Bearded Gods of the Americas Were Jesus Resurrected?! Maybe. But Why is the Plumed Serpent Ubiquitous?
It is claimed by some authors that white missionaries or "gods" visited America before Christopher Columbus. Authors usually quote from mythology and legends which discuss ancient gods such as the Mexican Aztec’s Quetzalcoatl to conclude that the legends were actually based on Caucasians visiting those areas, and that the Caucasians were really the gods.
Rather than trying to account for all of the oral traditions in the Americas where accounts of foreign visitors in pre-Colombian times with physical characteristics quite unlike those of the local populations occur and where, this article will focus on a relatively small geographical area. Due to the author’s main area of expertise being that of the ancient people of what we now call Peru and Bolivia, the story of ancient visitation begins in the Lake Titicaca area, which Peru and Bolivia share. These two nations, and especially Peru, had likely the largest populations of people prior to the Spanish arrival, and boasted many great civilizations of which the Inca were the last, and perhaps largest. We will then travel along a northwestern path through Mexico and into the southwest US where similar stories of Plumed Serpent characters existed in the past.
It is in no way, shape or form my purpose to support racist concepts that Caucasians specifically arrived prior to the savage conquests of Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro and others and supposedly educated the local populations that were encountered. The “white god” and “white skin” terms may refer to people that arrived from distant lands and had skin tones lighter than the resident populations, but the idea that they were necessarily Caucasians has presumably no foundation in actual history.
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A bearded Moctezuma II, last Aztec ruler, visiting the tombs of his ancestors ( CC BY NC-SA 2.0 )
What is intriguing is that there are so many oral traditions, especially those of South and Central America, as well as Mexico (which is technically part of North America) that describe foreign visitors arriving bearing light skin, often reddish or even blonde hair, and beards. The latter is curious because most Native men of the Americas genetically have little to no facial hair, and many accounts of these foreign visitors stress them having full beards.
Controversial “White Gods”
Spanish chroniclers from the 16th century claimed that when the conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro first encountered the Inca in what is now Peru they were greeted as gods, "Viracochas", because their lighter skin resembled a possible description of their God Viracocha. This story was first reported by Pedro Cieza de León (1553) and later by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Similar accounts by Spanish chroniclers (e.g. Juan de Betanzos) describe Viracocha as a "White God", often with a beard. However, whether the Inca in fact believed this, or the story was simply made up by the Spanish themselves is uncertain.
Moche ceramic vessels depicting bearded men. (Pattych / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
British writer Harold T. Wilkins took the concept of the white gods the furthest, writing that a vanished white race had occupied the whole of South America in ancient times. Wilkins also claimed that Quetzalcoatl was from Atlantis. And the occultist James H. Madole influenced by Aryanism and Hinduism wrote that the Aryan race was of great antiquity and had been worshipped worldwide by lower races as "white gods". Madole also wrote that the Aryans originated in the Garden of Eden located in North America.
Some Mormons believe that the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, a figure sometimes described as white and bearded, who they say came from the sky and promised to return, was likely Jesus. According to the scriptural account recorded in the Book of Mormon, Jesus visited and taught natives of the Americas following his resurrection, and regarded them as the "other sheep," he had referenced during his mortal ministry. The Book of Mormon also claims that Jesus appeared to others, following his resurrection, even to the inhabitants on the "isles of the sea." This latter reference, may offer additional consideration of certain Polynesian accounts.
The Plumed Serpent
The Plumed or Feathered Serpent was a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. It or he was called Viracocha or Tunupa in the Inca and earlier cultures of Peru and Bolivia, Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs, Kukulkan by the Yucatec Maya, and Gucumatz and Tohil among the K'iche' Maya, for example. The double symbolism used in its name is considered allegoric to the dual nature of the deity or person, where being feathered represents its divine nature or ability to fly to reach the skies and being a serpent represents its human nature or ability to creep on the ground among other animals of the Earth, a dualism very common in Mesoamerican deities.
