Since the earliest times of which we have any historical knowledge, the emblem of the serpent has always been used as a symbol of occult knowledge and wisdom.
Every country has had its great teacher, its Christ. In every religion and scripture we find traces of the worship of the Serpent or Dragon. Thus in Egypt it was the especial symbol of Thot and Hermes. In India we have the Nagas or Serpent Worshippers. In Mexico, the Nargals. It is reverenced by the Pa of China, by the Voodoos of Jamaica, in Jan-Cambodia and Africa, while to come to the records Druids over in England, we find them saying: “I am a Druid, I am a Serpent.” It is a symbol everywhere meaning wisdom. The various names in different countries signify “the being who excels in excellence,” or “He who sees and watches.” (Greek.)
These beings to whom has been given the name “Dragons” of wisdom, were the first teachers of mankind. As humanity arose from the darkness of the lower kingdoms they revealed the knowledge of its true nature. In the course of time they ruled as Divine Kings—this was the time of the golden age, when justice and wisdom were realities, not mere names—it was the time of peace on earth.
Later on they re-appeared as sages and instructors, and finally sacrificed themselves to be re-born under various circumstances, for the good of mankind, and for its salvation, at critical periods. Thus every nation had and still has its Serpent-Teacher, its Watcher, its Christ, so that in no part of the world is man left long in darkness and ignorance. For when such circumstances occur, some great teacher is sent forth to re-kindle in men’s hearts the ancient religion of wisdom, to bring health and enlightenment.
Let us for a little while direct our attention to Mexico, for there Quetzalcoatl, one of those world teachers, lived and worked in the ages gone by. His teachings had far-reaching effects and their light shone out with intense brightness into one of the blackest periods of American history.
In the Popol-Vuh we read:
“This is the recital of how everything was without life, calm and silent, all was quiet and motionless; void was the immensity of the heavens; the face of the earth did not manifest itself yet; only the tranquil sea was and the space of the heavens. All was immobility and silence in the night.
“Only the Creator, the Maker, the Dominator, the Serpent covered with feathers, they who engender, they who create, were on the waters as an ever-increasing light; they are surrounded by green and blue.”
In another manuscript we find that “rays of light gathered themselves together on the water about the feathered serpents and the rays were green and blue.”
Thus the name of the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, was applied in the first place to the creative force of the Universe, also to those who appeared in the course of time, bringing with them from the waters of the Unknown, the light of knowledge and spiritual wisdom. These various ways of applying the name Quetzalcoatl gave rise to much confusion and error, since the term was later applied almost solely to the Initiate Votan, who became the Quetzalcoatl of history, though probably he was but the last of a long race of teachers. Like all the other saviours of the world, Quetzalcoatl is said to have been born of a virgin. At his birth were many signs and wonders, the earth put forth flowers and fruit of its own accord, as though to greet the new teacher. Many things were foretold of him, among others, that he would become the spiritual ruler of the world.
We hear of him later, penetrating the country of Anahuac, with a large band of followers. He established his capital at Tulla, which became the northern focus of civilization. Under his sceptre men lived in great happiness and enjoyed abundance of everything. He taught the people agriculture, the use of metals, the art of cutting stone, the means of fixing the calendar; also, it is said to him is due the invention of hieroglyphs and picture writing, which arranged after a certain method, reproduced the history on skins and parchment. The alphabet of the Egyptians is almost identical with that of these ancient Mexicans, only that the latter is more rich in symbols expressing shades of meaning, which would be natural to the mother language if, as there seems some reason to believe, the Egyptian civilization, was derived from the Mexican. According to some writers we are told that all the country with its flocks and mines, belonged to the King and that on the marriage of two people, sufficient land was given them, for their maintenance which was added to on the arrival of children. No one might own the flocks which roamed over the country side, but once a year the animals were shorn, and the wool given out equally to the people. The mines also belonged to the King, and their products were through him distributed equally—hence no one could be richer in material goods than the others—all shared alike as members of one great family; if people were sick or old, the others did their work before touching their own. Besides bringing about these good social conditions, Quetzalcoatl taught his people a more spiritualized religion, in which the only sacrifices were the fruits and flowers of the season, and the consecration of self to the highest good.
