Those of us who live in the Yucatan Peninsula have grown up hearing from our elders, stories of supernatural beings that populate the millennial “montes” -woods- where the Mayan culture flourished and where their descendants currently reside, keeping alive the cosmovision they inherited from their ancestors, as well as their customs and of course, their mythology.
I still vividly remember when I was a nine-year-old child and “Don Emilio”, an employee of an uncle and caretaker of his hacienda, used to tell me and my cousins all kinds of stories. He told us about the “Xtabay” with whom he claimed to have danced. About the giants that once walked the Mayan lands, about the “aluxes” and other supernatural beings of the Mayan mythology. Astonished, we listened absorbed in his stories, with that kind of masochistic fascination that we have, especially in childhood. A mixture of fear and interest, even though at bedtime, we were afraid.
I remember it as if it were yesterday, many summer holidays with my cousins. I had to sleep by the window, and my uncle’s hacienda had a colossal ceiba tree lined up next to the fence that delimited the land. Then a row of trees that as the breeze circulated among its branches, it emitted a mournful whistle that served as a terrifying atmosphere for my childish mind, preventing me from falling asleep, hoping that at any moment one of Don Emilio’s creatures would appear and look at me from behind the window. It was a happy time!
I don’t think there’s a Yucatecan who hasn’t grown up hearing these kinds of stories from his elders, and even as an adult, you never cease to exert a particular fascination, no matter how skeptical one may be or feels. These fantastic beings have mainly their scene of action in the rural peninsula, which is a compilation of the most famous and exciting.
Let’s start with the list:
Perhaps the most famous of the Mayan frights. She is described as a stunning woman with long black hair. Usually, she appears to men at night, mainly when they are drunk, either under a ceiba or next to the edge of a well. She seduces them and guides them into the thick of the forest without the victim noticing. Once there, she would let his victim come close, and at the moment of embracing her, she transforms into a thorny bush and her hands into claws that tear the flesh of the victim, without him noticing. The ones who managed to escape would die after a few days suffering from an intense delirious fever. Its origin is found in the Mayan goddess of suicide called Xtab. She is said to live in the ceiba trees.
They are Mayan goblins, described as little children, wearing clothing, a shotgun, and a hat and accompanied by a small dog on their hunts. Except that the “animals” they hunt are “wind.”
They usually play pranks on humans, entering their houses and messing up their things, shaking their hammocks, and stoning their dogs. They can also cause illnesses by gently passing their hands to people while they are sleeping, such as diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. However, despite their evil nature, they are generous to those who give them food and drink; they take care of their “milpas” -crops- and their property; if they discover someone stealing, they will stone him and return the fruits to their place.
I have heard hundreds of stories of the aluxes. About people who claim to have seen them or gave them offerings, mainly in liquor and cigarettes, or food and atole.
On one occasion, I heard the story of a cowboy on a ranch who put his offerings every night. One night he got drunk and forgot. The annoying aluxes attacked him while he was sleeping drunk in his hammock and stoned him to the property entrance. If one day you, kind reader, have the opportunity to talk to someone in the country, you will surely hear more than one story to tell about these beings.
The Uay Chivo:
The “goat-sorcerer,” derived from the Mayan word “Uay” which translates as a sorcerer and chivo -goat- refers to a class of sorcerers who can transmute into some animal by reciting a spell, the most famous are those who turn into a goat or a dog, but there are stories that they can transform into almost any animal.
Returning to the Uay Chivo, he is described as an enormous man-goat with eyes that shine like embers, a terrifying look that has driven man crazy. Especially those who have dared to look at him directly in the eyes. This type of sorcerer feeds with fear, so he transforms himself into this animal to terrorize the population at night, charging with his horns the men who have the bad luck to run into him. There are several stories related to this type of sorcerer, in which a group of brave people, tired of the evil of this being, overcome their fear and hunted this evil sorcerer armed with their shotguns and when they shoot the animal, it disappeared, finding the next day the sorcerer dead from a bullet.
