Film

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 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

Neither Wolf Nor Dog…Or When a Calling Comes

This is less of a review and more of a story about how I came to learn of the book Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and then my process through attempts to understand its full, often uncomfortable meaning.

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About this time a year ago I received an invitation, really it was delivered as a demand, from a Lakota elder that I come to South Dakota to receive teachings. It came at a time I was continually traveling, barely home but longing to be. When I thanked him and attempted to arrange a time that made it easier for me, he became insistent. We finally settled on a time. For me, it meant giving up the only travel-free week I’d had in some time. I wasn’t sure what this was all about, and didn’t know the elder. The prior contact we’d had was relatively brief, a long phone call. I finally decided it was something I was being called to do.

I would like to say it was a meaningful journey and a great sharing passed between us. Instead, our time ended abruptly. I left with even more confusion than I’d periodically felt over those days and a high level of frustration, angry at myself that I’d been talked into coming. Clearly, there was much he kept tightly wrapped. Although, it sometimes emerged in ways I wasn’t used to dealing with, much less how to respond adequately. But I was going directly to another commitment, one that mattered a lot to me. So I tucked the strong emotions away and chalked the whole thing up to a mystery of the Universe.

Before I made that trip to South Dakota, I’d mentioned it to a friend. She said there was a book she thought would be good for me to read. I dutifully ordered Neither Wolf Nor Dog but didn’t have time to read it before I left. It found its place on my bookshelf where it languished. I hadn’t known it was made into a movie. Some months later it was being shown where I live, and I followed the strong urge to see it.

The film hadn’t progressed very far when I began to get the eerie feeling of dejá vu. An author from Minnesota, Kent Nerburn, received a cryptic phone call out of the blue from a woman saying her Lakota grandfather wanted to see him. No reason given but delivered with a sense of urgency. Some months later, Nerburn—as he came to be called—finally was able to free up some time to make the long trip to the isolated place the elder Dan called home.  There were few explanations given to Nerburn, punctuated with a lot of silences. Quickly, Dan’s younger Lakota friend Grover was introduced into the story, a caustic individual with barely contained anger frequently directed toward Nerburn in clipped tones and looks. Frankly, I wondered why Nerburn stayed around. I think he did, too. He wrestled with his own responses and ultimately decided to let things play out. Plus, he had the nice guy syndrome going.

I experienced repeated slaps in the face watching all this. It was visceral. When Dan and Grover threw Nerburn in the car and took off on a little explained, exhaustive trip across the Dakotas, my forearms puckered into chicken skin that didn’t go away until the film ended. There were just too many parallels. The places they went, the flavor of the discourse. Showing rather than telling. When Dan broke silences to hold forth on what he wanted Nerburn to learn of the Lakota people…what he wanted Nerburn to put out there in writing… Well, I don’t have words for what I felt.

Clearly, I was not going to be allowed to tuck away my still strong emotions and bewilderment about the journey I took to the Dakotas. I can only believe unseen forces were taking me by the hand to engage with all of it.

So I started to read the book. It was not easy going for me. I could only read a few pages at a time. Then I’d have to digest the contents. Most of the things covered in Neither Wolf Nor Dog I knew about in some form: the atrocities done to Native peoples by whites, cultural differences in beliefs and values…and then there’s appropriation of Native traditions by white people searching to find spiritual grounding…or those who seek to do good but hold a hidden agenda. But I hadn’t found anything to the depth or in the frame presented by Dan, and even Grover, in this writing. The book naturally goes much deeper than the movie ever could.

It took me over two months to read Neither Wolf Nor Dog. I stepped back numerous times to examine the level of my own assumptions and awareness, as well as my motivations behind the work I’ve devoted twenty years of my life. It was a necessary, intensive process. I can’t say it’s over. Instead, it’s all percolating some place inside. I don’t know what will finally emerge.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog is book one of a trilogy that recounts the story of an Indian elder, the surrounding Lakota community, and the white man who somehow has been called to be part of the Truth-naming. The Wolf at Twilight is about Dan’s search for his long-lost sister Yellow Bird who, kidnapped from her home some eighty years before, never returned from the Indian boarding school. The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo brings back the things many have forgotten: the meaning of dreams, the abilities to engage with nature and speak with animals. Sadly, it uncovers the existence of a secret asylum and events that took place there.

