Aztec: Quetzalcoatl Law Giver

Quetzalcoatl (Classical Nahuatl: Quetzalcohuātl) is a Mesoamerican deity whose name comes from the Nahuatl language and means “feathered serpent”. The worship of a feathered serpent is first known documented in Teotihuacan in the first century BC or first century AD. That period lies within the Late Preclassic to Early Classic period (400 BC – 600 AD) of Mesoamerican chronology, and veneration of the figure appears to have spread throughout Mesoamerica by the Late Classic (600–900 AD).

The culture hero of the Aztecs was Quetzalcoatl, and the leading drama, the central myth, in all the extensive and intricate theology of the Nahuatl speaking tribes was his long contest with Tezcatlipoca, “a contest,” observes an eminent Mexican antiquary, “which came to be the main element in the Nahuatl religion and the cause of its modifications, and which materially influenced the destinies of that race from its earliest epochs to the time of its destruction.” A look at the role of Quetzalcoatl.

This interpretation of Quetzalcoatl is by Daniel G. Brinton, who saw the legends of the Americas as associations with celestial positions - the cardinal points - and explanations for primal forces. What we know of Quetzalcoatl is from the Spanish Relaciones, the books of the Aztecs and the Maya having been virtually all burned. We are today left with the stone monuments and these Spanish witness narratives. Much of what follows is educated guessing and conjecture but is nonetheless interesting.

Daniel Garrison Brinton (May 13, 1837 – July 31, 1899) was an American archaeologist and ethnologist. Among his many works he edited and published a Library of American Aboriginal Literature (8 vols. 1882-1890), a valuable contribution to the science of anthropology in America. Of the eight volumes; six were edited by Brinton himself, one by Horatio Hale and one by Albert Samuel Gatschet.
— Orly

The Two Antagonists.

The culture hero of the Aztecs was Quetzalcoatl, and the leading drama, the central myth, in all the extensive and intricate theology of the Nahuatl speaking tribes was his long contest with Tezcatlipoca, "a contest," observes an eminent Mexican antiquary, "which came to be the main element in the Nahuatl religion and the cause of its modifications, and which materially influenced the destinies of that race from its earliest epochs to the time of its destruction."

The explanations which have been offered of this struggle have varied with the theories of the writers propounding them. It has been regarded as a simple historical fact; as a figure of speech to represent the struggle for supremacy between two races; as an astronomical statement referring to the relative positions of the planet Venus and the Moon; as a conflict between Christianity, introduced by Saint Thomas, and the native heathenism; and as having other meanings not less unsatisfactory or absurd.

Placing it side by side with other American hero-myths, we shall see that it presents essentially the same traits, and undoubtedly must be explained in the same manner. All of them are the transparent stories of a simple people, to express in intelligible terms the daily struggle that is ever going on between Day and Night, between Light and Darkness, between Storm and Sunshine.

Like all the heroes of light, Quetzalcoatl is identified with the East. He is born there, and arrives from there, and hence Las Casas and others speak of him as from Yucatan, or as landing on the shores of the Mexican Gulf from some unknown land. His day of birth was that called Ce Acatl, One Reed, and by this name he is often known. But this sign is that of the East in Aztec symbolism. In a myth of the formation of the sun and moon, presented by Sahagun, a voluntary victim springs into the sacrificial fire that the gods have built. They know that he will rise as the sun, but they do not know in what part of the horizon that will be. Some look one way, some another, but Quetzalcoatl watches steadily the East, and is the first to see and welcome the Orb of Light. He is fair in complexion, with abundant hair and a full beard, bordering on the red, as are all the dawn heroes, and like them he was an instructor in the arts, and favored peace and mild laws.

His name is symbolic, and is capable of several equally fair renderings. The first part of it, quetzalli, means literally a large, handsome green feather, such as were very highly prized by the natives. Hence it came to mean, in an adjective sense, precious, beautiful, beloved, admirable. The bird from which these feathers were obtained was the quetzal-tototl (tototl, bird) and is called by ornithologists Trogon splendens.

The latter part of the name, coatl, has in Aztec three entirely different meanings. It means a guest, also twins, and lastly, as a syncopated form of cohuatl, a serpent. Metaphorically, cohuatl meant something mysterious, and hence a supernatural being, a god. Thus Montezuma, when he built a temple in the city of Mexico dedicated to the whole body of divinities, a regular Pantheon, named it Coatecalli, the House of the Serpent.

Through these various meanings a good defence can be made of several different translations of the name, and probably it bore even to the natives different meanings at different times. I am inclined to believe that the original sense was that advocated by Becerra in the seventeenth century, and adopted by Veitia in the eighteenth, both competent Aztec scholars. They translate Quetzalcoatl as "the admirable twin," and though their notion that this refers to Thomas Didymus, the Apostle, does not meet my views, I believe they were right in their etymology. The reference is to the duplicate nature of the Light-God as seen in the setting and rising sun, the sun of to-day and yesterday, the same yet different. This has its parallels in many other mythologies.

The correctness of this supposition seems to be shown by a prevailing superstition among the Aztecs about twins, and which strikingly illustrates the uniformity of mythological conceptions throughout the world. All readers are familiar with the twins Romulus and Remus in Roman story, one of whom was fated to destroy their grandfather Amulius; with Edipus and Telephos, whose father Laios, was warned that his death would be by one of his children; with Theseus and Peirithoos, the former destined to cause the suicide of his father Aigeus; and with many more such myths. They can be traced, without room for doubt, back to simple expressions of the fact that the morning and the evening of the one day can only come when the previous day is past and gone; expressed figuratively by the statement that any one day must destroy its predecessor. This led to the stories of "the fatal children," which we find so frequent in Aryan mythology.

The Aztecs were a coarse and bloody race, and carried out their superstitions without remorse. Based, no doubt, on this mythical expression of a natural occurrence, they had the belief that if twins were allowed to live, one or the other of them would kill and eat his father or mother; therefore, it was their custom when such were brought into the world to destroy one of them.

We shall see that, as in Algonkin story Michabo strove to slay his father, the West Wind, so Quetzalcoatl was in constant warfare with his father, Tezcatlipoca-Camaxtli, the Spirit of Darkness. The effect of this oft-repeated myth on the minds of the superstitious natives was to lead them to the brutal child murder I have mentioned.

It was, however, natural that the more ordinary meaning, "the feathered or bird-serpent," should become popular, and in the picture writing some combination of the serpent with feathers or other part of a bird was often employed as the rebus of the name Quetzalcoatl.

He was also known by other names, as, like all the prominent gods in early mythologies, he had various titles according to the special attribute or function which was uppermost in the mind of the worshipper. One of these was Papachtic, He of the Flowing Locks, a word which the Spaniards shortened to Papa, and thought was akin to their title of the Pope. It is, however, a pure Nahuatl word, and refers to the abundant hair with which he was always credited, and which, like his ample beard, was, in fact, the symbol of the sun's rays, the aureole or glory of light which surrounded his face.

His fair complexion was, as usual, significant of light. This association of ideas was so familiar among the Mexicans that at the time of an eclipse of the sun they sought out the whitest men and women they could find, and sacrificed them, in order to pacify the sun.

His opponent, Tezcatlipoca, was the most sublime figure in the Aztec Pantheon. He towered above all other gods, as did Jove in Olympus. He was appealed to as the creator of heaven and earth, as present in every place, as the sole ruler of the world, as invisible and omniscient.

The numerous titles by which he was addressed illustrate the veneration in which he was held. His most common name in prayers was Titlacauan, We are his Slaves. As believed to be eternally young, he was Telpochtli, the Youth; as potent and unpersuadable, he was Moyocoyatzin, the Determined Doer; as exacting in worship, Monenegui, He who Demands Prayers; as the master of the race, Teyocoyani, Creator of Men, and Teimatini, Disposer of Men. As he was jealous and terrible, the god who visited on men plagues, and famines, and loathsome diseases, the dreadful deity who incited wars and fomented discord, he was named Yaotzin, the Arch Enemy, Yaotl necoc, the Enemy of both Sides, Moquequeloa, the Mocker, Nezaualpilli, the Lord who Fasts,Tlamatzincatl, He who Enforces Penitence; and as dark, invisible and inscrutable, he was Yoalli ehecatl, the Night Wind.[13]

He was said to be formed of thin air and darkness; and when he was seen of men it was as a shadow without substance. He alone of all the gods defied the assaults of time, was ever young and strong, and grew not old with years. Against such an enemy who could hope for victory?

The name "Tezcatlipoca" is one of odd significance. It means The Smoking Mirror. This strange metaphor has received various explanations. The mirrors in use among the Aztecs were polished plates of obsidian, trimmed to a circular form. There was a variety of this black stone called tezcapoctli, smoky mirror stone, and from this his images were at times made. This, however, seems too trivial an explanation.

Others have contended that Tezcatlipoca, as undoubtedly the spirit of darkness and the night, refers, in its meaning, to the moon, which hangs like a bright round mirror in the sky, though partly dulled by what the natives thought a smoke.

I am inclined to believe, however, that the mirror referred to is that first and most familiar of all, the surface of water: and that the smoke is the mist which at night rises from lake and river, as actual smoke does in the still air.

As presiding over the darkness and the night, dreams and the phantoms of the gloom were supposed to be sent by Tezcatlipoca, and to him were sacred those animals which prowl about at night, as the skunk and the coyote.

Thus his names, his various attributes, his sacred animals and his myths unite in identifying this deity as a primitive personification of the Darkness, whether that of the storm or of the night.

This is further shown by the beliefs current as to his occasional appearance on earth. This was always at night and in the gloom of the forest. The hunter would hear a sound like the crash of falling trees, which would be nothing else than the mighty breathings of the giant form of the god on his nocturnal rambles. Were the hunter timorous he would die outright on seeing the terrific presence of the god; but were he of undaunted heart, and should rush upon him and seize him around the waist, the god was helpless and would grant him anything he wished. "Ask what you please," the captive deity would say, "and it is yours. Only fail not to release me before the sun rises. For I must leave before it appears."


Quetzalcoatl the God.


