avatar \AV-uh-tar\, noun:
1. The incarnation of a deity -- chiefly associated in Hinduism with the incarnations of Vishnu.
2. An embodiment, as of a quality, concept, philosophy, or tradition; an archetype.
3. A temporary manifestation or aspect of a continuing entity.
In 1517, the year of their first contact, the Aztecs took the Spaniards to be avatars of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, god of learning and of wind.
-- Paul Theroux, Fresh Air Fiend