The Feathered Serpent

Quetzalcoatl is an Aztec word meaning “feathered serpent.” The Yucatec Maya equivalent is Kukulkan, which translates as exactly the same thing. The Quetzalcoatl was a combination of a prophet, high priest, and king. Mayan legends say Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl was originally from Tula, just north of present-day Mexico City, and that he came to the Mayan lands of the Yuca-tán after being driven out by his rival, the god Tezcatlipoca. What we know through Landa's History is that a great leader called Cuculcan entered from the west at roughly the same time the Itzá arrived, between A.D. 967 and A.D. 987.

Quetzalcoatl dressed as the Lord of the Wind, from the Codex Magliabecchiano

Quetzalcoatl conquered the Yucatecan city of Chichén Itzá and established the beginning of a new culture that was a fusion of Mayan and Mexican/ Itzá. He was seen as a great reformer and is also sometimes given credit for the ending of the practice of human sacrifice. At the end of his life, he is said to have floated away to sea on a raft made of serpents. His legend says he will return in a time of need. This is reminiscent of the stories and legends of King Arthur, and should perhaps be taken as a blend of myth and oral history.

The prophecy of Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl that Shearer recounts is about a cycle of thirteen heavens and nine hells, each of which would last a complete calendar round of fifty-two years, making the whole period last 1,144 years. The cycle of nine is a very significant one in Mayan cosmology and corresponds to the Bolontiku or nine lords of the underworld. These are nine gods that govern the cycle of darkness.

Was there just one Quetzalcoatl or many?

Quetzalcoatl was a mythic figure, but the name was also the title of the chief high priest and the given name of at least two known historical figures. Sometimes these figures are blended, often making it somewhat confusing. To make things even more complicated, some contemporary authors have also claimed to channel the spirit of Quetzalcoatl and speak on his behalf.

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