In early 2020, I was eager to return to Mexico. The Mayan Coastline and Chichén Itzá were in my thoughts from a few years prior and the next step was to visit the “place of the gods” near Mexico City.
The Feathered Serpent god, aka Quetzalcoatl, has always fascinated many a questor: Who was behind the figure? Was he the Jesus of the Americas as some believe? Did he return to Mexico after departing on a raft of snakes? Or did he light himself on fire, ascend into the sky and become the planet Venus? Could have he just retired to a beach-side resort in Zihuatanejo?
More specifically, I wanted to know if this non-human intelligence is still existing in some form and interacting with the humans he is said to create.
For those new to the subject, the Feathered (or plumed) Serpent is the Mesoamerican god of wind, culture, and civilization. Although the serpent is portrayed as the bad guy in the story of Adam and Eve, to many ancients the Featured Serpent is something altogether different; he is the Creator or creative power in opposition to chaos (1). Quetzalcoatl is also said to have brought craft and culture to the people.
With many questions in mind, I boarded a night flight and was over Mexico City in less than 6 hours. Like any mega-metropolis at night, Mexico city appears an extravagance of lights. With 22 million lives and a sprawling surface area, the metro area is twice the size of New York or LA.
Pink and white taxis are lined up waiting to take you away. Many use the less expensive Uber but because of the crazy kidnapping stories, I decide to go with a government-authorized taxi. The streets of the colonial “Centro” look somewhat spooky at 4am but my driver waits as I press the buzzer of the hotel.
Mexico City, Templo Mayor and Subway Ruins
“Often the wizards tried to trick him onto offering human sacrifices, into sacrificing men. But he never did, because he loved his people…”
– on the king/priest who was named Quetzalcoatl in the Annals of Cuabtitlan, translated in Mesoamerican Spirituality, The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle in the State of New York, Richard J Payne editor, 1980, pages 169-170.
Mexico City is within a day-trip’s distance from several wonders. It is ancient territory and you can save a bundle by taking the bus from Norte and other stations to the spectacular ruins of Teotihuacan, Cholula and Tula.
My head feels a little heavy and sore from the high altitude. Mexico City is at 7500 feet above sea level but it’s nothing a few aspirin can’t relieve.
After a 4-hour nap, I am ready to find the temple of Ehécatl. Ehécatl is the wind god version of Quetzalcoatl and the temple is in the shape of a circle inside a square, something I had seen at Tulum a few years earlier (2). This particular temple spent centuries, forgotten and buried under the Pino Suarez area of Mexico City. It wasn’t until the late 60s that subway construction brought it to light. It’s in relatively good shape and can be seen by looking down from Pino Suarez square or by walking through the Metro underground between lines.
From there it’s a relatively short walk to the Zocalo and Aztec ruins of Temporal Mayor. Very little remains of the Aztec city now. When the Spanish arrived they tried to eliminate the past and rebuild everything in European style.
‘New Spain’ might have succeeded in burying the Aztec temples but they never quite conquered the people. The natives still gather in full costume and dance for hours in the hot sun, despite nearby symbols of power and colonialism.
Templo Mayor has some preserved walls and inner temples but everything is in a dilapidated state. They have a model of how the place once looked and it is sad the Spanish didn’t leave it alone. There is an attractive multi-level museum you can explore where you can see some relics and representations of the feathered serpent but it all leaves something to be desired.
Visiting the world-famous Anthropology Museum the next day was similarly impressive. The Museo Nacional de Antropología is said to be one of the best and beautiful museums in the world. It is at the edge of a large park that can be reached by subway. You have to walk for ten minutes or so to get there.
There is room after room of well-made displays and awesome artifacts yet I realize even the best museums are essentially dead places. The artifacts are behind glass and in many cases you might as well look at photographs. So far, everything in Mexico seemed roped-off or guarded behind walls.
How could anyone solve the enigma of Quetzalcoatl if everything is beyond reach? I resolve to find something more tangible.
