The main focus of this entry will be the jaguar, but it should be noted that the black panther is actually the same species as the jaguar. The black coat is simply a color variation. Jaguar is a Native American word meaning, “he who kills with one blow.” The jaguar actually originated in North America, though now it only lives in Central and parts of South America. The jaguar moved south when Central America formed into a land bridge. Jaguars prefer habitats like jungles and swamps, but also like semi-arid mountainous regions, so long as the area is forested. The jaguar is also one of the few cats to like water, and often can be seen playing in it.
As for the mythology and legends, the jaguar was seen as a god in Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala, in pre-Columbian America. The Mayans, Aztecs, and Inca all worshiped the jaguar in some form. In the pantheon, the jaguar god was second only to the snake god in religious importance. At the Temple of the Jaguar at Chichen Itza, the king had to walk beneath a frieze of a procession of jaguars during his coronation ceremony.
In Mayan mythology, the jaguar was seen as the ruler of the Underworld, and as such, a symbol of the night sun and darkness. There were Mayan priests called Balam who officiated at only the most important ceremonies. Along with the Aztecs and Mayans, the Inca also built temples to the jaguar.
The jaguar is representative of power, ferocity, and valor; he is the embodiment of aggressiveness. For some, the jaguar represents the power to face one’s fears, or to confront one’s enemies. However, they are also associated with vision, which means both their ability to see during the night and to look into the dark parts of the human heart. The jaguar often warns of disaster, he does not offer any reassurance. Along with physical vision, jaguars are also associated with prescience and the foreknowledge of things to come. Cats have binocular vision, meaning each eye can work by itself, which provides them with better depth perception. This gives more evidence to their connection with vision and foresight.
The jaguar, specifically panther, is linked to the Roman god Bacchus (Greek Dionysus). Bacchus was supposedly nursed by panthers, and in some depictions he is riding a chariot pulled by the large cats. Bacchus is often thought of as the god of wine and mirth, but he is strongly linked to the unleashing of desires. So, the panther, too, is a symbol of subconscious urges and abilities. This is something the Aztecs and Mayans also had a notion of. Both peoples spoke and taught about the power of becoming half-jaguar and half-human, because a person who can do this can be rid of all of his cultural restrictions and inhibitions. In other words, he can finally act upon his hidden desires.