Animal Symbolism: The Jaguar

The jaguar, and perhaps more importantly the black jaguar (black panther), was seen as other-worldly and envied (I guess) by early civilizations who lived amongst this impressive wild cat in Mexico and Central, South America. It has the attributes that humans don’t possess but desire. It was worshipped.

The jaguar symbolizes power, aggressiveness, courage, strength and ferocity. The jaguar has the strongest bite of all the cats; stronger than the bite of the tiger and lion. The black panther or melanistic jaguar is also a symbol of our subconscious abilities and urges.

Jaguar animal symboism

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The Aztecs and Mayans believed that the half-jaguar, half-human would be able to throw off the shackles of cultural limitations and be free to act upon his “hidden desires”. Olmec and Chavin art shows part-jaguar part-human figures.

The Olmec people of Southern Mexico, some 2000 years ago built pavement mosaics of a jaguar god and carved large jaguar heads. The symbolic art was made to indicate social status and to improve the chances of successful hunting. The jaguar represented prowess in hunting and battle.

Ancient jaguar sculpture x

Thousands of years ago the jaguar was one of the most important symbols of Mayan culture.

In Mayan mythology the jaguar was seen as the ruler of the underworld (compare that to the domestic cat seen as the gate keeper of the underworld). At night, the jaguar god would rule over the Mayan underworld. During the day he would prowl across the sky.

The jaguar was a “symbol of night sun and darkness”. This is based on the jaguar’s hunting habits being at night or at dusk and dawn. The jaguar is seen as a nocturnal creature and linked with the night, the underworld and the night sun.

The Mayans, Incas and Aztecs all worshiped the jaguar. It was seen as the lord of all animals living in another world; representing what is in another space.

The jaguar was also a symbol of life and fertility because of its sexual prowess! It is said the jaguar can participate in 40 consummated sexual acts per day.

To the Aztecs the jaguar was an icon of fertility and a totem of the Aztec warriors who wore the jaguar’s skin into battle to embolden them and to signify to the enemy that they were as fierce as the jaguar.

The jaguar was widely distributed in Mexico, South and Central America. Its range is shrinking. The species has a declining population due to hunting and urbanization. Not a way to treat such a venerated god of a wild cat.


  • pure
  • PoC – the jaguar wild cat
  • fantastical lore
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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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2 Responses

  1. This photo (courtesy of shows an Aztec temole in Mexico. A caged jaguar was taken to the top of the temple. Then the victims to be sacrifice, usually enemy warriors, would be brought up and their hearts would be cut out and fed to the jaguar by the priest. Sone warriors would even drink some of the blood or eat some of the flesh as a token of their bravery. Some subsisted on nothing but wild flesh and were considered to be fericious, wild men. I wonder if they were imating their revered jaguars?

    • Wow, that’s an amazing story although horrendous. I think you’re right. I think they were trying to behave like their totem, a creature much admired by warriors and rightly so.

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