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Next. Chapter 5

Chapter V

The Sun and Fire as emblems The Serpent and the Sun Taut and the Serpent Horapollo and the Serpent symbol Sanchoniathon and the Serpent Ancient Mysteries of Osiris, we can readily understand also how the bull, the goat, or ram, the phallus, and other symbols should have the same import; also how naturally and almost inevitably and universally the sun came to symbolize the active principle, the vivifying power, and how obviously the egg symbolized the passive elements of nature, but how the serpent came to possess, as a symbol, a like significance with these is not so obvious. That it did so, however, cannot be doubted, and the proofs will appear as we proceed; likewise that it sometimes symbolized the great hermaphrodite first principle, the Supreme Unity of the Greeks and Egyptians.

Although generally, it did not always symbolize the sun, or the power of which the sun is an emblem; but, invested with various meanings, it entered widely into the primitive mythologies. It typified wisdom, power, duration, the good and evil principles, life, reproduction in short, in Egypt, Syria, Greece, India, China, Scandinavia, America, everywhere in the globe it has been a prominent emblem. In the somewhat poetical language of a learned author, "It entered into the mythology of every nation, consecrated almost every temple, symbolized almost every deity, was imagined in the heavens, stamped on the earth, and ruled in the realms of everlasting sorrow." Its general acceptance seems to have been remarked at a very early period. It arrested the attention of the ancient sages, who assigned a variety of reasons for its adoption, founded upon the natural history of the reptile. Among these speculations, none are more curious than those preserved by Sanchoniathon, who says:
"Taut first attributed something of the Divine nature to the Serpent, in which he was followed by the Phnicians and Egyptians. For this animal was esteemed by him to be the most inspirited of all reptiles, and of a fiery nature, inasmuch as it exhibits an incredible celerity, moving by its spirit, without hands or feet, or any of the external members by which the other animals effect their motion: and, in its progress, it assumes a variety of forms, moving in a spiral course, and darting forward with whatever degree of swiftness it pleases."

It is, moreover, long lived, and has the quality not only of putting off its old age, and assuming a second youth, but of receiving at the same time an augmentation of its size and strength; and when it has filled the appointed measure of its existence, it consumes itself, as Taut has laid down in the Sacred Books, upon which account this animal is received into the sacred rites and mysteries.

Horapollo, referring to the serpent symbol, says of it:

"When the Egyptians would represent the Universe they delineate a serpent bespeckled with variegated scales, devouring its own tail, the scales intimating the stars in the Universe. The animal is extremely heavy, as is the earth, and extremely slippery like the water, moreover, it every year puts off its old age with its skin, as in the Universe the annual period effects a corresponding change and becomes renovated, and the making use of its own body for food implies that all things whatever, which are generated by divine providence in the world, undergo a corruption into them again."

Nothing is more certain than that the serpent at a very remote period was regarded with high veneration as the most mysterious of living creatures. Its habits were imperfectly understood, and it was invested, as we perceive from the above quotations, with the most extraordinary qualities. Alike the object of fear, admiration, and wonder, it is not surprising that it became early connected with man's superstitions, but how it obtained so general a predominance it is difficult to understand.

Perhaps there is no circumstance in the natural history of the serpent more striking than that alluded to by Sanchoniathon, viz.: the annual sloughing of its skin, or supposed rejuvenation.

"As an old serpent casts his scaly vest,

Wreaths in the Sun, in youthful glory dressed,

So when Alcides' mortal mould resign'd,

His better part enlarged, and grew refin'd."

It was probably this which connected it with the idea of an eternal succession of forms, constant reproduction and dissolution, a process which was supposed by the ancients to have been for ever going on in nature. This doctrine is illustrated in the notion of a succession of Ages which prevailed among the Greeks, corresponding to the Yugs of the Hindus, and Suns of the aboriginal Mexicans. It is further illustrated by the annual dissolution and renovation exhibited in the succession of the seasons, and which was supposed to result from the augmentation and decline of the active principle, the Sun.

The mysteries of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, in Egypt; Atys and Cyble, in Phrygia; Ceres and Proserpine, at Eleusis; of Venus and Adonis in Phnicia; of Bona Dea, and Priapus, in Rome, are all susceptible of one explanation. They all set forth and illustrated, by solemn and impressive rites and mystical symbols, the grand phenomena of nature, especially as connected with the creation of things and the perpetuation of life. In all, it is worthy of remark, the serpent was more or less conspicuously introduced, always as symbolical of the invigorating or active energy of nature. In the mysteries of Ceres and Proserpine, the grand secret communicated to the initiated was thus enigmatically expressed: Taurus Draconem genuit, et Taurum Draco; "The bull has begotten a serpent, and the serpent a bull." The bull, as already seen, was a prominent emblem of generative force, the Bacchus Zagreus, or Tauriformis.

The doctrine of an unending succession of forms was not remotely connected with that of regeneration, or new birth, which was part of the phallic system, and which was recognised in a form more or less distinct in nearly all the primitive religions. In Hindustan, this doctrine is still enforced in the most unequivocal manner, through the medium of rites of portentous solemnity and significance to the devotees of the Hindu religion. "For the purpose of regeneration," says Wilford, "it is directed to make an image of pure gold of the female powers of nature in the shape of either a woman or a cow. In this statue the person to be regenerated is enclosed, and afterwards dragged out through the usual channel. As a statue of pure gold, and of proper dimensions would be too expensive, it is sufficient to make an image of the sacred Yoni, through which the person to be regenerated is to pass.

