Chichen Itza

The Legend of Quetzalcoatl

A Myth of Mexico

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The legend of Quetzalcoatl is well known to Mexican children.
It is the origin of how the plumed serpent god, originally from the Toltec region of central Mexico, came to be known to the Maya.

It tells of a man who was revered as a great mystical leader much in the same ilk as Britain's King Arthur. Though there is some evidence to suggest that Quetzalcoatl was actually a living man that ruled the Toltecs. He first appeared to the people of Teotehuican near current day Mexico City, and taught the Toltecs all of their arts and science and became their ruler and led thir city to great prosperity and importance. He eventually fell in disgrace for violating his own laws and set himself on fire. He rose in flames to become the planet Venus and vowed to return one day to his people.

After this event, all priests in the Toltec cult were given the title of Quetzalcoatl. One such priest by the name of Ce Acatl Topiltzin rose to power and proclaimed himself as the second coming of Quetzalcoatl returning as promised, and in 968 AD became king of the Toltec people once again. He reigned for decades and built the Toltec capital of Tula. Eventually he was disposed of by his enemies and this time sailed east on a raft of snakes, vowing, like the first Quetzalc�atl, to return one day to rule his people. It is this snake reference that has caused the artwork depicting Quetzalcoatl as emerging, or being "reborn" as he emerges from the mouth of a serpent.

This raft of snakes carried Quetzalc�atl east and south across the gulf of Mexico to a Yucatan beach. By coincidence, the Mayan people were, at this time, expecting the return of their plumed serpent god Kukulkan. Kukulkan, in the same fashion as Quetzalcoatl, promised to return to rule his people after being forced to leave, and he was greeted as the returning Kukulkan by those that discovered him. Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl-Kukulkan became the king of the Itza Maya and rebuilt the ancient capital of Chichen Itza. Massive stone sculptures reflecting his image as the plumed serpent god were built in his honor and can be seen in a large portion of their artwork.

His enemies eventually caught up with him again and he fled to Uxmal where he committed suicide and, according to legend, was buried under the Temple of the Dwarf where he remains to this day, though no burial plot has yet been discovered.

-- Chris Reeves