The jaguar is one of several North American animals whose name has Native American
origins-- the word "jaguar" is a Portuguese corruption of Brazilian Indian words for the big cat
(jaguarete, yaguarete, jaguatee, or yaguara, in different Tupi-Guarani languages.)
Jaguars hold great religious and cultural importance in many cultures of Mexico, Central America, and
South America. The Aztecs associated jaguars with royalty, war, and magical power. The highest order
of Aztec warriors was known as the Jaguar Warriors or Jaguar Knights, and jaguars frequently served as
spirit animals to Aztec and other Mesoamerican shamans or sorcerers. The Mayas primarily associated
jaguars with the underworld and the night; the Classical Mayan god of the underworld is usually
represented as a jaguar. Throughout Central and South America, jaguars are seen as a symbol of strength,
courage, and spiritual power, much as bears are in most of North America.
The jaguar is also used as a clan animal in some cultures of Central and South America.
In indigenous mythology and folklore, the jaguar plays a variety of roles ranging
from a wise and powerful leader, to a fierce warrior, to a deadly monster. Many tribes ascribe shapeshifting
powers to jaguars, and jaguars in legends frequently intermarry with humans.