We have seen the serpent as a symbol of productive energy associated with the egg as a symbol of the passive elements of nature. The egg does not, however, appear except in the earlier cosmogonies. "As the male serpent," says Faber, "was employed to symbolize the Great Father, so the female serpent was equally used to typify the Great Mother. Such a mode of representation may be proved by express testimony, and is wholly agreeable to the analogy of the entire system of Gentile mythology. In the same manner that the two great parents were worshipped under the hieroglyphics of a bull and cow, a lion and lioness, " Tlaloc and Cinteotl, or Chalchiuhcueije, "the god and goddess of the waters;" Mictlanteuctli and Mictlancihuatl, "the god and goddess of the dead;" the terrible Mexitli or Huitzlipochtli, corresponding to the Hindu Siva, in his character of destroyer, and his wife Teoyamiqui, whose image, like that of Kali, the consort of Siva, was decorated with the combined emblems of life and death.

In the simple mythology and pure Sabianism of Peru, we have already shown the existence of the primeval principles symbolized, the first by the Sun and the second by his wife and sister the Moon. That the sun was here regarded as symbolizing the intermediate father, or demiurgic creator, cannot be doubted. The great and solemn feast of Raimi was instituted in acknowledgment of the Sun as the great father of all visible things, by whom all living things are generated and sustained. The ceremonies of this feast were emblematical, and principally referred to the sun as the reproductive and preserving power of nature. In Mexico, where the primitive religion partook of the fiercer nature of the people, we find the Raimaic ceremonies assuming a sanguinary character, and the acknowledgment of the reproductive associated with the propitiation of its antagonist principle, as we see in the orgies of Huitzlipochtli in his character of the Destroyer. The same remarks hold true of Central America, the religion and mythology of which country correspond essentially with those of the nations of Anahuac.

We have said that the principal god of the Aztec pantheon, subordinate only to the Unity and corresponding to the Hindu Brahma, was Tezcatlipoea, Tonacatlecoalt, or Tonacateuctli. If we consult the etymology of these names we shall find ample confirmation of the correctness of the deductions already drawn from the mythologies of the East. Thus Tonacateuctli embodied Lord Sun from Tonatiuh, Sun, nacayo or catl, body or person, and teuctli, master or lord. Again, Tonacatlcoatl, the Serpent Sun, from Tonctiah and catl, as above, and coatl, serpent. If we adopt another etymology for the names (and that which seems to have been most generally accepted by the early writers) we shall have Tonacateuctli, Lord of our Flesh, from to, the possessive pronoun plural, nacatl, flesh or body, and teuctli, master or lord. We shall also have Tonacatlecoatl, Serpent of our Flesh, from to, and nacatl, and coatl, serpent.

According to Sahagim, Tezcatlipoca, in his character of the God of Hosts, was addressed as follows by the Mexican High Priest:
"We entreat that those who die in war may be received by thee, our Father the Sun, and our Mother the Earth, for thou alone reignest." The same authority informs us that in the prayer of thanks, returned to Tezcatlipoca by the Mexican kings on the occasion of their coronation, God was recognised as the God of fire, to whom Xiuthteuctli, Lord of Vegetation, and specifically Lord of Fire, bears the same relation that Suyra does to the first person of the Hindu Triad. The king petitions that he may act "in conformity with the will of the ancient God, the Father of all Gods, who is the God of Fire; whose habitation is in the midst of the waters, encompassed by battlements, surrounded by rocks as it were with roses, whose name is Xiuteuctli," etc.

Tonacateuctli, or Tezcatlipoca, is often, not to say generally, both on the monuments and in the paintings, represented as surrounded by a disc of the sun.

The name of the primitive goddess, the wife of Tezcatlipoca, was Cihuacohuatl or Tonacacihua. She was well known by other names, all referring to her attributes. The etymology of Cihuacohuatl is clearly Cihua, woman or female, and coatl, serpent Female Serpent. And Tonacacihua is Female Sun, from Tonatiuh nacatl (as before) and cihua, woman or female. Adopting the other etymology, it is Woman of our Flesh.

Gama, who is said to be by far the most intelligent author who has treated with any detail of the Mexican Gods, referring to the serpent symbols belonging to the statue of Teoyaomiqui, says
"These refer to another Goddess named Cihuacohuatl, or Female Serpent, which the Mexicans believe gave to the light, at a single birth, two children, one male and the other female, to whom they refer the origin of mankind; and hence twins, among the Mexicans, are called cohuatl or coatl, which is corrupted in the pronunciation by the vulgar into coate."

Whichever etymology we assign to Tonaca in these combinations, the leading fact that the Great Father was designated as the male serpent, and the Great Mother as the female serpent, remains unaffected. Not only were they thus designated, but Cinacoatl or Cihuacohuatl was generally if not always represented, in the paintings, accompanied by a great snake or featherheaded serpent (Tonacatlecoatl "serpent sun") in which the monkish interpreters did not fail to discover a palpable allusion to Eve and the tempter of the garden.

