Both American continents were populated over several millennia by various peoples with their own beliefs, about whom we don’t have much information. We know few details about some important civilizations in Central and South America, such as the Aztec, Mayan and Incan civilizations, from the accounts of Spanish conquistadors and from the few remaining writings, such as the Popol Vuh of the Mayans or the missionary Bernardino de Sahagun’s encyclopedia about the Aztecs. North American indigenous peoples did not know how to write, so they did not leave any written documents. As far as we know today, the Olmecs, a mysterious people with obvious African or Asian features in their graphic representations, appeared in Central America around 1500 BC. They rapidly developed and built magnificent cities, such as La Venta, San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan and Tres Zapotes. The Mayan civilization emerged in the fourth century BC, then flourished for several centuries in Guatemala and the surrounding regions, including the Yucatan Peninsula. A few centuries before the present era, the Olmecs abandoned their cities and spread out in all directions, especially to the south. One of these cities, Teotihuacan, was occupied by the Toltecs, who also left after a few centuries for unknown reasons. The Toltecs built their capital, Tula / Tollan, around the year 700, a miniature copy of Teotihuacan. The Mayan civilization reached its peak between 250 and 900, then the Mayan urban centers began to rapidly decline and the Mayans also abandoned their sacred cities. The Toltecs left Tollan in 987, traveled over 1000 kilometers and settled in Chichen Itza, the former city of the Mayans. After several centuries of domination over central Mexico, the Toltec civilization collapsed in the 13th century. The Aztecs („the people from Aztlan”), who lived in present-day Mexico and who called themselves „Mexica„, established their own empire in the 15th century. The capital of the Aztec Empire was Tenochtitlan, built on an island in Lake Texcoco, where is now located Ciudad de Mexico, the capital of the modern Mexico. The empire developed over a century, but the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the diseases brought by Europeans and internal changes led to its downfall. When the Spaniards arrived, the Mayans suffered the same fate as the Aztecs. In South America, the conquistadors found almost the entire western continent dominated by the Inca Empire. It was founded in 1438, when a strong leader from Cuzco conquered other tribes in Peru, integrating them into a federal system in which the emperor was considered the embodiment of the sun god Inti. This empire was also destroyed, the last Inca fortress being conquered by the Spaniards in 1572.
The Olmecs developed the calendar and the ball game, which were adopted by almost all Mesoamerican peoples along with the Olmec religion, which included ritual sacrifices. For this reason, as the Spanish missionaries observed, the Mayan and Aztec religions are very similar, having in common the calendar, human sacrifices and a pantheon of gods with snake or bird aspects.
For the Aztecs, the Universe included the heaven (which had 13 levels), the Earth and the Underworld (with 9 levels). The Universe arose after the hermaphroditic god Ometeotl created himself from darkness. He gave birth to the four Tezcatlipoca gods: Quetzalcoatl (The White Tezcatlipoca), Xipe Totec (The Red Tezcatlipoca), Huitzilopochtli (The Blue Tezcatlipoca) and The Black Tezcatlipoca or just Tezcatlipoca. The four gods killed the female crocodile Cipactli and made the world, Tlaloc (the god of rain), Chalchiuhtlicue (the goddess of lakes and rivers) and humans from her body. Because Tezcatlipoca lost his foot during the fight with Cipactli, he became the first sun. Angry, Quetzalcoatl hit him with a stone club, threw him from the sky and took his place. Because Tezcatlipoca turned all people into monkeys, Quetzalcoatl destroyed all of them with a hurricane and gave up being the sun. His place was taken by Tlaloc, who was later replaced by Huitzilopochtli.
In another Aztec creation myth, Tonacatecuhtli, a celestial fertility god representing the masculine essence of creation, lived in Omeyocan (the highest level of heaven) with his wife, Tonacacihuatl, the feminine essence. In some myths he separated the sky and the Earth and Ometeotl – with both masculine (Ometecutli) and feminine (Omecihuatl) aspects – created life and people on the land pulled out of the water by Tonacatecuhtli.