But this reign of peace at Tulla was destined to be brought to a close, for Quetzalcoatl had an enemy in Tezcatlipoca, a magician, cunning and clever enough to get the better of the gentle Quetzalcoatl on many occasions. This magician succeeded by his enchantments in destroying the rule of peace and forced Quetzalcoatl to become a wanderer. He then pursued him to Cholula, afterwards the sacred city of the Toltecs, where Quetzalcoatl reigned for twenty years, bringing to this city, as to Tula, prosperity and greater spirituality. Cholula became the sacred city of Anahuac, the Mecca, the Jerusalem, the Rome of the Indians. The sanctity of the place brought pilgrims from the furthest corners of Mayax, as the country was then called, to hear the words of Quetzalcoatl. Finally, as the story runs, Tezcatlipoca forced him to quit the country altogether, and he embarked for the East, at a place not far from where Vera Cruz now stands, near to the very spot where Cortez afterwards disembarked. Before his departure he bade his followers keep fast his teachings, and promised them that he would in the distant future return to reign over them once more, and their country should again become a centre of light to the nations.
This expectation of Quetzalcoatl’s return furnishes a kind of parallel to the Messianic hope, or more closely to the early Christian expectation of the second coming of Christ, for when he returned, it would be to punish the oppressors and the tyrants, and to bring justice to the people. And that is why, later on the Aztecs, after their occupation of the country, dreaded his return, and why they had not dared to prescribe his cultus, but on the contrary recognized it, and carried it on. And if you would know the real secret of the success of Cortez in his wild enterprise—for after all, the Mexican sovereign could easily have crushed him and his handful of men—you will find it in the fact that Montezuma, whose conscience was oppressed with more crimes than one, had a very lively dread of Quetzalcoatl’s return, and when he was informed that at the very point where the dreaded god had embarked to disappear in the unknown East, strange and terrible beings had landed, Montezuma could not doubt that it was Quetzalcoatl returning and accordingly sent to make peace with Cortez.
Besides Quetzalcoatl, Votan is worshipped under many names. “Hurabran,” “the breeze,” “Lord of the four winds,” and the most popular account of him is written under this last name.
He is lord of the winds and of that wind in particular that brings over the parched lands of Mexico the fertilizing showers, and this is why Tezcatlipoca, god of the cold, dry season, is his enemy. It is towards the end of the dry season that the fertilizing showers begin to fall on the Eastern shore.
The flying serpent then, the agent of transmission by which the solar and lunar influences are diffused, bringing life and abundance, is a benevolent deity spreading prosperity wherever he goes. But he does not always breathe over the land. Tezcatlipoca appears. The lofty plateaux of Tulla, and Cholula, are the first victims of his devastating force. Quetzalcoatl withdraws ever further and further to the East, and at last disappears in the great ocean; but will return again and will conquer Tezcatlipoca compelling him to water the earth.
This story is found also in other countries. In India it runs thus:
Indra, god of the wind, is continually at war with Vritra. In the Vedas, Vritra is referred to as the Demon of Drought, the terrible hot wind, Indra is shown to be constantly at war with him and with the help of his thunder and lightning, Indra compels him to pour down rain on the earth, and then destroys him.
In the “Secret Doctrine” we are told these “wars” refer partly to those terrible struggles in store for the candidate for Adeptship—struggles between himself and his human passions, when the enlightened Inner Man has either to slay them or fail. In the former case he became the dragon-slayer, as having happily overcome all temptations, and a serpent himself, having cast off his old skins, and being born in a new body; becoming an adept, a son of Wisdom.
The account of the teachings of Quetzalcoatl were written by his priesthood, which in spite of opposition from many of the Aztecs, continued its silent work. The chief priests of the Mexican gods had authority, as a rule over state matters, but the chief priest of Quetzalcoatl had no nominal authority except over his own fraternity. He was called “Huiyatoo,” the “Great Sentinel” or “Watcher”—his real power was above the Kings.
