What are Alebrijes? Plus, We'll Tell You How to Discover Your Mexican Spirit Animal

Born out of a fever dream, alebrijes have come to represent the beauty, mystery, and magic of Mexico. 

In today’s world, alebrijes are a form of folk art that all have come to know and love, but their origins are not as ancient as many believe. 

In 1936 Pedro Linares, a 30-year-old Mexican cartonero or papier-mâché artist, fell sick and began hallucinating a bizarre forest made of fantastic creatures who chanted “alebrijes, alebrijes, alebrijes!” 

Unsure of these creatures' intentions, Linares grew fearful of them and awoke from his dream. 

As his illness subsided, the cartonero began recreating the creatures he dreamt of and was commissioned by famous artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to create specialized alebrijes for them. 

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Ancient World

While the Mesoamerican cultures did not specifically have alebrijes, they did have their own versions of magical spirit guides. 

In the Zapotec culture there was the “tona” which was assigned to each individual based on their birthday. In the Zapotec calendar, there are 30 months and 20 days in each month. 

Animals that inhabited different regions of Oaxaca were then associated with each month. 

The animals which could be chosen from were coyotes, lizards, armadillos, turtles, snakes, rabbits, deer, frogs, monkeys, owls, eagles, jaguars, butterflies, fish, hummingbirds, and snails. 

Nahuales, on the other hand, are associated with the Mayan, Toltec, and Mixtec cultures. This refers to men capable of shapeshifting into their animal counterparts. 

Through their shape shifting, they are able to communicate with nature and perform other tasks such as healing. 

In order to obtain their Nahual, men would leave their homes to an isolated place in nature. 

Upon their arrival they would fall asleep and the animal which would appear in their dream or take care of them once they awoke, became their Nahual. 

For babies, there is a ritual in which the father would put mezcal and lime around the house.

In the morning, the father would look for the footprint of an animal and the one he would see became the child’s spirit animal. 

Their abilities to shape shift vary from region to region, some cultures believe only the most powerful male leaders hold this ability as they are the ones most connected to gods and in some cases they are embodiments of a particular god. 

In other cultures, all men are capable of performing this act. 

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What is the Purpose of These Animals?

Alebrijes are from an oneiric world in which they possess qualities of various animals.

Some alebrijes are depicted with wings, horns, antlers, or fins, while others possess all these qualities and more. 

Their bodies are filled with vibrantly painted dots, stripes, flowers, geometric shapes, and flames to make them standout. 

Many of their features are exaggerated or contorted to emphasize their otherworldliness.

Facial expressions vary between peaceful and loving to sinister and distrustful. 

While each of these qualities seem excessive, they are all used to help fulfill their purpose in the spirit world. 

Alebrijes serve as guides for spirits as they journey to the afterlife. 

Alongside this, throughout one's life they would keep us from danger while also helping us pursue adventure and new opportunities, all of which ensures we live full and magical lives.  

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How Do You Connect To Your Spirit Guide?

It is believed that spirit guides find you either during your birth or at different points in your life through your dreams or they can even be animals you have made connections with in the living world. 

For many of the alebrijes, they connect with souls who share the same character traits and abilities as they do. 

For example, someone who has a beautiful singing voice may be connected to a bird. Someone who is fierce, independent, and strong may be connected to a jaguar. 

Those who are passionate are said to connect with dragons. 

Individuals who are tenacious have the spirit of a coyote or wolf. 

People who are loyal and protective have the spirit of a dog.

For babies, the animal which first appears in the circle of lime will not only be their spirit guide but it will also determine their personality. 

The Zapotec calendar continues to be the primary way in determining your spirit animal.

The calendar was made with a complex cosmology which used spirits, symbols, and animals associated with different days. 

How To Discover Your Alebrije (Spirit Animal)

Interested in finding your spirit animal? We recommend using this website: Silencio

For this website, you only need to enter your birthday (month, day, year) and click submit.

You’ll immediately receive an image of your spirit animal or animals, and a description as to what each one represents in you. 

I found out that I am the Eagle and Serpent. Let us know what yours is in the comments below!

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About the Author

Eliana Flores-Barber

Eliana Flores-Barber is a Mexican-American writer and photographer based out of California. She graduated from Emerson College with a journalism degree and an art history minor. Her love of storytelling comes from her grandparents who always shared stories of their family history and life in Mexico. When she is not working, you can find her on the tennis court.

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