Kent Nerburn says these books are fictional accounts of actual events. The truths are in each sentence and have global application. This isn’t merely history. It’s today.

The books are available on Amazon or elsewhere. The movie may still be making the rounds in theaters. Hopefully, it will be offered streaming soon.

***

With many thanks to Karen Marchetti who turned me on to Neither Wolf Nor Dog. Without this guidebook I may never integrate the odyssey I was strangely called to undertake.

Categories: Book Review, Film, Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Visible Wings

I came across the inspirational short Invisible Wings when it was first featured on Karma Tube in 2015 and have watched it several times since. It touches a soft spot in me. It opens my heart, and I feel the flow of my own life moving through me. It generates reflection and gratitude…all channeled through the words of a 65-year-old tea seller named Vijayan against visually beautiful backdrops.

His use of the metaphor ‘journey’ in the film is important as well as the way he validates it. A bona fide journey isn’t over smooth ground but fraught with challenges along the way. If we meet those obstacles eye-to-eye, it encourages our growth, nurtures the spirit and frees our dreams…to manifest. If we don’t, it harnesses the soul.

All this from a man many may overlook: the owner of a small stall in India where he pours tea, his wife Mohana working beside him. They appear to have little in the way most would see them. But Vijayan carries a dream— to travel the world, to open his heart and mind to other lands and ways of living—and his wife shares that dream. They have traveled the globe. Even though, at the start of their marriage, she’d never been out of her own hometown.

It takes courage to face the Unknown, to step out of your comfort zone. But the comfort zone so quickly widens when you do…no matter that others think you’re crazy or try to hold you back. There is so much beauty to be experienced when you ignore those who remain in the corral.

Whether you take the initiative to make life happen or sit back and let life happen to you, it’s a choice—even if you don’t think the latter is. And while the title of this tribute to Vijayan and Mohana is called Invisible Wings, the wings any of us wear are visible and how we wear them: fully extended, clutched to the side, or somewhere in-between. Others easily see them if they pay attention. And we ourselves can feel them.

Nothing is more valuable than the felt presence of your own unleashed spirit, intimacy with family and friends…and a life fully lived…however you travel. I’m sharing this little film here—short in time but saying so much—with intent that it brings to you the sweetness and consideration it has for me.

Categories: Film, Gratitude, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review – The Red Queen: A Mayan Mystery

In 1994 a tomb was excavated in Temple XIII in the main plaza of Palenque, the large Maya ruin complex in Chiapas, Mexico. It was the finest thus far uncovered, even more so than the great ruler Pakal II’s in the Temple of the Inscriptions just a couple of doors down. The quantity of jadeite, sacred objects and two skeletons on either side of the sarcophagus indicated someone of the highest standing. And a very curious thing: The remains were completely covered in a powdery red substance that turned out to be cinnabar.

A physical anthropologist determined the remains to be female. The temple richness  pointed to the final resting place of an esteemed ruler. But for women to attain such a capacity was unusual. Thus began The Red Queen. And then it immediately garnered my attention when archaeologist David Friedal took the screen saying, “The history of the past is not the history of men but men and women together. And at times women change the course of history. Not men.”

The Red Queen is not a boring historical documentary. Rather it entertains the question: Who was the Red Queen? She was nicknamed so because of the cinnabar. Attendants carefully covered her in the toxic powder at burial. It made its way into her very bones. We’re on board as the film tracks the mysteries, technical methods and data that lead to a conclusion from the three likeliest candidates.

