October 04, 2008

Maya invented werewolves?

A somewhat technical but interesting paper on the connection between Western werewolves and vampires and indigenous shamans and spirits:

Discovering Lairs:  Tracing Monsters to their Shamanic Roots in the Maya World[T]he Maya believed that every "authentic" human being was a shaman-creator and built his/her resurrected bodies through self-sacrifice and deprivation. Combined with this was the notion of the ch’unel, or animal-self, that was linked to an individual’s existence. The perfection of these ideas allowed the Maya to become a divine, supernatural being that was often represented as having animal qualities--fangs, wings, beaks, or snouts.

When this is considered, it suggests a possible genesis for our own stories of werewolves and vampires--creatures who are half-man and half-animal--and it seems that these shamanic transformations that are derived from animism could be the seed for all anthropomorphic creatures of the night.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Quileute Werewolves in Twilight.


T. Laurel Sulfate said...

Do they really teach anthro students that all cultures once had a religion called "shamanism"? Because that would explain a lot.

Rob said...

I don't think Chris Loethen, the author, said every culture used to practice shamanism. The broadest statement I could find about shamanism in his essay was this:

"By examining the way in which shamanism operated in the Maya world, perhaps we can gain insight into how it functioned in Europe before the Christian era."

dmarks said...

Which sounds pretty silly, when you consider that the Celts and the Maya were very different and unconnected people.

I think it is the same very fuzzy new-age logic of the sort that tightly links the pyramids of Egypt with those of the Maya. Agree?

Rob said...

No, I think it's valid to make cross-cultural comparisons. As long as you don't imply that Mesoamerican shamans traveled to Europe as "spirit warriors" and found wolf bodies to inhabit. In other words, if you don't imply that Europeans derived their were-creatures from Maya were-creatures. I don't think Loethen implied that.