Maya Jaguar Mask
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The jaguar played an important role in the culture and religion of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Quick, agile, and powerful enough to take down the largest prey in the jungle, the jaguar is the largest of the big cats in the Americas, and one of the most efficient and aggressive predators. For the ancient Olmec, Maya, and Aztec (Mexicas), the jaguar was a symbol of authority and one's prowess in hunting and battle, as well as an integral part of mythology and a powerful spirit companion for shamans.
Ancient Mayan Shape Shifter Who Guides Destiny
The ancient Maya are well known for their knowledge of advanced astronomy and mathematics. Their calendars are able to predict stellar events millennia into the past and millennia into the future. How a Stone Age group was able to acquire this type of knowledge and put it to use is still unknown. Through exhaustive and collective work, the few surviving codices (bark books) and surviving Mayan pottery are starting to reveal some of their secrets. One interesting aspect of the Maya is their view of the universe and time. Events happen in recurring cycles and everyone and everything has a preordained part to play.
Upon this world a mere mortal is placed to live out their destiny and to help sustain the gods that created the universe. Although sometimes it seems a little help was needed to make sure everyone stayed on track.
Upon birth, every child was assigned a Nahual by the gods. A nahual is a spirit being tasked with assisting its human to fill their destiny and in cases even act on his behalf. The nahual in essence is a shape-shifter, able to take the form of animals most notably jaguars, dogs or even humans while conducting its duties. If a child is destined to be an astronomer, a warrior or a tradesman the path was preordained and the child is required to follow that path to its conclusion.
At times human free-will plays an unorganized role in the plan. Perhaps the child shows no interest in astronomy or is weak in battle making their intended destiny difficult. Nevertheless the person is expected to fulfill their role and will be coaxed or even tricked by their nahual if they stray from their destiny.
This destiny fulfillment and the role a nahual can play is told in a story about a male child named "Jade Bird" whose destiny included being a warrior. Jade-Bird would be tasked with the obligation of winning a great battle. However since an early age the child showed no interest in warrior roles. Rather the child showed great interest and skill in the art of picture writing. Various efforts were made by his family to condition the boy in the art of warfare. Sadly, no apparent warrior skills were present, although not for the lack of trying. Simply stated, the boy did not possess the forceful nature or strength required to be a warrior. As time progressed and the boy grew in years he was able to make a living performing the task of picture writing but could never gain respect as a warrior. His behaviour was simply too timid.
One day a nobleman requested a work task be performed to commemorate his brave victory over a very fierce enemy warrior he had slain. It was a noteworthy victory for the nobleman warrior. He claimed he had defeated the enemy warrior "Jaguar-Paw" in combat in plain view of everyone in the battlefield. No clemency had been shown by the nobleman as he decapitated his victim. After the decapitation the nobleman gleefully stated that he then skinned the body and would proudly display the skin as his trophy. Everyone would forget the greatness of "Jaguar-Paw" and only remember his humiliating defeat at his hands. The nobleman wanted every detail pictured and written down for all to see.
After much work Jade-Bird realised his task. All important details had been recorded in images and writing. The cruelty shown by the nobleman was apparent. Not only had he defeated Jaguar-Paw in battle, but now he would display his trophy to erase any greatness Jaguar-Paw might have accomplished. Jaguar-Paw would now only be remembered as someone's trophy.
The nobleman was very pleased with the work and quickly took his victory accunt. He was off to battle once more; a large group of enemyfierce enemy warriors were challenging the city.
What happens next is recounted as the work of a shape-shifting nahual performing his duties. An pressing request by "Jaguar-Paw", the leader of the attacking group was received, directed to the "Revered Warrior Jade-Bird" stating:
"Revered brother, I have studied your picture writing dispatch with much detail. My heart sank upon seeing your bold hand tell of what awaits me. I have no fear to die in battle. But to never be remembered for much except your trophy really demoralizes me. I will take my leave along with my brave warriors never to come back. If this place is defended by such warriors, may the gods deal with it."
After the withdrawal of the enemy warriors, many congratulatory verses were spoken on behalf of Jade-Bird. His bold move had been the tipping point in the siege.
Afterwards, Jade-Bird made a few inquiries as to the nobleman that had commissioned the work. No such person seemed to exist. All that could be gathered was firsthand accounts of Jade-Bird in full warrior uniform personally dispatching runners with a challenge to Jaguar-Paw including a message in picture writing.