In pre-Hispanic cultures, the natural world was interpreted primarily in religious terms, and this continues in the contemporary cultures of indigenous Mesoamerican peoples, including the speakers of the various Mayan languages. Volcanoes and other mountains, lakes, rivers, and all manners of biodiversity had a special place in the pre-Hispanic religious world. None was more fundamental or more elaborated in religion than the resplendent quetzal. The RQ was given god-like status in the form of Gucomatz, Kukulkan, Quetzalcoatl, and Xochiquetzal in a number of Amerindian cultures.
Quetzalcoatl is a male deity, messianic, Apollo-like, and bearded. Spanish accounts of the Conquest, partially confirmed by contemporaneous indigenous accounts, suggest that Moctecusoma II (Montezuma) considered the possibility that Hernán Cortés embodied the prophecy of the year One Reed about the return of Quetzalcoatl, who had been banished from the empire and who had left it on the Atlantic Ocean on a raft of sea serpents, vowing to return.
Xochiquetzal is a female deity of a different order. The composite words for Quetzalcoatl are Quetzal + coatl (serpent), therefore the quetzal serpent deity. Xochiquetzal is formed from Xochitl (flower) + quetzal, therefore the flower quetzal deity. In Aztec mythology, Xochiquetzal was a goddess of flowers, fertility, games, dancing, agriculture and pregnant women. In some myths, Mixcoatl (Cloud Serpent), the god of the hunt identified with the Milky Way, the stars, and the heavens, is Xochiquetzal’s second husband and they sire Quetzalcoatl.
Quetzalcoatl is a key figure in a number of foundation myths of pre-Hispanic culture. In Nahua accounts translated into Spanish documents during the sixteenth century A.D., the mythological figure of central renown is Quetzalcoatl. In several of these stories, Quetzalcoatl meets a dramatic end in his human life, exiling himself from the Central Mexican city of Tollan (contemporary Tula) and traveling east until he reaches the ocean. Once there, he climbs aboard a raft of serpents and drifts off over the waters, reaching the horizon and becoming Venus, the morning star.