Viracocha is the great creator deity in Inca mythology. ( Public Domain )
The earliest conventionally dated representations of feathered serpents appear in the Olmec culture of present day Mexico (circa 1400-400 BC). Most surviving representations in Olmec art, such as Monument 19 at La Venta and a painting in the Juxtlahuaca cave show it as a crested rattlesnake, sometimes with feathers covering the body, and often in close proximity to humans. It is believed that Olmec supernatural entities such as the feathered serpent were the forerunners of many later Mesoamerican deities, although some western experts disagree on the feathered serpent's importance to the Olmec. Oral traditions are unknown as the Olmec apparently died out or were absorbed into the Maya culture at some point.
The author (left) at Tiwanaku in Bolivia with Sun Gate depicting Viracocha
The pantheon of the people of Teotihuacan (200 BCE – 700 AD) near present day Mexico City who were supposedly the Nahua, Otomi, and or Totonac ethnic groups also featured a feathered serpent, shown most prominently on the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (dated 150–200 AD). Several feathered serpent representations appear on the building, including full-body profiles and feathered serpent heads. And buildings in Tula, the capital of the later Toltecs (950–1150 AD), also featured profiles of feathered serpents. The Aztec (approximately 1250 to 1521 AD) feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl is known from several Aztec codices such as the Florentine codex, as well as from the records of the Spanish conquistadors. Quetzalcoatl was a bringer of knowledge, the inventor of books, and associated with the planet Venus. And the corresponding Mayan god Kukulkan was rare in the Classic era Maya civilization. However, in the Popol Vuh, the K'iche' feathered serpent god Tepeu Gucumatz is the creator of the cosmos.
Cortes as Quetzalcoatl
The stone head of Quetzalcoatl at Chichen Itza. (Author provided)
In his various incarnations, the feathered serpent was worshipped as the god of wind, the god of water and the morning star god. In 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes arrived in Mexico about the same time the Aztec had predicted the return of Quetzalcoatl. This is common in the story of the Feathered or Plumed Serpent in many cultures; that he arrived, taught, left and then declared that he would return. Moctezuma II, the Aztec ruler, allegedly believed that Cortes was the "reincarnation" of the Feathered Serpent. Moctezuma thought that Quetzalcoatl had returned to punish his people for misdeeds and thus he did not defend his city against the invaders. However, whether Moctezuma ever said or in fact believed this is unknown.
Very early drawing of Quetzelcoatl (Author provided)
As is often the case where oral traditions of indigenous people are recorded by and then rewritten by those that have conquered them, the original meaning is either skewed or in fact made up altogether as a propaganda tool to belittle the descendants of those conquered.
A case in point of this is the false belief that the Inca of South America made human sacrifices of hundreds if not thousands of their own people, or those that lived within their Inca Federation in order to appease their so called “gods” or deities. Such an idea was in fact a cruel tool invented by the early Catholic Jesuit priests in order to psychologically conquer the people of the area. Very few, as in less than 10 Inca sacrificial victims, have ever been found by archaeologists as far as the author knows. And the same can likely be said about the Maya and Aztec people, as well as many others.
Three Symbols and Three Worlds
What does the term Feathered or Plumed Serpent actually mean? What is it trying to describe? As is often the case, oral traditions of indigenous people cannot be interpreted in a literal sense, nor should they be dismissed, as they often are as being made up stories or “folklore.”
It has been and is often the case that western trained academics, especially those in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, do not consult with indigenous people as regards to how to properly interpret oral traditions, and the concept of the Feathered or Plumed Serpent is likely such a case.
For the Inca people and other cultures of the highlands of Peru and Bolivia, as well as the Peruvian coast, there were three animal figures that loomed prominent in their artistic and oral knowledge; the snake, puma and condor. Usually all three would be found together and three was their sacred number— whereas four was often the sacred number of other Native American people. As is usually the case, the true meaning of what these animals represented and why there were three rather than another number is far more complex than what most academic books and tour guides will tell you.
Basically, and what you will often hear is that the snake represented, and still represents to some people wisdom, while the puma is a symbol of strength and condor that of spirituality. On another level, they represent what are known as the lower, middle and upper worlds, as well as past, present and future. In a deeper way, they also mean snake=subconscious mind, puma= conscious mind and condor=superconscious.