In the ancient and purely mythical narrative, Quetzalcoatl is one of four divine brothers, gods like himself, born in the uttermost or thirteenth heaven to the infinite and uncreated deity, which, in its male manifestations, was known as Tonaca tecutli, Lord of our Existence, and Tzin teotl, God of the Beginning, and in its female expressions as Tonaca cihuatl, Queen of our Existence,Xochiquetzal, Beautiful Rose, Citlallicue, the Star-skirted or the Milky Way, Citlalatonac, the Star that warms, or The Morning, and Chicome coatl, the Seven Serpents.

The usual translation of Tonaca tecutli is "God of our Subsistence," to, our, naca, flesh, tecutli, chief or lord. It really has a more subtle meaning. Naca is not applied to edible flesh--that is expressed by the word nonoac--but is the flesh of our own bodies, our life, existence.  

Of these four brothers, two were the black and the red Tezcatlipoca, and the fourth was Huitzilopochtli, the Left handed, the deity adored beyond all others in the city of Mexico. Tezcatlipoca--for the two of the name blend rapidly into one as the myth progresses--was wise beyond compute; he knew all thoughts and hearts, could see to all places, and was distinguished for power and forethought.

At a certain time the four brothers gathered together and consulted concerning the creation of things. The work was left to Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli. First they made fire, then half a sun, the heavens, the waters and a certain great fish therein, called Cipactli, and from its flesh the solid earth. The first mortals were the man, Cipactonal, and the woman, Oxomuco, and that the son born to them might have a wife, the four gods made one for him out of a hair taken from the head of their divine mother, Xochiquetzal.

Now began the struggle between the two brothers, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, which was destined to destroy time after time the world, with all its inhabitants, and to plunge even the heavenly luminaries into a common ruin.

The half sun created by Quetzalcoatl lighted the world but poorly, and the four gods came together to consult about adding another half to it. Not waiting for their decision, Tezcatlipoca transformed himself into a sun, whereupon the other gods filled the world with great giants, who could tear up trees with their hands. When an epoch of thirteen times fifty-two years had passed, Quetzalcoatl seized a great stick, and with a blow of it knocked Tezcatlipoca from the sky into the waters, and himself became sun. The fallen god transformed himself into a tiger, and emerged from the waves to attack and devour the giants with which his brothers had enviously filled the world which he had been lighting from the sky. After this, he passed to the nocturnal heavens, and became the constellation of the Great Bear.

For an epoch the earth flourished under Quetzalcoatl as sun, but Tezcatlipoca was merely biding his time, and the epoch ended, he appeared as a tiger and gave Quetzalcoatl such a blow with his paw that it hurled him from the skies. The overthrown god revenged himself by sweeping the earth with so violent a tornado that it destroyed all the inhabitants but a few, and these were changed into monkeys. His victorious brother then placed in the heavens, as sun, Tlaloc, the god of darkness, water and rains, but after half an epoch, Quetzalcoatl poured a flood of fire upon the earth, drove Tlaloc from the sky, and placed in his stead, as sun, the goddess Chalchiutlicue, the Emerald Skirted, wife of Tlaloc. In her time the rains poured so upon the earth that all human beings were drowned or changed into fishes, and at last the heavens themselves fell, and sun and stars were alike quenched.

Then the two brothers whose strife had brought this ruin, united their efforts and raised again the sky, resting it on two mighty trees, the Tree of the Mirror (tezcaquahuitl) and the Beautiful Great Rose Tree (quetzalveixochitl), on which the concave heavens have ever since securely rested; though we know them better, perhaps, if we drop the metaphor and call them the "mirroring sea" and the "flowery earth," on one of which reposes the horizon, in whichever direction we may look.

Again the four brothers met together to provide a sun for the now darkened earth. They decided to make one, indeed, but such a one as would eat the hearts and drink the blood of victims, and there must be wars upon the earth, that these victims could be obtained for the sacrifice. Then Quetzalcoatl builded a great fire and took his son--his son born of his own flesh, without the aid of woman--and cast him into the flames, whence he rose into the sky as the sun which lights the world. When the Light-God kindles the flames of the dawn in the orient sky, shortly the sun emerges from below the horizon and ascends the heavens. Tlaloc, god of waters, followed, and into the glowing ashes of the pyre threw his son, who rose as the moon.

Tezcatlipoca had it now in mind to people the earth, and he, therefore, smote a certain rock with a stick, and from it issued four hundred barbarians (chichimeca)  Certain five goddesses, however, whom he had already created in the eighth heaven, descended and slew these four hundred, all but three. These goddesses likewise died before the sun appeared, but came into being again from the garments they had left behind. So also did the four hundred Chichimecs, and these set about to burn one of the five goddesses, by name Coatlicue, the Serpent Skirted, because it was discovered that she was with child, though yet unmarried. But, in fact, she was a spotless virgin, and had known no man. She had placed some white plumes in her bosom, and through these the god Huitzilopochtli entered her body to be born again. When, therefore, the four hundred had gathered together to burn her, the god came forth fully armed and slew them every one.

It is not hard to guess who are these four hundred youths slain before the sun rises, destined to be restored to life and yet again destroyed. The veil of metaphor is thin which thus conceals to our mind the picture of the myriad stars quenched every morning by the growing light, but returning every evening to their appointed places. And did any doubt remain, it is removed by the direct statement in the echo of this tradition preserved by the Kiches of Guatemala, wherein it is plainly said that the four hundred youths who were put to death by Zipacna, and restored to life by Hunhun Ahpu, "rose into the sky and became the stars of heaven."

Indeed, these same ancient men whose explanations I have been following added that the four hundred men whom Tezcatlipoca created continued yet to live in the third heaven, and were its guards and watchmen. They were of five colors, yellow, black, white, blue and red, which in the symbolism of their tongue meant that they were distributed around the zenith and to each of the four cardinal points.

Nor did these sages suppose that the struggle of the dark Tezcatlipoca to master the Light-God had ceased; no, they knew he was biding his time, with set purpose and a fixed certainty of success. They knew that in the second heaven there were certain frightful women, without flesh or bones, whose names were the Terrible, or the Thin Dart-Throwers, who were waiting there until this world should end, when they would descend and eat up all mankind. Asked concerning the time of this destruction, they replied that as to the day or season they knew it not, but it would be "when Tezcatlipoca should steal the sun from heaven for himself"; in other words, when eternal night should close in upon the Universe.

The myth which I have here given in brief is a prominent one in Aztec cosmogony, and is known as that of the Ages of the World or the Suns. The opinion was widely accepted that the present is the fifth age or period of the world's history; that it has already undergone four destructions by various causes, and that the present period is also to terminate in another such catastrophe. The agents of such universal ruin have been a great flood, a world-wide conflagration, frightful tornadoes and famine, earthquakes and wild beasts, and hence the Ages, Suns or Periods were called respectively, from their terminations, those of Water, Fire, Air and Earth. As we do not know the destiny of the fifth, the present one, it has as yet no name.

I shall not attempt to go into the details of this myth, the less so as it has recently been analyzed with much minuteness by the Mexican antiquary Chavero. I will merely point out that it is too closely identified with a great many similar myths for us to be allowed to seek an origin for it peculiar to Mexican or even American soil. We can turn to the Tualati who live in Oregon, and they will tell us of the four creations and destructions of mankind; how at the end of the first Age all human beings were changed into stars; at the end of the second they became stones; at the end of the third into fishes; and at the close of the fourth they disappeared, to give place to the tribes that now inhabit the world. Or we can read from the cuneiform inscriptions of ancient Babylon, and find the four destructions of the race there specified, as by a flood, by wild beasts, by famine and by pestilence.[29]

The explanation which I have to give of these coincidences--which could easily be increased--is that the number four was chosen as that of the four cardinal points, and that the fifth or present age, that in which we live, is that which is ruled by the ruler of the four points, by the Spirit of Light, who was believed to govern them, as, in fact, the early dawn does, by defining the relations of space, act as guide and governor of the motions of men.

All through Aztec mythology, traditions and customs, we can discover this ancient myth of the four brothers, the four ancestors of their race, or the four chieftains who led their progenitors to their respective habitations. The rude mountaineers of Meztitlan, who worshiped with particular zeal Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, and had inscribed, in gigantic figures, the sacred five points, symbol of the latter, on the side of a vast precipice in their land, gave the symbolic titles to the primeval quadruplet;--

Ixcuin, He who has four faces.

Hueytecpatl, the ancient Flint-stone.

Tentetemic, the Lip-stone that slays.

Nanacatltzatzi, He who speaks when intoxicated with the poisonous mushroom, called nanacatl.

These four brothers, according to the myth, were born of the goddess, Hueytonantzin, which means "our great, ancient mother," and, with unfilial hands, turned against her and slew her, sacrificing her to the Sun and offering her heart to that divinity.[30] In other words, it is the old story of the cardinal points, defined at daybreak by the Dawn, the eastern Aurora, which is lost in or sacrificed to the Sun on its appearance.

Of these four brothers I suspect the first, Ixcuin, "he who looks four ways," or "has four faces," is none other than Quetzalcoatl, while the Ancient Flint is probably Tezcatlipoca, thus bringing the myth into singularly close relationship with that of the Iroquois, given on a previous page.

Another myth of the Aztecs gave these four brothers or primitive heroes, as:--


Of these Dr. Schultz-Sellack advances plausible reasons for believing that Itztlacoliuhqui, which was the name of a certain form of head-dress, was another title of Quetzalcoatl; and that Pantecatl was one of the names of Tezcatlipoca. If this is the case we have here another version of the same myth.


Quetzalcoatl, the Hero of Tula.


But it was not Quetzalcoatl the god, the mysterious creator of the visible world, on whom the thoughts of the Aztec race delighted to dwell, but on Quetzalcoatl, high priest in the glorious city of Tollan (Tula), the teacher of the arts, the wise lawgiver, the virtuous prince, the master builder and the merciful judge.

Here, again, though the scene is transferred from heaven to earth and from the cycles of other worlds to a date not extremely remote, the story continues to be of his contest with Tezcatlipoca, and of the wiles of this enemy, now diminished to a potent magician and jealous rival, to dispossess and drive him from famous Tollan.

