Part 2 out of 4
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.
[Footnote 1: These frightful beings were called the _Tzitzimime_, a word
which Molina in his Vocabulary renders "cosa espantosa o cosa de aguero."
For a thorough discussion of their place in Mexican mythology, see _Anales
del Museo Nacional_, Tom. ii, pp. 358-372.]
[Footnote 2: The whole of this version of the myth is from the work of
Ramirez de Fuen-leal, which I consider in some respects the most valuable
authority we possess. It was taken directly from the sacred books of the
Aztecs, as explained by the most competent survivors of the Conquest.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Alfredo Chavero, _La Piedra del Sol_, in the _Anales del
Museo Nacional_, Tom. i, p. 353, et seq.]
[Footnote 2: A.S. Gatschet, _The Four Creations of Mankind_, a Tualati
myth, in _Transactions of the Anthropological Society of Washington_, Vol.
i, p. 60 (1881).]
[Footnote 3: Paul Haupt, _Der Keilinschriftliche Sintfluthbericht_, p. 17
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
_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. 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.
[Footnote 1: Gabriel de Chaves, _Relacion de la Provincia de Meztitlan_,
1556, in the _Colecion de Documentos Ineditos del Archivo de Indias_, Tom.
iv, pp. 535 and 536. The translations of the names are not given by
Chaves, but I think they are correct, except, possibly, the third, which
may be a compound of _tentetl_, lipstone, _temictli_, dream, instead of
with _temicti_, slayer.]
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
[Footnote 1: _Ixcuina_ was also the name of the goddess of pleasure. The
derivation is from _ixtli_, face, _cui_, to take, and _na_, four. See the
note of MM. Jourdanet and Simeon to their translation of Sahagun,
_Historia_ p. 22.]
Another myth of the Aztecs gave these four brothers or primitive heroes,
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
[Footnote 1: Dr. Schultz Sellack, _Die Amerikanischen Goetter der Vier
Weltgegenden und ihre Tempel in Palenque_, in the _Zeitschrift fuer
Ethnologie_, Bd. xi, (1879).]
Sec.3. _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.
[Footnote 1: "Tonalan, o lugar del sol," says Tezozomoc (_Cronica
Mexicana_, chap. i). The full form is _Tonatlan_, from _tona_, "hacer
sol," and the place ending _tlan_. The derivation from _tollin_, a rush,
is of no value, and it is nothing to the point that in the picture writing
Tollan was represented by a bundle of rushes (Kingsborough, vol. vi, p.
177, note), as that was merely in accordance with the rules of the picture
writing, which represented names by rebuses. Still more worthless is the
derivation given by Herrera (_Historia de las Indias Occidentals_, Dec.
iii, Lib. i, cap. xi), that it means "Lugar de Tuna" or the place where
the tuna (the fruit of the Opuntia) is found; inasmuch as the word _tuna_
is not from the Aztec at all, but belongs to that dialect of the Arawack
spoken by the natives of Cuba and Haiti.]
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."
[Footnote 1: The _Books of Chilan Balam_, of the Mayas, the _Record from
Tecpan Atitlan_, of the Cakchiquels, and the _Popol vuh_, National Book,
of the Kiches, have much to say about Tulan. These works were all written
at a very early date, by natives, and they have all been preserved in the
original tongues, though unfortunately only the last mentioned has been
[Footnote 2: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. iii, cap. iii.]
[Footnote 3: Duran, _Historia de los Indios_, in Kingsborough, vol. viii,
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."
[Footnote 1: Francisco Ernantez Arana Xahila, _Memorial de Tecpan
Atitlan_. MS. in Cakchiquel, in my possession.]
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.
[Footnote 1: _Le Popol Vuh_, p. 247. The name _Yaqui_ means in Kiche
civilized or polished, and was applied to the Aztecs, but it is, in its
origin, from an Aztec root _yauh_, whence _yaque_, travelers, and
especially merchants. The Kiches recognizing in the Aztec merchants a
superior and cultivated class of men, adopted into their tongue the name
which the merchants gave themselves, and used the word in the above sense.
