A casual topic of conversation sometimes touches on this question:
"If you came back to life as an animal, what animal would you be?"
Around the world the bond between animals and humans is part of their culture. In Mezoamerica there is a belief that each day has its own animal guide. Taking it further, many believe that some people can actually change into these animals. Whether this animal spirit is for good or for evil depends on the person. this animal spirit is called a nagual (pronounced na WAL -- no "g" sound).
In the area around the western Mecxican states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima were the majority of shaft tombs have been found, the pottery shows evidence of the nagual's presence. The combination can work both ways -- fish with human heads or jaguar heads on human bodies. After the Spanish conquest, there are even representations of the king of Spain's face on lions that represent Leon (lion) which is one of Spain's heraldic "glyphs."
Originally, I became interested in the gods of the Mayans, but they, too, have their naguales (or nagualli) in the form of the jaguar god. And Olmecs have their jaguar god with a cleft head.
Shaft Tomb Culture:
For many years strange artifacts have shown up in private collections. Nothing was known about their story, but they were noting like the Olmec, Toltec, Aztec or andy other pre-Columbian culture that had already been studied.
In 1993 an undisturbed tomb was located. Anthropologist finally had a pristine source with which to study these artifacts. They called it the shaft tomb culture from the way the tomb was consturcted. A shaft was carved out of the volcanic tuff with side chambers for burials. Since these tombs were very difficult to dig, the tombs were probably for several generations of wealthy people. Included were household items, bowls with food and jewelry. There was no embalming.
Statues were also placed in the tombs. There are several styles: Ixtlán del Rio with ropy arms, staring eyes, grimacing mouths and piercings of the nose and ears; Chinesco which are mainly seated or reclining, puffy slitted eyes, and bulbous tapered legs; and Ameca which has a long head with a high forehead, large staring eyes with rims, wide mouth, and hands that delineate fingernails.
Since this culture has no writing or glyphs, there is no record of their religion or how their lives were lived.