Book Review: The Blue Tattoo

BlueTattooI stumbled across a brief note on Olive Oatman researching something else, and read The Blue Tatoo to learn the full history relating to what occurred from 1850 and continuing on well beyond her death in 1903.  Olive Oatman’s name became inseparably intertwined with that of the Mojave and Yavapai Indians, a tragic story for all on a number of levels. The complete truth remains elusive. It varied significantly depending on who told the story and when…even becoming an episode of Death Valley Days, the old TV show. The Blue Tattoo may well be the most accurate and comprehensive account, the author Margot Mifflin having depended on historical documents, family diaries, letters and interviews.

In 1850 a large group of Mormons left Independence, Missouri headed to the Southwest. Their numbers went through several splits as different factions sought to take over and redirect their destination. Until finally, the Oatmans—with seven children spread between the ages of 1 to 17 and mother pregnant—were the sole travelers in the Sonoran Desert on a 190-mile trail well known for its extreme desolation and danger to whites, frequently attacked by tribes living in the area. The father Royce Oatman, described in the book as a reckless piece of work, knowingly put his family’s lives at great risk. His actions had dire consequences.

About 100 miles from what is now Yuma, Arizona, the family was surprised by a small group said to be Yavapai Indians, often mistaken for Apaches. They asked for food. Royce refused, and the family was massacred with the exception of Olive, Mary Ann and Lorenzo, ages 14, 7 and 15, respectively. The Yavapai took Olive and Mary Ann, along with the family’s few cows and oxen. Lorenzo, who was severely beaten, had rolled down a ravine and was left for dead.

Thus began the unfolding of events detailed in The Blue Tattoo: the terrible year with the Yavapai, their trade sought by the Mojave, Olive’s assimilation into Mojave life over a 5-year period, her “rescue” and what transpired over the next decades. I won’t go into details and instead leave them for you to read.

But there are a few things I do want to say.

The author focuses on the fact that it would be highly unusual for the Yavapai to conduct such raids except on their traditional rivals the Pima and Maricopa. She puts it to the reason of late winter hardship made more desperate by drought. But cannot say why they chose to abduct the girls since they would be more mouths to feed in dire times. They were, however, mistreated, worked to the bone as servants and last in line to receive what food there was.

The Mojave were farmers who lived tucked away in a little traveled area near what today is Needles, California. They were kind to the girls and likely saved their lives. Olive’s traditionally tattooed chin was an indicator of her assimilation. They were made part of the tribal leader’s family and taken into their clan. When a surveying party headed by a Lt. Whipple came to the village over a several-day period and were made welcome, the girls did not make their presence known or try to approach the party to escape. Within a year though, due to rumors of a white girl living with the Mojave, a Quechan messenger from Fort Yuma came demanding Olive’s return upon threat of annihilation of the tribe.

Shortly after Olive’s arrival in Fort Yuma, she was taken under the wing of Royal Stratton, a Methodist minister, who exploited her for his own gain. He wrote a book, liberally changing the story, adding manufactured details meant to titillate. He set Olive up on the lecture circuit where she traveled for years. She became famous.

It reminded me very much of the same kind of travesty befalling the healer Santa Teresita of Cabora when she was deported from Mexico to the United States, and her many years’ exploitation by a so-called medical consortium.

I understand the terrible conflict Olive must have faced brought back into a society that held the prevailing message: The only good Indian is a dead one. Having now lost two families, she must have been wondering what story to tell at all: the one white society was salivating to hear or the truth. She contradicted herself frequently.

One of the many things that saddens me so about this tragic story is her betrayal of the Mojave people who were kind to her—when she told the version that they had enslaved her. Within a couple of years, they were removed from their villages, split and confined to two reservations: one near Parker, Arizona and the other to the Colorado River Indian Reservation near Needles. Their small numbers lessened.

Margot Mifflin cites, The Mojave homeland was literally wiped off the grid. Area maps printed after 1859 no longer identified the site of the Mohave villages; instead, the region, dubbed Fort Mojave, was distinguished by a military post…to protect westward bound emigrants from the Mojave Indians.

 From the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe website: There are three primary groups of Yavapai existing today – they are located at Fort McDowell, Camp Verde and Prescott.

The Blue Tattoo is widely available in print, ebook and audiobook. I read a copy from my local library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Rights | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taller Leñateros: A Tzotzil Maya Blessing

I’d just left the family-run hotel where I stay when in San Cristobál de las Casas headed to Na Bolom. I was paying particular attention to my feet due to the town’s notoriously deteriorating, uneven sidewalks with potholes aplenty. When I glanced up to make sure I was still on track, I saw a painted sign, hung over a doorway enclosed by a gate, of a Classic Maya in full regalia riding a bicycle. Its paint was peeling and had seen better days. A similar image and fanciful creatures were strung out along the adobe wall.

I crossed the street to peer into the courtyard. The long work tables lining the wall were filled with stacks of some kind of material – that I couldn’t readily identify – and wood block prints haphazardly hung on the wall. I didn’t see anyone around. It was just too intriguing. I opened the wooden gate and entered. I was fascinated by all the prints, more now visible on the inside wall, and saw a small room. It was stocked full of handmade books and journals, posters and postcards. I’m enamored of such hidden treasures.

I’d discovered Taller Leñateros. That was probably ten years ago. Since then, I stop by nearly every year when I’m in San Cris and purchase a book, postcard or poster. I have my own private collection of their jewels.

