Under the distinctively American name and symbol of the Feathered-Serpent are to be found the Great Teachers of Mexico and Central America. Who has not heard of the “Fair God,” whose promise to come again led the Mexicans to believe Cortes was the returning Quetzalcoatl? There may be patriot souls in that country who still look for his coming and long for the time when the feathered-serpent will replace the Christian cross. Quetzal is the name of the paradise bird and coatl, the word for serpent. Its Maya equivalent is Kukul-Can, and Gucumatz in the Quiche dialect of the Popol Vuh. When appeared American civilization under the protection of the Feathered-Serpent is a much debated question. Augustus Le Plongeon endeavored to prove that Egyptian civilization had its inception among the Mayas and Quiches 11,500 years ago. Although the first part of his thesis is incorrect, Madame Blavatsky says the Mayas were coeval with Plato’s Atlantis. Did they come from Atlantis? Although not allowing so long a residence here—a fact which might reverse their conclusions—Spence and many others believe Maya civilization did not develop on American soil, but that the people came with a full-blown culture, a mature art, architecture and religion, and a system of writing passing from the hieroglyphic into the phonetic stage. The cradle of the race seems to have been along the head waters of the Usumacinta river and the Rio Grande in Guatemala and in that part of Chiapas which slopes down from the steep Cordilleras. One tradition refers both to an eastern and a western immigration; the eastern under Itzamna, whose people founded, among other cities, the famous Chi-chen Itza which preserves the memory of their rule. A curious reminder of Atlantis is found in the statue of the “Choc-Mool,” the sandals upon whose feet are exact representations of those found on the feet of the Guanches of the Canary Islands. The western immigration was under the leadership of Quetzalcoatl, considered as both god and man, the first ruler of the Toltecs, and ruler in Maya centers as well.
The origin of the Toltecs is variously given. Some identify them with the populations in Guatemala and also in Yucatan, whither the Mayas later removed, from which it has been inferred that the Mayas and the Toltecs were one people. Ixtlilchochitl, a native chronicler, represents them as coasting down Lower California and Mexico, arriving at a place called Tlapallan in 378 A.D. Turning inland they finally settled on the site of the modern Tula and built Tollan, the city from which they took their name. Here they erected temples and palaces, the walls of which were incrusted with rare red and black stones. Some think this is reminiscent of Atlantean architecture in which white, red and black stones were decoratively combined, and that Tlapallan—the traditional home of Quetzalcoatl, the “land of black and red stones,” generally translated “the land of writing” because the Mayas used both red and black inks—was in Atlantis. According to the son of the last king of the Quiches, the Toltecs are descendants of the Israelites who, after crossing the Red Sea and separating from their companions, under the guidance of a chief named Tanub, set out wandering from one continent to another until they came at last to a place named Seven Caverns, in Mexico, and founded Tula. A famous Toltecan king bore the biblical appellation of Balam Acan; the first name being preeminently Chaldean. Besides the striking similarity between the language of the Aztecs and Hebrew, many of the figures on the bas-reliefs of Palenque and the idols in terra cotta exhumed in Santa Cruz del Quiche have head-gear similar to the phylacteries worn by the Pharisees of old and even by the Jews of Poland and Russia today. H.P.B. says the time will undoubtedly come when some of the people in these countries will be traced back to the Phoenicians and the Jews. That various migrating tribes met to form a heterogeneous population prior to and after the first millennium before Christ—a reasonably assumed historical date—is without a shadow of doubt.
