The worship of a feathered serpent deity is first documented in Teotihuacan in the Late Preclassic through the Early Classic period (400 BCE– 600CE) of Mesoamerican chronology - "Teotihuacan arose as a new religiouscenter in the Mexican Highland, around the time of Christ..." -- whereafter it appears to have spread throughout Mesoamerica by the Late Classic (600 –- 900 CE) (Ringle et al.). In the Postclassic period (900 – 1519 CE) the worship of the feathered serpent deity was centered in the central Mexican religious center of Cholula. It is in this period that the deity is known to have been named"Quetzalcoatl" by his Nahua followers. In the Maya area he was known as Kukulcan or Ququmatz, names that also translate as "feathered serpent" in different Mayan languages. In the era following the 16th-century Spanish Conquest a number of sources were written that describe the god "Quetzalcoatl" and relates him to a ruler of the mythico-historic city of Tollan called by the names "Ce Acatl", "Topiltzin","Nacxitl" or "Quetzalcoatl". It is a matter of much debate among historians to which degree, or whether at all, these narratives about this legendary Toltec ruler Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl describe actual historical events. Furthermore early Spanish sources written by clerics tend to identify the god-ruler "Quetzalcoatl" of these narratives with either Hernán Cortés or St. Thomas—anidentification which is also a source of diversity of opinions about the nature of "Quetzalcoatl".
Among the Aztecs, whose beliefs are the best-documented in the historical sources, Quetzalcoatl was related to gods of the wind, of Venus, of the dawn, of merchants and of arts, crafts and knowledge. He was also the patron god of the Aztec priesthood, of learning and knowledge.Quetzalcoatl was one of severalimportant gods in the Aztec pantheon along with the gods Tlaloc, Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli.
Feathered Serpent deity in Mesoamerica
A feathered serpent deity has been worshipped by many different ethno-political groups in Mesoamerican history. The existence of such worship can be seen through studies of iconography of different mesoamerican cultures, in which serpent motifs arefrequent. On the basis of the different symbolic systems used in portrayals of the feathered serpent deity in different cultures and periods scholars have interpreted the religious and symbolic meaning of the feathered serpent deity in Mesoamerican cultures.
History of iconographic depictions
The earliest iconographic depiction of the deity is believed to be found on Stela 19 at the Olmec site ofLa Venta, depicting a serpent rising up behind a person probably engaged in a shamanic ritual. This depiction is believed to have been made around 900 BC, although probably not exactly a depiction of the same feathered serpent deity worshipped in classic and post-classic periods it shows the continuity of symbolism of feathered snakes in Mesoamerica from the formative period and on, for example incomparison to the Mayan Vision Serpent shown below.
The first culture to use the symbol of a feathered serpent as an important religious and political symbol was Teotihuacan. At temples such as the aptly named "Quetzalcoatl temple" in the Ciudadela complex, feathered serpents figure prominently and alternate with a different kind of serpent head. The earliest depictions of the featheredserpent deity were fully zoomorphic, depicting the serpent as an actual snake, but already among the Classic Maya the deity began acquiring human features.
In the iconography of the classic period Maya serpent imagery is also prevalent: a snake is often seen as the embodiment of the sky it self, and a vision serpent is a shamanic helper presenting Maya kings with visions of the underworld.