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

First Nation Totem Poles… North to Alaska

The totem pole of Thunderbird and the Wild Woman of the Woods found in Duncan, British Columbia on Vancouver Island.

Third times a charm. Right? Peggy and I are out kayaking among the Orca whales up off the northern tip of Vancouver Island as this blog is posted. Or I should say reposted for the second time. It’s appropriate given our trip, however. We are in First Nation country and we once again drove through Duncan. And, as many of you know, I am a big fan of First Nation and Native American art. –Curt

Dzonoqua comes sneaking through the woods, hands outstretched, red lips pursed and whistling, “ooh, ooh” to attract small children who have wandered into the forests. Some stories say she eats the whiny ones. She is also known as the Wild Woman of the Woods or Mrs. Bigfoot. Her large, dangling breasts capture the spirit of Salmon. Thunderbird perches on her shoulders. His wings crash together and make thunder; his eyes shoot out lightning.

Peggy and I, along with our friends Ken and Leslie Lake, visited Duncan BC on Vancouver Island to check out the numerous totem poles carved by First Nation artists and placed throughout the town.

The close relation of First Nation people to Bear, Eagle, Raven, Whale, Owl, Wolf, Beaver, Salmon, Otter and other animals stretches back to ancient times. Families would adopt particular animals as their totems and then carve these animals into totem poles. The poles would serve to both protect and instruct the families. Some families were even known to shape shift into their totem animal. (Jacob, morphing into a wolf in the Twilight series, is a modern example.)

The arrival of whites in the Northwest had a devastating impact on the people and culture of the First Nation tribes. Disease wiped out whole populations. The practice of native religion and the carving of totem poles were prohibited. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the art of totem pole carving was revived.

It thrives today. Native artists continue to carve traditional themes but they have also extended their interpretations and honed their skills. While the totem poles and masks still serve as important mythic symbols to First Nation people, they have also become a source of pride to all who live in BC and the Northwest. I might add they have also become an important attraction for tourist dollars.

Duncan BC and native artists have done an excellent job of displaying totem poles representative of the north coast. Visiting the town, located on the Trans-Canada highway halfway between Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, is well worth the stop.

To enhance your visit, I highly recommend stopping by the Visitor’s Center and picking up the book, “The Totem Walk of Duncan” written by Joan Chisholm and illustrated by Crysta Bouchard and R. Howe. For more information go to: http://www.downtownduncan.ca/duncan_totem_tourNEW.html

Thunderbird in flight. I loved the bright colors of this totem pole in Duncan BC.

This totem pole in Duncan BC shows the spirit of the First Nation artist in the eagle’s chest. Eagle rests on Whale and has Wolf carved on his flukes. Both Whale and Wolf provide powerful protection for the person resting his hands on the flukes.

This photo provides a detail of the totem pole above. Note the fine detail of the carved fingers.

This totem pole was meant as a thank you from one chief to another. Raven perches on top and delivers the pole. Eagle is under Raven and represents the power of the chief, a member of the Eagle Clan. The chief’s son is next. His open hand symbolizes “thank you.” Raven, like Coyote of the Southwest, is a trickster. Both are among my favorite mythological animals.

Most totem poles are highly symbolic. This is a heraldic pole. The frog on top represents wisdom, the bear below power and courage, and the seal a spiritual being that can travel easily between spiritual and physical realms. The red and black mean strength and protection. I see it as one pole accomplishes all.

The bear’s tongue and wide grin caught my attention in this Duncan BC totem pole. I thought at first he might be sampling the guy he is holding in his paws. Apparently it means he is about to shape shift.

I am struck by the sheer power captured in some of Duncan BC totem poles. This eagle is an excellent example.

A different perspective on Bear. I enjoyed looking at and photographing the specific faces seen on the Duncan BC totem poles.

If it weren’t sacrilegious, I’d name this totem pole face smiley.

And finally, a Duncan BC totem pole I simply couldn’t resist. How could anyone say no to a pose and eyes like this?

NEXT BLOG: We cross the border into Canada and are reintroduced to the delicate art of carving with a chainsaw.