By John Stevens
We all know of the Irish leprechaun and the Scandinavian gnome, but it may come as a surprise that the Yucatean Mayans also have their own ancient folklore character: a mysterious sprite-like being known as the alux, which roams deep in the Mexican jungles and farmland.
Aluxes are short creatures (only about knee-height), and their appearance and clothing mirrors the traditionally dressed Mayans'. According to tradition, they are invisible but can become visible when they wish to communicate with or scare humans.
A large number of people – particularly young children – have claimed to see an alux. It is thought that one’s chances of seeing or encountering the creature in the forest are increased by getting in touch with nature and taking in the tranquility, sounds, sights and smells of the surroundings. This will bring about a state of receptivity.
Many Maya believe that the alux will become active when a farmer constructs a small house in one of his fields. The creature will reside in the house for seven years and will help look after the fields by growing corn, summoning rain, and scaring away crop thieves and predators at night. After the seven years, the farmer must lock all the doors and windows of the house to trap the alux inside, or else the creature will run wild and play all kinds of trickery on people.
An alux may sometimes stop a farmer or traveler along the roadside and ask for an offering. If they are treated well and their conditions are met, they may bring good fortune to the person and protect him or her from thieves. But should the request be refused, they can cause mischief and spread illness.
The alux is similar to the Spanish duende, a supernatural goblin-like being. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. It is suspected that the Mayan belief in the alux began in the 1500's, through contact with pirates or Spanish settlers. Many pirates at the time were from the British Isles, where belief in faeries was widespread.
The indigenous Mayans, however, believe very strongly that aluxes exist, and that belief did not itself develop from Western influence. The Mayans maintain that these mysterious creatures are the spirits of their ancestors, or of the land itself.
John Stevens is from Wales, U.K., and lives in writes in Florida. More of his articles about the folklore and traditions of Caribbean and Central American cultures can be found here.