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From: Fred Meagher
Type: Forum
Group: Alliance Plenary
Date: January 14, 2014

Nirmalan Dhas, Bruce & All: “Murmurs of Earth; the Voyager Interstellar Record”, by Carl Sagan and others, contains the message and decoding of said message within itself. “The Mayan Factor, path beyond technology” by Jose Arguelles, founder of Earth Day; implies We Ourselves are a living message from deep space. Comparing these in light of generating a master codex of knowledge resolving differences between science and religion, national and global problem solving and historical continuity has been very interesting.

Arguelles decoded mathematical wave forms as the master message behind the 13-20 interface beneath all the information in Mayan science. Sagan and crew used the structure of hydrogen as the base measurement decoding the Voyager Record. Using a single word of the language of the Aztecs as a guide this unfolding of multilayered Mayan Factor is instructive in learning to understand ‘storied knowledge’; the common feature of all pre-literate cultures.


Beyond the Feathered Serpent

Alberto Mendo

Mentors: Professor Nimachia Hernandez,

Professor Jose Rabasa


Epistemological differences between researchers and their subjects can have significant impacts on cross-cultural studies. This project examines how methodologies sympathetic to Native paradigms can inform our understandings of Native cultures. I test this query in the context of Nahuatl culture through a case study of Quetzalcoatl. Analysis consists of a linguistic study of the name Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, combined with a semiotic analysis of the story of Quetzalcoatl as “storied knowledge.” The result is an alternative understanding of Quetzalcoatl better able to accommodate and tie together multiple facets found in the language and symbols associated with this abstract and complex concept.


Native cultures of the Americas have suffered innumerable tragedies since contact with Europeans in 1492. Of these, the impacts suffered by Native philosophies and cosmologies are of particular significance. Efforts to comprehend these conceptual realms have yielded limited understandings of the thinking that underlies the symbols and practices of cultures such as the Nahuatl peoples of Meso-America. Multiple resources are available to researchers seeking deeper understandings of Nahuatl cultures. These include pre-Colombian artifacts, colonial codices, a wide spectrum of subsequent research, and contemporary Native peoples. This project focuses on how we approach this corpus of information and considers how methodologies tailored to Native epistemological paradigms can expand current understandings of the cosmologies and philosophies of Nahuatl peoples.

I will explore this question in the context of a case study of Quetzalcoatl—a multifaceted component of Nahuatl culture commonly termed the plumed or feathered serpent (Furst 83; Carrasco 58). The following analysis consists first of a linguistic examination of the name Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. In asserting language as a cultural expression of worldview, a linguistic analysis of Quetzalcoatl will help orient our understanding of the multiple meanings associated with the components of the name. A Semiotic analysis follows examining the story of Quetzalcoatl as “storied knowledge.” “Storied knowledge” provides a framework better suited to the analysis of Native story paradigms than available Western concepts such as myth, legend, history or religion.

Linguistic Analysis The full name of Quetzalcaotl is Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl (Carrasco 58-59). Translation of the terms composing the name reveals meanings that significantly expand understandings of Quetzalcoatl beyond our lord the feathered serpent born on the day one reed. Ce translates simply as one (Lockhart 213). Acatl translates as reed or cane (Karttunen 1). Ce Acatl as a unit translates as one reed or one cane and in specific contexts designates the date of birth of Quetzalcoatl (Carrasco 59).

Topiltzin is a possessed reverential form of pilli. Topiltzin consists of to-, the Nahuatl first person possessive plural prefix equivalent to our in English, plus Pilli, and –tzin, the Nahuatl reverential suffix. Pilli alone can mean noble or lord, yet possessed as in Topiltzin the reference is to a child (Lockhart 57). In this context, Topiltzin thus translates as our revered/dear/sacred child. Contrasted with conventional interpretations of Topiltzin as our lord, the insights permitted by the language reveal a close and personal dynamic in relationships between Nahuas and Quetzalcoatl unannounced by understanding Quetzalcoatl solely as lord or ruler.

