It’s autumn now, and November at that…Native American Month! This is Panther Jaguar time, and ’tis the season for the honoring of the dead. I decided this would be a good time to wrap up my Panther Jaguar series.
2004 is when I really started exploring Panther Jaguar imagery in the studio and directly learning more about it’s significance just by working with it. Initially this interest started with a small black sketch I did in ’99 that I developed into a circular design for a friend of mine:
Below is a gallery of images showing the Panther Jaguar Series I recently finished (some of these have the original red sketch embedded in them):
When I started to look this stuff up online and in the books, I realized how widely shared across Indian nations the Panther Jaguar is. Spanning from South to North America, the Jaguar Panther represents the connection to the ancestors who reside in the spirit world. But it carries an even deeper symbology because it guards the “gates” to that underworld, a metaphysical world (Xibalba in Mayan) of a different dimension or realm. Xibalba’s entrance is traditionally a cave, but another physical incarnation of the road to Xibalba, as viewed by the Maya, is the dark rift which is a visible part of the Milky Way. That’s why I put the Milky Way in the open mouth of the Panther Power Dress. Panther Jaguar is symbolic of the soul’s journey, and our transformation as our consciousness moves from one reality to another…and it’s connected to the Thunderbird and Great Serpent. The shell gorget photo below has the Underwater Panther and the Thunderbird battling, like the “hero twin” brothers of light and dark, good and bad, bringing together the three worlds; the below, the surface, and the sky.
These mound culture examples are all from the North American woodlands:
November 1st, the day after Halloween, and The Day of the Dead happens to be my birthday. When I started my giant fiber art Earth Altar in 2007, I began with the panther dress as a translation of the 2D pieces above, but I realized later that, since I was born during this time, I had unconsciously started my altar during the season I was born into….so that the process of creating my altar installation reflects my own seasonal cycle in life.
The more I worked on the Panther Power Dress, the more I connected to it. I designed the Eagle Thunderbird Power Dress after that and started to realize things about the pairing of the Panther and the Thunderbird. The shell gorgets here both show the Underwater Panther Jaguar (the only cat that actually swims)…with the Heye Foundation photo showing the pairing of the Panther with the Thunderbird / Eagle (the underworld vs. the upper).
The idea of creating a giant medicine wheel with quadrants that corresponded to the Power Dresses came much later. The Panther Power Dress corresponds to the western quarter of the wheel (the setting of the sun and the parallel stage of mature adulthood). This is the wind/spirit quadrant, and broadly represents transport on the spiritual plane.
Panther Jaguar images tend to look scary and dark, but it’s really not something to fear because it’s just a symbol for the connection to those who have already passed on and journeyed to the spirit world. In the book Maya Cosmogenesis, the author, John Jenkins explains how the Panther Jaguar’s mouth is the portal to the Milky Way galaxy, which is like a great highway leading to the spirit world where the ancestors reside. Whether in Peruvian mound culture, Mexican mound culture or North American mound culture, the Cult of the Dead takes expression in this way>>>
In Carlos Casteneda’s groundbreaking book series, he records the teachings of Yaqui “man of knowledge” Don Juan. One of the most important lessons he shared is the concept of death as the ultimate “advisor” in earthly matters. This is the reality of death. By living with a reminder of death riding on one’s shoulder, one can truly live. So this is how death can have a positive spin.