|Supernatural Folkways From When Animals Were Gods|
Steeped into traditional folktales and beliefs, the Oaxacan wood
carvers borrow and improvise themes and motifs from the region's diverse
Indian tribes. Folkways have intermingled alongside Spanish ideologies
as the populations overlapped, while still uniquely remaining intact.
Animal gods, such as Chuen (the dog), and Ahau (the eagle),
can be matched to the lunar zodiacs of many East and Southeast Asian civilizations.
Similarities in animal and supernatural characters are shared by Mixtec,
Mazatec, Zapotec, Mixe, Chantino, and Trique Indian cultures.
In many instances the animals were either once gods or worked with
the gods or men of the different ages. The artistry produced in the
different villages reveals that ubiquitous knowledge carried on
from the distant past.
||Rabbit- Best known as the symbol of the moon. The rabbits profile fits
the shape of the dark region of a full moon. Instead of a man in the
moon the Zapotecs and Mayans saw a rabbit in the moon. The Mayan moon
goddess was frequently depicted in art holding a rabbit.
||Turtles- Land and especially aquatic tortugas are associated with music as their
shells were used as instruments. If the gods were playing the turtle shells
it was thought to be thunder. The Mixtec and Zapotec god of thunder Yahui wears
a turtle shell. The Mayans associated the turtle shell with the shape of the earth
and their sculptures depict the maize god rising from it. The Mayan ritual calendar
was depicted as a turtle shell as well.
||Toads- Having 20 digits just like humans these amphibians are seen
in early Olmec art as giving birth to kings.
||Crocodile- The crocodile's hard ridged surface and aquatic domain
associated them with the concept of the earth floating over the sea.
Always depicted as older than most other deities the crocodile is considered
one of the original creator gods called Itzamma.
||Deer- In Central Mexican folklore and art the deer were as small as dogs
and identified with the gods of the hunt. One deer played an important role
in a mythical episode where the young moon goddess fled her attackers on
the back of a white stag. The Zapotec symbol for the seventh day is the deer.
||Jaguar- By far the most
revered beast in all ancient Mesoamerican cultures.
Unfortunately, because of the fear and respect they commanded chiefs and kings wore
their pelts, made shoes into them, and made necklaces of their teeth.
The jaguar god Tepeyollotl was thought to live in the heart of the mountains.
Different minor jaguar deities are depicted on reliefs as paddlers, water
lilies, and chubby jaguar babies.
||Nahual- Known as Nagual, Nahuatl or
nahualli the form changing sorcerer or witch is known
throughout both Meso and South America. These Antediluvian beings embody the shamanic powers of
transformation and higher enlightenment. Franciscan monks and priests in the 16th century wrote of natives
that could change their form to deer, birds, dogs, and rabbits. Depicted in stories
as either petty thieves or protectors of villages the legend of the nahual is as
vast as it is varied. Once thought of as guardian angels in pre-Columbian times
then later relegated to witches or fruit stealers once Christianity was firmly in place. The nahual captures
the spiritual essence of humans relationship with terrestrial earth.
||Butterfly- Oddly associated with fire and war the butterfly is thought
to be the soul of dead warriors in Zapotec and Mixtec cultures.
||Skeletons- In the both the ancient and present Mesoamerican world life and death
exist in a dynamic complimentary way. Deceased ancestors exert a powerful influence
upon the living. The dead sometimes acted as intermediaries between the living and
the gods. Aztecs would perform separate festivals for adults and children. Many
of these rituals have been incorporated into All Saints Day and All
Souls day now referred to as Day of the Dead.
||Spiders- were commonly identified with the female goddess and the Earth. This fanged nose bar goddess is associated with curing and midwifery.
viewed as symbolizing death by Mesoamerican culture this
nocturnal flyer is often rendered with budging eyes and
crossed bones. Zapotecs used engraved bat images onto funerary urns
and emphasized large claws and round ears. Fortunately today science
has discovered that it is bats and not bees who are the number one
pollinators in the world.
||Monkeys- In Central Mexico,
the monkey god was known as Ozomatli and those
born on their designated 11th day were lucky and happy people.
||Dogs- Although dogs were mainly a food source to the Aztecs the Zapotecs
had supernatural reverence to them as guides in the underworld. Human
skeletons have been found buried along with their dogs. Folk legends tells
of a great body of water in the underworld that only dogs can navigate.
Black dogs were favored as they didn't mind getting wet or dirty and
white dogs were a bit less desired as it was thought they liked being
||Dragon- The Olmecs, forerunners to all Mesoamerican civilizations had several
symbolic variations of their sky god. a paw with a wing or flame eyebrows
were the more common motifs seen on pottery. Variations such as flying
serpents were symbolized as lightning in Mixtec folklore.
|| Owls- These nocturnal birds found at the entrance of caves were often
associated with the underworld as caves were thought to lead to. Perceived
as omens or messengers between humans and the divine the owl is considered the pre-columbian equivalent of an angel.