Quetzalcoatl is a combination of Quetzalli and Coatl. Quetzalli is literally the feather of a Quetzaltototl (Karttunen 210), or what is commonly known as a “crested trogon.” These are beautifully colored Central American birds with lengthy flowing tail feathers that curl, particularly at the ends. The significance of Quetzalli when compounded with other words emphasizes the attributes associated with Quetzalli feathers specifically, and not with feathers generally. Quetzalli feathers were considered very precious in Meso-American cultures, providing for the possible translation of Quetzalli as “precious” (Lopez-Austin 2). However, Quetzalli feathers were also noted for their spiraling or twisting qualities. For example, Quetzalhuitolihui means, “to twist, writhe in the manner of the quetzal plumes” (Karttunen 209-210). Quetzalilacatzihui similarly means, “to weave in and out in the manner of the quetzal plumage” (Karttunen 210). We can then conclude that Quetzalli can mean precious, as well as to twist or spin.

Coatl offers similarly interesting possibilities. Coatl translates as snake, serpent, or worm (Karttunen 36). This translation is insightful because the inclusion of worm as a possible meaning indicates the characteristics shared by snakes and worms as the object of the meaning (“as a snake” or “as a worm”). The result is a multitude of meanings expressing serpentine characteristics. This could include appearance, locomotion, and other possibilities that free Coatl from simple reference to snakes, serpents, or worms. Due in part to these considerations, Coatl also translates as “twins” (Karttunen 36). The depth of the connection between Coatl and twinning is attested to by the fact that twins, in contemporary Mexico, are still referred to as cuates today (Gross 136). Coatl as twin may have derived from observations of snakes shedding their skin, producing twin or like images of themselves. Finally, Coatl also translates as reciprocity. When compounded with Tequitl (work) the result is coatequitl, “communal work” (Karttunen 36). Coatl may derive the meaning of reciprocity from the extension of the oscillating locomotion of snakes to the reciprocal nature of communal work.

Thus, the translation of Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl creates the following possibilities: Ce Acatl; one reed, Topiltzin; our sacred/revered/dear child, Quetzalli; precious/move in a twisting or spiraling motion, and Coatl; twins/oscillate/ move reciprocally. Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl is indicated by translation of the name as being: Something sacred or dear that oscillates or moves reciprocally in a twisting or spiraling motion, initiating on one reed. Furthermore, when the aspect of wind (Ehecatl) is added to Quetzalcoatl the result is Ehecaquetzalcoatl (also presented as Ehquetzalcoatl), the Nahuatl word for whirlwind (Karttunen 76). Whirlwinds are the embodiments of oscillating and spiraling dynamics, indicating the relevance of these traits to the concept of Quetzalcoatl.

The variable meanings inherent to the terms that compose the name can be mixed and matched to produce multiple interpretations. So, which is the correct translation? The reality is that they are all correct. The multiple meanings are reconciled by the fact that Nahuatl words can mean different things in different contexts (Lockhart 81). Multiple translations are a natural component of Nahuatl and serve to complement the numerous and diverse facets of highly complex and dynamic concepts such as Quetzalcoatl.

Semiotic Analysis: Quetzalcoatl as “Storied Knowledge” “Storied knowledge” is a term utilized by Nimachia Hernandez to describe the specific nature of Native stories as pedagogical instruments of knowledge transference.

The teachings offered through the stories are varied, and the contexts for those teachings range from everyday comments to the most sacred of ceremonies. Lessons are available at different levels and depths, so that at various times throughout one’s lifetime the lessons have a different impact, from slight to profound. Depending on the circumstances, one is either more or less able to receive and really understand the lessons inherent in the stories...but they always hold that knowledge. (Hernandez 48)

The story of Quetzalcoatl like the name has many levels of meaning, each of which is complemented by a contextual translation of the components that make up the name. The levels within the story can be understood as being organized in a spiral. In this analogy the outer arc of the spiral represents the story as simple narrative, with subsequent levels within the spiral representing additional levels of increasing complexity and abstractness. This analogy is not exact, nor do the teachings or the story necessarily follow such a fixed linear order. However, for the sake of explanation and presentation, three levels of the story will be shown in sequential order.

Level 1

The first level is the narrative. This is the outer and most apparent facet of the story. The narrative has been interpreted as legend, myth, and as an account of the historical figure Quetzalcoatl of Tula (Florescano 261). At this initial level exemplary characters convey lessons of bravery, virtue, discipline, and other relevant themes. A child or neophyte might understand the story at this level. This is the literal meaning of the story. Comprehending the story as a narrative would not amount to a misinterpretation. Every level is as important as the next. Understanding the dynamics and relationships established in the narrative prepares students for deeper lessons enfolded within the story’s structure of relationships. The story as a system can be compared to mathematical equations, where variables establish specific relationships that can then accommodate multiple inputs to produce multiple outcomes.