A book in the language of the Quiches of Guatemala, said to have been written by Votan, a local name for Quetzalcoatl, was at one time in the possession of the Bishop of Chiapas, who introduced portions of it into his own work. In this book Votan declares that at the express command of the Lord he came to the New World to apportion the land among seven families which he brought with him. Leaving the land of Valum Chivim, he passed the dwelling of Thirteen Snakes and arrived in Valum Votan, where he founded the great city of Nachan (City of Snakes) thought to be none other than Palenque. From a date found on a stela at Palenque, it appears to have been founded in 15 B.C.; however, it may have been built on the site of an older city. Votan made four trips to the East and on one occasion is said to have visited King Solomon, to whom he gave valuable particulars about the mysterious continent, but no clue as to how it might be reached. In narrating his expedition, Votan describes a subterranean passage which terminated at the “root of heaven,” adding that it was a “snake’s hole,” and that he was admitted to it because he was a “son of the snakes,” that is, an Initiate. (See Isis Unveiled, Vol. I, 545-554). Upon his return he built a temple by the Huehuetan river, known from its underground chambers as “The House of Darkness.” The Bishop says that “to this day there is always a clan in the city of Teopesa which call themselves Votans. It is related that he tarried in Huehueta and that there he placed a tapir and a great treasure in a subterranean house, which he built by the breath of his nostrils, and he appointed a woman as chieftain, with tapianes to guard her. This treasure consisted of jars which were closed with covers of the same clay, and of a room in which the pictures of the ancient heathens who are in the calendar were engraved in stone, together with the chalchiuites (small green stones) and other superstitious images; and the chieftainess and the tapianes, her guardians, surrendered all these things which were publicly burned in the market place at Huehueta when we inspected the aforesaid province in 1691.” Quetzalcoatl is always represented with the nose of the tapir, the title (tapianes) also of the guardians of the treasure. It is perfectly clear that a line of Votans, priests of Quetzalcoatl who took his name, existed for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years. Many and various are the legends of the Feathered-Serpent. He is the son of a virgin, sent into the world to save mankind; connected also with earthquake, deluge and wind. The Lord of the Wind, Tonacatecutli, when it seemed good to him, breathed and created Quetzalcoatl. He is also the son of “the Very Old One,” Citinatonali, creator of heaven and earth and mankind—the “dragon” from which the earth was made when it rose out of the sea.
Although there is hardly a single cultural or social custom whose origin was not referred to Quetzalcoatl, he is to be especially remembered in connection with the planet Venus, the Maya calendar and Maya writing. According to one legend, his mission completed, he departed eastward, and on reaching the sea put off his feather dress and turquoise snake-mask and immolated himself upon a funeral pyre, his heart becoming the planet Venus. As god of the morning star, he bore the calendrical name of Ce Acatl, one of the dates marking the periodical return of Venus. Dr. Spinden, of Harvard, states that the first definite date in the history of the New World is Aug. 6, 613 B.C., when the Mayas began to give each day its consecutive number, and that the Venus calendar was put in final working order between two risings of Venus as morning star in conjunction with the summer solstices of 538 B.C. and 530 B.C., and he believes Quetzalcoatl was made god of the morning star for solving a problem in astronomy. At all events, the Maya adepts were astronomers and the round towers were probably their observatories. In the Dresden Codex are computations involving about 34,000 years, and 405 revolutions of the moon are set down. Writing was supposed to be the joint production of Quetzalcoatl and two very old gods—might we not suppose of Atlantean origin? Bishop Landa, after having destroyed nearly all the manuscripts, was struck with a late compunction of conscience and endeavored to get all possible knowledge regarding Maya writing from the scribes, who in the main misinformed him. About one-third of the hieroglyphs have been deciphered by the help of the Books of Chilan Balam, transcripts of more ancient works in the Maya tongue but in Spanish characters, made by some of the educated natives after the Conquest. Dr. Morley has contributed to the National Geographic, of February, 1922, a most valuable article on Maya writing, with illustrations which include a reproduction of the tablet from the Temple of the Cross at Palenque and an initiation ceremony in which the tongue of the neophyte is being pierced with a spiked rope—indicative, we may think, of the silence and secrecy imposed upon the Adept. An interest in the art forms of these “Greeks of America,” as they have aptly been called, might well be stimulated, and signs are not wanting that in the future development of American art, these native and unique designs will be reproduced and expanded.