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Tree of Eyes. José Luis Hernández, Artist. Printed by Taller Leñateros.

Mexican-American poet Ambar Past started this natural paper and bookmaking collective back in 1975. She’d been living among Tzotzil Maya women in the highland villages of Chiapas, Mexico and, with their permission, began to collect and translate their traditional prayers, spells and poetry, which had never been written down. Her efforts ultimately culminated in a truly unique illustrated book, Incantations: Songs, Spells and Images by Mayan Women. One time when I return, I’ll purchase the handmade book. In the meantime, I own a paperback copy.

I absolutely adore one of their dimunitive books containing only one prayer. It has a place on my altar. Sacred to me, its message touches something deep inside. Whenever I read it, I’m uplifted as much as I want to cry.

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Magic for a Long Life*

Manwela Kokoroch

Elder Brother of writing:

Elder Brother of painting:

I’ve come with roses, with lilies, with carnations, with chamomile.

 

Lend me your ten masks so my years within the corral will grow longer.

My wayhel is suffering in the mountains.**

My animal soul has fallen off the hill.

She’s at the end of the rope, at the last link in the chain.

 

Lend me your ten toes, your ten fingers.

To guide my wayhel back into her tiger cave.

Back in the green cave where my Spirit lives.

 

Lift her up with a cloth that smells of roses.

With a rose, lift me up.

Lay me down in the shade of the vine.

 

Elder Brother who feeds the Souls:

Guardian of the Corral:

Bearer of time:

Spin around in a circle,

Turn around in a square.

 

Don’t let the tiger out,

The jaguar out,

The wolf, the coyote, the fox, the weasel.

 

Herd them together,

Don’t let them go.

I’ve brought you turkey eggs.

I’ve brought pigeon stones for the hand and the foot

Of She Who Sees From Far Away Through Dreams.

 

Thirteen essences of tilil

Make my day longer with the sweat of your legs,

Your hands that glow green as precious jade,

Your green, green blood.

 

Carry me, embrace me and my tiger, and my jaguar.

This is all I will bother you with in the name of the flowers.

 

Keep my animal alive for many years

In the pages of the Book, in its letters, in its paintings,

On the whole Surface of the Earth.

 

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Atlas Obscura just published an article on the collective. For more background and photos than I’ve offered, do read it. It brought back to me the sheer magic of the place, the beauty of Taller Leñateros’ mission, and its fragility.

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* I attempted to contact Ambar Past to gain permission to use the prayer in its entirety, since to segment it with just a few words would do it a disservice. I have been unable to reach her over time. I was advised that Ambar had withdrawn from the world and is now living in a monastery in Nepal. The suggestion came from a friend of hers to use the prayer listing the Maya woman whose version it is, there being other similar versions in the villages. I intend respect and hope to have done it justice.

**Wayhel is a Tzotzil Maya word meaning animal companion. In the words of Ambar Past, “…associated with shamanism, the portals of the Underworld, communication with the gods and the dead. The wayhel accompanies its alter ego from the moment it is born…” If one suffers, the other suffers. If one thrives, the other thrives.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hatun Q’ero Weavers: Destination Santa Fe

In October 2016 I sponsored a pilgrimage beginning in Bolivia that culminated in the Hatun Q’ero village of Ccochamocco high in the Peruvian Andes of the Cusco Region.* About 2,000 Q’ero live spread through small villages on the mountains commonly known as Q’ero. They exist as subsistence farmers—their fields some distance below—living in stone huts with dirt floors, no electricity or running water. Their main diet is potatoes. All families have alpaca and sheep herds and live engaged with the natural world, which they consider sacred. The majority of my relationships with these beautiful people going back 20+ years rests in Ccochamocco.

We spent our time with them in ceremony, soaking up the vibrations of sacred mountains and generally hanging out with the community. At one point, we gathered with the weavers who were gladly showing us their textiles, also hoping for sales.

Weaving is integral to Q’ero life. Passed down through generations since Inka times, they make their clothing, ceremonial and other functional items. In keeping with tradition, women weave. Men knit.

Some weaving is like a rite of passage. When a girl comes of marriageable age, her mother teaches her how to weave a man’s poncho. The wife is always the one who weaves the husband’s poncho—a necessary skill. When a young man is looking for a wife, he knits a colorful hat and applies beads. The more beads he applies, the more patience he is said to have—a signal to a prospective wife of good husband material.

 

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Despacho outside Tiwanaku, Bolivia for permission to enter. Photo: Carla Woody.

Mesas or mestanas, woven altars or bundles used for ceremony, are used to hold sacred stones, other objects and coca leaves, and contain healing or divination properties. They are also used as a ground altar upon which a despacho, or blessing/prayer bundle, is created within ceremony. When weavers create these special use pieces, they imbue intent and prayers within the weaving similar to the making of Tibetan singing bowls.

The Q’eros are known for their textiles and authentic traditional designs. But they have little opportunity to sell their weavings except to the occasional visitor to the villages or on the streets of Cusco to tourists when they venture down.

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Carmina weaving outside her home in Ccochamocco. Photo: Carla Woody.

After we’d been with the weavers in Ccochamocco, participant Loretta McGrath suggested I look at having Kenosis Spirit Keepers sponsor them at the annual International Folk Art Market (IFAM) in Santa Fe. Loretta had volunteered with them for years and told me about this prestigious market. I’d never heard of it.