No one versed in the metaphors of mythology can be deceived by the thin veil of local color which surrounds the myth in this its terrestrial and historic form. Apart from its being but a repetition or continuation of the genuine ancient account of the conflict of day and night, light and darkness, which I have already given, the name Tollan is enough to point out the place and the powers with which the story deals. For this Tollan, where Quetzalcoatl reigned, is not by any means, as some have supposed, the little town of Tula, still alive, a dozen leagues or so northwest from the city of Mexico; nor was it, as the legend usually stated, in some undefined locality from six hundred to a thousand leagues northwest of that city; nor yet in Asia, as some antiquaries have maintained; nor, indeed, anywhere upon this weary world; but it was, as the name denotes, and as the native historian Tezozomoc long since translated it, where the bright sun lives, and where the god of light forever rules so long as that orb is in the sky. Tollan is but a syncopated form of Tonatlan, the Place of the Sun.

It is worth while to examine the whereabouts and character of this marvelous city of Tollan somewhat closely, for it is a place that we hear of in the oldest myths and legends of many and different races. Not only the Aztecs, but the Mayas of Yucatan and the Kiches and Cakchiquels of Guatemala bewailed, in woful songs, the loss to them of that beautiful land, and counted its destruction as a common starting point in their annals. Well might they regret it, for not again would they find its like. In that land the crop of maize never failed, and the ears grew as long as a man's arm; the cotton burst its pods, not white only, but naturally of all beautiful colors, scarlet, green, blue, orange, what you would; the gourds could not be clasped in the arms; birds of beauteous plumage filled the air with melodious song. There was never any want nor poverty. All the riches of the world were there, houses built of silver and precious jade, of rosy mother of pearl and of azure turquoises. The servants of the great king Quetzalcoatl were skilled in all manner of arts; when he sent them forth they flew to any part of the world with infinite speed; and his edicts were proclaimed from the summit of the mountain Tzatzitepec, the Hill of Shouting, by criers of such mighty voice that they could be heard a hundred leagues away. His servants and disciples were called "Sons of the Sun" and "Sons of the Clouds."

Where, then, was this marvelous land and wondrous city? Where could it be but where the Light-God is on his throne, where the life-giving sun is ever present, where are the mansions of the day, and where all nature rejoices in the splendor of its rays?

But this is more than in one spot. It may be in the uppermost heavens, where light is born and the fleecy clouds swim easily; or in the west, where the sun descends to his couch in sanguine glory; or in the east, beyond the purple rim of the sea, whence he rises refreshed as a giant to run his course; or in the underworld, where he passes the night.

Therefore, in ancient Cakchiquel legend it is said: "Where the sun rises, there is one Tulan; another is in the underworld; yet another where the sun sets; and there is still another, and there dwells the God. Thus, O my children, there are four Tulans, as the ancient men have told us."

The most venerable traditions of the Maya race claimed for them a migration from "Tollan in Zuyva." "Thence came we forth together," says the Kiche myth, "there was the common parent of our race, thence came we, from among the Yaqui men, whose god is Yolcuat Quetzalcoat."This Tollan is certainly none other than the abode of Quetzalcoatl, named in an Aztec manuscript as Zivena vitzcatl, a word of uncertain derivation, but applied to the highest heaven.

Where Quetzalcoatl finally retired, and whence he was expected back, was still a Tollan--Tollan Tlapallan--and Montezuma, when he heard of the arrival of the Spaniards, exclaimed, "It is Quetzalcoatl, returned from Tula."

The cities which selected him as their tutelary deity were named for that which he was supposed to have ruled over. Thus we have Tollan and Tollantzinco ("behind Tollan") in the Valley of Mexico, and the pyramid Cholula was called "Tollan-Cholollan," as well as many other Tollans and Tulas among the Nahuatl colonies.

The natives of the city of Tula were called, from its name, the Tolteca, which simply means "those who dwell in Tollan." And who, let us ask, were these Toltecs?

They have hovered about the dawn of American history long enough. To them have been attributed not only the primitive culture of Central America and Mexico, but of lands far to the north, and even the earthworks of the Ohio Valley. It is time they were assigned their proper place, and that is among the purely fabulous creations of the imagination, among the giants and fairies, the gnomes and sylphs, and other such fancied beings which in all ages and nations the popular mind has loved to create.

Toltec, Toltecatl,  which in later days came to mean a skilled craftsman or artificer, signifies, as I have said, an inhabitant of Tollan--of the City of the Sun--in other words, a Child of Light. Without a metaphor, it meant at first one of the far darting, bright shining rays of the sun. Not only does the tenor of the whole myth show this, but specifically and clearly the powers attributed to the ancient Toltecs. As the immediate subjects of the God of Light they were called "Those who fly the whole day without resting," and it was said of them that they had the power of reaching instantly even a very distant place. When the Light-God himself departs, they too disappear, and their city is left uninhabited and desolate.

In some, and these I consider the original versions of the myth, they do not constitute a nation at all, but are merely the disciples or servants of Quetzalcoatl. They have all the traits of beings of supernatural powers. They were astrologers and necromancers, marvelous poets and philosophers, painters as were not to be found elsewhere in the world, and such builders that for a thousand leagues the remains of their cities, temples and fortresses strewed the land. "When it has happened to me," says Father Duran, "to ask an Indian who cut this pass through the mountains, or who opened that spring of water, or who built that old ruin, the answer was, 'The Toltecs, the disciples of Papa.'"

They were tall in stature, beyond the common race of men, and it was nothing uncommon for them to live hundreds of years. Such was their energy that they allowed no lazy person to live among them, and like their master they were skilled in every art of life and virtuous beyond the power of mortals. In complexion they are described as light in hue, as was their leader, and as are usually the personifications of light, and not the less so among the dark races of men.

When Quetzalcoatl left Tollan most of the Toltecs had already perished by the stratagems of Tezcatlipoca, and those that survived were said to have disappeared on his departure. The city was left desolate, and what became of its remaining inhabitants no one knew. But this very uncertainty offered a favorable opportunity for various nations, some speaking Nahuatl and some other tongues, to claim descent from this mysterious, ancient and wondrous race.

The question seems, indeed, a difficult one. When the Light-God disappears from the sky, shorn of his beams and bereft of his glory, where are the bright rays, the darting gleams of light which erewhile bathed the earth in refulgence? Gone, gone, we know not whither.

The original home of the Toltecs was said to have been in Tlapallan--the very same Red Land to which Quetzalcoatl was fabled to have returned; only the former was distinguished as Old Tlapallan--Hue Tlapallan--as being that from which he and they had emerged. Other myths called it the Place of Sand, Xalac, an evident reference to the sandy sea strand, the same spot where it was said that Quetzalcoatl was last seen, beyond which the sun rises and below which he sinks. Thither he returned when driven from Tollan, and reigned over his vassals many years in peace.

We cannot mistake this Tlapallan, new or old. Whether it is bathed in the purple and gold of the rising sun or in the crimson and carnation of his setting, it always was, as Sahagun tells us, with all needed distinctness, "the city of the Sun," the home of light and color, whence their leader, Quetzalcoatl had come, and whither he was summoned to return.

The origin of the earthly Quetzalcoatl is variously given; one cycle of legends narrates his birth in Tollan in some extraordinary manner; a second cycle claims that he was not born in any country known to the Aztecs, but came to them as a stranger.

Of the former cycle probably one of the oldest versions is that he was a son or descendant of Tezcatlipoca himself, under his name Camaxtli. This was the account given to the chancellor Ramirez, and it is said by Torquemada to have been the canonical doctrine taught in the holy city of Cholollan, the centre of the worship of Quetzalcoatl. It is a transparent metaphor, and could be paralleled by a hundred similar expressions in the myths of other nations. The Night brings forth the Day, the darkness leads on to the light, and though thus standing in the relation of father and son, the struggle between them is forever continued.

Another myth represents him as the immediate son of the All-Father Tonaca tecutli, under his title Citlallatonac, the Morning, by an earth-born maiden in Tollan. In that city dwelt three sisters, one of whom, an unspotted virgin, was named Chimalman. One day, as they were together, the god appeared to them. Chimalman's two sisters were struck to death by fright at his awful presence, but upon her he breathed the breath of life, and straightway she conceived. The son she bore cost her life, but it was the divine Quetzalcoatl, surnamed Topiltcin, Our Son, and, from the year of his birth, Ce Acatl, One Reed. As soon as he was born he was possessed of speech and reason and wisdom. As for his mother, having perished on earth, she was transferred to the heavens, where she was given the honored name Chalchihuitzli, the Precious Stone of Sacrifice.

This, also, is evidently an ancient and simple figure of speech to express that the breath of Morning announces the dawn which brings forth the sun and disappears in the act.

The virgin mother Chimalman, in another legend, is said to have been brought with child by swallowing a jade or precious green stone (chalchihuitl);while another averred that she was not a virgin, but the wife of Camaxtli (Tezcatlipoca); or again, that she was the second wife of that venerable old man who was the father of the seven sons from whom all tribes speaking the Nahuatl language, and several who did not speak it (Otomies, Tarascos), were descended. This latter will repay analysis.

All through Mexico and Central America this legend of the Seven Sons, Seven Tribes, the Seven Caves whence they issued, or the Seven Cities where they dwelt, constantly crops out. To that land the Aztecs referred as their former dwelling place. It was located at some indefinite distance to the north or northwest--in the same direction as Tollan. The name of that land was significant. It was called the White or Bright Land, Aztlan. In its midst was situated the mountain or hill Colhuacan the Divine, Teoculhuacan. In the base of this hill were the Seven Caverns,Chicomoztoc, whence the seven tribes with their respective gods had issued, those gods including Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli and the Tezcatlipocas. There continued to live their mother, awaiting their return.

Teo is from teotl, god, deity. The description in the text of the relations of land and water in this mythical land, is also from Duran's work.

The lord of this land and the father of the seven sons is variously and indistinctly named. One legend calls him the White Serpent of the Clouds, or the White Cloud Twin, Iztac Mixcoatl. ]Whoever he was we can hardly mistake the mountain in which or upon which he dwelt. Colhuacan means the bent or curved mountain. It is none other than the Hill of Heaven, curving down on all sides to the horizon; upon it in all times have dwelt the gods, and from it they have come to aid the men they favor. Absolutely the same name was applied by the Choctaws to the mythical hill from which they say their ancestors first emerged into the light of day. They call it Nane Waiyah, the Bent or Curved Hill. Such identity of metaphorical expression leaves little room for discussion.

