Sacred animals in the Mayan culture

Beings that connect gods with men

each one with a purpose on Earth

Since the beginnings of the significant cultures of the world, animals have always been present in the beliefs of mankind. They are inhabitants of this planet long before humans beings. Therefore, they used to control all the forests, jungles and seas. That’s the reason important ancient civilizations, like Egyptians, Chinese, and Mesoamerican cultures, provide them with a personality and holy meanings. Animals were seen as equals to mankind, with feelings and personality. With these beliefs, a relationship of respect and veneration towards some species was established for thousands of years.

serpent

photo by kaankuun alterno

The Mayan culture, lived surrounded by tropical forests with vast vegetation. For this reason, the environment helped their cohabitation with all kind of animals, lizards, big cats, thousands of birds and aquatic fauna. No matter the big number of species Mayans relate most of them to their religious beliefs, astronomic knowledge, arts, and trade. Every specific task to connect heaven, Earth, and the underworld was destined to a different animal.

The fire of the rising sun was related to the colors of the feathers of the scarlet macaw. Meanwhile, Jaguars ruled the darkness of the night at the jungle. This is one of the most symbolic animals in the Mayan world. A magnificent and beautiful been that also represented the best warriors and the highest classes in the society. Balam means jaguar in Mayan language and it’s the same name that is used to refer to the most prominent priests that read the message of the gods.

jaguar

Photo by James A. Doyle

The hummingbird in spite of his size, it is very appreciated in the Mayan beliefs. Legend has it hat they carry only good thoughts between mankind. Butterflies represent the brave warriors fallen in battle.  The Quetzal (considered one of the most beautiful American birds) was the symbol of life and prosperity. Because of the admiration for this bird was such that Mayans have prohibited to hunt it. Instead, Mayans used to catch them because of their colorful feathers to do clothes and ornaments for the governors, they took them and send them free. Feathers grow again in quetzals.

Owls were the night guardians of the jungle. Beliefs told that they knew the route to get to the “Xibalba,” the world of the death. The God of death chose them as a companion. Therefore wisdom and clairvoyance were characteristics of the owls. Bats were the keepers of caves and cenotes. These animals were related to death, sacrifices, and darkness too.

Mayan animals quetzal

Photo by Houston Chronicle and Xcaret

Read more about the Xibalba: Mysteries of the Mayan underworld.

The snakes represent the terrestrial world and the mankind knowledge. In fact they are considered the personification of the sun. A transcendent animal in all the Mesoamerican cultures, like Mayans, Toltecs, and Aztecs. One of the most important beliefs in these religions is the worship to Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan, the feathered serpent that descended to earth. At these territories  there is a native dog called, Xoloitzcuintle. His duty was to protect and lead his master’s soul through the route to the Xibalba. Some animals were considered magical, for example, the deer, which could only be hunted by the high classes, because their flesh was supposed to have magical effects.

Xoloitzuintle Mayan animal

Photo by Pixabay

It is time to go to the sea, where turtles were the life keepers of the oceans. Their shell represented the Earth. In fact,Pawahtún, the creator God of the universe, appears in Codex and murals carrying a turtle shell. Also, longevity and thunders were meanings for turtles. In conclussion, each been around the Mayan world fulfills a function within the cycle of nature. It the end, we all are part of a whole.

Keep exploring the fauna in the Mayan jungle:  7 animals that you can find in the Oasis Maya

Do you know any Mayan myths? Share them with us.

 

David De la Garza
Marketing designer who loves skateboarding and playing soccer, always looking for good music to listen