Armed with information from Loretta, I checked into it upon my return home. In the meantime, the Association of Weavers Q’ero Inka Design (Asociación de Tejidores Inka Pallay Q’eros) was formally established July 4, 2017. The cooperative was the first of its kind within Hatun Q’ero.

Their purpose was for the weavers to learn from each other and outside resources in the ways of natural dyeing and best practices to produce high quality items and increase their availability to larger markets. Members include those living between Cusco and the Hatun Q’ero villages, and those who do not step beyond their high-altitude homes. This cooperative represents members from Hatun Q’ero villages of Ccochamocco, Chua Chua, Challma and Qolpacucho.

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Members using natural dyes with alpaca wool. Photo: Santos Machacca.

In 2018 I began the lengthy series of communications, information and photo gathering, writing, and finetuning until finally submitting the application by the October 2018 deadline. Then we waited. Would they be chosen? How would we raise the chunk of funds needed to pull it off? I was also concerned about the relatively short time between January notification and the need for the weavers to produce a reasonable number of textiles to bring to market.

All weavings are done completely by hand. No machines of any sort are used. The wool is cleaned, spun using a traditional hand spindle, and woven using 4 stake looms. Hats are hand knitted from alpaca wool in the same manner. It’s a very long process.

There were over 700 applications. Of those, 178 artisans from 50 countries were accepted. The Q’ero weavers were one of those. We celebrated. This was huge. I could envision the beginning of something that would immensely benefit the weavers, their families and larger community. Then the weaving began in earnest.

Santos Machacca, my Q’ero liaison and member of the cooperative, kept me updated. He said that many of the women were weaving day after day starting at 4 a.m. and into the night. I could imagine how sore their fingers must be and how strained their eyes.

The next frontier was obtaining visas. Santos and Remigia Salas Chura, his wife and a master weaver, were designated to represent the cooperative at the market. Given the current political climate in the US, it seemed quite iffy whether they would be granted. But armed with formal invitations from IFAM, the major of Santa Fe and Kenosis Spirit Keepers, visas were granted.

Santos and Remigia arrived in Santa Fe on July 9. It was the first time Remigia had flown or been so very far from home. They were thrilled to be there. Their smiling faces were evidence. Aside from being in Santa Fe—first time in the US—they were rubbing elbows with artisans from all over the world: Algeria, Colombia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Rwanda. Too many to name. The artisan processional in Santa Fe Plaza was truly inspirational.

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Peek at the processional. Photo: Carla Woody.

During the market I was there with them in the booth. It was a real pleasure. The Q’ero weavers offered a range of textiles from hat bands to ponchos to mesas to table runners. The latter was something I suggested for Western customers along with coasters and placemats. All in traditional designs. Truly the Association of Weavers Q’ero Inka Design outdid themselves. Offerings were 100% alpaca—no blends—all natural dyes or natural wool, all finely finished. They had undertaken this effort to produce the highest quality—and they did.

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Santos and Remigia at the Q’ero weavers booth. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Remigia weaving at the booth. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Q’ero weavings. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Q’ero mesas and hatbands. Photo: Carla Woody.

The mission of Kenosis Spirit Keepers is to help preserve Indigenous traditions. I take the outcome of this endeavor as a big win for the Q’eros—a full return to traditional weaving—as well that we could assist in such an important effort.

The plants needed for dyes grow lower than the altitude of the villages. In order to gather them, the artisans must forage distances from their homes. Perhaps due to this reality, it became common for family weavers to use synthetic dyes for their wool when they became available in the markets about 70 years ago. However, the Association members have returned to natural dyes or natural wool as most traditional.

Fine finishing, or binding the edges, had also been let go. It was rare for see a Q’ero weaving like that even though still beautiful. I can imagine much of their time was taken up with childcare and their herds. I had encouraged the highest quality though, telling Santos the elements that were needed for acceptance at the market. He later told me the weavers had forgotten how to finish edges or never knew. They had sought out elder weavers to teach them.

I want to publicly thank Loretta McGrath for her initial urging and support during the application process. I don’t know how we would have survived without Lisa Flynn who was so willingly by our side offering rides, her fine Spanish and calls back to Peru, as well as ongoing hospitality. I’m grateful to Sachiko Umi and her team at IFAM for patiently guiding me in this first-time effort, and their great care for all the artisans. Really, it was amazing how everything came together. But you know…this never would have come about for these Hatun Q’ero weavers without the generosity of donors, some who knew them and others who didn’t. I hope you are reading this, and realize you supported a dream come true.

Now we look to next year…

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Artisans of the 2019 International Folk Art Market. Photo: Marc Romanelli.

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*The Hatun Q’ero of the Q’ero Nation are known as the Keepers of the Ancient Knowledge and call themselves the children of Inkari, the first Inka. They are widely accepted by anthropologists to be direct descendants of the Inka. They live in isolation at 14,000-15,000 feet in the Andes, as they have for hundreds of years after the conquistadors came, preserving their ancient mystical traditions. The lands of the Q’ero have been declared a cultural heritage site by UNESCO, but that has not brought personal riches to the Q’ero Nation. Some Q’ero have migrated to Cusco and environs hoping for a better life.