If it did, the other myths which surround the mystic mountain would seem to clear up doubt. Colhuacan, we are informed, continued to be the residence of the great Mother of the Gods. On it she dwelt, awaiting their return from earth. No one can entirely climb the mountain, for from its middle distance to the summit it is of fine and slippery sand; but it has this magical virtue, that whoever ascends it, however old he is, grows young again, in proportion as he mounts, and is thus restored to pristine vigor. The happy dwellers around it have, however, no need of its youth restoring power; for in that land no one grows old, nor knows the outrage of years.

When Quetzalcoatl, therefore, was alleged to be the son of the Lord of the Seven Caves, it was nothing more than a variation of the legend that gave him out as the son of the Lord of the High Heavens. They both mean the same thing. Chimalman, who appears in both myths as his mother, binds the two together, and stamps them as identical, while Mixcoatl is only another name for Tezcatlipoca.

Such an interpretation, if correct, would lead to the dismissal from history of the whole story of the Seven Cities or Caves, and the pretended migration from them. In fact, the repeated endeavors of the chroniclers to assign a location to these fabulous residences, have led to no result other than most admired disorder and confusion. It is as vain to seek their whereabouts, as it is that of the garden of Eden or the Isle of Avalon. They have not, and never had a place on this sublunary sphere, but belong in that ethereal world which the fancy creates and the imagination paints.

A more prosaic account than any of the above, is given by the historian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl, so prosaic that it is possible that it has some grains of actual fact in it.  He tells us that a King of Tollan, Tecpancaltzin, fell in love with the daughter of one of his subjects, a maiden by name Xochitl, the Rose. Her father was the first to collect honey from the maguey plant, and on pretence of buying this delicacy the king often sent for Xochitl. He accomplished her seduction, and hid her in a rose garden on a mountain, where she gave birth to an infant son, to the great anger of the father. Casting the horoscope of the infant, the court astrologer found all the signs that he should be the last King of Tollan, and should witness the destruction of the Toltec monarchy. He was named Meconetzin, the Son of the Maguey, and in due time became king, and the prediction was accomplished.

In several points, however, this seemingly historic narrative has a suspicious resemblance to a genuine myth preserved to us in a certain Aztec manuscript known as the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. This document tells how Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca and their brethren were at first gods, and dwelt as stars in the heavens. They passed their time in Paradise, in a Rose Garden, Xochitlycacan ("where the roses are lifted up"); but on a time they began plucking the roses from the great Rose tree in the centre of the garden, and Tonaca-tecutli, in his anger at their action, hurled them to the earth, where they lived as mortals.

The significance of this myth, as applied to the daily descent of sun and stars from the zenith to the horizon, is too obvious to need special comment; and the coincidences of the rose garden on the mountain (in the one instance the Hill of Heaven, in the other a supposed terrestrial elevation) from which Quetzalcoatl issues, and the anger of the parent, seem to indicate that the supposed historical relation of Ixtlilxochitl is but a myth dressed in historic garb.

The second cycle of legends disclaimed any miraculous parentage for the hero of Tollan. Las Casas narrates his arrival from the East, from some part of Yucatan, he thinks, with a few followers,[59] a tradition which is also repeated with definitiveness by the native historian, Alva Ixtlilxochitl, but leaving the locality uncertain.[60] The historian, Veytia, on the other hand, describes him as arriving from the North, a full grown man, tall of stature, white of skin, and full-bearded, barefooted and bareheaded, clothed in a long white robe strewn with red crosses, and carrying a staff in his hand.

Whatever the origin of Quetzalcoatl, whether the child of a miraculous conception, or whether as an adult stranger he came from some far-off land, all accounts agree as to the greatness and purity of his character, and the magnificence of Tollan under his reign. His temple was divided into four apartments, one toward the East, yellow with gold; one toward the West, blue with turquoise and jade; one toward the South, white with pearls and shells, and one toward the North, red with bloodstones; thus symbolizing the four cardinal points and four quarters of the world over which the light holds sway. 

Through the midst of Tollan flowed a great river, and upon or over this river was the house of Quetzalcoatl. Every night at midnight he descended into this river to bathe, and the place of his bath was called, In the Painted Vase, or, In the Precious Waters. For the Orb of Light dips nightly into the waters of the World Stream, and the painted clouds of the sun-setting surround the spot of his ablutions.

The Quetzal Bird

The Quetzal Bird

I have said that the history of Quetzalcoatl in Tollan is but a continuation of the conflict of the two primal brother gods. It is still the implacable Tezcatlipoca who pursues and finally conquers him. But there is this significant difference, that whereas in the elemental warfare portrayed in the older myth mutual violence and alternate destruction prevail, in all these later myths Quetzalcoatl makes no effort at defence, scarcely remonstrates, but accepts his defeat as a decree of Fate which it is vain to resist. He sees his people fall about him, and the beautiful city sink into destruction, but he knows it is the hand of Destiny, and prepares himself to meet the inevitable with what stoicism and dignity he may.

The one is the quenching of the light by the darkness of the tempest and the night, represented as a struggle; in the other it is the gradual and calm but certain and unavoidable extinction of the sun as it noiselessly sinks to the western horizon.

The story of the subtlety of Tezcatlipoca is variously told. In what may well be its oldest and simplest version it is said that in his form as Camaxtli he caught a deer with two heads, which, so long as he kept it, secured him luck in war; but falling in with one of five goddesses he had created, he begat a son, and through this act he lost his good fortune. The son was Quetzalcoatl, surnamed Ce Acatl, and he became Lord of Tollan, and a famous warrior. For many years he ruled the city, and at last began to build a very great temple. While engaged in its construction Tezcatlipoca came to him one day and told him that toward Honduras, in a place called Tlapallan, a house was ready for him, and he must quit Tollan and go there to live and die. Quetzalcoatl replied that the heavens and stars had already warned him that after four years he must go hence, and that he would obey. The time past, he took with him all the inhabitants of Tula, and some he left in Cholula, from whom its inhabitants are descended, and some he placed in the province of Cuzcatan, and others in Cempoal, and at last he reached Tlapallan, and on the very day he arrived there, he fell sick and died. As for Tula, it remained without an inhabitant for nine years.

A more minute account is given by the author of the Annals of Cuauhtitlan, a work written at an early date, in the Aztec tongue. He assures his readers that his narrative of these particular events is minutely and accurately recorded from the oldest and most authentic traditions. It is this:--

When those opposed to Quetzalcoatl did not succeed in their designs, they summoned to their aid a demon or sorcerer, by name Tezcatlipoca, and his assistants. He said: "We will give him a drink to dull his reason, and will show him his own face in a mirror, and surely he will be lost." Then Tezcatlipoca brewed an intoxicating beverage, the pulque, from the maguey, and taking a mirror he wrapped it in a rabbit skin, and went to the house of Quetzalcoatl.

"Go tell your master," he said to the servants, "that I have come to show him his own flesh."

"What is this?" said Quetzalcoatl, when the message was delivered. "What does he call my own flesh? Go and ask him."

But Tezcatlipoca refused. "I have not come to see you, but your master," he said to the servants. Then he was admitted, and Quetzalcoatl said:--

"Welcome, youth, you have troubled yourself much. Whence come you? What is this, my flesh, that you would show me?"

"My Lord and Priest," replied the youth, "I come from the mountain-side of Nonoalco. Look, now, at your flesh; know yourself; see yourself as you are seen of others;" and with that he handed him the mirror.

As soon as Quetzalcoatl saw his face in the mirror he exclaimed:--

"How is it possible my subjects can look on me without affright? Well might they flee from me. How can a man remain among them filled as I am with foul sores, his face wrinkled and his aspect loathsome? I shall be seen no more; I shall no longer frighten my people."

Then Tezcatlipoca went away to take counsel, and returning, said:--

"My lord and master, use the skill of your servant. I have come to console you. Go forth to your people. I will conceal your defects by art."

"Do what you please," replied Quetzalcoatl. "I will see what my fate is to be."

Tezcatlipoca painted his cheeks green and dyed his lips red. The forehead he colored yellow, and taking feathers of the quechol bird, he arranged them as a beard. Quetzalcoatl surveyed himself in the mirror, and rejoiced at his appearance, and forthwith sallied forth to see his people.

Tezcatlipoca withdrew to concoct another scheme of disgrace. With his attendants he took of the strong pulque which he had brewed, and came again to the palace of the Lord of Tollan. They were refused admittance and asked their country. They replied that they were from the Mountain of the Holy Priest, from the Hill of Tollan. When Quetzalcoatl heard this, he ordered them to be admitted, and asked their business. They offered him the pulque, but he refused, saying that he was sick, and, moreover, that it would weaken his judgment and might cause his death. They urged him to dip but the tip of his finger in it to taste it; he complied, but even so little of the magic liquor overthrew his self control, and taking the bowl he quaffed a full draught and was drunk. Then these perverse men ridiculed him, and cried out:--

"You feel finely now, my son; sing us a song; sing, worthy priest."

Thereupon Quetzalcoatl began to sing, as follows:--

"My pretty house, my coral house,
  I call it Zacuan by name;
And must I leave it, do you say?
  Oh my, oh me, and ah for shame."

As the fumes of the liquor still further disordered his reason, he called his attendants and bade them hasten to his sister Quetzalpetlatl, who dwelt on the Mountain Nonoalco, and bring her, that she too might taste the divine liquor. The attendants hurried off and said to his sister:--

"Noble lady, we have come for you. The high priest Quetzalcoatl awaits you. It is his wish that you come and live with him."

She instantly obeyed and went with them. On her arrival Quetzalcoatl seated her beside him and gave her to drink of the magical pulque. Immediately she felt its influence, and Quetzalcoatl began to sing, in drunken fashion--

"Sister mine, beloved mine,
Come with me, drink with me,
  'Tis no sin, sin, sin."

Soon they were so drunken that all reason was forgotten; they said no prayers, they went not to the bath, and they sank asleep on the floor.[66]

Sad, indeed, was Quetzalcoatl the next morning.

