In Maya culture, an aluxe is believed to be a mischievous elflike being that lives in the woods, a creature of folklore similar to leprechauns, unicorns, mermaids and the Loch Ness Monster.
So it was a surprise on Saturday when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico shared a picture on Twitter of what he claimed was an aluxe.
The image shows what appears to be a figure with two glowing eyes crouched in a tree. There are few discerning details in the photo, which appears to have been taken at night. “Everything is mystical,” Mr. López Obrador wrote.
The president’s tweet was liked more than 40,000 times, and it drew thousands of comments from many users who did not seem to take it seriously.
Mr. López Obrador said the photo was taken last week by an engineer. He did not identify the engineer, but said the photo came from work on a project that he has backed, the Maya Train, a railway that is expected to be nearly 1,000 miles long and that has been pitched as a way to develop Mexico’s poorest region.
The image did not have metadata, making it unclear when the photo was taken or by whom.
Multiple Mexican news outlets reported that the image shared by the president was extremely similar to another one widely shared on social media in 2021 of what was said at the time to be a witch. The 2021 image was reported to have been taken by a man identified as Juan Pacheco in Nuevo León in northern Mexico, according to Mexican news outlets.
David Stuart, an art history professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has researched the Maya civilization, said that aluxes were known by the Maya primarily in the northern region of the Yucatán Peninsula as “trickster characters” who lived in the forest.
“They were just the little beings out in the outskirts of town that would make your life difficult,” Professor Stuart said, comparing them to leprechauns or elves in other traditions.
Aluxes were blamed for “fairly benign” mishaps, such as gates being left open or items going missing, he said.
When Professor Stuart first saw Mr. López Obrador’s post, he thought the president was being “a little tongue-in-cheek about it, but I don’t know.”
“I have no idea what he was trying to do,” he added.
In the tweet, the president shared another image of what he said was a sculpture in Ek Balam, an archaeological site in Yucatán, Mexico.
Speaking at the president’s daily news conference on Monday morning, Diego Prieto Hernández, general director of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, described the sculpture as a woman grabbing someone being held captive by their hair. He did not address the image Mr. López Obrador said was an aluxe.
In a 2008 edition of Voices of Mexico, a magazine published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a man from a Maya village described aluxes as “tiny, short little sprites, about 40 centimeters high, with hairy bodies.”
“They appear on the roads, but not everyone can see them,” the man said in an interview with the magazine. “Sometimes we think, ‘I don’t believe it,’ or ‘they’re tricking me,’ and we do things that bother them. So then, you’ll be walking along, and they’ll surprise you. ‘What’s that kid doing standing there?’ And when you look back, it’s not there anymore. It’s a spirit; it’s the wind. But the image stays in your eye, so you remember.”