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Jaguars and the Legend of the Lunar Eclipse

Author: Lisa Jeeves
by Lisa Jeeves
Posted: Dec 22, 2015

Perhaps no animal on Earth commands such fascination as the sleek, secretive sleuth of the South American jungle – the Jaguar. Surprisingly little is known about the notoriously private animal and, while sightings of it have now become more accessible with specialised wildlife companies offering Jaguar tours to the Brazilian Pantanal, it remains largely a mysterious and enigmatic figure.

As well as being a magnificent apex predator, historically the big cat has always been a powerful cultural and mythological symbol, revered by Native American tribes. Various incarnations of the animal have been intertwined through the ancient civilizations, including legends surrounding the celestial event of a lunar eclipse.

Legends of the Lunar Eclipse

For many ancient cultures, the rare occurrence of a lunar eclipse was most often seen as a portent to impending danger or a sign of bad luck. They made a reciprocal connection between sky and land, so if something bad happened in the sky, the same would occur on Earth.

In Mesopotamian culture, a lunar eclipse was seen as a celestial demonic attack on their king, who they held as a symbol of the land. It appears from records that even in these ancient times they had the ability to predict with reasonable accuracy when an eclipse would occur, so the people would disguise the real king as a commoner and replace him with a sacrificial imposter until the event had passed.

The Native American Hupa tribe believed that the phenomenon of the lunar eclipse was caused by the moon's 'pet' wild animals, who grew angry if not enough food was forthcoming and attacked the moon until it bled. The 'bleeding' would continue until the moon's 20 wives were able to placate the angry lions and snakes, collect the spilled blood, and nurse the moon back to health.

The Jaguar's Mythological Role in the Lunar Eclipse

The Incan society also had a number of theories pertaining to the lunar eclipse, but the most widely-propagated one involved the Jaguar. Incans believed that the glowing red hue of the eclipse was caused by the attack of an angry big cat, which ascended to the skies and took a giant bite out of the moon. In order to prevent it from then falling back to Earth to attack them in its continued rage, the people would try to keep the animal at bay with a ritual of beating their dogs to make them howl, and shaking their spears at the sky.

Both physically and symbolically, this mighty big cat is inextricably woven into the fabric of the indigenous societies of South America. Even today, it’s ensured as a revered symbol and remains an important part of the culture.

An Encounter in the Wild

Mankind's fascination with this majestic animal has not abated since ancient times – albeit now for different reasons. For adventurous nature lovers, the best way to enjoy a once in a lifetime encounter with the big cat is on one of the excellent Jaguar tours to the Brazilian Pantanal region in South America. These dedicated Jaguar tours are accompanied by an experienced naturist guide, and provide the opportunity for sightings of the animals swimming, lazing on riverbanks and prowling the trails of the jungle.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you’re looking for Jaguar tours, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to Jaguar watching tours in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

About the Author

Writer and Online Marketing Manager in London.

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Author: Lisa Jeeves

Lisa Jeeves

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United Kingdom

Member since: Oct 18, 2013
Total live articles: 4815

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