I will be sponsoring another pilgrimage in Fall 2020 following along Bolivia’s sacred sites…Tiwanaku, Islands of the Sun and Moon…and into Peru…through Puno, Cusco and once again culminating in Ccochamocco. Check on this spiritual travel page. It should be posted soon.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Q'ero, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

To Learn the True Ways of the Maya

Early morning on December 21, 2012, I was in Palenque, back in the Cross Group, sitting cross-legged just under the eaves by the doorway of the Temple of the Sun. I was hoping to witness the recurring solar alignment there on Winter Solstice—the sun rising over the dense jungle mountain directly above the Temple of the Foliated Cross, its first rays reaching across the plaza to fall within a hair’s breadth of where I’d planted myself. Maya ruler K’inich Kan Bahlam intended it exactly so.

There was a misty drizzle at the appointed time, and the alignment went unseen that year. But I remained, not moving an inch for four hours. I wasn’t hoping to be beamed up or whatever other nonsense was predicted. I was caught entranced by the ongoing chants, drums and singing bowls of a contingent of the Rainbow Tribe that had gathered in the interior of the Temple of the Sun. Others were engaged in not-meant-to-be laughable antics below in what had become a torrential downpour.

I may not have witnessed the solar alignment, but that day was still memorable. I finally made my way out, barefoot through the water rushing like a river down the many stairs and levels of Palenque. That was the only Great Flood that day. No cataclysmic demise of the planet or en masse spiritual transformation—depending on the believers’ camp—occurred.  The year 2012 and the end date of the Maya Long Count Calendar will be long remembered for its controversies, crazy predictions and theories, and ultimate ignorance of Maya culture and tradition.

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As seen on a street in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Photo: Carla Woody.

Early in 2012 I joined the Maya Research Discussion Group on Facebook as an interested observer. The members were a mixed bag but largely comprised of academics. The posts were often heated, pompous, sometimes nasty. Before I got tired of it and left the group, I did notice something pointedly. Maya members were few and those were mostly silent, maybe laughing up their sleeves or not wanting to enter the fray in this mostly Western group.

During that time, I was doing research to write an article on seed preservation and wanted Indigenous perspective. I’d privately asked an approachable member of the group if he could direct me to a Maya person who would be willing to speak with me about the subject. He connected me with Apab’yan Tew, a silent member, and advised he was open. After speaking with him via Skype for over two hours, I found him to be sincere and profoundly knowledgeable in the true ways of the Maya. His input ended up framing the article Seed Intelligence I wrote.

What started as a consult evolved into a continuing conversation, to the point that we’ve now been working together for the last six years. He’s become integral to the spiritual travel programs in Chiapas, Mexico and southern Guatemala I sponsor and other related undertakings. Apab’yan Tew is a K’iche’ Maya Daykeeper, spiritual guide, ceremonialist, male midwife, dancer and musician. Perhaps due to all the continuing misinformation, he has taken an active step forward in the last few years to become an educator on Maya traditions and the Maya calendar. This year brought publication of his first book The Birth of a Universe: The Maya Science of Pregnancy, which has been translated into K’iche’, Spanish and English. French and Hebrew are coming soon.

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Apab’yan Tew during fire ceremony in Guatemala, January 2019. Photo: Carla Woody.

 

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Blessing during fire ceremony. Photo: Carla Woody.

 In the last month, he has started offering short You Tube videos through his Brazilian friend Eduardo Ferronato, who produces and hosts them. For those who seek accurate knowledge on Maya cosmology, the traditions and practices of the Living Maya directly informed by their lineage and ancestors, this podcast is an excellent option. Each video is between 5-9 minutes, enough focused content for you to chew on and not too much so as to become overwhelmed with information. They plan for an initial season of 20 videos. Nothing offered is a misappropriation, an offshoot that diminishes the contribution of traditional Maya ways. Most importantly, you can trust Apab’yan to be true to his lineage.

Listen to the first video here. At this writing there are 3 available with another coming shortly. To subscribe and receive notices of new videos, go here.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Internal Constant in an External World

A couple of months ago I had two curious dreams in quick succession. First, meaning it was curious for me to even remember a dream. Second, that they came within a few nights of each other. My remembrance of any dream is a significant outcome in itself. Rarely literal, they present as a metaphor—realized after the fact—alerting me to shifting sands. A signal to pay attention, but its explication not quite straightforward.

I faced myself in a mirror and didn’t know who she was.

This one was quick, maybe a fragment of a longer dream. Quite disorienting.

I was in a celibate marriage of sorts but couldn’t see my partner.

This one was so real that, when I awoke, I continued lying in bed for some time searching to see where in my material reality it was true, and came up with nothing.

The last eighteen months for me have been quite intense. Never mind I had become more and more susceptible to the chaotic, tragic happenings in the world—especially in my home country—increasingly dealing with a sense of helplessness, anger and sadness…consistent perforations to my soul. Additionally, the nature of my work and family health was calling for ongoing attentiveness, sometimes venturing into places I hadn’t psychically visited, in the process generating much more than normal (for me) travel.

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Monsoon dawn. Photo: Carla Woody.

Now that I’ve been home for a few weeks, I’ve come to realize I was exhausted, close to burnout. Not an unusual state for people in the encouraged busyness, demands and fragmentation of this Western culture. I had experienced near burnout years ago and successfully backed out of it. I knew the territory.

A significant factor: I’d had little time for myself. I’ve been a daily meditator for more than thirty years. Yet, I found I was unable to do so. It felt shallow if I could even bring myself to sit as normal. There were a few cases where I behaved in ways uncharacteristic to me, felt badly afterward…and decided I was unfit for public consumption. Even remarking so to a few close friends. Clear signals something was off.

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Monsoon dusk. Photo: Carla Woody.

Then came two gifts in quick succession, not unlike the dreams.