Compare Sahagun, _Historia de Nueva Espana_, Lib. ix, cap. xii.]
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
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
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
[Footnote 1: Toltecatl, according to Molina, is "oficial de arte mecanica
o maestro," (_Vocabulario de la Lengua Mexicana_, s.v.). This is a
secondary meaning. Veitia justly says, "Toltecatl quiere decir artifice,
porque en Thollan comenzaron a ensenar, aunque a Thollan llamaron Tula, y
por decir Toltecatl dicen Tuloteca" (_Historia_, cap. xv).]
[Footnote 2: Their title was _Tlanqua cemilhuique_, compounded of
_tlanqua_, to set the teeth, as with strong determination, and
_cemilhuitia_, to run during a whole day. Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. iii,
cap. iii, and Lib. x, cap. xxix; compare also the myth of Tezcatlipoca
disguised as an old woman parching corn, the odor of which instantly
attracted the Toltecs, no matter how far off they were. When they came she
killed them. Id. Lib. iii, cap. xi.]
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.'"
[Footnote 1: "Discipulos," Duran, _Historia_, in Kingsborough, vol. vii,
[Footnote 2: Ibid.]
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.
[Footnote 1: For the character of the Toltecs as here portrayed, see
Ixtlilxochitl, _Relaciones Historicas_, and Veitia, _Historia, passion_.]
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
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.
[Footnote 1: "Se metio (Quetzalcoatl) la tierra adentro hasta Tlapallan o
segun otros Huey Xalac, antigua patria de sus antepasados, en donde vivio
muchos anos." Ixtlilxochitl, _Relaciones Historicas_, p. 394, in
Kingsborough, vol. ix. Xalac, is from _xalli_, sand, with the locative
termination. In Nahuatl _xalli aquia_, to enter the sand, means to die.]
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.
[Footnote 1: "Dicen que camino acia el Oriente, y que se fue a la ciudad
del Sol, llamada Tlapallan, y fue llamado del sol." Libro. viii, Prologo.]
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
[Footnote 1: Ramirez de Fuen-leal, _Hist. de los Mexicanos_, cap. viii.]
[Footnote 2: _Monarquia Indiana_, Lib. vi, cap. xxiv. _Camaxtli_ is also
found in the form _Yoamaxtli_; this shows that it is a compound of
_maxtli_, covering, clothing, and _ca_, the substantive verb, or in the
latter instance, _yoalli_, night; hence it is, "the Mantle," or, "the garb
of night" ("la faja nocturna," _Anales del Museo Nacional_, Tom. ii, p.
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.
[Footnote 1: _Codex Vaticanus_, Tab. x; _Codex Telleriano-Remensis_, Pt.
ii, Lam. ii. The name is from _chalchihuitl_, jade, and _vitztli_, the
thorn used to pierce the tongue, ears and penis, in sacrifice.
_Chimalman_, more correctly, _Chimalmatl_, is from _chimalli_, shield, and
probably, _matlalin_, green.]
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
[Footnote 1: Mendieta, _Historia Eclesiastica Indiana_, Lib. ii, cap. vi.]
[Footnote 2: Ibid.]
[Footnote 3: Motolinia, _Historia de los Indios de Nueva Espana, Epistola
Proemial_, p. 10. The first wife was Ilancueitl, from _ilantli_, old
woman, and _cueitl_, skirt. Gomara, _Conquista de Mejico_, p. 432.]
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
[Footnote 1: The derivation of Aztlan from _aztatl_, a heron, has been
rejected by Buschmann and the best Aztec scholars. It is from the same
root as _izlac_, white, with the local ending _tlan_, and means the White
or Bright Land. See the subject discussed in Buschmann, _Ueber die
Atzekischen Ortsnamen_. p. 612, and recently by Senor Orozco y Berra, in
_Anales del Museo Nacional_, Tom. ii, p. 56.]
