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Pale Ink, by Henriette Mertz, [1953], at

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Mexican Legends

IF HWUI SHAN'S indication of direction and measurement of distance is accepted as he has written it, and such a location exists, then there must be some evidence or some record of his visit in that spot, in the manner in which it has existed in China. Hwui Shan was deeply impressed with the people and the culture that he found. Those persons, in turn, might have been equally impressed with such a stranger in their midst—wandering Buddhist priests could not have been an every-day occurrence in their lives.

We would have the right to expect, therefore, some trace in southern California or Mexico of the visit of one from a totally different culture—some Chinese or Buddhist influence. Is Mexico silent? Is there nothing there that would contribute a tiny clue or a legend to substantiate Hwui Shan's report? Is there nothing that tells us of a stranger appearing in their midst who would in some manner be the kind of person Hwui Shan, a Buddhist priest, would have had to be?

Folk-lore sticks tenaciously. Stories, handed down from father to son, keep alive the out-of-ordinary or spectacular events concerning a people to a greater extent than any other thing. Communities are knit together by perpetuation of memories of things shared together. Stories are repeated and repeated—pride of family or clan re-kindles the brilliant glories of their ancestors. Our Bible is a good example.

Mexico, far from being silent, has several famous legends—notably those surrounding Quetzalcoatl or Wixipecocha, that of the controversial "Bearded White Man," of Kukulcan and of Huitzilopochtli. The legend of the "Bearded White Man" has cropped up all the way from Mexico to Peru. It was this legendary figure who was supposed to have made the conquest of Mexico possible. Mexican folklore still scintillates with stories of Quetzalcoatl and the "Bearded White Man."

Before the conquest of Mexico, the entire country was dominated by an inexhaustible number of priests—religious ceremonials

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were the order of the day. Quetzalcoatl was the principle god of the very ancient people, while Kukulcan was the deity of the Maya. Huitzilopochtli, the Azteca God of War, being Azteca, came along some five-hundred years later. Prior to these gods, there existed an ancient school of philosophy, according to Dr. Alfonso Caso, which "sustained the thesis that the origin of all things was to be found in a single dual principle, masculine and feminine, which begot the gods, the world and man."

According to some versions, this dual principle had four children, Xipe, the Red Tezcatlipoca; Black Tezcatlipoca; Quetzalcoatl, the White Tezcatlipoca; and Huitzilopochtli, the Blue Tezcatlipoca. These colors symbolized the four cardinal directions, and, Quetzalcoatl, being white, corresponded to the west.

Quetzalcoatl, whose name means "plumed serpent," in Azteca mythology, was the god most beneficial to mankind. He was shown in various forms, frequently pictured wearing a beard, because, as Dr. Caso stated: "Being a creator of gods, it was necessary to represent him as an old man, therefore bearded. This followed the tradition of representing the old gods, and especially the most primitive deities, as possessing beards." Quetzalcoatl was likewise one of the most complex figures in the Azteca pantheon. A major god of first rank, he was the god of life; of the morning; of the wind; and was identified with Venus, the morning star. Being the god of life, he created man. He discovered corn and was responsible for presenting this valuable food plant to man so that he might eat; he taught man how to weave; to polish jade; he taught the art of making mosaics from the brilliant feathered macaw and quetzal; he taught man science, giving them the means to measure time and distance and to study the movement of the planets; he taught man the calendar.

The War God, Huitzilopochtli, although identified above as one of the four gods born of the original dual life-giving principle, is best known for a second legendary beginning. According to this tradition, Huitzilopochtli was the result of a "miraculous birth." His mother, Coatlicue, conceived him from a ball

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of feathers which descended from heaven and which she placed in her bosom. When her other children doubted the story of this divine conception, and accused their mother of improper conduct, Huitzilopochtli is supposed to have sprung up, fully armed, to defend her. It was to Huitzilopochtli that the great Azteca temple in Tenochtitlan, over the ruins of which the Cathedral of Mexico City now stands, was dedicated.

The Aztecas wandered onto the scene in the Valley of Mexico somewhere about the eleventh century, taking a century or so to settle down there. The War God, Huitzilopochtli, came along with them—he was their own. Quetzalcoatl, on the other hand, was adopted by them—he was not originally their own. He was known much earlier, both by his own name and by various others. He appears to have been one and the same as the Zapoteca "Wixipecocha" and the Maya "Kukulcan." Their attributes were identical and, whatever minor variations there may be, they were the result of a shift in locale.

Kukulcan, Wixipecocha and the Zapoteca-Mixteca Quetzalcoatl, preceded the Azteca Quetzalcoatl by some six or seven hundred years. Tall, fair of complexion, open forehead, large eyes and a thick beard, he was the god from whom all things stemmed. He was kindly, abhorred war, was averse to cruelty, maintained the most exemplary manners, taught men to cultivate the soil, weave, reduce metal from their ores, and was all that could be considered supreme in man. He was supposed to have disappeared as mysteriously as he came but the place and manner are unknown. In some sections, he was said to have sailed away to the west, while in others, he was said to have sailed to the east. Some traditions have him disappear in a cloud of smoke on the mountain top.