Last week I flipped the calendar page and discovered I had an entire ten days with absolutely nothing scheduled with the exception of a massage a few days away. I blinked my eyes and thought, Oh no, what have I forgotten to mark down. I wracked my brain. Realizing there was nothing, I exhaled. I decided it was a minor miracle, and the Universe had a hand in it.

Then within a day, I somehow stumbled upon an interview of poet David Whyte, part of Julia Bainbridge’s mini-series on inner lives on her podcast The Lonely Hour. I was listening to it as I worked on one of my mixed media sculptures that had been languishing for months. Listening to David Whyte always puts me into an altered state. When he said this…I backed up the recording to hear it a few times more then wrote it down…

One of the nourishing things of being alone again is who this stranger is inside you. I feel you always meet a new you in the form of a stranger, and to meet that stranger you have to spend time alone.

 It stopped me short. I remembered the first dream from a couple of months ago.

And he mentioned inviting in invisible help.

 I remembered the second dream…and what I call my council that has been with me for as long as I can remember.

I’ve sensed for a time that some kind of personal evolution is on the horizon—potentially a revolution. I can’t tell you what exactly. This I do know. When any of us are at a threshold of spiritual passage, our internal and external worlds collude and collide somehow in an attempt to maintain the status quo or even regress us. It’s that biological response of the amygdala mistakenly recognizing opportunity for threat.

The times that I’ve experienced major spiritual breakthroughs are rarely when I’m with others, although the circumstances and interactions certainly may orchestrate the launch pad. It’s only when I retreat into my inner world that I’m ushered through another threshold by whatever means arrive. Silence, the abject beauty of the night sky, the words of a poem, the stroke of my paintbrush, and the quiet feeling comes that something is now different or renewed.

I’m a confirmed introvert, almost off the scale. I must have those empty spaces of remembering, engaging the Internal Constant always there with me…or I suffer. I’ve always wondered how extroverts do it in the ongoing involvement with people they thrive on. How does the break appear proactively, not being forced into it by circumstance?

In mainstream Western society, the need for retreat and being alone—even if only a few hours or days—is often misunderstood. It can be thought of as an act of withholding or selfishness. In reality, for a major portion of this society, it’s the gift they need to give themselves in order to be whole in the world. Also the allowance for easing back into the places and spaces usually frequented so as not to be shocked and overwhelmed by the contrast. It’s not a luxury. It’s necessary…and often the ground of change.

Categories: Contemplative Life, Healthy Living, Solitude, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Caring for Precious Lands

I’ve been listening to the audio version of Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors. It’s been a good companion over these last couple of days’ flights home. Particularly in long delays or crammed up against fellow passengers, it serves as a reminder that I’d rather be anywhere than where I am at the moment. And it takes me there.

I’m envious. Notified by a friend of an opening for fire lookout, he quit his job in Manhattan where he was a journalist and during the fire season lives in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico in a small box held up by stilts. He watches for fires and calls them in.

In some directions, the gaze settles on nothing but vast wilderness. It must have the same effect as gazing into a night sky unobstructed by human-made light. The more you gaze, the more the night sky invites, catapulting you into never-ending depth. There’s the sense of our small place in the universe and ancient knowledge we’ll never know. I imagine it could be a lonely job if you’re not cut out for this kind of solitude and little outside human contact. But for those who instead make friends with nature, find solace in silence and discover meaning in the wind, it must be pure heaven.

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Monsoon season. Photo: Carla Woody

Connors focuses on the 2009 fire season and walks us through his daily life, controversies through the years about the service natural fires perform, the cycle of nature, prescribed burns, what happens in drought years, and philosophical thought. I particularly found interesting his detailed description of sighting tendrils of smoke when he was out on the trail, knowing he was the first to see it, how he sent the alert and the actions taken from that point by wildfire fighters. Considerations if the fire got too close or overwhelming, what options he had to save himself.

I’d never heard of fire lookouts until I moved to the Southwest. Now the possibility of fire hovers in the back of my mind during the season. It’s come quite close to me a few times and otherwise engulfed local areas, leaving devastation and lost lives. And I always think of the animals.

One year — I think it was 2002 — I had a chance for a small taste of what it was like to be a lookout. An acquaintance had been one for years on Mount Union, the highest point at 8,000 feet in the Bradshaw Mountains of the Prescott National Forest.  He’d been inviting me out for some time. One weekend I decided to drive up there, quite the feat for the car I had at the time, especially as it had started to rain and fog was rolling in. Unbeknownst to me, it happened to be the weekend he was going down to Phoenix. I arrived just as he was leaving. He encouraged me to stay anyway.

The clouds had by now enfolded all. I could see only several feet beyond where I was standing in any direction. I was completely alone.

I went inside the cabin, having thoughts toward dinner. Choosing one from the many books Jon had, I carried my plate to the small table in front of the west window, which normally held a view level with, or above, far mountaintops. At the moment, I saw nothing but a solid white wall. And by now, the gentle rain had turned into a storm.

I glanced out the window and couldn’t believe what I saw. An immense fiery ball seemed to be hovering just beyond, in the ravine. I went out onto the porch to investigate. There it was—huge and blazing. How could the sun be coming to me in this way through the now torrential rains and impenetrable shrouding of clouds? I stood watching, awestruck, until the last remnants of this light finally disappeared.

