Friday, February 10, 2012

Daniel Brinton, Nagualism: A Study in Native American Folk-Lore and History

I have referred in some detail to the rites and superstitions connected with the Calendar because they are all essential parts of Nagualism, carried on far into Christian times by the priests of this secret cult, as was fully recognized by the Catholic clergy. Wherever this calendar was in use, the Freemasonry of Nagualism extended, and its ritual had constant reference to it. Our fullest information about it does not come from central Mexico, but further south, in the region occupied by the various branches of the Mayan stock, by the ancestors of some one of which, perhaps, this singular calendar, and the symbolism connected with it, were invented.

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The indications are that the nagualists derived these numbers from the third and seventh days of the calendar “month” of twenty days. Tepeololtec, the Cave God, was patron of the third day and also “Lord of Animals,” the transformation into which was the test of nagualistic power.[42-¶] Tlaloc, god of the mountains and the rains, to whom the seventh day was hallowed, was represented by the nagualistic symbol of a snake doubled and twisted on itself, and was generally portrayed in connection with the “Feathered Serpent” (Quetzalcoatl, Cuculchan, Gukumatz, all names meaning this), represented as carrying his medicine bag, _xiquipilli_, and incensory, the apparatus of the native illuminati, his robe marked with the sign of the cross to show that he was Lord of the Four Winds and of Life.

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The conclusion to which this study of Nagualism leads is, that it was not merely the belief in a personal guardian spirit, as some have asserted; not merely a survival of fragments of the ancient heathenism, more or less diluted by Christian teachings, as others have maintained; but that above and beyond these, it was a powerful secret organization, extending over a wide area, including members of different languages and varying culture, bound together by mystic rites, by necromantic powers and occult doctrines; but, more than all, by one intense emotion--hatred of the whites--and by one unalterable purpose--that of their destruction, and with them the annihilation of the government and religion which they had introduced.


  1. Ibid; The root _na_, to know, is the primitive monosyllabic stem to which we trace all of them. _Nahual_ means knowledge, especially mystic
    knowledge, the Gnosis, the knowledge of the hidden and secret things of
    nature; easily enough confounded in uncultivated minds with sorcery and magic.[57-*]

    It is very significant that neither the radical _na_ nor any of its
    derivatives are found in the Huasteca dialect of the Mayan tongue, which
    was spoken about Tampico, far removed from other members of the stock.
    The inference is that in the southern dialects it was a borrowed stem.

    Nor in the Nahuatl language--although its very name is derived from
    it[58-*]--does the radical _na_ appear in its simplicity and true
    significance. To the Nahuas, also, it must have been a loan.

    It is true that de la Serna derives the Mexican _naualli_, a sorcerer,
    from the verb _nahualtia_, to mask or disguise oneself, “because a
    _naualli_ is one who masks or disguises himself under the form of some
    lower animal, which is his _nagual_;”[58-†] but it is altogether likely
    that _nahualtia_ derived its meaning from the custom of the medicine men
    to wear masks during their ceremonies.

    Therefore, if the term _nagual_, and many of its associates and
    derivatives, were at first borrowed from the Zapotec language, a
    necessary corrollary[TN-6] of this conclusion is, that along with these
    terms came most of the superstitions, rites and beliefs to which they
    allude; which thus became grafted on the general tendency to such
    superstitions existing everywhere and at all times in the human mind.

    Along with the names of the days and the hieroglyphs which mark them,
    and the complicated arithmetical methods by means of which they were
    employed, were carried most of the doctrines of the Nagualists, and the
    name by which they in time became known from central Mexico quite to
    Nicaragua and beyond.

    The mysterious words have now, indeed, lost much of their ancient
    significance. In a recent dictionary of the Spanish of Mexico _nagual_
    is defined as “a witch; a word used to frighten children and make them
    behave,”[58-‡] while in Nicaragua, where the former Nahuatl population
    has left so many traces of its presence in the language of to-day, the
    word _nagual_ no longer means an actor in the black art, or a knowledge
    of it, but his or her armamentarium, or the box, jar or case in which
    are kept the professional apparatus, the talismans and charms, which
    constitute the stock in trade or outfit of the necromancer.[59-*]

    Among the Lacandons, of Mayan stock, who inhabit the forests on the
    upper waters of the Usumacinta river, at the present day the term
    _naguate_ or _nagutlat_ is said to be applied to any one “who is
    entitled to respect and obedience by age and merit;”[59-†] but in all
    probability he is also believed to possess superior and occult