The Uay Pek:
The “dog-witch” considered an incarnation of the devil. It is described as an enormous black and woolly dog with eyes of fire that enters the houses at night and looks for food remains. It passes under the hammocks brushing them, and when the inhabitants turn on some light, disappears by magic; Some people claim to have seen it, put wood on the fire, stoke it and enter it without suffering any damage; those who have dared to shoot it, say that it disappears on the spot; to prevent it from entering houses at night, they put a cross made of blessed palm leaves behind the doors or, on the ground, a cross made of salt mixed with rue leaves. Like the Uay Chivo, it is said to be a witch that transforms itself into a dog.
These witches with transfiguration powers, there are stories about witches that can transform into other animals; I have heard stories transform into almost any animal, such as a horse, pig, cat, monkey, and even a vulture. Legend says that in the Kochol police station in the municipality of Maxcanú, there are 19 sorcerers. Sometimes, after dark, they gather at the town’s soccer field and recite aloud a spell. Then they go to the cemetery where they perform their transformation into animals such as goats, cats, or huge vultures and come out to scare people.
This word comes from the Mayan words Ba’al = Thing and K’aas = Ugly, and a literal translation would be “repulsive thing.” It is the most terrifying and horrifying being of the Mayan fantasy folklore; it is described as a being with horns and big ears, with countless arms and feet, with crow’s claws, monkey’s testicles clustered in the darkest places of its body, as well as different animal virile members and with a snake or lizard’s tail, its eyes flash and it has a voice that is a deaf, deep and guttural sound that paralyzes the men who listen to it; its presence can be perceived from a great distance and it is better to run so as not to breathe the deadly mist of its poisonous breath; It is a creature of the night, which hates the light of the sun, and which dries up and destroys plants and crops and cracks stones with its poisonous breath; it is the natural enemy of man, which tears up and devours his flesh, and likes to drink the blood of children; It is said that it has the power of transformation, being able to turn itself into anything at will, be it an animal, an insect or even an entirely developed human being, to the extent that there are those who believe that it could be all the fantastic beings that inhabit the forests of the mayab.
In the fantastic world of the Mayas, numerous evil giants stalk humans to harm them, I will refer in this case to Che Uinic, because the first reference that I had of this being was by Don Emilio, of whom I already made reference at the beginning of this article. I knew this monster again years later in the works of Roldan Peniche Barrera that serve as a reference for me.
Che Uinic, or Man of the Forests, is a very tall and energetic being. However, he has no bones or joints. Also, his feet are upside down, that is to say, the heel in front and the instep and the toes backward, which is why he walks with a huge cane the trunk of a tree. Since he has no bones, he cannot lie down on the ground, as it would be impossible for him to get up again or achieve it with a lot of effort, so he has to sleep leaning on the trees.
Che Uinic uses “jealousy” and “deception” to catch his prey, which is humans. He stalks the travelers and hunters who are lost in the forest roads, and he devours them as soon as he captures them. However, there is a method to get rid of this monster, and it consists of cutting a green branch immediately and start dancing in front of the giant, who invariably will start laughing incessantly until he falls to the floor. As he cannot get up again, the traveler will be able to follow his way calmly.
Don Emilio assured that in addition to the dance, putting the shoes on backward, that is, the left one on the right foot and vice versa, produced the same effect.
He is the King of the Deer. This animal’s meat was part of the sustenance of the Mayans since immemorial times, therefore, sacred to them. Sip is described as a beautiful deer that carries a wasp’s nest between its horns.
These are only some of the supernatural beings that inhabit the forests of the Yucatecan Mayans, where there are giants, fantastic animals, monstrous birds, giants, witches, goblins, and other creeps.
Miguel Fernández-Montilla Cervera
For The Yucatán Times
Miguel Fernández-Montilla Cervera is a Yucatan lawyer, specialist in labor law, and an enthusiast of Yucatan’s history. He has hosted the program “El buho de la noche” (The Night Owl) which deals with historical issues and anecdotes of the Yucatan.
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