The difference between “the great god Quetzalcoatl and the hombre-dios Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl”
Among the Aztecs, the great god Quetzalcoatl is actually a deity. In this form, he is a creator god who ruled over the second era of creation (Carrasco, 1998). In addition, the great god Quetzalcoatl was the patron of knowledge, arts, and agriculture. He had the power over the sun and the solar system, having created the calendar and the world through cosmic dive. In fact, this god was one of the most powerful deities, as it was believed that he gave life to humans and animals in addition to providing them with the energy to harvest (Carrasco, 1998).
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The great god Quetzalcoatl does not take human form but is depicted to have taken other forms such as wind (Ehecatl). In such forms, he announced the coming of seasons such as rains or drought. The god has a close relationship with cycles and other bodies such as Venus (Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli). He also has power over life because Carrasco learned from the Aztecs that this god revitalized the bones of the dead after he revived himself from death (Olivier, 2003).
On the other hand, the hombre-Dios Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl may have been one of the lesser gods among the Aztecs and may have come later after the Great god. Unlike the great god, hombre-Dios Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl is depicted to take human forms. For instance, taking the form of a human being, this god is said to have been born by a human being. The mother had swallowed a precious green stone that made her pregnant. The hombre-diosTopiltzin Quetzalcoatl revenged against his father’s death, which contributed to his heroic ascension to the great throne. In addition, in his human form, the hombre-diosTopiltzin Quetzalcoatl is said to have been trained to become a priest and a great warrior (Carrasco, 1998). Unlike the great god, the hombre-diosTopiltzin Quetzalcoatl is said to have organized an earthly kingdom among the Mayas. In this kingdom, the hombre-diosTopiltzin Quetzalcoatl ruled until his ultimate fall, after which he fled from Tollan but with a promise to return. In fact, the fact that Carrasco was welcomed to the Aztec community as a ‘god’ is probably an indication of the peoples’ wait for the return of the hombre-diosTopiltzin Quetzalcoatl (Olivier, 2003). This is probably the reason why the Aztecs confused the coming of the Spaniards with the return of the god. In addition, unlike the great god, this god took the form of other animals such as the serpent rather than that of things like the wind (Carrasco, 1998).
The sacred career of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl
Birth and ritual training
Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was born of four different possible fathers, but it is believed that Mixcoat or the cloud serpent was the most probable father. Although his mother is not named in most times, Carrasco mentions that Chimalman was the most probable name for the mother (Carrasco, 1998). In his life, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was born in a sacred way, depicting his powers as a deity in form of a human. The mother is believed to have swallowed a precious and mysterious green stone before becoming pregnant (Olivier, 2003). The father was actually a deity, which depicts the connection between human and supernatural powers. According to Carrasco, it is probably through the mysterious birth of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl that the connectedness between mankind and deities is shown to exist among the Aztecs.
Model worrier and sacrifice
According to Carrasco, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl is said to have changed the way Aztecs made sacrifices by discouraging his followers from offering human sacrifices. Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was not only a great warrior but also a knowledgeable priest. According to Carrasco, it is evident that although Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was meant to be a great priest, his functional life began as a great warrior. The main purpose of assuming the warrior’s life was probably meant to allow Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl revenge for his father’s death. Although Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl’s real father is not well documented, it was believed that his father, a deity, was killed in a fight with his brother and that Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was determined to revenge the death (Carrasco, 1998). His vigorous training in the wilderness and guidance of Venus may have promoted his skills until he revenged the death and created a great kingdom on earth. As a great sacrifice, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl is said to have realized that human beings were taking the sacrifice too far by offering human sacrifices. Under his rule, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl taught his followers the need to respect human life and body. He encouraged them to stop practices that involved human sacrifice but to engage in self-sacrifice as a means of service to other people.
Tollan (splendid city)
While traveling via Tollantzinco, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl founded little Tollan or the Tollan, where he reigned for years as a ruler and the high priest. Despite his prowess and great respect for humanity, his reign and the city are frequently threatened and actually invaded by other lesser gods, including Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror). In this great city, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl’s rule was characterized by a great dedication to arts. For instance, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl is said to have encouraged, and sometimes forced his people to appreciate and made artworks. It is during his reign that great sculptures and other works of art were developed, including depictions of mysterious gods and events, the great temples, pyramids, and other objects (Miller & Taube, 2003). The city was decorated with works of art, some of which have been documented by archaeologists.
Death and deification of the human body
Despite Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl’s ability to create a strong kingdom on earth, other gods, most probably led by Tezcatlipoca, destroyed his reign. This latter deity is said to possess some malevolent tricks and transformations that outdid the powers of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. Fearing his life, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl fled Tollan through a long flight that took him through Puebla and the Basins of Mexico. He is said to have stopped over Cholollan and other places and was with a band of his followers, finally settling at Tlillan Tlapallan where he is said to have cremated his soul before ascending to heaven (Carrasco, 1998). He sacrificed his body through cremation or by burning it, while his soul ascended to the heavens and converted into the ‘morning star’. Before leaving, he promised to return to the earth in royal dignity. According to Carrasco, the coming of the Spaniards was one of the major significant events in the later periods of the Mayan communities. Coming from the sea and having different physical features from the South American native tribes, the Spaniards were confused with the return of the old gods, specifically Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. The myth may have helped the Spaniards develop a close relationship with the Aztecs and probably earning them some respect and special positions as gods.
The connection of Mesoamerican Religion to the contemporary culture
Although the beliefs held in the Mesoamerican religion were actually full of false myths, some situations and events describe some sort of connectedness with the modern cultures and religions. For instance, consider the belief in the birth of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and the Judeo-Christian belief in the birth of Jesus. In both cases, it is apparent that connectedness between human and the deities are real and considered one of the most important parts of the religion. While the birth of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was sacred because he was born of a deity as the father and a female human as the mother, Jesus was born of a holy spirit as the father and Mary, a human female.
In both cases, the females are said to have been approached by a deity and made pregnant in a mysterious way- the mother to Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl swallowed a precious green stone while Mary encountered the Holy Spirit (Olivier, 2003). Secondly, the lives of the two deities, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and Jesus, are marked with some training to get some sacred career. Both were trained artists and religious teachers. In addition, they changed some religious ways such as the manner of offering sacrifices. Both Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and Jesus had some respect for humanity and called their followers to avoid causing harm to other people. Finally, both characters left their human bodies as sacrifices and assumed a supernatural form as a way of exiting the world, but with a promise of returning to create an everlasting kingdom on earth.
Carrasco, D. (1998). Religions of Mesoamerica: Cosmovision and Ceremonial Centers. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
Miller, M., & Taube, K. (2003). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. London, UK: Thames and Hudson.
Olivier, G. (2003). Mockeries and Metamorphoses of an Aztec God: Tezcatlipoca, ‘Lord of the Smoking Mirror’. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.