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Jaguars
in the Book of Mormon

Introduction

The most common element in ancient American architecture (and an important part of their culture) was the jaguar. So where is the jaguar in the Book of Mormon? It was probably a pagan symbol, so Mormon would have edited it out where possible. But a reference may survive.

The word "shibl" appears to be very significant. And it had roughly the same significance in the Old World as in the New. Book of Mormon peoples would have noticed that. This explains why Alma (for example), after his near-death experience, called his son Shiblon.

Jaguars in ancient America

How was the jaguar seen in pre-Columbian America? It was very significant in Olmec culture, but so few records survive that it is difficult to be more precise. In Mayan times it was still important. For example, paintings survive depicting dancers in jaguar skins, imitating the jaguar lord of the underworld. Famous late Mayan leaders were Shield Jaguar and his successor, Yaxchilan, Bird Jaguar. Even the Sun god was sometimes seen in the guise of the Jaguar god. In the Mayan capital city of Tikal was the Temple of the Giant Jaguar. Early sculptures show half jaguar human figures. In later Aztec culture the jaguar was linked with the supreme god Tezcatlipoca, a great rival of Quetzalcoatl. Tezcatlipoca was young and virile, one of the powerful creators, god of sorcery and war who could transform himself into a jaguar or other animal. Even today, the descendants of Aztecs dress as jaguars in ritual battles to bring rain. They call the jaguar fights "tiger fights". So to summarise, people presumably believed that they could possess (or be possessed by) a jaguar's power by imitating the animal. Jaguars are linked with powerful rulers. The Jaguar god is young and virile. It is of the underworld. And the jaguar is sometimes referred to by another big cat's name.

Jaguars in the Old World?

The jaguar is a native of America. So we should not expect references to it in the Old World, but what is the closest parallel? What was most jaguar-like? Lions are the traditional symbol of strength, not jaguars. It seems then that the ancient Americans saw the jaguar much as Old World peoples saw lions. So when we are looking for jaguars amongst the Nephites, perhaps we should be looking for lions instead?

As noted, the jaguar cult was non-Christian, so Mormon would not have referred to it. But perhaps we can find clues in the names? The Nephites do not have any lion-like names. But what of other groups - the Mulekites and Jaredites? After the time when the Mulekites were found, we start to see names like "shiblom" and "shiblon." These correspond to the word "shibl," Arabic for "young lion."

Shibl in the Book of Mormon

In the Book of Mormon, Shiblom was a Nephite general, Shiblon was a son of Alma, and Shiblon and Shiblum are units of Nephite money. (Shiblom was also the name of a LATE Jaredite king, and scholars such as Nibley and Sorenson argue that there was significant contact between late Jaredite and early Nephite / Mulekite culture.) Note that the shiblum, used for exchange, may also combine an old world name for a measure - see http://www.farmsresearch.com/member/jbms/8_2/welch.html But that does no explain the use of "shibl" in proper names.

Why look for an Arabic word?

The Arabic language has been uniquely preserved over the centuries, because of its role in uniting the nomadic tribes, and has been especially preserved since the publication of the Koran. According to some, it is the most unchanged of the semitic languages. So I may be forgiven for looking in modern dictionaries for clues to ancient ideas. Evidence suggests that Ishmael was an Arab, and Lehi probably had Arabic links (see Nibley's "An Approach to the Book of Mormon" and other books). Since Lehi's sons married the daughters of Ishmael, all their children had Arab mothers. So Arab culture would be strong in early Nephite life.

What this page will try to demonstrate

Is the name "shibl" just coincidence? I will now attempt to show that:

  1. "Shibl" existed in both cultures at the same time - the semitic world at around 600BC, and the ancient Mayan world.
  2. It meant the same thing in both cultures.

I am not suggesting that Lehi's group invented the Mayan jaguar cult. It was far older than 600BC, and the parallels are not all exact. I am just suggesting that, on this topic, there are sufficient similarities between (a) the old World, (b) the New World, and (c) the Book of Mormon account, to explain why Alma called his son "Shiblon."

