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Feathered Serpent

Aztec era stone sculptures of feathered serpents on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

Feathered Serpent

Feathered Serpent heads cover the Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan.

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A Feathered Serpent from deep in the Juxtlahuaca cave. Stylistically tied to the Olmec, this red Feathered Serpent has a crest of now-faded green feathers.
Courtesy of Matt Lachniet, used with permission.

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The Feathered Serpent was a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. It was called Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs, Kukulkan among the Yucatec Maya, and Q'uq'umatz and Tohil among the K'iche' Maya. The double symbolism used in its name is considered allegoric to the dual nature of the deity, 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.

The earliest representations of feathered serpents appear in the Olmec culture (circa 1400-400 BCE). Most surviving representations in Olmec art, such as Monument 19 at La Venta and a painting in the Juxtlahuaca cave (see below), 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 experts disagree on the feathered serpent's importance to the Olmec.

The pantheon of the people of Teotihuacan (200 BCE – 700 CE) also featured a feathered serpent, shown most prominently on the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (dated 150–200 CE).[6] Several feathered serpent representations appear on the building, including full-body profiles and feathered serpent heads.

Buildings in Tula, the capital of the later Toltecs (950–1150 CE), also featured profiles of feathered serpents.

The Aztec 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.

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 Q'uq'umatz is the creator of the cosmos.

Along with the feathered serpent deity, several other serpent gods existed in the pantheon of Mesoamerican gods with similar traits.

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