  • Was it Yohl Ik’nal, the grandmother of Pakal? As far as we know she was the first Maya female to rule on her own…for 21 years.
  • Was it Sak K’uk, who took over the throne when her brother was killed? She held rule until she was able to put her son Pakal on the throne when he turned twelve. Likely she guided him from behind for some time after that.
  • Or was it Tz’akbu Ajaw, the wife of Pakal? And sometimes called Lady Conjurer as noted in Carol Karasik’s book The Drum Wars where she devoted a chapter to the Red Queen.

Those who know me are well acquainted with my love for Palenque, having been drawn back regularly since 1995 when I first had the pleasure. So the story of the Red Queen was an interest on that level. But more so, I found it heartening to have women recognized for who they are, their accomplishments and learn something of their story—not quietly influencing behind the scenes but front stage center.

Produced by the Discovery Channel, 2005. Watch it free on You Tube.

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Part One: View it here. 1 hour, 9 minutes.

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Part Two: View it here. 24 minutes.

*****

For more information on our next scheduled Maya Mysteries spiritual travel program in Chiapas…where we visit Palenque and pay respects to the Red Queen, go here.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Film Review – Agafia’s Taiga Life

Agafia’s Taiga Life

A Documentary by Vice Media

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Agafia Lykov. Photo credit: Siberian Times.

In 1936 Karp Lykov took his family and fled into the Siberian wilderness to avoid Stalin and persecution because of their religion. Called the Old Believers, they belonged to a sect of Russian Orthodox fundamentalists. Over the years they retreated deeper and deeper into the Taiga, a forested region in the heart of Siberia, where temperatures are extreme and civilization is non-existent.

Agafia was born into that life in 1943. Agafia saw no one but family for 40 years. And then no one at all for 25 years until a geologist moved a short distance away. All that time, she’d been a woman alone, living off the land.

Journalists from Vice Media visited Agafia to shoot a documentary about her life for their Far Out series. She relates what it’s like to live in the company of her animals, her faith, occasional encounters with bears and rocket debris, a way of life that gets much more difficult as she ages. Her story is an example of pockets in the world where people are living in solitude by circumstance and often by choice.

Watch it online for free. Length: 36 minutes.

To read about another in this series and watch the documentary, see Faustino’s Patagonian Retreat.

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Solitude | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review: The Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness

I will tell you up front that this is a difficult film to watch and can bring up all kinds of emotion. But if you’re going to watch it, then do so until the end because toward its finish there is much hope conveyed.

During our recent Spirit Keepers Series held in Phoenix on the subject of PTSD and Native healing ways, I had invited Eli PaintedCrow, an Iraq War veteran of the Yaqui Nation and co-founder of Turtle Women Rising, to take part based on her own experiences and to frame further aspects of our Series. She showed a portion of Wellbriety Journey to Forgiveness, a documentary produced by White Bison, Inc. They’re a Native American-operated 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to culturally-based healing for Indigenous peoples.

The film starts out with a prophecy given by the Old Ones about the light skins who would arrive, create confusion and great destruction. How everything would be taken from the Native American but their spirituality. There would be tremendous suffering, genocide and a time of testing. But opportunity for healing would present itself. After this time of healing, the buffalo, Native people and all manner of sustenance would return. Harmony would prevail. Native people believe that we entered this time of healing in the early 1990s.

This is the story of that destruction, particularly centered on boarding schools and their effect. If you’re not familiar, in 1879 the first Indian boarding school was opened in New Carlisle, PA. Native children were forcibly taken from their families and shipped off to such schools around the US where they were stripped of their language and anything having to do with their culture. They endured ongoing violence and humiliation in silence—many didn’t survive—and it had horribly detrimental effects reaching all the way to today. This is called intergenerational trauma, certainly a form of PTSD.

As a part of the Wellbriety Movement, Native organizers undertook a 7000-mile journey all over the US to give Elders and their children a chance to tell their stories, perhaps for the first time, and express grief. In this undertaking they hoped to break the cycle of addiction and violence, begin the road to forgiveness and a return to spiritual traditions. The film covers Native values and how to live in harmony as taught by the Old Ones, along with a model called the Four Directions of Forgiveness and a call to Greater Purpose.

