|The blunt facial features of this large figure from Panther Cave may be intended to portray the serpent incarnation of a shaman or his affiliation with the snake people. The serpent is one of the most ancient of the supernatural beings, inspiring snake cults that still flourish, even in modern America. Snakes can be lethal, but their apparent ability to hypnotize their victims credits them with extraordinary power. Regeneration is incarnate in the process by which snakes shed their skin and emerge larger and more mature. The relationship between snakes as earth dwellers and earthquakes was a major component of many early Mediterranean religions. The serpent shaman dominates the enormously complex panel at Rattlesnake Canyon where three variations on this basic theme loom large above the massive overpainted wall. The largest, like the Panther Cave example, is a plain red blunt-nosed figure, standing with arms upraised but empty handed. Added to the second towering serpent figure is a crenellated streamer that hangs from his left elbow, a spiny cluster encircling his right wrist, and a rabbit-ear or two-feather headdress. The upraised ears transform the blunt features of the serpent into those of the rabbit, creating yet another syncretic figure. Many of the same accoutrements bedeck an 11-foot tall shaman at Abrigo Diego in Mexico, but this figure is facing straight ahead, obscuring his facial features. The rabbit ears are here worn by a neighboring shaman figure. In addition to his rabbit ears, crenellated streamer and spiny wrist ornament, the third serpent shaman of Rattlesnake Canyon demonstrates his power by suspending two falling panthers above his head. Rabbit-ear or two-feather headdresses are one of the most widespread of Pecos River motifs, found across an area bounded by the upper Devils River on the north and the Sierra del Carmen on the south.
This white shaman, also from Rattlesnake Canyon, wears only a single-feather or one-eared headdress, but immediately to his left is a smaller duplicate figure with the standard two. These figures illustrate another salient characteristic of Pecos River style art -- the blocking out of body areas by the use of contrasting colors. To some degree, colors may themselves symbolize qualities and their juxtaposition may be an artistic convention to add interest and complexity of design. Patterned colors are, however, defining characteristics of the shaman incarnation. The panther shaman often has an outlined body, infilled with parallel lines that mimic the soft underbelly of a cat. The serpent shaman is head, shoulders and an outline of the torso, but the interior of the body is blank. The bird-deer composite often has a narrow dark rectangle on its torso, Such consistencies suggest that body design and color have deeper meaning, perhaps no longer decipherable.