Shape Shifting and Art in Puerto Vallarta— or, On Becoming Your Favorite Animal

1. Mystical mural of animals in Puerto Vallarta

Shamans choose their animals to shape shift into based on certain characteristics. The Jaguar is powerful and dangerous, the deer and rabbit fleet of feet, the bird fleet of wing, and the coyote clever.

Shamanistic traditions around the world often involve shape shifting. The shaman enters a trance and adopts the form and/or spirit of an animal, for healing, travel to another world, or more sinister purposes. Often the switch is made with the aid of a hallucinogenic drug, such as peyote. This is the drug of choice among the Huichol Indians of Mexico and is frequently portrayed in their art. In addition to works produced by indigenous people for sale in Puerto Vallarta, I also found a number of murals that illustrated the indigenous tradition of shape shifting.

2. Shape shifting mural mask in Puerto Vallarta

Masks are reflective of shape shifting. Jaguars are a common animal of choice, as in the Puerto Vallarta Mural, and…

This Oaxaca mask.

This Oaxaca mask.

Deer are fast, a good choice if you have to get somewhere in a hurry. This Huichol deer is covered with beads that make up symbols that relate to the Huichol's belief system.

Deer are fast, a good choice if you have to get somewhere in a hurry. This Huichol deer is covered with beads that make up symbols that relate to the Huichol’s belief system. That’s peyote on his forehead.

I haven't heard of iguanas being a choice for shape shifting. Maybe that's why this Huichol piece looks sad.

I haven’t heard of iguanas being a choice for shape shifting. Maybe that’s why this Huichol piece looks glum. Or is that my imagination working overtime?

In this Huichol string painting, I couldn't help but believe that even the baby was shape shifting. A squid, perhaps?

In this Huichol string painting, I couldn’t help but believe that even the baby was shape shifting. A squid, perhaps? The mother-to-be seems to prefer a snake form.

While almost all Huichol creations reflect the tribe’s belief system, much of the art created in Oaxaca is created solely for the beauty and pleasure it brings, often with a sense of humor attached. The same can be said for Puerto Vallarta’s murals.

There is no apparent shape shifting in the Oaxaca saber toothed tiger. Or in the peacock behind it.

There is no apparent shape shifting in the Oaxaca saber toothed tiger. Or in the peacock behind it.

Another Oaxaca cat with big teeth.

Another Oaxaca cat with big teeth.

And here we have Felix Domesticatus.

And here we have the domestic version is his “feed me now” pose.

Cool cats, perhaps— as jazz musicians were once referred to as, and a musical iguana were the subject of this mural we found on the Rio Cuale.

Cool cats, perhaps— as jazz musicians were once called, and a multi-talented iguana, were the subject of this mural we found on the Rio Cuale.

An iguana of a different stripe? This is one pointing to one of life's great pleasures: hot peppers.

An iguana of a different stripe? This is one pointing to one of life’s great pleasures: hot peppers. Apparently they are hot enough to shake Puerto Vallarta’s Cathedral.

Shape shifting is a thing of dreams in our minds as well. We imagine what it might be like to be a hawk soaring across the sky, or a cheetah running with the wind. I’ve been reading a book on lucid dreaming, just for fun. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it has to do with consciously being aware that you are dreaming and doing things you can’t normally do in life, like walk through walls, or take off flying whenever you wish. Basically, you control what happens in the dream.

The book, A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming, even has a section on shape shifting. “Before you go to sleep,” the book directs, “decide what person, beast, or object you want to transfer into.” Say you want to try being a tiger. Imagine it before you go to sleep. When you awake in your dream, “feel the sensations a tiger would feel. Stand on all fours and feel your teeth getting sharp.” Good advice (grin). Once you become a skilled Oneironautic, you might actually make it happen according to the book.

Feel your teeth growing and becoming sharper!

Feel your teeth growing and becoming sharp!

Now, I confess I am a little skeptical. At least I haven’t suddenly become awake in my dreams and decided to become a yappy Chihuahua. That’s not saying it isn’t worth a try. I do on occasion change the course of a dream from a bad ending to a good ending. I actually get up and run away from the monster instead of lying there in a semi-paralyzed stupor as he starts to devour me from the toes up. It’s a start, but not enough. I dearly want to be that hawk winging across the sky or the Cheetah charging along at 35 miles per hour. How about you?

Is there a Chihuahua in your future. Even though Senior Pooch pretended to be deaf, he couldn't avoid having his numerous faults listed, again and again.

Is there a Chihuahua in your future. I found these guys playing along the Rio Cuale. My thought:  Even though Senior Perro pretended to be deaf, he couldn’t avoid having his numerous faults reiterated— again. Don’t you just love the look on his face?

Or possibly you have something more elegant in mind, as reflected in this Puerto Vallarta Mural.

Or possibly you have something more elegant in mind with a ring in your nose, as reflected in this Puerto Vallarta Mural.

NEXT BLOG: Peggy and I say goodbye to Puerto Vallarta