Long before Linares' dreams, in Mesoamerican cultures there were already the “nahuales” and “tonas”, creatures that just like alebrijes, adopt an animal shape and / or in combination with human parts.
In the Zapotec culture “tona”, mean “animal or protective spirit”, and these were assigned to each person, according to the calendar, depending on the month and day of their birth.
The tonas as an animal that could be chose were: the coyote, the lizard, the armadillo, the turtle, the snake, the rabbit, the deer, the frog, the dog, the monkey, the owl, the eagle, the jaguar, the butterfly, the fish, snail, chuparrosa (hummingbird), and the cenzontle. These "tonas" were perceived as “spiritual guides or protective spirits”, who would be with us the rest of our lives.
On the other hand, the "Nahuas" or "Nahuales", according to the worldview of some civilizations, are common men capable of adopting the form of an animal in combination of their human parts. Some had the gift of divination or healing and others even had abilities to control nature.
The meaning of alebrijes as we know them today could be translated as a combination of all of the above. While for Linares it all began with a dream embodied in the art of cardboard, it was not until these inadvertently merged with the nahuales and tonas of the Zapotec culture that they acquired much more relevance in Mexican culture.