Even though the storm was raging, I was compelled to sleep in the tower. I lugged my sleeping bag and a flashlight up the steep metal stairs, along with some water and Saint Thérèse’s book. After arranging my bed for the night, I stilled myself and just watched the scene before me. From an altitude of around 8000 feet and the further height of the fire tower, I had a sense of being on top of the world. The clouds had raised enough that I could see the panorama of lightning dancing across the land. I’d never seen such a demonstration of raw power. Some strikes seemed too close for comfort and the thunderclaps vibrated the tower’s cabin. But I just stood witness and found an uncanny metaphor in the stormy night to some of the inner turmoil that I’d brought with me to that place. Finding myself distracted and unable to read easily by flashlight, I lay listening to the sounds of thunder and raging wind for the longest time, feeling somehow perfectly safe. Peace was penetrating. I finally slept.

I opened my eyes very early the next morning. I heard no sounds of wind or rain. All was silent. I sat up. There were no clouds anywhere. Peace had come to the landscape. I could smell the fresh scent of washed pines coming to me through the small crack I’d left in one of the windows close by. My eyes came to rest on the mountain range toward the east. First light was appearing. I watched as the same fiery ball rose into view, smaller now, but its appearance just as profound to me. The cycle of renewal was complete.

— Excerpt from Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage

 

That night was so precious to me. I’ve never forgotten it. In such environments, things are more real somehow than at any other time.

Connors’ recounting also made me recall the years I lived in Germany. Especially those couple of years in a village where the road by the house ended several feet away in pasture, then shortly in forest. Forests in Germany always seemed manicured to me. Beautiful, but pristine and tamed. Each village has a forstmeister, or forest master. I wonder how their role compares to the fire lookouts and forest rangers here in densely forested lands of the US. I appreciate the wildness.

Fire Season will be of special interest to those in the Southwest and other such forested lands. He wrote of places I know. And for those who live in places like Manhattan, it may ignite something similar like it did in Philip Connors.

Widely available in print, ebook and audio.

Categories: Book Review, Contemplative Life, Honoring the Earth, Solitude | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Retrospective, Part II

Several months ago, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2016 interview of Neil Gaiman on her podcast Magic Lessons discussing the creative process and other people’s expectations. If you’ve done something they like, they want you to repeat it. They don’t want you to surprise them with something else. The gallerist who wants a body of work. The publisher who wants a genre. No matter the author has a history of bestsellers. Write outside the genre they’re known for…and the publisher isn’t interested. What they’re really saying they want is consistency without risk to the bottom line…marketability.

Gaiman told a story. There are two types of writers: dolphins or otters. Dolphins are very good at doing tricks a trainer wants them to do — in exchange for a fish. They’ll do it over and over again. There’s some banter about the dolphin living in captivity and being very good about training the trainer to get what the dolphin wants. It all sounds like manipulation to me.

Then there’s the otter. No one can train an otter. Why would you want to do the things you just did when there’s the next thing to be done? That’s why there aren’t any otter shows…

It’s plain to see Neil Gaiman is an otter, quite the successful one. He’s readily described as a prolific creator of works of prose, poetry, film, journalism, comics, song lyrics and drama.

Consistency — in the terms it’s meant by gallerists, publishing houses and art collectors — bores me to tears. That’s why I took a long break from oil painting. I’d done it off and on across nearly 40 years, with long pauses, until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. But the creative urges kept calling. So, I took up writing. Quite the divergence.

In hindsight, that was the point where I gave myself permission to be as diverse as I liked, and wish I’d done it much sooner. I’ve been so much happier ever since. It matches my nature, and I’ve never done well with attempts to box me in. I refuse to create in a formulaic manner. Fine for others. But for me, it would dull things down and dispel any feelings of awe the process can bring.

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Rolling Clouds. B/W photography, gelatin silver print. ©2004 Carla Woody.

My return to visual arts, finally, was black and white photography. It had always fascinated me. It was emotive. With tips from a photographer friend, I purchased a manual camera and began shooting black and white images. A few years later I discovered mixed media. By virtue of its very name it encourages exploring, combining things in ways to make it more than it would otherwise be using one lonely medium.

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Prophet Series: Warrior of the Spirit. Mixed media on gold leafed canvas. ©2013 Carla Woody.

Here at long last I’ve found a home. What it took was making the decision to create in the way that was most inspirational to me, not by the dictates of the outside world.

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Winter Solstice Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2015 Carla Woody.

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The Ancestors Speak to Me Mixed media on wood cradled panel. ©2018 Carla Woody.

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Of the Jungle Mixed media, 3D. ©2018 Carla Woody.

Second, after study about such things, I recognized how my mind works and why I rejected the formulaic method often preached. I accepted my difference instead for the formula my mind came up with that produces efficiently for me more often than not.

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I Hold the Keys Mixed media on canvas. ©2019 Carla Woody.

My personal strategy is in first creating the vision in my mind — the outcome — then gathering up piece parts, considering fit of different media, combining them in such a way most likely to induce the effect I envision. It’s a consistency I can abide by, and it’s rarely the same twice. The strategy isn’t step-by-step and usually not conscious, but a flow when functioning well.

But the most important thing I found? I said it earlier. Giving myself permission to hold the inspiration and strike out beyond any confine. Here is the same thing said in another form of mixed media.

***

Read Retrospective, Part I.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Healthy Living, Personal Growth, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Spiritual Travel to Mexico and Guatemala

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Spiritual Travel to Mexico and Guatemala: Entering the Maya Mysteries
January 11-26, 2020
Early registration discount ends August 21. 

