he is dressed in the following manner: he wears the pointed cap of jaguarskin, the face is smeared in soot, he wears the windmakeup, he has the acacia makeup, he wears the thorned, rounded ear jewelery, he wears the golden conch necklace, the quetzalfeather pheasant he wears on his back, he wears the jaguarskin band with bells, he wears a net, he wears the shield with the windjewelery, he wears the windchopper and the foamsandals.
Further on in Codex Florentino, Sahagún elaborated:
Quetzalcoatl was also regarded as a god, he was supposed to be a god, he was worshipped as a god, and so it was already in ancient times, in Tula. And his temple, a very tall one, rising, had a staircase with many steps that were not wide, but on the contrary narrow, so one could hardly find space for a foot on it.
It is said that he always dressed in rugs, that his face was hidden behind rugs, and they say he was very ugly. His face was just like a huge block, without human traits, and his beard was very long and large.
And the Toltecs, his subjects, were very knowledgeable on art, nothing they created was too difficult for them, they polished the green gemstones and melted gold, they practiced other crafts, working with feathers they had good understanding.
It started with Quetzalcoatl, it was from him all handicraft originated, he who knew how to make it. And there was his green gemhouse, his golden house, his house of red musselshells and his house of white shells, his log house covered with turquoise mosaics and his quetzalfeather house.
And his subjects, the Toltecs, did not reckon with distances, they could fast reach what they wanted. And since they ran a lot they were called those who bend their knees all day.
And a mountain there is called Tzatzipetl, Mountain of the Scream, and so it still is called. It is said that it was here that the herald took a stand. When something was needed, he took a stand there and screamed, and the scream reached all the way to Anaoac, in every direction of the world it was heard what he said, which order had been issued. Everyone hurried to come and heard what Quetzalcoatl ordered.
And they had abundance of everything.
There was no price for edible things, not for any food. It was said that pumpkins were very large and thick, some of them a feet in circumference. And the corn cobs were long, like a saddle quern; they were querned on the ground; and the oraches, the vegetable herbs, were tall as palms, so one could climb them.
Similarly, various kinds of colored cotton grew; the red, the yellow, the delicate rosy, the brownish, the blue-green, the dark-blue, the green, the orange, the black, the greyish, the saturated yellow, the bleached yellow. All these kinds of cotton grew in color, so they didn’t have to color them at all.
And all the birds that were so highly cherished because of their feathers lived there: the turquoise bird, the green quetzal, the yellow trupial, and the crimson spoonbill, as well as all the different birds that can sing so beautifully and sing in the mountains.
In addition, all green gemstones. Precious metals were not appreciated at all, because they had plenty of them. Further more cocoa grew, flower cocoa stood many places, so cocoa was accesible.
And the Toltecs were very rich, they were well, never they suffered, in their houses there was nothing missing, never was famine. And the last shoot of corn, the poorly developed corn cobs, they didn’t use at all, they just used it for the fire in the steam bath.
And he, Quetzalcoatl, also devoted himself to rituals, sticking holes through the shin and smearing his blood on the tips of the agave leaves. And where he was bathing at midnight, where he was bathing, at his bathing place, it was a place called the Turquoise Wash Place. The incense priests and the other priests mimicked him, mimicking the life of this Quetzalcoatl, the priests made this Quetzalcoatls lifestyle theirs, so the law from Tula became common, the one obeyed here in Mexico.
So a beautiful, rich, yes, a divine life.
Sahagún also described how Quetzalcoatls fame ended. That Quetzalcoatl met three wizards and what the first did to him. And then it is as if the divine is falling apart:
And since Quetzalcoatl and all Toltecs had failed their duties, they were met by three wizards who proclaimed accidents: Huitzilopochtli, Titlacaoan and Tlacauepan. All three proclaimed accidents: Tula would perish.
Titlacaoan began preaching accidents. It was said that Titlacaoan had turned into a little old man. He had assumed such a figure, had imitated such a figure, had collapsed completely, white-haired, colored white in his face.