Pursuing the subject of the connection of the Serpent Symbol with American Mythology, we remark the fact that it was a conspicuous symbol and could not escape the attention of the most superficial of observers of the Mexican and Central American monuments, and mythological paintings. The early Spaniards were particularly struck with its prominence.

"The snake," says Dupaix, "was a conspicuous object in the Mexican mythology, and we find it carved in various shapes and sizes, coiled, extended, spiral or entwined with great beauty, and sometimes represented with feathers and other ornaments. These different representatives," he continues, "no doubt denoted its different attributes."

The editor of Kingsborough's great work observes:

"Like the Egyptian Sphynx, the mystical snake of the Mexicans had its enigmas, and both are beyond our power to unravel;" this, however, is a matter of opinion, and the conclusion is one from which many will strongly dissent.

In almost every primitive mythology we find, not only a Great Father and Mother, the representatives of the reciprocal principles, and a Great Hermaphrodite Unity from whom the first proceed and in whom they are both combined, but we find also a beneficial character, partaking of a divine and human nature, who is the Great Teacher of Men, who instructs them in religion, civil organization and the arts, and who, after a life of exemplary usefulness, disappears mysteriously, leaving his people impressed with the highest respect for his institutions and the profoundest regard for his memory. This demi-god, to whom divine honours are often paid after his withdrawal from the earth, is uaually the Son of the Sun, or of the Demiurgic Creator, the Great Father, who stands at the head of the primitive pantheons and subordinate only to the Supreme Unity; he is born of an earthly mother, a virgin, and often a vestal of the Sun, who conceives in a mysterious manner, and who, after giving birth to her half-divine son, is herself sometimes elevated to the rank of goddess. In the more refined and systematized mythologies he appears clearly as an incarnation of the Great Father and partaking of his attributes, his terrestial representative, and the mediator between him and man. He appears as Buddha in India; Fohi in China; Schaka in Thibet; Zoroasta in Persia; Osiris in Egypt; Taut in Phnicia; Hermes or Cadmus in Greece; Romulus in Rome; Odin in Scandinavia; and in each case is regarded as the Great Teacher of Men, and the founder of religion.

In the mythological systems of America, this intermediate demi-god was not less clearly recognised than in those of the Old World; indeed, as these systems were less complicated because less modified from the original or primitive forms, the Great Teacher appears here with more distinctness. Among the savage tribes his origin and character were, for obvious reasons, much confused; but among the more advanced nations he occupied a well defined position.

Among the nations of Anahuac, he bore the name of Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent) and was regarded with the highest veneration. His festivals were the most gorgeous of the year. To him it is said the great temple of Cholula was dedicated. His history, drawn from various sources, is as follows: The god of the "Milky Way"
in other words, of Heaven the principal deity of the Aztec Pantheon, and the Great Father of gods and men, sent a message to a virgin of Tulan, telling her that it was the will of the gods that she should conceive a son, which she did without knowing any man. This son was Quetzalcoatl, who was figured as tall, of fair complexion, open forehead, large eyes and a thick beard. He became high priest of Tulan, introduced the worship of the gods, established laws displaying the profoundest wisdom, regulated the calendar, and maintained the most rigid and exemplary manners in his life. He was averse to cruelty, abhorred war, and taught men to cultivate the soil, to reduce metal from their ores, and many other things necessary to their welfare. Under his benign administration the widest happiness prevailed amongst men. The corn grew to such a size that a single ear was a load for a man; gourds were as long as a man's body; it was unnecessary to dye cotton for it grew of all colours; all fruits were in the greatest profusion and of extraordinary size; there were also vast numbers of beautiful and sweet singing birds. His reign was the golden age of Anahuac. He however disappeared suddenly and mysteriously, in what manner is unknown. Some say he died on the sea-horse, and others say that he wandered away in search of the imaginary kingdom of Tlallapa. He was deified; temples were erected to him, and he was adorned throughout Anahuac.

Quetzalcoatl is, therefore, but an incarnation of the "Serpent Sun" Tonacatlecoalt, and, as is indicated by his name, the feathered serpent was his recognised symbol. He was thus symbolized in accordance with a practice which (says Gama) prevailed in Mexico, of associating or connecting with the representatives of a god or goddess, the symbols of the other deities from whom they are derived, or to whom they sustain some relation. His temples were distinguished as being circular, and the one dedicated to his worship in Mexico, was, according to Gomera, entered by a door "like unto the mouth of a serpent, which was a thing to fear by those who went in thereat, especially by the Christians, to whom it represented very hell."

The Mayas of Yucatan had a demi-god corresponding entirely with Quetzalcoatl, if he was not the same under a different name a conjecture very well sustained by the evident relationship between the Mexican and Mayan mythologies. He was named Itzamna or Zamna, and was the only son of the principal God, Kinchanan. He arrived from the East, and instructed the people in all that was essential to their welfare. "He," says Cogolludo, "invented the characters which they use as letters, and which are called after him, Itzamna, and they adore him as a god."

There was another similar character in Yucatan, called Ku Kulcan or Cuculcan, another in Nicaragua named Theotbilake, son of their principal god Thomathoyo, and another in Colombia bearing the name of Bochia. Peru and Guatemala furnish similar traditions, as do also Brazil, the nations of the Tamanac race, Florida, and various savage tribes of the West.

