Quetzalcóatl (literally "quetzal-serpent," i.e., "quetzal-feathered serpent," in Nahuatl) is the name given in central Mexico to one of the incarnations of the feathered serpent, which was one of the major Pan-Mesoamerican deities. In Central Mexico, he is known in the postclassical period as Ehecatl-Quetzalcóatl.

Origin of Quetzalcoatl

The cult of Quetzalcoatl seems to have originated in Teotihuacan. A Toltec chief of the post-classical period was called Quetzalcóatl, possibly the same individual known as Kukulkán who invaded Yucatán at the same time. In the tenth century, a chief closely associated with Quetzalcoatl, Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, ruled over the Toltecs.

It was claimed that he was the son of Mixcoatl (a legendary Chichimec warrior deified) and Chimalma (goddess of Culhuacan), or another of their descendants.

Quetzalcoatl in Cult

Quetzalcoatl is frequently found in Mesoamerican religion and art for almost 2,000 years until the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521, among the Mixtecs (who know him as the "9-Wind"), the Aztecs, the Mayans and especially the Toltecs. The veneration of Quetzalcoatl sometimes included human sacrifices, although some traditions state that he was opposed to these practices.

Priests and kings sometimes took the name of the god with whom they were associated, so that Quetzalcoatl or Kukulkan is also the name borne by historical figures.

Secondly, there was a widespread practice, common to the cult of other deities, that of self-sacrifice. Consisting of a more or less painful ritual bloodletting performed on oneself and sometimes on prisoners, this act, extremely codified, was frequent in pre-Columbian societies; this practice was identified with the different forms of ritual mortification in religions where the notion of expiation of evil is present.

Quetzalcoatl's Mythology

According to the Annals of Cuauhtitlan, Quetzalcoatl, ruler of Tula, the capital of the Toltecs, was seduced by Tezcatlipoca, who, jealous of his rival, intoxicated him and led him to break his vow of chastity.

Driven out of Tula, Quetzalcoatl reached the seashore, where he immolated himself out of remorse. His heart, which had escaped from the ashes, became then the star of the morning under the name of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli.

If Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca are sometimes enemies, they are allies on other occasions.

This is the case in the myth of the creation of the earth, which we know from the History of the Mechic. Having carried the goddess of the earth, a fearsome creature "who was full of eyes and mouths at all joints, with which she bit like a wild beast, " from the heavens "down to the bottom," where there was only water, the two gods transformed themselves into two great serpents.

They seized the goddess and tore her in two. Of the first half they made the earth and the other half they took to heaven, causing the irritation of the other gods. To compensate the goddess, they saw to it that from her came all that was necessary for men:

from her hair the trees, the flowers and the herbs, from her skin the small grass and the small flowers, from her eyes the fountains, the wells and the small caves, from her mouth the rivers and the big caves, from her nose and her shoulders the valleys and the mountains.

This myth ends with an explanation of the origin of human sacrifice: when the goddess cries and does not want to give her fruits to men, only human blood can appease her.

Quetzalcoatl is one of the protagonists of the myth of the creation of men, as reported in great detail in La Leyenda de los Soles, which is part of the Codex Chimalpopoca.

The gods decided to send him to Mictlan to collect the bones of the humans from the previous creations. Quetzalcoatl came to Mictlantecuhtli and asked him for the "precious bones" to "make with them those who will live on the earth". Mictlantecuhtli agreed on the condition that Quetzalcoatl had to submit to a test: he had to blow into a conch without holes.

Quetzalcoatl called upon worms to drill holes in the conch and upon bees to make it ring. Mictlantecuhtli told Quetzalcoatl to take the bones and then changed his mind. Quetzalcoatl having fled, Mictlantecuhtli ordered his servants to dig a hole in which Quetzalcoatl fell.

The bones broke, but Quetzalcoatl picked them up and brought them back to Tamoanchan, where they were ground. Quetzalcoatl then poured the blood of his sex over them. The other gods present did the same and from this "penance" were born "the servants of the gods", that is to say the present humanity.

According to the same source, Quetzalcoatl is also a protagonist of the myth that tells the acquisition of food for men. The Leyenda de los Soles reports that the gods wondered what the men they had just created would eat. Quetzalcoatl, who had seen a red ant carrying corn, tried to find out where it came from.

The ant did not want to answer at first, but eventually took him inside Mount Tonacatepetl. Quetzalcoatl, who had metamorphosed into a black ant, brought back the corn. The gods, after having chewed it, fed it to the first humans. Then the gods wondered how to enter the mount Tonacatepetl.

Quetzalcoatl could not move it by pulling it with a rope. Oxomoco and Cipactonal then predicted that Nanahuatzin would only succeed in splitting the mountain. This he did5. Then the Tlaloque stole all the food.

Quetzalcoatl is also the protagonist of a myth transmitted by André Thevet in his History of Mechic, which tells of the origins of pulque. After having created the men, the gods said to themselves: "Behold, the man will be all sad if we do not do something to cheer him up and so that he takes pleasure to live on the earth, and that he praises us and sings and dances".

Quetzalcoatl then had the idea to provide the men with an alcoholic drink. He took with him Mayahuel, the granddaughter of a tzitzimitl. When they arrived on earth, they changed into a tree with two branches. When the grandmother noticed that Mayahuel was missing, she became furious and went looking for her with the other tzitzimime.

As they approached the tree, it split in two. Recognizing her granddaughter in one of the branches, the grandmother grabbed it, broke it off and had it eaten by the other tzitzimime. After their departure, Quetzalcoatl, filled with sorrow, buried the bones of Mayahuel. On this grave grew an agave, with which pulque (octli in Nahuatl) is prepared.

Quetzalcoatl's Heritage


In the Mexican city of Guadalajara, in the center of the Tapatía square, a monumental fountain by Mexican sculptor Víctor Manuel Contreras entitled The Burial of Quetzalcoatl was inaugurated on February 5, 1982.

It features a sculpture made up of five hand-cut bronze pieces, which represents the sacrifice of Quetzalcoatl rising from the earth to the sky to give birth to the sun. The four sculptures surrounding the flame represent the four cardinal points.