The Gospel of the Toltecs
The Life and Teachings of Quetzalcoatl
by Frank Diaz, Bear & Company, 2002
Ce Acatl Toplatzin is the human incarnation of the Toltec deity Quetzalcoatl. His story contains many familiar themes: he’s chosen for leadership at an early age; he trains for and fulfills his duties becoming the leader he is destined to be. He becomes careless, leaving room for his adversaries to undermine his authority, eventually contributing to his downfall.
In his fall from grace he leaves the Toltec homeland, Tula and wanders. Eventually he finds a new home, and a new people; disciples hear his words and practice his teachings, until the time where he makes the choice to leave his human form. He descends first to the underworld before rising to the heavens. After four years he returns in human form. This is the story of Quetzalcoatl laid out in the “The Gospel of the Toltecs, The Life and Teachings of Quetzalcoatl,” by Frank Diaz.
In The Gospel of the Toltecs, Diaz weaves Nahua and Maya codices, Spanish chronicles from their conquest of Mexico and native oral traditions to recount the life and journeys of Quetzalcoatl. It’s important to note that there are many divergent tales regarding Quetzalcoatl and this reviewer is not familiar with all of them.
Initial reviews of this book criticized the work for lack of sourcing and context. And while Diaz does list books and codices each chapter is derived from, they’re certainly not up to most academic anthropological standards. One reviewer suggested that because of this, the book “will be of limited usefulness to the beginner, despite its fascinating topic.” And this is what prompted me to write because, simply, I disagree.
What led me to seek out this book is the Toltec concept of intent. I have been fascinated by what I have read about intent as described through modern and popular books that have roots in Toltec traditions. Taisha Abelar (one of Carlos Castenada’s students) wrote about intent haltingly in her book the Sorcer’s Crossing. Recently, I came across intent again in a more gentle presentation when I read Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements for the first time. The Gospel of the Toltecs helped provide additional background to the origin of intent in the Toltec Wisdom traditions with a single verse, such as “Do not subjugate yourself to chance.”
These books are not anthropological sources, and Casteneda was much maligned for blurring the lines. But science continually misses what is represented in oral traditions and in experience. I study ancient practices because they bring a connection to the unknowable that, for me, is deeper and richer than academic study. There is great value in this book for those who learn through experience. Indeed, Ce Acatl Toplatzin instructs, “Make yourselves Toltecs: men of self-experience.”
Later, he defines just what it is to be Toltec:
“I give you a power to create marvelous things, and through it you will make yourselves deserving of the Toltec name, which you will pass on. You will travel through valleys and over mountains, investigating everything in life and finding worthy customs and history and enlightened beliefs. Bring them to your communities and share them with everyone, for then you will reach perfection in the Toltec way.”
Furthermore, Ce Acatl gives his disciples “the authority to take priestly power in his name” but he specifies, not in a manner to take ownership, but “rather as servants, as debtors” who might take “something on loan until it’s time to give it back.” “Wherever you go, ask the history of the place.” “You will watch over and pass on the honors you receive. With all your heart you will take care of the doctrine you received and the Toltec way of life.”
It is said that Montezuma placed great value on Toltec wisdom, seeking royalty of their lineage to cement political marriages. Perhaps it is because of instructions like these; placing ego and ownership in it’s proper place, honoring the story and the accumulated wisdom over the messenger.
Not being familiar with the native codices that have survived or the Spanish Chronicles, it would appear that Diaz chose to call it a gospel and patterned the text as bible-like verses. For the most part, it works. As with any first reading of biblical or scriptural texts, from a spiritual rather than rational point of view, you have to believe or take on faith many of the events described. While the footnotes are sparse, they do explain some of the metaphors as presented in the text. And there is some beautiful prose in this translation.
“Do not allow the scattered ashes and the crossroads to give you orders.”
My complaint with the book lies in a few unanswered questions. I would like to know how he chose different sources for different sections of the story, and how he chose between existing native oral history to tell this tale as compared to the Christian tradition’s recording of the life of Quetzalcoatl. Not to mention, what are the native oral stories?
I’m not sure that it matters, though. Cultures explored by pure anthropological science often make for dry and tedious reading. Here we have one version of the tale of Quetzalcoatl, uninterrupted by sourcing and footnotes. Assuming Diaz is less concerned with an academic/scientific history of Quetzalcoatl, and rather a retelling more in line with oral traditions and true native cultures, it would appear he has succeeded.
Legends of the Plumed Serpent
Biography of a Mexican God
By Neil Baldwin, Public Affairs, 1998
Neil Baldwin is a biographer rather than an anthropologist. He is fascinated by the story of the Plumed Serpent and how infused Quetzalcoatl is in the culture and identity of Mexico. One reviewer called the book a “wonderfully awkward work” with sometimes “overly literal descriptions” that “evoke the tedium of guidebooks.” Perhaps. However, the book brings the reader up to date recounting the many stages of drastic upheaval and cultural decimation, through which, Quetzalcoatl still survives.