The Nahual Enigma
Many native Mexican folktale recount the antics of the Nahual, a strange shamanic sorcerer-type witch residing at the fringes of village life who prefer to operate where there are few to witness their craft. These beings have the ability to morph into animals and travel into the spiritual realm. Sometimes called naguals this name variation denotes a divine animal spirit within the individual. Divinity is usually depicted with feathered wings.
First recorded by Friars and Priests living in Mexico in the 17th century they were described as having the ability to change their shape to dogs, owls, armadillos, cows, chickens and most impressively jaguars.
Toltec in origin these beings still exist today creating mischief to some and acting as guardians on others. Both feared and respected, it is said their ability to transform is directly related to the animal represented on it’s birth day. This spirit companion transformer has been adopted into movies like Ron Howard’s Willow, rock group Yes’s ‘Owner of a Lonely Hearts’ music video, and even Power Rangers. In ancient Persia and in mentioned in the Koran the Djinn were also able to shape shift. Comparisons can also be made to the wolf man of Europe.
In Oaxaca, the mestizo (Europe and American Indian) populations consider nahuals to have malevolent intentions while the Zapotecs and Mixes revere them as protectors of the people. The character of Don Juan in the Carlos Castaneda books was a type of shamanic practitioner nahuatl descendant who encouraged the main character to identify with animals and learn from their spiritual teachings.
The three villages of Arrazola, San Martin, and La Union celebrate the subject of the nahual in many of their artisan works. Fanciful tales of stones transforming into people for the purpose of dancing and then shape shift into chickens. Music played for festival celebrations often depict people playing a musical instruments with such fervor that they morph into animals is a reoccurring theme.
Now relegated to simple trickery in order to get a free meal. The late Manuel Jimenez claims to have been challenged to strange contests of skill by several witches. It is often thought that the nahuals change their shape to farm animals in order to get a free meal. Woodcarvings of burros or cows are based around that folktale. As a rule of thumb nahuals usually have beards and blue eyes. Qualities that were very rare with those sharing Meso American ancestry.