In the Mayan universe, the tree of the world stands at the center of the Earth and connects the 13 levels of heaven with the 9 layers of the underworld Xibalba, similarly to the Aztec religion. Each cosmic layer was governed by a different god. This tree, similar to Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, was a species of ceiba, a South American jungle tree that reaches a 75 meters height. In Mayan mythology, the Universe was lifeless in the beginning, filled with water and shrouded in darkness. The only light was a spark that surrounded three serpent gods who stood in the water, wrapped in green and blue feathers. One day, three other gods, called „Heart of the Sky”, approached them: Caculha Huracan, Chipi-Caculha and Raxa-Caculha. Then, the six deities decided to create the world. Two of the serpent gods, Tepeu and Q’uq’umatz, shouted „Earth!” and the world emerged from the water.
Quetzalcoatl or Tezcatlipoca the White of the Aztecs, known as Kukulkan or Q’uq’umatz by the Maya, ruled the west, was associated with the planet Venus and was described as a huge green snake with feathers. In human form he was depicted with a painted body, wearing a red bird-like mask, known as Ehecailacozcatl or Jewel of the Wind, symbol of the divine breath. In Mayan and Aztec mythology he created the world and the fire, named the plains and seas, discovered corn, tamed animals and taught his first followers music and dance. According to Spanish chronicler Las Casas, „Kukulkan taught humans how to live in peace and had them build important structures„. In The God-Kings and the Titans, James Bailey wroted the Aztecs’ opinion about Quetzalcoatl: „He was a teacher – a legend recalls – who taught humans not to harm any living thing and no longer make human sacrifices, but only of birds and butterflies„. In the most famous Aztec myth of Quetzalcoatl’s birth he is the son of Coatlicue, who became pregnant after being hit by a feather ball while in a temple, and so she gave birth to Quetzalcoatl and Xolotl. In another version, Quetzalcoatl is the son of the primordial god Ometeotl, born when his father scattered his divine breath on the Earth. Being a snake-god associated with Venus and the west, who civilized mankind, Quetzalcoatl / Kukulkan („The Feathered Serpent”) can only be the one named Enki by the Sumerians. And his enemy, the god of storm, Tezcatlipoca the Black (about whom Mexican legends said he defeated „The Feathered Serpent” at Tollan and forced him to leave Mexico), is Enki’s rival, Enlil of the Sumerians, also the god of storm.
Another aspect of Enlil is Huracan of the Maya, also known as Caculha Huracan, Tohil, Bolon Tzacab or K’awil, the god of wind, fire and lightning. Wind, lightning and fire were Enlil’s symbols in the world religions. Huracan’s name became the word for „hurricane” in Spanish, then adopted by other European languages in similar forms, such as „hurricane” in English, „hurrikan” in German and Hungarian, „hurikan” in Czech or „hurrikaani” in Finnish. Huracan was depicted with one human foot and one made from the body of a snake, his name meaning „The One With One Foot”. This different foot recalls the Aztec Tezcatlipoca, who remained lame after fighting with the female crocodile Cipactli. In fact, there are other similarities between the two Mesoamerican divinities: both were gods of storm, both destroyed a first generation of humans through a flood and both had a mirror as a symbol (Huracan was depicted with a mirror on his forehead, while the name of Tezcatlipoca in Nahuatl means „Hazy Mirror”). Thus, both represent the same divinity.
We also find Enlil in another pair of divinities, Tlaloc of the Aztecs and Chaac of the Maya. Chaac, the god of agriculture, rain and fertility, was one of the most important and complex deities in the Maya pantheon. He was often depicted as a fanged old man covered with scales, with a long, crooked nose, who sometimes wore a shield and a lightning axe, which he used to struck the rain-bearing snakes to produce rain. Enlil was the god of thunder and rain and the lightning was his weapon in many world religions. Striking the snakes shows his role as an enemy of the snake-gods led by his rival, Enki. Moreover, in Mesopotamia it was believed that Enlil taught humans agriculture, which is why the Mayans considered him the god of agriculture.
