Quetzlcoatl: how the world got music!


This is a story from the Aztecs, one of three civilizations (the Aztecs, the Maya, and the Inca) in the Americas before Europeans arrived. The Aztecs had their own gods and mythologies.  This story is about the Aztec god called Quetzalcoatl whose name means bird-snake. He was the god of life, wind and learning. 

One day Tez-catli-poca was out for a walk on Earth. He was the sky god. The ruler of the universe. All of this was his.  But something wasn’t right down on Earth. It looked good. It smelled good. Some of it even tasted good. But - but - it just didn’t SOUND good. In fact, it didn’t really sound of anything. Nothing. Really, not one thing at all.


Tezcatlipoca liked sound. Sound was everywhere else in the universe. The music of planets as they went about their ways. The harmony of the stars. The whooshing of the comets. But down on Earth - silence. 


Tezcatlipoca felt sorry for the people of Earth. Yes, it was pretty and tasty and smelly, but he felt that music filled creatures’ hearts and inspired them to greatness. In the heavens, music made the gods lives much better.


He had a think. He needed help. Help from a god with energy, power, determination and creativity. He needed the god of the winds, Quetzalcoatl.  Quetzacoatl looked like a lot like a bird and a snake. A snake-bird. A bird-snake. “What can I do for you, boss?” he asked. 


“I’ve forgotten something and  need you to put to right for me,” said Tezcatlipoca. “Yes, Earth is pretty and pongy and it’s pretty delicious, but how could I forget the most important thing? They need MUSIC!” he cried. 


“But, boss,” said Quetzacoatl, “You know who’s got all the musicians, don’t you?” Tezcatlipoca sighed. “Yes," he said. “I have to ask you to go to the Sun to get some music. I’ve been a silly god, but it’s time to put things right. Go on, off you go.”   


“Why do I have to go?” moaned Quetzacoatl. 


“Because the Sun is a meany,” said Tezcatlipoca. “He’s taken all the singers and music-makers and they play and sing for him all day long, and he absolutely refuses to share. So I need you - the fastest, most creative, smartest god of all my gods - to sort this out. Here’s the plan,” he continued. 


“Travel to the House of the Sun and bring back the best singers and the best musicians. Remember - we need to wake up the world. We need music!”


That’s not a plan; that’s just an order, thought Quetzacoatl, but when the boss god tells you what to do, you don't talk back. You do as you’re told and you find a way. 


Quetzalcoatl flew into the air and soared over land and sea, searching the endless coastline for a special beach that was the gateway to the House of the Sun.


When he spotted it he swooped down to land.  He called on three of Tezcatlipoca’s servants: Cane-&-Conch, Water Woman, and Water Monster. When they arrived, he told them the plan and they got to work…


Cane-&-Conch, Water Woman, and Water Monster all grabbed hold of each other and each one of them began to stretch. Longer and thinner they became, like plasticine when you pull it, and they twisted themselves together to make a rope. Once they’d made themselves into a rope, they speedily knotted themselves with magic to became a mighty rope bridge stretching all the way to the sky. 


Quetzalcoatl climbed the magic bridge, going higher and higher, and the earth grew smaller and smaller below. Ahead of him he could see the House of the Sun. Its towers shimmered in the distance. But getting to them was not so easy. Before he could get there, were was a maze of streets with very high walls. He kept getting lost and going around in circles.


Trying his hardest not to give up, Quetzacoatl heard the most beautiful sound he had ever known. It was cool and bright. It was sweet and light. It was music!

He followed the sound ’til it led him out of the maze and there, before him, were hundreds of musicians, playing in the great courtyard of the Sun. 


The Sun itself was surrounded by music - music so sweet, that the sunlight seemed to dance on its waves. The musicians were dressed in many colours - white and blue, gold and red and the music was bright and soothing, happy and sweet, soft and playful and full of energy. It was the music of children, of princesses and princes, the music of gods.


But then the Sun caught sight of Quetzalcoatl. 


“SILENCE!” he bellowed. “No-one must make a single note ’til this feathery snake-bird has gone. Anyone who makes a sound will be thrown from my palace, down to the terrible, horrible ugly old Earth with Quetzalcoatl, the stinky bird-snake.”


The musicians obeyed. No one wanted to leave this wealthy palace of light where they had everything they could wish for. Suddenly everything was the most silently silent you could ever imagine - everything in the entire universe.


"Musicians," smiled Quetzalcoatl, "please, come and play. Sing your songs. Play your tunes. I ask you, in the name of the great sky god Tezcatlipoca: Come to the Earth and fill that world with your sounds.”


No one answered. "The people of earth need you!” Quetzalcoatl pleaded. But still the musicians were silent. He had tried his best but Quetzalcoatl did not like to be ignored. He didn’t like meanies and he didn’t like selfishness. 


Quetzacoatl had a temper. Quetzacoatl was, you remember, a wind god….Uh, oh.  All at once, he exploded with anger, like a hundred hurricanes all at once. Lightning cracked and thunder boomed and clouds swirled around the House of the Sun, turning the daylight into darkness. He blew so hard that everything fell down and the Sun flickered like a tiny flame. The only shelter was under Quetzacoatl’s feathers, and all the musicians ran to him for safety. 


As soon as they were all under his protection, Quetzalcoatl’s anger passed. The thunder faded and the clouds vanished. He held the frightened musicians in his arms and he fled the House of the Sun.


Quetzalcoatl was full of happiness as he soared down the sky bridge back to earth. He felt like he was taking a thousand precious creatures back home. As they flew, the musicians looked back to the House of the Sun and saw only blinding, bright white light. They looked ahead of them down to the Earth and saw blue seas and river and green land with fluffy clouds over the top. They couldn’t stop themselves - they had to make music and they sang and played as their excitement at their new home grew and grew.


The Earth felt something new was coming. As Quetzacoatl came closer, the planet gave a sigh of relief. Fruit grew on the trees for the very first time and the flowers bloomed with deeper, stronger colours. The Earth was coming alive.


Finally they landed on earth. The musicians smiled at the silent planet. This wasn’t the horrible, dark place the Sun had said! It was bright and light and full of beauty, and the people there were so pleased to see them! They played for the earth with all their hearts and the people of earth - for the first time in history - began to dance. 


There was music everywhere, and the sea calmed with the sound. Music rose up the mountains and flowed down the valleys and traveled the rivers, and through the trees, swaying in the wind, leaves rustling with gentle sighs.


And this explains why, if you’re ever awake when the sun comes up, colour fills the sky, birds begin to chirp and sing, trees rustle and sigh, rivers babble, and the whole world is filled with happiness. They are making music to celebrate the universe and thank Quetzacoatl.


Quetzalcoatl was pleased and so was Tezcatlipoca. The musicians were happy in their new home. And the earth flourished. And ever since, we’ve always had music.


The End 


Let’s think!

  • Why did Tezcatlipoca the sky god want the people of the earth to have music?

  • Why do you think the Sun didn’t want to share music?  Have you ever not wanted to share? 

  • How could you make the sun feel better about sharing?

  • Do you think Quetzalcoatl was right to lose his temper at the musicians? Could there have been another way to get the musicians to come to earth?

  • How do you think the musicians felt when they saw what Earth was really like?

  • If you were a powerful god, what one thing would you make sure earth had? 

  • What music makes you feel happy? What instruments do you / we know? 

  • What music would you play to Sun to calm him down?