The serpent, as we show elsewhere, was an emblem both of Quetzalcoatl and of Ku Kulcan a fact which gives some importance to the statement of Cabrera that Votan of Guatemala as above was represented to be a serpent, or of serpent origin.

Torquemada states that the images of Huitzlipochtli of Mexico, Quetzalcoatl, and Tlaloc were each represented with a golden serpent, bearing different symbolical sacrificial allusions. He also assures us that serpents often entered into the symbolical sacrificial ceremonies of the Mexicans, and presents the following example:

"Among the many sacrifices which these Indians made, there was one which they performed in honour of the mountains, by forming serpents out of wood or of the roots of the trees, to which they affixed serpents' heads, and also dolls of the same, which they called Ecatotowin, which figures of serpents and fictitious children they covered with dough, named by them Tzoalli, composed of the seeds of Bledos, and placed them on supports of wood, carved in the representation of hills or mountains, on the tops of which they fixed them. This was the kind of offering which they made to the mountains and high hills.

The mother of Huitzlipochtli was a priestess of Tezcatlipoca (a cleanser of the temple, says Gama) named Coatlantona, Coatlcu, or Coatlcyue (serpent of the temple or serpent woman). She was extremely devoted to the gods, and one day when walking in the temple, she beheld, descending in the air, a ball made of variously coloured feathers. She placed it in her girdle, became at once pregnant, and afterwards was delivered of Mexith or Huitzlipochtli, full armed, with a spear in one hand, a shield in the other, and a crest of green feathers on his head. He became, according to some, their leader into Anahuac, guiding them to the place where Mexico is built. His statue was of gigantic size, and covered with ornaments each one of which had its significance. He was depicted placed upon a seat, from the four corners of which issued four large serpents. "His body," says Gomeza, "was beset with pearls, precious stones and gold, and for collars and chains around his neck ten hearts of men made of gold. It had also a counterfeit vizard, with eyes of glass, and in its neck death painted, all of which things had their considerations and meanings." It was to him in his divine character of the destroyer that the bloodiest sacrifices of Mexico were performed. His wife, Teoyaomiqui (from Teo, sacred or divine; Yaoyotl, war; and Miqui, to kill) was represented as a figure bearing the full breats of a woman, literally enveloped in serpents, and ornamented with feathers, shells, and the teeth and claws of a tiger. She had a necklace composed of six hands. Around her waist is a belt to which death's heads are attached. One of her statues, a horrible figure, still exists in the city of Mexico. It is carved from a solid block of basalt, and is nine feet in height and five and a half in breadth.

It is not improbable that the serpent-mother of Huitzlipochti was an impersonation of the great female serpent Cinacohuatl, the wife of Tonacatlecoatl, the serpent-father of Quetzalcoatl. However this may be, it is clear that a more intimate connection exists between the several principal divinities of Mexico, than appears from the confused and meagre accounts which have been left us of their mythology. Indeed, we have seen that the Hindu Triad, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, has very nearly its counterpart in Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, and the celestial Huitzlipochtli, the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer and Reproducer. In the delineations of Siva or Mahadeo, in his character of the destroyer, he is represented as wrapped in tiger skins. A hooded snake is twisted around him and lifts its head above his shoulder, and twisted snakes form his head-dress. In other cases he holds a spear, a sword, a serpent, and a skull, and has a girdle of skulls around his waist. The bull Nandi (emblem of generative force), as also the lingham, are among his emblems. To him were dedicated the bloodiest sacrifices of India. Durga, or Kali (an impersonation of Bhavin, goddess of nature and fecundity) corresponds with the Mexican Tesyaomiqui, and is represented in a similar manner. She is a war goddess and her martial deeds give her a high position in the Hindu pantheon. As Kali, her representatives are most terrible. The emblems of destruction are common to all; she is entwined with serpents; a circlet of flowers surrounds her head; a necklace of skulls; a girdle of dissevered human hands; tigers crouching at her feet indeed every combination of the horrible and the loathsome is invoked to portray the dark character which she represents. She delights in human sacrifices and the ritual prescribes that, previous to the death of the victim, she should be invoked as follows: "Let the sacrificer first repeat the name of Kali thrice, Hail, Kali! Kali! Hail, Devi! Hail, Goddess of Thunder! iron-sceptered, hail, fierce Kali! Cut, slay, destroy! bind, secure! Cut with the axe, drink blood, slay, destroy! She has four hands," says Patterson, "two of which are employed in the destruction which surrounds her, and the other upwards, which seems to promise the regeneration of nature by a new creation. "On her festivals," says Coleman, "her temples literally stream with blood." As Durga, however, she is often represented as the patroness of Virtue and her battles with evil demons form the subject of many Hindu poems. She is under this aspect the armed Phallas.

We have seen that the Creator of the World, the Great Father of the Aztecs, Tonacatlecoatl or Tezcatlipoca, and his wife Cihuacohuatl, were not only symbolized as the Sun and Moon, but also that they were designated as the male and female serpent, and that in the mythological pictures the former was represented as a feather-headed snake. We have also seen that the incarnate or human representative of this deity Quetzalcoatl, was also symbolized as a feathered serpent. This was in accordance with the system of the Aztecs, who represented cognate symbols, and invested the impersonations or descendants of the greater gods with their emblems.

