Santa has his crew of elves, the Irish have leprechauns, but for help and luck, Mayan farmers turn to aluxes. Along with astoundingly precise pyramids structures and a fascinating history, the Mayan culture has passed along through generations, folkloric tales including the Legend of the Alux.
Pronounced ah-loosh, it is said that these gnome-like forest dwellers were a gift given to earth by the Lord of the Corn. When it comes time to sow their crops, Mayan farmers form a figurine out of clay, with a heart made of honey. The landowner then seeks a spiritual permit from Mother Nature to bring the child-sized figure to life. If the famer possesses integrity, the four elements of wind, sun, rain and earth and will align in his favor.
The Alux is granted the eyes of an owl, in order to remain alert despite the darkness and have night vision. He has deer legs and feet like a lizard so that he will be swift and light. His heart is a combination of jaguar and dove, enabling him to be both fearless and tender. In his mouth, resides the voice of all animals, which allows him to communicate with every animal in the forest from the tiniest of insects to the largest and wildest of the forest beasts.
Photo Courtesy of mexicanneswnetwork.com
The appointed guardian is placed in an inconspicuous location on the farmer’s land and supposedly comes to life at nightfall. The landowner must always be considerate and respectful towards the alux, paying him homage by bringing offerings of food or drink, and often building little homes for his entrusted keeper of the land. It is also the responsibility of the farmer to honor and live in balance with Mother Nature and to share his abundance and harvest with his family and friends.
In return, the alux will protect his crops from unwanted guests and diseases, cause plentiful harvests and reciprocate back the respect he receives. But if the farmer mistreats his protector, he can expect havoc on his land. The vengeful alux will mess with the mind of his neglectful caretaker. He will cause things like keys to mysteriously disappear in the family’s house and property. The alux will drive the farmer crazy as he and his family try to sleep, with wild screams and laughter. If the miniature protector feels that a farmer is unremorseful or if an intruder ignores its warnings, an alux has been known to send a ‘bad air’ upon the trespasser or owner and all of the people living on land.
This curse comes in the form of swirling winds and can produce a fever and chills that endure forever. The only way to rid the inflicted person of this bad air is to call a Shaman who appeases the offended alux in a unique ceremony involving special offerings. In dire cases, the alux is offered a concoction that when consumed, causes diarrhea. The farmer can follow the trail to the clay figure and shatter it with a large rock, essentially killing the alux and ending any obligations to it. It sounds like a story line from a sci-fi movie, but if you speak to Mayans in this area, they explain that there are far too many reports and testimonials of alux activity, that it is impossible not to believe!
These leprechaun-type sprites are said to be knee high, wearing hats and cloth shoes. They have hole expansions in the lobes of their pointed ears to maintain a clean spirit and ward off dirty lies. They wear a collar of wooden beads that symbolize the materials from which the Mayans made them - earth and corn. On their chest is a bag made of henequen (a fiber made from an agave plant), in which they carry seeds and food. Around their ankles they wear a bracelet symbolizing various elements depending on the color. (Turquoise stands for water, black for night, red for the sun, white for the wind and yellow for the earth.)
They live near cornfields, in cenotes, and within the jungle in perfect harmony with nature. They are agile, sneaky and normally flee to their hiding places when humans are near. However, they always carry with them a small slingshot that they use to shoot stones at humans with bad vibes, not to harm them but to startle and scare them away. Aluxes live for opportunities to confuse and play tricks on those who trespass on the land they safeguard.
Like children, their similar personalities are joyful and playful, yet quick to anger. According to Mayan legend, the last thing you would want to do is double-cross an alux! Although they have no intention of harming humans, if you happen to offend them by disrespecting the plants, animals and the land they were created to protect, they take their roles very seriously and will do everything in their power to rid their territory of offensive intruders.
There have been instances of reported alux activity all around the states of the peninsula. During the construction of the Cancun-Nizuc Bridge, located near the international airport, workers, architects and engineers were left dumbfounded on several occasions. Construction that had been completed the day before would be mysteriously destroyed sometime through the night with no possible explanation. It wasn’t until a Mayan priest stepped forward and suggested that aluxes were upset that the developers had not asked permission prior to building on the land.
Photo courtesy of Sergio Orozco/SIPSE
After conducting ceremonial offerings and building a miniature home near the bridge to show their respect, the construction went ahead and was completed without any further complications.
Another documented instance happened in 2010 at Chichen Itza when Elton John was scheduled to perform a spring concert. Days before the huge, musical event, part of the stage collapsed to the stage designers’ bewilderment. It was pointed out that organizers failed to gain authorization from the guardians of this sacred site. Interestingly enough, other megastars such as Sara Brightman have also performed in front of the incredible El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza without issues. The common thread between the concerts that went off without ominous occurrences, was that organizers sought permission from the land’s temperamental watchdogs prior to the shows.
Aluxes have the ability to take the form of forest animals such as snakes, birds, monkeys, bats and opossums in order to hide from humans or to scare them away. You may become aware of its presence by the continuous sound of rustling leaves. But in many cases, passersby will not understand they are sharing the same space with an alux. So if you ever come upon an animal of the forest, it is best to be patient and treat it with kindness. If you have a snack or a drink, place it on the ground as an offering, and never attempt to shoo the creature away.