Teotihuacan and the Dust Devil
“Classic Nahuatl (Aztec language) had a number of words for the various states of the air and types of wind. It is interesting to find among these that the whirlwind squall was called ehecacoatl or “wind snake”, showing the ease with which the Aztec mind accepted the reptilian nature of the wind. Ehecacoatl was also one of the names of Quetzalcoatl; sometimes even ecemalacatl, the common word for whirlwind, which was used to refer to him. ”
-Brundage, Burr Cartwright. The Fifth Sun. University of Texas Press. Austin TX: 1979. Pages 107-108.
The bus drops you at the gate and you walk up to the grand Temple of the Sun. Referred to as the “place of the gods” by the Aztecs, the pyramids here are enormous with the Sun temple being the 3rd largest pyramid in the world.
From here, you can either climb the stairs to the top of the pyramid or turn onto the Avenue of the Dead. I saw smaller ruins stretching far to the South and decided to turn right and look at these first, away from the usual focus of the site. It’s a long walk with plaza after plaza, flanked by smaller pyramids and platforms. The brick work is exposed and much of the surface has been stripped away. It feels good to be able to touch and climb on the ruins but I begin to think about back-tracking to the pyramids and museum.
Something keeps me on the present path, however, and I soon come to the Ciudadela (Citadel). This looks like an immense walled-in square; a walled city within a city perhaps. I picture the Teotihuacan elites gathering here.
Though I made it clear I wasn’t there for souvenirs, a local salesmen starts following me around. I know locals have to make a living but this gets a little menacing, not to mention creepy. I have to pause and wish him a “good day” before he leaves me alone.
I cross to the center of the plaza and see a staircase at back. I think to go back for lunch but something pulls me to the stairs. I decide to at least look and see what is on the other side and I’m glad I do so. On the other side, is a temple to Quetzalcoatl. Unlike much of the ruins a good portion of the frontage is preserved:
Instead of lunch, I decide to backtrack to the pyramids. On my way, I see a sign pointing to the museum. The sun is already getting hot in mid-morning so I think this might be a good time to get some air conditioning and shade.
The trail is a winding hike that leads me away from the main avenue and into some scenic nature. I begin snapping photos with my cell phone:
The museum is smaller but has some fine displays, including a “Quetzalcoatl staff”. It is when I step out again that I meet the god in question. A red-colored dust devil appears on the path ahead. I see two tourists standing next the vortex and staring in amazement.
I suppose dirt trails like this could give rise to dust devils but it feels more magical with my mind-set. I attempt video and to take photographs but the manifestation is almost out of range:
It closes into a tight pipe-like twirler and moves off the trail. Later, that afternoon I climb to the platform of the Temple of the Moon and see more than one dust devil spinning off in the distance. I conclude that such mini-twisters are common at Teotihuacan and this might be why the ancients chose the place for a cult to the wind god. Maybe the whirlwind I saw was “only a coincidence” as the pseudo-skeptic would say and the wind kicks up devils here all the time.
There was another temple to Quetzalcoatl near the temple of the moon with a nicely “restored” inner courtyard I would recommend seeing. But by mid-afternoon, I am ready for a siesta and begin the long journey back.
The Circular Pyramid
I had heard that Mexico City plays host to one of the oldest pyramid structures in the Americas and instead of having a square base it was circular like a coiled snake. So I asked the hotel desk clerk how much a cab would cost to the ruin. The price quoted seemed outrageous but I had forgotten how gigantic Mexico City is. These ruins were many miles away, at the end of town.
There was another option the clerk told me. I could take the subway to the ‘Insurgentes’ station, then take the bus from there to a stop where I could walk to the ruins.
It takes awhile but I finally make it with the noon hour sun blazing down. At the gatehouse they ask me to sign the register and I see another Canadian has recently entered the park. I also find out there is no admission fee (bonus!).
It turns out that this site, Cuicuilco, is thought to be “one of the earliest cities in the Basin of Mexico and the first major religious center in the Mexican Highlands” (3). The present (as of March 2020) Wikipedia article on Cuicuilco places the age of the site at 1400-800 BC but I wonder if these numbers are just academics being conservative.
I couldn’t see the pyramid and took the wrong trail at first but it’s a pleasant walk through a kind of Mexican Eden. At the end, I find my fellow countryman. Ben (not his real name) looked 25 but turned out to be a much older and retired professional boxer and we were soon joking about missing the Winter back home.