Shibl in Arabic

The word for a young lion is practically the same as the word for "grow, grow tall; grow up under favourable circumstances". (I do not speak Arabic, but these entries appear under the same Arabic dictionary heading. The only difference is in vowels, but early Arabic was written in just consonants.) Words that may be related - that is, they appear on the same page of the dictionary - mean "possessed and thrown down by the devil", "complete", "be closely entwined", "draw magic lines in the sand", "be vigourous", "boast of riches", "satiated, full", "be voluptuous", "be in many ways related", "anything similar to", etc. These connotations would seem to perfectly describe the characteristics of the jaguar cult in ancient America.

Ancient Arab beliefs

How do we know how the Arabs thought, in 600BC? It is almost impossible to say - all that has come down to us are the occasional inscriptions from a king (for example, all we know from ouround 600 BC is that the Sabeans made many conquests and worshiped the moon god Almaqua). This tells us very little about what religion meant to ordinary people. All we know about pre-Islamic spirituality of the ordinary people is:

Carl Jung

For the following, I am indebted to a friend who has spent many years studying beliefs regarding "the inner man" - in other words, ideas of the spirit from outside the traditional non-Christian world. He notes that although most church members ignore them (and probably rightly so), beliefs regarding instinct, shamanism, self-awareness, meditation, magic, etc., were common in the ancient world and even today in certain belief systems. Carl Jung in particular (he of psychoanalisis fame) spent some time studying "primitive" religions in an attempt to reconstruct how mankind experiences the spirit (or the unconscious mind, the ego, etc. as they call it). Clearly, many of his conclusions are open to dispute, but in the absence of any other evidence they are all we have. They do bring up striking parallels between jaguar cults and the Arabic word "shibl."

In an English- Arabic dictionary...

Let us have a look at the dictionary, and open it at "shibl." Every single one of the words on the same page of the dictionary as SHIBL are linked to the same jaguar cult concept (with the exception of "riding basket", but that is the furthest from SHIBL anyway)

Main sources: "A Learner's English-Arabic Dictionary" by F. Steingass, Oriental University Press 1987 p.211, 87, 527. See also "The Arabic Language in History" by Chejne, University of Minnesota 1969.), Grolier's encyclopedia, National Geographic Dec 1990 p.743-62; Sep 1987 p.329, Dec 1975 p.735, 774-89, 795.

These are the meanings of the words that start with "shibl" and are on the same page as "shibl":

"Possessed and thrown down by the devil"
Part of such "primitive" cults is to gain union with, or possession by, a powerful spirit. In the ancient Mayan case, jaguars were linked with the cult `of Tezcatlipoca. Although not purely evil, he was the chief opponent of Quetzalcoatl, and responsible for various deaths and mischief. Note also that in one creation myth, Ixbalanque ("the little jaguar") descended into the underworld. Incidentally, I presume I am being far too crass and naive to note that the four high priest jaguars at the points of the compass (in the Mayan view of things) can be called "balam", which sounds like Baalim? No, that would be too much of a coincidence.

"Complete"
Attempts to make contact with the spirit world, or the "inner man", are all about becoming a complete person - actively joining the physical and spiritual, the conscious and unconscious.

"Be closely entwined"
Again we have the concept of linking - in this case, becoming one with the spirit, or with an actual jaguar.

"Draw magic lines in the sand"
This is the phrase that first interested my friend. It was believed that in order to go beyond one's conscious physical mind and enter the realms of the unconscious, or the spirit (or even "Hades' Cave"), one drew a circle in the dust or sand around oneself for protection. Without this "magic circle" of protection (and all that it symbolised), the powers that were being sought would destroy the person seeking them, or at least render him mad. "Make incisions" is a phrase that could possibly be used to describe delving into one's hidden psyche, or it could be used to refer to the self mutilation involved in some pagan spiritualism.

"Eat one's fill; be satiated", etc.
The physical purpose of much of this spiritual endeavour is of course to supply physical desires. Or spiritually, to fill a spiritual hunger. In the American case, Tezcatlipoca is believed to reward his devotees with abundant feasts.