Level 2

Understanding the story of Quetzalcoatl as a system of relationships reveals the second level to be a lesson in Nahuatl astronomy relating the cycles of Venus as both Morning and Evening Stars. The narrative of Quetzalcoatl symbolically duplicates the celestial movements of Venus. This relationship begins with the transformation of Quetzalcoatl into Morning Star on Ce Acatl:

...the legendary Toltec Ce Acatl (“One Reed”) Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was forced from his kingdom at Tula by the powerful sorcerer Tezcatlipoca, the “Smoking Mirror.” He then made his way to the east coast of Mexico where he cremated himself on the funeral pyre. His heart went up with the ashes and was transformed into Venus as Morning Star, where he became bone. However, he was destined to return again, reborn as the risen Lord of the Toltecs in a year called One Reed in the 52-year Calendar Round, symbolically represented by the heliacal reappearance of the Morning Star. (Carlson 3)

Ce Acatl marks both the date of birth of Quetzalcoatl and the day when Venus reappears on the same position in the eastern horizon once every eight years (Malmstrom 182). Ce Acatl thus designates a starting point for both Quetzalcoatl, and the orbital relationship between Earth and Venus. This level of the story corresponds with the translation of Quetzalcoatl as “Precious Twin” (Carlson 3), referring to Venus manifested as both Morning and Evening stars.

As Evening Star, Venus disappears from view in the western horizon as it passes before the sun, a condition termed inferior conjunction (Aveni 85). It then reappears eight days later in the eastern horizon as Morning Star (Malmstrom 176-177). The story replicates this event when Quetzalcoatl leaves Tula in central Mexico and travels to the east coast where he cremates himself on a funeral pyre (the sun symbolically) and rises as Morning Star.

Quetzalcoatl then dies as Morning Star and is turned to bone (Cajete 263). This is a symbolic reference to the passage of Venus through superior conjunction, the point at which it passes behind the sun at the end of the Morning Star phase (Aveni 85). At the conclusion of superior conjunction Venus reappears in the western horizon transformed as Evening star. Quetzalcoatl is similarly transformed from a living being as Morning Star to a being of bone as Evening Star, destined for rebirth on Ce Acatl (Carlson 3). The “rebirth” of Quetzalcoatl completes both the story and the cycle of Venus. Venus as Evening Star disappears in the western horizon as it again passes through inferior conjunction and emerges as Morning Star anew-on one reed: Quetzalcoatl reborn.

Level 3

The final level becomes increasingly abstract and incorporates additional aspects of Quetzalcoatl. Cyclical relationships between Earth and Venus establish the basis for the Nahuatl reckoning of time, and these relationships are expressed symbolically through Quetzalcoatl. As Quetzalcoatl, time is transformed into a process of constant becoming and reciprocal existence. To understand this point we must first consider some general dynamics between Earth and Venus.

The specific dynamics between the orbits of Venus and Earth cause Venus to re-appear as Morning Star at several positions on the eastern horizon over an eight-year period. Venus re-appears as Morning Star at any given point on the eastern horizon only once every eight years. Every eight Earth years (equal to five synodic Venus cycles) the orbits of these two planets attain the same relative positions as in the past eight-year cycle. This event is marked by the reappearance of Morning Star at the same position on the eastern horizon as eight years prior (Malmstrom 180). The result of this relationship is that Venus and Earth are placed in a coincidental orbital ratio of 8:5.

This ratio defines the relationship between Earth and Venus, and is the basic increment upon which the 104-year Huehuetiliztli is based. The Huehuetiliztli is a complete Nahuatl unit of time measurement consisting of two 52-year Xiuhmolpilli (Ramos 288). The beginning of each 104-year Huehuetiliztli cycle is marked by the reappearance of Venus as Morning Star (ibid. 272). The connection between the 104-year Huehuetiliztli cycle and Venus can be summarized as follows:

1 Earth year = 365.25 days

1 Venus synodic period = 584 days

(A synodic Venus period is the time it takes Venus to complete a cycle, as observed from earth (Aveni 84)).