[Footnote 2: Colhuacan, is a locative form. It is usually derived from
_coloa_, to curve, to round. Father Duran says it is another name for
Aztlan: "Estas cuevas son en Teoculacan, _que por otro nombre_ se llama
Aztlan." _Historia de los Indios de Nueva Espana_, Lib. i, cap. i.]
_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
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.
[Footnote 1: Mendieta, _Historia Eclesiastica Indiana_, Lib. ii, cap.
[Footnote 2: See my work, _The Myths of the New World_, p. 242.]
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
[Footnote 1: "En esta tierra nunca envejecen los hombres. * * * Este cerro
tiene esta virtud, que el que ya viejo se quiere remozar, sube hasta donde
le parece, y vuelve de la edad que quiere." Duran, in Kingsborough, Vol.
viii, p. 201.]
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
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
[Footnote 1: Ixtlilxochitl, _Relaciones Historicas_, p. 330, in
Kingsborough, Vol. ix.]
[Footnote 2: In the work of Ramirez de Fuen-leal (cap. viii), Tezcatlipoca
is said to have been the discoverer of pulque, the intoxicating wine of
the Maguey. In Meztitlan he was associated with the gods of this beverage
and of drunkenness. Hence it is probable that the name _Meconetzin_
applied to Quetzalcoatl in this myth meant to convey that he was the son
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, a tradition which is
also repeated with definitiveness by the native historian, Alva
Ixtlilxochitl, but leaving the locality uncertain. 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.
[Footnote 1: Torquemada, _Monarquia Indiana_, Lib. vi, cap. xxiv. This was
apparently the canonical doctrine in Cholula. Mendieta says: "El dios o
idolo de Cholula, llamado Quetzalcoatl, fue el mas celebrado y tenido por
mejor y mas digno sobre los otro dioses, segun la reputacion de todos.
Este, segun sus historias (aunque algunos digan que de Tula) vino de las
partes de Yucatan a la ciudad de Cholula." _Historia Eclesiastica
Indiana_, Lib. ii, cap. x.]
[Footnote 2: _Historia Chichimeca_, cap. i.]
[Footnote 3: _Historia_, cap. xv.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, Lib. ix, cap. xxix.]
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.
[Footnote 1: The name of the bath of Quetzalcoatl is variously given as
_Xicapoyan_, from _xicalli_, vases made from gourds, and _poyan_, to paint
(Sahagun, Lib. iii, cap. iii); _Chalchiuhapan_, from _atl_, water _pan_,
in, and _chalchiuitl_, precious, brilliant, the jade stone (_id._, Lib. x,
cap. xxix); and _Atecpanamochco_, from _atl_, water, _tecpan_, royal,
_amochtli_, any shining white metal, as tin, and the locative _co_, hence,
In the Shining Royal Water (_Anales de Cuauhtitlan_, p. 21). These names
are interesting as illustrating the halo of symbolism which surrounded the
history of the Light-God.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Ramirez de Fuen-leal, _Historia de los Mexicanos por sus
Pinturas_, cap. viii.]
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
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."
[Footnote 1: The original is--
Quetzal, quetzal, no calli,
Zacuan, no callin tapach
No callin nic yacahuaz
An ya, an ya, an quilmach.
Beautiful, beautiful (is) my house
Zacuan, my house of coral;
My house, I must leave it.
Alas, alas, they say.
Zacuan, instead of being a proper name, may mean a rich yellow leather
from the bird called _zacuantototl_.]
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
"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.
[Footnote 1: It is not clear, at least in the translations, whether the
myth intimates an incestuous relation between Quetzalcoatl and his sister.