We soon find the trail and come upon the most incredible place that has the commanding view and position of a Stonehenge or the Scottish Dunadd. It’s unmistakably a ‘power spot’ with its commanding view of the valley. The pyramid of Cuicuilco is rarely mentioned in tourist literature but it is by far my favorite archaeological site so far! I stand around in a daze as Ben tries his best to keep me grounded. I can’t believe there are no other tourists!
We climb to the top and see a stone altar protected by rain cover. The view of Mexico City on one side and volcanic mountains on the other is truly spectacular. The juxtaposition of pyramid and high rise reminds me of the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV album with the elder man carrying sticks and tall apartment building in back.
It turns out, archaeologists know relatively little about this place and the people who lived here. Maybe they shaped the structure like a coiled serpent, maybe not. Like many archaeological sites in Mexico it has barely been studied. Time is running out and Mexico City threatens to swallow it up:
“Several 1990 archaeological finds at Cuicuilco, consisting of a circular pyramid constructed within a plaza with smaller structures associated with the agricultural system, were destroyed for the construction of a multi-storied office complex.” (source: Wikipedia on Cuicuilco).
I guess amazing archaeological sites are so common in Mexico, the developers have no qualms about destroying the past. They are short-sighted, I think. If properly advertised, this place could be another boon for tourism, not to mention the archaeological value. The nature trail combined with museum and pyramid is an excellent place to spend the afternoon. I was glad to have gone to the trouble of getting here.
“Ben” told me his Mexican girlfriend had an appointment and dropped him off for the afternoon so he wouldn’t get bored. He kindly bought me a brochure as my attention was riveted to a painting on the wall.
It seems the whole site was swallowed up by lava when a nearby volcano erupted around 2000 years ago:
I buy my new friend a drink then walk him back to the parking lot so he can meet his lady. After spending a few days alone in a foreign land, it was good to have company.
The Zihua Connection
“There was only the tranquil sea and all the expanse of the skies… there was nothing but immobility and silence in the shadows, in the night. Alone also the Creator, the Shaper, the Master, the Serpent covered with feathers”.
-from the Popol Vuh, translation by David B Castledine. National Museum of Archaeology, Guatemala City, Guatemala. Chapter One, Page 1.
On my last full day in Mexico City I decided to visit the Zocalo one more time. I heard Sundays were lively in the main square. Much to my surprise, I was greeted by Quetzalcoatl at the entrance (see photo at the top of this web page).
It became clear that Quetzalcoatl was still alive and well in Mexico. Wandering thru the square I saw market stands and high quality goods representing the various people that make up the nation. The country certainly has a lot to offer – not just crafts and raw materials but a rich cultural tapestry the colonialists could never erase.
The next morning I board a plane for the Pacific coast to visit the former fishing village of Zihuatanejo. Zihua for short, the town is built on a bay and a favorite haunt for Canadian and American retirees. Here, you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner on a scenic shore and all the sunburn you can handle.
I try not to get badly burned and wearing a Tiley hat head to the local museum. An excellent museum guide named Norma helps me understand the local bus system and gives me an in-depth history of Zihua. It turns out this coastal area was super-important to everyone form the Aztecs to Spanish to the Gringo tourist. The Aztecs extracted a lot of tribute from the locals here and Montezuma told explorer Hernan Cortez that the gold comes from an area a little North of here.
Upon discovering the natural harbor of Zihua the Spanish built ships in the bay and tried to reach China. They “successfully” crossed the ocean to bring back Asian goods long before Captain James Cook explored the Pacific.
I tip and thank the guide and say I will return with my camera for some photos. She asks me if I had visited the nearby pyramid and suggests an English-speaking guide.
The next day I took the tour. The guide (also named Norma) is nice but more of a fisherman. She helps me to interpret Spanish and has a second guide waiting for me outside of the ruins. Fernando (not his real name) is very knowledgeable about the site and explains he grew-up nearby. He takes us around the museum, the “restored” ball-court and then onto the pyramid.
He tells me the site is modeled after Teotihuacan as it has a Temple of the Sun and a Temple of the Moon. Like Teotihuacan, this site was an important multi-cultural ceremonial center where tribes from far off places would gather.
