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Shapeshifters in A Remote Pueblo

Updated: May 26

There is a narrow, winding road that goes between the tiny town where the herbatero lives and the pequeño pueblo where the master Maya potter lives. The vistas are jungly. Wild tamarind trees and chit palms crowd into the lane making it nearly impossible for two cars to pass at once. Everything is so green, so green you can smell the color. You feel as if the plants have minds of their own, pushing each other out of the way trying to catch a bit more sun. Deep into the tangled undergrowth on one side of the road lies an ancient, uncovered pyramid, its carved stones exposing themselves only near the very top of structure. On the other side of the road, nearly unnoticeable, lies a pueblito so small one might think of it as just a small grouping of homes, most of them concrete boxes with palm thatch roofs, peeling paint clinging to their walls and bougainvillea blooms smothering their front doors.

San Pedro is the name of the remote pueblo. It boasts no church, nor central park. I am not sure if it even has a tiny store where you can buy coke and tomatoes. If it does, I have not seen it, although it is possible someone opens their front room window and offers staples for a few hours each day through it, cans of tuna, soft packages of black beans, bags of rice, glass jars of green olives, tiny jars of mayonnaise with lime, and of course coke-a-cola.

But I digress. The real reason I want to bring this hamlet to your attention is because of the strange things that frequent the place.

A few days ago, I was at the home of the master potter where I was speaking to his wife. She was showing me the energy-rich pottery her family makes, created in the old way without the use of electricity or modern glazes or pigments. She showed me a little figurine of an animal with half the face of a man, a yui chivo (pronounced why cheebo). “It is a shapeshifter,” she explained in clear Spanish, “They exist here.”

shapeshifting figurine
shapeshifting figure made at the master potters home

She told me a story of spending time in the pueblito of San Pedro and how every Tuesday and Friday (the powerful magic days on the Yucatan) she would be napping in her hammock only to be awaked by a cat running circles around her. As she dizzily came to consciousness, it would change form into a large dog with terrifying red eyes, and then seem to disappear into nothing.

Her brother had the same experience.

“There are many yui chivo here,” she declared emphatically.

“Shamans used to change form into animals to fly or to run great distances and carry out errands of spiritual significance,” explained her husband, the master potter, “but now it is only people who are up to no good who change form.”

The herbetero/healer in the village on the other side of San Pedro agrees. One day I arrived at his house for a limpia (cleansing). We were to meet around 1 in the afternoon, but he was a little late, having gone to a neighboring village unexpectedly. I waited patiently seated on a concrete bench supported by cement blocks in the courtyard of his home where medicinal plants, some growing in the ground and many in repurposed white paint buckets, flourished, their colorful flowers waving madly like tiny flags in the wind as the afternoon breeze began to pick up.

When he arrived, the herbatero apologized for his tardiness, “I am sorry, I’m late,” he said in Mayan accented Spanish, “I had to go deal with a yui chivo that was causing trouble in a nearby town. But don’t worry, we killed it. Everything is fine now. So nice to see you. How are you today?”

How am I today?!? I could barely think to answer the question as it came on the heels of the easy revelation of this healer confronting a very real shapeshifter. The information was shared only as an apology for his lateness, in an even voice, and without any importance added to it at all. The question of my wellbeing was much more the topic of attention is his view.

So many questions!

I was not able to ask the questions bouncing around in my mind at that time as we did have a limpia to attend to and there was simply no time. But over the years since then, I have learned much about these very real shapeshifters. The most stunning thing to me is that, yes, people really do change their bodies into the bodies of animals. Their hands become paws, or their arms become wings.

This is a quiet thing, not spoken of by many. But as we are gaining the trust of the locals, we are hearing more and more stories like the ones here. Finding out HOW people change into animals may be impossible since not only is this closely guarded but looked on as only causing trouble. But I will be back in the homes of both the master potter and the healer, and I will be gently asking more questions and enthralled by more stories of these enigmatic events soon!

So deeply curious,


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