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Bronze representation of snake, puma and condor near Machu Picchu (Source: Indie88)
As the snake in many traditions is known to be an ancient creature and crawls on the ground, it best represents the wisdom of the earth, and overwhelmingly and in various cultures, deals with primordial life force. For the Puma, these noble cats are symbols of courage and power, and were interpreted by the Inca and others to be the best symbol of the alert and conscious mind.
As regards the condor, the Andean condor is a national symbol of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuelan Andes states. It is the national bird of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. It plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the South American Andean regions, and has been represented in Andean art from circa 2500 BC onward. In Andean mythology, the Andean condor was associated with the sun deity, and was believed to be the ruler of the upper world, thus, the spiritual realm.
The Eagle and the Serpent
In Central America and Mexico, the snake symbol is very prevalent, as is the puma (or jaguar depending on the location) and the condor is replaced by the eagle. The current coat of arms of Mexico has been an important symbol of Mexican politics and culture for centuries. The coat of arms depicts a Mexican golden eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a snake. To the people of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City today) this would have strong religious connotations, but to the Europeans, it would come to symbolize the triumph of good over evil (with the snake sometimes representative of the serpent in the Garden of Eden).
The coat of arms recalls the founding of Mexico City, which again was originally called Tenochtitlan. The legend of Tenochtitlan as shown in the original Mexica codices, paintings, and post-Cortesian codices, does not include a snake. While the Fejérváry-Mayer codex depicts an eagle attacking a snake, other Mexica illustrations, such as the Codex Mendoza, show only an eagle. In the text of the Ramírez Codex, however, Huitzilopochtli (sun and war deity as well as the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan) asked the Tenochtitlan people to look for an eagle devouring a snake, perched on a prickly pear cactus.
The Coat of Arms of Mexico. (Public Domain )
In the text by Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, the eagle is devouring something, but it is not mentioned what it is. Still other versions (such as the backside of the Teocalli of the Sacred War) show the eagle clutching the Aztec symbol of war, the Atl-Tlachinolli glyph, or "burning water".
Moreover, the original meanings of the symbols were different in numerous aspects. The eagle was a representation of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, who was very important, as the Mexicas referred to themselves as the "People of the Sun". The cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica), full of its fruits, called "nochtli" in Nahuatl (the Aztec language), represent the island of Tenochtitlan. To the Mexicans, the snake represented wisdom, and it had strong connotations with the god Quetzalcoatl. The story of the snake was derived from an incorrect translation of the Crónica mexicáyotl by Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc. In the story, the Nahuatl text ihuan cohuatl izomocayan, "the snake hisses", was mistranslated as "the snake is torn". Based on this, Father Diego Durán reinterpreted the legend so that the eagle represents all that is good and right, while the snake represents evil and sin. Despite its inaccuracy, the new legend was adopted because it conformed with European heraldic tradition. To the Europeans it would represent the struggle between good and evil. Although this interpretation does not conform to pre-Columbian traditions, it was an element that could be used by the first missionaries for the purposes of evangelism and the conversion of the native peoples.
The actual interpretation by the author, if we remove all of the twists and turns of Spanish colonial polluted ideas is that the eagle and snake symbol could in fact represent the unity of the snake and condor, as in the merger of the subconscious and super conscious. Tenoch is said to have been an Aztec warrior/ruler who, according to legend, was given a vision in which he saw an eagle atop a cactus plant with a snake in its mouth and thus named the new Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.
However, the author learned during a trip through ancient sites in Mexico in February of 2015 from a local Native guide that Tenoch in fact means prophecy or prophet. Thus, Tenochtitlan would more correctly mean the “place of the prophesy” or “place of the prophets.” The act of prophesy is often best achieved through meditation where the conscious mind is cleared so that the subconscious and superconscious aspects of the mind may interact freely. Therefore, using a symbol such as a snake and eagle intertwined could in fact represent a high state of being, rather than the worn out and erroneous “good versus evil” paradigm.
So, it could be that the Plumed/Feathered Serpent concept is one that represents a being, person or people of a very high state of mental consciousness. That the Plumed and Feathered Serpent story is found in various parts of South and Central America as well as Mexico and into the United States is of course intriguing, especially if the varied groups involved were not in contact with each other.
Top image: Moctezuma II, the last Aztec ruler, shown with beard ( Public Domain )