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Posts Tagged ‘Quetzalcoatl’

With a simple title like “Dragon Tales,” perhaps it isn’t surprising that it’s been used more than once. After covering the Dav Pilkey easy reader by that name, I also cast my mind back to a television show that once aired on PBS. Like the Pilkey book, Dragon Tales was aimed at younger kids. It “definitely” showed a sweeter and softer side of dragons. (If your kids ever watched the show, you’ll get that joke.)

The show’s roots are in a series of loosely connected paintings by artist Ron Rodecker. TV producer Jim Coane spotted the whimsical watercolors and worked with Rodecker and various writers to develop the show as Dragon Tales. The show aired on PBS Kids beginning in fall of 1999. Episodes were generated through the 2004-2005 season, and re-runs continued until 2010.

In a Narnia-like opening episode, Emmy (age 6) and her little brother Max (age 4) move into their new house and discover a dragon scale in a secret hiding place. With the scale is a simple rhyme. When Emmy reads it, she and Max are transported to the magical kingdom of Dragon Land. There they discover that other human children have visited the dragons before but the visits eventually stopped. The dragons have been waiting and hoping for more human friends to find them.

The two kids soon make friends with some dragon kids who are roughly the same ages, and the show is on. Together they travel Dragon Land solving problems like sibling rivalry, facing one’s fears, losing a contest gracefully, etc. They often help out various cute and entertaining characters like the Giant of Nod and the cloud dragon Polly Nimbus. There’s even a mentoring dragon school teacher named Quetzal.

As I mentioned, it’s all very sweet. Older kids will no doubt gag at the silly characters and simple plots. It’s a great fit for kids in the target age, with little overt language-learning compared to shows like Dora the Explorer, which aired around the same time. If you’d like your little ones to grow up as fantasy fans, episodes are easily found on the Internet or your local video shop.

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I’m doing a signing today for my latest book, The Seven Exalted Orders, so I’m short of time, but here’s a recap of the ten most-viewed posts from 2013.

10. A Real (Dead) Sea Monster, 10/16/13
09. Quetzalcoatl Part 2, 9/4/13
08. Lindworms Part 3, 2/12/13
07. Legend of Yamata no Orochi, 5/14/13
06. Sheet Metal Dragon, 9/11/13
05. Just For Fun 13, 1/22/13
04. Chicken Naga Curry, 4/30/13
03. Just For Fun 14, 3/28/13
02. Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, 1/4/13
01. Eight Immortals Cross the Sea, 10/26/13

If you missed some of these, or want to see one again, here’s your chance to check it out. Enjoy!

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The legend of Quetzalcoatl has another interesting parallel in European myth: like King Arthur, Quetzalcoatl’s lore may be based upon the life of a real person.

According the Aztecs (as translated by their Spanish conquerors in the early 1500s) the Quetzalcoatl’s cult was so widespread among the Toltecs that all their priests bore the god’s name as their official title. And in the quasi-mythical city of Tollan (identified by some with Teotihuacan, near Mexico City) there was a mighty Toltec ruler named Ce Acatl Topiltzin. He was a wise leader who taught his citizens the arts and sciences (as Quetzalcoatl himself had been said to do). Topiltzin fell from power when he violated his own laws and banished himself on a raft of serpents (also as Quetzalcoatl had been said to do).

However, Topiltzin did not burn to death on his raft. He made his way across the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of Yucatan, where he encountered the Itza Maya people. The Maya were celebrating a festival to Kukulkan, another feathered-serpent god. Topiltzin was received as the second coming of Kukulkan. Whether by divine intent or human wiles, he ruled over Chichen Itza and bestowed much of the same learning he had granted the people of Tollan. Even today, feathered serpents are a major decorative element in Chichen Itza.

Alas, Topiltzin’s enemies pursued him as vigorously as Tezcatlipoca had pursued Quetzalcoatl. Topiltzin’s divinity was overthrown, and he was forced to flee to Uxmal, where he committed suicide. Perhaps he gave his life in a ceremony to restore divine favor, much like the gods who sought to restore the sun’s light in the Aztec creation myth.

Topiltzin may be centuries dead, but his legend lingers into modern times. Archarologists research his reputed dwelling places in search of clues about his identity and the life he led, just as British archaeologists search for clues about King Arthur. Others claim he was only a shadow created by Spanish missionaries who wanted to justify their conquest.

What is interesting to me about this story is that it shows the ebb and flow between a succession of peoples in Central America. Civilizations came and went, but the legend of Quetzalcoatl endures.

As an aside, I’ve been having a bit of trouble receiving some of the blogs I follow. My reader is no longer e-mailing your posts to me. I’m working on that, and just wanted you to know I haven’t lost interest in your blogs.

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Reviewing the Aztec creation myth reminded me how unique the cosmology of Central America was compared to Western myths we’re more familiar with. Europe and Asia were connected by land, though the passage wasn’t easy. Legends and stories could be transmitted even to regions as distant as China. So there was a certain synchronicity in the folklore of Europe and Asia.

The Americas, by contrast, were isolated by sea and existed in their own world. They had a separate synchronicity of thought and expression that passed from people to people. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that their idea of what a god should be was strikingly different from what people of Western traditions assume.

People in Central and South America did not love and admire their gods. They desperately feared the divine. Their creation myths were full of disasters, and their rituals were equally grim. To please such terrifying gods, Mayas, Aztecs and Incas sacrificed generously and often. They gave the best that they had: gold, jade, and blood. We’ve all heard lurid tales of human sacrifices, the hearts cut from living bodies or virgins drowned in bottomless wells, but it wasn’t only prisoners who were sacrificed. Every priest and politician took part in bloodletting rituals where they cut themselves to buy favor for their people.

As one friend commented on my previous post, these religions were raw and visceral, not at all the sweetly sanitized mythology we study in school!

Although Quetzalcoatl may not seem all that dragon-like — a feathered serpent who didn’t fly, had no fiery breath — the rituals of his religion still hold that element of virgin sacrifice. Perhaps, even with sea on both sides, the folklore of Central America shared a connection to the west, after all.

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The myths of Central America contain several dragon-like characters, of whom the best known is Quetzalcoatl. This major deity of several civilizations was half of a titanic divine war in creation myth.

Quetzalcoatl’s cult has been identified first among the Toltecs of central Mexico. It was later adopted by the Aztec civilization, who regarded the Toltecs as their forebearers in much the same way Medieval Europeans did toward Rome. Worship of this deity was not only limited to the Aztecs, however. Artifacts of the Feathered Serpent are found all over Central America, wherever the Maya and their kin held sway.

According to the Aztec creation myth, the world was created by Ometecutli (Lord of Duality) and Omechihuatl (Lady of Duality). This pair had four sons, all major deities. They were Tezcatlipoca, Huitzilopochtli, Tonatiuh and Quetzalcoatl. Tezcatlipoca was the lord of evil, darkness, and sorcery. Ironically, he transformed himself into the first sun and lit the world, but the other gods could not accept this because of his evil. Quetzalcoatl cast Tezcatlipoca into the sea, plunging the world back into darkness. Enraged, Tezcatlipoca assumed the form of a giant jaguar and destroyed all human life.

Quetzalcoatl then became the second sun and shone in the heavens. As lord of agriculture, industry, and the arts, his reign was benevolent. But Tezcatlipoca was only biding his time. He clawed Quetzalcoatl down from the sky, causing hurricanes and floods as the sun went dark. Almost all the humans were killed, but the few who survived became monkeys in the trees.

In response, the rest of the gods banished both Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca from the heavens. They chose Tlaloc, god of rain and thunder, to be the third sun. But Quetzalcoatl was angry, and he caused a rain of fire that dried up all the rivers and again destroyed all but a few humans. Those who survived became birds in the sky.

After this, Quetzalcoatl created the goddess Chalchiutlicue to become the fourth sun. Now it was Tezcatlipoca who was overcome by jealousy. He sent a massive flood to drown the sun and earth. Once again, all but a few humans perished. They survived as fishes in the sea.

Once again, the world languished in darkness. All the gods gathered at Teotihuacan and vowed to sacrifice until there was light again. Two gods gave up their very lives. The moon appeared, lighting the darkness. It wasn’t the same, and some of the gods threw a rabbit at the moon, trying to strike it down. The rabbit’s image was imprinted on the moon, but the power of the sacrifice withstood their assault. At last there was light again.

After this, Quetzalcoatl atoned by traveling to underworld and gathering the bones of all the humans who had died in his war with Tezcatlipoca. He sprinkled them with his own blood, and they came back to life! Thus, all Aztecs considered themselves to be Quetzalcoatl’s children.

Alas, Tezcatlipoca still nursed his grudge. He snuck into the village where Quetzalcoatl ruled, and spiked Quetzalcoatl’s drink with mushrooms. While intoxicated, Quetzalcoatl committed incest with his sister. He was so shamed that he no longer considered himself fit to rule. Quetzalcoatl sailed into the east on a raft, but the raft caught fire and he burned to death. His ashes turned into birds and carried his heart back up to the heavens, where it shone brightly as the morning star.

Despite his violent deeds, the Feathered Serpent left his people with a legacy of accomplishment in the arts and agriculture. Worthy of a dragon, indeed.

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