Storytime: The Myth of Quetzalcoatl
A tale of beginnings...
Our story centers around the creation myths of Quetzalcoatl—one of the most famous deities of ancient Mesoamerica.
He was known as the "plumed serpent"—with "quetzal" meaning a great plumed bird, and "coatl" meaning serpent—Quetzalcoatl was a being of both the lands and the skies.
While many varying myths and legends exist about this ancient pre-Aztec God, Quetzalcoatl is widely considered to be a primary creator God of both the world and humankind.
We begin at the very beginning—with Quetzalcoatl, one of four brothers born unto Tonacateuctli and Tonacacihuati—the original creator Gods revered at that time. It is said that Quetzalcoatl, alongside his one brother Tezcatlipoca, were given the task of creating the sun, the moon, the animals, and the earth.
It is said that at the very beginning of time, the two Gods transformed into giant snakes to slay the great monster known as Tlaltcuhtli—a terrifying reptilian beast. And from the beast's slain hair came the flowers and the trees of our earth. From her eyes came all the springs and caves. And from her mouth came the mountains and the valleys.
But even though the body of the mighty Tlaltcuhtli was slain, her angry spirit still roamed the lands. Her fury demanded to be appeased by blood and by hearts—and if denied, she would see fit to wreak a spiritual havoc across the earth. This is said to be where many of the more brutal Mesoamerican sacrifices stemmed from.
But our creation story isn't over yet! The earth is still missing one crucial thing.
Our Quetzalcoatl, after populating the earth with a rich and flowing landscape, now descends into the Underworld in search of bones. However, he is stopped before he's able to retrieve what we came for by the Gods and guardians of the Underworld, Mictlanteuctli and Mictlancihuatl. It is here that the Gods challenge Quetzalcoatl in return for the bones he seeks. If Quetzalcoatl can blow a shell without any holes in it, then he may leave with the bones. And Quetzalcoatl, ever the clever soul, tries to deceive the gods by calling on bugs to burrow holes and shake the the shell to create a sound.
But the Gods of the Underworld see through this trick, and lunge after the sneaky Quetzalcoatl—who manages to grab the bones as he makes his breakaway.
And Quetzalcoatl is triumphant! His cleverness takes him far, and he manages to escape the grips of the Underworld with the bones in hand. And it is with the help of the great snake Goddess, Cihuacóatl, that Quetzalcoatl crushes the bones and mixes them with corn and his own blood in order to form the clay that—through the breath of magic—would become living, breathing people.
And this, my dear reader, is the creation story as the Aztecs (and pre-Aztecs) came to know it.
One God, Quetzalcoatl, with his bravery and cleverness, came to give life to the lands, the skies, and the creatures who roam them.