The Nagual of Chiapas

There’s an aspect to recent events in Chiapas that has not been reported in the mass media. The Chiapas region of Southern Mexico is a strong-hold of Nagualism. A form of sorcery practiced by certain Yaqui Indians, Nagualism is vividly outlined in the books of Carlos Castaneda. Nagualism is far more ancient than ‘60’s psychedelia or the recent “New Age” and “Human Potential” movements. Nagualism has been reported since the first contacts between Europeans and the Native Americans of the Southern Mexican and Guatemalan regions.

While the Native American Church’s use of peyote may have come from contact with southern Mexican Yaqui Indians — like Don Juan Mateus of the Castaneda books — don’t confuse Nagualism with the Native American Church of Northern Mexico and the United States. The Nagual movement has been an important social force in the Chiapas region since the Spanish occupation. Quite by accident, I discovered a document about the Nagual movement in the Library of Congress. This document was written by Dr. Daniel G. Brinton in the late 19th century.

The amazing article is over 100 years old, and is an overview of what was then known of Nagualism. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this document, please contact me for more information regarding it.

In the Brinton paper, various etymologies are given for the words Nagual, Nagualism, and Nagualist: “The early missionaries to New Spain often speak of the naualli (plural, nanahualtin), masters of mystic knowledge, dealers in the black art, wizards or sorcerers.” The author then describes the “sacred intoxicants”: Peyotl, Ololiuhqui, Teopatli, Yax Ha, and others. He follows this with a quote about the effects of the intoxication from a Father Joseph de Acosta. In light of the recent Castaneda investigations, this passage bears repeating, with Dr. Brinton’s introduction:

“What the old historian, Father Joseph de Acosta, tells us about the clairvoyants and telepaths of the aborigines might well stand for a description of their modern representatives: ‘Some of the sorcerers take any shape they choose, and fly through the air with wonderful rapidity and for long distances. They will tell what is taking place in remote localities long before the news could possibly arrive.’”

What concerns us here is the detailed descriptions of Nagualism in Chiapas, as reported by Bishop Nunez de la Vega, the Bishop of Chiapas. Nunez de la Vega published (Rome, 1702) a folio entitled “Constitutiones Dioecesanas del Obispado de Chiappa”. Apparently the American doctor somehow got access to this extremely rare folio. It contains descriptions of secret written languages, and says that the Naguals “foretell the future, discover hidden treasures, and fulfill their dishonest desires. “ Bishop Nunez commands special prisons to be built in order to jail them. What follows is a quote from Bishop Nunez de la Vega’s folio:

“In other parts they reverence the bones of earlier Nagualists, preserving them in caves…we have discovered these and burned them, hoping to root out and put a stop to such evil ceremonies of the infernal sect of the Nagualists…

“At present, all are not so subject to the promptings of the devil as formerly, but there are still some so closely allied to him that they transform themselves into tigers, lions, bulls, flashes of light and globes of fire… The devilish seed of this Nagualism has rooted itself in the very flesh and blood of these Indians. It perseveres in their hearts through the instructions of the masters of the sect, and there is scarcely a town in these provinces in which it has not been introduced. It is a superstitious idolatry, full of monstrous incests, sodomies, and detestable bestialities.”

What especially concerned the Spanish was that Nagualism became the focus of Native American antipathy towards and resistance to the European conquerors. Brinton says:

“Nagualism… became after the Conquest a potent factor in the political and social development of the peoples among whom it existed; that it was the source from which was drawn and the means by which was sustained the race-hatred of the native-American towards his foreign conquerors, smouldering for centuries, now and then breaking out in furious revolt and civil war”

In particular, the American doctor describes two recorded Nagual-inspired insurrections in Chiapas. The first was in 1713 and is described at length. The second was in 1869.

“The most striking instance is that recorded of the history of the insurrection of the Tzentals of Chiapas, in 1713. They were led by an Indian girl, a native Joan of Arc, fired by like enthusiasm to drive from her country the hated foreign oppressors, and to destroy every vestige of their presence. She was scarcely twenty years old, and was known to the Spaniards as Maria Candelaria. She was the leader of what most historians call a religious sect, but what Ordonez y Aguiar, himself a native of Chiapas, recognizes as the powerful secret association of Nagualism, determined on the extirpation of the white race. He estimates that in Chiapas alone there were nearly seventy thousand natives under her orders — doubtless an exaggeration — and asserts that the conspiracy extended far into the neighboring tribes, who had been ordered to await the result of the effort in Chiapas.”

“Her authority was absolute, and she was merciless in requiring obedience to it. The disobedient were flayed alive or roasted over a slow fire. She and all her followers took particular pleasure in manifesting their hatred and contempt for the religion of their oppressors. They defiled the sacred vessels of the churches, imitated with buffoonery the ceremonies of the mass, which she herself performed, and stoned to death the priests whom they caught.

“Of course, her attempt against the power of Spain was hopeless. It failed after a bitter and protracted conquest, characterized by the utmost inhumanity on both sides. But when her followers were scattered and killed, when the victorious whites had again in their hands all the power and resources of the country, not their most diligent search, nor the temptation of any reward, enabled them to capture Maria Canelaria, the heroine of the bloody drama. With a few trusty followers she escaped to the forest, and was never again heard of.”

For Dr. Brinton, the fact that this insurrection was led by a woman, Maria Candelaria, is significant.

“A remarkable feature in this mysterious society was the exalted position it assigned to Women. Not only were they admitted to the most esoteric degrees, but in repeated instances they occupied the very highest posts in the organization…

“The veracious Pascual de Andagoya asserts from his own knowledge that some of these female adepts had attained the rare and peculiar power of being in two places at once, as much as a league and a half apart… In the sacraments of Nagualism, Woman was the primate and hierophant.”

The most recent Nagual inspired insurrection of the Chiapas Indians “occurred among the Zotzils in 1869.” Dr. Brinton gives us the following description:

“The cause of it was the seizure and imprisonment by the Spanish authorities of a ‘mystical woman,’ known to the whites as Santa Rosa, who together with one of their ahuas or chieftains, had been suspected of fomenting sedition. The natives marched thousands strong against the city of San Cristobal, where the prisoners were, and secured their liberation; but their leader, Ignacio Galindo, was entrapped and shot by the Spaniards, and the mutiny was soon quelled.”

Originally published at on September 9, 2015.

For a small donation of bitcoin, Joshua Berlow will send a .pdf of the entire original Brinton Manuscript to whoever wants it. Please contact him through his Facebook page.