"I have sinned," he said; "the stain on my name can never be erased. I am not fit to rule this people. Let them build for me a habitation deep under ground; let them bury my bright treasures in the earth; let them throw the gleaming gold and shining stones into the holy fountain where I take my daily bath."

All this was done, and Quetzalcoatl spent four days in his underground tomb. When he came forth he wept and told his followers that the time had come for him to depart for Tlapallan, the Red Land, Tlillan, the Dark Land, and Tlatlallan, the Fire Land, all names of one locality.

He journeyed eastward until he came to a place where the sky, and land, and water meet together. There his attendants built a funeral pile, and he threw himself into the flames. As his body burned his heart rose to heaven, and after four days became the planet Venus.

That there is a profound moral significance in this fiction all will see; but I am of opinion that it is accidental and adventitious. The means that Tezcatlipoca employs to remove Quetzalcoatl refer to the two events that mark the decline of day. The sun is reflected by a long lane of beams in the surface waters of lake or sea; it loses the strength of its rays and fails in vigor; while the evening mists, the dampness of approaching dewfall, and the gathering clouds obscure its power and foretell the extinction which will soon engulf the bright luminary. As Quetzalcoatl cast his shining gold and precious stones into the water where he took his nightly bath, or buried them in underground hiding places, so the sun conceals his glories under the waters, or in the distant hills, into which he seems to sink. As he disappears at certain seasons, the Star of Evening shines brightly forth amid the lingering and fading rays, rising, as it were, from the dying fires of the sunset.

To this it may be objected that the legend makes Quetzalcoatl journey toward the East, and not toward the sunset. The explanation of this apparent contradiction is easy. The Aztec sages had at some time propounded to themselves the question of how the sun, which seems to set in the West, can rise the next morning in the East? Mungo Parke tells us that when he asked the desert Arabs this conundrum, they replied that the inquiry was frivolous and childish, as being wholly beyond the capacities of the human mind. The Aztecs did not think so, and had framed a definite theory which overcame the difficulty. It was that, in fact, the sun only advances to the zenith, and then returns to the East, from whence it started. What we seem to see as the sun between the zenith and the western horizon is, in reality, not the orb itself, but only its brightness, one of its accidents, not its substance, to use the terms of metaphysics. Hence to the Aztec astronomer and sage, the house of the sun is always toward the East.

We need not have recourse even to this explanation. The sun, indeed, disappears in the West; but his journey must necessarily be to the East, for it is from that point that he always comes forth each morning. The Light-God must necessarily daily return to the place whence he started.

The symbols of the mirror and the mystic drink are perfectly familiar in Aryan sun-myths. The best known of the stories referring to the former is the transparent tale of Narcissus forced by Nemesis to fall in love with his own image reflected in the waters, and to pine away through unsatisfied longing; or, as Pausanias tells the story, having lost his twin sister (the morning twilight), he wasted his life in noting the likeness of his own features to those of his beloved who had passed away. "The sun, as he looks down upon his own face reflected in a lake or sea, sinks or dies at last, still gazing on it."

Some later writers say that the drink which Quetzalcoatl quaffed was to confer immortality. This is not stated in the earliest versions of the myth. The beverage is health-giving and intoxicating, and excites the desire to seek Tlapallan, but not more. It does not, as the Soma of the Vedas, endow with unending life.

Nevertheless, there is another myth which countenances this view and explains it. It was told in the province of Meztitlan, a mountainous country to the northwest of the province of Vera Cruz. Its inhabitants spoke the Nahuatl tongue, but were never subject to the Montezumas. Their chief god was Tezcatlipoca, and it was said of him that on one occasion he slew Ometochtli (Two Rabbits), the god of wine, at the latter's own request, he believing that he thus would be rendered immortal, and that all others who drank of the beverage he presided over would die. His death, they added, was indeed like the stupor of a drunkard, who, after his lethargy has passed, rises healthy and well. In this sense of renewing life after death, he presided over the native calendar, the count of years beginning with Tochtli, the Rabbit. Thus we see that this is a myth of the returning seasons, and of nature waking to life again after the cold months ushered in by the chill rains of the late autumn. The principle of fertility is alone perennial, while each individual must perish and die. The God of Wine in Mexico, as in Greece, is one with the mysterious force of reproduction.

No writer has preserved such numerous traditions about the tricks of Tezcatlipoca in Tollan, as Father Sahagun. They are, no doubt, almost verbally reported as he was told them, and as he wrote his history first in the Aztec tongue, they preserve all the quaintness of the original tales. Some of them appear to be idle amplifications of story tellers, while others are transparent myths. I shall translate a few of them quite literally, beginning with that of the mystic beverage.

The time came for the luck of Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs to end; for there appeared against them three sorcerers, named Vitzilopochtli, Titlacauan and Tlacauepan, who practiced many villanies in the city of Tullan. Titlacauan began them, assuming the disguise of an old man of small stature and white hairs. With this figure he approached the palace of Quetzalcoatl and said to the servants:--

"I wish to see the King and speak to him."

"Away with you, old man;" said the servants. "You cannot see him. He is sick. You would only annoy him."

"I must see him," answered the old man.

The servants said, "Wait," and going in, they told Quetzalcoatl that an old man wished to see him, adding, "Sire, we put him out in vain; he refuses to leave, and says that he absolutely must see you." Quetzalcoatl answered:--

"Let him in. I have been waiting his coming for a long time."

They admitted the old man and he entered the apartment of Quetzalcoatl, and said to him:--

"My lord and son, how are you? I have with me a medicine for you to drink."

"You are welcome, old man," replied Quetzalcoatl. "I have been looking for your arrival for many days."

"Tell me how you are," asked the old man. "How is your body and your health?"

"I am very ill," answered Quetzalcoatl. "My whole body pains me, and I cannot move my hands or feet."

Then the old man said:--

"Sire, look at this medicine which I bring you. It is good and healthful, and intoxicates him who drinks it. If you will drink it, it will intoxicate you, it will heal you, it will soothe your heart, it will prepare you for the labors and fatigues of death, or of your departure."

"Whither, oh ancient man," asked Quetzalcoatl, "Whither must I go?"

The old man answered:--

"You must without fail go to Tullan Tlapallan, where there is another old man awaiting you; you and he will talk together, and at your return you will be transformed into a youth, and you will regain the vigor of your boyhood."

When Quetzalcoatl heard these words, his heart was shaken with strong emotion, and the old man added:--

"My lord, drink this medicine."

"Oh ancient man," answered the king, "I do not want to drink it."

"Drink it, my lord," insisted the old man, "for if you do not drink it now, later you will long for it; at least, lift it to your mouth and taste a single drop."

Quetzalcoatl took the drop and tasted it, and then quaffed the liquor, exclaiming:--

"What is this? It seems something very healthful and well-flavored. I am no longer sick. It has cured me. I am well."

"Drink again," said the old man. "It is a good medicine, and you will be healthier than ever."

Again did Quetzalcoatl drink, and soon he was intoxicated. He began to weep; his heart was stirred, and his mind turned toward the suggestion of his departure, nor did the deceit of the old sorcerer permit him to abandon the thought of it. The medicine which Quetzalcoatl drank was the white wine of the country, made of those magueys call teometl.

This was but the beginning of the guiles and juggleries of Tezcatlipoca. Transforming himself into the likeness of one of those Indians of the Maya race, called Toveyome, he appeared, completely nude, in the market place of Tollan, having green peppers to sell. Now Huemac, who was associated with Quetzalcoatl in the sovereignty of Tollan (although other myths apply this name directly to Quetzalcoatl, and this seems the correct version), had an only daughter of surpassing beauty, whom many of the Toltecs had vainly sought in marriage. This damsel looked forth on the market where Tezcatlipoca stood in his nakedness, and her virginal eyes fell upon the sign of his manhood. Straightway an unconquerable longing seized her, a love so violent that she fell ill and seemed like to die. Her women told her father the reason, and he sent forth and had the false Toveyo brought before him. Huemac addressed him:--

"Whence come you?"

"My lord," replied the Toveyo, "I am a stranger, and I have come to sell green peppers."

"Why," asked the king "do you not wear a maxtli (breech-cloth), and cover your nakedness with a garment?"

"My lord," answered the stranger, "I follow the custom of my country."

Then the king added:--

"You have inspired in my daughter a longing; she is sick with desire; you must cure her."

"Nay, my lord," said the stranger, "this may not be. Rather slay me here; I wish to die; for I am not worthy to hear such words, poor as I am, and seeking only to gain my bread by selling green peppers."

But the king insisted, and said:--

"Have no fear; you alone can restore my daughter; you must do so."

Thereupon the attendants cut the sham Toveyo's hair; they led him to the bath, and colored his body black; they placed a maxtli and a robe upon him, and the king said:--

"Go in unto my daughter."

Tezcatlipoca went in unto her, and she was healed from that hour.

Thus did the naked stranger become the son-in-law of the great king of Tula. But the Toltecs were deeply angered that the maiden had given his black body the preference over their bright forms, and they plotted to have him slain. He was placed in the front of battle, and then they left him alone to fight the enemy. But he destroyed the opposing hosts and returned to Tula with a victory all the more brilliant for their desertion of him.

Then he requited their treachery with another, and pursued his intended destruction of their race. He sent a herald to the top of the Hill of Shouting, and through him announced a magnificent festival to celebrate his victory and his marriage. The Toltecs swarmed in crowds, men, women and children, to share in the joyous scene. Tezcatlipoca received them with simulated friendship. Taking his drum, he began to beat upon it, accompanying the music with a song. As his listeners heard the magic music, they became intoxicated with the strains, and yielding themselves to its seductive influence, they lost all thought for the future or care for the present. The locality to which the crafty Tezcatlipoca had invited them was called, The Rock upon the Water. It was the summit of a lofty rock at the base of which flowed the river called, By the Rock of Light. When the day had departed and midnight approached, the magician, still singing and dancing, led the intoxicated crowd to the brink of the river, over which was a stone bridge. This he had secretly destroyed, and as they came to the spot where it should have been and sought to cross, the innumerable crowd pressing one upon the other, they all fell into the water far below, where they sank out of sight and were changed into stones.

