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 human 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 putting some of them on a step like sacred animals. Animals were seen as equals to mankind, with feelings and personalities. With these beliefs, a relationship of respect and veneration towards some species was established for thousands of years.

Sacred animals kaankun snake

Sacred animals and the Mayan culture

The Mayan culture emerged surrounded by tropical forests with vast vegetation. For this reason, the environment helped their cohabitation with all kinds 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 for 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 in the jungle. This is one of the most symbolic animals in the Mayan world. A magnificent and beautiful being that also represented the best warriors and the highest classes in the society. Balam means jaguar in the 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.

Sacred animals Mayan jaguar

The hummingbird in spite of its size, it is very appreciated in the Mayan beliefs. Legend has it that 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. The admiration for this bird was such that Mayans prohibited hunting 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 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.

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

The snakes represent the terrestrial world and mankind’s 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 of Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan, the feathered serpent that descended to earth. In 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.

Mayan dog representation

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 conclusion, each being around the Mayan world fulfills a function within the cycle of nature. In the end, we all are part of a whole.

Read more about Mayan legends here: The Mayan Legend of Tsukán: guardian of the cenotes

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