In the song he calls her "Nohueltiuh," which means, strictly, "My elder
sister;" but Mendoza translates it "Querida esposa mia." _Quetzalpetlatl_
means "the Beautiful Carpet," _petlatl_ being the rug or mat used on
floors, etc. This would be a most appropriate figure of speech to describe
a rich tropical landscape, "carpeted with flowers," as we say; and as the
earth is, in primitive cosmogony, older than the sun, I suspect that this
story of Quetzalcoatl and his sister refers to the sun sinking from
heaven, seemingly, into the earth. "Los Nahoas," remarks Chavero,
"figuraban la tierra en forma de un cuadrilatero dividido en pequenos
quatros, lo que semijaba una estera, _petlatl_" (_Anales del Museo
Nacional_, Tom. ii, p. 248).]
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
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.
[Footnote 1: Designated in the Aztec original by the name _Teoapan
Ilhuicaatenco_, from _teotl_, divine, _atl_, water, _pan_, in or near,
_ilhuicac_, heaven, _atenco_, the waterside: "Near the divine water, where
the sky meets the strand."]
[Footnote 2: The whole of this account is from the _Anales de
Cuauhtitlan_, pp. 16-22.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Ramirez de Fuen-leal, _Historia_, cap. xx, p. 102.]
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."
[Footnote 1: Sir George A. Cox, _The Science of Mythology and Folk Lore_,
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
[Footnote 1: Gabriel de Chaves, _Relacion de la Provincia de Meztitlan_,
1556, in the _Colecion de Documentos Ineditos del Archivo de Indias_, Tom.
iv, p. 536.]
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:--
[Footnote 1: Titlacauan was the common name of Tezcatlipoca. The three
sorcerers were really Quetzalcoatl's three brothers, representing the
three other cardinal points.]
"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
"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
"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
"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
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,
"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_.
[Footnote 1: From _teotl_, deity, divine, and _metl_, the maguey. Of the
twenty-nine varieties of the maguey, now described in Mexico, none bears
this name; but Hernandez speaks of it, and says it was so called because
there was a superstition that a person soon to die could not hold a branch
of it; but if he was to recover, or escape an impending danger, he could
hold it with ease and feel the better for it. See Nieremberg, _Historia
Naturae_, Lib. xiv, cap. xxxii. "Teomatl, vitae et mortis Index."]
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:--
[Footnote 1: _Toveyome_ is the plural of _toveyo_, which Molina, in his
dictionary, translates "foreigner, stranger." Sahagun says that it was
applied particularly to the Huastecs, a Maya tribe living in the province
of Panuco. _Historia_, etc., Lib. x, cap. xxix, Sec.8.]
[Footnote 2: _Huemac_ is a compound of _uey_, great, and _maitl_, hand.
Tezozomoc, Duran, and various other writers assign this name to
"Whence come you?"
"My lord," replied the Toveyo, "I am a stranger, and I have come to sell
"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
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
[Footnote 1: _Texcalapan_, from _texcalli_, rock, and _apan_, upon or over
[Footnote 2: _Texcaltlauhco_, from _texcalli_, rock, _tlaulli_, light, and
the locative ending _co_, by, in or at.]
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
"Love, the tyrant, evinces,
Alas! an omnipotent might;
He treads on the necks of princes,
He darkens the mind, like night."
[Footnote 1: Clarence Mangan, _Poems_, "The Mariner's Bride."]
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
"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
"I go," said Quetzalcoatl, "to Tlallapan."
"And luck go with you," replied the sorcerer, "but first take a drink of
"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.
[Footnote 1: These myths are from the third book of Sahagun's _Historia de
las Cosas de Nueva Espana_. They were taken down in the original Nahuatl,
by him, from the mouth of the natives, and he gives them word for word, as
they were recounted.]
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
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.
[Footnote 1: For this version of the myth, see Mendieta, _Historia
Eclesiastica Indiana_, Lib. ii, caps, v and x.]
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:--
[Footnote 1: Ixtlilxochitl, _Relaciones Historicas_, p. 388, in
Kingsborough, vol. ix.]
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. 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.
[Footnote 1: Torquemada gives a long but obscure description of it.
_Monarquia Indiana_, Lib. xiv, cap. xii.]