These facts being well established, many monuments of American antiquity, otherwise inexplicable, become invested with significance. In Mexico, unfortunately, the monumental records of the ancient inhabitants have been so ruthlessly destroyed or obliterated that now they afford us but little aid in our researches. Her ancient paintings, although there are some which have escaped the general devastation, are principally beyond our reach and cannot be consulted particularly upon these points. In Central America, however, we find many remains which, although in a ruined state, are much more complete and much more interesting than any others concerning which we possess any certain information.

The researches and explorations of Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood have placed many of these before us in a form which enables us to detect their leading features. Ranking first among the many interesting groups of ruins discovered by these gentlemen, both in respect to their extent and character, are those of Chichen-itza. One of the structures comprising this group is described as follows:
"The building called the Castillo is the first which we saw, and is, from every point of view, the grandest and most conspicuous object that towers above the plain. The mound upon which it stands measures one hundred and ninety-seven feet at the base, and is built up, apparently solid, to the height of seventy-five feet. On the west side is a stairway thirty-seven feet wide; on the north another, forty-four feet wide, and containing ninety steps. On the ground at the foot of the stairway, forming a bold, striking, and well-conceived commencement, are two colossal serpents' heads (feathered) ten feet in length, with mouths wide open and tongues protruding."

"No doubt they were emblematic of some relgious belief, and, in the minds of the imaginative people passing between them, must have excited feelings of solemn awe. The platform on the mound is about sixty feet square and is crowned by a building measuring forty-three by forty-nine feet. Single doorways face the east, south and west, having massive lentils of zapote wood, covered with elaborate carvings, and the jambs are ornamented with sculptured figures. The sculpture is much worn, but the head-dress of feathers and portions of the rich attire still remain. The face is well preserved, and has a dignified aspect. All the other jambs are decorated with sculptures of the same general character, and all open into a corridor six feet wide, extending around three sides of the building. The interior of this building was ornamented with very elaborate but much obliterated carvings.

"The sacred character of this remarkable structure is apparent at the first glance, and it is equally obvious that the various sculptures must have some significance. The entrance between the two colossal serpents' heads remind us at once of Gomera's description of the entrance to the temple of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico, which 'was like unto the mouth of a serpent and which was a thing to fear by those who entered in thereat.'"

The circumstance that these heads are feathered seems further to connect this temple with the worship of that divinity. But in the figures sculptured upon the jambs of the entrances, and which, Mr. Stephens observes, were of the same general character throughout, we have further proof that this structure was dedicated to a serpent divinity. Let it be remembered that the dignified personage there represented is accompanied by a feathered serpent, the folds of which are gracefully arrayed behind the figure and the tail of which is marked by the rattles of the rattle-snake the distinguishing mark of the monumental serpent of the continent, whether represented in the carvings of the mounds or in the sculptures of Central America. This temple, we may therefore reasonably infer, was sacred to the benign Quetzalcoatl, or a character corresponding to him, whose symbolical serpent guarded the ascent to the summit, and whose imposing representations was sculptured on its portals. This inference is supported by the fact that in Mexican paintings the temples of Quetzalcoatl are indicated by a serpent entwined around or rising above them, as may be seen in an example from the Codex Borgianus in Kingsborough.

But this is not all. We have already said that amongst the Itzaes
"holy men"
the founders of Chichen-itza and afterwards of Mayapan, there was a character, corresponding in many respects with Quetzalcoatl, named Ku Kulcan or Cuculcan. Torquemada, quoted by Cogolludo, asserts that this was but another name for Quetzalcoatl. Cogolludo himself speaks of Ku Kulcan as "one who had been a great captain among them," and was afterwards worshipped as a god. Herrara states that he ruled at Chichen-itza; that all agreed that he came from the westward, but that a difference exists as to whether he came before or afterwards or with the Itzaes. "But," he adds, "the name of the structure at Chichen-itza and the events of that country after the death of the lords, shows that Cuculcan governed with them. He was a man of good disposition, not known to have had wife or children, a great statesman, and therefore looked upon as a god, he having contrived to build another city in which business might be managed. To this purpose they pitched upon a spot eight leagues from Merida, where they made an enclosure of about eighth of a league in circuit, being a wall of dry stone with only two gates. They built temples, calling the greatest of them Cuculcan. Near the enclosures were the houses of the prime men, among whom Cuculcan divided the land, appointing towns to each of them.

"This city was called Mayapan (the standard of Maya), the Mayan being the language of the country. Cuculcan governed in peace and quietness and with great justice for some years, when, having provided for his departure and recommended to them the good form of government which had been established, he returned to Mexico the same way he came, making some stay at Chanpotan, where, as a memorial of his journey, he erected a structure in the sea, which is to be seen to this day." 1

We have here the direct statement that the principal structure at Mayapan was called Cuculcan; and from the language of Herrara the conclusion is irresistible that the principal structure of Chichen-itza was also called by the same name. These are extremely interesting facts, going far to show what the figure represented in the "Castillo," and which we have identified upon other evidence as being that of a personage corresponding to Quetzalcoatl, is none other than the figure of the demi-god Ku Kulcan, or Cuculcan, to whose worship the temple was dedicated and after whom it was named.