While three names were used to designate the same god, because of the difference in locale, there seems to be no question but that he was one and the same. Squier felt that the Maya "Kukulcan" and the Azteca "Quetzalcoatl" were the same under a different name. Maya records show that he was a god, that he came from Mexico and returned there and was later deified as the Mexican "Quetzalcoatl."

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A number of sixteenth century Spanish writers definitely affirm that the Mexicans introduced idolatry into Yucatan, and Dr. Morley quotes one of them as follows:

"The old men of these provinces (Yucatan) say that anciently, near to eight hundred years ago, idolatry was not practiced, and afterwards when the Mexicans entered it and took possession of it, a captain, who was called Quetzalquat (Quetzalcoatl) in the Mexican language, which is to say in ours, plumage of the serpent . . . introduced idolatry into this land and the use of the idols for gods, which he made of wood, of clay and of stone. And he made them (the Maya) worship these idols and they offered many things of the hunt, of merchandise and, above all the blood of their nostrils and ears, and the hearts of those whom they sacrificed in his service . . . "

"They say that the first inhabitants of Chichenyza were not idolators, until a Mexican Captain Ku Kalcan entered into these parts, who taught idolatry, and the necessity, so they say, to teach and practice it."

This story confirms, at an early date, the identity of the Mexican "Quetzalcoatl" with the Maya "Kukulcan." Bishop Landa, in his famous history of Yucatan, spoke of the two gods as being one and the same. He said in part:

"The Indians believed that with the Itzas who occupied Chichen Itza there reigned a great lord, named Kukulcan . . . They say that he arrived from the west; but they differ among themselves as to whether he arrived before or after the Itzas or with them. They say that he was favorably disposed; and he had no wife or children, and that after his return he was regarded in Mexico as one of their gods called Quetzalcoatl; and they also consider him a god in Yucatan on account of his being a just statesman; and this is seen in the order which he impressed on Yucatan after the death of their lords, in order to calm the dissentions which their deaths had caused in this country."

All of the Mayan accounts agree that he returned to Mexico and all of the Mexican accounts agree that when he finally departed from Mexico, he faithfully promised the people that he would return again in the year of his name, CE ACATL.

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The first landing of the Spaniards, at Vera Cruz, took place in the year 1519, which, in the calendar system of the Aztecas, exactly coincided with the year CE ACATL. Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, then on the throne in the Azteca capitol, who had been trained as a priest and was deeply steeped in religious tradition, on being brought the news of a group of "bearded white men" landing on the coast, never for a moment doubted but that the prophesy of Quetzalcoatl was being fulfilled.

So it was that Cortez, with a mere handful of men and i6 horses, descended on the Valley of Anahuac in the year CE ACATL and, supposedly with every card stacked against him, was able to conquer the mighty Moctezuma, with his tens of thousands of trained warriors. If the religious tradition of the Azteca had not been so deeply inbred, and had Moctezuma not adopted a fatally hesitant policy, Cortez would have been wiped out instanter and the thread of history completely changed.

Chroniclers, who were with Cortez and those who immediately followed, wrote extensively about this god, Quetzalcoatl. Early Spanish priests reported that he must have been a relative of the devil himself for he had given the Indians a bogus imitation of Christianity since they had confessions, absolution of sins and baptism. Their priests were both numerous and powerful and they practiced flagellations, fasts, vigils, and many lived in monastic seclusion.

This legendary fair-skinned, bearded man, known in different sections by different names, was said by the early Spanish padres to have brought a knowledge to the Mexican people of agriculture; of a calendar system; of measurement of time by astronomical calculation; of metallurgy; of locating the mines of precious stones and of polishing those stones; of making mosaics of feathers of birds; and of a complicated system of theology.

Azteca legends told of the coming of Quetzalcoatl, to the Valley of Mexico, as being about 800 years before the coming of the Spaniards. Bishop Landa's version, from the Maya, placed the date as uncertain—whether he was in Yucatan before the Itzas, after them, or came with them. In point of time, this legendary figure, Quetzalcoatl, according to the Azteca, would

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have come about 700 A.D., while the Maya would fix the date as being anywhere from 435 A.D. to 692 A.D., or from the time of the founding of Chichen Itza, 435-455 A.D., to the time it was abandoned in 692 A.D. As the Aztecas themselves only settled in the Valley in the late 1200's the date which they have affixed, of approximately 700 A.D., could not be from their own records, as that date would have been 500 or more years before they arrived. The Maya, on the other hand, were known to have lived in the general area long prior to the Christian era, and his approximation of the date, 250 years earlier than that given by the Azteca, would have been in a direct line through his own people. If there is a possibility that some person gave Bishop Landa a date as early as 435 A.D., then not knowing which date to be the correct one, there is ample foundation for the arrival in Yucatan of "Kukulcan" at the coming of the Itzas, or as early as 435 A.D., according to the Bishop.

The Classics record that Hwui Shan returned to China from Fu-sang in 499 A.D. We do not know, however, at what date he arrived in Fu-sang or how long a time he spent there—neither do we know whether or not he himself was one of the five Bhikshus, of whom he wrote as going to Fu-sang in 458 A.D.