[Footnote 2: Nieremberg, "De septuaginta et octo partibus maximi templi
Mexicani," in his _Historia Naturae_, Lib. viii, cap. xxii (Antwerpt,
1635). One of these was called "The Ball Court of the Mirror," perhaps
with special reference to this legend. "Trigesima secunda Tezcatlacho,
locus erat ubi ludebatur pila ex gumi olli, inter templa." The name is
from _tezcatl_, mirror, _tlachtli_, the game of ball, and locative ending
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
[Footnote 1: "_Citlaltlachtli_," from _citlalin_, star, and _tlachtli_,
the game of ball. Alvarado Tezozomoc, _Cronica Mexicana_, cap. lxxxii. The
obscure passage in which Tezozomoc refers to this is ingeniously analyzed
in the _Anales del Museo Nacional_, Tom. ii, p. 388.]
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.
[Footnote 1: _Anales del Museo Nacional_, Tom. ii, p. 367.]
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.
[Footnote 1: "Segun los Anales de Cuauhtitlan el _ocelotl_ es el cielo
manchado de estrellas, como piel de tigre." _Anales del Mus. Nac._, ii, p.
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
[Footnote 1: _Codex Telleriano-Remensis_, plate xiv.]
Sec.4. _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.
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. i, cap. v. Torquemada, _Monarquia
Indiana_, Lib. vi, cap. xxiv.]
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.
[Footnote 1: "Quecalcoatl y por otro nombre yagualiecatl." Ramirez de
Fuen-leal, _Historia_, cap. i. _Yahualli_ is from the root _yaual_ or
_youal_, circular, rounding, and was applied to various objects of a
circular form. The sign of Quetzalcoatl is called by Sahagun, using the
native word, "el _Yoel_ de los Vientos" (_Historia_, ubi supra).]
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.
[Footnote 1: "Se llaman (a Quetzalcoatl) Senor de el Viento * * * A este
le hacian las yglesias redondas, sin esquina ninguna." _Codex
Telleriano-Remensis_. Parte ii, Lam. ii. Describing the sacred edifices of
Mexico, Motolinia says: "Habio en todos los mas de estos grandes patios un
otro templo que despues de levantada aquella capa quadrada, hecho su
altar, cubrianlo con una pared redonda, alta y cubierta con su chapital.
Este era del dios del aire, cual dijimos tener su principal sella en
Cholollan, y en toda esta provincia habia mucho de estos. A este dios del
aire llamaban en su lengua Quetzalcoatl," _Historia de los Indios_,
Epistola Proemial. Compare also Herrera, _Historia de las Indias
Occidentals_, Dec. ii, Lib. vii, cap. xvii, who describes the temple of
Quetzalcoatl, in the city of Mexico, and adds that it was circular,
"porque asi como el Aire anda al rededor del Cielo, asi le hacian el
Still another symbol which was sacred to him as lord of the four winds was
the Cross. 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.
[Footnote 1: The Aztec words are _Quiahuitl teotl, quiahuitl_, rain,
_teotl_, god; _Tonacaquahuitl_, from _to_, our, _naca_, flesh or life,
_quahuitl_, tree; _Chicahualizteotl_, from _chicahualiztli_, strength or
courage, and _teotl_, god. These names are given by Ixtlilxochitl,
_Historia chichimeca_, cap. i.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Ramirez de Fuen-leal, _Historia de los Mexicanos_, cap. ii.]
_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
[Footnote 1: _Tlalli_, earth, _oc_ from _octli_, the native wine made from
the maguey, enormous quantities of which are consumed by the lower classes
in Mexico at this day, and which was well known to the ancients. Another
derivation of the name is from _tlalli_, and _onoc_, being, to be, hence,
"resident on the earth." This does not seem appropriate.]
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.
[Footnote 1: From _chalchihuitl_, jade, and _cueitl_, skirt or petticoat,
with the possessive prefix, _i_, her.]