One Huehuetiliztli = 104 years (Two 52-year Xiuhmolpilli)

104 x 365.25 days = 37986 days

37986 days ÷ 584 days (1 synodic Venus period) = 65 synodic Venus periods

1 Huehuetiliztli contains 104 Earth Years and 65 synodic Venus periods

Ratio of Earth Years to Synodic Venus Periods = 104:65 ? 8:5

As shown, there is a relationship between Venus and the 104-year Huehuetiliztli defined by the same 8:5 ratio. This ratio is also the unit of measurement for time increments within the Huehuetiliztli. Aveni states, “...every 52 year period was divided into four thirteen year portions...” (154). Expressed as a complete 104-year Huehuetiliztli, this would be eight 13-year increments. Since the defining unit of measurement is the 8-year cycle of Venus, it follows that every 104-year period is naturally comprised of 13 eight-year graduations (104/8 = 13). The ratio 13:8 is very closely proportioned to 8:5, since 8/5 = 1.6 and 13/8 =1.625. These proportions also define the 260-day Tonalpohualli. The Tonalpohualli is arranged as 52 rows divided into four units of thirteen each (Diaz and Rogers xvii). These are framed by 104 figures that encompass 20 day-signs arranged as increments of 13 (ibid. xvii).

The repetition of these ratios appears with enough consistency to rule them out as coincidence. Further examination shows these sequential numbers to be reminiscent of Fibonacci sequences, also known as Golden Ratios (i.e. 1/1=1, 2/1=2, 3/2=1.5, 5/3=1.66, 8/5=1.6, 13/8=1.625, 21/13=1.61 etc.) (Fibonacci). Golden Ratios describe the mathematical proportions manifested in naturally occurring spirals such as those found in shells, flowers, and a variety of other living things. Bones develop in spiral patterns, trees grow their limbs in spiral patterns, and even the petals of artichokes develop in spiraled patterns (Fibonacci). Spirals are the physically manifested expression of the creation process, and are expressed mathematically as Fibonacci sequences. It is these mathematic expressions of the process of creation that are reflected in the structures of the Nahuatl time paradigms. Connected with Quetzalcoatl through Venus, Quetzalcoatl defines time as a process of creation, and as such embodies the creation process.

The connection between spiraling and Quetzalcoatl is supported and cued by the translation of Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcaotl as something sacred or dear that oscillates or moves reciprocally in a twisting or spiraling motion, and by the mathematic expressions that form the basis of Nahuatl time. Many manifestations associated with Quetzalcoatl further connect Quetzalcoatl with spirals. The Caracol (snail) Observatory in Chichen Itza is a spiral shaped structure built originally as a Venus observatory (Lopez-Austin 83-89). Figures representing Quetzalcoatl such as sculptures and glyphs evidence subtly placed spirals throughout their structures. Additionally, seashells, which by natural design are spiraled structures, are regularly found at the bases of temples and alters devoted to Quetzalcoatl (ibid. 83-89). The relevance of seashells to Quetzalcoatl is generally connected to the regenerative properties of water (Florescano 148). Regeneration and renewal are undeniably a central aspect of Quetzalcoatl. Yet an expanded understanding of Quetzalcoatl brings to new light details such as spirals evidenced in translations, sculptures, and shells. Quetzalcoatl has thus been transformed from narrative, to celestial body, and finally into an abstract conceptual process of creation derived from observed natural systems.

Conclusion Quetzalcoatl is arguably one of the most extensively studied figures in Nahuatl culture. The increased understandings of Quetzalcoatl facilitated here by methodologies sympathetic to Native epistemological paradigms evidence the practicality and necessity of such measures. The analysis of linguistic components reveals language to be fundamental in comprehending Nahuatl concepts. Similarly, understanding Nahuatl stories through the relevant cultural framework of “storied knowledge” provides new understandings of the purpose, nature, and function of Quetzalcoatl within Native paradigms and pedagogies. Nahuatl concepts of time are revealed to be human systems emulating the way nature self-organizes to create life. The formulation of similar methods and their application to the corpus of available Nahuatl resources can reinvigorate current understandings of Nahuatl thought by allowing these cultures to be comprehended on their own terms.

--- On Tue, Jan 14, 2014, Nirmalan Dhas wrote ---

AN INTERVIEW WITH GOD November 17, 2010 at 12:22pm (Sri Lanka Time GMT + 5.30)

Q: Hi God!, I am told you created the world. How did you do it?

A: By my Supreme Power.

Q: But with what did you create it?

A: With Myself.

Q: Who created you?

A: I Myself.

Q: With what did you create yourself?

A: With Myself.

Q: Who are you?

A: Whatever I can be.

Q: Is there anything you cannot be?

A: Understood.


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