Is it pushing symbolism too far to attempt an interpretation of this fable, recounted with all the simplicity of the antique world, with greater directness, indeed, than I have thought wise to follow?

I am strongly inclined to regard it as a true myth, which, in materialistic language, sets forth the close of the day and the extinction of the light. May we not construe the maiden as the Evening Twilight, the child of the Day at the close of its life? The black lover with whom she is fatally enamored, is he not the Darkness, in which the twilight fades away? The countless crowds of Toltecs that come to the wedding festivities, and are drowned before midnight in the waters of the strangely named river, are they not the infinitely numerous light-rays which are quenched in the world-stream, when the sun has sunk, and the gloaming is lost in the night?

May we not go farther, and in this Rock of Light which stands hard by the river, recognize the Heavenly Hill which rises beside the World Stream? The bright light of one day cannot extend to the next. The bridge is broken by the intervening night, and the rays are lost in the dark waters.

But whether this interpretation is too venturesome or not, we cannot deny the deep human interest in the story, and its poetic capacities. The overmastering passion of love was evidently as present to the Indian mind as to that of the mediaeval Italian. In New as well as in Old Spain it could break the barriers of rank and overcome the hesitations of maidenly modesty. Love clouding the soul, as night obscures the day, is a figure of speech, used, I remember, by the most pathetic of Ireland's modern bards:--

"Love, the tyrant, evinces,
  Alas! an omnipotent might;
He treads on the necks of princes,
  He darkens the mind, like night."

I shall not detail the many other wiles with which Tezcatlipoca led the Toltecs to their destruction. A mere reference to them must suffice. He summoned thousands to come to labor in the rose-garden of Quetzalcoatl, and when they had gathered together, he fell upon them and slew them with a hoe. Disguised with Huitzilopochtli, he irritated the people until they stoned the brother gods to death, and from the corrupting bodies spread a pestilential odor, to which crowds of the Toltecs fell victims. He turned the thought of thousands into madness, so that they voluntarily offered themselves to be sacrificed. By his spells all articles of food soured, and many perished of famine.

At length Quetzalcoatl, wearied with misfortune, gave orders to burn the beautiful houses of Tollan, to bury his treasures, and to begin the journey to Tlapallan. He transformed the cacao trees into plants of no value, and ordered the birds of rich plumage to leave the land before him.

The first station he arrived at was Quauhtitlan, where there was a lofty and spreading tree. Here he asked of his servants a mirror, and looking in it said: "I am already old." Gathering some stones, he cast them at the tree. They entered the wood and remained there.

As he journeyed, he was preceded by boys playing the flute. Thus he reached a certain spot, where he sat upon a stone by the wayside, and wept for the loss of Tollan. The marks of his hands remained upon the stone, and the tears he dropped pierced it through. To the day of the Conquest these impressions on the solid rock were pointed out.

At the fountain of Cozcapan, sorcerers met him, minded to prevent his departure:--

"Where are you going?" they asked. "Why have you left your capital? In whose care is it? Who will perform the sacred rites?"

But Quetzalcoatl answered:--

"You can in no manner hinder my departure. I have no choice but to go."

The sorcerers asked again: "Whither are you going?"

"I am going," replied Quetzalcoatl, "to Tlapallan. I have been sent for. The Sun calls me."

"Go, then, with good luck," said they. "But leave with us the art of smelting silver, of working stone and wood, of painting, of weaving feathers and other such arts."

Thus they robbed him, and taking the rich jewels he carried with him he cast them into the fountain, whence it received its name Cozcapan, Jewels in the Water.

Again, as he journeyed, a sorcerer met him, who asked him his destination:--

"I go," said Quetzalcoatl, "to Tlallapan."

"And luck go with you," replied the sorcerer, "but first take a drink of this wine."

"No," replied Quetzalcoatl, "not so much as a sip."

"You must taste a little of it," said the sorcerer, "even if it is by force. To no living person would I give to drink freely of it. I intoxicate them all. Come and drink of it."

Quetzalcoatl took the wine and drank of it through a reed, and as he drank he grew drunken and fell in the road, where he slept and snored.

Thus he passed from place to place, with various adventures. His servants were all dwarfs or hunchbacks, and in crossing the Sierra Nevada they mostly froze to death. By drawing a line across the Sierra he split it in two and thus made a passage. He plucked up a mighty tree and hurling it through another, thus formed a cross. At another spot he caused underground houses to be built, which were called Mictlancalco, At the House of Darkness.

At length he arrived at the sea coast where he constructed a raft of serpents, and seating himself on it as in a canoe, he moved out to sea. No one knows how or in what manner he reached Tlapallan.

The legend which appears to have been prevalent in Cholula was somewhat different. According to that, Quetzalcoatl was for many years Lord of Tollan, ruling over a happy people. At length, Tezcatlipoca let himself down from heaven by a cord made of spider's web, and, coming to Tollan, challenged its ruler to play a game of ball. The challenge was accepted, and the people of the city gathered in thousands to witness the sport. Suddenly Tezcatlipoca changed himself into a tiger, which so frightened the populace that they fled in such confusion and panic that they rushed over the precipice and into the river, where nearly all were killed by the fall or drowned in the waters.

Quetzalcoatl then forsook Tollan, and journeyed from city to city till he reached Cholula, where he lived twenty years. He was at that time of light complexion, noble stature, his eyes large, his hair abundant, his beard ample and cut rounding. In life he was most chaste and honest. They worshiped his memory, especially for three things: first, because he taught them the art of working in metals, which previous to his coming was unknown in that land; secondly, because he forbade the sacrifice either of human beings or the lower animals, teaching that bread, and roses, and flowers, incense and perfumes, were all that the gods demanded; and lastly, because he forbade, and did his best to put a stop to, wars, fighting, robbery, and all deeds of violence. For these reasons he was held in high esteem and affectionate veneration, not only by those of Cholula, but by the neighboring tribes as well, for many leagues around. Distant nations maintained temples in his honor in that city, and made pilgrimages to it, on which journeys they passed in safety through their enemy's countries.

The twenty years past, Quetzalcoatl resumed his journey, taking with him four of the principal youths of the city. When he had reached a point in the province of Guazacoalco, which is situated to the southeast of Cholula, he called the four youths to him, and told them they should return to their city; that he had to go further; but that they should go back and say that at some future day white and bearded men like himself would come from the east, who would possess the land.

Thus he disappeared, no one knew whither. But another legend said that he died there, by the seashore, and they burned his body. Of this event some particulars are given by Ixtlilxochitl, as follows:--

Quetzalcoatl, surnamed Topiltzin, was lord of Tula. At a certain time he warned his subjects that he was obliged to go "to the place whence comes the Sun," but that after a term he would return to them, in that year of their calendar of the name Ce Acatl, One Reed, which returns every fifty-two years. He went forth with many followers, some of whom he left in each city he visited. At length he reached the town of Ma Tlapallan. Here he announced that he should soon die, and directed his followers to burn his body and all his treasures with him. They obeyed his orders, and for four days burned his corpse, after which they gathered its ashes and placed them in a sack made of the skin of a tiger.

The introduction of the game of ball and the tiger into the story is not so childish as it seems. The game of ball was as important an amusement among the natives of Mexico and Central America as were the jousts and tournaments in Europe in the Middle Ages. Towns, nations and kings were often pitted against each other. In the great temple of Mexico two courts were assigned to this game, over which a special deity was supposed to preside.[83] In or near the market place of each town there were walls erected for the sport. In the centre of these walls was an orifice a little larger than the ball. The players were divided into two parties, and the ball having been thrown, each party tried to drive it through or over the wall. The hand was not used, but only the hip or shoulders.

From the earth the game was transferred to the heavens. As a ball, hit by a player, strikes the wall and then bounds back again, describing a curve, so the stars in the northern sky circle around the pole star and return to the place they left. Hence their movement was called The Ball-play of the Stars.[84]

A recent writer asserts that the popular belief of the Aztecs extended the figure to a greater game than this. The Sun and Moon were huge balls with which the gods played an unceasing game, now one, now the other, having the better of it. If this is so, then the game between Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl is again a transparent figure of speech for the contest between night and day.



The Mexican tiger, the ocelotl, was a well recognized figure of speech, in the Aztec tongue, for the nocturnal heavens, dotted with stars, as is the tiger skin with spots. The tiger, therefore, which destroyed the subjects of Quetzalcoatl--the swift-footed, happy inhabitants of Tula--was none other than the night extinguishing the rays of the orb of light. In the picture writings Tezcatlipoca appears dressed in a tiger's skin, the spots on which represent the stars, and thus symbolize him in his character as the god of the sky at night.

The apotheosis of Quetzalcoatl from the embers of his funeral pyre to the planet Venus has led several distinguished students of Mexican mythology to identify his whole history with the astronomical relations of this bright star. Such an interpretation is, however, not only contrary to results obtained by the general science of mythology, but it is specifically in contradiction to the uniform statements of the old writers. All these agree that it was not till after he had finished his career, after he had run his course and disappeared from the sight and knowledge of men, that he was translated and became the evening or morning star. This clearly signifies that he was represented by the planet in only one, and that a subordinate, phase of his activity. We can readily see that the relation of Venus to the sun, and the evening and morning twilights, suggested the pleasing tale that as the light dies in the west, it is, in a certain way, preserved by the star which hangs so bright above the horizon.


Quetzalcoatl as Lord of the Winds.


As I have shown in the introductory chapter, the Light-God, the Lord of the East, is also master of the cardinal points and of the winds which blow from them, and therefore of the Air.

This was conspicuously so with Quetzalcoatl. As a divinity he is most generally mentioned as the God of the Air and Winds. He was said to sweep the roads before Tlaloc; god of the rains, because in that climate heavy down-pours are preceded by violent gusts. Torquemada names him as "God of the Air," and states that in Cholula this function was looked upon as his chief attribute, and the term was distinctly applied to him Nanihe-hecatli, Lord of the four Winds.

In one of the earliest myths he is called Yahualli ehecatl, meaning "the Wheel of the Winds," the winds being portrayed in the picture writing as a circle or wheel, with a figure with five angles inscribed upon it, the sacred pentagram. His image carried in the left hand this wheel, and in the right a sceptre with the end recurved.