"Be voluptuous, lecherous", etc.:
Again we have the concept of filling carnal desires. Jung's friend, Freud, would have liked this one. Again, Tezcatlipoca is known for his interest in lust and sex.

"Lewdness, voluptuousness... pipe-tube; switch, rod"
According to one school of thought, in the beginning, all our physical desires and instincts were innocent, pure, and in harmony with the natural order of things. But after the Fall, desires tended to take over, so laws needed to be instituted to repress these desires and civilize us. The switch or rod can symbolise this restraint (it is commonly used by flagellants when bewailing their sins of the flesh). There have been people throughout time who have tried to get "in touch" with their instincts in order to return to the original, freer state. And of course nothing symbolizes instincts and freedom more than big cats like lions... or jaguars.

"Put one thing into another, entwine, entangle... be in many ways related... family connection, relationship" etc.
There are lots of words here with this kind of meaning - it perfectly fits both the attempt to become "one" with the inner self and/or some greater spiritual power, and the ancient American belief in taking on the spirit or essence of the jaguar, either by dressing in jaguar skins or in some other way. It also fits the idea of the nagual, the totem animal who is mystically attached to the person. It also fits the Mayan association of jaguars with the "embrace of heaven and earth".

"Cub, whelp [elsewhere specifically the lion cub]; grow, grow tall" etc.
I have already commented on why the word for lion may be used for jaguar, and the desire to grow tall and strong speaks for itself. But what has youth got to do with it? Freud and others believed, from their studies, that the early life is crucial to the development of the psyche. Anyone seriously interested in contacting the inner self must be interested in this aspect of life. But beyond this, "eternal youth" (whether physical or spiritual) is the main prize associated with reaching the inner self, the "treasure hard to obtain" associated with Hades' cave, mentioned above. There are many links between the jaguar cults and youth, right from
the earliest times. For example, the great stone jaguars of the Olmecs are usually in the form of a human infant (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica).

"Gag the kid to prevent it from sucking; be cold", etc.
In the search for the "inner man" and his unconscious energies (so they say), a vital step is to recognise that one's conscious or physical life depends upon the inner man, or whatever is are the source of the spirit. If it dies, or the link is broken, then the person dies physically. This source of spiritual dependence is often likened to sucking as an infant. There comes a time when a person must stop unconsciously relying on this "mother" entity, and to break off in order to develop a mature, conscious dependence on it. The Arabic term in question would describe the situation well. Note also the almost symbiotic relationship between the Mayan and his nagual - if one dies, the other dies.

"Be tender, delicate; be near, approach"
A good way to describe how one should be when involved with either one's unconscious (with its subtlety and dangers), or a big cat, or any spiritual topic.

The other words repeat the theme of being similar, being indistinguishable from, etc.

FAQ

1. How can we be sure that words on the same page of the dictionary have anything in common?
This is my weakest point as I noted, because I do not speak Arabic, nor am I familiar with ancient Arabic. However, after reading in various books on the subject, I doubt whether anyone can really be an expert on ancient Arabic beliefs and language, since nomads wrote down so little. I do note however that some linguists try to reconstruct proto-languages based on similarities between modern languages.

2. What about the name "shilum" (in the first edition of the Book of Mormon) having Hebrew links with money?
If the word misses the "b" and means money, that makes it even less likely that the other SHIBL names mean the same thing.

3. Why would Alma give his son the name "shiblon" if it has pagan connotations?
We do not know that he did. There is evidence from some ancient American societies that people were not given their final as babies, but would choose or be given a name when old enough to show signs of what they would be like as an adult. This would certainly explain why Korihor, and names with the "Pa-" prefix seem to so well describe the people who had those names (according to Nibley). Since Alma was rebellious as a youth, and so was his son Corianton, why not Shiblon? Of course, the jaguar cult may not have meant the same thing to the Nephites as it means to us. Even in laer times, their attitude to good and evil was not the same as ours (see the quotations, below, about the Aztecs worshipping the God of the underworld). Evil may well have been a neutral concept, like "nature" is today, or even seen as beneficial in some way, perhaps in the yin-yang sense of 2 Nephi 2.