[Footnote 2: See E.G. Squier, _Observations on a Collection of
Chalchihuitls from Central America_, New York, 1869, and Heinrich Fischer,
_Nephrit und Jadeit nach ihrer Urgeschichtlichen und Ethnographischen
Bedeutung_, Stuttgart, 1880, for a full discussion of the subject.]
[Footnote 3: _Codex Telleriano-Remensis_, Pt. ii, Lam. ii.]
[Footnote 4: See above, chapter iii, Sec.3]
[Footnote 5: Torquemada, _Monarquia Indiana_, Lib. vi, cap. xxiv.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, _Hisioria_, Lib. ii, cap. i. A worthy but visionary
Mexican antiquary, Don J.M. Melgar, has recognized in Aztec mythology the
frequency of the symbolism which expresses the fertilizing action of the
sky (the sun and rains) upon the earth. He thinks that in some of the
manuscripts, as the _Codex Borgia_, it is represented by the rabbit
fecundating the frog. See his _Examen Comparativo entre los Signos
Simbolicos de las Teogonias y Cosmogonias antiguas y los que existen en
los Manuscritos Mexicanos_, p. 21 (Vera Cruz, 1872).]
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.
[Footnote 1: _Codex Vaticanus_, Pl. xv.]
[Footnote 2: _Codex Telleriano Remensis_, Pl. xxxiii.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Mendieta, _Hist. Eclesiastia Indiana_, Lib. ii, cap. xiv.
"Una tonta ficcion," comments the worthy chronicler upon the narrative,
"como son las demas que creian cerca de sus dioses." This has been the
universal opinion. My ambition in writing this book is, that it will be
universal no longer.]
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
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. iii, cap. iii.]
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:--
[Footnote 1: Veitia, cap. xvii, in Kingsborough.]
"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."
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. vi, cap. xxv. The bisexual nature
of the Mexican gods, referred to in this passage, is well marked in many
features of their mythology. Quetzalcoatl is often addressed in the
prayers as "father and mother," just as, in the Egyptian ritual, Chnum was
appealed to as "father of fathers and mother of mothers" (Tiele, _Hist. of
the Egyptian Religion_, p. 134). I have endeavored to explain this
widespread belief in hermaphroditic deities in my work entitled, _The
Religious Sentiment, Its Source and Aim_, pp. 65-68, (New York, 1876).]
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.
[Footnote 1: Duran, in Kingsborough, vol. viii, p. 267. The word is from
_quaitl_, head or top, and _tecziztli_, a snail shell.]
[Footnote 2: "Mettevanli in testa una lumaca marina per dimostrare que
siccome il piscato esce dalle pieghe di quell'osso, o conca. cosi va ed
esce l'uomo _ab utero matris suae_." _Codice Vaticana, Tavola XXVI._]
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,
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. vi, cap. xxxiv.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Torquemada, _Monarquia Indiana_, Lib. xi, cap. xxiv.]
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
[Footnote 1: Duran, in Kingsborough, vol. viii, p. 267. I believe Alva
Ixtlilxochitl is the only author who specifically assigns a family to
Quetzalcoatl. This author does not mention a wife, but names two sons,
one, Xilotzin, who was killed in war, the other, Pochotl, who was educated
by his nurse, Toxcueye, and who, after the destruction of Tollan,
collected the scattered Toltecs and settled with them around the Lake of
Tezcuco (_Relaciones Historicas_, p. 394, in Kingsborough, vol. ix). All
this is in contradiction to the reports of earlier and better authorities.
For instance, Motolinia says pointedly, "no fue casado, ni se le conocio
mujer" (_Historia de los Indios, Epistola Proemial_).]
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.
[Footnote 1: _Codex Vaticanus_, Tab. xxii.]
[Footnote 2: Veitia, _Historia_, cap. XVII.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Compare the _Codex Vaticanus_, No. 3738, plates 44 and 75,
Kingsborough, _Mexican Antiquities_, vol. ii.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Compare Torquemada, _Monarquia Indiana_, Lib. vi, cap. xxviii
and Sahagun, _Historia de Nueva Espana_, Lib. ix, _passim_.