If we consult the etymology of the name Ku Kulcan we shall have further and striking evidence in support of this conclusion. Ku in the Mayan language means God, and can serpent. We have, then, Ku Kulcan, God Kul, Serpent, or Serpent-God. What Kul signifies it is not pretended to say, but we may reasonably conjecture, that it is a qualifying word to can serpent. Kukum is feather, and it is possible that by being converted into an adjective form it may change its termination into Kukul. The etymology may therefore be Kukumcan Feather-Serpent, or Kukulcan Feathered Serpent. We, however, repose on the first explanation, and unhesitatingly hazard the opinion that, when opportunity is afforded of ascertaining the value of Kul, the correctness of our conclusions will be fully justified.

And here we may also add that the etymology of Kinchahan, the name of the principal god of the Mayas and corresponding to Tonacatlcoatl of Mexico, is precisely the same as that of the latter. Kin is Sun in the Mayan language, and Chahan, as every one acquainted with the Spanish pronunciation well knows, is nothing more than a variation in orthography for Cn or Can, serpent. Kin Chahan, Kincaan, or Kincan is, therefore, Sun-serpent.

The observation that Quetzalcoatl might be regarded as the incarnation of Tezcatlipoca, or Tonacatlcoatl, corresponding to the Buddha of the Hindus, was based upon the coincidences in their origin, character, and teachings, but there are some remarkable coincidences between the temples dedicated to the worship of these two great teachers or perhaps we should say, between the religious structures of Central America and Mexico and Hindustan and the islands of the Indian Archipelago, which deserve attention.

From the top of the lofty temple at Chichen-itza, just described, Mr. Stephans saw, for the first time, groups of columns or upright stones which, he observes, proved upon examination to be among the most remarkable and unitelligible remains he had yet encountered. "They stood in rows of three, four and five abreast, many rows continuing in the same direction, when they collectively changed and pursued another. They were low, the tallest not more than six feet high. Many had fallen, in some places lying prostrate in rows, all in the same direction, as if thrown intentionally. In some cases, they extended to the bases of large mounds, on which were ruins of buildings and large fragments of sculptures, while in others they branched off and terminated abruptly. I counted three hundred and eighty, and there were many more; but so many were broken and lay so irregularly that I gave up counting them."

Those represented by Mr. Stephens, in his plate, occur in immediate connection with the temple above described, and enclose an area nearly four hundred feet square.

In the third volume of the "Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society" is an account of the mixed temples of the ancient city of Anarajapura (situated in the centre of the island of Ceylon) by Captain Chapman, of the British Army. The remarkable character of these ancient structures and the decided resemblances which they sustain to those in Central America, and particularly to the group of Chichen-itza, justify a somewhat detailed notice of them.

According to native records, Anarajapura was, for a period of thirteen hundred years, both the principal seat of the religion of the country and residence of its kings. It abounded in magnificent buildings, sculptures, and other works of art, and was, as it still is, held in the greatest veneration by the followers of Buddha as the most sacred spot in the island.

"At this time," says Captain Chapman, "the only remaining traces of the city consist of nine temples; of two very extensive banks; of several smaller ones in ruins; of groups of pillars, and of portions of walls, which are scattered over an extent of several miles. The nine temples are still held in great reverence, and are visited periodically by the Buddhists. They consist of first of an enclosure, in which are the sacred trees called the Bogaha; the Thousand Pillars called Low Mah Pay; and the seven mounds or Dagobas, each one of which has a distinct name given it by its founder."

The temple of Bo Malloa, especially sacred to Buddha, is of granite and consists of a series of four rectangular terraces, faced with granite, rising out of each other and diminishing both in height and extent, upon which are situated the altars and the sacred Bogaha trees, or trees of Buddha. The total height of the terraces is about twenty feet and the extent of the largest thirty paces by fifteen. These terraces are ascended by flights of steps. At the foot of the principal flight are slabs of granite, placed perpendicularly , upon which figures are boldly sculptured; and between is a semi-circular stone with simple mouldings let in the ground. Upon the east of the building projects a colossal figure of Buddha. Another similar, but smaller, structure is placed a little to the eastward of that first described. Both are surrounded by a wall, enclosing a space one hundred and twenty-five paces long by seventy-five wide, within which are planted a variety of odoriferous trees.

A few paces to the eastward of this enclosure are the ruins of the "Thousand Pillars." These consisted originally of 1600 pillars, disposed in a square. The greater part are still standing; they consist, with a few exceptions, of a single piece of gneiss in the rough state in which they were quarried. They are ten or twelve feet above the ground; twelve inches by eight square, and about four feet from each other; but the two in the centre of the outer line differ from the rest in being of hard blue granite, and in being more carefully finished. These pillars were said to have been covered with chunam (plaster) and thus converted into columns having definite forms and proportions. There is a tradition that there was formerly in the centre of this square a brazen chamber, in which was contained a relic held in much veneration. A few paces from this was a single pillar of gneiss in a rough state, which was from fourteen to sixteen feet high.