He goes into the house of Quetzalcoatl. After he has stepped in, he speaks to the people: I want to see the Lord Quetzalcoatl! Then they told him: Go away, you old! The Lord is ill and you disturb him. Then the old man said: In any case, I have to see him, I have to come in! They replied: It is all right. Wait! We’ll let him talk to you! Then they told Quetzalcoatl and said to him: My lord, an old little man has come who will see you. It looks like a trap, it’s like a snare for you. We’ve thrown him out, but he won’t leave. He has said: I want to see the Lord. Then Quetzalcoatl replied: Let him come, let him come in, for I have waited him for five, even ten days.
Then they let the old little man come in to Quetzalcoatl, who greeted him and said: My child, my lord. How is your honered flesh? Here is the medicine I have brought to you. Drink it!
It brought Quetzalcoatl to answer: Come here, you old. With difficulty you have managed, with pain you have managed to come here. I’ve been waiting for you for five, yes for ten days. And the old man said: My child, how are you? Quetzalcoatl replied: It hurts everywhere, my hands can do nothing, as is my feet, my whole body is like dead and powerless, broken. Then the little old man said to him: Here is the medicine, it is very good, it heals and intoxicates. When you drink it, it will intoxicate you, you will be healthy and you will cry, feel fatherless in the heart, you will think of your death and think of where to go. Then Quetzalcoatl asked: Where should I go, you old? The old replied: You must go to Tula Tlapalan! There is a shepherd, he is already old and you have to talk. And when you return you will again be a small child.
That made Quetzalcoatl persuade. The little old man spoke to him again: Get up! Drink this medicine! Quetzalcoatl replied: No you old, then I die. But the old urged him: Just drink! It will help you. For my sake, you can just put the drink in front of you, your fate will require the drink. Just drink a little! And Quetzalcoatl drank a little, and then he took a proper sip. Then Quetzalcoatl asked: What is it? It’s good, it has removed the disease, where has the disease gone? I’m not sick anymore! Then the old man repeated: Drink again: The medicine is very good. Your body will be strengthened by it. Then Quetzalcoatl drank again, and then he became drunk.
Quetzalcoatl cried. His deep emotions broke out. Only then did he become acquainted with that thought, only then did he break his decision, which he never forgot, on the contrary, always thought that it was a derangement that the wizard had triggered in him. And the medicine that the wizard had given him was the white wine, one says; and it is said that it was made from the sweet juice of the agave.
Well well, it’s pretty human to drink, but why do gods drink? Is this told to enable us to identify with them? That the disguised, little old man could take control over the god Quetzalcoatl must be interpreted as power struggles in the world of gods, that everything is not unambiguous, as intonation of a change of religion or as a metaphysical explanation of the collapse of a civilization.
The sweet juice from the agave Mexicans known under the name pulque, which can be drunk in pulquerias with results: intoxication and stomachache if you have been drinking too much!
In Codex Florentino, the story of Quetzalcoatls flight follows.
Many more spooky and horrible events hit the Toltecs, so the land of Tula fell completely apart. Then, when Quetzalcoatl has become confused and worried, he thinks he must go and leave his city of Tula. He prepares for that.
It is said that he burned his gilded and red mussel house as well as the other Toltec treasures. He dug in wonderful and valuable things, hid them in hard-to-reach places, either in mountains or in gorges.
He transformed cocoa trees into mezquite trees.
The ornamental birds that existed, red spoonbills, he sent before he left the place; they were in front of him, they flew at Anaoac, looking for the place.
When the time came, he broke up and walked.
Then he reached Quauhtitlan, where there was a thick and very tall tree. He stood beside it and saw himself in the mirror. He said: I’m old.
Then he mentions Ueuequauhtitlan, throws stones at the tree, and the stones penetrate the bark, they stay in the bark of the old tree. They can still be seen: at the bottom and right up to the crown. While Quetzalcoatl walked, they played flute for him.
Another time he rested in his place, sat on a stone, supported with his hands. He stared at Tula, and then he cried, out of control he sobbed, two hailshowers constituted his tears, over his face laid his tears. Where the tears hit, they pierced the stone.
The god Quetzalcoatl has abandoned his city, his people have been abandoned. But Quetzalcoatls story doesn’t end here:
And as he supported with his hands on the stone, his palms penetrated into the stone, just as if they were pressed into clay. Similarly with his behind. Where he sat, he sank into the stone and it can be seen by the recesses, and therefore the place is called Temacpalco.