Shibls, young lions, and the Bible

I am not a linguist, so I hesitate to go further here, but could "shibl" be a contraction of "Sheba" (an important part of Arabia) and "Ilu" ("the god")?

Judah is called a "a young lion", as is the Messiah himself. (Genesis 49:9; Hosea 5:14.) "Sheba" was known to mean "lion" by the Hebrews (e.g. the famous city Beer-sheba, "lion's well") These early shibls were often god-fearing, but later jaguar gods were satanic. This parallels the Bible, where the lion is at first seen as noble, and later devilish (1 Peter 5:8).

"Shibl" elsewhere in the ancient world

"Shibl" (or sibl - depending on how you pronounce it: "s" can be pronounced like "sh" or even "ch" as in "loch") is a sound that turns up in a number of interesting words. The best known example is the sybils:

"The Sibylline literature was widely known in all the ancient world, and was revered for its authority and antiquity. The earliest Greek author to mention a Sibyl was Herakleitos of Ephesos in the late sixth century. A Sibyl was a divinely inspired woman who uttered prophecies of amazing and usually disastrous things to come. Prophecy by inspired women was extremely well known in the Near East. The witch of Endor was one of the mentioned in the old Testament; in the late Assyrian times the Assyrian kings themselves attached considerable importance to prophecy. A similar institution flourished among the Persians."
- http://members.tripod.com/~Kekrops/Hellenistic_Files/Hellenistic_Persia.html

"Sibylline Oracles is the name given to certain collections of supposed prophecies, emanating from the sibyls or divinely inspired seeresses, which were widely circulated in antiquity. The derivation and meaning of the name Sibyl are still subjects of controversy among antiquarians. While the earlier writers (Eurìpides, Aristophanes, Plato) refer invariably to "the sibyl", later authors speak of many and designate the different places where they were said to dwell. ... In pagan times the oracles and predictions ascribed to the sibyls were carefully collected and jealously guarded in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and were consulted only in times of grave crises. [Both Jews and Christians later composed their own 'sybilline oracles']"
From The Catholic Encyclopedia -
http://www.ewtn.com/library/HOMELIBR/CESYBIL.HTM

Cybele, another link to lions and the underworld

"Sibyl... was the Latin version of Cybele, the Great Mother of Gods. Her name means Cave-dweller. This may have been derived from the Babylonian subultu, a Goddess seen in the sky as the constellation of the Celestial Virgin. Her oracular spirit spoke through a succession of priestesses in the sacred cave of Cumae, near lake Avernus, dedicated to Triple Hecate. Famed as an entrance to the underworld, Sybil's priestesses called up the dead for necromantic interviews."
- http://www.bpassion.com/goddess-sybil.html

"Originally Phrygian, she was a goddess of caverns, of the Earth in its primitive state; worshipped on mountain tops. She ruled over wild beasts, and was also a bee goddess. Her festival came first on the Roman calender. Along with her consort, the vegitation god Attis, Cybele was worshipped in wild, emotional, bloody, orgiastic, cathartic ceremonies. ... Her annual spring festival celebrated the death and resurrection of her beloved Attis [the bull]."
http://www.pantheon.org/mythica/articles/c/cybele.html

Cybele became one of the most popular Roman deities, and was also known as Cybebe (perhaps from Kubaba) or Agdistis. She came to Rome as a deity (rather than a name for prophetesses) from Phrygia in Asia Minor and was established in Rome in 204BC, in obedience to a prophecy in the Sybilline books. In Roman times, her male priests were expected to engage in ritual blood letting (compare the Aztec Tezcatlipoca, below)

"During the Late Hittite Period, in the Early Iron Age, the mother goddess is represented by Kubaba, the chief goddess of the city of Carchemish, depicted with a pair of lions and holding a mirror. The Urartians saw their goddesses as wives of the gods, while in the Phrygian Period the chief goddess was the mother goddess Cybele."
http://www.arzu.com/turknet/ninethousand/prehistory2.html

For the most complete description, see http://www.goddess.org/vortices/notes/cybele.html

"The priestesses of The Great Pagan Goddess Cybele (Kybele - cave dweller) would, through a transformation by the Greeks, be confused with and eventually known as the Sibyls. The Great Goddess of Asia Minor is the oldest true Goddess known, predating the Goddesses of the Sumerian and Egyptians by at least 5,000 years. ... A figurine found at Çatal Hüyük, dating to 8,000 year ago, depicts the Mother Goddess squatting in the process of giving birth while flanked by two leopards. In later centuries, the leopards would be changed to lions...

