Published: Sat, August 05, 2017
World | By Lorena Waters

Mexico Dreams Animals

Mexico Dreams Animals

Animal Masks

Many of the animals most commonly found on today's masks symbolize powerful and ancient beliefs. Although nuanced meanings behind many of these animals were lost during colonization, crucial portions find expression in contemporary masks. Jaguars continue to be one of the most popular mask subjects, and retain their association with royalty and divinity.

Snakes, another commonly depicted creature, has deep ties to pre-Columbian culture in all of South America. In masks, snakes are most often placed in lieu of hair, underscoring the similar flowing qualities of snakes, water, and hair. Lizards are also frequently depicted, and represent the phallus, sexuality, and lust. These symbols in turn can be associated with abundance.

Mexico Dreams Animals

Toads and frogs are often depicted in the process of being swallowed by human mouths, perhaps due to the association between mouths, caves, and water. During the feast of the Aztec god Atamalqualiztli, worshipers swallowed live frogs and snakes.

Masks are not only a manifestation of precolonial culture, but reflect the presence of both European and indigenous peoples. In colonial times, masks began to take on pale, rosy features to resemble European individuals. Old gods gained horns and were conflated with Christian devils. The combination of these two belief systems transformed Christian devils into trickster figures representing chaos and uncertainty instead of pure evil and temptation.

The mask-making conventions of today reflect a varied cultural landscape, and remain a truly unique Mexican art form.

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