Athena's Web

Week of November 19th - 25th,  1999

The Dragon's Crown

Columns Archive

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   Last week we examined some of the connections between the serpents of Central America and the Southwest, postulating that many of these cultural motifs may have had a common origin. We uncovered images of the Mayan double headed serpent, and legends of the Hopi serpents which stood at each of the Earth's poles. We looked at the composition of the name Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, and posed that this, indeed, may be our flying celestial serpent, the dragon of Mesopotamian, Asian, Indian and European myths.

   Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec name for this legendary creature. The Aztecs were the civilization overthrown by the Spanish during their conquests. The Mayans were the Aztecs' predecessors; with the latter absorbing much of the Mayan culture in the same way that the Romans borrowed much of their culture from the Greeks. But Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec equivalent to the Mayan Kukulcan, and here, too, we find some interesting parallels.

Quetzalcoatl-Man-and-Beast

Quetzalcoatl, in both human and serpentine forms

   From Zelia Nuttall's The Fundamental Principles of Old and New World Civilizations,

   "...the word 'can' means serpent and the numeral four, and is almost homonymous with the word for sky or heaven -'caan'. The image of a serpent, therefore, directly suggested and expressed the idea of something quadruple incorporated in one celestial being and appropriately symbolized the divine ruler of the four quarters."

  Both 'Ku' and 'Kul' are translated as 'divine' or 'holy' so that Kukulcan can be understood to mean 'the divine serpent'. The Mayan adjective 'feathered' is 'kukum', which brings us back to the quetzal bird and the Aztec name for the feathered serpent. The feathers of Quetzalcoatl are always depicted as the precious tail feathers of this bird, which are both rare and beautiful. Depending on the angle of the light, these feathers appear to be blue, red, yellow or green. These are also the four colors associated with the four quarters of the world according to Mexican mythology.

   If, in fact, Quetzalcoatl and Kukulcan are our circumpolar constellation, then the symbolism of the association between snake and bird becomes immediately clear. The Dragon stands at the North Celestial Pole, the highest fixed reference point from a geocentric perspective. It is the single point where north, south, east and west come together; the four quarters of the world, hence, the association between four and the serpent. It is, indeed, 'something quadruple incorporated in one celestial being'. The Chinese, who worked with a cosmological system which divided the world into five parts (wood, metal, earth, water, and fire), depicted their Imperial Dragon with not four, but five toes, and dreaded the silk dyed of five colors (Web 5/30/97), for with this knowledge he could be correctly bound and contained.

   But the crown of heaven, as depicted on our Navajo vase, is similar to the golden crest of the classical dragon, the crown of the Naga-king (India), and even the crowns on the head of the dragon in the Book of Revelation. It explains the dragon's immortality, for he/she is always visible, and eternally vigilant, forever commanding both the stars and night, devouring the Sun at night, while disgorging it again in the daytime.

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Motif on the Xochicalco Pyramid

Motif on the Xochicalco Pyramid

The War Serpent

   The Xochicalco Pyramid is one of the most exciting, oldest, and richest archaeological sites in Mexico. It's name means 'Place of the House of Flowers', and it flourished for almost a century after the fall of Teotihuacan, between 800 and 900 AD. It may have had its beginnings as early as 250 BC. Many of these images continue to mystify the archaeologists, but note what appears to be water pouring from the mouth of Quetzalcoatl. Could this, in fact, be our watery serpentine circumpolar constellation?

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