Immersion Experience in Maya Cosmology, Medicine,
Art and Sacred Ways of the Living Maya.

A Spirit Keepers Journey co-sponsored by Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers.
A portion of tuition tax-deductible to support preservation of Indigenous traditions.

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You are invited to step through the threshold…into a true journey of the Spirit.

We are honored to offer a special program focusing on the sacred traditions of Maya peoples. Through the timing of our travels we are fortunate to immerse ourselves in Maya Mysteries showcasing the spiritual strength of the Living Maya connected with their ancient origins. We offer you an intimate opportunity, unlikely to be found on your own, engaging with spiritual leaders and healers who serve their people — with the intent that we are all transformed and carry the beauty home.

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We experience the beauty of the land and Maya traditions of the southern Guatemalan highlands plus the highlands and rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico. This is an opportunity for in-depth exposure to a number of Maya peoples and how they are linked through belief and practice.

Join us for ceremonies, curing rituals, ancestral sites and the inherent magic of Maya Land.

Here is just some of what you will enjoy in the southern highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico…

– Lake Atitlán provides the magnificent backdrop for Tz’utujil Maya Wisdom Keeper Dolores Ratzan Pablo to guide our entry into the sites and ceremonies of spiritual significance to her people in Santiago Atitlán.

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– K’iche’ Maya Daykeeper Tat Apab’yan Tew accompanies us offering sacred ways from his native Guatemala and a fire ceremony connecting with the ancestors.

– In the isolated K’iche’ Maya village of Sij’ja’, where they receive few visitors, we take in the life stories and everyday sacred ways of Elders and local traditional women.

– Tzotzil Maya religious leader Don Xun Calixto holds an audience in his home where we learn of his curing methods and calling.

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– Don Antonio Martinez, the last Lacandón Maya elder faithfully practicing his traditions, holds the nearly extinct balché ceremony.

– Take part in the festival of San Sebastian in San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán, and spend time in a Maya church where curanderos conduct healing sessions — and many of our travelers have deeply spiritual experiences.

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– Encounter the mysteries of Iximche and Palenque.

– Experience the passion of Maya artists as they disclose what inspires them.

Throughout our time together, spiritual mentor Carla Woody shapes your journey for optimal transformation that continues to unfold long after you’ve returned home.

Early registration discount ends August 21.

Group size limited. Register today to hold your place!

Go here for complete registration information, itinerary, bios, past trip photos and travelers’ stories.

For more info call 928-778-1058 or email info@kenosis.net.

Registration deadline: December 10.

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Honoring the Earth, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Retrospective, Part I

I had an invitation from an art docent group to speak about my work a few weeks ago. Since I’m a narrative artist, the subject was art as a form of storytelling. Their preferred method was a PowerPoint presentation — a format I hadn’t used in decades — with real life examples displayed so they could encounter them up close and personal.

How to best represent my art? Going back 35 years, long before it became a conscious outcome, each of my pieces had a story behind them. They came from my experiences. Initially, they centered on villages I’d wandered through and trails I’d followed through forests, particularly in Europe.

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The Florist. Oil on canvas, 1988. ©Carla Woody.

Later, it was more about what came from sacred sites, ceremonies and people who populated Indigenous lands where I returned over and over, conveying in some way what had touched and changed me, deepened my understanding of what matters in this life.

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Maya Prayers Oil on canvas, 2011. ©Carla Woody.

I’m quite clear about my personal evolution over the years — changes I chose that placed me on another track entirely — but I hadn’t realized how it affected my artwork as well. How could I have missed that? I’m like anyone else. I’d gotten so immersed in the day-to-day I hadn’t realized what was evident. Creating that presentation became a gift. It caused me to stand back and pinpoint how I got from there to here. In that moment, I became the observer, not the artist. Each of those pieces were part of a history that generated a visual story. I used the same strategy on myself — in the context of art — that I facilitate with others who want to consciously create a transition in their life.

In being our own witness, rather than being in it, things become apparent. It helps us make decisions. It serves as momentum to veer off a beaten path, to move through a threshold with intent. It naturally gathers energy that provides courage and reinforcement.

So that was my first decision. If these folks really wanted me to relay how art could tell a story, they were going to get a retrospective peppered liberally with how I’d progressed as an artist, what influenced me, and finally what was behind each image in the PowerPoint.

That decision took me to another level. I became aware that, over the last decade, creating art had become integral to my spiritual practice. For me, that means there’s an excavation of sorts that occurs in the process of creation. My intent is to express something deeper than a surface level image and initiate an evocative response from the viewer. To do so, I require myself to go deeper.

During my talk prep, I came across a quote from the writer James Baldwin.

The purpose of art is to lay bare the question hidden by the answers.

 I’d written and taught of this before, although I hadn’t considered art when I did.

…Like an unconscious mantra held in the mind, we ask a question in any given moment. In asking the question, the answer naturally comes to us. Therefore, in holding the thought, we ask the answer. This is the paradox that guides our lives.

We cannot ask a question for which there is no answer. Our minds can’t conceive of such…Through some fluke of determination when our minds can conceive of a wider reality, or at least have some inkling of acceptance, that conception will generate answers beyond the questions. This opening will then move us into new experiences through the wider framework of the mind—and we wonder how we got there.

