feathered serpant @ MET.JPG

    Serpent imagery occurs throughout the iconography of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. The serpent played a major role in Aztec religion, for it is associated with various gods. In the Nahautl, the language spoken by the Aztecs, the word for serpent is coatl. Serpents are associated with several gods who have the term coatl within their name. The god Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent) is represented through the feathered serpent sculpture discussed in this exhibit.  Quetzalcoatl was believed to play a major role in the creation of man and the universe. Because of this association, Quetzalcoatl was also considered to take part in the continual creation of human beings. What Quetzalcoatl represented is expressed symbolically through the serpent imagery. Serpents represented fertility, renewal and transformation, which go along with Quetzalcoatl’s godly duties and identity.  The snake’s terrestrial habitat and periodic shedding of their skin suggest the connotation of fertility and renewal.

    The feathered serpent in particular symbolizes the union of earth and sky. This idea of complimentary dualism is typical of Aztec cosmology. The aerial environment of the bird feathers and the earthly habitat of the snake represent the union of the earth and sky.  The general ability for snakes to move freely between earth, water, and the forest canopy also emphasizes their symbolic role as an agent between the underworld, earth and sky. The Aztecs held great significance in the different layers of the cosmos and their union, so snakes representation of this was highly regarded.

    From great stone monoliths to jewelry, serpent imagery is seen continuously in Aztec art. The Sun Stone, also known as the Calendar Stone can be considered one of the most well known Aztec artifacts, and it is also adorned with snake imagery. Carved in the 13th century, the Sun Stone is known for its monumental size and its representation of the Aztec’s elaborate calendar and dedication to the sun.  Carved into the outermost circle of the stone are two serpents. The serpents are seen as the connection between the upper and lower worlds, and are seen as uniting the two opposing worlds. The fact that the snake is represented on the stone shows the elevated nature of snakes while highlighting how the Calendar Stone represents the Aztecs world and is not just a simple calendar. From the two snakes opened mouths at the bottom of the stone, two heads emerge from their mouths. Quetzalcoatl makes an appearance as the head on the right and is depicted as the sun. The head on the left emerging from the mouth is Tezcatlipoca who is personified as the god of night. The two heads have their tongues out touching and represent the continuity of time. The snake imagery assists with the concept of the continuity of time and once again highlights how snakes are associated with such important concepts for the Aztecs.

    On a smaller scale, one can see the snake represented in Aztec ornaments. The double-headed serpent ornament represents the main and secondary term for coatl. Coatl means serpent as well as twin and this is highlighted with the double head. The duality of the snake also symbolizes the duality of the cosmos that snakes unite. The undulating movement of the snake and its blue color associate with water and fertility which snakes were known to represent. Both snouts of the snake are also adorned with representations of feathers. The inclusion of feathers on the snake represents the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl.