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Nagualism: The shapeshifters of Ancient Mexico

By: Calahn de la Luna

The Naguales were a secret society of the Mayas’ native religion. In it are themes of magic, totemism, and the beast-guardian. These practices were heavily suppressed by the Catholic priests. Regarding the beast-guardian, it is said that if the beast died, so, too, would the Nagual.

The Nagual practitioner would go to the forest, river, hill, or some hidden place and call upon spirits with certain names. He would talk to the rocks, woods, or rivers and ask, weeping, that he might have what those who came before him had. He would sacrifice a dog or rooster and then fall asleep. In a dream or by waking vision, he would see a bird or other creature, who he would petition with gifts of cacao, salt, or other items to aid him. He would take blood from his ears, tongue, or other body parts, and use it to make a contract with the creature. In a waking vision or dream, the creature would tell him how to identify the creature, and that that animal would be the nagual’s companion from then on until death when they both would die.

Other rituals are associated with naguals, including isolation periods at puberty, ceremonial purification, those to aid supernatural communication, and the gift of the name, power, and song of a guardian spirit via a vision.

Shapeshifting is a skill of the adept naguales, turning into the form of their “tonal” or guardian spirit. Women were an important part of their cult. The process of shape-shifting according to legend was first taught to them by a powerful enchantress who could at any moment assume one of four forms.

Children are assigned their nagual at birth based on their birth date, with each day of the calendar corresponding to a specific animal. The sorcerer would take the infant outdoors and invoke the spirit, with the nagual of the child appearing under the form of the appropriate animal or object marking the day on the calendar. The child’s mother is instructed to return with the child daily to the same spot, and the nagual would appear to the child and would continue with the child through life.

It is said that Nagualists do not follow Christian practices and holidays, and that if a child was baptized, the child was immediately taken to a cave or secret place where the rite was reversed using magic. Part of this involved connecting the child with a nagual spirit guardian, to which the child could turn throughout life as a guide or mentor for instruction and advice.

Nagual practitioners are rumored to have additional spectacular powers, including making themselves invisible, transporting to faraway places, creating apparitions of places, animals, and objects; injure themselves without bleeding, safely handle venomous creatures without bites, create sounds in the air, hypnotize animals and people, and invoke spirits who would corporally appear.

Nagualism is said to still be practiced today, however, is rare due to Christian/Catholic colonial suppression of the practices.

Sources, links etc: Santisima Muerte Hechizeria Course - City Alchemist 2020 Spence, L. "The Magic and Mysteries of Mexico: Or, The Arcane Secrets and Occult Lore of the Ancient Mexicans and Maya." London: Rider & Co, 2017.

About the Author:

Calahn de Luna is the director and founder of The Blackthorne School of Sorcery and Traditional Witchcraft. Calahn is a Traditional Witch and practitioner of pre-modern British sorcery. She is also a student of Hellenic and Mexican Witchcraft. An advocate of holistic healing practices treating the full person, by day Calahn also performs art therapy and psychotherapy with a special interest in spiritual approaches to mental health, alternative lifestyles, and the LGBTQ+ community. Calahn welcomes clients who are occult practitioners as well as mentees seeking one-on-one coaching to expand their esoteric practice. She may be reached here. Calahn de Luna is a graduate of the Santisima Muerte Hechizeria Course (2020).

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