Then he broke up and came to the place you call Tepanoayan. There is water, there comes water which is very wide. He laid out a stone and built a bridge, by which he crossed the river, and then he called the place Tepanoayan.
Again he broke up and reached a place called Coaapan. And when he was there, the demons wanted him to return, would prevent him from continuing. They asked: Where are you going, to where do you want? Why did you leave your city? Who will serve the god there? Quetzalcoatl answered the demons: There are no other options, I go. Then the demons asked: Where are you going? And Quetzalcoatl replied: I go to Tlapalan, I go to meet my destiny.
And they asked: What do you want there? He explained: I have been called, the sun has called me. They said to him: That is good, but give up all the handicraft. Then he gave up all the Totltec art, the goldsmith art, the polishing of precious stones, the woodcarving, the stonemason art, the painting, the work with feathers. They let him throw it all on the ground, all they took from him. And Quetzalcoatl threw his string of pearls in the water so they floated away in the water, and therefore they called the place Cozcaapan, and now it is called Cosaapan.
He continued his wandering and reached a place called Cochtocan. There he met a demon who asked: Where are you going? And he replied: I’m going to Tlapalan to meet my destiny. Then the demon said to him: Well! Drink this wine that I’ve brought.Quetzalcoatl replied: It is impossible to drink or just to taste. The demon answered: It doesn’t help, that you don’t drink any thing or taste it, because I do not let anyone pass who I not have served the wine for, who I not have let drink, who I not have let intoxicate. Come on! Cheers! Drink now! Then Quetzalcoatl drank the wine with a straw. And after drinking, he fell asleep on the road. He snored in his sleep, and on long-distance one could hear how he was snoring. And when he woke up, he looked from the one side to the other, looked at himself, smoothed his hair, and then called the place Cochtocan.
In the following will be told about the death of Quetzalcoatls strange companions and his resignation.
Again he broke up and climbed into the high pass between Popocatéptl and Iztacccíhuatl, and all who accompanied him, the dwarves, the hunchbacks, his houseslaves, were covered with snow, and they died of cold.
Quetzalcoatl spoke to himself to encourage himself, he is crying and singing, crying a lot, sniffing. And in the far he gets sight of the second snow mountain, Poyautécatl, the volcano at Orizaba.
Again he broke up, he came around a lot, everywhere he touched the landscape, and it is said that he made many marks, that he left many memories that he had been there.
One place he established a ballcourt, entirely of stone, and the line that is in the middle of the playfield, was dug into the ground, the hole stretched deep into the ground. One place he shot an arrow into a kapok tree, and the arrow he shot into the tree was also of kapok, it penetrated and came out on the other side.
Another place he built a house in the ground, a place called Mictlán, the Place of the Dead.
A third place he put a large stonephallos. It is said that when you move it with a little finger, it moves from one side to the other. But it is also said that if many put it in motion, then it does not move, and if especially many touch it, if they want to put it in motion, then they cannot move it at all. And much more he did in all areas. They say he gave all the mountains names and that he put names on everything.
After reaching the shore of the sea, he formed the snake bed. After it was completed, he sat down on it and it now also served as his ship. Then he went, he was carried away on the water, and no one knows anymore how he came to Tlapalan.
There by the shore of the sea, the god Quetzalcoatl is lifted away – on a snake bed that he had formed himself. The god of self-sacrifice.
In Codex Florentino, Quetzalcoatl was described as one who, a few times, was rather drunk, who was followed by dwarfs, hunchbacks, and houseslaves, and who left his marks on the land – both the Place of the Dead and a big stonephallos.
By the way, in Uxmal, one of the Maya states in Yucatán – east of the great water, when one was living in the Aztec Empire – we can see the Phallos temple, where ten very big stonephallus are sticking up.
Despite human traits, Quetzalcoatl may not have been a human being.
Sahagún wrote Indian narratives of a god that was very different from the God of Sahagún, but he wrote much more positively about the god Quetzalcoatl than he had done about the god Huitzilopochtli.
(pp. 184-196 in volume 1, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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