The Olmec had many beliefs. Among these beliefs were chaneques which were dwarf trixters who lived in water falls. They also had their own beliefs in cosmology. The Olmec had natural shrines devoted to the hill on which the shrine was located and the water.
The Olmec recognized the Tree of Life.
Friar Diego de Landa’s writings record the Olmec people made twelve migrations to the New World. This stela also confirms the tradition recorded by the famous Mayan historian Ixtlixochitl, that the Olmec came to Mexico in “ships of barks ” and landed at Pontochan, which they commenced to populate (Winters 1984: 16). These Blacks are frequently depicted in the Mayan books/writings carrying trade goods.
The tree depicts seven branches and twelve roots. The seven branches probably represent the seven major clans of the Olmec people. The twelve roots of the tree extending into the water from the boat probably signifies the “twelve roads through the sea”, mentioned by Friar Diego Landa.
About 3,000 years ago, elders and leaders in farming communities of Mesoamerica established a shared vision of their world. These sages of Olmec civilization etched their creed on polished stone artifacts and then rubbed red paint into the patterns. This is a code that could be read by any sage who knew the religion.
This plaque records the story of creation. It shows the World Tree sprouting out of Creation Mountain at the Three-Stone-Place the center of the night sky, the renewed sky, the mountian and the renewed earth, and the Three-Stone-Place the hearth, the place of First Father’s rebirth as Maize.
Olmec Jaguar God
Some people believe that the principal deity was fundamentally an Earth god, though his power was not limited to terrestrial matters, and took the form of a jaguar. This God could have a water-earth persona. As a jaguar encompassing the forces of life or at least a dominance in its two strongest categories (with regards to Olmec life), water and earth. This deity supposedly had dominance over all things terrestrial and celestial.
This God may have been half-jaguar, half-serpent. The jaguar represents the Earth Mother with the serpent representing the water, thus combining to represent life.
Olmec Rain God
It was formerly thought that the Olmec worshiped only one god, a rain deity depicted as a were-jaguar, but study has shown that there were at least 10 distinct gods represented in Olmec art. Surely present were several important deities of the later, established Meso-American pantheon, such as the fire god, rain god, corn god, and Feathered Serpent. Other aspects of mental culture are less well-known; some Olmec jades and a monument from La Venta have non-calendrical hieroglyphs, but none of this writing has been deciphered.
The Olmecs are believed to be one of the first tribes to engage in Shamanistic rituals. In the Olmec civilization the reoccurring motif of the Were-jaguar can be seen in many statuettes and carvings. It is believed that the Olmecs were a kind of “mother culture” which directly gave rise to all subsequent major civilisations and this is how Shamanism first spread. The Olmecs are said to have been ancestors of the Jaquar.
The Olmec Tribe believed that the Jaquar was a rain deity and fertility diety. The Jaquar was chosen because the Olmecs believed it was the most powerful and feared animal. They also believed that the Jaquar was an Avatar of the living and the dead.
The men would sacrifice blood to the jaguar, wear masks, dance, and crack whips to imitate the sound of thunder. This ritual was done in May. The Olmec also made offerings of jade figures to the jaguar.
The Olmecs made numerous statues representing “Were – Jaquar ” men. These men are normally shown with grimacing Jaquar facial features with Human bodies. They are believed to be men , of the Olmec tribe, that are transforming into the Jaquar. One of these transforming Shamans can be seen in the statue “Crouching figure of a Man-Jaquar”.
It is an almost black, little figurine of a man rising from one knee in the ecstasy of transformation. The transformation figure shows the human and feline characteristics brilliantly fused together.
The head and ears remain human , but the crown of it s head is smooth , as if shaved. The features of it’s face seem to flow into each other and the eye sockets are wide and deeply bored. Extended by incised lines above the eyes, the carved eyebrows are similar to flame eyebrows and signify the shedding of skin.
In the figurine the ‘Standing figure of a Were-Jaquar’ another Shaman is seen in the transformation process . This figure stands with one leg forward to counterbalance the slight torsion of the body. The arms are extended and each hand is balled into a fist – similar to a boxing stance. This Figure has almost the exact same features as the ‘Crouching figure’ that represent the ecstasy of the transformation. Its hands and feet are oversized to anticipate the paws of the Jaquar.
In both figures the tortured facial features are intended to convey – not ferocity and aggressiveness – but emotional stress beyond endurance. It is precisely the sort of physically and mentally exhausting crisis – the crossing of the threshold between two worlds, to kinds of reality, if you will, that is part and practice of ecstatic Shamanism everywhere. The crossing over and transformation into the most powerful predator of the rain forest and the Savannah.
The Transformation was brought on by a series of activities which could incorporate singing or chanting to the Jaguar deity. The Shaman would dance around and chant a mantra to spirit world and would also use the rhythm of a beating.
It is also believed that the Olmec would also ingest a ‘mind altering’ drug which would intoxicate the Shaman and make him dizzy Tobacco powder , which was also used to achieve the transformation ,could be inhaled directly through the nose or ground up with lime to make a chewing wad. The evidence to support this can be seen in the ” Hollow figure”, in this statue a man is seen using a snuffing pipe , made from small gourds.
The “were-jaguar ” Shamans were also associated and depicted in acrobatic poses, this represents the agility of the feline. Shamans were believed to have the ability to flip backwards and transform before they had landed.
There have been a number a figures found , that incorporate acrobatic poses. In the statues ‘Figure with feet on head’ and “vessel in the form of a contortionist”a “WereJaquar” Shamans are shown in complex and complicated poses. The Shamans seems to very comfortable and achieve each pose with ease.