"A transformation of sounds, which may well have been Sybele that early in history, appears two thousand years later in Sumer as Siburi, the Divine Barmaid who held the keys to descent into the underworld. ... [She was involgd with] Cult Harlotry--though a Harlot was actually a priestess of the Egyptian Goddess Hathor. ... When Hammurabi conquered Sumer-Akkad, (c. 3700 years ago) ... Siburu became known as Si-bel-u (bel being lord)

"By the time Assyria rose to power, [c. 1400 BCE] the Sibelu had spread throughout Asia Minor, beyond the Black Sea and into Europe. In Thrace their Holy Taverns were established as temples of Sibyl, as the Sumerian "u" was dropped from the name. ... The center for Cybele worship was in the area that would later become Phrygia. Phrygia was located in the mountains of what is now western Turkey (in Asia Minor). ...[the seat of the gentile nations!] ... sometime after Troy, Cybele became the Phrygian name for the Titan earth Goddess, Rhea, daughter of Gaea and Cronus.

"However, the function of the Sibyl was always the same as Siburi, [and much like that of the Shaman] to give comfort to the Spirit of the dead as they made their journey to the underworld; and to instruct the living on how to prepare for the journey into darkness. Siburi did this for Gilgamesh, and Medea led Jason and the Argonauts to the realm of the living and the dead; Circe instructed Odysseus on the way to the house of the dead; and, it is said that Deiphobe, the Sibyl at Cumae went even further by personally leading Aeneas [the son of the Trojan Prince Anchises] to the underworld and back. ...

"Prior to the founding of Rome (AUC) the Priestesses had been chosen for service when they were 10-12 years old ... Under this new Order, the Pythoness was chosen only after she had become too old for marrying [age 50] ..."

Pronunciation

"In addition to native variations by locality or over time, there are often several possible transliterations into the Roman alphabet used for English."- http://www.teenwitch.com/DEITY/ROMAN/CYBELE.HTM

Nibley on Cybele and the earth mother

The following comments are on different topics, but may be relevent here.

Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol.5, p.372 [Note that Attis was the consort of Cybele.]
"In the west--in Syria. There we find a most interesting series of ritual texts which for fulness and detail are hardly to be matched anywhere. The actual documents cover a full two thousand years, and the things they deal with are far older, as a little comparative study will show. Through all that period they tell essentially the same story, the now well-known `Year-Drama' in which the death and resurrection of the hero, his victory over the powers of the underworld, and his marriage with the Mother Goddess are the principal episodes. The hero himself goes by many names, but the ones that concern us here are Attis and Humbaba, whom Stocks has shown to be one and the same person. Everyone knows about Attis who is identical with the Syrian Adonis who is identical in turn with the Egyptian Osiris, but as the pre-Sumerian Humbaba he is less familiar."

Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, vol.8, p.542
" One of the aspects of ancient American religion that archaeology is bringing increasingly to the fore is the dominance of the familiar Great Mother in religion: Where is she in the Book of Mormon? The Book of Mormon brands all non-Nephite cults as idolatry and does not go on to describe them--Nephi says he does not want to run the risk of conveying the details of such enticing abominations to posterity. But there is one broad hint. When Alma's youngest son wanted to misbehave with the harlot Isabel, he had to go into another country to do it (Alma 39:3). Parenthetically, Isabel was the name of the Patroness of Harlots in the religion of the Phoenicians [and similar to the name sybil]. Remembering that this took place in a Mulekite setting, we have more than immoral behavior here--Corianton could have misbehaved anywhere. But we are also told that the lady Isabel had a large following. Others went over to join in the rites which Alma declared to be 'most abominable above all sins' (Alma 39:5). In such a guarded manner Alma also refers to other hierodules (Alma 30:18)."

