It is claimed by some authors that white missionaries or “gods” visited America before Christopher Columbus. Authors usually quote from mythology and legends which discuss ancient gods such as the Mexican Aztec’s Quetzalcoatl to conclude that the legends were actually based on Caucasians visiting those areas, and that the Caucasians were really the gods.
Rather than trying to account for all of the oral traditions in the Americas where accounts of foreign visitors in pre-Colombian times with physical characteristics quite unlike those of the local populations occur and where, this article will focus on a relatively small geographical area. Due to the author’s main area of expertise being that of the ancient people of what we now call Peru and Bolivia, the story of ancient visitation begins in the Lake Titicaca area, which Peru and Bolivia share. These two nations, and especially Peru, had likely the largest populations of people prior to the Spanish arrival, and boasted many great civilizations of which the Inca were the last, and perhaps largest. We will then travel along a northwestern path through Mexico and into the southwest US where similar stories of Plumed Serpent characters existed in the past.
It is in no way, shape or form my purpose to support racist concepts that Caucasians specifically arrived prior to the savage conquests of Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro and others and supposedly educated the local populations that were encountered. The “white god” and “white skin” terms may refer to people that arrived from distant lands and had skin tones lighter than the resident populations, but the idea that they were necessarily Caucasians has presumably no foundation in actual history.
A bearded Moctezuma II, last Aztec ruler, visiting the tombs of his ancestors ( CC BY NC-SA 2.0 )
What is intriguing is that there are so many oral traditions, especially those of South and Central America, as well as Mexico (which is technically part of North America) that describe foreign visitors arriving bearing light skin, often reddish or even blonde hair, and beards. The latter is curious because most Native men of the Americas genetically have little to no facial hair, and many accounts of these foreign visitors stress them having full beards.
Controversial “White Gods”
Spanish chroniclers from the 16th century claimed that when the conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro first encountered the Inca in what is now Peru they were greeted as gods, “Viracochas”, because their lighter skin resembled a possible description of their God Viracocha. This story was first reported by Pedro Cieza de León (1553) and later by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Similar accounts by Spanish chroniclers (e.g. Juan de Betanzos) describe Viracocha as a “White God”, often with a beard. However, whether the Inca in fact believed this, or the story was simply made up by the Spanish themselves is uncertain.
Moche ceramic vessels depicting bearded men. (Pattych / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
British writer Harold T. Wilkins took the concept of the white gods the furthest, writing that a vanished white race had occupied the whole of South America in ancient times. Wilkins also claimed that Quetzalcoatl was from Atlantis. And the occultist James H. Madole influenced by Aryanism and Hinduism wrote that the Aryan race was of great antiquity and had been worshipped worldwide by lower races as “white gods”. Madole also wrote that the Aryans originated in the Garden of Eden located in North America.
Some Mormons believe that the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, a figure sometimes described as white and bearded, who they say came from the sky and promised to return, was likely Jesus. According to the scriptural account recorded in the Book of Mormon, Jesus visited and taught natives of the Americas following his resurrection, and regarded them as the “other sheep,” he had referenced during his mortal ministry. The Book of Mormon also claims that Jesus appeared to others, following his resurrection, even to the inhabitants on the “isles of the sea.” This latter reference, may offer additional consideration of certain Polynesian accounts.
The Plumed Serpent
The Plumed or Feathered Serpent was a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. It or he was called Viracocha or Tunupa in the Inca and earlier cultures of Peru and Bolivia, Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs, Kukulkan by the Yucatec Maya, and Gucumatz and Tohil among the K’iche’ Maya, for example. The double symbolism used in its name is considered allegoric to the dual nature of the deity or person, where being feathered represents its divine nature or ability to fly to reach the skies and being a serpent represents its human nature or ability to creep on the ground among other animals of the Earth, a dualism very common in Mesoamerican deities.