To the Greeks, She was Aphrodite; to the Romans, She was Venus; in the misty dawn of Britain, She was Gwenhwyfar; and to the Norse, She was Freya. She is the Goddess of Love and Fertility and, in Aztec Mexico, Her name was Xochiquetzal.
Xochiquetzal (pronounced shOw-chee-KET-sAl) was responsible for all that is beautiful in Mexico. The white sand beaches; the towering pyramids; the breath-taking canyons, gorges and waterfalls; the glorious dawns and sunsets; the lush greenery of the jungle; the grace of the cloudy mountains; the sweeping vistas of its deserts; the mystery of its deep caves and cenotes; and the warmth of the Mexican people, all come under Her domain. If it is beautiful and Mexican, then Xochiquetzal has cast her eye upon it.
Her name translates broadly as 'sacred flower' or 'flower feather'. Xochi is Nahuatl for 'flower'; while the second part, 'quetzel', references the strikingly colored birds that still live in the highlands of western Mexico. In Nahuatl, 'quetzelli' means 'brilliant tail feather', which describes these vibrant birds very well. The goddess wore those same feathers in Her head-dress; and She was followed everywhere by an entourage of birds and butterflies.
'Xochiquetzal' by Midnightstouch
Every eight years, the Aztecs held a festival in honor of their Goddess of Love. All those attending it would wear masks replendent with feathers. They represented those birds and butterflies that would trail Xochiquetzal. Each year, this deity was the guardian of the 20 days of Xochitl. During this period, beauty and truth reigned. People would take care over their appearance; and would share compliments, but only if they were truthful. It was a great time for an ego boost!
Her holy days were times of celebration and dancing, as well as the more carnal activities. There was no judgement here. Xochiquetzal is the patron of all who love; She is the guardian of prostitutes. Every time the wild dance causes lovers to catch each other's eye, then look for the presense of Xochiquetzal. She is human desire; She is the dance; She is the romantic meal and the whispered words.
But this Aztec goddess doesn't leave when the union is made. She was also there during pregnancy and childbirth. She was the patron of young mothers everywhere.
However, this was the Aztec people, so some aspects of Her worship appear horrific to the modern sensibilities.
As the Goddess of Beauty, Xochiquetzal claimed the artisians, sculptors, craftspeople and silversmiths amongst Her people. Every seven years, this sector of society would meet to select the most beautiful young woman they could find amongst the population. She would spend a year living in luxury, as the very personification of Xochiquetzal. People would confess their darkest secrets and deepest desires to her. Her every need would be attended to; and she would wear the most wonderful clothes and precious jewels.
Then after the year was up, she would be ritually sacrificed, during the festival of Xochiquetzal. It is believed that her skin would then be flayed from her dead body and stitched into an outfit. This was worn by the chief, male artisian, while he wove his own craft. This would bring the Goddess into the beauty of his weaving and bless their community for another eight years.
Amongst the pantheon of Aztec deities, Xochiquetzal has a twin brother: the flower prince, Xochipilli. She had many lovers and husbands. The first was Tlaloc, the Rain God, as rain and beauty make all of the wonderful vegetation in Mexico. She was also famously abducted by Tezcatlipoca, a central God in Aztec religion. He created the whole world, until a jealous quarrel with Xochiquetzal's son, Quetzalcoatl, led to the destruction of it all. Fortunately for us, Quetzalcoatl then recreated the Earth, thus we have the planet to live on!
(Incidentally, when the Spanish attempted to convert the Aztecs into Christianity, they found resistance. The Aztecs, ironically, found the notion of a crucified deity to be distasteful. Those evangelizing friars only made headway when they learned about Tezcatlipoca, the sacrificed God. They were able to link Him with Jesus Christ and Xochiquetzal with Mary, His mother. Hence the Aztecs were Christianized.)
Mexico is a truly beautiful country, with some of the most exquisite arts and crafts in the world. It is certainly a setting for romance and love. Xochiquetzal may now be merged entirely with Mary, Mother of God, but, as the Mother of Quetzalcoatl, She always was. Next time a magnificient Mexican landscape opens up before you, and you are hand in hand with your lover, nod towards the nearest bird or butterfly. Xochiquetzal has you blessed.