15 November 2020

More thoughts on the origin and significance of Quetzalcoatl

Latter-Day Saints have long been interested in establishing a connection between ancient American legends of Quetzalcoatl (and similar deities from a variety of cultures) and Jesus Christ's visit as told in the Book of Mormon. It should be noted that this idea is not new; Spanish chroniclers wrote down these beliefs and noted their similarity. So, this idea is not something that was created in support of the veracity of the Book of Mormon account, but perhaps latched onto because it was appealing. 

Obviously, the scientific world does not think much of this view, pointing out the need to be skeptical of the Spanish, who may have had other interests in mind. The native populations they met may have also altered their stated beliefs for reasons of their own as they related them to their conquerors. This may explain the examples of seemingly Biblical stories and practices found among the Maya, Aztecs, and other later cultures, or it may not. Even some LDS scholars and commentators, such as Brandt Gardner, not only discourage making these connections, but even affirm there is no support for a Christlike Quetzalcoatl (or Gukumatz, or Kukulcan, or Viracocha) older than Spanish records, asserting that this similarity was basically a Spanish invention.

Leaving aside why the idea of a deity similar to Christ would appeal to the Catholic conquerors (after all, they weren't Mormons), we can look at the widely-held indigenous belief in a feathered serpent deity, which is found among many ancient cultures and combines unexpected animal aspects. An admittedly non-scientific article on Ancient Origins deals this this topic. It discusses the idea that these (bearded?) gods of the Americas may have been the resurrected Jesus, even mentioning LDS beliefs and the account of his visit in the Book of Mormon. This assertion is no longer as widely ridiculed as it has been in the past. But it delves into what is perhaps a more important question of why the serpent, a creature from the ground, was combined with a bird, a creature from the sky, to form a singular god.

The symbol of the eagle and the snake is also important to Aztec origin legends and is found on the flag of Mexico. As stated in the article, this legend was misinterpreted by the Spanish as the eagle representing good and the serpent evil, which fits in nicely with European heraldry and Christian theology. But a more accurate representation of these attributes may be much more complex. The suggestion in this article is that the earthly and heavenly creatures may represent different states of consciousness together in one being. Another idea we suggest is that the idea of a feathered serpent god is to suggest a deity combining heavenly and earthly attributes, or we might say, divine and mortal. Looking at it in this way, it's not too hard to think of Jesus Christ the Son of God, who embodied both the divine and the mortal in his person, as necessary in carrying out his atoning sacrifice. 

In conclusion, perhaps Quetzalcoatl doesn't need to be a bearded white man after all. Perhaps the symbolism of the earthly and the divine combined in one individual is enough. Just something to think about.