Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of Feb 11th - Feb 17th, 2005

South of the Border

Columns Archive

      Our trail of the tale of the dragon continues this week as we turn to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Here we find not only the legend of Quetzalcoatl, one of the most powerful and legendary of all the Central American deities, but also of pyramids, similar to the Egyptian pyramids and Mesopotamian ziggurats found in the Near East. It's curious that each of these massive construction efforts, based upon similar styles of architecture, were used as platforms from which to view the stars. Was this coincidence or cultural diffusion?

      There are certain clues we have come to watch for in our global search for the dragon. One of these is the serpent biting or chasing his own tail. Another is that he grows so large that he encompasses the entire world, like the Midgard Serpent of Scandinavian fame. Still another is that this serpent is sometimes found with a crown upon his head, such as the Thai and Navajo serpents, remembering back to a time when he held the pole position, the highest seat of the firmament. Thor and the World Serpent

      The mythic record reports that many of these celestial serpents were linked to flood, lightning, thunder and earthquakes. Enkidu warns Gilgamesh that Humbaba, a creature with 'teeth like dragon's fangs' who lives among the cedars of Lebanon, can flatten the trees of the forest and reeds of the swamp with merely a look. Hercules battles a serpent who spews the flood, as does the Book of Revelation. Other clues are the serpent pinned by sword, arrow, or spear, and wrapped around a pillar, pole, column or tree, representing the celestial axis around which the dragon coils. This evokes his relationship to the Equinoxes, for astronomically he sits high atop the summit of the equatorial circle. Let us now turn our attention to the tales of Quetzalcoatl, and see what we learn.

      The Temple of Kukulkan (his Mayan name, known to the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl) is the largest and most important ceremonial structure at Chichen Itza. This 90 foot tall pyramid was built during the 11th to 13th centuries upon the foundations of earlier temples. It's architecture encodes information regarding the Mayan calendar. Each face of the four-sided structure has a stairway with ninety-one steps, which, together with the shared step at the top, add up to the 365 in a year. These stairways also divide the nine terraces of each side of the pyramid into eighteen segments, the eighteen months of the Mayan calendar. The pyramid is oriented to mark the solstices and equinoxes. The axes which run through the northwest and southwest corners are aligned toward sunrise at the summer solstice and sunset at the winter solstice. The northern stairway was the sacred path leading to the summit. At sunset on the equinoxes, an interplay between the sun's light and the edges of the stepped terraces on the pyramid creates a brief shadow display upon the sides of the northern stairway. A serrated line of seven interlocking triangles gives the impression of a long tail leading downward to the stone head of the serpent Kukulkan, at the base of the stairway.

Pyramid of Kukulkan       In Mexico, the feathered serpent, in other words the flying snake or the dragon, can be glimpsed descending to the Earth on the equinoxes using the northern staircase, the one which faces our circumpolar northern constellation of Draco.

      Are we surprised?


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