Alebrijes – What are they?

Alebrijes are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. Originally, these creatures are created using a technique called papier-mâché, but are now carved in wood, and are often adorned with intricate patterns and designs. Alebrijes have become a beloved symbol of Mexican culture and are now popular all over the world.


The history of alebrijes dates back to the 1930s, when a Mexican artist named Pedro Linares fell seriously ill. While he was in bed, he dreamed or hallucinated of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds, and other things that suddenly transformed into strange, fantastical creatures. In his dream, these creatures repeated a word to him: “alebrijes.” When Linares recovered from his illness, he started to create sculptures of these creatures, using papier-mâché as the main material. Over time, the craft of creating alebrijes transitioned into wood carving, and became a tradition in Mexico, passed down from generation to generation.


The word “alebrijes” comes from two Nahuatl words, “alebrije” and “ixtle.” “Alebrije” means something that is not real or something that does not exist, while “ixtle” is a type of paper made from the bark of a tree. Together, the two words refer to the process of creating something that does not exist in reality.

Alebrijes are not only fanciful creations; they also carry important cultural and symbolic meanings. Many of these creatures are inspired by animals that are considered sacred in Mexican folklore, such as jaguars, eagles, and snakes. These animals represent different spiritual forces, such as courage, strength, and wisdom.

The intricate patterns and designs on alebrijes are also significant. These patterns are often inspired by pre-Hispanic art and motifs, which carry their own symbolic meanings. For example, the use of circles and spirals represents the cycle of life and death, while the use of triangles symbolizes the connection between heaven and earth.

Today, alebrijes continue to be an important part of Mexican culture. They are often created and sold by artisans in markets and shops throughout Mexico, but mainly in the state of Oaxaca. In recent years, alebrijes have also been featured in popular culture, such as in the movie “Coco,” which tells the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a musician and encounters a magical world filled with alebrijes.

Alebrijes have become important facets in Mexican culture and have been interpreted, not only as protectors but also spirit guides where an Alebrije is paired with the spirit of a loved one and guides the loved one back to the altar during day of the dead festivals so that the spirits can see their family members.


Alebrijes are an important part of Mexican culture, representing a fusion of indigenous and Spanish influences. These whimsical creatures have captivated people’s imaginations all over the world, and their symbolic meanings continue to resonate with many. Through the craft of creating alebrijes, artists are able to express their creativity, preserve cultural traditions, and honor the natural world.

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