Chaneques: Mischievous Legendary Tricksters In Mexican Folklore

A. Sutherland  - - Mysterious, magical individuals called 'chaneques' are famous in Mexican folklore; however, they also have a lot in common with the Pukwudgies, only knee-high or smaller, grey-faced forest people with large ears, as described in Algonquian folklore.

Chaneques: Mischievous Legendary Tricksters In Mexican Folklore

They are also similar in their behavior to Alux, a little trickster in Mayan folklore responsible for 'bad things and yet protects the field at night, summons rain, and helps grow the corn and bring wealth and good fortune.

In some contemporary legends, the chaneques (from Nahuatl, "those who live in dangerous places" or "owners of the house") are described as children with faces from elderly men or women. Otherwise, they are no more than one meter tall, have feet in reverse, a deformed body, sometimes lack a left ear, and laugh like a child. In other legends, they have huge heads and chocolate-colored skin.

White And Black Chaneques And Isolated Places

Tradition has it that the chaneques inhabit deep forests, mountains, abandoned ruins, springs, wildernesses, and ditches and belong in the underworld. Therefore, such places were traditionally avoided, and the spirits were associated with the evil powers. Who or what are the chaneques?

Are they dwarves with children's voices and faces? No one knows for sure. In the beliefs of ancient people, the chaneques are friendly and play pranks like mischievous children usually do by shaking hammocks, scaring animals or adults, throwing stones or dishes in the kitchen, hiding objects in the houses, and more.

Despite their playful nature, they are not so bad. Sometimes, they live in crops or under the same roof as people as long as these troublesome spirits do not take people's money, jewelry, or important papers or keys.


The chaneques remind us of the magical little forest people known as PukwudgiesIt's always advisable to be aware of their presence without disturbing them because many chaneques prefer to keep their distance.

Depending on local beliefs, there are good and bad individuals among these spirits. The good ones were similar to the elvestraced back to NorseCeltic, and Germanic myths and legends, describing them as young, white, pleasant-looking, and bringing luck with them. On the other hand, the black ones had ugly deformities and brought darkness and diseases to the people.

One of the central beliefs related to the chaneques is that they pretend to be children who intentionally attract people to their world. They can even scare people to death; in that case, the soul leaves the body immediately captured by the chaneques who lock it up underground.

Tradition says that if the victim does not manage to recover his soul through a specific ritual, he falls ill and dies within a short time.

Chaneque Spirits In Ancient Catholic Beliefs And Contemporary Legends

In the Catholic beliefs of the Mexican people, the chaneques are the souls of the children who died without Christian baptism and probably originated from pre-colonial times. They are little demons who prey on people wandering alone in the forest or impenetrable jungles of Mexico.

Confusing people, they express their hostility to make them lost and prey on them at night, even eat them.

They can make people lose three to seven days, so they cannot recall anything that happened to them. Then, the victims realize they have been kidnapped by the malicious chaneques and taken to their afterlife, which is only accessed through a dry trunk of the ceiba tree, a sacred tree of most civilizations of Mesoamerica, including MixtecAztec, and Maya. Long ago, the people believed that the ceiba grows deep into the underworld.

Even today, there are many testimonies of people who disappeared in the deep forests of central and southern Mexico.

Written by – A. Sutherland  - Senior Staff Write

Updated on February 8, 2024

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