Mexico’s president grabbed headlines around the world after sharing a photo he claims is proof that aluxes exist. But outside Yucatán, this mischievous woodland spirit in Mayan folklore is little known.
The location of the shot was not disclosed, but it was somewhere along the construction route of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s pet project, the Maya Train.
The unusual post got media attention around the world, particularly after it was picked up by The Associated Press. Journalists had the task of explaining aluxes to readers.
Anyone who’s ever adventured through the jungles of Yucatán has had aluxes (a-loo-shez) as traveling companions.
Similar to a Celtic leprechaun, aluxes are generally invisible but can choose to appear to humans when they feel playful. Also according to legend, if a landowner builds aluxes a small house, they will look after the family’s land for seven years and help the corn grow. This tradition is followed to this day.
After those seven years, the Maya would seal the house to keep the knee-high alux inside.
The same tradition was followed in 1980 when a bridge between Cancun Airport and the hotel zone was being constructed. The project was constantly undermined — bent steel rods, bad cement — by unseen forces until desperate workers asked for the help of a Mayan priest. They were told to build a small shelter under the bridge so the aluxes could stand guard. The strategy worked, and the bridge was completed without further delay. The temple, a highway curiosity to most, remained until 2022 when the road was reconfigured.
Human-alux relations are complicated, and many in the Maya community still worry about angering the forest creatures.
Treated with respect and some offerings, they can be very helpful. Scorned, and they get revenge.
It is also said in folklore that it is not good to call them out loud since you could inadvertently summon an unfriendly alux.
A few commenters warned that AMLO should not have published the alux’s photo without proper protocol.
“You need to ask permission and offer tobacco, wine, water, and honey, following the ritual of our ancestors and the culture of our original peoples,” wrote one commenter.
Others were more lighthearted, joking that the image was their mother-in-law or perhaps Lili Téllez, one of López Obrador’s political foes.
The photo, taken at night, shows what may be a halo of hair and glowing eyes on top of a branch. Critics say the halo is part of the tree, and stars are forming the figure’s eyes.
Elton John’s stage collapsed at Chichén Itzá in 2010 after organizers skipped the tradition of asking aluxes for permission to hold a concert on sacred ground. Previous performances — for Placido Domingo and Sarah Brightman — went off fine after the woodland creatures were respectfully consulted.
The story of the alux resembles those of British folklore, which could have arisen from interaction with pirates of the 16th century.
The supposition that the alux figured in the mythic traditions of the pre-Columbian Maya is possibly suggested in examples of pre-Columbian artwork, but there is no direct evidence that ancient communities held these beliefs.