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Quetzalcoatl ("feathered serpent" in Nahuatl) was the Aztec god of wind and learning and the arts and crafts, the patron god of the priesthood, and was associated with the planet Venus (due to its importance as a sign of the beginning of the rainy season), the dawn, merchants, civilization, and urban culture. As Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, "lord of the star of the dawn" (Venus) he invented books and the calendar, gave maize (corn) to mankind, and sometimes served as a symbol of death and resurrection. His cultic center was at Cholula in Mexico, where the world's largest pyramid was dedicated to his worship. Quetzalcoatl's ally Tlaloc, the god of rain, lightning, and thunder, was also associated with Venus; and his twin brother Xolotl was Venus the evening star. He was represented by resplendent quetzals, rattlesnakes, crows, and macaws, as Ehecatl, the wind itself, by spider monkeys and ducks, and as the morning star by a harpy eagle. He was approximately equivalent to Kukulkan and Gukumatz, names that also roughly translate as "feathered serpent" in different Mayan languages, and the Maya often regarded a snake as the embodiment of the sky, while a Vision Serpent was a shamanic helper presenting Maya kings with visions of the underworld; at Yaxchilan the Vision Serpent had a human face that resembled the Young Maize god (who was also connected to Venus). To the Maya, snakes were also related to Venus, fertility, and vegetational renewal. As early as ca. 800 BCE the Olmecs at La Venta depicted a serpent rising up behind a person probably engaged in a shamanic ritual; the worship of a feathered serpent in Teotihuacan was at least as old as the 1st century BCE. In Teotihuacan and Mayan cultures, Venus was symbolically connected with warfare; Teotihuacan imagery suggested that the War Serpent symbolized the outwards military expansion of their empire, while the feathered serpent was a symbol of fertility and internal political structures and was also part of a triad of agricultural deities with Tlaloc and the Goddess of the Cave who symbolized motherhood, reproduction and life.
To the Aztecs he was a maker and breaker of the boundary between earth and sky. After the destruction of the fourth "sun" (a cycle of time), he journeyed to Mictlan, the underworld, and, with the help of Cihuacoatl he recrated mankind from the bones of the previous races and then wounded his earlobes, calves, tongue, and penis for the blood to imbue the bones with life. His name was also a priestly title among the Aztecs, and the two most important priests of the Templo Mayor were called "Quetzalcoatl Tlamacazqui." Different deities were associated with the cycle-of-year names in their ritual calendar -- Quetzalcoatl was tied to 1519, the year Ce Acatl (One Reed). After the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, he was sometimes conflated with the 10th-century Toltec ruler Topiltzin Cē Ācatl Quetzalcōatl ("Our Prince One-Reed Feathered Serpent") of Tollan, who founded the Pipil/Cuzcatlec capital Cuzcatlán in El Salvador after his exile by his enemy, his brother-in-law Tezcatlipoca; the son of Mixcoatl ("Cloud Serpent"), the god of war, fire, and the hunt, and Chimalman, he introduced civilization to his people, the ancestors of the Aztecs, and replaced human sacrifice with the ritual slaughter of animals and blood from the priests of the serpent cult; at 53 he went into the Gulf of Mexico and burned himself to death, and the resultant smoke became Venus. According to the Florentine Codex, written under the direction of the Franciscan missionary Bernardino de Sahagún, the Aztecs believed he would return one day and reclaim his kingdom, and that Moctezuma II thus mistook Hernán Cortés for Quetzalcoatl when he arrived in 1519. He was usually depicted with Quetzalcoatl's plumed headpiece, curved baton (chicoacolli) and feather-rimmed shield with the spirally voluted conch shell emblem, the ehecacozcatl (wind jewel), on it. In Mazatec legends he bore a close relationship with the astrologer deity Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, who was also represented by Venus. Tales concerning his birth varied widely: the god Onteol appeared to the virgin Chimalman in a dream and impreganted her; or she became pregnanat as the result of an arrow that Mixcoatl shot into her womb; or she swallowed an emarald and conceived Quetzalcoatl. Elsewhere, he was the son of Coatlicue, who already had 400 children, the Milky Way, or a son of Xochiquetzal and Mixcoatl, Or else he was one of the four sons of Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl: these four Tezcatlipocas presided over the four cardinal directions; the Blue Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli the god of war, presided over the south, the Red Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec the god of gold, farming, and spring, over the east, the Black Tezcatlipoca, the god of judgment, night, deceit, sorcery, and the Earth, over the north, and Quetzalcoatl, the White Tezcatlipoca, the god of light, justice, mercy, and wind, over the west; the Black Tezcatlipoca tricked him into becoming drunk and sleeping with a celibate priestess (in some accounts, his sister Quetzalpetlatl), and he burned himself to death out of remorse, becoming the morning star.
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