Introduction to Ancient Mesoamerican Animal Symbolism –

Photo by Maybelle Amber

The peoples of ancient Mesoamerica largely understood the relationship and representation of the fauna around them to the divine and the cosmos. Animals are believed to be messengers or agents of gods or other supernatural beings, linking people to specific gods or divine phenomena, and providing omens.

Laymen, fishermen, hunters, and farmers practice animal rituals to ensure successful hunting and fishing, prevent animals from causing damage to their fields, and deter ants from entering certain areas and moving. Diviners, wizards, and healers interpret the appearance and behavior of animals in the physical world and in dreams to assess and determine a variety of everyday situations.

Animals also feature prominently in people’s myths and legends and serve as models and metaphors for their social and natural worlds and symbolic discourses. Additionally, they can be found in dynasty insignias and may serve as designated guides, passed down from one ruler to another in the same dynasty. Animals are also associated with astrological constellations in codices, steles, and other cultural platforms, and include many sunmarks in their divination (260-day) calendars. Sunmarks are symbolic characters – animals, elements or relics whose meaning and expression can be influenced by a myriad of factors.

Animals themselves may also be understood as living creatures. Animals are understood to embody, represent and provide access to innate gifts and powers that make them key players in political, religious and cultural life.

Codexes from ancient Mesoamerica are objects that can enhance the vision of ritual practitioners and provide a more nuanced understanding of the myths that are often performed in rituals through illustrations of clothing, colors, body postures, ritual tools, images, and times of day , and may even help the shaman foresee the future.

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Common themes and meanings

The ancient Mesoamerican peoples shared basic concepts about the human body and human life, basic deities, major iconographic symbols, and a core complex of mythological beliefs. As Mesoamerican scholar Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos points out, “Mesoamerican mythology is better understood as originating from a common core of ancient beliefs that varied across multiple regional variants.”

There are often mythological themes and meanings associated with animals that are resilient and date back to many regions, cultures and periods in ancient Mesoamerica. One possible reason for this is that the sacred gifts and meanings associated with animals often reflect their physical attributes, natural habits, and instincts. These include how they hunt/gather food, mate and groom themselves, as well as where they live and venture, how they move, and whether they are night or day.9

In ancient Mesoamerican myths, narratives, and illustrations, animals were involved in the creation of the world—how it was made or discovered, how elements in nature were produced, and how races or tribes originated and obtained corn and other foods. These myths also often explain how animals acquire various traits and tendencies, and convey themes and meanings about the divine qualities, behaviors, behaviors, and associations of a particular animal.

animals as therapeutics

Animals are very useful in therapy, even more so than plants. The magical healing powers of animals are often linked to their physical and behavioral traits and the myths associated with them. For example, the flexibility of small snakes and the many movable joints of centipedes are used as remedies to relieve stiffness. The speed and dexterity of hares and rabbits make them good candidates for limb disorders.

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There are also many petitions made to animals to implore them to help remove disease from the sick, and certain animals are sometimes considered harbingers and causes of disease and are identified in these petitions as metaphors for disease.

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share mind-centred practice

i use the word Spirit Includes non-religious, pagan, religious, and heart-centered practices—basically any kind of tradition or practice that includes belief in some divine power and rituals that arise or are associated with those beliefs. Whether or not we have true blood ties to ancient Mesoamerican native traditions, some of us resonate with and are intuitively attracted to this wisdom and apply its divine essence to our spiritual practices and Tradition.

No matter where we come from, anyone willing to work hard to study and respect and acknowledge these traditions has the right to share these sacred messages.

I encourage us to love and consciously decolonize our hearts and minds, focusing more on consciously respecting and transforming these traditions rather than dogmatic control.

In order to truly decolonize our spiritual practice, we need to allow ourselves to create a space to discover what is right for us, and to question and criticize anyone or anything that limits what our path should be like and what it needs to be. If and when we are asked to learn and draw lessons from our indigenous practices, we also need to define for ourselves what feels inspiring, uplifting, empowering, applicable, and relevant in our personal lives – putting our own unique sacred Essential energy breathes into these beautiful traditions.

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Regardless of culture, race, ethnicity and tradition, learning these intuitive and heart-centered earth practices and developing a safe, fun, and exploratory creative space can heal and revitalize our spirits on many levels.

© 2021 by ENka Buenaflor. all rights reserved.
all rights reserved.Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
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veterinary medicine

Animal Medicine: Curanderismo’s Guide to Transfiguration, Travel, and Connecting with Animal Allies
Author: Erika Buenaflor, MA, JD

《动物医学:Curanderismo Guide to Shapeshifting, Journeying, and Connecting with Animal Allies by Erika Buenaflor, MA, JDOffering multiple ways to connect with animals for spiritual guidance, self-empowerment, and healing, Erika Buenaflor reveals how each of us can use ancient Mesoamerican wisdom to enrich our lives by working with animal guides.

The author presents 76 of the most popular animals in ancient Mesoamerican legends, rituals, and medical rituals, in alphabetical order, detailing each animal’s spiritual gifts, shape-shifting drugs, domains associated with them, and their appearance in dreams or visions symbolism of time.

For more information or to order this book click here.

About the author

Author photo: Erika Buenaflor, MA, JDErika Buenaflor, MA, JD, holds a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of California, Riverside, with a concentration in Mesoamerican shamanism. A practitioner of curandera for over 20 years, descended from her grandmother curanderas, she has studied with curanderas/os in Mexico, Peru and Los Angeles, and has lectured on curanderismo in many settings including UCLA.

To learn about her workshops, classes, book signing events and retreats, or to schedule a meeting with her, visit

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