Quetzalcoatl carried a wand resembling the rod of Moses, by which the latter lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and representations of the lifting up of serpents frequently occur in Mexican paintings. To his care also was confided the Holy Envelope, concealing the divinity from human gaze, from which he alone received the instructions for the guidance of his people. The reign of Quetzalcoatl was the golden age of the Toltecs. Maize was plentiful and cotton grew in all colors, needing not to be dyed. But this blissful state could not forever endure. He is said to have excited the envy of Tezcatlipoca, who presented himself in the guise of physician to the Fair God, supposed to be ailing, and gave him a beverage which it was claimed would restore him to health and prepare him for the long journey decreed by fate. The departure of Quetzalcoatl marks the downfall of the Toltecs before the rising tide of the warlike Aztecs, hastened, too, by the increasing practice of human sacrifice, which Quetzalcoatl endeavored in vain to suppress, urging the substitution of fruit or flowers or treasured possession, and the sacrifice of themselves, not others.
Sir James Fraser has shown that upon the physical vigor of ancient kings was thought to depend the success of the community in agriculture, and that failure of crops implied the sacrifice of the impotent monarch or his rejuvenation by a magic elixir. Tezcatlipoca is recorded as saying to Quetzalcoatl that in Tillan Tlapallan “another old man awaits thee; you shall speak together and return as a youth, yea, even as a boy.” It is evident that the Adepts of Quetzalcoatl made periodical journeys to the East, and were in touch with the Great Lodge whose members possess the secret of the real Elixir of Life, the exoteric interpretation of which led so many adventurers, like Ponce de Leon, to seek for an earthly Fountain of Youth. In later times Cholula was the great center of the worship of Quetzalcoatl, and his great pyramid there, covering over forty-five acres, was regarded with particular veneration, even by the Aztec conquerors. The Aztecs were late comers to Mexico, arriving there about the 8th century of our era, though not settling in the plateau of Mexico until the 13th, when they founded Tenochtitlan, the site of the present Mexican capital. They had many traditions of having dwelt “on a great water,” in a region called Aztlan, and of coming here in four tribes.
Of the Mexican pantheon of thirteen gods, the chief was Tezcatlipoca, corresponding to Jupiter, worshipped by all the Nahua (Mexican) tribes. His special symbol was a fiery mirror, in which he saw all that occurred on earth, for one of his functions was to distribute rewards and punishments. He is often shown with bandaged eyes. Uitzilopochtli was the god of war, whom his mother conceived from a ball of down which fell from heaven upon her bosom. She was the great earth goddess, whose skirt was woven of serpents, indicated by her name, Coatlicue. Tlaloc was the god of rain, to whom in periods of drought were sacrificed the most beautiful maidens in the City of the Sacred Well, discovered by Edward Thompson. This gentleman’s haunting memories finally impelling him to buy a large tract of land including the well and returning to Chi-chen Itza to live, is an interesting evidence in favor of reincarnation. Xiuhtecuhtli, the Lord of Fire, of exceedingly ancient origin, was the fire existing even before the sun or moon. He dwelt in the navel of the earth where volcanic fires have their origin and also above in a kind of cloud castle. He is called “He who entereth the blue stone pyramid.” “The ancient God, the Father and Mother of all Gods,” runs an Aztec prayer, “is the God of Fire, which is in the center of the court with four walls, and which is covered with gleaming feathers like unto wings.” In the great temple of Mexico City the inextinguishable fire was kept burning at the time of the Conquest. It is said that when all was dark, Tezcatlipoca transformed himself into the sun to give light to men. After the destruction of this sun, Quetzalcoatl became the second sun; Tlaloc, the third; and Quetzalcoatl’s wife, the fourth. The present sun, Tonatiuh, is destined to conclude with an earthquake. Once created, the sun had to have nourishment and various gods sacrificed themselves that he might obtain sustenance from their hearts and blood. Prof. Joyce maintains that war in Mexico was mainly of a ceremonial nature, undertaken for the purpose of obtaining prisoners for sacrifice to sustain the sun, and not primarily with the intention of inflicting mortal injury upon the foe. He says that rites which in appearance were crude and savage bore for them a symbolical meaning which transformed, if it did not excuse, their barbarity. When we consider the thousands daily sacrificed in the temples at the time of the Conquest, it is clear that the idea of sacrifice had been horribly perverted and was the great karmic cause of their overthrow. Death by sacrifice was considered the normal ending of the warrior and ensured for him entrance into the paradise of the sun; neither was death greatly feared, for it was but little more than an incident in the continuity between this life and the next. The recurring periods of Venus were connected with the return of the reincarnating Egos. This planet, like the Egyptian Osiris, is represented as a mummy, and the Mexicans held a kind of Feast of All Souls, at which the people danced around a mummy hoisted on the top of a pole.