Another reference to this wheel, or mariner's box, was in the shape of the temples which were built in his honor as god of the winds. These, we are informed, were completely circular, without an angle anywhere.

Still another symbol which was sacred to him as lord of the four winds was the Cross. [emphasis added - The Orly]  It was not the Latin but the Greek cross, with four short arms of equal length. Several of these were painted on the mantle which he wore in the picture writings, and they are occasionally found on the sacred jades, which bear other of his symbols.

This has often been made use of by one set of writers to prove that Quetzalcoatl was some Christian teacher; and by others as evidence that these native tales were of a date subsequent to the Conquest. But a moment's consideration of the meaning of this cruciform symbol as revealed in its native names shows where it belongs and what it refers to. These names are three, and their significations are, "The Rain-God," "The Tree of our Life," "The God of Strength."As the rains fertilize the fields and ripen the food crops, so he who sends them is indeed the prop or tree of our subsistence, and thus becomes the giver of health and strength. No other explanation is needed, or is, in fact, allowable.

The winds and rains come from the four cardinal points. This fact was figuratively represented by a cruciform figure, the ends directed toward each of these. The God of the Four Winds bore these crosses as one of his emblems. The sign came to be connected with fertility, reproduction and life, through its associations as a symbol of the rains which restore the parched fields and aid in the germination of seeds. Their influence in this respect is most striking in those southern countries where a long dry season is followed by heavy tropical showers, which in a few days change the whole face of nature, from one of parched sterility to one of a wealth of vegetable growth.

As there is a close connection, in meteorology, between the winds and the rains, so in Aztec mythology, there was an equally near one between Quetzalcoatl, as the god of the winds, and the gods of rain, Tlaloc and his sister, or wife, or mother, Chalchihuitlicue. According to one myth, these were created by the four primeval brother-gods, and placed in the heavens, where they occupy a large mansion divided into four apartments, with a court in the middle. In this court stand four enormous vases of water, and an infinite number of very small slaves (the rain drops) stand ready to dip out the water from one or the other vase and pour it on the earth in showers.

Tlaloc means, literally, "The wine of the Earth," the figure being that as man's heart is made glad, and his strength revived by the joyous spirit of wine, so is the soil refreshed and restored by the rains. Tlaloc tecutli, the Lord of the Wine of the Earth, was the proper title of the male divinity, who sent the fertilizing showers, and thus caused the seed to grow in barren places. It was he who gave abundant crops and saved the parched and dying grain after times of drought. Therefore, he was appealed to as the giver of good things, of corn and wine; and the name of his home, Tlalocan, became synonymous with that of the terrestrial paradise.

His wife or sister, Chalchihuitlicue, She of the Emerald Skirts, was goddess of flowing streams, brooks, lakes and rivers. Her name, probably, has reference to their limpid waters. It is derived from chalchihuitl, a species of jade or precious green stone, very highly esteemed by the natives of Mexico and Central America, and worked by them into ornaments and talismans, often elaborately engraved and inscribed with symbols, by an art now altogether lost. According to one myth, Quetzalcoatl's mother took the name of chalchiuitl "when she ascended to heaven;" by another he was engendered by such a sacred stone; and by all he was designated as the discoverer of the art of cutting and polishing them, and the patron deity of workers in this branch.

The association of this stone and its color, a bluish green of various shades, with the God of Light and the Air, may have reference to the blue sky where he has his home, or to the blue and green waters where he makes his bed. Whatever the connection was, it was so close that the festivals of all three, Tlaloc, Chalchihuitlicue and Quetzalcoatl, were celebrated together on the same day, which was the first of the first month of the Aztec calendar, in February.

In his character as god of days, the deity who brings back the diurnal suns, and thus the seasons and years, Quetzalcoatl was the reputed inventor of the Mexican Calendar. He himself was said to have been born on Ce Acatl, One Cane, which was the first day of the first month, the beginning of the reckoning, and the name of the day was often added to his own. As the count of the days really began with the beginning, it was added that Heaven itself was created on this same day, Ce Acatl.

In some myths Quetzalcoatl was the sole framer of the Calendar; in others he was assisted by the first created pair, Cipactli and Oxomuco, who, as I have said, appear to represent the Sky and the Earth. A certain cave in the province of Cuernava (Quauhnauac) was pointed out as the scene of their deliberations. Cipactonal chose the first name, Oxomuco the second, and Quetzalcoatl the third, and so on in turn.

In many mythologies the gods of light and warmth are, by a natural analogy, held to be also the deities which preside over plenty, fertility and reproduction. This was quite markedly the case with Quetzalcoatl. His land and city were the homes of abundance; his people, the Toltecs, "were skilled in all arts, all of which they had been taught by Quetzalcoatl himself. They were, moreover, very rich; they lacked nothing; food was never scarce and crops never failed. They had no need to save the small ears of corn, so all the use they made of them was to burn them in heating their baths."

As thus the promoter of fertility in the vegetable world, he was also the genius of reproduction in the human race. The ceremonies of marriage which were in use among the Aztecs were attributed to him, and when the wife found she was with child it was to him that she was told to address her thanks. One of her relatives recited to her a formal exhortation, which began as follows:--

"My beloved little daughter, precious as sapphire and jade, tender and generous! Our Lord, who dwells everywhere and rains his bounties on whom he pleases, has remembered you. The God now wishes to give you the fruit of marriage, and has placed within you a jewel, a rich feather. Perhaps you have watched, and swept, and offered incense; for such good works the kindness of the Lord has been made manifest, and it was decreed in Heaven and Hell, before the beginning of the World, that this grace should be accorded you. For these reasons our Lord, Quetzalcoatl, who is the author and creator of things, has shown you this favor; thus has resolved He in heaven, who is at once both man and woman, and is known under the names Twice Master and Twice Mistress."

It is recorded in the old histories that the priests dedicated to his service wore a peculiar head-dress, imitating a snail shell, and for that reason were called Quateczizque. No one has explained this curiously shaped bonnet. But it was undoubtedly because Quetzalcoatl was the god of reproduction, for among the Aztecs the snail was a well known symbol of the process of parturition. 

Quetzalcoatl was that marvelous artist who fashions in the womb of the mother the delicate limbs and tender organs of the unborn infant. Therefore, when a couple of high rank were blessed with a child, an official orator visited them, and the baby being placed naked before him, he addressed it beginning with these words:--

"My child and lord, precious gem, emerald, sapphire, beauteous feather, product of a noble union, you have been formed far above us, in the ninth heaven, where dwell the two highest divinities. His Divine Majesty has fashioned you in a mould, as one fashions a ball of gold; you have been chiseled as a precious stone, artistically dressed by your Father and Mother, the great God and the great Goddess, assisted by their son, Quetzalcoatl."

As he was thus the god on whom depended the fertilization of the womb, sterile women made their vows to him, and invoked his aid to be relieved from the shame of barrenness.

In still another direction is this function of his godship shown. The worship of the genesiac principle is as often characterized by an excessive austerity as by indulgence in sexual acts. Here we have an example. Nearly all the accounts tell us that Quetzalcoatl was never married, and that he held himself aloof from all women, in absolute chastity. We are told that on one occasion his subjects urged upon him the propriety of marriage, and to their importunities he returned the dark answer that, Yes, he had determined to take a wife; but that it would be when the oak tree shall cast chestnuts, when the sun shall rise in the west, when one can cross the sea dry-shod, and when nightingales grow beards.

Following the example of their Master, many of the priests of his cult refrained from sexual relations, and as a mortification of the flesh they practiced a painful rite by transfixing the tongue and male member with the sharp thorns of the maguey plant, an austerity which, according to their traditions, he was the first to institute. There were also in the cities where his special worship was in vogue, houses of nuns, the inmates of which had vowed perpetual virginity, and it was said that Quetzalcoatl himself had founded these institutions.

His connection with the worship of the reproductive principle seems to be further indicated by his surname, Ce acatl. This means One Reed, and is the name of a day in the calendar. But in the Nahuatl language, the word acatl, reed, cornstalk, is also applied to the virile member; and it has been suggested that this is the real signification of the word when applied to the hero-god. The suggestion is plausible, but the word does not seem to have been so construed by the early writers. If such an understanding had been current, it could scarcely have escaped the inquiries of such a close student and thorough master of the Nahuatl tongue as Father Sahagun.

On the other hand, it must be said, in corroboration of this identification, that the same idea appears to be conveyed by the symbol of the serpent. One correct translation of the name Quetzalcoatl is "the beautiful serpent;" his temple in the city of Mexico, according to Torquemada, had a door in the form of a serpent's mouth; and in the Codex Vaticanus, No. 3738, published by Lord Kingsborough, of which we have an explanation by competent native authority, he is represented as a serpent; while in the same Codex, in the astrological signs which were supposed to control the different parts of the human body, the serpent is pictured as the sign of the male member.This indicates the probability that in his function as god of reproduction Quetzalcoatl may have stood in some relation to phallic rites.

This same sign, Ce Coatl, One Serpent, used in their astrology, was that of one of the gods of the merchants, and apparently for this reason, some writers have identified the chief god of traffic, Yacatecutli (God of Journeying), with Quetzalcoatl. This seems the more likely as another name of this divinity was Yacacoliuhqui, With the End Curved, a name which appears to refer to the curved rod or stick which was both his sign and one of those of Quetzalcoatl. The merchants also constantly associated in their prayers this deity with Huitzilopochtli, which is another reason for supposing their patron was one of the four primeval brothers, and but another manifestation of Quetzalcoatl. His character, as patron of arts, the model of orators, and the cultivator of peaceful intercourse among men, would naturally lend itself to this position.

But Quetzalcoatl, as god of the violent wind-storms, which destroy the houses and crops, and as one, who, in his own history, was driven from his kingdom and lost his all, was not considered a deity of invariably good augury. His day and sign, ce acatl, One Reed, was of bad omen. A person born on it would not succeed in life.His plans and possessions would be lost, blown away, as it were, by the wind, and dissipated into thin air.

