Hope Is the Snake with Feathers

While it’s a little difficult to tell for sure, as Google sometimes refuses to turn up posts that I know I made and the LiveJournal search function is worthless, I don’t think I’ve ever actually devoted a post to Quetzalcoatl before. Kind of a sad oversight, really, because I have to say I’m a fan of the god. I mean, he’s a serpent with feathers, which is pretty cool. And his name is just really fun to say. The name literally means “feathered serpent” in the Nahua language, and is what the Aztecs called him as well. Other Mesoamerican peoples called him, or an equivalent deity, by other names with the same basic meaning. He’s sometimes depicted as an actual snake, and other times as a colorfully dressed man with a beak.

It’s said that his multiple natures signify his being a link between the heavenly and earthly worlds, but theologists are always saying things like this.

As I said in a previous post, Aztec mythology divided the world into several ages, and Quetzalcoatl ruled over the fifth. Since mankind was destroyed at the end of each age, the feathered serpent remade humanity out of the bones of the dead, with his own blood added to them. He was associated with fertility, the wind, the west as a cardinal direction, and Venus as the morning star. His twin brother Xolotl is Venus as the evening star, because it apparently took a long time for anyone to realize that the morning and evening stars were the same object. Quetzalcoatl introduced agriculture, astronomy, and the calendar to humans. Some myths say he was opposed to human sacrifice, although this is not entirely consistent. According to one popular story, he sacrificed himself by fire after his rival Tezcatlipoca tricked him into having sex with a celibate priestess. There’s a legend that the conquistador Hernan Cortes was regarded by Montezuma as an avatar of Quetzalcoatl, although it seems to only appear in Spanish sources.

Quetzalcoatl was obviously the namesake for the quetzalcoatlus, a prehistoric animal that I had actually heard of before the god, as it was in one of my childhood dinosaur books. A pterosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous Period, it was one of the largest known flying animals.

Quetzalcoatl plays a significant role in A. Lee’s Martinez’ Divine Misfortune, in which he goes by Quick for short. And I know of two different books that pun on the similarity between “feathered serpent” and “feather boa.” In Terry Pratchett’s Eric, the Tezuman people worship Quezovercoatl the Feathered Boa, described by Rincewind as “[h]alf man, half chicken, half jaguar, half serpent, half scorpion, and half mad.”

When Astfgl, King of Hell, forces him to materialize, he turns out be only six inches tall, and is promptly crushed to death by the Luggage. And Gina Wickar’s The Hidden Prince of Oz has Ketzal, a snake with variegated plumage from a long line of Feathered Boas, who has the manners of a Southern belle.

This entry was posted in Animals, Authors, Aztec, Characters, Colonization of America, Discworld, Gina Wickwar, History, Mythology, Native American, Oz, Oz Authors, Terry Pratchett and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Hope Is the Snake with Feathers

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