When I wrote my series on Boquillas, I mentioned that while writing it I went down several “Rabbit Holes” as I did my background research. The root of this expression, of course, traces back to the book “Alice in Wonderland,” where Alice follows the White Rabbit down his hole and into Wonderland.*
And one can certainly argue about whether “Wonderland” is the appropriate name for that subterranean realm because Alice’s adventures there don’t seem to be all that marvelous and delightful.
But that’s another Rabbit Hole that I’ll dodge for the moment.
So here we are, down one of the many side tunnels I ran down when exploring Southern Texas and Northern Mexico. This one is about an Ancient Legend and an Ancient Pterosaur.
How did I get here? And how do these two things overlap?
Well, it’s like this. On one of the days I was in Big Bend National Park, after I had explored Boquillas Canyon, I headed East to check out the Park’s “Fossil Discovery Exhibit.” I had almost decided to skip the exhibit, but that little voice in the back of my mind said, “Check it out you dummy, when will you be so close again?” So I did. And it was there that I stumbled upon Quetzalcoatlus northropi.
It was so huge it would have been difficult to miss it.
To say the word “AMAZING” doesn’t get close to capturing the feeling of awe when you gaze upon this relic of antiquity. And the fully restored replica on display, with an 18-foot wingspan, is a baby compared to the other remains discovered.
This Pterosaur can have a wingspan reaching up to 36 feet, and could weigh up to 500 pounds. They used their legs and wings to walk on land, and used its incredibly long jaws to probe in shallow waters when hunting. Fossil discoveries also demonstrate that pterosaurs were covered with hair.
This particularly amazing beast lived somewhere between 65 and 220 million years ago.
Besides being struck by the size of this airborne critter, its name, much like many other words, immediately caught my attention, and I veered off down several more tunnels in this Warren.
Quetzalcoatlus northropi derived its name from the Ancient Aztec God Quetzalcoatl and a human being. The Non-Earthly and the Earthly. The Airborne and the Grounded. The Spiritual and Non-Spiritual. That right there is a wonderful dichotomy.
And as you’ll see, Quetzalcoatl, the God, from which the flying reptile’s genus name was derived, was born to two other Gods that were Lords of Duality.
But first . . .
Let’s deal with “northropi.” It seems that Douglas A. Lawson, during his geologist/paleontologist grad school days, when discovering this gigantic, hairy, woodpecker-albatross-bat-giraffe monster wanted to name it, in part, after John (“Jack”) Northrup who developed tailless flying aircraft, otherwise known as flying wings. Like the B-2 Bomber. And like the tailless pterosaurs.
Well, they have tiny tails that would lend no purpose to flying.
Now I could easily go off-track here, but I’ll avoid that and move on to Ancient Mexica Gods. Of course, this route puts us in touch with a plethora of burrows into which we could descend, so I’m going to try to combine and summarize.
“Mexica” is not a misspelling of “Mexican.” The term refers to the Nahuatl-speaking Indigenous People of the Valley of Mexico who were the descendants or relatives of the Toltecs, and the rulers of the Aztec Empire. Nahuatl Legends tell us that there were Seven Tribes living in Chicomoztoc, the “Place of the Seven Caves.” The tribes included the Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Acolhau, Tlaxcalteca, Tepaneca, Chalca, and the Aztec. These tribes subsequently left the Caves and settled in Aztlán (“The Place of the Heron”).
Apparently, not all was well in Aztlán. The people were being subjected to tyrannical rule by the elite known as the “Azteca Chicomoztoca.” Humm, “tyrannical rule.” Now that’s a familiar tale all throughout history. Repeating over and over again. Even in Modernity. Ha!
But back to Aztlán. 😊
So here is where the story diverges a bit depending upon which version of the Legend you wish to believe. All of the outcomes are essentially the same, it’s just how the Aztecs got to where they were going that varies.
And here’s a brief bit of background first just so you know a bit about the major players – some of the many Aztec Gods.
Ometecuhtli (in other texts Tōnacātēcuhtli), (Nahuatl: “Two-Lord”) the Aztec Lord of Duality or Lord of Life and his wife, Omecíhuatl (in other texts Tōnacācihuātl) (“Two-Lady”) the “Lady of the Duality” were Aztec gods residing in “Two-Place” or “Double Heaven,” which is the 13th and highest Aztec heaven. While there, they gave birth to four children, each of which presides over one of the Four Sacred Directions.
Quetzalcoatl – Codex Magliabechiano
Quetzalcoatl, the White Tezcatlipoca (White “Smoking Mirror”), presided over the West and is the God of Light, Justice, Mercy, the Aztec Priesthood, Learning and Knowledge, and Air and Wind. He is also credited with creating the World and Humankind and the Calendar.
There are a number of other stories about Quetzalcoatl’s birth, but I’ll defer to this one.**
Huitzilopochtli – Codex Telleriano-Remensis
Huitzilopochtli, the Blue Tezcatlipoca, presided over the South (or is it North?) and is the God of the Sun, War and Human Sacrifice. He is also the Patron God of the City of Tenochtitlan.
Xipe Totec – Codex Borgia
Xipe Totec, the Red Tezcatlipoca (Lord of the Flayed One), presided over the East and is the God of Gold, Agriculture, Vegetation, Liberation, and Springtime. He was also Life-Death-Rebirth Deity. He used Self-Flagellation to give food to humanity. This was symbolic of maize seeds losing their outer layer when germinating and of snakes shedding their skin.
Tezcatlipoca – Codex Borgia.