Bishop Landa's quotation, above noted, recounted that "Quetzalcoatl" taught a religious idolatry that the people of Yucatan did not have before his coming, and that he insisted that it was necessary to practice it and to teach it. What statement could more fittingly describe a missionary Buddhist priest? Did he not go out with that express purpose in mind? Hwui Shan told about the five Buddhist priests who went to Fu-sang, taking with them their Buddhist books and images and taught the people of that country their Buddhist religion, of which the people were ignorant before that time. He did the same.

If the Indians told the Spaniards that Quetzalcoatl taught them this multiplicity of things that they had not known earlier, and if Hwui Shan and Quetzalcoatl were one and the same, would a Chinese have had knowledge of all of these arts and crafts and would he have been likely to have transmitted that knowledge along with his religious teaching? Do our missionaries

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of today do the same thing? Do they bring a knowledge of agriculture—or of medicine? Would a foreigner from any country, other than China, have possessed such extensive understanding as to be able to teach astronomy; weaving; metallurgy; agriculture; a calendar system; carving and polishing of jade; or of fine feather work? Where else in the world would one go to find out about these things and to how many countries would one have to travel to learn them all?

Chinese contributions to the sum total of human knowledge have been great. Astronomy, astrology and planetary studies go back to at least 2500 B.C. Metallurgy, the well-known standardized formula for bronze, dates from the Shang Dynasty, 1765-1123 B.C. The cultivation of plants and the art of fine feather work have beginnings still farther back and are lost in antiquity. Carved and polished jade dating from 1500 B.C. is contained within the glass cases of the Chicago Natural History Museum. The magnetic compass, according to Klaproth, dates from 1100 B.C. The Egyptians were perhaps the only other people with as high a degree of civilization—there may be others in the middle east, but, as yet, we do not know.

Hwui Shan would have been in a position to have possessed knowledge of all of these things, since they formed a part of the culture of the people of China for hundreds and thousands of years before his time.

Early Spanish accounts relate that the Indians had a form of writing, as a matter of fact, three forms—picture writing, symbolic and phonetic; that they wrote on cotton cloth, on skins prepared like parchment, on a composition of silk and gum, and on a species of paper made from the aloe. Hwui Shan, in his account, told us that the people of Fu-sang had a form of writing and that they wrote on paper made from the leaves of a plant.

Mexican legends, which enumerate the multiplicity of items taught to the early people by Quetzalcoatl, contain no reference to being taught any writing. They are silent. From the fact that they are silent and from the fact that Hwui Shan stated that the people of Fu-sang had a writing, it is fair to conclude that

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[paragraph continues] Hwui Shan was not the one who brought writing to Mexico—it was there before he got there. The two accounts do not conflict.

One Mayan story stated that Kukulcan came from the west, that he had neither wife nor child. Another Mayan legend related that when he left, he went back (east) to Mexico where he was deified as the Mexican god, Quetzalcoatl. Mexican accounts from the Valley of Mexico and the area around Cholula, have him departing over the sea to the east, while those farther south, Chiapas and Oaxaca, told of his sailing west. On the surface, the accounts appear contradictory—but they need not be. If one left from Cholula for the east coast and sailed from there across the Bay of Campeche to the east, he would land in the northwestern part of Yucatan. This would confirm both the Maya legend that he came from the west and the story from Cholula that he sailed east. One leaving Yucatan, the Maya said that he returned to Mexico, therefore, Mexican accounts from the south that state that he came from the east would also be correct since he returned from Yucatan. Zapoteca and Mixteca legends tell of his disappearance in a cloud of smoke while others have him sail off toward the setting sun. In other words, Quetzalcoatl, the "bearded white man," came into the Valley of Mexico from the west, sailed eastward across the Bay of Campeche to the northwest corner of Yucatan, returned to Mexico by a southern route across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and departed from the country on the Pacific side. Legendary material follows that pattern.

In the Mayan account, above related, we were told that Kukulcan had neither wife nor child. Would such a statement not fit a Buddhist priest? His religious vows would have precluded him from having either. The further statement that he was a just statesman and calmed the dissenting people after their lords had died would likewise be a deed which a priest might render. He was favorably disposed. We wondered when we started out whether we might find a stranger within the gates who in some measure would have attributes of a priest. Recorded Mayan stories indicate that we would find such a one.

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In and of themselves, each and every one of these odd comparisons standing alone, could be co-incidental. Two could be; three could be. Taken together, the sheer volume precludes it. All of these stories have been extracted from isolated records found in totally unrelated cultures having no contact with each other—Spanish; Zapoteca; Maya; Chinese; and Azteca. The identities of the period of time; the character of the person described by the Maya; the teaching; the introduction of idolatry; the later religious domination by the priests; the Chinese know-how of the early arts and crafts; and the innumerable incidental human things that were set down all point to one and only one conclusion. So many unusual occurrences do not automatically happen in one restricted area without a pretty sound reason behind them.

Next: Chapter VI. Yucatan