Captain Chapman observes that structures, accompanied by similar groups of columns, exist on the opposite or continental coast. The temples of Rmiseram, Madura, and the celebrated one of Seringham, have each their "Thousand Pillars." In Rmiseram the pillars are arranged in colonnades of several parallel rows, and these colonnades are separated by tanks or spaces occupied by buildings in the manner indicated by Mr. Stephans at Chichen-itza. Some of these pillars are carved; others are in their rough state or covered with plaster. In Madura the pillars are disposed in a square of lines radiating in such a manner that a person placed in the centre can see through in every direction. This square is on a raised terrace, the pillars rude and only about eight feet high. At Seringham the pillars also form a square.

The dagobas, occurring in connection with the temple of Buddha and the "Thousand Pillars" at Anarjapura, deserve a notice, as they correspond in many respects with some of the structures at Chichen. They are of various dimensions and consist generally of raised terraces or platforms of great extent, surrounded by mounds of earth faced with brick or stone, and often crowned with circular, dome-shaped structures. The base is usually surrounded by rows of columns. They vary from fifty to one hundred and fifty feet in height. The dagobas, of intermediate size, have occasionally a form approaching that of a bubble, but in general they have the form of a bell. They constitute part of the Buddhist Temples, almost without exception. We have, in the character of these singular columns and their arrangement in respect to each other and the pyramidal structures in connection with which they are found, a most striking resemblance between the ruins of Chichen-itza in Central America, and Anarjapura in Ceylon between the temples of Buddha and those of Quetzalcoatl, or some corresponding character. The further coincidences which exist between the sacred architecture of India and Central America will be reserved for another place. We cannot, however, omit to notice here the structure at Chichen-itza designated as the "Caracol," both from its resemblance to the dagobas of Ceylon and its connection with the worship of the Serpent Deity. Mr. Stephens describes it as follows:

"It is circular in form and is known by the name of the Caracol, or Winding Staircase, on account of its interior arrangements. It stands on the upper of two terraces. The lower one measuring in front, from north to south, two hundred and twenty three feet, and is still in good preservation. A grand staircase, forty-five feet wide, and containing twenty steps, rises to the platform of this terrace. On each side of the staircase, forming a sort of balustrade, rest the entwined bodies of two gigantic serpents, three feet wide, portions of which are still in place; and amongst the ruins of the staircase a gigantic head, which had terminated, at one side the foot of the steps. The platform of the second terrace measured eighty feet in front and fifty-five in depth, and is reached by another staircase forty-two feet wide and having forty-two steps. In the centre of the steps and against the wall of the terrace are the remains of a pedestal six feet high, on which probably once stood an idol. On the platform, fifteen feet from the last step, stands the building. It is twenty-two feet in diameter and has four small doorways facing the cardinal points. Above the cornice the roof sloped off so as to form an apex. The height, including the terraces, is little short of sixty feet. The doorways gave entrance to a circular corridor five feet wide. The inner wall has four doorways, smaller than the others, and standing intermediately with respect to them. These doors give entrance to a second circular corridor, four feet wide, and in the centre is a circular mass, apparently of solid stone, seven feet six inches in diameter; but in one place, at the height of eleven feet from the floor, was a small square-opening, which I endeavoured to clear out but without success. The roof was so tottering that I could not discover to what this opening led. The walls of both corridors were plastered and covered with paintings, and both were covered with a triangular arch."

Mr. Stephens also found at Mayapan, which city, as we have seen, was built by Ku Kulcan, the great ruler and demi-god of Chichen-itza, a dome-shaped edifice of much the same character with that here described. It is the principal structure here, and stands on a mound thirty feet high. The walls are ten feet high to the top of the lower cornice, and fourteen more to the upper one. It has a single entrance towards the west. The outer wall is five feet thick, within which is a corridor three feet wide, surrounding a solid cylindrical mass of stone, nine feet in thickness. The walls have four or five coats of stucco and were covered with remains of paintings, in which red, yellow, blue and white were distinctly visible. On the south-west of the building was a double row of columns, eight feet apart, though probably from the remains around, there had been more, and by clearing away the trees others might be found. They were two feet and a half in diameter. We are not informed upon the point but presumably the columns were arranged, in respect to the structure, in the same manner as those accompanying the dagobas in Ceylon, or the mounds of Chichen-itza.

Among the ruins of Chichen are none more remarkable than that called by the natives "Egclesia" or the Church. It is described by Mr. Stephens as consisting of "two immense parallel walls each two hundred and seventy-five feet long, thirty feet thick, and placed one hundred and twenty feet apart. One hundred feet from the northern extremity, facing the space between the walls, stands, on a terrace, a building thirty-five feet long, containing a single chamber, with the front fallen, and rising among the rubbish the remains of two columns elaborately ornamented, the whole interior wall being exposed to view, covered from top to bottom with sculptured figures in bas-relief much worn and faded. At the southern end also, placed back a hundred feet and corresponding in position, is another building eighty-one feet long, in ruins, but also exhibiting the remains of this column richly sculptured. In the centre of the great stone walls, exactly opposite each other, and at the height of thirty feet from the ground, are two massive stone rings, four feet in diameter and one foot one inch thick, the diameter of the hole is one foot seven inches. On the rim and border are sculptured two entwined serpents; one of them is feather-headed, the other is not." May we regard them as allusive to the Serpent God and the Serpent Goddess of the Aztec mythology? Mr. Stephens is disposed to regard the singular structure here described as a Gymnasium or Tennis Court, and supports his opinion by a quotation from Herrara. It seems to others much more probable that, with the other buildings of the group, this had an exclusively sacred origin. However that may be, the entwined serpents are clearly symbolical, inasmuch as we find them elsewhere, in a much more conspicuous position, and occupying the first place among the emblematic figures sculptured on the aboriginal temples.