Through the association of his person with the prying winds he came, curiously enough, to be the patron saint of a certain class of thieves, who stupefied their victims before robbing them. They applied to him to exercise his maleficent power on those whom they planned to deprive of their goods. His image was borne at the head of the gang when they made their raids, and the preferred season was when his sign was in the ascendant.This is a singular parallelism to the Aryan Hermes myth, as I have previously observed.

The representation of Quetzalcoatl in the Aztec manuscripts, his images and the forms of his temples and altars, referred to his double functions as Lord of the Light and the Winds.

He was not represented with pleasing features. On the contrary, Sahagun tells us that his face, that is, that of his image, was "very ugly, with a large head and a full beard." The beard, in this and similar instances, was to represent the rays of the sun. His hair at times was also shown rising straight from his forehead, for the same reason.

At times he was painted with a large hat and flowing robe, and was then called "Father of the Sons of the Clouds," that is, of the rain drops.

These various representations doubtless referred to him at different parts of his chequered career, and as a god under different manifestations of his divine nature. The religious art of the Aztecs did not demand any uniformity in this respect.


The Return of Quetzalcoatl.


Quetzalcoatl was gone.

Whether he had removed to the palace prepared for him in Tlapallan, whether he had floated out to sea on his wizard raft of serpent skins, or whether his body had been burned on the sandy sea strand and his soul had mounted to the morning star, the wise men were not agreed. But on one point there was unanimity. Quetzalcoatl was gone; but he would return.

In his own good time, in the sign of his year, when the ages were ripe, once more he would come from the east, surrounded by his fair-faced retinue, and resume the sway of his people and their descendants. Tezcatlipoca had conquered, but not for aye. The immutable laws which had fixed the destruction of Tollan assigned likewise its restoration. Such was the universal belief among the Aztec race.

For this reason Quetzalcoatl's statue, or one of them, was in a reclining position and covered with wrappings, signifying that he was absent, "as of one who lays him down to sleep, and that when he should awake from that dream of absence, he should rise to rule again the land."

He was not dead. He had indeed built mansions underground, to the Lord of Mictlan, the abode of the dead, the place of darkness, but he himself did not occupy them.Where he passed his time was where the sun stays at night. As this, too, is somewhere beneath the level of the earth, it was occasionally spoken of as Tlillapa, The Murky Land, and allied therefore to Mictlan. Caverns led down to it, especially one south of Chapultepec, called Cincalco, "To the Abode of Abundance," through whose gloomy corridors one could reach the habitation of the sun and the happy land still governed by Quetzalcoatl and his lieutenant Totec.

But the real and proper names of that land were Tlapallan, the Red Land, and Tizapan, the White Land, for either of these colors is that of the sun-light.

It was generally understood to be the same land whence he and the Toltecs had come forth in ancient times; or if not actually the same, nevertheless, very similar to it. While the myth refers to the latter as Tlapallan, it speaks of the former as Huey Tlapallan, Old Tlapallan, or the first Tlapallan. But Old Tlapallan was usually located to the West, where the sun disappears at night; while New Tlapallan, the goal of Quetzalcoatl's journey, was in the East, where the day-orb rises in the morning. The relationship is obvious, and is based on the similarity of the morning and the evening skies, the heavens at sunset and at sunrise.

In his capacity as master of arts, and, at the same time, ruler of the underground realm, in other words, as representing in his absence the Sun at night, he was supposed to preside over the schools where the youth were shut up and severely trained in ascetic lives, previous to coming forth into the world. In this function he was addressed as Quetzalcoatl Tlilpotonqui, the Dark or Black Plumed, and the child, on admittance, was painted this color, and blood drawn from his ears and offered to the god. Probably for the same reason, in many picture writings, both his face and body were blackened.

It is at first sight singular to find his character and symbols thus in a sense reversed, but it would not be difficult to quote similar instances from Aryan and Egyptian mythology. The sun at night was often considered to be the ruler of the realm of the dead, and became associated with its gloomy symbolism.

Wherever he was, Quetzalcoatl was expected to return and resume the sceptre of sovereignty, which he had laid down at the instigation of Tezcatlipoca. In what cycle he would appear the sages knew not, but the year of the cycle was predicted by himself of old.

Here appears an extraordinary coincidence. The sign of the year of Quetzalcoatl was, as I have said, One Reed, Ce Acatl. In the Mexican calendar this recurs only once in their cycle of fifty-two years. The myth ran that on some recurrence of this year his arrival was to take place. The year 1519 of the Christian era was the year One Reed, and in that year Hernan Cortes landed his army on Mexican soil! [Emphasis added - The Orly]

The approach of the year had, as usual, revived the old superstition, and possibly some vague rumors from Yucatan or the Islands had intensified the dread with which the Mexican emperor contemplated the possible loss of his sovereignty. Omens were reported in the sky, on earth and in the waters. The sages and diviners were consulted, but their answers were darker than the ignorance they were asked to dispel. Yes, they agreed, a change is to come, the present order of things will be swept away, perhaps by Quetzalcoatl, perhaps by hideous beings with faces of serpents, who walk with one foot, whose heads are in their breasts, whose huge hands serve as sun shades, and who can fold themselves in their immense ears.

Little satisfied with these grotesque prophecies the monarch summoned his dwarfs and hunchbacks--a class of dependents he maintained in imitation of Quetzalcoatl--and ordered them to proceed to the sacred Cave of Cincalco.

"Enter its darknes," he said, "without fear. There you will find him who ages ago lived in Tula, who calls himself Huemac, the Great Hand. If one enters, he dies indeed, but only to be born to an eternal life in a land where food and wine are in perennial plenty. It is shady with trees, filled with fruit, gay with flowers, and those who dwell there know nought but joy. Huemac is king of that land, and he who lives with him is ever happy."

The dwarfs and hunchbacks departed on their mission, under the guidance of the priests. After a time they returned and reported that they had entered the cave and reached a place where four roads met. They chose that which descended most rapidly, and soon were accosted by an old man with a staff in his hand. This was Totec, who led them to his lord Huemac, to whom they stated the wish of Montezuma for definite information. The reply was vague and threatening, and though twice afterwards the emperor sent other embassies, only ominous and obscure announcements were returned by the priests.

Clearly they preferred to be prophets of evil, and quite possibly they themselves were the slaves of gloomy forebodings.

Dissatisfied with their reports, Montezuma determined to visit the underground realm himself, and by penetrating through the cave of Cincalco to reach the mysterious land where his attendants and priests professed to have been. For obvious reasons such a suggestion was not palatable to them, and they succeeded in persuading him to renounce the plan, and their deceptions remained undiscovered.

Their idle tales brought no relief to the anxious monarch, and at length, when his artists showed him pictures of the bearded Spaniards and strings of glittering beads from Cortes, the emperor could doubt no longer, and exclaimed: "Truly this is the Quetzalcoatl we expected, he who lived with us of old in Tula. Undoubtedly it is he, Ce Acatl Inacuil, the god of One Reed, who is journeying."

On his very first interview with Cortes, he addressed him through the interpreter Marina in remarkable words which have been preserved to us by the Spanish conqueror himself. Cortes writes:--

"Having delivered me the presents, he seated himself next to me and spoke as follows:--

"'We have known for a long time, by the writings handed down by our forefathers, that neither I nor any who inhabit this land are natives of it, but foreigners who came here from remote parts. We also know that we were led here by a ruler, whose subjects we all were, who returned to his country, and after a long time came here again and wished to take his people away. But they had married wives and built houses, and they would neither go with him nor recognize him as their king; therefore he went back. We have ever believed that those who were of his lineage would some time come and claim this land as his, and us as his vassals. From the direction whence you come, which is where the sun rises, and from what you tell me of this great lord who sent you, we believe and think it certain that he is our natural ruler, especially since you say that for a long time he has known about us. Therefore you may feel certain that we shall obey you, and shall respect you as holding the place of that great lord; and in all the land I rule you may give what orders you wish, and they shall be obeyed, and everything we have shall be put at your service. And since you are thus in your own heritage and your own house, take your ease and rest from the fatigue of the journey and the wars you have had on the way.'"

Such was the extraordinary address with which the Spaniard, with his handful of men, was received by the most powerful war chief of the American continent. It confessed complete submission, without a struggle. But it was the expression of a general sentiment. When the Spanish ships for the first time reached the Mexican shores the natives kissed their sides and hailed the white and bearded strangers from the east as gods, sons and brothers of Quetzalcoatl, come back from their celestial home to claim their own on earth and bring again the days of Paradise;  a hope, dryly observes Father Mendieta, which the poor Indians soon gave up when they came to feel the acts of their visitors.

Such presentiments were found scattered through America. They have excited the suspicion of historians and puzzled antiquaries to explain. But their interpretation is simple enough. The primitive myth of the sun which had sunk but should rise again, had in the lapse of time lost its peculiarly religious sense, and had been in part taken to refer to past historical events. The Light-God had become merged in the divine culture hero. He it was who was believed to have gone away, not to die, for he was immortal, but to dwell in the distant east, whence in the fullness of time he would return.

This was why Montezuma and his subjects received the whites as expected guests, and quoted to them prophecies of their coming. The Mayas of Yucatan, the Muyscas of Bogota, the Qquichuas of Peru, all did the same, and all on the same grounds--the confident hope of the return of the Light-God from the under world.

This hope is an integral part of this great Myth of Light, in whatever part of the world we find it. Osiris, though murdered, and his body cast into "the unclean sea," will come again from the eastern shores. Balder, slain by the wiles of Loki, is not dead forever, but at the appointed time will appear again in nobler majesty. So in her divine fury sings the prophetess of the Völuspa:--

"Shall arise a second time,
Earth from ocean, green and fair,
The waters ebb, the eagles fly,
Snatch the fish from out the flood.

"Once again the wondrous runes,
Golden tablets, shall be found;
Mystic runes by Aesir carved,
Gods who ruled Fiolnir's line.

"Then shall fields unseeded bear,
Ill shall flee, and Balder come,
Dwell in Odin's highest hall,
He and all the happy gods.

"Outshines the sun that mighty hall,
Glitters gold on heaven's hill;
There shall god-like princes dwell,
And rule for aye a happy world."






New Holland: Letter of Reverend Jonas Michaelius, 1628

Cherokee: Pre-contact History