Similar to Chaac was Tlaloc, the third sun and god of rain, water and fertility for the Aztecs, a vengeful and violent deity. He ruled over Tlalocan, a paradise of souls who died in water, and human sacrifices were made in his name, in which children were drowned. He is depicted with blue skin, bulging eyes and sharp fangs. According to Aztec mythology, he was born from the female crocodile Cipactli when the four Tezcatlipocas made the world. Tlaloc married twice: first to Xochiquetzal, goddess of plants, love and flowers, and second to Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of lakes and rivers. With the latter he conceived Tecciztecatl, the rabbit god of the Moon. Enlil, also a ruling deity of our planet and god of storm, was married to Ninhursag, the goddess of love for the Sumerians. His hideous aspect and violent character in the Central American myths have a very logical explanation: because the local favorite was Quetzalcoatl / Kukulkan (which is why the Mayans’ most important calendar was the Venusian one), their deity’s rival was presented as a repugnant god.
Xipe Totec was a tribal god of the indigenous Tlapanec population in the Guerrero Mountains. The Aztecs adopted and transformed him into one of their most important gods, Tezcatlipoca the Red, god of war and new vegetation and patron of goldsmiths. He governed the growth of corn along with Tlaloc, the god of rain. Although he contributed to the creation of the world along with the other three Tezcatlipocas, he was also believed to send diseases to mankind. It was said that he skinned himself to feed the people with his skin. Without skin he is depicted as a golden god, symbol of the corn. At the Tlacaxipehualiztli festival, his priests flayed prisoners and wore their skin. He is the only one of the four Tezcatlipocas who did not hold the position of sun god. This war god, who governed the growth of corn along with Tlaloc / Enlil and who did not lead the world although he was part of the great gods, can only be Ninurta, the war god of the Sumerians and son of Enlil who, indeed, did not manage to occupy the Earth’s throne.
Coatlicue („Serpent Skirt”), also known as Toci („Grandmother”) or Cihuacoatl („Lady of the Snakes”), was highly regarded by the Aztecs both as a fertile mother goddess and a deity of death who devoured the dead. She was depicted as the patron of women who died during childbirth and also as Tlazolteotl, the goddess of impure and sinful sexuality. In artwork she was portrayed with a face made of two intertwined snakes or with a beheaded appearance, with blood snakes pouring from her neck. She wore a skirt of live snakes and a necklace made of human hearts and skulls, symbolizing the many gods she gave birth to. She gave birth to Huitzilopochtli and the 400 star gods, known as the Centzonuitznaua (Northern Stars) and Centzonmimixcoa (Southern Stars). The star gods hated Coatlicue because she became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli in a shameful way, being struck by a feathered ball, similar to how the god Quetzalcoatl was born in the most well-known Aztec myth of his birth. The star gods conspired to kill their mother, so Coatlicue was beheaded by one of her daughters, Coyolxauhqui. Huitzilopochtli, fully grown-up, jumped from her womb, killing all of the star gods. Their bodies, thrown by the god into the sky, became stars, and Coyolxauhqui’s head became the Moon. We recognize Ninhursag in this serpent mother goddess who gives birth to gods, her daughter, Ishtar, being most likely Coyolxauhqui.
