Wayob is the plural form of way (or uay), a Maya word with a basic meaning of 'sleep(ing)', but which in Yucatec Maya is a term specifically denoting the Mesoamerican nagual, that is, a person who can transform into an animal while asleep in order to do harm, or else the resulting animal transformation itself.[1] Already in Classic Maya belief, way animals, identifiable by a special hieroglyph, had an important role to play.


In Maya ethnographyEdit

In Yucatec ethnography, the animal transformation involved is usually a common domestic or domesticated animal, but may also be a ghost or apparition, for example 'a creature with wings of straw mats'.[2] Moreover, in the 16th century, wild animals such as jaguar and grey fox are mentioned as animal shapes of the sorcerer, together with the ah uaay xibalba or 'underworld transformer'.[3] Some sort of 'devil's pact' seems to be implied. The Yucatec way has its counterparts among other Maya groups. In Tzotzil ethnography, the way (here called wayihel or chanul[4][5]) is more often an animal companion and refers not only to domestic animals, but also to igneous powers such as meteor and lightning. In Tzeltal Cancuc, the nagual animal companion is considered a 'caster of disease'.[6] Other names found are: Lab, labil, wayixelal or vayijelal, way and wayxel or wayjel.[7]

In the Classic PeriodEdit

Jaguar way with scarf

A Classic Maya hieroglyph is read as way (wa-ya) by Houston and Stuart. These authors assert that a glyph representing a stylised, frontal 'Ahau' (Ajaw) face half covered by a jaguar-pelt represents the way, with syllabic wa and ya elements attached to the main sign clarifying its meaning.[8] Many way animals are distinguished by (i) a shoulder cape or scarf tied in front; (ii) a splashing of jaguar spots or other jaguar characteristics; (iii) the attribute of an upturned 'jar of darkness'; and (iv) fire elements.[9] The Classic wayob include a far wider array of shapes than the 20th-century ones from Yucatán (insofar as the latter have been reported), with specific names assigned to each of them. They include not only many mammals (especially jaguars) and birds, but also apparitions and spooks: hybrids of deer and spider monkey, walking skeletons, a self-decapitating man, a young man within a fire, etc.[10] The animal wayob are likely to be transformative shapes of human beings, the walking skeletons (Maya Death Gods) more particularly of the ah uaay xibalba transformers.

At times, the name of the way is followed by an 'emblem glyph' giving the name of a specific Maya kingdom (or perhaps its ruling family).[11] The skeletal way prominent on a Tonina stucco wall carries the severed head of a defeated opponent.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Diccionario Maya Cordemex, Barrera Vásquez et al. 1980: 916
  2. ^ Redfield and Villa 1934: 178–180
  3. ^ Roys 1965: 166–171
  4. ^ Calvin 1997: 870
  5. ^ Pitt-Rivers 1970: 186
  6. ^ Villa Rojas 1947: 584
  7. ^ Diccionario Multilingue Svanal Bats'i K'opetik Siglo xxi editores argentina, S.A. 2005 p 175
  8. ^ Houston and Stuart 1989
  9. ^ See figures in Robicsek and Hales 1981: 28–34
  10. ^ Grube and Nahm 1994
  11. ^ Freidel et al. 1993: 191–2.
  12. ^ Freidel et al. 1993, pp.320–3.

References and bibliographyEdit

Alfredo Barrera Vásquez; Juan Ramón Bastarrachea Manzano; William Brito Sansores, eds. (1980). Diccionario maya Cordemex: maya-español, español-maya. with collaborations by Refugio Vermont Salas, David Dzul Góngora, and Domingo Dzul Poot. Mérida, Mexico: Ediciones Cordemex. OCLC 7550928. (in Spanish) (in Mayan languages)
Brinton, Daniel Garrison (1894). Nagualism, a study in native American folk-lore and history. Philadelphia: MacCalla. OCLC 465085853.
Calvin, Inga (1997). "Where the Wayob Live: A Further Examination of Classic Maya Supernaturals". In Justin Kerr (ed.). The Maya Vase Book: A Corpus of Rollout Photographs of Maya Vases. 5. New York: Kerr Associates. pp. 868–883.
Freidel, David A.; Linda Schele; Joy Parker (1993). Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path. New York: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-10081-3. OCLC 27430287.
Grube, Nikolai; Werner Nahm (1999). "A Census of Xibalba". In Justin Kerr (ed.). The Maya Vase Book. 4. New York: Kerr Associates.
Houston, Stephen; David Stuart (1989). The way glyph: evidence for "co-essences" among the Classic Maya (PDF online facsimile). Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing series, no. 30. Barnardsville, NC: Center for Maya Research. OCLC 248784010.
Kerr, Justin (5 February 2007). "A Possible Origin of the Form of the "Way" Glyph" (PDF online publication of contributed paper). FAMSI Journal of the Ancient Americas. Crystal River, FL.: Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. Retrieved 10 February 2010.
Köhler, Ulrich (1995). Chonbilal Ch'ulelal, Alma vendida. Elementos fundamentales de la cosmología y religión mesoamericanas en una oración maya-tzotzil (in Spanish). Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas. OCLC 36295597.
Miller, Mary; Karl Taube (1993). The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05068-6. OCLC 27667317.
Pitt-Rivers, Julian (1970). "Spiritual Power in Central America: The Naguals of Chiapas". In Mary Douglas (ed.). Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations. pp. 183–206. Reprint, London: Routledge, 2004.
Redfield, Robert; Alfonso Villa Rojas (1934) [1964]. Chan Kom, A Maya Village. Chicago University Press. OCLC 634014054.
Robicsek, Francis; Donald M. Hales (1981). The Maya Book of the Dead: The Ceramic Codex. University of Virginia Art Museum. OCLC 9073379.
Roys, Ralph Loveland. Ritual of the Bacabs. University of Oklahoma Press. OCLC 492341.
Villa Rojas, Alfonso (December 1947). "Kinship and Nagualism in a Tzeltal Community, Southeastern Mexico". American Anthropologist. 49 (4): 578–587. doi:10.1525/aa.1947.49.4.02a00050. ISSN 0002-7294. OCLC 481352036.