Totem: not simply resemblance to an animal but a multivalenced connection between the archetypal, human, and natural realms.
Forged by the hand of destiny, the Serpent-Jaguar represents a deep, synergistic blend of totemic powers. In the secretive manner of animals dwelling in the darkness of their lairs, it has guided humankind on its journey from the prehistoric dreamtime world of the hunter-gatherer to the critical juncture we now face as a global village in the Third Millennium.
During the Upper-Paleolithic revolution (approx. 50000yrs Before Present), human consciousness begins its conscious interaction with the power of animal spirits — soul components of the animal kingdom of Gaia. That "awakening to the mystery of death"1 and the first formulation of our human ancestry also appears at that time. Among the very first artworks are shamanistic depictions of sinuous serpents, supernatural cats, composite human-felines. Between man and beast, a love affair has begun…
The serpent-jaguar appears in the myths of many cultures worldwide — in India, China, Siberia, Egypt, Nubia, Summeria and elsewhere. Shaping itself into many myths and many forms: dragon hybrids, cobra-headed sphinxes, bipartite chimeras, …
A being of mystery and terror, this fearsome daemon connects man to the deepest processes of change and transformation. It functions as a facilitator for the universal experience of genuine initiation into the mysteries of one's being: descent into death and the underworld, rebirth and re-emergence on the earth realm, followed by one's ascent into the upperworld or heavens — "the dark-bright ecstasy of transformation". 2
In India, Nagarajas (Serpent Kings) are known as temple guardians. With "watchful, lidless eyes" 3, they protect the spiritual treasures contained therein. In China, they are the 4 Dragon Kings, the divine rulers of the 4 seas and cardinal directions.
Universal as it is, the Serpent-Jaguar seems to have had a particular fondness for the American continent. The landmass itself has a deep connection with the Serpent; the ancient Quechua word for Serpent, Amaru, is an obvious if esoteric linguistic evidence. From (serpent-jaguar) ceremonial artifacts of the Chavin cultures of Peru to (serpent-panther) dragon myths of the Iroquois and Hurons of the Great Lakes and Canada — North and South, in one form or another, the people of the Americas have always revered the archetype, oftentimes making it their presiding totem.
Arguably emerging in prototypal form within the mother culture of the Olmecs, Quetzalcoatl (Kukulkan for the Mayas) is the quintessential Mesoamerican god — a collective daemon and primary teacher for the subsequent Zapotec, Teotihuacano, Toltec, Toltec-Maya, and Aztec cultures of Central America, spanning 2500yrs of continuity. For these paradigm-shattering civilizations, Quetzalcoatl was the genuine 'Lord of Life' and round temples were dedicated to Ehecatl, the divine breath form of the god.
Eventually, Quetzalcoatl became a truly pan-american god, snaking its way North and South. On the Colorado Plateau — land of the Mandãla — Quetzalcoatl appears (in stylized T-Cross form) in the architecture of Chaco Canyon. In the American Southeast, the Cherokee nation adopts the Sacred Calendar (the timed-based body of the god).
Though best known as Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl typically displays attributes of the hybrid serpent-jaguar-bird. This is clearly evidenced in early representations of Olmec and Zapotec art, as well as in the architectural flowering of Teotihuacan and Chichen-Itza.
Variously known as 'First God', 'Lord of the Dawn', and 'Phoenix of the West', Quetzalcoatl is celebrated for having set the Wheel of Time into motion. So true to form, it survives the onslaught of the Conquest, morphing (to at least some extent) into the figure of Christ and the Virgin de Guadelupe.
With the advent of the Mandãla comes a new form of totemic art. One of the highest order.
When the distillation of consciousness into matter meets the transformation of matter into consciousness, and precipitates the new incarnation of an ancient archetype: Amaru Uturuncu — the Serpent-Jaguar. Today once again enthroned in one of its brightest architectural incarnation yet.