Oaxaca is one of the states with the most incredible variety of handicrafts. We can find everything from handmade clothing to decorations made of typical materials such as black clay. According to the indigenous traditions that prevail in Oaxaca, each thing has a special meaning. One of them is the alebrije, considered Mexican spirit animals.
They are beings with the physical features of one or more real or imaginary animals. One of the most famous crafts in Mexico is that all alebrijes are unique. In addition, the Oaxacans united the handcrafted sculpture with a pre-Hispanic concept to give them a spiritual meaning.
An important element of the alebrijes is that they are dyed with natural pigments of very bright colors, each with a meaning. For example, green signifies empathy and nature, while brown symbolizes the earth and animals. Likewise, the following represent emotions; pink means love, yellow tones express joy and orange releases negative emotions.
The nahual is a belief of several pre-Hispanic cultures, especially the Mayan, Toltec, and Mixtec. They are beings that can transform themselves into animals, which allows them to communicate with nature. In some of these cultures, it was linked to the divine because the gods were also linked to a specific animal.
This ancient belief inspired the alebrijes of Oaxaca, representing people’s animal counterparts. These Mexican spirit animals appear in dreams or describe the character traits and abilities. So, for example, someone who is a bird will have a good singing voice.
Why are the alebrijes Mexican spirit animals?
According to pre-Hispanic traditions, everyone has a spirit animal from the moment of birth, and it depends on the day and year of birth. These guiding spirits’ name is toná. Within the Zapotec calendar, 20 species of animals represent the tonás.
In the Zapotec culture, the ritual to recognize the toná of a newborn was to place a circle of lime. The following day the footprints that appeared were the animal that would become their toná, telling the child’s personality.
Each animal has its meaning, here are just a few examples. Someone with a coyote or wolf toná is tenacious. Armadillos represent strength. The cat means independence and freedom, while the dog means loyalty and protection. And those who have the dragon are passionate people.
An alebrije is bound to protect you and scare away evil spirits. One of the towns in Oaxaca where you can find personalized alebrijes is San Martin Tilcajete. Please don’t pass the opportunity to visit an alebrije workshop to discover their creation process. Which alebrije do you think is your spiritual guide?