Huitzilopochtli or Tezcatlipoca the Blue, the god of war and patron of the city of Tenochtitlan, was the last sun. He was depicted as a feathered man holding a magic weapon, a feathered serpent named Xiuhcoatl. He was considered equal in rank to Tlaloc, his predecessor. It was believed that Huitzilopochtli constantly battled against the forces of darkness who sought to plunge the world into an eternal night and destroy mankind. The Aztecs made human sacrifices in his name, giving him blood and human hearts for strenght in battle. They believed the souls of warriors killed in battle and women who died during childbirth served Huitzilopochtli in the afterlife, similar to the Scandinavians who believed the souls of warriors went to Valhalla, alongside the gods. Huitzilopochtli was the one who named the Aztecs „Mexica„, led them out of Aztlan and ordered them to find another country. The capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan, was built on the orders of the same god. If the Aztecs and other peoples of Central America believed the family of Quetzalcoatl / Enki was good and the family of Enlil was evil, then Huitzilopochtli must be Marduk, the son of Enki and Ninhursag, who was also a god of war. His magic weapon, the feathered serpent Xiuhcoatl, shows his belonging to Enki’s family. According to world myths, Marduk was the last ruler of Earth, just like Huitzilopochtli. Also, the matching of Coatlicue with Ninhursag proves that her son is the same Marduk.
In Maya religion we also find Itzamna, the great god of creation who lived in the sky, a god of priests and medicine. In different depictions Itzamna is associated with Hunab Ku, a great invisible god, with Kinich Ahau, the god of the Sun, and with Yaxcocahmut, a divine prophetic bird. Itzamna gave the Maya the calendar and the cacao tree and taught them writing. As a bird god he appears as a hawk or hern, with the symbols of day and night on his wings, holding a two-headed snake in his beak. Itzamna played an important role in the Maya calendar, one of the four annual rituals being dedicated to him. Maya kings invoked him to justify their right to rule; some added his name to their own. The god had four sons, the four Bacab, named Hobnil, Cantzichal, Saccimi and Hosanek, who were holding the sky in the four corners of the world. He was married to Ix Chel, also known as Chac Chel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine. This sky-dwelling creation god can only be the Mesopotamian Anu. The name Itzamna resembles that of Izanagi in Japanese myths, also an alter-ego of Anu. His hawk appearance is identical to that of Ra in Egypt, also the same character. His depiction with a snake in his beak symbolizes Anu’s victory over „The Great Serpent” Enki, recorded in many world myths.
If Enki was preferred in Central America, the favorite deity of South American tribes was Enlil. The most important and powerful god in the Inca pantheon was Viracocha, also known as Illa, Huracocha, Con, Con Ticci, Kon Tiki, Thunupa, Taapac or Tupaca, the god of the Sun, storms, fire and lightning, the supreme deity who created the world. The god who destroyed the first world through a flood was also worshiped by the pre-Inca populations in Peru. His wife was Mama Qocha („Mother of the Seas”), with whom he had two children: Inti, the god of the Sun, and Mama Quilla, the goddess of the Moon. It is said that Inti and Mama Quilla are the parents of the first Inca leader, Manco Capac, and his sister-wife, Mama Ocllo. Manco Capac, the founder of the city of Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, gave people the secrets of working the land and created a code of laws. The emperors who followed him believed they were reincarnations of Inti and considered Viracocha their spiritual father. Thus, the cult of Inti became the main cult of the Incas, with few temples dedicated to Viracocha. The legends of the Incas, collected by Harold Osborne and published in the book South American Mythology, assert that Viracocha was „a tall white man with an imposing stature and authoritative attitude„, who „had such great power that he turned hills into valleys and valleys into high hills, making water flow out of stone„. He is credited with introducing various forms of medicine, metallurgy, agriculture, animal husbandry, writing and a complex understanding of engineering and architectural principles in Peru. Besides being a scientist, architect, sculptor and engineer, Viracocha was also a teacher and healer. It is said that „wherever he went, he healed all the sick and restored the sight of the blind„. The first Spanish chronicler who recorded his legend stated that it was told to him by the Indians of the Andes: „they say that this man walked along the road, northward, performing miracles at every step, and they never saw him again. Everywhere he advised people how to live, spoke to them