  2. From the Maya, of Yucatan. _Naual_, or _nautal_, a native dance, forbidden by the missionaries. _Naatil_, talent, skill, ability. _Naat_, intelligence, wisdom. _Naatah_, to understand, to divine. _Nanaol_, to consider, to contemplate, to meditate, to commune with oneself, to enter into oneself. _Noh_, great, skillful; as _noh ahceh_, a skillful hunter. From Maya Dialects. QUICHE-CAKCHIQUEL. _Naual_, a witch or sorcerer. _Naualin_, to tell fortunes, to predict the future. _Qui naualin_, to sacrifice, to offer sacrifices. _Na_, to feel, to suspect, to divine, to think in one’s heart. _Nao_, to know, to be alert or expert in something. _Naol_, a skillful person, a rhetorician. _Naotizan_, to make another intelligent or astute. _Natal_, the memory. _Natub_, the soul or shadow of a man. _Noh_, the god of reason (“Genius der Vernunft,” Scherzer). _Noh_, to fecundate, to impregnate (_Popol Vuh_). TZENTAL. _X-qna_, to know. _X-qnaulai_, to know often or thoroughly (frequentative). _Naom_, wise, astute (_naom vinic_, hombre sabio). _Naoghi_, art, science. _Naoghibal_, memory. _Ghnaoghel_, a wise man. _Alaghom naom_, the Goddess of Wisdom. From the Zapotec, of Oaxaca. _Nana_, _gana_, _gona_, to know. _Nona_, to know thoroughly, to retain in the memory. _Nana ticha_, or _nona lii_, a wise man. _Guela nana_, or _guela nona_, wisdom, knowledge. _Hue gona_, or _ro gona_, a teacher, a master. _Na lii_, truth; _ni na lii_, that which is true. _Naciña_, or _naciina_, skill, dexterity. _Hui naa_, a medicine man, a “nagualist.” _Nahaa_, to speak pleasantly or agreeably. _Nayaa_, or _nayapi_, to speak easily or fluently. _Rigoo gona_, to sacrifice, to offer sacrifice. _Ni nana_, the understanding, the intelligence, generally. _Nayanii_, the superior reason of man. _Nayaa_, } superiority, a superior man (gentileza, gentil hombre). _Naguii_, } From the Nahuatl, of Mexico. _Naua_, to dance, holding each other by the hands. _Naualli_, a sorcerer, magician, enchanter. _Nauallotl_, magic, enchantment, witchcraft. _Nauatl_, or _nahuatl_, skillful, astute, smart; hence, superior; applied to language, clear, well-sounding, whence (perhaps) the name of the tongue. _Nauati_, to speak clearly and distinctly. _Nauatlato_, an interpreter.

  3. Ibid., When the mysterious metamorphosis of the individual into his or her _nagual_ was about to take place, the person must strip to absolute nudity;[49-*] and the lascivious fury of bands of naked Nagualists, meeting in remote glades by starlight or in the dark recesses of caves, dancing before the statues of the ancient gods, were scenes that stirred the fanaticism of the Spanish missionaries to its highest pitch. Bishop Landa informs us that in Yucatan the dance there known as the _naual_ was one of the few in which both men and women took part, and that it “was not very decent.” It was afterwards prohibited by the priests. We have excellent authority that such wild rites continued well into the present century, close to the leading cities of the State,[49-†] and it is highly likely that they are not unknown to-day.

    Moreover, it is certain that among the Nagualists, one of their most revered symbols was the _serpent_; in Chiapas, one of their highest orders of the initiated was that of the _chanes_, or serpents. Not only is this in Christian symbolism the form and sign of the Prince of Evil and the enemy of God, but the missionaries were aware that in the astrological symbols of ancient Mexico the serpent represented the _phallus_; that it was regarded as the most potent of all the signs;[49-‡] and modern research has shown, contrary to the opinion long held, that there was among these nations an extraordinary and extensive worship of the reciprocal principle of nature, associated with numerous phallic emblems.[49-§] Huge phalli of stone have been discovered, one, for instance, on the Cerro de las Navajas, not far from the city of Mexico, and another in the State of Hidalgo.[50-*] Probably they were used in some such ceremonies as Oviedo describes among the Nahuas of Nicaragua, where the same symbol was represented by conical mounds of earth, around which at certain seasons the women danced with libidinous actions. Although as a general rule the pottery of ancient Mexico avoids obscenity, Brasseur stated that he had seen many specimens of a contrary character from certain regions,[50-†] and Dr. Berendt has copied several striking examples, showing curious _yoni_ symbols, which are now in my possession. We may explain these as in some way connected with the worship of Pantecatl, the male divinity who presided over profligate love, and of Tlazolteotl, the _Venus Impudica_ of the Aztec pantheon; and it is not without significance that the cave-temple of Votan, whose contents were destroyed by the Bishop of Chiapas, in 1691 (see above, p. 39), was located at _Tlazoaloyan_, both names being derived from a root signifying sexual action.[50-‡] The other name of the divinity, called “the Heart of the Hills,” is in Quiche, Alom, “he who begets,” and the Zapotec Cozaana, another analogue of the same deity, is translated by Seler, “the Begetter.” Such facts indicate how intimately the esoteric doctrines of Nagualism were related to the worship of the reproductive powers of nature.

  4. Stanley Weinbaum, "A Martian Odyssey:" "Anyway, we trudged along toward the mud-heap city and I began to wonder whether the city builders dug the canals. I pointed to the city and then at the canal, and Tweel said 'No-no-no!' and gestured toward the south. I took it to mean that some other race had created the canal system, perhaps Tweel's people. I don't know; maybe there's still another intelligent race on the planet, or a dozen others. Mars is a queer little world.

    "A hundred yards from the city we crossed a sort of road--just a hard-packed mud trail, and then, all of a sudden, along came one of the mound builders!

    "Man, talk about fantastic beings! ..."