_Yacatecutli_, is from _tecutli_, lord, and either _yaqui_, traveler, or
else _yacana_, to conduct.
_Yacacoliuhqui_, is translated by Torquemada, "el que tiene la nariz
aquilena." It is from _yaque_, a point or end, and hence, also, the nose,
and _coliuhqui_, bent or curved. The translation in the text is quite as
allowable as that of Torquemada, and more appropriate. I have already
mentioned that this divinity was suspected, by Dr. Schultz-Sellack, to be
merely another form of Quetzalcoatl. See above, chapter iii, Sec.2]
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
[Footnote 1: Sahagun. _Historia_, Lib. iv, cap. viii.]
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 (Chap. I).
[Footnote 1: Ibid. Lib. IV, cap. XXXI.]
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.
[Footnote 1: "La cara que tenia era muy fea y la cabeza larga y barbuda."
_Historia_, Lib. III, cap. III. On the other hand Ixtlilxochitl speaks of
him as "de bella figura." _Historia Chichimeca_, cap. viii. He was
occasionally represented with his face painted black, probably expressing
the sun in its absence.]
[Footnote 2: He is so portrayed in the Codex Vaticanus. and Ixtlilxochitl
says, "tubiese el cabello levantado desde la frente hasta la nuca como a
manera de penacho." _Historia Chichimeca_, cap. viii.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Diego Duran, _Historia_, in Kingsborough, viii, p. 267.]
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.
Sec.5. _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."
[Footnote 1: Torquemada, _Monarquia Indiana_, Lib. vi, cap. xxiv. So in
Egyptian mythology Tum was called "the concealed or imprisoned god, in a
physical sense the Sun-god in the darkness of night, not revealing
himself, but alive, nevertheless." Tiele, _History of the Egyptian
Religion_, p. 77.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. iii. cap. ult.]
[Footnote 2: Mendieta, _Hist. Eclesiast. Indiana_, Lib. ii, cap. v. The
name is from _tlilli_, something dark, obscure.]
[Footnote 3: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. xii, cap. ix; Duran, _Historia_,
cap. lxviii; Tezozomoc, _Cron. Mexicana_, cap. ciii. Sahagun and Tezozomoc
give the name _Cincalco_, To the House of Maize, _i.e._, Fertility,
Abundance, the Paradise. Duran gives _Cicalco_, and translates it "casa de
la liebre," _citli_, hare, _calli_, house, _co_ locative. But this is, no
doubt, an error, mistaking _citli_ for _cintli_, maize.]
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
[Footnote 1: _Tizapan_ from _tizatl_, white earth or other substance, and
_pan_, in. Mendicta, Lib. ii, cap. iv.]
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.
[Footnote 1: "Huitlapalan, que es la que al presente llaman de Cortes,
que por parecer vermeja le pusieron el nombre referido." Alva
Ixtlilxochitl, _Historia Chichimeca_, Cap. ii.]
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.
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, Lib. iii, Append, cap. vii. and cf. Lib. i, cap v.
The surname is from _tlilli_, black, and _potonia_, "emplumar a otro."]
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
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!
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.
[Footnote 1: The names of these mysterious beings are given by Tezozomoc
as _Tezocuilyoxique, Zenteicxique_ and _Coayxaques. Cronica Mexicana_,
caps, cviii and civ.]
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
[Footnote 1: Huemac, as I have already said, is stated by Sahagun to have
been the war chief of Tula, as Quetzalcoatl was the sacerdotal head (Lib.
iii, cap. v). But Duran and most writers state that it was simply another
name of Quetzalcoatl.]
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
Clearly they preferred to be prophets of evil, and quite possibly they
themselves were the slaves of gloomy forebodings.
