April 8, 2011

The Star That Comes in the Afternoon

Quetzalcoátl's gift of chocolate has been referred to a couple of times this week. To end our theme of Mexico and chocolate, it is worth getting the full story. Pause now and get yourself a brimming, frothy, hot chocolate. Savour the taste, then sit back and enjoy. It is story-line.


Quetzalcoátl came to Earth in the afternoon. He had been seen before, of course, up in the sky, represented by the star that we now call Venus. But this was the first time that He had deigned to step on the ground and walk amongst humanity. The people stopped and stared. It was obvious that He was a God. No mere man looked like that!

Some Gods, when they come to Earth, do so disguised as carpenter's sons or travellers on the road. The point is that they blend in (give or take a penetrating stare and an aura of other). Not so Quetzalcoátl. He was a God, so He came as a God, with all the trappings of Godliness and symbolical items of office clutched in His Godly hands. It was all a bit disconcerting for a sunny afternoon; but, on the bright side, at least He hadn't arrived in His aspect of the man-devouring feathered serpent.


Imagine that same scene now. A bona fide God turning up in a shopping mall, or appearing in a flash of light, in the middle of a games stadium. Human beings aren't good with coming face to face with deity. They tend to either prostrate themselves or else attack, as a mob, and crucify their God. The ancient Toltecs were not much different to us. Self-preservation took over and they took the prostrating themselves option.

Moreover, they had that horrible moment, when they realised that their icons to other Gods were on full view. A few minutes smashing up clay pots and statues and the place was downright God-free. Obviously give or take the huge, live one, standing in the middle of their town. But, while this might have been good for Quetzalcoátl and good manners on the part of the people, there were other beings who were not at all impressed. The other Gods for a start.


Sometimes it's good politics to side with the flavour of the month, even if He was a usurper responsible for yourself being side-lined. One by one, the other Gods and Goddesses lined up to welcome Quetzalcoátl and to acknowledge Him as their leader. In response, Quetzalcoátl told them to teach the people nice things, like how to grow corn successfully and how to measure the march of the constellations.

The Toltec people immediately made plans for a huge temple to be built in Quetzalcoátl's honor. It would be their biggest architectural endeavour to date and it would tower over every other building in their town. It would have five sides to represent the five-pointed star, that was Quetzalcoátl in the sky. Atlantes warrior statues guarded its frontage and summit. (The remains of it survive to this day, at Tula de Allende, Hidalgo, in Mexico, where it is, unsurprisingly, called the Temple of Quetzalcoátl.)


Even now, the other Gods and Goddesses were merely seething, but then Quetzalcoátl went a step too far. To celebrate His temple, He asked for a cup of chocolate. The human population were nonplussed. They had never heard of this wonder. But the deities most certainly had. Chocolate was the drink of the Gods. It came from the beans of the cacao tree, which only grew in the Garden of Life. No human had access to them. "Oh!" said Quetzalcoátl, "We'll soon fix that!" And off he went to collect the beans and a few trees.

Humanity gets chocolateThe deities present exchanged shocked glances. He was really going to allow mere mortals to taste the sacred drink?!

Quetzalcoátl did more than that. He taught the people how to cultivate the trees and process the beans, so that they could produce a plentiful supply of chocolate. It was an amazing coup for the people. It was war for the Gods.

They were organized by Tezcatlipoca, the God of Darkness and Night. He had his allies in the Tzitzimimeh, the all-female, humanity-devouring star dwellers. His ire had already infected them and they were just looking for an excuse to attack Quetzalcoátl. Tezcatlipoca came to Earth, in the guise of a spider, and entered Toltec country. There he altered his form again, blending in as a travelling merchant. He quickly found Quetzalcoátl and enquired after his health.

"I'm a bit down actually." Quetzalcoátl informed him. "I think that the other Gods and Goddesses are plotting against me."

"Surely not!" The God of Darkness and Night replied. "But I have just the person to cheer you up."

Thus Tezcatlipoca introduced Quetzalcoátl to Mayahuel and... well, that story has already been told: Mezcal.


Quetzalcoátl returned to the stars after that, allowing the other Gods and Goddesses to regain their former prominence in the hearts of the people. But Quetzalcoátl would always be special for the Mexicans. He left behind him chocolate, tequilia, corn and knowledge of the night skies. It's a gift that we're still very much enjoying.

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