And then there’s plain old Tezcatlipoca, the Black Tezcatlipoca (Lord of the Smoking Mirror), who presided over the South (or is it North?), and is the God of Judgment, Night, Deceit, Death, Sorcery and the Earth. He was also the God of the Aristocracy and Feasts, and the Protector of Warriors.
Right off, you can see how confusing this can get. Here we have four Brother Gods all with the same name so they color-coded them and gave three of them different descriptive names. Depending on the text you consult and, in turn, the references those texts used, the names all change as do the Four Cardinal Directions these Gods preside over.
To make that even more confusing, the Black Tezcatlipoca, who presided over the North or South (not sure which), was worshiped in East-West facing Temples. And for more fun, there is a Legend of the Smoking Mirror in North American Indigenous Tribes that differs from this Meso-American God. So let’s not mix up the Mirrors here.
For now, lets get back to our wandering peoples, the Aztecs, and their Legends about their great migration.
So the Aztecs wanted to flee Aztlán.
In one story, a Shaman, just prior to his own death, gives instruction for the people to embark upon a great journey and seek out a sign of where to settle. That sign would take the form of an Eagle devouring a Snake above a Cactus Garden. This symbology is essentially the same in the various versions of this legend, what is different is what prompted the Aztecs to start walking.
In this first version, it was the dying Shaman who initiated the journey. In another version, it is the God Huitzilopochtli, depicted as a Demon, who prods the Aztecs to seek out this sign. In a more elaborate version, Copil, a sorceress’s son believes Huitzilopochtli disrespected his mother. So he tries to bring about a war against Huitzilopochtli’s people, the Aztecs. But the plot is discovered, war is averted, and the Aztec Priests kill Copil and bring his Heart to Huitzilopochtli. The God gives instructions that Copil’s Heart is to be thrown into Lake Texcoco, and once that act was completed, a cactus grew from the Heart marking the place for the Eagle’s landing, for devouring the Snake, and ultimately marking the spot for the Aztecs to settle.
Of note here, the Aztec’s journey to find “Home,” in all of the scenarios, involves hundreds of years. And in all of them, the Eagle devouring the Snake appears while roosting on a Prickly Pear Cactus. This has been said to represent a struggle between Good and Evil. That makes sense from a Christian perspective because of the Evil Snake in the Garden of Eden. However, it appears that because of a mistranslation of Aztec texts, the Mexica didn’t have the Snake as one of the characters of their original story.
The Snake was actually added later by the Spanish.
This makes more sense, because the Aztecs regarded Snakes as symbols of wisdom and creation. Thus, Quetzalcoatl, the benevolent God whose name translated to “Precious Serpent” or “Quetzal-Feathered Serpent” or “Serpent of the Precious Feathers” or the “Emerald Plumed Bird-Serpent,” and whose name was also held to mean, allegorically, “The Wisest of Men,” and who created the World and all of Humankind, would very doubtfully be associated with devouring a Snake as being Evil.
That just doesn’t seem to fit the Aztec’s Religion.
How’s that for circling back to our Ancient Dragon – Quetzalcoatlus northropi? You didn’t forget about him/her, did you? 😊
That most amazing Pterosaur was named after a God, who, even beyond all of his other attributes, becomes the Patron God of Teotihuacan, another Ancient City of the Aztecs not far from Mexico City.*** Oh, and since I failed to mention it before, the place where the Aztecs would create the water-world city of Tenochtitlan would eventually become Mexico City. And the story of its creation beginning with the Eagle and the Snake, would forever be emblazoned on Mexico’s flag, its Coat of Arms, and its currency.
Quetzalcoatlus northropi, of Gods and Humans that fly.
Just so you know, I want to explore a little bit more of one of the versions of this great wandering. So we’ll pick that up in the another post . . .
Postscript: As you can see from me listing all of these different groups of First Nation’s Peoples, it made no sense when I was told there were no Native Indians in Mexico – see my post A Rabbit Hole Within a Rabbit Hole.
Photos: I took all of the pics of the fossil Pterosaur when I was in Texas. The images of the Aztec Gods came from the Codex you see under each pic. I found these all on Wikipedia.
Footnotes: (Maybe I should just call these more Rabbit Holes?)
FN 1: The expression “Rabbit Hole” has been appropriated and applied to a number of situations ranging from stumbling into a bizarre or surreal world or set of circumstances; to getting “sucked in” to something that is very engrossing – a path with many offshoots; to the metaphorical version of the Rabbit Hole representing the philosopher’s pursuit to gain knowledge and wisdom, where one answer can lead to more questions ad Infinium. Humm . . . Also, I should note that Lewis Carroll’s book was really titled, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
FN 2: Quetzalcoatl’s Birth. Besides the version I lay out above, it is also said that Quetzalcoatl was born by a virgin, Chimalman, after the God Onteol appeared to her in a dream; or else when she swallowed an emerald; or else she gave birth to Quetzalcoatl nine months after being hit by an arrow shot by Mixcoatl (the God of the Hunt). Chimalman sounds like a wild woman. 🙂 And a fourth story says that Quetzalcoatl was born by Coatlicue, not Chimalman. Coatlicue was a Goddess giving birth to the stars and was said to have 400 children forming the Milky Way.
FN 3: Quetzalcoatl was not solely worshiped by the Aztecs. He was known to the Maya (as “Kukulkán”); to the Quiché of Guatemala (as “Gucumatz”); and to the Huastecs of the Gulf Coast (as “Ehecati”).
“The Wisdom of the Shamans,” a book by Jose Ruiz
Of course, it is easy to find information in Wikipedia too. You just have to know that not all information there will be 100% accurate. 🙂