"Shibl" in ancient America

Xibalba (pronounced "shibalba") was the ancient Mayan underworld. It is difficult to reconstruct all the details from 600BC, but we may get clues from the later Aztec god Tezcatlipoca. He was, like Cybele, not just guardian the underworld, but associated with mirrors, lusts, and lions/jaguars.

Xibalba and the hero twins

http://www.angelfire.com/ca/humanorigins/religion.html
"The myth of the Hero Twins was one of the central axioms of ancient Maya life and ritual. It demonstrated how extraordinary humans could enter Xibalba, outwit the gods of death, and return, and thus was a metaphor for the greatest life force in the cosmos, the sun which emerges from Xibalba every morning. . . . The myth also demonstrated that rebirth is possible only through sacrifice (the twins were reborn after sacrifice by both fire and decapitation), and thus was a metaphor for life after death. ... For the Maya, openings in the surface of the earth were the entrances to Xibalba , and therefore especially sacred and dangerous places. . . . (Sharer 1994:523-6). "

Insights from Tezcatlipoca

http://northcoast.com/~spdtom/a-god6.html
"A young god, legend has him carrying off the wife of aging Tlaloc [rain god], "Xochiquetzal", goddess of flowers and love. [Their hell was ruled by Tlaloc and was called Tlalocán. Tezcatlipoca simply passed through it.] Tezcatlipoca is the patron of sorcerers and related to the stellar gods, the moon and to those that represent death, evil, and destruction. His 'Nahual', or disguise, is that of the Jaguar. Master of men's destinies. ... Also known as Tezcatlanextia, "He Who Causes Things to Be Seen in the Mirror" Tezcatlipoca was also said to have worn a ring into which he could look into the hearts of men, like an eye. The mirror, ring and his ability to predict seem to be unique as no other references of this type of "seer" ability are credited to other gods.

"Much has been written as to no formal head of the Mexica deity order, however, you would have a hard time finding one more worshiped that Tezcatlipoca, ... The Mexica did not think of this god as evil, but rather a contrast between his representation of darkness or the dark side of humanity with the light of Quetzalcoatl. The whole concept of good and evil was not seen to the average Mexica in the same sense as our teachings, they resigned themselves to fate and belief in one's destiny."

Major Parallels
between the Semitic "shibl" and the Mayan shibl"
Semitic (The cult of Cybele / Sybils) Mayan (Xibalba, and the Aztec Tezcatlipoca)
Fits neatly into Jung's ideas of Hades cave Fits neatly into Jung's ideas of Hades cave
The principal seer, consulted for the destinies of nations Tezcatlipoca was the only seer among the gods; the master of destinies
Guarded the underworld, which is entered through caves The underworld, entered through caves
Acted as a guide through the underworld The central myth (the hero twins) is of finding a way through the underworld
Associated with lions.... Associated with jaguars...
youth (the original sybils)... youth...
...and the moon ...and the moon
Usually shown holding a mirror Usually shown holding a mirror
The earth mother. Helpful, associated with sexual excess. Tezcatlipoca was male and evil, but he was a later addition. He earlier carried away of the wife of the ruler of the underworld, the goddess of love.
In later times, followers engaged in blood-letting In later times, followers engaged in blood-letting

Is it coincidence that the four high priest jaguars at the points of the compass (in the Mayan world view) are "balam"? It was noted earlier that sibelu (sibyl) came from si-bel-u, where "bel" is "baal" (lord). The major false god of the Old Testament was Baalim.

Book of Mormon parallels

As noted earlier, the prophet Mormon edits out any idolatrous details. Also, it is highly abridged, so we do not know much about the people named Shiblon. However, there is one major character who went through a"hell and back" experience, being re-born, shaman like, with new spiritual insight. That person was Alma.

Alma had three sons. Most of what we know of them comes from Alma's instructions to them (Alma 36-42). FARMS published an "Insights" paper once, showing that these chapters were not thrown together, but had ritual significance. Alma's sons were Heleman, Shiblon, and Corianton.

All of this seems clearer in the context of the "shibl" concepts identified earlier.

Summary

 

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