[Footnote 1: Tezozomoc, _Cronica Mexicana_, caps. cviii, cix; Sahagun,
_Historia_, Lib. xii, cap. ix. The four roads which met one on the journey
to the Under World are also described in the _Popol Vuh_, p. 83. Each is
of a different color, and only one is safe to follow.]
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."
[Footnote 1: Tezozomoc, _Cronica Mexicana_, cap. cviii.]
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
"'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
[Footnote 1: Cortes, _Carta Segunda_, October 30th, 1520. According to
Bernal Diaz Montezuma referred to the prediction several times. _Historia
Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva Espana_, cap. lxxxix, xc. The words
of Montezuma are also given by Father Sahagun, _Historia de Nueva Espana_,
Lib. xii, cap. xvi. The statement of Montezuma that Quetzalcoatl _had
already returned_, but had not been well received by the people, and had,
therefore, left them again, is very interesting. It is a part of the
Quetzalcoatl myth which I have not found in any other Aztec source. But it
distinctly appears in the Kiche which I shall quote on a later page, and
is also in close parallelism with the hero-myths of Yucatan, Peru and
elsewhere. It is, to my mind, a strong evidence of the accuracy of
Marina's translation of Montezuma's words, and the fidelity of Cortes'
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.
[Footnote 1: Sahagun, _Historia_, Lib. xii, cap. ii.]
[Footnote 2: "Los Indios siempre esperaron que se habia de cumplir aquella
profecia y cuando vieron venir a los cristianos luego los llamaron dioses,
hijos, y hermanos de Quetzalcoatl, aunque despues que conocieron y
experimentaron sus obras, no los tuvieron por celestiales." _Historia
Eclesiastica Indiana_, Lib. ii, cap. x.]
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
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 Voeluspa:--
"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."
THE HERO-GODS OF THE MAYAS.
CIVILIZATION OF THE MAYAS--WHENCE IT ORIGINATED--DUPLICATE TRADITIONS.
Sec.1. _The Culture Hero Itzamna._
ITZAMNA AS RULER, PRIEST AND TEACHER--AS CHIEF GOD AND CREATOR OF THE
WORLD--LAS CASAS' SUPPOSED CHRIST MYTH--THE FOUR BACABS--ITZAMNA AS LORD
OF THE WINDS AND RAINS--THE SYMBOL OF THE CROSS--AS LORD OF THE LIGHT AND
DAY--DERIVATION OF HIS VARIOUS NAMES.
Sec.2. _The Culture Hero Kukulcan_.
KUKULCAN AS CONNECTED WITH THE CALENDAR--MEANING OF THE NAME--THE MYTH OF
THE FOUR BROTHERS--KUKULCAN'S HAPPY RULE AND MIRACULOUS
DISAPPEARANCE--RELATION TO QUETZALCOATL--AZTEC AND MAYA
MYTHOLOGY--KUKULCAN A MAYA DIVINITY--THE EXPECTED RETURN OF THE
HERO-GODS--THE MAYA PROPHECIES--THEIR EXPLANATION.
The high-water mark of ancient American civilization was touched by the
Mayas, the race who inhabited the peninsula of Yucatan and vicinity. Its
members extended to the Pacific coast and included the tribes of Vera Paz,
Guatemala, and parts of Chiapas and Honduras, and had an outlying branch
in the hot lowlands watered by the River Panuco, north of Vera Cruz. In
all, it has been estimated that they numbered at the time of the Conquest
perhaps two million souls. To them are due the vast structures of Copan,
Palenque and Uxmal, and they alone possessed a mode of writing which
rested distinctly on a phonetic basis.
The zenith of their prosperity had, however, been passed a century before
the Spanish conquerors invaded their soil. A large part of the peninsula
of Yucatan had been for generations ruled in peace by a confederation of
several tribes, whose capital city was Mayapan, ten leagues south of where
Merida now stands, and whose ruins still cover many hundred acres of the
plain. Somewhere about the year 1440 there was a general revolt of the
eastern provinces; Mayapan itself was assaulted and destroyed, and the
Peninsula was divided among a number of petty chieftains.