with great love and kindness and taught them to be good and not to harm each other, but to love each other and to be kind to all„. In a legend recorded by Harold Osborne in South American Mythology, Viracocha „walked accompanied by a suite and spoke to the locals with love, calling them his sons and daughters. Everywhere he went he performed miracles. He healed the sick with a simple touch. He spoke every language better than the locals, who called him Thunupa, Tarpaca, Viracocha-Rapacha, Pachacan„. Chronicler Juan de Betanyos stated in the 16th century History and Legends of the Incas that the Indians described Viracocha as „a tall bearded man, dressed in a white robe that reached the ground and tighten with a belt around his waist„. In a myth recorded by John Hemming in The Conquest of the Incas, Thunupa-Viracocha was „a tall, white man, whose appearance and presence commanded great admiration and respect„. Other legends of the Peruvians, collected by Harold Osborne, describe the god as „a white man with an imposing appearance, blue-eyed, bearded, tempered and puritan, who preached against drunkenness, polygamy and war„, who wore a cusma (sleeveless shirt) that reached his knees, „a white man with an imposing stature and authoritarian attitude” or „a skinny, medium hight man, bearded, dressed in a fairly long mantle„. Viracocha traveled surrounded by followers, who had the role of carrying the message of their master „to all corners of the world„. Pears Encyclopaedia of Myths and Legends: Oceania, Australia and the Americas of 1978 calls these companions „viracochas„: „then Con Ticci gathered his followers, who were called viracochas” and „Con Ticci ordered all viracochas, except for two, to go east„; the same name is used in the myths collected by Harold Osborne: „so those viracochas left for the provinces where Viracocha had sent them„. The Incas also called the god Illa, a name that comes from the Semitic root El / Il, which designated Enlil. „The authoritarian attitude” that he displayed suggests the same god, the ultimate source of authority on Earth. In the center of the Sun Gate calendar in the Kalasasaya complex there is a depiction of Viracocha; his face is harsh and severe, he wears an imposing crown on his head and holds a thunderbolt in each hand. Enlil was the king of Earth, a title symbolized by his royal crown, but also the god of storm, highlighted by the thunderbolts in his hands. The „ra” particle in Viracocha’s name signifies his role as a leader, and the first letters, „vi„, are identical to those in his Indian name, Vishnu. For the Incas, Viracocha caused the Deluge, and in Mesopotamia Enlil was responsible for this. A South American Mythology myth reports that in the village of Cacha in the Canas region, the god made fire come down from the sky, which burned stones „so they were like driftwood and you could lift big rocks with one hand„. And we remember that fire was one of Enlil’s elements. Therefore, the identity of the most important Inca god is obvious.
In North America, the very different religions and beliefs of the indigenous tribes reflect a sophisticated understanding of human nature and the surrounding world. The Hopi Indians believe they are in the fourth world after three previous worlds were destroyed when people indulged in vices and evil things, as in the myths of Central America. Most of the North American tribes believed in a creator god who created minor spirits. The Universe before creation is usually seen as a dark, desolate, endless water world. Then a creator god appears in the darkness and creates the world or, in some cases, gives birth to another god who does this in his place. In most traditions, the creator god makes the world in the same order: first heaven, then Earth and finally hell. The creator god is sometimes imagined as an invisible spirit, a human spirit or an animal spirit. Many tribes believed in a great spirit or Manitou, an impersonal spiritual power that resides in people, animals or natural phenomena. The term „manitou” comes from the Anishinaabe word for „god”. The Pawnee tribes in Nebraska worshiped a great spirit called Tirawa, which governed cosmic aspects of nature such as the Sun, Moon and stars, identical to Manitou. When Christian missionaries came into contact with Native Americans after 1850, they matched Kitchi Manitou with their God, to facilitate their conversion to Christianity. However, in this supreme celestial god we recognize An / Anu of the Mesopotamians, the Emperor of the Universe. In fact, An’s name is even found in Manitou’s name.
Given the similarity of American religions to those of the rest of the world, as well as the many archaeological mysteries of these two continents, it seems that American myths are not fairy tales, but lost histories of mankind, and Manitou, Quetzalcoatl and Viracocha are the same deities found all over the world.