Quetzalcóatl, (Nahuatl: quetzalli, “tail feather of the quetzal bird and coatl, “snake”), the Feathered Serpent, one of the major deities of the ancient Mexican pantheon. Quetzalcoatl is a primordial god of creation, a giver of life. With his opposite Tezcatlipoca he created the world. Quetzalcoatl is also called White Tezcatlipoca, to contrast him to the black Tezcatlipoca.
There are several stories about the birth of Quetzalcoatl. In one version of the myth, Quetzalcoatl was born by a virgin named Chimalman, to whom the god Onteol appeared in a dream. In another story, the virgin Chimalman conceived Quetzalcoatl swallowing an emerald. A third story tells how Chimalman was hit in the womb by an arrow shot by Mixcoatl and nine months later she gave birth to a child which was called Quetzalcoatl. A fourth story narrates that Quetzalcoatl was born from Coatlicue, who already had four hundred children who formed the stars of the Milky Way.
Quetzalcóatl ruled over the days that bore the name ehécatl (“wind”). As the god of learning, writing, and of books, Quetzalcóatl was particularly venerated in the calmecac, religious colleges annexed to the temples, in which the future priests and the sons of the nobility were educated. Outside of Tenochtitlán, the main centre of Quetzalcóatl’s cult was Cholula, on the Puebla plateau.
Descriptions of a feathered snake occur as early as the Teotihuacán civilization on the central plateau. Quetzalcóatl seems to have been conceived as a vegetation god of earth and water who was closely associated with the rain god Tlaloc.
With the immigration of Nahua-speaking tribes from the north, Quetzalcóatl’s cult underwent several changes. The Toltec culture centred at the city of Tula, emphasized war and human sacrifice linked with the worship of heavenly bodies. Quetzalcóatl became the god of the morning and evening star, and his temple was the centre of ceremonial life in Tula.
In Aztec times Quetzalcóatl was revered as the patron of priests, the inventor of the calendar and of books, and the protector of goldsmiths and other craftsmen; he was also identified with the planet Venus. As the morning and evening star, Quetzalcóatl was the symbol of death and resurrection. With his companion Xolotl, a dog-headed god, he was said to have descended to the underground hell of Mictlan to gather the bones of the ancient dead. Those bones he anointed with his own blood, giving birth to the men who inhabit the present universe.