High Performance Symbolism: The Jaguar

By Rebecca
Known for its power and grace it is no wonder that a manufacturer of luxury cars would chose the jaguar as its emblem. Unfortunately for you motoring enthusiasts this month’s column is not about the cars but about the animal. We’re going to discuss the jaguar as a symbol.

Jaguar: Master of Cars
Jaguar: Master of Cars

Everyone is familiar with the animal, but we’re not talking about a mere mortal animal, we’re talking about the jaguar as something more than flesh; we’re exploring it as a symbol for larger things. Generally, you will find the jaguar being treated as a symbol amongst the native tribes of Central America since they derive most of their traditions from the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures. Let me tell you, those Mayans and Aztecs respected the jaguar…and for more reasons than it could eat you!

For the Mayans the jaguar was the master of animals and a creature of the underworld. It was said that their eyes were a passage to the underworld, and more so, if you gazed into the eyes of a jaguar your future would be revealed to you. I’m guessing a one-way ticket to the underworld was a common prediction revealed through this practice! For the Aztecs the jaguar was the guardian of the four pathways of the world. To the Toltecs the jaguar represented the moon. (For those of you with inquiring minds, the eagle represented the sun.) The coming of twilight was attributed to a jaguar devouring the sun. You can imagine the Toltecian irony if somehow they stumbled across a jaguar eating an eagle!

The Popol Vuh, a collection of ancient myths of the Quiche Mayans, references the jaguar often. Most notably when they list the symbols one with authority to rule must possess amongst them is the paw of a jaguar. You know, the guy took out a jaguar, are you going to tell him he doesn’t have the authority to rule?

Jaguar: Master of Animals
Jaguar: Master of Animals

For modern Central American shamanistic cultures, the jaguar is the premier guide. (Much the way it is the premier vehicle in the world of cars! Man, I should be getting some cash from Jaguar for this column!) Only the strongest, most powerful shaman can claim that he works with the jaguar. If they are truly worthy, they may even take on the form of the animal!

So, what does this all mean? It means that the jaguar is not only a beautiful animal and a fine automobile but a creature that has come to embody something more. The jaguar represents the moon, the underworld, it is the guardian of the pathways; themes that are echoed in the myths and legends of many cultures. It is just another thread in the tapestry that weaves all of humanity together.

On a non-symbolic note, the jaguar was declared an endangered species for the United States on March 28, 1972.
To learn more about this animal and what you can do to help it visit www.fws.gov