The Divine Mother, the symbol of the feminine, is found in all cultures, manifesting as the Madonna or Kali or Quan Yin — even as wisdom itself, the mother of all Buddhas. For the shaman, the jaguar is a potent symbol of the divine feminine, and for indigenous peoples in the southwestern United States, the Mexican jungles, and the Andean highlands, the jaguar also represents the healing power.
For the Maya, the jaguar is a symbol of death and acceptance of death’s role in the cycle of life. Before the Spanish conquest, the Maya high priests were called balams — balam is Maya for jaguar — indicating they had traveled through the domains beyond death. They had made the symbolic journey to the underworld, conquered their fear of death, and returned with the elixir of immortality.
As the sun sets in the West, it brings forth the cacophony of night in the jungle. In the darkness, a sleek black cat moves silently. With no predators in the rain forest, the jaguar lives free of fear, taking just what it needs from the jungle for nourishment and no more. It doesn’t kill out of greed, or for sport, or out of concern that the food supply will dry up. It doesn’t scramble to be more, do more, or accomplish more. It doesn’t need to prove itself. The jaguar hunts, explores, and sleeps as required, living a secure and balanced life.
The shaman seeks to meet the Divine Feminine in her own domain – the rich, dark, inner world that we journey to when we face our fear of death. In our journey to the Divine Feminine, we embody the wisdom of the jaguar, letting go of our fear of the unknown and trusting that what is dying inside us needs to be renewed in order to serve all life. With the cycle of life and death, harmony is reestablished. All species flourish as part of the balance of nature.
For us, the promise of the jaguar is to feel at home and safe regardless of any danger that surrounds us, and to live free of chronic disease. Doing the work of the jaguar, we discover that life provides us with everything we need. Jaguar gives us the confidence to step out and boldly explore, sure that we’re headed where we need to go and that we’re moving in synch with our life’s purpose. Jaguar energy brings us into balance and sanity even if the world around us has gone mad, or we’re paralyzed with fear and confusion, or we’re faced with the prospect of debilitating disease. Jaguar returns our power and confidence, and restores our health. And if you allow jaguar to guide you far enough, she will lead you to the realm of the goddess to receive her wisdom directly.
If we complete this step on the medicine wheel, meeting the goddess and facing the fear of death, we can become like the jaguar, living with creativity and grace and experiencing wellness and balance. We can even hope to defeat death, like the ancient Mayan wisdom keepers, and discover our eternal nature.
To understand this concept of defeating death we need to consider the philosophy of the ancient Americans. They believed, as many people still do, that we have an essence that continues beyond death. But contrary to our Western religious thinking, in which the eternal nature of the soul is assumed, the shamans of old held that immortality is merely a seed, a potential that we all possess but one we have to awaken and empower to ensure the continuity of our consciousness beyond death. Our entire life, therefore, must be dedicated to spiritual practice, so that we can learn how to “leave this life alive,” as the Amazon shamans say. The Maya called this process the awakening of your jaguar body, and the balams, the priests who had mastered it, were their prophecy keepers. The Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of the jaguar body is the light body. One effect of completing the work of the medicine wheel is to germinate the seeds of immortality you carry inside you.
To find out more about the critical role of shamans today, click here to view Jon Rasmussen’s three-part interview with Dr. Alberto Villoldo.