Mictlan (Kama-loka) the underworld and home of Mictlanteculi, consisted of nine spheres, above which were the thirteen heavens. Tlalocan was the Mexican Devachan (apparently one of the thirteen divisions) where the dead enjoyed a temporary period of bliss. Those dying of old age had a difficult four-year journey before reaching the river of Hades, to swim across which the aid of a red dog was needed. Children were admitted to a special paradise where they flitted from flower to flower in the form of humming birds. The Codex Vaticanus A bears so close a resemblance to the Egyptian Pert-Em-Hru that it has been called “The Mexican Book of the Dead.” In its pages the corpse is depicted as dressed for burial, the soul, like the Egyptian Ba, escaping from the mouth. The deceased is ushered into the presence of Tezcatlipoca by a priest in an ocelot skin, just as the Egyptian was brought before Osiris, and stands naked with a wooden yoke about his neck to receive judgment. He then has to undergo the tests which precede entrance to the abode of the dead.
The Mexicans had a perfect calendar system, but instead of adding one day in four years, as we do, they added thirteen days every fifty-two years. At midnight of the closing cycle, determined by observation of the Pleiades, the high priest kindled the new fire, at which representatives from the surrounding cities lighted their torches; these were rapidly carried to the chief temple in each city, and from the temples the new fire was taken into the homes. Old garments were discarded, old household utensils broken, and there was general rejoicing because of the deliverance of the world from destruction. The memory of a great cataclysm seemed ever present and fear lest at the close of one of the fifty-two year cycles the earth might once more come to an end. In their flood legend, Tezcatlipoca had warned Nata and his wife Nana of the approaching deluge and commanded them to hollow out a cypress tree and enter it. “And this year was that of Cecalli, and on the first day all was lost.”
The American pyramids are terraced mounds of earth, cased on the outside with stone or cement, the whole serving as a substructure for the temple on top, reached by a stairway on one or more of its sides. In the chief cities were pyramids both to the sun and the moon, and some recognition of other planets and of the Pleiades, frequent reference to which points to a memory of the destruction of Atlantis, with which this group of stars is particularly associated. The pyramid of the sun at Teotihuacan is very similar in interior arrangement to the great pyramid of Cheops. The seven-terraced pyramid at Papantlan has three stairways leading to the top, the steps of which are decorated with hieroglyphical sculptures and 318 small niches. 318 is the Gnostic number of Christ and the famous number of the servants of Abraham. The beautiful temple at Mitla had extensive subterranean chambers, as most temples undoubtedly had. Many of these are still in use as proved by Gregory Mason’s account of a recent expedition to Yucatan. He and Dr. Spinden were very anxious to visit two cities where they had heard of temples but were firmly refused permission to go because they were being used. The Mexican general told them that their visit to the Subterranean chambers at Muyil was particularly disliked but, casting a covetous eye on his double-barrelled shotgun said, “Perhaps if you come back next year, I can let you see the cities you ask for.” Mason plans to return with an automatic shotgun. He might do well to read what H.P.B. has to say of the “Phantom City.” A native priest told her that when he was a young man he climbed up some ten or twelve thousand feet where he overlooked a plain extending toward Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico and saw a great city with turrets white and glittering in the sun. It is said that the people there speak the Maya language and will murder any white man who attempts to enter their territory. It is barely possible that messengers go to and from this mysterious city and help to keep alive something of the ancient faith among a subject people, who still have their secret meeting places and perform simple rites by which the power of the sun and of Montezuma is recognized, as well as the power of the Feathered-Serpent, to whom, by order of Montezuma, they are to look for life.