Immediately in connection with this singular structure and constituting part of the eastern wall, is a building, in many respects the most interesting visited by Mr. Stephens, and respecting which it is to be regretted he has not given us a more complete account. It requires no extraordinary effort of fancy to discover in the sculptures and paintings with which it is decorated the pictured records of the teachings of the deified Ku Kulcan, who instructed men in the arts, taught them in religion, and instituted government. There are represented processions of figures, covered with ornaments, and carrying arms. "One of the inner chambers is covered," says Mr. Stephens, "from the floor to the arched roof, with designs in painting, representing, in bright and vivid colours, human figures, battles, horses, boats, trees, and various scenes in domestic life." These correspond very nearly with the representations on the walls of the ancient Buddhist temples of Java, which are described by Mr. Crawford as being covered with designs of "a great variety of subjects, such as processions, audiences, religious worship, battles, hunting, maritime, and other scenes."

Among the ruins of Uxmal is a structure closely resembling the Egclesia of Chichen. It consists of two massive walls of stone, one hundred and twenty-eight feet long, and thirty in thickness, and placed seventy feet apart. So far as could be made out, they are exactly alike in plan and ornament. The sides facing each other are embellished with sculpture, and upon both remain the fragments of entwined colossal serpents which run the whole length of the walls. In the centre of each facade, as at Chichen, were the fragments of a great stone ring, which had been broken off and probably destroyed. It would therefore seem that the emblem of the entwined serpents was significant of the purposes to which these structures were dedicated. The destruction of these stones is another evidence of their religious character; for the conquerors always directed their destroying zeal against those monuments, or parts of monuments, most venerated and valued by the Indians, and which were deemed most intimately connected with their superstitions.

Two hundred feet to the south of this edifice is another large and imposing structure, called Casa de las Monjas, House of the Nuns. It stands on the highest terraces, and is reached by a flight of steps. It is quadrangular in form, with a courtyard in the centre. This is two hundred and fourteen by two hundred and fifty-eight. "Passing through the arched gateway," says Mr. Stephens, "we enter this noble courtyard, with four great facades looking down upon it, each ornamented from one end to the other with the richest and most elaborate carving known in the art of the builders. The facade on the left is most richly ornamented, but is much ruined. It is one hundred and sixty feet long, and is distinguished by two colossal serpents entwined, running through and encompassing nearly all the ornaments is most entire, the tail of one serpent is held up nearly over the head of the other, and has an ornament upon it like a turban with a plume of feathers. There are marks upon the extremity of the tail, probably intended to represent the rattlesnake, with which the country abounds. The lower serpent has its monstrous jaws wide open, and within there is a human head, the face of which is distinctly visible in the stone. The head and tail of the two serpents at the south end of the facade are said to have corresponded with those at the north, and when the whole was entire, in 1836, the serpents were seen encircling every ornament of the building. The bodies of the serpents are covered with feathers. Its ruins present a lively idea of the large and many well-constructed buildings of lime and stone, which Bernal Diaz saw at Campeachy, with figures of serpents and idols painted on their walls." Mr. Norman mentions that the heads of the serpents were adorned with plumes of feathers, and that the tails showed the peculiarity of the rattlesnake. 2

The eastern facade, opposite that just described, is less elaborately, but more tastefully ornamented. Over each doorway is an ornament representing the Sun. In every instance there is a face in the centre, with the tongue projected, surmounted by an elaborate head-dress; between the bars there is also a range of many lozenge-shaped ornaments, in which the remains of red paint are distinctly visible, and at each end is a serpent's head with the mouth open. The ornament over the principal doorway is much more complicated and elaborate, and of that marked and peculiar style which characterizes the highest efforts of the builders.

The central figure, with the projecting tongue, is probably that of the Sun, and in general design coincides with the central figure sculptured on the great calendar stone of Mexico, and with that found by Mr. Stephens on the walls of Casa No. 3 at Palenque, where it is represented as an object of admiration. The protrusion of the tongue signified, among the Aztecs, ability to speak, and denoted life or existence. Among the Sclavonian nations, the idea of vitality was conveyed by ability to eat, as it is by to breathe among ourselves, and to walk among the Indians of the Algonquin stock.

Although Central America was occupied by nations independent of those of Mexico proper, yet some of them (as those inhabiting the Pacific coast, as far south as Nicaragua) were descended directly from them, and all had striking features in common with them. Their languages were in general different, but cognate; their architecture was essentially the same; and their religion, we have every reason for believing, was not widely different, though doubtless that of the south was less ferocious in its character, and not so generally disfigured by human sacrifices.

We may therefore look with entire safety for common mythological notions, especially when we are assured of the fact that, whatever its modifications, the religion of the continent is essentially the same; and especially when we know that whatever differences may have existed amongst the various nations of Mexico and Central America, the elements of their religion were derived from a common Tottecan root.


Herrara, Hist. America, vol. iv., pp. 162-3

2 Trav. in Yucatan.

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