No person who was of unclean thoughts and acts could be with him and live; from him healing currents flowed, and he was able to direct both temporal, and spiritual currents. The members of this fraternity were divided into three classes, of which I shall speak later, and had to submit to the strictest observances, but in compensation the people paid them almost divine honors, whilst their power and influence were boundless. During the time of the Aztec civilization, when every town was polluted with the awful abuse of human sacrifice, and every god was a Moloch calling out for more and more blood, until no man’s life was secure from receiving the summons of the god; the influence of the Brotherhood of Quetzalcoatl alone kept alive the hope of the people, and prevented them from forgetting their immortality and destiny. Leaving their retreats and temples, in their white robes, they moved about among the people, helping and cheering, a silent protest against the crimes of the black-robed priests of the Aztecs.
During the reign of Quetzalcoatl, the palaces and temples of Mitla and Palenque were built, and it was at the latter place that the Great Mysteries were performed. The temples are mostly built on pyramids consisting of five or seven steps, rivaling those of Egypt in size and grandeur. The entrance to the chief temple was formed by a great serpent’s mouth, open and showing its fangs, so that the Spaniards thought it represented the gate of hell. In this temple has been found an altar with this inscription, “To the Unknown God, the Cause of Causes.” From these pyramids are passages leading down for great distances underground, just as do those in Egypt, and Quetzalcoatl in narrating one of his expeditions, describes a subterranean passage, which ran on underground and terminated at the root of the heavens. He adds that this passage was a snake’s hole, and that he was admitted to it because he was himself a “Son of the Snakes.”
This is very suggestive, for his description of the snake’s hole, is that of the Egyptian crypt. There were numerous catacombs in Egypt and Chaldea, some of them of very vast extent. The most renowned of these are the subterranean crypts of Thebes and Memphis. The former beginning on the west side of the Nile extended to the Libyan desert, and were known as the Serpent’s holes. It was there that were performed the sacred mysteries, the “Unavoidable Cycle,” the unavoidable doom imposed upon every soul at bodily death, when it had been judged in the Amentian regions.
The mysteries among the Mexicans were performed in temples whose ground plan was an oblong square—this represented the Universe. Both the Egyptian and Mexican letters M signified the earth or universe, and were pictured as an oblong. The roofs were always triangular, symbolical of the triune God, the Ruling Spirit of the Universe. This kind of arch is also found in the ancient tombs of Chaldea, in the Great Pyramid of Egypt, in Greece and many other countries. The triangular arches appear as land marks of one and the same doctrine, practiced in remote times in India, Egypt, Greece, Chaldea, and Central America.
The building was divided into three parts, having no apparent connection with each other. The central was the largest and opened into the Sanctuary or Holy of Holies, built in the shape of a cross, with a double set of arms.
The mysteries were of two kinds—the greater and lesser, divided into many degrees. The candidate for initiation must be pure, his character without blemish; he was commanded to study such things as tended to purify the mind. It was exceedingly difficult to attain the right of initiation into the Greater Mysteries.
Very little definite knowledge of the old Mexican religion can be gained, for the Spaniards on their landing, took care to destroy as many of the religious documents, and monuments, as possible. Some, however, escaped, and from them we learn, that Quetzalcoatl taught of one Supreme God “La” so far above human thought that it was useless even to attempt to symbolize it. With this Absolute Deity was connected the sign of the cross, held so sacred, that it was rarely used, except as the ground plan, upon which to construct, the Holy of Holies, and also in the cross of Palenque. The Egyptians too reverenced a superior Deity “Ra” so far from their other gods, that they did not know how to worship it. Both “Ra” in the Egyptian, and “La” in the Mexican languages, mean the same thing, “that which has existed forever, the eternal truth.” As in Egypt we find the Supreme Being standing at the head of a Trinity composed of itself, so also in Mexico. There we are told, “all that exists is the work of Izahol”—who by his will caused the universe to spring into existence, and whose names are: “Bitol, the Maker,” “Alom, the Engenderer,” and “Qaholom,” he who gives being. Here again we see the same truth, taught under different names in the widely severed countries of America, Asia, and Egypt, one more proof that if only we can get below the surface and outward differences, there we shall find the same Truth, overlaid it may be by speculations, theories and doubts, but waiting until the time when man shall weary of his own imaginings, and shall be willing to become once more a learner at the feet of the wise—who have striven ever to follow the wisdom of Nature.