Today there are hundreds of these pre-Hispanic clay figures still standing guard on farmland and around cornfields in this area where the Mayan civilization once flourished. Today, Mayan people continue to believe that these spiritual entities are the protectors of their lands and even have a role of upholding the moral code of the community.
Back in January when the Bric team had the pleasure of spending a day in the Mayan village of Juarez, I was amazed at the town’s cleanliness and immaculate gardens. Although I didn’t have a chance to discuss the legend of the alux with our hosts, I understand better now the utmost respect the residents have with their natural surroundings. This reverence stems from their heritage and deep consideration of the earth and its creatures. Moreover, the underlying fear of the threat of dealing with an unhappy alux seems to instill a commitment to live harmoniously with the earth and each other!
It is nearly impossible for humans to catch sight of these elusive, indigenous dwarfs. Nonetheless, there are places around the Yucatan Peninsula where you can leave a peace offering. Just 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen, within Xenotes Park, you can swim and traverse through four cenotes believed to be guarded by aluxes. Guides tell anecdotes and relay interesting history of the Mayan connection to the alux. Since it is customary to seek approval from these legendary beings, it is a wise idea to ask permission from them before partaking on a thrilling zipline, kayak and snorkeling adventure in this sublime park located in the Mayan Riviera jungle.
A Mayan man by the name of Genaro, the groundskeeper at El Arbol, (where the International School of Playa del Carmen is located,) swears there are aluxes living in the lush, garden-like setting. Genaro sleeps on-site and says he has been awakened on several occasions at around 5:00a.m, by a mysterious knocking on his door. Of course, when he gets up to check who is there, not a soul is to be found.
He comes from a Mayan village in the municipality of Felipe Carrillo Puerto in Quintana Roo. Although he has yet to spot an alux, he has seen their child-sized muddy footprints left on the floors and walls of his home. Once, his grandchild came up and asked him about the children who were talking and playing in the box near the house. After searching the exterior for these ‘children’ and finding no evidence of anyone other than himself and his grandson, Genaro concluded that it could only be aluxes. In our interview, he told me about what he had come to know about the aluxes: 1) They could only be seen by children because they are pure of heart 2) They do not like to see dead plants so they often will send rain if there are too many leaves starting to gather on the ground, and 3) They do not like hunters and they will not stop until they have driven them off their land.
Genaro has never felt in harm’s way living with the aluxes at El Arbol. However, the architect of the school was considerate in her design plans for the eco-friendly, green school. She has incorporated recycled products, has constructed an impressive system to collect rainwater to use in their gardens, and has even constructed an alux house near the café as an act of solidarity.
Alux restaurant, situated in between 60 and 65th Avenue on Benito Juarez, is also a location where you may encounter one of these cheeky creatures. This striking underground eatery features an elaborate maze of remarkable caverns and grottoes, which happen to be preferred hideaways of the aluxes.
Alux comes alive at night, from 5:30 to 11:00 p.m, inviting guests to dine amongst cave structures that are tens of thousands of years old. Featuring dazzling stalactite and stalagmite formations in seven separate vault areas, patrons have the option to sample Mayan inspired dishes, sip on a beverage from the extensive cocktail list or taste wine from La Cava, the restaurant’s one-of-a-kind wine cellar.
On my quest to gather more information on one of the most talked about mythical legends in this area, I made a reservation at Alux. After exploring the premises for clues, I had worked up an appetite! As I perused the mouthwatering menu, Victor, my pleasant server, explained that executive chef Miguel Angel tries to use local ingredients in the majority of the menu items. Dishes like the Mayan Sacrifice (a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and chaya leaf served with both a smoothe mango puree and a tangy red berry puree) or the Ixchel Quail (quail encrusted in amaranth, almond and sesame seeds accompanied by a Jamaica (hibiscus flower) sauce, highlight the use of such regional ingredients. While I sat intrigued by the exquisite menu, I also noticed similarly intrigued guests making their way to their tables, eyes darting from the illuminated cenote and cascading waters, to the breathtaking limestone rock formations.
I was fortunate to receive a tour through the unique wine cellar, Mayan ceremonial, and lounge areas. Although Victor and I did come across a tiny footprint engraved in the rock, we were not lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the evasive little men that might have made the imprint!
Whether indulging in chocolate truffles with a hint of mescal in the main dining area or enjoying some of the best regional wines over a candle-lit, private table in a secluded corner of the cave, be sure to watch and listen for one of these mischievous creatures. You never know when they might want to come out to play!
Aluxes have been caretakers of the jungle, cenotes and sacred sites for thousands of years. Any ancient Mayan ruin or jungle tour in the region presents a chance to run into one of these so-called fictitious characters. Just be sure to treat all the wildlife and flora with an attitude of kindness and reverence. It’s also is a good idea to stick some items for an offering (a package of crackers, a piece of fruit, sweets, even a cigarette will do) in your backpack in case you have the feeling a pair of eyes watching you. You’ll know what you’re dealing with now and what you have to do to stay on the good side of an alux!
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About the Author
Juanita grew up in a small town in the middle of Canada. Having experienced twenty years of ruggedly cold climate, she had seen enough snow to last her a lifetime. After moving to and working in Vancouver for thirteen years (where she was ecstatic to see the odd palm tree) she jumped at the opportunity to move with her husband and three children to Playa del Carmen. She calls it a ‘dreamy existence’ and cherishes year-round, backyard barbecues with friends, road trips and watching the sunrise over the Caribbean. She writes for Bric Vacation Rentals.