This is an extremely powerful film and could be called the Schindler’s List for Native Americans. It was created as an Indian Give-Away by White Bison for purposes of truth-telling and healing.

Whether you have Indigenous members in your family line who suffered the atrocities, have ancestors who perpetrated any part of it, or are born of mixed blood as many of us are…the message presented here is relevant to all. The effects of genocide, abuse and shame are equally carried through the family line. This is a film for anyone whose ancestors have experienced anything of the like. That doesn’t leave out many people on the planet.

This is a move for truth—no more secrets—and healing accomplished when we live in harmony as the Old Ones taught. Seeing the complete film instilled even more significance to me in how I personally live and greater understanding of the important work Kenosis Spirit Keepers does, even if we reach only a few.

This is a film for the Next Seven Generations. Critical mass is important. View the film for free on You Tube and share widely. Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes. Also visit White Bison to learn of their healing institution and classes.

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Healing, Indigenous Rights | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Deep Cinema: Film as Shamanic Initiation

Deep Cinema

Mary Trainor-Brigham’s Deep Cinema deserves your time and attention. I found myself re-reading pages and then sitting, to give the words an opportunity to enter my interior space. Immediately evident, this is a book written to connect with your Indigenous Soul, as the author calls it, the one many of us ignore in this Middle World. She guides us to delve into movies and stories so that they play back to us our own humanity, initiatory passages and further potential.

I’ve studied Joseph Campbell’s work in-depth: his instruction on myth, the Hero’s Journey and places we can readily see examples in film and storytelling. Deep Cinema adds to that work in a way that makes it unique by overlaying shamanic templates from Indigenous cultures. We’re then offered the Soul Compass, a model …designed to transform life from a series of dogmatic dictates or chaotic occurrences…into a rich, sacred Self-defining sojourn which we gladly undertake…the key here is that life becomes meaningful…  The path from Child as Nest Dweller to Elder as Diamond Cutter and Pearl Spinner shows the gateways—mundane to spiritual, balance of Female as Womb Weaver to Male as Navigator—that we all must pass through in order to morph into the next level of growth.

The author brings her background as art therapist, film critic, actor and scriptwriter naturally into play, pointing out the metaphors in a multitude of films, older to more current, that relate to the archetypal templates she offers. With lyrical language, she draws the reader in. On the Voudon shamanic tradition: …According to the Haitians, a person’s small self is like a fish that gets hooked in the heart and reeled in throughout life by the love of and for their Great Self, sitting on a throne beneath the Sea in Lower World…

I was glad to see The Serpent and the Rainbow movie included as a failure at translating anthropologist Wade Davis’ book by the same name. Instead of portraying the rich layers of the Voudon traditions Davis experienced, Hollywood chose to further the cartoon-like, fear-based image of practitioners. Mary recommends Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti as a true portrayal.

Once Were Warriors indicates the power of film on a population. In the successful translation of Alan Duff’s novel, Maori director Lee Tamahori graphically depicted real-life struggles with alcoholism and domestic violence the Maori people suffered, bringing it back to loss of spiritual traditions and the turning point of re-engagement. It’s noted that one in every three New Zealanders has seen this film. Most importantly: …after the film hit the theaters, there was an upsurge in the number of men seeking help with domestic violence issues, citing ‘Warrior Troubles’…

I had already viewed a number of the movies covered in the book: Whale Rider, Mindwalk, Capote and others. But I’m going to go back and see some again with new eyes and Deep Cinema beside me. As I was reading, I thought to myself it would be really nice to have an index of all the films and where they’re discussed in the book. I was pleased to find just that at the end. Bottom line: Deep Cinema is not just a reference but also an ally for the spiritual journey.

Available through Amazon.

 

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Film, Indigenous Wisdom, Personal Growth, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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