The Mexican and Egyptian representations of the Creation, are almost identical, one of the best picturings is said to be sculptured over the doorway of a temple ascribed to Quetzalcoatl. A luminous egg emitting rays is seen floating on the water where it had been deposited by the Supreme Intelligence. In this egg is seated the Creator, his body painted blue, his loins surrounded by a girdle; he holds a sceptre in his left hand, his head is adorned with a plume of feathers, he is surrounded by a Serpent, the symbol of the Universe. They represented the creative and intelligent power, as a man seated, alluding to his immutable essence, the upper part naked because it was said the Universe in its upper portion, the skies, is seen most revealed; clothed from the waist below, because the terrestrial things are most hidden from view. He holds a sceptre in his left hand because the heart is on that side, and the heart is the seat of the understanding that regulates all actions of men.
In Egypt the Creative power, “Kneph,” is similarly pictured as a man of blue color, with the girdle and sceptre, he also has a plume of feathers, and the serpent is near. Emblematically he was figured under the form of a serpent. Most of the stories told us in the Bible are found under a slightly different coloring, among the records of Mexican teachings—such for instance, as the story of the flood, and it is worth noting that in all countries where the name Maya occurs, we find similar accounts of Deluges, from all of which, certain holy people—thet Noahs of the countries, escaped. In their story of the Deluge, the Mexicans referred to the terrible destruction of the continent of Atlantis. The Egyptians also preserved records of the same catastrophe, and laughed at the Greek philosophers, when they spoke of an Universal Deluge, for how could it have been universal and have destroyed the whole human race, when they themselves remained to tell the tale. Again the story of Cain and Abel is found retold under the personalities of Coh and Aac. In India in a poem known as the Ramayana, Cain becomes Maya, and Abel, Bali; while in Egypt it is the story of Osiris slain through the jealousy of his brother, Set. From all antiquity and by all nations, the tree and serpent worship have been most closely connected, so that in a country like Mexico, where the symbol of the serpent was more widely spread than has yet been discovered in any other country, we shall naturally expect to see it figured. We read “the ancient Mexicans were taught to hold certain trees in reverence, for they were the symbols of eternal life,” and “they believed in the immortality of the soul that would be rewarded or punished in the life beyond for its deeds while in the body; each soul was supposed to mete out its own fate. Among other rewards was rest under the shade of the evergreen ceiba tree, which is found even to this day planted in the sacred spots of Yucatan and Central America.
The Cross is another sacred symbol reverenced by all nations ages before the establishment of Christianity. Among the earliest types known on the Eastern Continent is the “Crux Ansata.” It was the “symbol of all symbols,” among the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, and the Chaldeans, being the emblem of the life to come. It was placed on the breast of the deceased. It is also seen adorning the breasts of statues and statuettes in Palenque, Copan and other localities of Central America. In Mayax it was the symbol of rejuvenescence and freedom from suffering, and was placed on the breast of the Initiate after his new birth. It was their most sacred sign and was connected with the element, water and rain. It was also connected with the Southern cross which appears in the heavens at the end of the dry season, when death from want of water seems to threaten all creation. It is a messenger of good tidings, announcing that the longed-for rain will descend from on high and with it joy and happiness, new life to all creatures. It was the symbol of the creative power, that is eternally renovating and revivifying all things on the earth—thus as a symbol of the life to come and immortality. The cross found on statues is called the Tau, and Tau is a Maya word (ti = here, a= water, α= month). “This is the month for water, for the resurrection of nature for the life to come.”
These are a few of the ideas which have seemed to gather round the name of Quetzalcoatl. They are but additional landmarks emphasizing the fact that at the back of all religions we come across familiar pictures and symbols pointing out plainly that there is but one religion. Many teachers have come at different times; they have taught the fundamental truths, that all Life is one Life—that the spirit of man is immortal; an emanation from the One Life, and will in the future return to its source—and that each one manages his own affairs; is his own absolute law-giver. Great Ones have had to endure reproach, slander, misrepresentation, forgetfulness; all have worked steadily, earnestly, without desire of reward, they have given what they possessed of moral, spiritual, mental and vital strength for the uplifting of humanity.
The day will come, when awakened from their sleep, people will honor and cherish memory of those Great Souls who will descend from on high, and with it joy worked for them in the past, and will do all in their power to help on the work of those who are now among us working and fighting for the Liberation of Man.