—Excerpted fromStanding Stark: The Willingness to Engage

I noticed there was increased depth in my art when I made a simple adjustment about five years ago. I sit in the same place every morning when I do my early morning meditation practice. I learned long ago that energy builds up in a physical space when I return to it over and over with such intent. It becomes a natural segue, an anchor or portal through which I easily enter a meditative state. Energy lingers there—like a booster rocket—the same as when I close my eyes in a certain way, signaling readiness for a shift from ordinary reality, a surrender to non-ordinary reality.

The simple adjustment I made was this. I began to bring whatever piece of art I had in process and placed it within direct viewing distance from my meditation spot. Then when I opened my eyes, still in a deeper state of being, a communication started to occur. A communion of sorts. No, I didn’t experience discourse with my ordinary ears or eyes. But something happened. I formed a much greater connection and knowing. The artwork came to life and had its own expression. The piece itself became my guide in how to express its deeper nature.

Of course, you can do the same for any context you wish to explore…whether you place a physical object as I did…or project some representation—via visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory manner—of what you wish to consider.

***

Read Retrospective, Part II.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Meditation, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Fierce Devotion of Noor Inayat Khan

For nearly a decade I was involved in the local Sufi community. I studied the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan who first brought Sufism to the West in 1910 – directed to do so by his own Sufi teacher in India. I attended zikr, a devotional chanting practice, regularly and, in the late 1990s, went to India with a group led by Pir Shabda Kahn, now spiritual director of the the Sufi Ruhaniat International in San Francisco. In Delhi, we paid our respects at the dargah of Hazrat Inayat Khan and, encircling his grave, raised our voices in zikr. The vibrations of this dogma-free Path of the Heart remain with me.

Noor Inayat KhanYet never did I hear of his daughter Noor Inayat Khan in all that time I was so immersed in Sufi practice and study. Somehow, I came across a reference to her on the Internet. Curious because of her name, I did some research and was baffled by what I found.  The source said this first-born child of Hazrat Inayat Khan had been an agent for the Secret Operations Executive (SOE), an espionage agency known as “Churchill’s Secret Army.” I thought to myself, how could a young woman raised within that sacred lineage become a British spy? I delved more deeply and could clearly see what drove her.

Noor’s father — descendant of Indian nobility, Indian classical musician, Sufi mystic — met her mother Amina Begum né Ora Ray Baker — niece to a US Senator, cousin to Mary Baker Eddy who founded the Christian Science Church — at a public lecture he gave in San Francisco. Their love came quickly, but their courtship and prospective marriage were unacceptable to their families. They left the US and married in London. Four children quickly came along.

The family moved frequently and was largely dependent upon the generosity of followers. Her father traveled widely much of the time introducing Sufism to the West and forming centers. The family finally found a home in 1922 in Suresnes, close to Paris center, purchased for them by a wealthy Dutch devotee. Fazal Manzil, meaning House of Blessings, became their home and, for three months each summer, a Sufi school that overflowed with followers. There Noor grew up surrounded by family and community steeped in Sufi mysticism. She was a musician who played traditional Indian instruments and a singer of ragas, taught by her father. She was a poet and writer of children’s stories. Noor was consistently described as gentle, dreamy and shy even into adulthood. In some ways, it was an idyllic, if insular, upbringing. But her life changed dramatically when her father passed in 1927 while in India. Then in 1940 even more so when the family was forced to flee to London as the Germans advanced.

That was the significant point of departure from her former life. This introverted young woman, a practicing Sufi, was set on doing something to defend France. She volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was randomly chosen to train as a wireless operator. Noor was noticed by the SOE and subsequently invited for an interview, then offered a position.

At times she gave her superiors fits for she refused to lie, that necessary tool of a secret agent. They had to reframe the requirements of the job and relanguage things she would need to say in order for it to be palatable for her sensibilities. However, she wasn’t tricked into what she was about to encounter.

Radio operators had about a six-week survival rate in German-occupied territory. Their job of tapping out coded messages back to England made them prime targets by the enemy. Noor was the first woman to be dropped into occupied France, making her way to Paris. She had to move frequently to avoid detection, and faced danger continually. The radio had to be carried in a clunky briefcase, readily noticeable and an instant giveaway if cracked open.

The SOE espionage networks fell apart. One agent after another was caught, interrogated, jailed, executed or, worse, shipped off to concentration camps. Finally, she was the only remaining radio operator. Noor was alone. She was told to evacuate by her superiors back in England. She refused and persisted radioing coded missals on her frequency, Poste Madeleine.

How she remained calm in the middle of terrible danger can only be due to the great spiritual strength she carried. She steadily gave the Gestapo the slip until she didn’t. Enduring lengthy interrogation and torture, she gave away nothing. Dachau was the final stop.

She called out one word in the split second before her execution. Liberté!

Noor is a sacred Sufi word meaning light.

***

There is much to this story not mentioned here. Although posthumously awarded the honors, the George Cross by Britain and the Croix de Guerre by France, Noor’s incredible bravery and all the lives she saved by such fierce devotion went otherwise unsung for years. She was in the company of many equally as courageous but outside mainstream. She wasn’t a white man.

But over the last 15 years she is being given her due. The Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust was founded in London to “promote the message of peace, non-violence and religious and racial harmony, the principles Noor Inayat Khan stood for.” And her memorial was unveiled in 2012 in Gordon Square by Princess Anne.

The 2013 film Enemy of the Reich gives a good overview of her war years. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime.

If you really want to understand how this unlikely young woman was so inspired, risked her life and maintained her unshakeable courage to the very end, read the 2006 book Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu. Available in the public library and wherever books are sold.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Sacred Reciprocity, Sufism | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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