They have only half uncovered the temple of the Sun but the Temple of the Moon still looks like an ordinary tree-covered hill. I am told the Temple of the Moon hill is privately owned and priced too high for the archaeologists to purchase. This seems to be the case with the plaza out in front, making the Temple of the Sun difficult to access for tourists. Things are fenced off. I wondered if there might be a temple of the feathered serpent buried nearby and who might own that.
I was told the area of Zihua was once hit by a tsunami that covered everything in a thick layer of mud. This must be the reason why the Xihuacan ruins are in such good condition. Like the lava-filled Cuicuilco, a lot of excavation still has to be done. Archaeologists have their work carved out for them.
On paths and near the roadside, I saw pottery shards and broken clay handles. Fernando took us to a nearby home where a lady pulls out several artifacts she has collected over the years. Some high-quality artifacts are among her collection and she allows me to take photos.
I begin to realize that most of the archaeology of Mexico still has to be done; there is a lot to learn before we can understand Quetzalcoatl!
Graham Hancock has often said we are a “species with amnesia” and I think he is right. With archaeological sites like Hueyatlaco and Cuicuilco, Mexico seems a prime candidate for unraveling the mystery.
Explorer, writer and TV personality David Hatcher Childress explored the Pacific Islands in his younger days and came across a lot of pyramidal and platform stone structures (see photos in his book “Lost Cities of Ancient Lemuria & the Pacific”). Some of these platforms and pyramids look similar to those you see in Mexico. Did the ancient Americans travel West across the ocean like Thor Heyerdahl suggests in his book about the Kon-Tiki expedition? We might not know how they did it but it’s not impossible if Heyerdahl made it across on a raft.
Portals and Pyramids
I remember something Ben said at Cuicuilco; you could be driving past hills in the Mexican countryside and not realize they were actually overgrown and dirt-covered pyramids!
One of the guides tells me there was once a pyramid on the shore of Zihua bay but they had built a hotel over top. As with the information provided by other guides, I have no means to sort out fact from fiction. There might be a kernel of truth to such stories but with such a brief trip, I haven’t time and to investigate.
I don’t recall how we got onto the topic but Fernando tells us he once saw a “man bat” at a nearby site known as the ‘Witches Hill’. He was gathering wood there as a boy and witnessed a winged humanoid. Something about Fernando’s demeanor tells me he truly believes the story and I find it fascinating as I had visited Point Pleasant, West Virginia, the year before. I told him the story of Mothman and the Silver Bridge (see my article on John Keel). More recently, the Mexican Man Bat has been appearing in Northern Mexico(4) and some of the stories sound like encounters with Mothman. Like Teotihuacan, this area might function as a portal between our world and the dimensions inhabited by non-human intelligences.
Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent
“He was immensely learned and the inventor of all good things from which man benefited. He gave man corn which he had robbed in the kingdom of the dead from the old god of the infernos. He was therefore the father of agriculture. He invented the ritual calendar…” – on the king/priest who was named Quetzalcoatl, Ignacio Bernal, Former Director of Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, from his 1963 book, Mexico Before Cortez: Art History & Legend, p.63
On my final day in Zihua, I went back to the beach for a fish dinner. The seafood here is fresh and delicious and you can bask in the glow of an amazing sunset. A local woman came to my table and asked if I would like to buy a souvenir. I had turned down so many sales people over the past two weeks my first inclination was to say “no gracias” but then I saw what she had in hand:
It seems Quetzalcoatl had found me!
Mystics will tell themselves all kinds of things and interpret their experiences in ways the pseudo-skeptics would never dream but I am happy to keep the imagination alive. Perhaps there is a lot of creative work to do in future. I’d like to think so.
-Andrew James Brown
1. Creation versus Chaos concept described in lecture by David Bowles at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YbfrYA-S3I
2. There is another example of an Ehécatl-Quetzalcoatl temple at Calixtlahuaca, West of Mexico City
3. Cuicuilco Site Museum English Language Brochure. Text by Ramon Lopez Valenzuela, National Dessemination Office, INAH, Government of Mexico.
4. Mexico Unexplained, The Magic, Mysteries and Miracles of Mexico by Robert Bitto, published by Robert Bitto in 2017. See pages 142-146.
Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs by Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz, published by Thames & Hudson. Latest edition 2019.