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In Mesoamerican folk religion, a Nagual or Nahual (both pronounced [na'wal]) is a human being who has the power to magically turn him- or herself into an animal form, most commonly donkey, turkey and dogs,[1] but also other and more powerful animals. The Nagual can then use his powers for good or for evil causes according to his personality[2]. The specific beliefs vary within Mesoamerica, but the general concept of nahualism is pan-mesoamerican. It is also linked with pre-columbian shamanistic practices, because depictions of humans transforming themselves into animals are known as early as Preclassic times in the Olmec culture. The practice is also sometimes linked with the Mesomerican calendrical system which can be used for divination rituals, often for example determining whether or not a person will be a Nagual. The common Mesoamerican belief of tonalism, that all humans have an animal counterpart to which their lifeforce is linked, also often intertwines with nagualism.[3] In English the word is often translated as "transforming witch," but translations without the negative connotations of the word witch would be "transforming trickster" or "shape shifter" [4]

Contents

History

The word comes from the Nahuatl word nahualli which was used to refer to practitioners of magic. Among the Aztec the day of a person's birth calculated in the Tonalpohualli (the Mesoamerican sacred calendar) would determine the nature of the person - each day was associated with an animal which could have a strong or weak aspect. The person born on the day of, for example, "the dog" would then have both the strong and the weak aspects of the dog. In Nahuatl the word Tonalli was used to refer both to a day and to the animal associated with that day. Because practitioners of powerfull magic were normally born on certain days related to animals with a strong or harmful aspect they would often have specific tonals such as the jaguar. In Aztec mythology the God Tezcatlipoca was the protector of nagualism, because his tonal was the jaguar and he governed the distribution of wealth.

In modern rural Mexico the nagual is often the same as a "witch" or "brujo" who is able to shapeshift into an animal at night, (normally into an owl, a bat or a turkey) suck blood from innocent victims, steal property from others, cause disease etc. In some indigenous communities the position of Nagual is integrated into society and the community knows who is a Nagual and tolerates them or even fears and respects them, sometimes hiring them to remove curses cast by other naguals. In other communities the accusation of nagualism may result in violent attacks by the rest of the community towards the accused - much like the witch processes of renaissance Europe.

The Western study of Nagualism was initiated by noted archaeologist, linguist and ethnologist Daniel Garrison Brinton who published a treatise called "Nagualism: A Study in Native-American Folklore and History" which chronicled historical interpretations of the word and those who practiced nagualism in Mexico in 1894. He identified the different beliefs associated with nagualism in some modern Mexican communities such as the Mixe, the Nahua, the Zapotec and the Mixtec.

Subsequently many studies have described Nagualism in different Mesoamerican cultures such as the Zoques and the Jakaltek, K'iche', Q'eqchi', and Tzeltal Maya. An interesting pattern has been described for some societies in which the fear of Naguals is a social factor inhibiting modernization in the community because the Naguals are believed to punish those who enter into contact with the mestizo society. Such is the case among the Jakaltek.[5].

Discussion continues on which degree nagualism represents a pre-Columbian belief system or is modelled on European popular religion. Gustavo Correa,[6] in an article published by the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University, suggested that the concept of nagualism was not pre-Columbian, and argued that it was wholly imported from Europe, where he compares it to the medieval belief in werewolves.

However, Indigenous sources of pre-Columbian origins such as the Popol Vuh describe concepts clearly related to the modern day practice of Nagualism.. Nonetheless, the only version of this document which has survived was transcribed well after the Spanish Conquest and may contain concepts introduced by European missionaries.

Kaplan[7] concluded that in Oaxaca the belief in Naguals as evil shapeshifting witches is common in both indigenous and mestizo populations. According to Kaplan, the belief in animal spirit companions is exclusively indigenous.

References

  1. ^ Nutini & Roberts p. 43
  2. ^ Stratmeyer 6 Stratmeyer (1977)
  3. ^ see for example Stratmeyer & Stratmeyer (1977). Kaplan (1956)
  4. ^ Nutini & Roberts (1993) p.43
  5. ^ 1977, Dennis & Jean Stratmeyer, "The Jacaltec Nawal and the Soul Bearer in Concepcion Huista", in Cognitive Studies of Southern Mesoamerica, Helen L. Neuenschander and Dean E. Arnold eds.,Summer Institute of Linguistics, Museum of Anthropology Publication 3
  6. ^ Correa, Gustavo, 1955, "El espiritu del mal en Guatemala" in Nativism and Syncretism , Middle American Research Institute Publications 19:37-104, Tulane University.
  7. ^ Kaplan, Lucille, 1956, Tonal and Nagual in Coastal Oaxaca, Journal of American Folklore 69:363-368

Bibliography

  • Stratmeyer, Dennis & Jean (1977) "The Jacaltec Nawal and the Soul Bearer in Concepcion Huista", in Cognitive Studies of Southern Mesoamerica, Helen L. Neuenschander and Dean E. Arnold eds., Summer Institute of Linguistics, Museum of Anthropology Publication 3
  • Correa, Gustavo, 1955, "El espiritu del mal en Guatemala" in Nativism and Syncretism, Middle American Research Institute Publications 19:37-104, Tulane University.
  • Kaplan, Lucille, 1956, Tonal and Nagual in Coastal Oaxaca, Journal of American Folklore 69:363-368
  • Nutini, Hugo G. & John M. Roberts. (1993) Bloodsucking Witchcraft: An Epistemological Study of Anthropomorphic Supernaturalism in Rural Tlaxcala. Arizona University Press. Tucson. ISBN 0-8165-1197-7.
  • Hoag Mulryan, Lenore, 1996, Nagual in the Garden: Fantastic Animals in Mexican Ceramics. Los Angeles, Fowler Museum, ISBN 978-0930741495.

See also

External links








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