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Symbols - What does heaven look like

Jaguar

The jaguar takes on the symbolism of all animals, as such for many rain forest people, it is a means of transport.

It is also a symbol of rebirth - change by quite violent destruction and transformation.

In many South American shamanic societies, the jaguar is the ultimate animal for any shaman to aspire to.  A shaman who has become a jaguar symbolically, or who has his spirit helper as a jaguar, is an extraordinarily powerful man - and it nealy always is a man, for reasons which should be obvious when you read the description about the jaguar as a jungle predator.

The jaguar (Panthera onca) is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest and most powerful feline in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Mexico across much of Central America and south to Paraguay and northern Argentina.  This spotted cat most closely resembles the leopard physically, although it is usually larger and of sturdier build and its behavioral and habitat characteristics are closer to those of the tiger. While dense rainforest is its preferred habitat, the jaguar will range across a variety of forested and open terrain. It is strongly associated with the presence of water and is notable, along with the tiger, as a feline that enjoys swimming. The jaguar is a largely solitary, stalk-and-ambush predator, and is opportunistic in prey selection. It is also an apex and keystone predator, playing an important role in stabilizing ecosystems and regulating the populations of prey species. The jaguar has an exceptionally powerful bite, even relative to the other big cats. This allows it to pierce the shells of armoured reptiles and to employ an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of prey between the ears to deliver a fatal bite to the brain.

Revered and feared.

The Jaguar in cultures

As one would expect, the jaguar is a ‘means of transport’ only in those areas where it is found in South America. Jaguars held enormous significance for ancient peoples as well as modern cultures in these areas.  So important are they that entire civilisations identified with them.

The Mayoruna for example, an indigenous tribe in the Amazon rain forest call themselves the ‘people of the jaguar’.  All Mayoruna—men, women, and children—have a line tattooed around the lips and across the cheeks to each ear. The tattoo instrument is a sharp fish bone. They also make small perforations across the upper lip and sometimes in the nostrils, into which they stick bristles. These "jaguar whiskers" give the face a feline look that is fundamental to the Mayoruna image.

In Mesoamerica, the Olmec a civilisation that flourished some 3000 years ago, were known as ‘the jaguar people’.  Their shamans were ‘jaguar priests’.  Their pottery and statuary is largely based on decorations of half human half jaguar figures both adults and children.  In effect we are seeing shape shifting and body image distortion.

In pre-Columbian Central and South America, the jaguar has long been a symbol of power and strength. Among the Andean cultures, a jaguar cult disseminated by the early Chavín culture became accepted over most of what is today Peru by 900 BC. The later Moche culture of Northern Peru used the jaguar as a symbol of power in many of their ceramics.

All major Mesoamerican civilizations prominently featured  jaguar ‘gods’, and for many, the jaguar was an integral part of shamanism (Miller and Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion.).

One such ‘god’ – probably a renowned shaman  - was Xbalanque, one of the Maya Hero Twins who descended to the underworld, and whose entire body is covered with patches of jaguar skin. Another is God L, who is "the primary lord of the underworld" and often is shown with a jaguar ear or jaguar attire, and atop a jaguar throne.

In later Maya civilizations, the jaguar was believed to protect the royal household. In many respects the jaguar  took the role of the lion, in South America, being associated with royalty – the lord of the jungle.  As shamans turned into shaman priests and then shaman kings, the jaguar skin became a sign of office.  A number of Mayan rulers bore names that incorporated the Mayan word for jaguar. The Aztec civilization shared this image of the jaguar as the representative of the ruler and as a warrior. The Aztecs formed an elite warrior class known as the Jaguar Knights – an interesting name given that the hero figure in Europe – the shaman who detroyed evil and went on the quest – was the knight – not the king.

In Summary

I think we can sum up the general jaguar archeype by saying he is a deadly and immensely effective warrior.   The jaguar shaman because of his strength is able to "dominate the spirits, in the same way as a predator dominates its prey"

There may be a negative side to the jaguar’s personality because this power can be both positively and negatively used.  A black jaguar – a sorceror – may actually kill and dominate other people.  They are very borderline cases – the line between good and bad is very fine.

Shamans who took on this role, became an animal of the dark, earth  and of water not of the air or of fire like the lion or the birds.  But he has a regal presence – the presence of the powerful in the jungle of life.  A leader to command fear and respect, but not necessarily to like.  He rules by might not diplomacy.

And jaguar shamans have advanced powers, they can travel between the ‘three worlds’ –the underworld, earth and water levels  The jaguar shaman is also able to travel to the underworld as a psychopomp and healer and can facilitate communication between the living and the dead, plants and other animals.

Jaguar people seem to be almost exclusively male.

Soul Retrieval –  Dr Alberto Villoldo
The female jaguar is fiercely dedicated to her young and amazingly protective, but the male jaguar is only around her for two weeks of the year – the rest of the time he’s marking territory a few dozen miles away

 

 

 

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